Rundown (11/29-12/05) Pokémon’s Pedantic Problems

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Wherein I discuss the mobile live service market, a rudimenary remaster, and a positively perplexing platform paradigm.

This past weekend I returned to Pokémon Shield to do some cleanup. Filling out my Pokédex with Pokémon from Pokémon Bank, getting the limited edition Pikachu distributions, and sending various Pokémon out to their PokéJobs to grind materials, while doing a few daily tasks. And it was while I was doing these repetitive interactions with their time-wasting cutscenes and dialogue prompts that I was reminded, yet again, of the innumerous and immense user experience (UX) failures of the Pokémon series. For the past decade or so, I’ve been fed up with just how slow, arbitrary, and stuck-in-its-ways the Pokémon series has gotten. And by that, I don’t mean how it is formulaic, how the battle system is relatively unchanged, or how it isn’t an open world sandbox game.

I’m talking about the little things, the carryovers from yore that the designers do not criticize or question enough. The trite that I went into great detail in during Natalie Rambles About Pokémon just over a year ago. And the sort of thing that I have little tolerance for after seeing so many games improve and refine their UX over time. After seeing so many developers of mobile live services dramatically improve a game over the span of years, shaping it into something far better than the launch product by adding new content, improving existing content, and overall streamlining the experience of play by cutting the fat, fluff, and waste in the original design.

Unfortunately, GameFreak and its many support studios are not doing that, with each new release only containing some minor quality of life improvements. They are incredibly talented and capable individuals who can release quality titles with a near-annual turnaround. But when it comes to bigger things, to uprooting systems, they are so cagey, so worried that it would ruin the games or lessen the appeal if breeding Pokémon wasn’t a gosh darn time vampire if players didn’t need to return to a Pokémon Center or use items to heal after battles, and if manipulating EVs and IVs actually felt rewarding, instead of like manipulating the game’s system to get optimal results by sacrificing your time.

I know that no other developer would keep these systems as they were. They would streamline and make them actually fun instead of feeling like chores. And if you gave this game to a developer who has pivoted and reworked systems in a live game before, then they would definitely figure out a way to make the game quantifiably better than it was before. Like Cygames, who has continued to impress me with their ongoing iterations to Dragalia Lost, the action RPG title they are working on in collaboration with Nintendo.

I gushed about the game a few months ago and will hold off until next year before I do another massive exposé on them, but every time I go back to Pokémon after playing Dragalia, the more antiquated and dated it seems. That game does such a good job of keeping things snappy by comparison that it feels like a decade removed from any given Pokémon game, and despite having the technology, despite having the skill, they still just don’t do it. They need a fresh pair of eyes to look at the game as a series of systems and streamline them to hell and back. Screw the gimmicks, trash the innovations, just make the next generation or whatever, and make it slick as hell. They came so close to doing that with Pokémon Black and White, but they didn’t go far enough, and things only got slower since the jump to 3D.

…But I am getting into a rant again, and I should save my Pokémon-related musings for Natalie Rambles About the Pokémon Sword & Shield Expansion Pass, which I’ll almost certainly do sometime next year.

Jumping back a bit, this past week Dragalia Lost began a crossover even with another, more popular, Cygames mobile title, Princess Connect! Re:Dive, a rebooted rendition of a failed mobile game simply called Princess Connect that has amassed a rather large following in Japan due to its use of popular voice actresses, musical artists, and animated cutscenes. Its popularity only increased thanks to an anime that released this past spring, but the title has never graced a western audience, making it a title shrouded in some degree of mystery in the English-speaking world. However, that is changing as Crunchyroll Games recently announced that they are bringing Princess Connect! Re:Dive to a global audience, with a debut scheduled for sometime in early 2021.

Normally I would not bring this sort of thing up, but until I saw this story I legitimately did not know Crunchyroll doubled as a publisher/localizer of mobile live service games… which makes a lot of sense the more I think about it. The skills needed to localize a game and localize an anime have a lot of overlap, and their catalog is almost entirely made up of games either with an anime adaptation or are related to an anime IP, allowing them to share staff, or at least style guides, between the two in order to achieve a more consistent localization.

I think this is a good business plan that helps diversify Crunchyroll’s revenue stream, but just looking over their catalog, and then thinking about how many games are on the market, this news also caused me to pause and pontificate how sustainable all of this is.

You see, the “single-purchase” game model isn’t going to go away for a lot of reasons, and one of them is the fact that players will often buy a load of games and simply not play or finish them, allowing the publisher to accumulate revenue without requiring the player to put any time into the title. Live services, meanwhile, are manufactured around the idea of being titles that accumulate revenue proportional to the amount of time a player invests into them. After all, players who “whale” on these services don’t blow hundreds and then walk away. At least, not in theory. Instead, they invest hours upon hours into these titles between dailies, grinding, and farming. By investing time into these titles, they become unable to play other games, and this generally limits most players to one or two live services, if any at all.

Currently, this isn’t a massive issue as the market for mobile live services is only growing, but I have to ask when this market will become prohibitive to enter. Game dev costs are always rising, and mobile game dev isn’t any exception. Just look at the era of Mobage Town, jump ahead to stuff like GranBlue Fantasy, and then get a load of something like Genshin Impact. If AAA mobile live services become the norm, where will that leave the little guys? Will they wither away and will the market resemble the AAA console game industry?

I don’t know, but I am interested in observing how the industry ebbs and flows, how it evolves, and whether it will crash over the next 10 years. Because while people can, do, and will basically always have enough to buy this or that “single-purchase” video game, they might not have the time needed to become invested in a live service enough to begin supporting it monetarily.

…Actually, wait, there might be a problem with how I am approaching things. I am assuming only enfranchised and dedicated players pay real-life money for characters. But that is not always the case, as plenty of people pay big for certain characters at the game’s launch and then move on to the new hotness. That is utterly illogical by my estimation, but so is ‘whaling’ in general.

You know what else is illogical by my estimation? The very existence of Go! Go! 5 Jigen Game Neptune: re★Verse. an enhanced rendition of 2015’s Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth1, which itself is a remake of 2010’s Hyperdimension Neptunia that is being arbitrarily released as a PS5 exclusive. Which was recently announced for a western release under the name of Neptunia ReVerse, which will debut sometime in 2021.

Now, as a trash goblin who has played through the entire mainline Neptunia series, I am not opposed to Idea Factory and Compile Heart polishing their titles and re-releasing them as superior versions, but that is not really what ReVerse is. It is the same game with some improvements previously sold as DLC, a fresh UI, a revised battle system, a new fishing mini-game, an expanded party size of 4, and the ability to use every character at once instead of needing to unlock them over multiple playthroughs. The game is still going to be the same at its core, I doubt they are going to re-localize the wonky English script or re-record any dialogue, and all the worth-deprived fluff and asset recycling will remain the same as it always was.

If the preamble for this week’s Rundown wasn’t an indication, I would rather see game developers focus on making something simple, streamlined, and good, rather than half-ass something like this. And if Idea Factory really was inclined on not changing much about this title, then they could have had the generosity to make this a compilation title. They could take the mechanics and improvements they’re applying to Neptunia Re;Birth1 and carry them over to Re;Birth2 and Re;Birth3, which were made on the foundation of Re;Birth1. But no, instead they are putting out a game you could have gotten a marginally worse version of for $1 under select deals and charging $50 for it.

For whatever reason Atlus has been surprisingly cagey about announcing their localization of Persona 5 Scramble: The Phantom Strikes, the Omega Force developed sequel to and spin-off of Persona 5. The title came out in Japan in February 2020, later released in other Asian markets the following June, and only now, after an unlisted YouTube trailer was found by the public, has it been revealed and confirmed that the title, renamed Persona 5 Strikers, will be coming out in the west on February 23, 2021. Where it will debut on PS4, PC, and Switch, despite Persona 5 having only released on the PS3 and PS4.

Now, this is the part where I either talk about how the game looks like a fan and flashy button basher that isn’t afraid to get a bit weird in a way emblematic of spin-offs, or I can talk about the fact that this spin-off is hitting platforms that the original title was never ported to and how that’s dumb. …And I’m obviously going to do the second one.

The Switch has been a huge success in regards to units sold and also software sales, making it one of the best platforms out there for higher-profile titles, as people will buy them up either at launch or long term. Especially lengthy JRPGs that players want to pick up and put down regularly, or don’t want to hog up the TV by playing. And as for the PC, well, Persona 4 Golden sold 500,000 units within a month, with no sales, discounts, or promotions. If that doesn’t indicate your games have an audience on a platform, then nothing will.

If Atlus isn’t working on ports of Persona 5 Royal for these platforms, then… they’re just dumb. And the fact that Omega Force had more insight to bring this game to multiple platforms than Atlus speaks volumes about how behind the times they truly are. I mean, they still are limiting what parts of their games can be shared via streaming, even though there are literally no other major companies who still do that. After all, for video games, streaming is the best advertising your product can hope for… assuming your product is actually good, and Atlus’s games generally are.

Well, that was a rather ranty and roundabout rendition of a Rundown this week, but I suppose I was in something of a mood as I wrote this. I am currently recovering from yet another round of electrolysis, had to get off my medication schedule for the procedure, and everything I saw looked like a nail this past week. But worry not, for next week will bring some positivity and zaniness as I review one of the cheeriest games I could name.

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