Feb. 27 was Pokémon Day, and to celebrate the occasion, The Pokemon Company held a presentation focused on the beloved franchise. Among the announcements was a long-awaited update on Pokémon Sleep, an app designed to track and measure users’ sleep patterns, rewarding them with sprites of different Pokémon. These sprites showcase the sleep styles of different Pokémon, showing how it compliments their personalities. For example, Charmander prefers a snooze, Squirtle prefers a slumber, Totodile can sleep with its eyes open, and Pikachu can sleep sitting upright. All of these are minute details that anyone can glean from the short announcement video and a simple way to help make the Pokémon world feel more alive.
Ever since the first pixels popped onscreen introducing the world to Rattata or Pidgey in Pokémon Red, players have dreamed of the day they could actually set foot into the Kanto and set off on a lifetime of adventure. Unfortunately, the dream remains firmly out of reach, and the closest anyone can come to that feeling is Pokémon Scarlet and Violet, the first truly open-world 3D Pokémon game. While the transition from sprite-based pixel art to a full 3D has been tough for Game Freak, the developer has continued to add in little details that help differentiate each Pokémon as an individual species rather than a line of code waiting to spring out from a bush.
For better or for worse, the tried-and-true Pokémon formula has seen few major changes since the series’ inception in 1996. For many, Pokémon games have grown stagnant with a formula that feels stale. On top of that, the series seemed to lose a bit of its identity when the series transitioned to 3D models in Generation VI, a problem that was only exacerbated with the move to the Nintendo Switch. This was most evident in the remake Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl, which opted for a nondescript chibi art style that failed to match the aesthetic of the original.
While the growing pains have remained persistent, the switch to 3D has some upsides. For one, the improved technology allows for sweeping changes in presentation. For example, Pokémon can now be found roaming freely in the wild, allowing Game Freak to showcase the Pokémon and the world they inhabit in a whole new light.
Pokémon have always technically had personalities with the in-game Nature function, but these were limited to game mechanics rather than anything that could be seen of felt in game. With Scarlet and Violet’s 3D models, fans can now get a glimpse of little things that make each Pokémon feel unique, such as Pawmot being able to swim. While many Pokémon are relegated to a raft while traversing water, the Electric/Fighting-type rodent can go toe-to-toe with a Gyarados on enemy turf.
In a more extreme example, Gholdengo whips out a surfboard and carves up waves if it is let loose in the water. On dry land, Chansey will try and flee from the player in fear since they’re generally support and healing Pokémon. Veluza, on the other hand, will hunt trainers to the end of the earth for even thinking about letting their Pawmot take a swim to cool off after a hard day of chasing Chansey. These little details help flesh out the personality of each Pokémon while also developing organic stories for players to latch onto, ultimately developing the overarching world.
As the Pokémon themselves have continued to subtly develop, the in-game world has also expanded in scope, making it feel more alive. Gone are the days of random encounters in bushes and the occasional bouncing sprite in the overworld. The second the player is let loose in Scarlet and Violet, they can see packs of Hoppip floating freely through bustling fields. A gaggle of Skiddo will follow the player around and watch as they battle and capture Pokémon. No longer do the Pokémon feel like a coin flip decided by ones and zeros; now, they feel like living creatures that exist in a dynamic world.
Even Pokédex entries have continued to expand on this, fleshing out the synergy between different species. Tinkaton hunt Corviknight, Appletun spits at any Lechonk that tries to eat them, and a Bisharp will roll with a gang of Pawniard and war with other tribes for dominance. Paldea feels more alive than any other Pokémon game before it thanks to the small details that make the Pokémon feel like they exist outside the players’ actions.
Even with all the presentation changes that came with Scarlet and Violet, the Pokémon franchise still has growing to do. The game was notoriously riddled with glitches at launch, the art style is still nondescript, and the graphical fidelity is likened to games released on the Wii U. Still, the foundation is there to make the Pokémon world feel more alive, and Pokémon Sleep’s announcement shows that the series’ focus on subtle personality details that enrich the world and its characters is here to stay.