Can we catch ‘em all?: Generation VI

Versions, remakes, and media archaeology
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  • Tuesday, January 13, 2015

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This column has been written by ArchivistGeek. It expresses the views of the columnist, not necessarily those of Bulbagarden networks.

“What makes Pokémon at once a container of the past and a medium for millennial relation-building are the pocket monsters themselves: creatures that border between the practical, everyday, capitalistic and the fantastic, extraordinary, communitarian.”- Anne Allison, Millennial Monsters: Japanese Toys and the Global Imagination [1]

It’s impossible to write the final story of Generation VI, as its story remains unfinished. At the same time, significant parts of the generation may already be examined. This final article in our series on media archaeology and core series games must adapt, then, to the circumstances. What follows is part factual examination, part speculation on what might be, and it is hoped that future installments may come to pass and examine those games that will be.

Interestingly, one of the first rumors of a successor to Nintendo DS came with a February 2010 announcement that several Japanese companies were given a software development kit for this new system. The Pokémon Company was singled out as a special priority in receiving this kit, pointing to early collaboration between the new system and further Pokémon franchise titles.[2] One year later, Nintendo 3DS was officially released to the public with a significant focus on its stereoscopic 3D capabilities.[3] Though this feature was a technological breakthrough as advertised, it was also a result of decades of failed experimentation beginning as far back as a Famicom 3D System.[4]

Two years after the release of the original system, a redesigned version called Nintendo 2DS was unveiled as an “entry level” version of the Nintendo 3DS.[5] Missing in the new model are the original model’s 3D capabilities, stereo sound, and flipped screen. Unlike the original model, the system was created to target younger users less interested in these features. The Nintendo 2DS was released alongside Pokémon X and Y, tying this younger, less advanced system with the franchise’s core audience.[6]

Generation VI was first announced during a January 2013 Nintendo Direct. In a complete break from the past, Satoru Iwata announced that Pokémon X and Y would be released in October 2013, on the same date, worldwide.[7] Instead of marketing various translated copies of the paired games in different regional markets, each copy of the game would be playable in all seven available languages: Japanese, English, German, Spanish, French, Italian, and Korean. [8] Following previous naming conventions, the Japanese and Korean titles remained Pocket Monsters, with all other regions receiving a Pokémon title. In another break from convention, Pokémon X and Y were the first core series games released without the word version in their Western titles.

Unlike previous generations, the original release of these titles was not the end of their commercial history. Nintendo 3DS systems are online-capable through the Nintendo eShop. This capability enabled patches to games once released, another new aspect unique to Generation VI. Post-release, three subsequent versions of the paired games were released. Version 1.1 appeared less than a month after the initial release, patching several known bugs. Version 1.2 followed in December 2013, patching an exploitable glitch and giving players participating in online battles a distinct advantage. Version 1.3 was the final patch at the time of this article’s release, released in October 2014 to patch various other glitches found in the year after the games were released. As all three updates are required to use Pokémon X and Y online features, Version 1.3 is essentially the version of the games that currently exists.[9]

As players progressed through Pokémon X and Y, they discovered references to Hoenn of Generation III. This led to increasing speculation of upcoming remakes until a May 2014 Nintendo press release announcing remakes to Generation III’s Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire.[10] As with Pokémon X and Y, these remakes were slated for worldwide, nearly simultaneous release in all seven available languages. Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire were initially released in November 2014, with a one-week delay between the main worldwide release and a European release.[11]

Generation VI Official Version Diagram

At the time of this publication, two versions of the remakes have already been released. Version 1.1 followed a few days after initial release, fixing a small bug. Version 1.2 followed in December 2014, fixing a second bug.[12] While no subsequent version updates have occurred, Pokémon X and Y have demonstrated that patch updates can occur as far as a year after a game’s initial release.

According to Nintendo, then, official description of versions is the relatively straightforward diagram on the right.

Looking at the entirety of Pokémon core series history, the theme of communication is a constant, recurring force. In twenty years, player communication had improved from one-on-one in-person interaction to global, networked trading. Yet a catch remained. As much as all players could now communicate with one another, the basis of their communication was not a single gameplay experience but a slightly altered gameplay experience in each region and language.

Pokémon titles undergo localization rather than translation when produced for new geographic regions. Traditionally, cultural content such as films or books was translated for international consumption. This required a direct translation of text without altering any cultural allusions intended by the authors. Unlike these forms of old media, video games aim to immerse a player in another world. Any in-game aspects that break that immersion are avoided. Yet cultural content considered normal in one country might not be normal in another country. Localization, then, is the process by which both the text and cultural aspects are altered as a game is prepared for another regional release.[13]

In previous core series titles, localization resulted in typical audiovisual censorship such as the removal of religious imagery and lengthening of skimpy clothing.[14] Other, less negative aspects of localization include altering elements that would appear strange to a player. For example, in each title, the player’s bedroom contains a Nintendo console system. For Pokémon Red and Blue, this console was a Nintendo Entertainment System, though Pocket Monsters: Red and Green instead used a Famicom.[15]

What is critical to note here is that, while Nintendo and Game Freak insist that Pokémon is a global community of fans, all core series titles prior to Generation VI carefully constructed gameplay experiences specific to regional releases. In a way, if Pokémon is considered a language of discussion among fans, each region contained its own dialect. Communication between those dialects is possible, perhaps even simple, but it is not altogether fluent.

Pokémon X and Y was the first major attempt to bridge these theoretical and cultural communication gaps rather than focus on technological obstacles. This is not a surprising change of pace. Media archaeology tells us to look to the past to understand the present and future. After twenty years of improving technology, shifting from communication as a process of technological improvement to a process of creating shared language appears less radical and more like a natural step in a truly globalized franchise. This process of language resulted in an altered release schedule but also significant changes to the process of identifying game assets such as titles, character names, and Pokémon themselves.

It is important to realize that this process of language making is not purely theoretical. Nintendo specifically focused on concepts of language throughout their press releases and interviews. This process of unity was carefully thought out, even as far back as choosing the worldwide titles Pokémon X and Y. According to Junichi Masuda, X and Y refer to the x-axis and y-axis, a symbolic decision rather than a pragmatic one:

“The world holds people with all sorts of ways of thinking, and you can get a sense that they exist in different dimensions. But if you think of them as people who think on the x axis and people who think on the y axis…then they intersect somewhere.” [8]

Satoru Iwata reinforced this point by explaining further that, “The theme this time is that even if languages, cultures and mindsets are different, even if the surrounding environment is different, they overlap somewhere.” [emphasis added] [8] Rather than language being outside the realm of discussion, it is clearly a point of reference for the creators, a symbolic form of unification among the design team. The decision to release a single game version, with the inclusion of seven language tracks, is all the more understandable given discussions of overlap. Releasing Pokémon X and Y as localized versions, even including the word version in the titles, would indicate separation rather than intersection. Still, titles are merely one small aspect of a video game. Far more important is a unification of vocabulary within the games themselves, and nowhere is this more critical than in naming structures.

Prior to Generation VI, the names of characters and Pokémon were part of the localization process. Discussing the arrival of the franchise to the United States, Japanese cultural scholar Anne Allison noted that no alterations to characters were permitted, “…other than translating their names into English equivalents, which took place for almost all the characters and pocket monsters except Pikachu, whose name remains the same the world over.” [1]

Even if technology allowed Pokémon fans the world over to speak to one another, drastic differences between Pokémon names always hindered communication. With Pokémon X and Y, the past was not rewritten; all previously invented Pokémon retained their names. However, an effort was made to “make the names [of new Pokémon] the same in every country around the world if possible.” [8] It is interesting to note that a range of similarity exists rather than simply using the same names in multiple countries. Often, even if names are not the same, each country’s specific name uses a word that, when translated, allows for ease of understanding. For example, Fennekin in English calls to mind a fennec fox. The Japanese, French, and German versions of this Pokémon’s name are Fokko, Feunnec, and Fynx, respectively. These all call to mind each language’s words for a fox (the Japanese fokkusu) or fennec fox in particular (the French fennec and German fennek). Other names are entirely copied, such as Xerneas and Yveltal, but in the end similarities are sufficient to create a language of understanding.

By insisting that Pokémon X and Y are separate from all core series games that came before, it is possible to make a convincing argument for future language standardization based on the bedrock created in Generation VI. Unfortunately, this separation is not based in reality. Similarities between computing architecture of Nintendo DSand Nintendo 3DS systems were close enough that reusing old code rather than starting from scratch was a viable option. Digging into the code of the titles demonstrates that such reuse did occur. Though the data structure of Pokémon is once again altered from the previous generation, the titles are not entirely rid of their past. All Key Items created from Generation IV onwards, even those unused, such as the Lock Capsule, remain hidden within the code of these paired titles.[16] Though radically new from an audiovisual perspective, Pokémon X and Y remain firmly tied to the past.

Generation VI Unofficial Version Diagram

Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire retain all Key Items found in Pokémon X and Y. The lack of leftover code other than Generation IV indicates that, rather than exist as remakes of Generation III, these titles are most certainly taken from the original paired titles of Generation VI. Even without hacking into the code, these remakes appear far more connected to Pokémon X and Y rather than Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire. These connections are partially based on the enhanced, three-dimensional graphics of Generation VI, but even aspects of gameplay have been altered. For example, Mauville City has been redesigned not for narrative reasons but to appear more aesthetically similar to the Lumiose City of Pokémon X and Y. Due to the introduction of Fairy type, several Pokémon have been altered to their new type designations rather than those that came before. These games might be described remakes of Generation III, but they are audiovisual remakes of Generation VI.

Taking all of these aspects into account, an accurate visual description of Generation VI as it currently exists appears in the diagram to the right.

Any article on Generation VI written at this time is, by necessity, incomplete. There have been no official announcements indicating that the generation is finished, and players as well as journalists routinely theorize that additional titles may appear. This is indeed a possibility. Without further information, it is impossible to predict the future, but perhaps media archaeology can give us a glimpse into what possibilities do exist until further information is revealed.

If the future can be understood by looking at the media specificity of the past, the most likely possibility for the future of Generation VI would be a third, independent title connected to Pokémon X and Y. Other than Generation V, each core series generation has released a third or independent game (or, in the case of Generation I, two independent titles). These independent games are often an extension of narrative or symbolic aspects contained within the original paired titles. For Pokémon X and Y, such symbolism can be found through the concept of a three-dimensional plane.

Once again, according to Junichi Masuda, the names X and Y refer to the x-axis and y-axis on a flat plane. Nintendo 3DS core series games, though, are not two-dimensional. These are the first core series titles to incorporate graphics in three-dimensions. Adding a z-axis transforms a flat plane into a three-dimensional plane. Furthermore, the Legendary Pokémon Zygarde can’t access his signature move without cheating. As Pokémon X and Y each contained a similarly titled Legendary Pokémon, a third title of Pokémon Z would be the next logical step for the franchise.

In the future, of course, anything is possible. Preliminary reports on the New Nintendo 3DS system demonstrate that future cloud-based capabilities could affect accessibility and gameplay features of a third title. The system will most certainly affect the release of subsequent generations. Even more critically, with the twenty-fifth anniversary of the entire core series franchise approaching, what will come is anyone’s guess. As much as media archaeology can give us a glimpse of the future as well as a way to explore that future when it finally arrives, only time will tell what will really come about. Should core series Pokémon games continue to be released, they will always be a mix of familiarity and surprise. Reinvention and innovation: these are aspects of Pokémon that reviewers praise and to which new audiences are drawn.

What is constant to the series, though? That is something media archeology doesn’t need to shine the light on. No matter what the future holds, at the core of Pokémon is the simplest of concepts: a coming of age through an epic quest, bonds of companionship, challenge and discovery, and the acquisition of knowledge. As long as Pokémon core series games continue to encourage us to be the very best, they will always continue to be cherished by its fans, and I welcome whatever innovations frame these age-old concepts in a new light.

Can we catch ‘em all?
By ArchivistGeek

Generation IGeneration II

Generation IIIGeneration IV

Generation VGeneration VI