Today was Pokémon Platinum‘s North American launch date. Platinum is the 12th of the regular Pokémon games and rounds off the 4th generation, so I wonder when we should expect to hear about either 5th generation game plans or 2nd generation remake plans. A lot of people think that Pokémon should just end already — that they’ve milked the cash cow long enough and that no one wants more. Around when the 3rd generation was launching, I felt the same way, but now I’m kind of indifferent. Or really, in some way, I want to see just how long this franchise can keep its momentum, especially since it doesn’t show many signs of even slowing.
More than a decade ago, when I was collecting the Pokémon TCG along with every other kid in the neighborhood, my father told me that these sorts of hobbies were just money-wasters and that Pokémon would be dead in five or ten years. The holographic Charizard that was going for $75+ on eBay wouldn’t be worth a dime then. Well, it’s been more than five or ten years later. That holographic Charizard still goes for about $10+ if you know who to sell to; all things considered, I’d say that’s damn good. It’s quite a bit more than a dime, at least. The first edition holo Charizard will still fetch you $75 at least, if not $100+. And as for Pokémon being dead? Ha! Sapporo just got a brand new Pokémon Center, and even in the US, Pokémon’s presence in stores is being expanded once again. I don’t think it’s unlikely to think that the Nintendo World in Manhattan might actually be turned back into a Pokémon Center — I mean, it isn’t like they sell much else there anyway.
Satoshi Tajiri really did have a breakthrough idea when he came out with Pocket Monsters. Considering Japan’s already rampant collector’s attitude, creating a franchise based around collecting is just… genius. To some extent, maybe collecting runs in my blood — being a huge pack rat also contributes — but I think that everyone’s got at least a little bit of collector’s urge to them. Few things are as satisfying as having a completed collection, but each little piece along the way is a great milestone too. It’s true even for things that might never be complete — stamp collections, video game, manga, and DVD collections, whatever. And so, Pokémon has become very much the same. You will likely never “catch them all,” but that doesn’t make the games any less fun. It doesn’t make you feel any less triumphant every time you hit the current monster cap.
Currently, that cap is 493. A lot of people are shocked when I tell them this because they stopped paying attention as soon as the number got bigger than 151. That’s fine. Really, there’s nothing wrong with having lost interest a long time ago, but I must say I’m a bit tired of people adamantly insisting that it should have stopped there. To them, I ask, why? Why should it have stopped?
From a business point of view, there is no reason to stop as long as the games keep selling, and they have kept selling. They have sold amazingly well again and again and again. Every successive generation of Pokémon has seen the two games at the top of sales charts for at least a month after release. The third game of each generation goes simiarly. My Gamestop manager friend told me today that Platinum was sold out by noon, not including the dozens of preorders that were also picked up. Pokémon’s appeal has proven to transcend generation as well. My seven year-old brother (there’s kind of a big age gap between us) loves Pokémon just as much as my other brother and I did ten years ago. And hell, I still love Pokémon. That’s a different kind of generation-transcention. I have just as many friends now, if not more, that still love and actively play and collect Pokémon as I did a decade ago. This may just be because I have a nerdier circle of friends, but the fact remains. Pokémon has kept selling to new and old fans alike, so why should Nintendo stop?
From a fan and gamer’s point of view, things are a little different, but the bottom line is mostly the same: the fans keep buying it. Obviously, this means they still want to play. I remember when all the rumors of the 2nd generation — Gold and Silver — were fresh on the Internet. (Oh, I love remembering the Internet of the 90’s.) It was a huge. There were fake screenshots and outrageous speculations abound, but everyone was excited for it. Sites like PsyPoke and Pokémon Village were teeming with information and some of the most active fan communities on the web (is it sad that I remember these sites’ names?). I don’t think there was a single fan of the original game that wasn’t piss-their-pants excited for G/S.
G/S did not disappoint, but there was a slightly longer lag between the 2nd and 3rd generation, as well as a platform jump. To be honest, I was excited for Ruby/Sapphire also and really wanted Sapphire for months and months after its launch. There were upgrades and updates that hadn’t made it into the 2nd generation, and I was eager for more. I had just filled my Pokédex with the 251 (with some help from Gameshark for that Serebii), but I was eager for more. Unfortunately, as my parents were unwilling to invest in a new game system and as I was unable to get it on my own at the time, I lost interest in Pokémon for a few years. In that time, I suppose I got a little bitter towards the franchise — I also thought a lot of the new additions to the lineup were retarded-looking. The games should just end because I can’t play them anymore! But that was just me. Meanwhile, everyone up was eating it up all over again, game magazines and the ilk included. They all said that it was essentially the same game with fancier features, but dammit, it was still fun!
When FireRed/LeafGreen released, because I wasn’t really paying attention anymore, I perceived it as a pure business greed. They’re out of ideas, I thought, now they’re just re-releasing old games! (Though money was probably indeed part of the equation, there is also the very logical explanation of wanting to have a way of getting first, and some second, generation Pokémon on the new Advance generation platform since R/S wasn’t backwards-compatible.) When Diamond/Pearl released in 2007, I didn’t have much of an idea what was going on anymore, but even then, whenever I heard about it in passing, I wanted to play it.
Long story short, I bought Pokémon Pearl that September and borrowed my friend’s DS to play it on. For two weeks, I spent 3-6 hours a day playing it until I finished the active storyline and beat the Elite Four. It is still an amazingly fun game. Yes, a lot of the newer Pokémon designs are silly, but hey, there were a lot of stupid designs in the original if you think about it. (Seriously, Mr. Mime? Jynx? Racist Pokémon of the century! Golem? Muk? Exeggcute?) Some designs are just rehashed ideas, and I think that’s my only quip with Pokémon at this point — there are thousands and thousands of animal species in the world to base Pokémon off of, we do not need another Pikachu or Pidgey clone! Nevertheless, there are still a few gems: Rotom, especially Lawnmower!Rotom, is probably the coolest thing ever. XD
The interaction-centered gameplay is charming enough on its own, really, and a lot of people don’t even pay attention to the “gotta collect ’em all” mantra, but those that do, like myself, really have fun with it. I felt good passing the 100 Pokémon caught mark; I felt good catching 200 of them. I felt good catching 300. Currently, I am just short of 400, but I’ll probably feel good passing that too. It doesn’t get old. I don’t really know why. I suppose a lot of collectors lose interest after a while, no matter what they’re collecting. But adding a hundred new targets every few years somehow does manage to keep Pokémon interesting. It’s very simple. It’s like the post office doing special releases of stamps every few months. It is the simplest tactic ever, but it works.
Pokémon isn’t confined by its games either. There is an amazing among of Pokémon merchandise out there, especially in Japan, where they are still very much in love with their little critters. I really find it interesting just how much that country obsesses over all of its pop culture icons, not just Pokémon. Doraemon, Detective Conan, Hello Kitty, Gundam — so many things retain worship-worthy statuses within their culture decade after decade. If there’s only Japan to consider, it’s easy to say that Pokémon will last forever, but that its still got International momentum, that’s even more amazing.
Back to the merchandise though, the market for various Pokégoods is pretty incredible. According to Gin, its main maintainer, tens of thousands of dollars change hands on the Pokémon Collectors community on Livejournal every month. Collectors are from all over the world and the general mood is obsessive. Very obsessive. Most collectors like to focus on a few specific Pokémon. More ambitious ones will go after certain types. Since most Pokémon merch is sold only in Japan, and since many items are promo-only or otherwise retardedly hard to find online, its common for deputy services to be used. Collectors of Eeveelutions in particular face daunting prices for some very sought-after items. Says Gin, “[T]he person using brianjapan just paid about 220-240$ (after fees) for a one centimeter long [U]mbreon.” Collecting Pokémon is SERIOUS BUSINESS, for real.
Collectors are crazy. I know because I’m one too. And that is why I also know that Pokémon is not going to die. Sure, there are collectors for almost every franchise in existence, but are they as widespread as they are for Pokémon? How many collectors of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles do you know? Of Evangelion? And what other franchise has the sheer volume of things to collect? It’s hard to collect if there are only a few items available. But with almost five hundred Pokémon and at least a dozen pieces of merch for each of them (even the random, unpopular ones. I’m not kidding!), Pokémon will not die. Not as long as people are willing to catch them all over and over again and to shell out some thirty thousand yen for a tiny figurine. I don’t mind anymore. As long as it’s still fun, Nintendo can keep at it as long as they damn well please and it’ll be all right with me. ♥ I, for one, would really love to see an Advance generation remake of Gold/Silver to go along with FireRed/LeafGreen.
In closing, I’ll leave you with some of my collection, though honestly, it’s very modest compared to most I know.
Below is every TCG card of Lapras except one (Misty’s Lapras, Japanese-only card), including three versions of the card from the Fossil expansion (holo, first-edition holo, and first-edition non-holo). Also, some miscellaneous stuff likethat Lorelei card? Dunno, lol.
And here’s where the collection actually sits on my shelf, along with my even more modest collections of the Totodile/Croconaw/Feraligatr evolution line and Ivysaur. Also: random other figures and crap I have.
Honestly, aside from the money issue, the only reason I don’t have more toys right now is because of lack of shelf space. Poor Knuckles has to sit on the lower shelf along with that random Agumon and my DS.
And awesomely enough? Just as I was wrapping up this post, my roommate walks in and hands me a copy of Pokémon Platinum, which I hadn’t planned on getting because of time/money deficiency. I love my friends.