Pokémon, for as long as it has existed, has always produced two different versions: Red & Blue, Silver & Gold, Ruby & Sapphire etc. In each of these versions, the factor that sets them apart is the same differences. Both versions will have Pokémon unique to them, both will have slightly different villains, and in the most recent games will affect the time of day that the sun is out within the games. This pattern of differences has existed since the first Pokémon games, Red & Blue. And even through the countless generations and advancements made in each new installment, they haven’t done anything else between the versions. As we come to the end of the series on exclusively portable devices, and the major shift in scale seen in Sun & Moon, it seems that now more than ever, the version differences that was, cannot be for longer.
The Two-Version Exception
Before getting into why there is a need within the games to make more distinct versions, there is the market-based reason. Most consumers are simply unwilling to purchase or accept two versions of a console game. When Red & Blue were first announced, it was one of the first of its kind to have created a game and have two separate versions of it. In the many years to follow, we would see not only Pokémon continue this trend with its future versions, but other series would adopt it as well. Series such as Mega Man BattleNetwork, Yo-kai Watch, and even The Legend of Zelda would find themselves at some point developing games that would have two separate versions, creating a need to own both. This split, however, would never truly find itself on home consoles. Titles like Soul Calibur II (a game only released to home consoles) would attempt to add one unique character or two, but would never go so far as to create a bigger divide than just one singular piece of content.
Companies that choose to not push two different versions of full console games make sense. Trying to get consumers to spend $60 twice is a much taller task than spending $30 or $40 twice. There is, however, one other aspect as to why two versions of the same game saw more success in the portable landscape, and this is how they are played. Restricting what Pokémon one can receive in one version from a business perspective seems like a cash grab, but from a game design perspective in a time where online gaming wasn’t prevalent, it forced players to work together to achieve each other’s goals; in short, it forced the establishment of a community. But this was at a time of no internet on portable gaming consoles, whereas today, this is no longer the case with the 3DS and—more importantly—the Nintendo Switch.
A Split in Style
With the advent of the next Pokémon game being on the Nintendo Switch, a full-fledged home console, asking consumers to spend $60 twice on two different versions is simply asking too much. Coupling this with the fact that the previous Pokémon version differences have been largely negated with the introduction of online trading, and the value of each version just becomes too much to bear in regards to buying both. Thankfully, through the Pokémon generations, there has been a major change in how the games have played which could become the new difference between versions. That split exists between X & Y and Sun & Moon.
X & Y currently remains as the last games of the series that is distinctively less story based. Yes, the game still keeps you on the rails, but that extent is far less in comparison to Sun & Moon, which takes a much more narrative focused experience and guides the player far more heavy-handedly. In Sun & Moon the experience is so focused that the player actually has marked objectives on the map. These objectives will usually trigger a cut-scene or an important event related to the story that is unfolding. In previous Pokémon games, this simply doesn’t exist. The player is expected to discover, learn, and eventually conquer the challenges laid before them but it never explicitly told to “go here.” This makes earlier generations more about exploring and experiencing the world around you, whereas in Sun & Moon it’s more about experiencing the story while also getting a little lost on the way.
Another difference in these generations is their sense of scale. Sun & Moon takes a far more focused setting in comparison to previous Pokémon games. Areas are far more densely packed, largely due to the setting of Pokémon Sun & Moon taking place on islands. The islands themselves are not that large, same for many of the areas within them, however, your time and the amount of content that is within an area is far greater than past Pokémon games. In earlier Pokémon generations, including X & Y, it would be commonplace to have long stretches of areas with the player only encountering tall grass and other trainers. In Sun & Moon these become rarities, one might find more diverse landscapes—and subsequently more diverse Pokémon —in a single area’s offering in Sun & Moon. Sun & Moon also separates itself by having far more fenced off areas, that is, areas that the player enters that is part of the overworld, but does not actively take place in it. Many players will remember the Viridian Forest in Pokémon Red & Blue, this area existed in the overworld but was separated from it at the same time, in much the same way a Dungeon is in an RPG. Sun & Moon takes advantage of these by making the small islands that the game takes place on feel larger. Previous generations would use these far less frequently, opting to have a larger overworld.
While Sun & Moon and previous generations have much in common, it’s important to note how different they actually are. It is this difference between generations that the next generation should rely on for its two versions as its current division between versions is lacking in a home console environment.
Bringing It Together
GameFreak would never lower Pokémon’s value by producing $40 games on the Nintendo Switch, it would give the impression that they are worth less than other games on the platform. GameFreak also cannot hope to maintain its current two versions per generation difference without expecting some backlash from consumers due to the minimal differences at a $60 price tag. If making a single version of Pokémon is not an option, then GameFreak is essentially left with a single question, what can it do to make the differences greater?
To that I say, see X & Y and Sun & Moon. Both have been wildly successful, much like any Pokémon game, but they represent enough of a difference in style that they are courting players differently. Previous generations focused on exploration and a grander sense of scale while new generations focus on the story unfolding and a more focused adventure. Much in the same way, Fire Emblem Fates told it’s two separate but similar stories, Pokémon can do the same by creating versions to appeal to different play styles.
One for the explorer and one for the story.