What Makes a Pokémon Original?

August 14, 2008

Last Updated March 4, 2010

Originality is another popular topic about Pokémon. However, this one is more of a war between true fans and those against progress. Pokémon (as a franchise), has evolved from a basic collection of 151 simple monsters to a much larger menagerie of a whopping 495 creatures. (The fifth generation was only recently revealed as of this latest edit, so there will easily be an increase in the coming months, possibly to around 600!) It likely will not stop. Every few years, Ken Sugimori works with others of the art department to draw up new Pokémon to release with the newest-generation Nintendo gaming console. The monsters are put to life by the Game Freak programming staff and shown to us. You probably already knew that; it's nothing new.

To some, they can take one look at the newest batch of Pokémon and instantly think they look stupid. Others actually take their time to analyze each Pokémon and see how original they are. The thing is that it becomes more difficult to think of new and unique creatures. In the beginning, they were all basic animal-style Pokémon. With each passing generation, they started representing lesser-known creatures or filling in the gaps of what common animals were missed. That actually means the newer ones are more original, because they take longer to realize what they are and took longer to make them come to fruition.

The common argument is "The programmers got lazy." (Yes, it's always "the programmers", never "the artists" or "Game Freak" or even "Nintendo".) I agree that it can be very pressuring to come up with nearly a gross of monsters given only a few months. In fact, Sugimori-san drew up over 500 conceptual sketches for his idea of "a game where you keep monsters in your pocket." Only 151 of them made it into the first game, though. No one knows for sure what happened with the rest of them. It is very probable that some of them made it into future games. Who knows? Maybe the first few Pokémon drawn were introduced in the third generation?

For a Pokémon to be original, it must not be like other Pokémon (except its alter ego, evolutions, or partner). Some concepts were brought back to the drawing board because their first realization was a mess or didn't have enough usage. For example, Poliwag and its two original evolutions were tadpoles, also known as pollywogs. In the second generation, Politoed was introduced to add a frog as a more principled and factual evolution. (In real life, a larval tadpole metamorphoses into an adult frog as part of its regular lifecycle. The idea of trading with a King's Rock alludes to how some amphibian larvae will not go through its transformation if not under proper environmental stress.) In the fourth generation, two more unrelated frogs, Croagunk and Toxicroak, were introduced to take more of an advantage of frogs.

The addition of additional evolutionary forms (prior or subsequently) was likely done to bring back some classic Pokémon and let them enjoy an additional form or two. The example in this case is Magmar. It is a large lava monster stemming from childhood beliefs and games, as well as mythology. In the second generation, it gained a new pre-evolution, Magby. As a combination of the words "magma" and "baby", it's quite simple to tell what the little thing is. When the fourth generation rolled around, Magmortar was added ("magma" + "mortar") to make it come full cycle and bring back another of the originals.

Without a reference point, there is no such thing as "originality" or any other opinionated words. The reference point for Pokémon is, of course, the real world. They were modeled after real animate objects and beings, be it fauna, flora, or some other conglomeration of existent matter, like a rock. In addition, the real world has changed a lot in the the last few million years. Each step along the way was important to reaching a succeeding destination. Pokémon has done the same thing, only with a much smaller timeframe, complete with its own steps. Therefore, each generation had its necessary purpose.

The first generation (colors) was designed to get people accustomed to the new Pocket Monsters and give them some examples of how imaginary creatures can be both cute and powerful. It established the standard and emphasized the idea of variety. There were three starters in Red and Blue, each with a type that trumped the former. This triangle was used in all subsequent games. The generic beginning Pokémon found on the first couple routes of the game (Rattata), the secret powerhouses (Gyarados), and the legendary trio (Articuno, Zapdos, and Moltres) would all come back in the future.

The second generation (metals) was built upon the foundation of the first generation. Many new pre-evolutions were introduced to accompany two of the new features of the game, genders and breeding. New evolutions were added to go along with the ability to hold items. It was conciliated with the first generation games to allow linkage and not let all those hours of training go wasted. The game also introduced the aspects of a clock (for in-game events), berries (automatic healing), and two new types (the old 15 were unbalanced).

The third generation (gems) was meant to be a new frontier, as it was a large upgrade in system abilities. Instead of adding a bunch more evolutions, the idea was to simply release a whole new batch of Pokémon. Trading with past games was not possible due to a large number of incompatibilities between the Game Boy Color and the Game Boy Advance. For many, this was either the beginning or the end; those with large collections could not just start over, so they continued to play their older games and let Ruby and Sapphire pass them by. The second half of the third generation (elemental colors) came about to truly bring back the original Red and Green. I'm talking about FireRed and LeafGreen. They were basically a third generation version of the classic games. Fully compatible with the prior gemstone games, this pair could allow you to get some back from your old Gold and Silver game cartridges.

The fourth generation (precious objects) was intended to follow suit of the classic Super Nintendo title, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. It was a combination of the last three generations in a new style. It contained new Pokémon, revived old evolutions, enabled compatibility with the former generation, and even had areas where you could get almost any non-legendary Pokémon. To many fans, Diamond and Pearl (and Platinum) are the best games on the system for those reasons alone. (And Wi-Fi, who could forget that?) That is, until HeartGold and SoulSilver were released. These made the entire series come full circle, with all regions finally being able to connect in one way or another.

The fifth generation is just starting out, so there are going to be plenty of surprises as more than just Zorua and Zoroark are revealed.

Let's return to the main question now: what makes a Pokémon original? The answer in a nutshell is this: originality is based solely on whether or not the idea is fresh and unique. Show your support for all generations with this button (XHTML 1.0 valid). A new version will be released soon to include generation five.

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