Pokémon's ORIGINAL National Dex Controversy - Tama Hero
So, let’s talk about Pokemon Sword and Shield. At E3 2019, Junichi Masuda confirmed that not every Pokémon would be available in the then upcoming Sword and Shield games, effectively killing the National Dex. See if you’ve never tried to complete a Pokédex, most Pokémon games have two. There’s the regional dex, or just the Pokémon you can get native to whatever region the game takes place in without trading outside of those games, usually around 100 to 200 Pokémon, and then there’s the national dex, which includes Pokémon from other regions you have to get either by trading from other games that take place in other areas or transferring up through past games through things like Pokémon Bank or Home. For the most part only shiny hunters really ever try to complete the national dex because there’s like over 900 Pokémon now, and the only reward in most games for getting them all is the shiny charm, which boosts your odds of running into shiny Pokémon. But even a lot of people who aren’t
shiny hunters do typically move up a few Pokémon outside of the regional dex into each new game, be they old favorites or hard to get event mons, or competitively optimized Pokémon they want to try in the new meta. There’s a reason they can charge for products like Pokémon Home, there’s a sizable dedicated group of Pokémon fans that have been with the series for decades and have held onto their coveted Pokémon and moved them up into each new game. And there are even some weirdos like me that actually do like trying to catch em all in every game just for completionist sake, or experimenting with unusual team builds for the main story by trading Pokémon across games into regions they don’t normally appear in. But now it seemed that this tradition was finally
ended for good, and you would be limited to whatever Pokémon appeared in the wild in the new games with absolutely no opportunity for any others being traded in. And indeed when the games were released there were only 400 Pokémon available. For probably most Pokémon players, especially new players arriving to a new and unprecedentedly popular console like the Switch, they didn’t really care, because they were willing to see who was in the game and just use what was available. But of course the people who were upset by this were already extremely dedicated to the series, and were really vocal about their distaste at such a large chunk of content being omitted. This controversy was rather tastelessly dubbed “Dexit”, a reference to another very 2019 thing, the EU Referendum vote that had resulted in the UK leaving the European Union, also known as “Brexit.” Of course one of these things had real world consequences impacting the real lives of real people and the other was about some virtual creatures in a video game but what are you gonna do.
Now maybe the fans wouldn’t be so upset about the National Dex getting cut if there was a good reason to have fewer Pokémon, but the justification Masuda gave for this at the time was “higher fidelity graphics” and “higher quality animations” and Shigeru Ohmori said that they rebuilt all of the models for every Pokémon in the game from scratch. This was a huge PR mistake and is probably the reason there hasn’t been a lot of interviews from the devs leading up to the release of any other Pokémon game since. Graphical quality is an extremely subjective thing, and to a lot of the most upset people, no graphics or animations would ever be good enough to justify cutting Pokémon out of the game. A lot of people would be willing to go back to 2D sprites if it
meant having their favorite Pokémon in the game again, and even if you made the most gorgeous immaculate game ever, some detail could still be scrutinized to find some kind of low resolution texture, or some people could just flat out dislike the art direction. So of course, because of this Sword and Shield were heavily ripped to shreds by these fans on this basis alone and now you had people complaining not only about the missing Pokémon but also about tree textures. And this was by mostly fans that had been with the series from the beginning and would probably otherwise not care that much about what the game looked like because let’s face it this is Pokémon we’re talking about. Soon this bled into all other areas of the game. The game wasn’t long enough to justify cutting the Pokémon. The game wasn’t hard enough to justify it. The list of things that were not good enough about Sword and Shield got longer and longer, and nobody could have a real conversation about it because the problems being named themselves weren’t the real reason that these people were upset. So there was of course backlash to the backlash
and the fandom was divided into two camps, Dexit Truthers and I guess people who just wanted the truthers to shut the **** up already and let them enjoy the game. A lot of people found the histrionics tiring as they became less and less about the national dex and more and more about just Sword and Shield and everything about them being awful. I’m gonna get back to that later, because there’s definitely more to the story of the 2019 dexit. But while this is the first time in recent memory we’ve dealt with such a dramatic change to the series that involved cutting Pokémon out of the game and the controversy that came with it, this has actually happened once before, and I think maybe we can learn something about where current day Pokémon is headed by looking back at the past. Some of you may not remember this, but In 2002, at the time of writing 20 years ago, Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire were released. And when these games were released, they did not include backwards compatibility with the previous games, effectively cutting players off from the National Dex.
Sound familiar? Whether or not they could have found a way to make that technically possible between the GameBoy games and the GameBoy Advance games has been hotly debated for years now, but the simple fact is that suddenly a majority of the Pokémon that we knew from Kanto and Johto were not there. Only 135 Pokémon were available between the two versions out of the 386 that existed, and for the first year or so there was no indication of whether they’d be returning or not, and a lot of players were in the dark about whether or not the missing Pokémon were even programmed into the game’s code and just inaccessible. Even though the franchise was still in its infancy, it was the first time that a new game was released without backwards compatibility at all with any previous version, and with the dex bigger than it ever had been, there were basically two ways that this could go. They could give it a clean break and not make any effort to add back
any of the Pokémon that weren’t in the regional dex of Ruby and Sapphire, or they could release more games that included the missing Pokémon to make it possible to “catch em all” again. With the benefit of hindsight, we know of course that they chose option B. But the way they went about it is both dramatically different and eerily similar to the way the way that things went in 2019.
Part 1: Deja Vu Now one major difference between today's dexit and the original dexit is what the video game market was like at the time, and the landscape of gaming in 2002 was a very different place. It’s funny to imagine that once the money making strategy was to stuff games with a ton of content and make them as long as possible. Today it seems like games try to get away with offering as little content for as much money as possible. But back then, the opposite was true. Longer, beefier games with more content made more money. What changed? Well, people today have very convenient channels to play games, you can download almost any title at any time through legitimate means, console adoption is commonplace and the rental market has been entirely bulldozed by the availability of content on demand. But not that many years ago, game rental from a retail chain was something a majority of people who played games did. From the early 80s to the mid 2000s,
game rental was a $700 million market. In a report from the Los Angeles Business Journal in 2006, the CEO of GameFly stated “Almost all gamers rent games, that’s a fact that everyone in the industry is aware of.” Early on, the majority of game rentals came through chains like Blockbuster, and for $6 you could rent a game for 3 days and then return it once you had your fun, compared to the $30 or $60 it would cost to buy a game outright. But in the mid 2000s, more companies were joining the order-by-mail game rental business as well, like GameFly and even Overstock.com. So even though we know now that this was not something that would last into the future, at the time of the development of Ruby and Sapphire in 2001, game rental was a huge market that developers saw basically none of the revenue from, and it was threatening to get even bigger. In Japan, game rental is illegal. In 1984, the Recording Industry Association of Japan teamed up
with several game developers and the Compact Disc & Video Rental Commerce Trade Association of Japan to lobby the Japanese government to ban video game rentals. But in 1989, our pals at Nintendo, who, need I remind you, own a 32% share in the Pokémon Company International tried to sue Blockbuster over game manual photocopies of all things, in a bid to get game rental banned in the US. The House and Senate ruled that game rental itself was perfectly legal in the United States. Banning rentals in the US was a bust. So when games were brought over from Japan, a lot of
times they were deliberately modified to be longer and more difficult so that players could not beat them during the lifespan of a game rental, and would be incentivized to actually buy the game in a manner that the developers would see the profits from. Rentals were cheap, but they would get more expensive if you wanted to play longer than your allotted 3 days, either from overdue fees or from renting it again, and if you wanted to rent it again you had to compete with everyone else who wanted to check out a popular new game for the few copies available at your local store. So if your game necessitated more than a 3 day investment of time, you could basically force players to inevitably purchase a copy. Even if the games were designed in Japan, the US is obviously still a huge market that no one wants to lose out on. Case in point, Working Designs. In the 90s,
there was a localization company headed by notorious edgelord Victor Ireland that was one of the few companies localizing JRPGs and Action RPGs at the time for western audiences. Working Designs made a bunch of “improvements” to every game they brought over, usually tweaking them to make them significantly more difficult so that they would take longer to beat. Ireland himself has explained in numerous places across the internet that the motivation for these changes was to avoid losing money on rentals and game returns. Enemies would take more hits, deal more damage, healing items would be rarer or more expensive, and the list goes on. For some games puzzle solutions were
changed or hints were removed from the game, not only to make it take longer to solve them, but also to encourage players to buy first party official Working Designs guides for the games. A rather hilarious example of this is the game Exile 2, where a rather innocuous middle of the road action RPG accidentally became one of the hardest games ever made because a last minute change to the code resulted in an exponential increase to enemy health and damage, sometimes to the point of being a 3300% difference from the original Japanese version. Now this may not have a lot to do with Pokémon, as Pokémon games don’t receive this sort of massive overhaul during localization. For the most part the content of the game including difficulty is the same across all releases of the games in every market around the world. And when Gens 1 & 2 were
developed, the assumption was that there simply wasn’t an audience for JRPGs outside of Japan anyway, so they didn’t worry too much about this rental issue. However by the time the new millennium rolled around, Ruby and Sapphire were developed as the very first mainline Pokémon games with a global audience in mind. And it was also the first time that the plan from the start was that the generation would contain multiple games in order to fill back in the missing Pokémon.
So, the generation three games were designed in particular to avoid the pitfalls of the US rental market and to add back in the Pokémon that were lost in the move to the GameBoy Advance somehow. These two problems that GameFreak faced moving into gen 3, game rentals costing the franchise money on sales and the national dex needing to be added back to the series basically had the same exact solution. You can still finish most Pokémon games to the Elite Four in a weekend if you are very dedicated, but what is something you can’t do in that amount of time? Fill out your national dex. Part 2: Costs Before we get into exactly how GameFreak went about walling off content to keep players from renting the games, let’s first take a look at that national dex problem and how they resolved it by adding Pokémon back to the series, shall we? In Generation three, after Ruby and Sapphire, over a span of three years they released 5 more games to fill in the remaining missing 184 Pokémon, making the total 7 games, Ruby, Sapphire, Colosseum, FireRed, LeafGreen, Emerald and XD Gale of Darkness. You technically only needed to own a minimum of 4 games to complete the Pokédex, but you needed at least three different consoles and two different accessories, plus a memory card if you are going for the lowest number of games you need to get a full dex. A GameBoy Advance system was $99.99 at launch, and you needed two, same goes for the SP, a GameCube was $199, a GameCube GameBoy Advance link cable was $11, I can’t find price info for the GBA link cable so we’ll assume it was also around $11, Pokémon Leaf Green was $40, Ruby was $35, and Pokémon Colosseum and XD Gale of Darkness were $52.99 each. A GameCube Memory card was another $11. So in total, to complete the
Pokédex yourself with the fewest number of games, you were required to spend a minimum of $612.96. There were price drops along the way so depending on when you were able to amass all this stuff the total might have been a hundred dollars lower at $512.96. There was no Wi-Fi, and you don’t have any control over the people in your personal area and what their hobbies are, so the only way you could guarantee you could fill in the dex yourself was to spend the cash. The cheaper option would be to cut the Gamecube games out altogether and actually buy all 5 of the GameBoy Advance games, plus the two GameBoy Advance systems and link cable, which would amount to $395.98
but also would necessitate multiple complete playthroughs of Fire Red, Leaf Green and Emerald in order to get all three Johto starters and Legendary Dogs thanks to the games only having one save file each. But no matter how you slice it, that is an enormous premium for some digital creatures. For some context, in the following generation, gen 4, Diamond and Pearl were missing some Pokémon that you could only get by transferring up from the GameBoy Advance games, but through the release of Platinum, Heart Gold and Soul Silver, within a span of 3 years all of the Pokémon were available on the DS again without requiring you to own any older games at all. In theory you could even get the Regi’s without the Pal Park if we count the limited time events over Wi-Fi. So they managed
to accomplish this with a mere 5 games in a short amount of time. Granted you do actually needed to own all 5 games and participate in limited time events to complete the Pokédex by yourself in this gen without the Pal Park at all, if we get into mythicals you could add another game to this list, Pokémon Ranger. But because the Wi-Fi connection was introduced, while this Gen was active you really actually only needed to own a single Gen 4 game if you could arrange trades for everything you were missing over the internet. Doing it all alone wasn’t the only option anymore if you didn’t happen to know anyone who had the game, and because you could trade as soon as you got the Pal Pad in-game, it was super easy to find eligible partners. Heart Gold was actually the first time I ever personally completed a national Pokédex because it was really simple to get all of the Pokémon I was missing over the internet from strangers and friends far away. And Wi-Fi was basically as free as your internet service, there was no paid Nintendo Online at the time, so if you had a DS, an internet connection and one game you were set. The minimum you needed to spend was
essentially $184.99 for one DS and one game, plus your monthly internet bill, or I guess not even that if you wanted to walk to McDonalds to trade on their free Wi-Fi, which is what I mostly did. So if the big difference between the cost of the two generations was the introduction of Wi-Fi and the accessibility of trading partners, we can see why it was so important for GameFreak to lock down the one thing players could do to bypass the need for purchasing additional games if the national dex was what they were going to leverage to encourage full purchases of the games instead of rentals. Trading! If you could rent the games and trading worked the same way it did in Gens 1 & 2, you could pick up say Fire Red at Blockbuster, get a Charmander, trade it to your Ruby at the first Pokémon Center, and then return the game without feeling the need to buy a copy. Or rent Pokémon Colosseum for that sweet set of Espeon and Umbreon, trade those over, and return the game. So GameFreak, having apparently thought of this, made it so you had to complete the game or even 100% complete the post game content before you could trade into or out of any of the games that were released after Ruby and Sapphire. In Colosseum you have to beat the game to the credits roll to trade
and purify any Pokémon you wanted to move out, or if you wanted Ho-Oh, you have to beat the entire Mt. Battle Post game area and purify 48 Shadow Pokémon. In FireRed and LeafGreen you had to beat the game, catch at least 60 Pokémon to unlock the national dex, AND complete a multi part post-game quest to give the Ruby and Sapphire to Celio in the Sevi Isles. In Emerald,
you need to have beaten the Elite Four and entered the Hall of Fame, and in XD once again you need to have beaten a very long story mode to the end credits and purify your Pokémon to trade them in or out. Each of these requirements demanded somewhere between 10 and 30 hours of playtime to unlock trading at all. This made it impossible to just rent the games for the Pokémon you wanted because the games could not just be beaten in a weekend. For all those Pokémon you were missing, a full purchase was required to be able to put in the time demanded of you to unlock trading. If we wanted to be charitable and assume that GameFreak intended for players to just trade each other for the Pokémon that they were missing instead of one player doing it alone, GameFreak and Nintendo would actually lose money if wide access to trading partners were available and the GameCube games were no longer the simplest way. Whether it was on purpose or
just a side effect of the way this was all set up, trading with another human who had the games became much less of a possibility than it was before. There were now so many hurdles to trading at all for two players that the stars would have to align perfectly for it to be even possible. The completion requirements in every game to trade outside of them and into another version basically cut your chances of finding a trade partner in half twice. First, the chances that you’d find anyone at all were pretty low in this era as Pokémon was in a bit of a rut sales-wise comparative to the rest of its timeline. It wasn’t like it was in the first and second generations of games where pretty much every kid on the playground had the game, it was much more rare. Second, you would have to own versions that were compatible without trading restrictions, which if that was the case you would not be able to get more than the typical version exclusives because none of the Pokémon you were missing would be in a game you could easily trade with and Third, if that requirement wasn’t met, the requirement was that both of you would need to have completed the game to the point that you have circumvented the trade block and are able to freely trade in and out. On top of that, you couldn’t use the link cable that you already had to trade Pokémon from
the Gameboy games, one player would have to also own the new GameBoy Advance proprietary cable, or you would have to both own wireless adapters. So with all of these factors, it was very very unlikely that you’d be able to trade with another human being often enough to get all of the missing Pokémon, or even just some. Most of these games were lengthy, some were way more difficult than past games in the series, and the average age of the player base was much lower than it is 20 years on, where an entire generation of players has grown up with the series. The odds of
meeting another kid who had the patience to get that far were lower than contracting PokéRus. If you wanted all three of the legendary dogs without starting over with a new game in Kanto and 100%ing the entire game again, if you couldn’t find another person who also had done all of that work to get the other two dogs AND was willing to trade you one, the only option was dropping cash on a GameCube and all the accessories and Pokémon Colosseum. And investing even more time in that. Same goes for the Johto starters, if you didn’t want to fill the entire Hoenn Regional Dex 3 times in Emerald, you had to get and beat Colosseum, or Mt. Battle in XD Gale of Darkness.
Unfortunately when you put such a high premium of time and money on something, the result is that a lot of people are just going to be shut out. While this system was designed to take advantage of the most dedicated players, it also negatively impacted people who just wanted to use, like, one or two Pokémon that weren’t available in whichever version they got. For example, Ditto wasn’t available in Ruby & Sapphire, so unless you got lucky enough to get a female starter Pokémon, you couldn’t breed eggs of your starter and trade them to your friends to even just get Swampert if you started with Blaziken. Say your favorite Pokémon was Umbreon and you had FireRed and LeafGreen, which were the first games in the Gen that finally had Eevee available. Well those games don’t have an in-game clock, so you can max out Eevee’s friendship and do all that work but it will still never evolve unless you can finish the post game quest, trade it to Ruby or Sapphire, start all over from scratch raising its friendship up because it will be reset to zero from the trade, and then evolve it. Or of course, buy and beat Colosseum for the Umbreon they give you,
which by the way was locked male so you couldn’t breed for more Eevees without Ditto. If your favorite Pokémon was Houndour and you really wanted to use one in Emerald during the story, and you happened to have a Houndour in your FireRed version, you couldn’t trade it over early in the playthrough without also owning a GameCube and Pokémon Colosseum as a pass between since it is the only game that lets you trade Pokémon outside of the regional dex into Emerald. And by the way, that ONLY works for Emerald.
It ended up being really limiting. If you had Emerald and your little brother just got Leaf Green, and you’re like seven years old and you had no idea about the trade restrictions because your parents don’t know anything about the games they got you, these are the only two games you have and you can’t trade until both of you beat the game. It’s really funny to read back in the Serebii Forums from 2005 and see little kids posting like “why can’t I trade my brother” and the coldhearted mods just replying “you just have to beat the entire game first, unlock the national dex and finish a lengthy two part post game quest. Good luck six year old!” So it wasn’t just freaks like me that wanted to get every Pokémon that lost out, it’s pretty much anyone who wanted to interact with the trading system on even a basic level. You meet up with your friend after school, you have a Pokémon that they want, but they haven’t found the Sapphire to give to Celio yet. What are you going to do? You only have that moment in time to play together, you're a kid so you’re not in charge of your own schedule, you may never get another moment in time when you’re together with your friend and both of you have your GameBoys and a link cable. So what do you do?
Go online and look it up? Serebii existed back then but it’s not like every family even had internet access at the time. Shell out money for a guide book? Just to find out how to trade with your friend once? I guess you just can’t trade today, better hope it works out some time in the future and that your friend is still interested in beating the game after this. All this is to say, rather than incentivizing trading as a solution they really just incentivized spending a lot of money and spending a lot of TIME so that you couldn’t get around the “spending the money” part by renting or trading with friends.
And if you had neither money nor friends you just didn’t get your favorite Pokémon, good luck in the next life kid, sorry you lost the Pokémon lottery this time around. Or of course you could do what a lot of kids did do and just pirate the games. I’m not kidding, this was widespread even when the games were new, a lot of kids ended up playing the games entirely on emulators. Or investing in Action Replay for a mere $20 instead of spending all of
that time and money. Or buying cheaper pirated carts because even at $35, it really adds up when you end up needing 5 or more games and a bunch of systems and accessories. But GameFreak even apparently accounted for this and implemented safeguards against cheating devices. For example in Ruby and Sapphire, there are checksums in Pokémon data that if found to be invalid, or tampered with, causes the Pokémon to become a Bad Egg instead. These bad eggs can’t be hatched or deleted, so too many of these things and you won’t be able to even play the game anymore. If you get one in your daycare, you can't use the daycare anymore.
There’s a flag for data tampering that is flipped by any code that doesn’t account for it that causes invisible Bad Eggs to appear in your PC, even things like just faster leveling or walking through walls. In FireRed, LeafGreen and Emerald, the game uses Dynamic Memory Allocation to scramble sensitive memory areas around, so if you try to tamper with one area you end up tampering another. For example, wild Pokémon encounter codes often corrupt the TM pouch in FireRed, or a code for one Pokémon might end up causing a completely different Pokémon to spawn. Pokémon
like Mew and Deoxys will always disobey you if the met location data doesn’t match that of the event Pokémon. So not only did they not want you to be able to get the Pokémon you wanted legitimately, they also went out of their way to stop players from being able to cheat to get them. I obviously can’t prove without a doubt that the reason for the trading restrictions in Gen 3 was to circumvent rentals, this is not something GameFreak or Nintendo has ever mentioned or acknowledged. But given that this was not an isolated practice and that a lot of JPRGs were starting to either be built this way from the ground up or localized specifically to circumvent the rental market, it seems reasonable to me to believe that the generation 3 games trading restrictions in particular were an anti-rental move.
And ultimately they actually ended up negatively impacting even people who were willing to buy in and own all the games. The fact that it was not just one game that had these restrictions but 5 games out of 7, the fact that you had to invest both hundreds of dollars and hundreds of hours of time to finish all of these games to the point of being able to trade, ended up loading the burden of some people renting games onto the shoulders of the players who bought them. And for what? What was the benefit players got out of this? Part 3: Two Versions Pokémon, since the very beginning, has always required more than one game to get all the creatures. This is nothing new. So let’s start with a simple question: Why? What motivated this decision in games like Red and Green back in 1996? The link cable existed previously, but it was used primarily for versus play in games like Tetris, no one was using it for trading. The concept of trading items or anything was not a thing in video games at this point.
Well we know this story by now. Satoshi Tajiri and Ken Sugimori were playing Dragon Quest, and Sugimori got a duplicate of a rare drop that Tajiri needed for his party. The two thought, "well, wish we could trade." And lo, Tajiri did see the value in a mechanic like that, the fun in trading commodities with other players, and so when they were developing Pokémon around this concept, they sought out the GameBoy specifically to use the cable for this purpose. When they pitched their idea to Nintendo, Miyamoto was skeptical about how they could motivate players to use the cable to trade, especially in a less popular genre like RPGs were at the time. So Miyamoto, because of course it was Miyamoto, came up with the idea for two versions, each with a few monsters that the other version didn’t have. Nowadays we know this trick as
a blatantly money grabbing tactic, but at the time they actually stood to lose a lot of money on this idea. It was untested, if other games had even done it before it was not a success, Pokémon was not a proven concept, RPGs were very niche and frequently disappointing sales-wise, and there was no established audience yet. Two versions meant twice the unsold inventory if the game bombed and nobody bought it. But the gimmick was originally about the mechanical value added by trading first and foremost so it was apparently worth the financial risk. Now for the next question: What is the value? What does trading add to the game? What is the underlying goal of a mechanic like this? I think what Pokémon offers, among the many things that make it a unique game compared to others in its genre, is the huge variety of party members you can get, and the ways that you can combine them to get different results. Who a trainer is is
defined entirely by which Pokémon they use, and you can have a different experience each time through most Pokémon games by trying the same challenges again with different Pokémon in your party. The party building in these games has both an expressive roleplaying function, building who your character is through these decisions, and a tactical function. Different parts of the game can be easy or hard depending on who you choose to tackle them with. And of
course you can fully optimize your party for battling your friends if that is what you’re into. Trading primarily is a tool available to the player specifically to aid in this process. Yes, trading to collect all the Pokémon and studying them is the main goal of the game, it’s what Professor Oak asks you to do from the second you are given your first Pokémon, but I think the amount of effort this takes in a lot of games is out of the grasp of most players. You don’t get any tangible reward from doing it, probably because they realized that shutting players out of a real valuable reward on the basis of not buying all the games and equipment they need or not having anyone to trade with was not a good look. So there’s no mechanical benefit to completing the national dex, at least not in these early games. Instead I think the main benefit of trading is
empowering the player to have more options for party members during the main game, or for competitive play with friends. It gives you the freedom of playing outside the gamespace, to use your community as a resource to secure items and Pokémon without being limited to what is available to you in the game at that moment. Or if you do invest money in more games to do this alone, it’s a way to incentivize you to do that with the positive reinforcement of independence, you can do it without anyone’s help, which is a little lonely but in a way its own kind of fun. And there is nothing in most Pokémon games to stop you from getting ridiculously powerful Pokémon before the first badge other than the consequences of Pokémon not obeying you if they’re too high level for where you are in the game. You can still try to use them whenever you want,
breaking the game balance however you want, and the only limitations you have is how much you can tolerate your Pokémon using the wrong moves for a while or taking a nap during battle. It is a convenience feature, the convenience of being able to get that rare thing your friend has two of without grinding for it, but it’s also just absolute freedom to build your party however you want, whenever you want. All you need is either a friend or the cash to get whatever it is you’re missing from another version of the game. And at the time of Gen 1 and 2,
Pokémon was such a hit that finding someone to trade with even before WiFi was simple. Of course, because Pokémon was a hit, Nintendo and GameFreak did move twice the product they otherwise would have. And then three times the product when Blue was released. And then four times the product when Yellow was released. Each version featured marginally more content, but not so much that they were developing an entirely new game. They were simply able to charge players again for the same game multiple times, and this was the business benefit of this strategy. And this was really only able to
happen because Pokémon did end up being an out of the blue runaway success. We have seen other game series try the multiple versions thing and fail over and over and over again in the decades since. But of course Pokémon took advantage of being successful enough to bank on this and only expanded this tactic in the years since, raking in the cash for minimal effort or new content.
So obviously there is a benefit to the player in this setup, and a benefit to GameFreak and Nintendo. Everybody wins right? In Generation 3, the way trading is restricted, the player no longer gets the benefit of trading as a team building tool, because in all of these games except Ruby and Sapphire, by the time you unlock trading there is no game left to play. Colosseum, Fire Red, Leaf Green, Emerald and XD Gale of Darkness all have limited walled gardens of Pokémon available for their main stories and there is very little incentive to use the trading system at all because it’s nearly or actually impossible to trade for something that would make an enormous difference in how you play the game during the actual game itself. Once you finish the post game, who cares if you can get the Pokémon you want? What do you get to do with them at that point? The freedom, the role playing aspects of trading were sold out in order to safeguard the series against losing money on rentals and game returns. So in Gen 3 specifically, this strategy only benefits the companies making the games and the benefits to the player were removed. Because you
can’t use it for team building, trading can only be about completing the National Dex in gen 3, which really only helps GameFreak move more units and doesn't mechanically contribute to the players experience of the games. Players are really only motivated to want to finish it at all because of the lack of Pokémon available in most of the games, but rather than rewarding that drive to get more options for team building, it holds the Pokémon themselves for ransom behind trading restrictions. Instead of a way to positively reinforce buying more games with the same rewards as past games, it instead negatively reinforces having only one game by limiting the players freedom, and trading is treated as a privilege only those who have the time and money to spend can afford. And this was in the one generation that you couldn’t transfer Pokémon into from other Gens either. Transferring Pokémon between games has much of the same appeal as trading, it really
amounts to the same mechanical function. More options for team building. Being able to transfer up a Jigglypuff with Nightmare & Perish Song from Gen 3 to Gen 6 for example was an awesome expressive way to team build and role play. The more resources you have available for tailoring your party to something character building and unique, the more unique moves, unique Pokémon, the more unique combinations you're empowered to make, the more benefits to the player there are of Pokémon being set up in this way with multiple versions. but this only works if they actually are resources. If you are going to ask players to spend a lot of money on a lot of versions of the same game, they’ll only happily keep going along with it if they feel like they’re getting something out of it. It only starts to feel unfair and exploitative, players only really notice that it is set up to benefit the company more than them, if they’re still asked to buy multiple versions but the expected mechanical benefit isn’t actually there.
Which leads us to the present day. I thought that GameFreak had realized the missteps they took with how they handled Generation 3 as they didn’t try to do something like this again in the series for a very long time. Once WiFi was introduced, they stopped leaning so hard on trading as the wall that they’d use to keep players from renting, and then the rental market collapsed with the advent of video on demand, so it stopped really being an issue. Sure they still did things like this here and there, but nearly
always Wi-Fi gave players their own work arounds, so the imbalance didn’t seem as severe. Even when Sword and Shield were released nearly 20 years later with Pokémon missing, I didn’t get obvious red flags from this, because I didn’t see how this could possibly be the same as Generation 3. I wanted to wait and see how the rest of the Switch generation played out. Maybe we could avoid this problem if the Pokémon just never got added back at all?
Well, we now have Sword, Shield, Let’s Go Pikachu, Let’s Go Eevee, Brilliant Diamond, Shining Pearl, and Pokémon Legends Arceus. That is 7 games, and two more are on the way. And guess what? None of them can trade with games from other regions without using Pokémon Home as a pass through, if they all even got Home support at the time you’re watching this. I think if Generation 3 was previously the most expensive Generation, Gen 8 easily surpasses it with the sheer cost of how much these games are new and additional online services you need to pay for. Even just owning a Switch and one copy of each of these games,
that is $769.92 if you paid full price. There are Pokémon that you can transfer into Home from other generations that still do not have another game on the Switch they can leave Home into, although assuming Home support continues, Scarlet & Violet seem likely to close that gap. But the thing that really set off alarm bells in my head is the fact that these games all require save data on the system of all of the other Switch games to unlock things, to necessitate purchases of all the games to get all the content. Which isn’t so bad, you can just borrow the game from somebody, create save data and give it back right? Well, recently, they announced that you would need COMPLETED save data of Pokémon Legends Arceus on your Switch to get Arceus in Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl. And that’s when I realized history is repeating itself. Except this time, Pokémon isn’t responding to a market trend that's