207 million copies sold worldwide. Just take a minute to soak that number in. Two hundred seven million. More copies of Pokemon games have been sold in the world than there are people in any nation on the earth, barring four. In fifteen years, the Pokemon series of video games has come within touching distance of overtaking Mario, Nintendo’s other flagship franchise, which, at nearly thirty years old, is the highest selling game franchise of all time. Although not for much longer, if Pokemon has anything to say about it.
Legions of detractors of the franchise, who called it a fad when it exploded upon the scene in the late ’90’s, would have you believe that the series is dying out, and that it will never again post numbers as it did in its heyday. Yeah… no. Pokemon Black and White, the latest installment in the series, was just released in Japan last month, and it has gone on to sell more than four million copies in that time frame, with at least 1.5 million of those sales posted during the game’s first three days on the market. In the last one month, Pokemon Black and White have sold more copies in Japan alone than Halo: Reach has sold worldwide. If that isn’t representative of an absolute stranglehold on the retail video games market, then frankly, I don’t know what is.
More numbers can attest to the fact that the series is only moving from strength to strength. Pokemon Black and White became only the fifteenth game(s) in history to receive a perfect 40/40 from Japanese magazine Famitsu. The previous major entry in the franchise, Pokemon Diamond and Pearl, went on to sell in excess of 16 million copies worldwide. If we add in the sales of Pokemon Platinum, the director’s edition remix of Diamond and Pearl, then the total goes up to beyond 20 million. Pokemon HeartGold and SoulSilver, 3D enhanced remakes of the GBC classics Pokemon Gold and Silver, have sold over 10 million copies in little over a year.
So yes, Pokemon isn’t close to dying out. It’s anything but, in fact. However, even the most fanatic Pokemon fan would be unable to deny that over the years, the series’ penchant for just incremental changes to the successive entries in the series has led the games feeling largely stale. The entire premise is the same every single time- as a young aspiring trainer, you set out to beat the eight gyms that lie all over your country, to be eligible for the Pokemon League, that competition of the most elite of all trainers. Along the way, you attempt to catch and catalog every single existing Pokemon species for your friendly resident Pokemon Professor, and also defeat an evil organization that is trying to take over the world using the wondrous powers of Pokemon. It’s all routine by now, and with the same plot and settings, the same locales (in essence) in every game, and the newer Pokemon designs appearing increasingly uninspired, the entire trudge through a new Pokemon game begins to feel largely pointless- how many times can you play through the same game again?
Clearly, a complete reboot was in order if the series was to survive. With the Sinnoh+Johto saga firmly behind them, Game Freak set out to create the most ambitious Pokemon game till date…
Forget everything you know about Pokemon. None of that matters in Pokemon Black and White. The series represents a complete reboot of the franchise, discarding all but the most tenuous links the game might have had with its forebearers.
That is evident from the get go. The moment you boot the game up, you can see everything’s changed. No longer do we have a happy ‘Welcome to the World of Pokemon!’ or ‘It’s A Whole New World We live In!’ intro clips, something seems to be different this time. The intro video is showing someone being crowned king… of what? It shows clippings of Pokemon watching intently… why?
Pokemon Black and White is the most story focussed entry in the Pokemon series yet. It actually takes its plot seriously, and while it doesn’t tinker with the established formula all too much (you still have eight gyms to take down), it brings a dramatic new twist on nearly everything else. No longer do we have a stereotypical evil organization bent on taking over the world. Instead, we are confronted with a certain Team Plasma, which seeks not to exploit Pokemon, but to free them from human control. They are headed not by a deranged one dimensional criminal mastermind, but rather by a shadowy and intriguing figure acting from behind the scenes known only as N.
The changes are immediately apparent. Once you’re through with the intro movie, the game starts with a cinematic zoom in of a quaint town, which is the starting town in Pokemon Black and White. And immediately, the increased focus on dialog and story come into light.