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Pokemon is Already an MMORPG

STARTING SCREEN | Pokemon has all the good parts of an MMO while avoiding the bits that we hate.

Feature by Kat Bailey, USgamer Team, .

Whether it's because of EverQuest or World of WarCraft, MMOs have taken on a very specific meaning over the past 20 years or so.

When we think of MMOs, we think of massive social hubs. We think of guilds. We think of huge co-op raids, endgame content, and of course, raids.

When a game lacks those elements, we tend to discount it as being an MMO, which is one reason people have been begging for a Pokemon MMO for a good 15 years now.

But here's the deal: Pokemon is already an MMO in its own weird way. And its ties to massively multiplayer online gaming have only become more apparent with the advent of online multiplayer.

Social multiplayer has always been a big part of Pokemon's DNA. It was Satoshi Tajiri who brought the Game Boy link cable back from the grave, enabling the battling and trading that made Pokemon Red and Blue one of the most popular games of all time. Even before online multiplayer became widespread, Tajiri and company understood the innate appeal of social gaming—of carving out your own identity while working with other players toward a common objectives.

In my day we had physical cables, and we liked it! *waves cane*

Key to this dynamic were its overarching objectives. Like the MMOs of today, Pokemon didn't end with the credits. Instead, your goal was to catch every single monster and complete your Pokedex. Conversely, you could raise the ultimate team and become a top battler. There were no "raids," but these components nevertheless roughly conformed to the PvE and PvP components that define today's MMOs.

As Pokemon evolved, so did its community. When it became possible to breed monsters, a whole community of obsessive breeders appeared. When Gold and Silver introduced alternately-colored "shiny" monsters, collecting every single shiny became a badge of honor among a certain segment of hardcore collectors.

In 2007, online multiplayer was introduced for the first time, and Pokemon was totally transformed. For the first time, strangers on the Internet could battle, trade, and even work together to conquer the Battle Tower. Smogon emerged in this period, as did the Youtube battling community. Serebii, one of the oldest and most established Pokemon communities, became a Hearthpwn-like hub for all things Pokemon (all while maintaining the exact same layout from circa 2003).

If you had the least bit of interest in Pokemon's postgame, there was a segment of the community that could cater to your needs. As a primarily PVP player, I often turned to breeders to get spare eggs from their various breeding projects. If I needed a legendary monster from another version, I would flip a popular starter like Charmander online. Clever features like the Global Trading System—where you could upload a random monster and potentially get something amazing back—dramatically enhanced the sense of being connected to a worldwide community.

Pokemon has only continued to grow since then, its community being the rock on which the entire empire is founded. Binding it all together is the continuity afforded by apps like Pokemon Bank, which allow you to transfer monsters from games going back to Pokemon Black and White on the DS (and beyond if you're patient enough to chain your monsters from the GBA to the DS to the 3DS). It's the continuity from game to game that makes it all feel like a cohesive world, one where your monster buddies will always be at your side.

In that, the only thing keeping Pokemon from being a full-blooded MMO is a connected in-game hub. It's already a persistent online world in which you can take part in a multitude of activities. It's just that most of the actual interaction takes place in chatrooms and message boards.

I get it: When people say they want a Pokemon MMO, what they're actually saying is that they want a massive world featuring all of the regions that they can explore at their leisure. They want to beat gyms run by other players. They want to see another traveler on the road to Johto and challenge them to a quick battle.

Such visions are tantalizing, but they ultimately contradict another important aspect of Pokemon's identity: in-person interaction. It's why Game Freak has resisted creating a full-blown console generation through all these years. Pokemon's lifeblood is still the seven-year-olds who are trading with their friends on the playground.

Your typical MMORPG hub. Hard to be immersed when you keep running into people like Aevor the Love Fool from Clan Eat my Crit.

And in any case, it's the in-person interaction that makes Pokemon feel that much more genuine. As I told Nadia on our RPG podcast Axe of the Blood God, I often struggle to get into MMORPGs because the worlds feel so artificial. And really, what's the fun of a world where everyone can run through the solo content and become Champion? In a way, it's nice to have the world of Pokemon to yourself, with the outside connections being purely at your own discretion.

For that reason, I'm glad that Game Freak hasn't tried to cram Pokemon into what we know as an MMORPG. I'm glad that I don't have to deal with server downtime, patches, and idiots spamming the chat with Nazi salutes. I can even deal with having to play through the story again to access the endgame content.

No, Pokemon will never be what we recognize as an "MMO." But it has all the elements that matter most—the persistent world and the community to match—and it manages it without sacrificing the unique sense of ownership you have over your personal journey. Personally, I wouldn't trade that for the world—even a massively multiplayer one.

Looking Ahead to the Rest of the Week

Everything is super-busy here at USgamer. We're taking the last laps on the games that are contenders for our Game of the Year list and deciding what's going to take the top spots this year. All that will be appearing on the site over the course of the next few weeks. This week though, here's what's you can expect.

PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds on Xbox One: The indie game that Microsoft is treating like a first-party release went live on the Xbox Game Preview program this morning. For $29.99 on the Xbox Store, you can jump in and see what the fuss is all about. Caty spent most of the morning playing the game and her impressions are up on the site today!

Monster Hunter: World Beta: The beta of Capcom's newest Monster Hunter is still ongoing! If you have a PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Plus, you can download the beta right now to get a taste of the MonHun on a home console! The beta will be ending on Tuesday, 11:59AM ET/8:59AM PT. That means there's still time to enjoy it!

Star Wars: Battlefront 2: The first season of updated content for Battlefront 2 went live last week, celebrating the upcoming release of Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Last week, you could choose to be a part of the Resistance or the First Order. This week on December 13, Finn and Captain Phasma are joining the game as playable heroes and the Resurrection story content continues Iden Versio's story. Crait comes as a new planetary map and D'Qar is the new Starfighter Assault map. Basically, if you're playing Battlefront 2, this is your week!

The Best of the Rest: Okami gets another re-release as Okami HD comes to PlayStation 4 and Xbox One tomorrow, December 12. Laster this week, Romancing Saga 2 finds a revival as the SNES classic comes to PS4, PS Vita, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and PC on December 15. It's a port of the Android and iOS version, so don't expect much, but if you're a fan, it's one of the few English releases of the title.

Nadia's Note Block Beat Box: Gormott Province (Daytime)

Oh, Xenoblade Chronicles 2. You're a mess, and I love you. Sometimes you don't know whether you're coming or going, but I'll tell you this much: Your soundtrack has everything together.

The soundtrack for Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is composed in part by the venerable Yasunori Mitsuda, who has a real talent for making pieces that click together with their settings like puzzle pieces. The tune for Gormott Province is a key example: It keys up just as you find yourself on the sprawling back of the Gormott Titan, one of the biggest and liveliest areas in the game. It practically sings to you. Gormott Province's melody was clearly composed with Gaur Plains in mind. I think Gormott may actually surpass Gaur; just dig that change Gormott dishes up at 3:43.

Mike's Media Minute

One of the more iconic images from Steven Spielberg's classic adaptation of Jurassic Park is also one of its simplest. It's a cup of water that's just sitting there, with small ripples passing through it. It's a great image, one full of tension and meaning: something big is coming. Something big that will likely kill us all.

That image encapsulates the box office with Star Wars: The Last Jedi coming out this week.

The Last Jedi is sucking up all the air in the room for the foreseeable future. Justice League's meager legs have been cut short and Thor: Ragnarok can be glad it reached $300 million domestic before the juggernaut launched. It's not just attention: The Last Jedi is also taking over marquee screens at most theaters.

Oddly enough, it feels like expectations are higher for The Last Jedi than last year's Star Wars: Rogue One. The latter film felt like a spin-off and The Force Awakens was mostly tasked with re-establishing the franchise for a new generation. The Last Jedi is the work of director Rian Johnson, who previously did Brick and Looper. Johnson is expected to offer up a darker, more meaningful film, this trilogy's Empire Strikes Back, before he returns in the future to helm an all-new trilogy. If you want an inkling of what that'll be like, The Last Jedi is the litmus test.

Hopefully, it lives up to those expectations.

As a small aside, I wanted to highlight a teaser trailer for a film that won't be coming out until next December. Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse is the official title of the animated Spider-Man feature featuring the other Spider-Man, Miles Morales. The trailers show off a very distinct artstyle, somewhere between a CG film and a comic book. The film has been developed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, the duo behind The Lego Movie and 21 Jump Street. Lord wrote the script with help from Gravity Falls creator Alex Hirsch. Peter Ramsey, Bob Persichetti, and Rodney Rothman are co-directing, which gives me pause, but otherwise, I'm looking forward to it.

Caty’s AltGame Corner

This week's AltGame Corner pick isn't technically out yet, but it's out tomorrow, and it looks to be an interesting one. Releasing on Tuesday, December 12th is Rumu from Australia-based developers Robot House. Rumu is a narrative adventure about a Roomba-like vacuum that seems a bit more sentient. You're not just sucking up cat fur to keep the house clean though.

As the game progresses, you discover more about your mysterious creators, and the house's AI Sabrina whom you've sorta befriended. From previews, the game's already drawn comparisons to the likes of Wall-E, Firewatch, Gone Home, and 2001: A Space Odyssey. This will be one mess we're itching to clean when it releases on Steam for PC tomorrow.

This Week's News and Notes

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Comments 5

  • Avatar for LBD_Nytetrayn #1 LBD_Nytetrayn A month ago
    Besides the is-it or isn't-it of Pokemon, I still feel several Mega Man worlds are long overdue for some MMO treatment.
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  • Avatar for docexe #2 docexe A month ago
    It's kind of surreal that we are finally on the week of Episode VIII debut. In some ways, I think this is the actual trial by fire of the franchise. The Force Awakens was enjoyable, but it was also a retread of the classic trilogy in several ways. This one will need to be more than that.

    I have to assume Disney and Lucasfilm are pretty confident in Rian Johnson, what with giving him an entire trilogy for himself. Hopefully, that faith will pay off.
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  • Avatar for docexe #3 docexe A month ago
    @LBD_Nytetrayn Wasn't that the premise behind Rockman Online? A shame that one never materialized.Edited last month by docexe
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  • Avatar for sketchlayerjosh #4 sketchlayerjosh A month ago
    All the talk of Pokémon’s MMO aspects just brought back a flood of memories. You’re right, Kat, that the games have always had a very intense online component, even before the games supported it. Before I was a professional web developer, my very first website was one of the many Pokémon fan sites that were vying for supremacy in the harsh wasteland of the 1999 internet. It was a different time. A time of “frames or no frames” choices, and where setting up your forums were a landmark step (“Every site has unrelated pop culture boards, but I’ll have an entire board JUST for posting Simpson’s quotes!”).

    Even though my site (Otochi’s Den, named after one of the earliest revealed new monsters in G/S; I didn’t know it’d turn out to be vendor trash) never reached the pinnacle, even a small community of a hundred or so people was enough to provide hours and hours of extra content. People debating team formations, trying to suss out any information about Gold and Silver (including watching people attempt to learn Japanese in real time in an effort to translate imported games and cards), posts about rumors that were quickly shut down for being too ridiculous (a *red* Gyrados? No way). Someone even made a super-janky text-based version of the TCG that you could play online.

    So, yeah, even back then, with just the first couple of games, Pokémon had this huge online component. If you’re someone who plays the new games, and you’re wishing for a huge online component, it’s already out there! Find a community and get ready to explore the games in entirely new ways. And, these days, you don’t even have to learn PHPBB forum codes to do it.
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  • Avatar for sca1een #5 sca1een A month ago
    An interesting post. Also, I'd love to say a lot of this hate towards aspiring Pokemon trainers I think stems from the modern-day Luddites that fail to see the value in something if it is enabled by technology. As the ace essay writer I'd point out what these people fail to realize is that most hobbies, from playing video games to building model ships to running marathons are equally unproductive in terms of what they contribute to society. But that's OK, people need to relax and focus on these types of distractions from time-to-time especially in a button-up, high-stress city like DC. Are marathon runners sheeple? They certainly run wherever the organizers of an event tell them to. Also, they close down streets and inconvenience people. However, most folks are OK with running because it has been around for a long time and the behavior has been normalized in America.

    Also, to some commenters all over the net that said it was disrespectful for Pokemon trainers to visit FDR's memorial in droves, I think that you fail to see the sweet irony in that memorial being a Pokemon hotspot. People are capturing virtual Japanese monsters in little balls at a memorial to a monster who captured Japanese Americans in internment camps. Funny how these things work out
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