Pokémon Should Go Back to Pixel Graphics
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Pokémon Should Go Back to Pixel Graphics

Being an older fan of the Pokémon games is strange. It can often feel like the series just hasn’t grown with its audience and hasn’t come close to reaching its potential. Pokémon is, after all, the biggest money-making franchise in the world, yet their games fall flat in so many areas.

What’s vital in the Pokémon franchise is, well, the Pokémon. Designing new, awesome Pokémon gets people to buy the games, the plushies, and all kinds of merch. But there is so much more to video games that Pokémon often lacks. The stories aren’t very impactful; the worlds may have more Pokémon, but they also feel more empty, and the worlds themselves just don’t look all that great, especially since they moved into the HD era.

Pokemon Pixel Art
Images: @Dewndeym

The line that is always said is that “Pokémon isn’t a company that cares about graphics,” and it’s true. They’re not Naughty Dog or Square Enix, and that’s completely fine. Still, there’s a solution to the issue of having nice graphics but not gearing your budget towards that area of development specifically: Pokémon should go back to pixelated graphics.

Pixelated graphics are often associated with retro games, so they don’t have a general appeal like modern, life-like 3D games do. But due to innovations in pixel art, thanks to games like Octopath Traveler, Stardew Valley, and upcoming games like Eiuyden Chronicle and Triangle Strategy, the art form has only grown more beautiful. Just because they’re pixel graphics doesn’t mean it has to look like an old Game Boy game or be restricted to 2D. The games mentioned above bridge the gap between 2D and 3D beautifully and still have managed to sell millions of copies. It would be a bold move, but there are reasons why it would work and might even be welcomed. Nintendo Life published an article showcasing artists who are redoing the original games in updated visuals using pixel art. The images are downright gorgeous.

Despite having massive wide appeal, Pokémon does not speak to the entire gaming audience. Often, the people who buy Call of Duty, Grand Theft Auto, and their yearly sports games are (generally speaking) not always the ones playing Pokémon. The people who are playing know they aren’t getting cutting-edge, next-gen graphics. The main demographic for Pokémon is kids and people who have stuck with the franchise since they played it back in the 1990s. Many kids play cartoon-inspired games like Fortnite, Minecraft, and Roblox (and yeah, definitely still Call of Duty), so they’re not necessarily going to care how the game looks; they just want to catch cool Pokémon and battle their friends. A majority of the adults playing are probably nostalgic for the way the older games looked.

Pokémon is a franchise that constantly banks on nostalgia (look at how many times they’ve remade/redone the first generation of games), so it could curry a lot of favor with older fans and even bring back people who haven’t played in decades. The only issue is that some might consider the change a downgrade because pixelated graphics are often related to older games. No matter what, any choice is sure to alienate someone.

A considerable controversy that popped up before Pokémon Sword & Shield was released was excluding large numbers of Pokémon in the final game. The developers stated that rendering all of the Pokémon in HD turned out to be difficult and took a lot of time, so they couldn’t include every Pokémon from the National Dex. People don’t realize that it’s a lot more than updating all these character models to 3D; they also have to render all of their movements in battle, emotional expressions, and them in the overworld. It takes a lot of time, and again, this issue could be lessened with pixel art.

Pixel art definitely takes time to make, but it won’t need much updating once made, and it doesn’t have to be rendered like 3D models. Then, more time could be spent on making the battle moves more expressive and spectacular. In the newer games, a lot of those attacks just aren’t that fun to look at. There are hundreds upon hundreds of moves, especially in the newer games, so the time to render them is probably insane again. Yes, redoing them all in pixel format would also be time-consuming, but it would lead to better visuals and a more striking style.

As hardware gets more powerful, game worlds have looked better. The same just can’t be said for Pokémon—and in a sense, that’s okay, and Pokémon fans have come to expect that. Including gameplay aspects like the Wild Area at least make the games feel less empty, but with Pokémon’s track record of scrapping features after one game, who knows if the wild area will even return? Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl don’t have the Wild Area, and as a result the games feel incredibly empty to me. In a world that is supposed to feel so overpopulated with these beautiful creatures, you only see them in battles, hardly ever in the overworld. There are tons of fan art people have done over the years showing Pokémon in the older styles that look amazing; it can absolutely be done.

Pixel art is not for everyone, and that’s okay. Pokémon has never been about graphics, but if that’s the case, then the creators should experiment more with art style and feed into people’s nostalgia more than just making a 100th new version of Charizard for people to catch. Maybe the change will push some fans away, but that’s how game development works, and I’m sure lots of the decisions made for Pokémon have driven fans out.

Pixel art is bold, can be visually striking like other games have done incredibly well, and might give Pokémon the visual boost it needs. If the franchise isn’t known for its photorealistic graphics like other AAA games, then this is a change that could make a lot of sense in the end. Bring us back to the good old days.

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