Pokémon 3D: Is it feasible?

What next for the video game series?
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  • Tuesday, July 10, 2012

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This article brought to you by Bulbanews, your community Pokémon newspaper.

Pokémon Black 2 and White 2 have finally seen their Japanese release. Fans are scrambling to soak up any and all information on the new adventure in Unova. Competitive battling communities are already examining the effect of new moves and formes on the metagame. The new pair of games continues a tradition set by Black and White versions that fans have repeatedly questioned: Generation V remaining on the Nintendo DS system in the wake of the 3DS’s release. This is especially strange in the case of Black 2 and White 2 because of its compatibility with Pokémon Dream Radar, a 3DS game.

Fans have long yearned for a full-fledged 3D Pokémon adventure. Pokémon Stadium may have rendered the monsters in polygon form but it lacked the RPG elements of the handheld games. Even worse, battles were lackluster in presentation because Pokémon would never be shown making contact with each other when attacking. Many a gamer rolled their eyes when they saw even physical attacks mounted to “Pokémon A launches attack, cut to Pokémon B being hit.”

Pokémon Colosseum and Pokémon XD added story modes and RPG elements, but they retained the same lack of physical contact in battles and only had a limited number of Pokémon available to capture. Pokémon Battle Revolution finally gave us actual physical contact in battles but instances where it happened were limited. This begs the burning question: Is it feasible to have a complete Pokémon RPG adventure in 3D?

Fans, including myself, have yearned for such a game for years. Wouldn’t it be excellent to journey into fully explorable forests, mountains and plains in a 3D environment? Imagine walking into Viridian forest and seeing Caterpie crawling through the grass and Kakuna hanging from trees as a Pidgeotto flies by. Imagine Pokémon battles where they actually strike each other!

With the sheer number of monsters, locations and characters presented in the games, possibilities for such a game seem endless. Therein lies the pitfall: Pokémon may just be too big to fit into a 3D game.

Let’s put aside talks about characters or locations and just talk about the Pokémon themselves. If a 3D Pokémon game were to happen, it would be expected that your Pokémon would be able to walk alongside you, run, jump, fly and do a variety of attacks. Artists and programmers would have to animate all of these motions. The Torchic that Professor Elm just gifted you must be able to move in different ways and speeds, react to damage (or faint), launch fire attacks and so on and so forth.

Now imagine that complex task being applied to 648 more Pokémon. Just animating the moves of every Pokémon would take a typical game’s development cycle in itself. Now on top of that add in character models and animations for the people inhabiting the Pokémon world, which while not as extensive of an endeavor as the Pokémon themselves, would still be a hefty task. Now you may say, “What about other games that have hundreds of different characters and types of creatures?” Many of those games may have different appearances for various characters, but many share the same movement animations. This simply couldn’t be done for Pokémon. The animations for Heracross most certainly wouldn’t be appropriate for Onix, nor Woobat nor Metagross. Take a look at the Stadium/Colosseum/Battle Revolution games, each Pokémon has its own style of movement.

Another thing to ponder is the battle system. If Pokémon were to undergo a full-fledged 3D reinvention, would the classic turn-based battle system be kept? I’m sure many fans would rather the same system be kept, but imagine if the battle system was changed to be something closer to real time fights. The series has often been criticized for keeping the same basic battle system over the years, addition of new mechanics aside. Perhaps this could be the leap forward critics have wanted and provide a new system for fans to sink their teeth into. I am not saying it should be one or other, but it is definitely something to consider.

The good news though is that other elements of the series wouldn’t be nearly as much of a headache to translate from sprites to polygons as the monsters. While the Wii often catches flak for its graphical inferiority to other modern systems, many of the in-house Wii games such as Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword and Super Mario Galaxy show the system is capable of producing beautiful landscapes and graphics.

But who am I kidding? If there was going to be a Pokémon 3D game produced, it would undoubtedly be created for the upcoming Wii U system. Hardware specs for the system have shown it will be powerful enough to bring Nintendo into the HD age. Perhaps the system will have the capability to finally give us the 3D adventure we have been wanting for years!

Bringing Pokémon firmly into the realm of three dimensions would be a very difficult task, but not an impossible one. Hardware and software for gaming improves constantly. Nintendo has announced Pokémon games are in the works for Wii U. Perhaps such a game isn’t far away from the light of day. Only time will tell.

GodofPH, AKA Pat Hessman, is a senior studying Film at Montana State University. He wrote a series of articles for Bulbanews prior to the Black and White release entitled "Looking Forward". He still hasn't looked back.