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Pokémon Goes In A New Direction With Open-World Video Game


From cartoons to trading cards to toys, Pokemon has been a successful media franchise for 25 years now all over the world. Recently, fans of the Pokemon video games have begged for a major shake-up to the series. NPR's Vincent Acovino says the recently announced Pokemon Legends: Arceus looks to do just that.

VINCENT ACOVINO, BYLINE: Last Friday, Pokemon fan ChocolateKieran was watching the 25th anniversary livestream of Pokemon with his followers on Twitch.


CHOCOLATEKIERAN: That's how we start it off. They always do a little - you know, a little nostalgia thing.

ACOVINO: A few minutes later, The Pokemon Company announced remakes of two classic Pokemon games. It was predictable and in line with the kind of things that fans have come to expect from the franchise.


CHOCOLATEKIERAN: It's Diamond and Pearl remakes. They stopped in 2007. It's Diamond and Pearl remakes.

ACOVINO: And then something not so predictable happened. The company showed off a brand-new open-world Pokemon game for the Nintendo Switch.


CHOCOLATEKIERAN: Is this, like, Breath Of The Wild Pokemon? This is Breath Of The Wild Pokemon straight up, dude. Oh, you can stealthily just catch mons (ph)? I ain't going to lie. That's kind of fire.

ACOVINO: The game is called Pokemon Legends: Arceus, and the company promises a new approach to the Pokemon video game series that breaks new ground. Open-world games have existed for quite a while, but ChocolateKieran, who asked us to refer to him with his Twitch name for privacy and safety reasons, says this is new for Pokemon.

CHOCOLATEKIERAN: Other than kind of, like, small gimmicks when it comes to battle or, like, fine-tuning what they already have, like, pretty much the formula for Pokemon has stayed the same.

ACOVINO: That's different than some other legacy franchises that have taken big risks with their flagship titles, like Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild. That game changed the design of a famous franchise by giving players a big world to explore while still retaining the sense of adventure and some of the tropes that fans loved. Some fans want to see the same for Pokemon. Here's ChocolateKieran.

CHOCOLATEKIERAN: I want to see more lore and more of a heavier focus on the story and world and world-building. I want it to feel like a true, like, AAA game that people who aren't even necessarily interested in Pokemon will be like, oh, wow, what's this new game? This actually looks amazing.

ACOVINO: But making something new takes time, says video game producer Grant Shonkwiler.

GRANT SHONKWILER: It can be hard to innovate when you have a consistently tight deadline of, say, it's November of every year.

ACOVINO: Pokemon games are often made on strict, sometimes even yearly deadlines. Shonkwiler knows a thing or two about the pressure of working on a franchise with lots of fan expectations. He worked on the 2016 revival of Doom.

SHONKWILER: It's storied, right? And so there is that weight of a franchise that people feel, you know, like, I don't want to mess it up. I don't want to be the person that ruined Pokemon.

ACOVINO: Rosemary Kelley is known as Nekkra in the esports community. She works for The Pokemon Company as a commentator for competitive events and as a voice actor. Speaking as a fan, she says the game has been a part of her life for as long as she can remember.

ROSEMARY KELLEY: And I remember very vividly sitting down with my older brother, playing Pokemon Snap and Pokemon Stadium, Pokemon Coliseum.

ACOVINO: Which were spinoffs but proof that Pokemon has taken some risks with the formula over the years - that's why for her, what happens with Pokemon Legends: Arceus doesn't really matter that much. Rosemary Kelley sees Pokemon as a thing much bigger than just one game.

KELLEY: You have your speedrunners. You have your competitive players. You have your casuals that just love playing the game, and you also have your card fanatics. There's so many different ways that you can interact with the community that is so overwhelmingly positive.

ACOVINO: Pokemon is a global media empire. It's fair to say that whatever does happen with this bigger and more ambitious game, the Poke Ball will keep on rolling.

Vincent Acovino, NPR News.


JASON PAIGE: (Singing) I wanna be the very best, like no one ever was. To catch them is my real test. To train them is my cause. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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