It’s no secret that in Nintendo’s eyes, “Pokémon” is synonymous with “money”. The series has been going strong for over 12 years now, and every time a new main entry in the series comes out it eventually ranks up there with the best-selling titles on the system. The single-player experience, the great Pokémon adventure is beloved by children and adults alike (as long as the adults played Pokémon when they were younger, that is). And with the imminent Pokémon Black and White, the Pokémon craze is going to occur all over again.
All good things, however, can become stale if they go too long without being updated. Pokémon manages to mostly avoid this, but every so often a complaint about this will arise; I know that IGN was a bit unhappy with Pearl’s lack of gameplay innovation, at least. But I believe there’s a way to add a whole new dimension to the game without significantly altering the core mechanics that make the game great: what we need is a Pokémon MMO.
I first had this thought during a discussion with a friend of mine a few months back, and the more I think about it the more I think this is the best idea in the history of ideas. I can’t think of a single game franchise that is more suited to a MMO than Pokémon. If you consider many standard MMO elements, Pokémon has nearly all of them.
Naturally, Pokémon comes equipped with a nice lengthy solo adventure. Travel the region, collect gym badges, conquer Victory Road and defeat the Elite Four to become champion. Then work to complete your Pokédex by locating or catching them all – a trying task, one that can take dozens upon dozens of hours, which is perfect for a MMO. Plus, you’d be exploring a lush, expansive world as you did so. You can’t say that Pokémon regions don’t have some vastness to them; you’ve got big cities here, forests there, large labyrinthian caves, ruins of an old civilization, a wide sea, islands… a Pokémon MMO would allow this world to be rendered in bright color and in a real 3D perspective. Getting a proper view of the world of Pokémon for the first time would make plenty of people curious right away.
A standard class system is easily replaced by Pokémon types. You might even say this works out better than a class system, since you don’t have to start over with a new character if you want to incorporate a new type; you just need to raise a Pokémon from scratch, or whatever level you found it at. You can specialize in one thing or be a generalist if you like; one of Pokémon’s greatest strengths is how it lets you play however you like and still maintain balance. You can customize your party with items and more, even.
Possibly the most compelling aspect is that of PVP. Battling other trainers on your journey is half the game already; the logical next step is to switch from CPU trainers to other players. You could add in a filter or something that only lets you see trainers around your level, perhaps, but this has to be the part of the game with the most potential. It might raise the difficulty somewhat, since all battles would have to be lost by somebody, but for MMOs or online games you’d need a nice long adventure anyhow. Plus, you can still battle Pokémon in the wild grass, and who knows, maybe one of those random encounters will be a Latios, or a Suicine, or something.
Then there’s co-op play. Let’s ignore the obvious awesomeness of trading Pokémon en masse (or auctioning them at an auction house, as horrible as that sounds now that I think about it). In recent iterations, Nintendo has taken to double- and even triple-Pokémon battles with Black and White; this naturally lends itself to co-op PVP, which is a phrase that makes me happy when used in conjunction with Pokémon. Besides that, the game could have challenges that scale up with the number of players present, and the “pick your opponent” style of multi-Pokémon battles would still offer an advantage to those who travel in groups, while preventing people from steamrolling through the game in two days’ time like they did with Everquest.
Not that raid-based dungeons couldn’t still exist. Even from the very first Pokémon game, we had these: Power Plant and Zapdos, Cerulean Cave and Mewtwo, Turnback Cave and Giratina, etc. This is exactly the sort of thing people team up for and conquer in games like World of Warcraft, and frankly it’d be more realistic to require a team of people to take down an allegedly legendary Pokémon, especially the ones with ridiculous psychic powers. There could even be story integration with some of them, if Game Freak is clever enough about it.
Making Pokémon into a MMO would also increase the socializing options. There are already plenty of social aspects that are inherent to the game. Trading with other players, battling, contests, etc. But something Nintendo has always tried to push in their games is “do fun stuff with your Pokémon”. Take them for walks, dress them up, earn them ribbons; people put a lot of pride into their Pokémon. What better way to show off your party than in a MMO? Thousands would see your battling/dress-up prowess.
There’s also the possibility for time- and date-specific events. There are certain Pokémon you can only catch during the day or night, obviously, but then there are the other, date-specific events. As I write this, Gamestop is doing a weeklong event where they’re giving away free Celebis (or Victinis, I can’t remember exactly which); before that, they gave away the Legendary Trio, and before THAT Nintendo was offering up Mews to anyone who popped online. And besides that, what if you suddenly received word that Team Rocket had taken over Saffron City, and they were extracting a large quantity of rare item that you might get your hands on if you joined the good fight in the next two days?
And besides that, there’s just a huge bunch of random stuff you can do. Fishing, casinos, ribbons, poffins, Safari Zone, Pokéathlon… seriously, do I need to go on? There is so much random stuff to do in a Pokémon game, and that works out perfectly for a MMO as well. God knows how many hours I wasted playing Voltorb Flip alone in SoulSilver. If you want, you could totally dedicate yourself to achieving something entirely separate from the main quest; there could even be leaderboards for some things.
A single Pokémon adventure can take you 30 hours or more as it is, from starting out to defeating the Champion. A Pokémon MMO would be a property ripe for expansion on top of that. Right now, Nintendo has five regions and quests that they can roll out periodically, and they’re fine with making more, I’m sure. And we’re at how many Pokémon now? I think it’s well over 500, which just illustrates the immense replay value. You gotta catch ‘em all. Additionally, see “random stuff to do” above.
There are a few other elements in major MMOs, like a place where you go to get random smaller quests; almost all of them could be integrated with little to no trouble. There’d be a few bugs to iron out, of course (chat might have to be eliminated entirely, if Nintendo were responsible) but I feel that this is the foundation of something very solid and entertaining. With the number of people who play World of Warcraft, there’s certainly no shortage of MMO fans out there, and then you have the overlap that comes from the Pokémon fanbase as well. The thought alone of an epic, huge realization of the Pokémon experience would attract many people even without the multiplayer aspects.
Some people might think of the game as too “kiddy” for them, but I know that plenty of 20-year-olds out there, or even older, are still playing Pokémon and would stand in line for days to get their hands on this. You could even put it on the Wii, or whatever next-generation console Nintendo has in mind, so long as the online service isn’t terrible. I don’t care how you do it, Nintendo, just make this happen! You guys are sitting on a gold mine, and countless console sales, if I know anything about video games. Plus, my inner child needs to beat down a 10-year-old’s level 50 Pikachu with my Ho-Oh.