If Nintendo is notorious for doing things their own way, turning their back on everything from online play to achievements over the years, then Game Freak is still moreso.
Now in its sixth generation, Pokémon has very marched to the beat of its own drum since its debut in 1996, and Game Freak has rarely seemed to care whether you or I like it. With Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire, however, Game Freak seems to have rather suddenly become aware of a trend that took hold about a decade ago—downloadable content.*
* Though in fairness, Game Freak hasn't really worked with a platform capable of handling DLC until now. The Nintendo DS was a bit limited in that capacity. But that doesn't change the broader point.
This is not meant to be a dig at Game Freak so much as an observation that they have never really cared about actual paid DLC until now. Following the conclusion of Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire, however, there are rather broad hints that DLC is on the way. Actually, they aren't so much hints as Game Freak taking out a megaphone and saying, "Attention: More content is incoming!"
Apologies for the poor quality of this offscreen photo, but here's just on example:
That monument can be found on the Battle Resort, which at first blush is a rather disappointing postgame island containing a handful of Move Tutors and a Battle Maison ("An exact replica of the one in Kalos," according to the sign in front—har har, Game Freak). It was the absence of the Battle Frontier—a signature component to the original third generation games—that I was referring to when I was grumbling about the lack of postgame content in my review. These hints, however, seem to suggest that Pokémon fans shouldn't give up hope just yet.
If you're wondering why Pokémon fans are so hung up on the Battle Frontier, it's because the original was just so great. Conceived as a kind of battling theme park and introduced in Pokémon Emerald, it provided a ton of memorable postgame challenges for high-level trainers, including randomized battles, bracketed tournaments, and a large dungeon to explore. At the end of each challenge awaited a Frontier Brain—essentially a gym leader on steroids—who handed out badges as a reward for their defeat. As I mentioned earlier, the Battle Frontier was really hard—I never did manage to get all of the gold-level badges—but the journey was its own reward. Along with the surprise reveal of Kanto in Heart Gold/Soul Silver and the Pokémon World Tournament in Black 2/White 2, the Battle Frontier dramatically raised expectations concerning Pokémon's postgame content. Its apparent absence in Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire is on the face of it bitterly disappointing.
With these hints, though, fans have good reason to be excited. Game Freak rarely drops hints idly, as evidenced by Jasmine's cameo in Pokémon Diamond and Pearl, which portended the arrival of the Heart Gold/Soul Silver remakes. Assuming that the Battle Frontier hints are for real, I expect them to take one of three forms:
1. Downloadable Content: The most likely of the possibilities. It would potentially be named "Delta Emerald DLC" and released next summer to keep this version fresh. If that's the case, then Game Freak may be on the verge of breaking their five-year streak of retail releases. I'm kind of hoping that's the case.
2. A Delta Emerald retail release: The most cynical of the possibilities, which is that Game Freak is prepping a third version of Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire in the vein of Yellow, Emerald, and Platinum. I really doubt this happens, but I've seen speculation to this effect online. That's what being a Pokémon fan does to you sometimes: It makes you expect the worst.
3. Pokémon Z with a Battle Frontier: Game Freak is prepping a Battle Frontier, but for a hypothetical Pokémon Z rather than a Pokémon Delta Emerald. Of course, it would be odd to hint at Battle Frontier in Hoenn only for it to appear in Pokémon X/Y's Kalos. Unless, of course, Hoenn is included as a bonus region in the vein of the Kanto region in Gold and Silver, which would honestly be kind of amazing.
Whatever form it ultimately takes, I think it's pretty safe to say that the Battle Frontier will be appearing in one form or another very soon. Personally, I think it'll be as five dollar DLC, but we'll see. Game Freak is usually pretty predictable, but it's not unheard for them to zig when everyone expects them zag. The Pokémon Black/White sequels, for instance, came completely out of left field.
If Game Freak is indeed working on DLC, it'll have some interesting implications for the series moving forward. I doubt that the Game Freak would ever charge for rare monsters (at least I hope they're not that dumb), but I could seem them releasing "region packs" for $10 to $15 a pop, for instance. Whatever happens, it's more proof that every series has to eventually evolve to keep with pace with current trends—even Pokémon.