What will next month's information influx entail to the future?

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Possibility of revealing Generation V Pokémon explored in light of other events
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  • Sunday, April 20, 2008

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This opinion piece has been written by Unown Lord. It expresses the views of the writer, not necessarily those of Bulbagarden networks.
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Since it has been heavily suggested that we may see one or two previously-unknown Pokémon next month, it is interesting to consider this possibility from Nintendo's perspective. The reason an introduction of new critters would be surprising at this time is not the so-called prematurity of such an event, but the fact that hinting at a new generation would be inapt at a time when Nintendo is reluctant to even mention its next handheld system.

Towards the end of 2007, Nintendo president Satoru Iwata discussed speculation regarding the Nintendo DS' successor. Essentially, he downplayed such speculation and made it amply clear that the subject was not quite on Nintendo's mind. Whereas in the past there was a kind of common sense understanding whereby home consoles were designated a 5-year cycle, and portable devices - even less than that, it now seems that the notion of platform cycles will be revisited. Iwata actually referred to a late 2011 release date for the next handheld system as representing an inflexible approach, suggesting it will be even later than that.

Nintendo's statement also highlighted their stance that there is no shortage of new ideas for the DS. In the context of Pokémon, this may be a good sign that the game slated to be announced next month will not be devoid of innovation despite some fans' current expectations. Yet, the more immediate thought that comes to mind upon hearing Nintendo's response, is what their plans mean for Generation V.

In previous generations, the introduction of a new Pokémon in the anime was subsequently followed by an announcement of the next generation. This rule held true for Ho-oh's debut in the very first episode, which then led to a press release in Japan announcing the development of Pocket Monsters 2 - the beta versions of Pokémon Gold and Silver. It is worth noting that those versions were slated for a 1997 release for the Game Boy; more than a year after that plan had not come to be (during which time Pokémon Yellow was released and Pokémon was finally ported to the Nintendo 64), Gold and Silver re-emerged under their eventual title as being designed for the Game Boy Color for the following year.

It was no surprise to find that the analogous process in later generations was far more linear. When Kecleon, Azurill and Wailmer were revealed in March 2001, so was the male protagonist (Brendan). More importantly, Pokémon Crystal had already been released, and the Game Boy Advance was launched in the same month the announcement was made. In May 2004, Munchlax was unveiled and revealed to have a "last-minute" cameo in the upcoming movie. Truthfully, Pokémon Emerald had not even been announced at the time, but the Nintendo DS was being shown in prototype form at E3. By the end of the same year, Emerald had been released and the Nintendo DS had been launched with a Pokémon launch title - Pokémon Dash - featuring Munchlax. Moreover, the next generation was confirmed shortly after Emerald's release, and although no details were available (Game Freak had clearly just started working on the project), the versions were titled Pokémon Diamond and Pearl.

You may find the above history lesson a little unnecessary, but it is important to carefully observe past cases before applying patterns to current events. The important conclusion is that new Pokémon are not revealed to merely entertain movie-goers; it is clear that Nintendo has a role in the decision to create hype for a new generation. Unlike the Game Boy Color and Advance systems, the Nintendo DS' lifetime would appear to be more along the lines of the original Game Boy. By that I am not suggesting it will necessarily live to see 2013 still in its full glory (the Game Boy met its successor an impressive total of 9 years after release), but it has so far outlived both the Game Boy Color and the Advance counterpart, and yet remains to be the apple of Nintendo's eye.

Nintendo clearly has to decide if announcing plans for a new generation for the DS, as it did 11 years ago in respect to the Game Boy, will not result in undelivered promises yet again (delaying the project by two years and essentially creating different games for another system). It actually seems as if Game Freak has been kept on a tight leash so as not to exhaust the potential of the current generation too soon. It would be wrong to interpret the fact we have yet to see any confirmation of Pokémon Gold and Silver remakes as a sign they are not being developed. If the games were already available, an announcement of the next generation would be almost inevitable, forcing Nintendo to go in a direction far remote from its stated agenda.

This brings up the obligatory question: What will happen next? More to the point, what will we be supposed to think by this time next month if there really are new Pokémon? Some fans may be inclined to pretend that the same progression of events that happened four years ago will follow suit, which is to say that the next generation will be confirmed after the upcoming Generation IV game (currently purported to be the third game to Diamond and Pearl) has been released. Needless to say, such a line of thought assumes ignorance of the fact that not only will we not see a successor to the DS this year, we can apparently forget about seeing it released even three years from now.

It seems to me that regardless of whether or not new Pokémon are in our very near future, there is no certainty about our predictions regarding Game Freak's future projects. We should refrain from assumptions based on previous generations, rather like what we would undoubtedly be doing if this were 1997 and Ho-oh suddenly appeared as though from nowhere.