History in Gaming: Pokemon Generations 4 & 5
Written By: Hugo Rios
Edited By: Shania Kuo
As Nintendo continued to develop handheld systems that dominated the video game market, it became the norm for a new core Pokemon game to be released for each console.
The Nintendo DS System was one of the most influential and recognizable systems of its time. Reaching over 150 million units sold, retailers worldwide made sure the Nintendo DS Family of systems got into the hands of everyone. From loyal Nintendo enthusiasts to parents wanting their kids to fit in, everyone at the time had seen or at least heard of a DS.
Seeing how quickly the system was growing alongside the increasing popularity of the Pokemon franchise after three generations had been released, Game Freak had big shoes to fill if they wanted to continue to progress the franchise. With that said, let's look back at generations four and five, games that not only helped increase Nintendo's overall popularity but defined an era.
Gen 4: A Perfect Fit
On Sep. 28, 2006, came the release of Pokemon Diamond and Pokemon Pearl in Japan, with North America receiving localized versions on April 22, 2007, and Australia and Europe receiving the games in the summer.
Trainers began their journey in the Sinnoh region, a new location that introduced 107 new Pokemon, bringing the National Pokedex to a total of 493. Although a change of location was evident in announcing a new core Pokemon line of titles, nothing could have prepared fans for how good Pokemon looked on Nintendo's latest handheld. It was as if the DS was made for Pokemon, for the dual-screen proved to be the most efficient and accessible way to have an authentic Pokemon experience.
Sprites and character models looked better than ever before with each new area discovered being more vibrant and fleshed out from the last. Paired with arguably one of the most memorable soundtracks of any core Pokemon game (Battle! Champion Cynthia still haunts my brain), the game was clearly an upgrade from entries prior.
Aside from the noticeable graphical upgrades, Game Freak continued to shine as a developer by further progressing the series with its first entries in generation four.
Diamond and Pearl also saw the return of the day-night system, an aspect omitted from the previous generation, now having a better distinction between the transition of the three-time periods. Contests also saw a bit of a makeover in this generation by requiring more thought and strategy in Pokemon move selection and performing in general, showing Game Freak still looked to develop in other RPG elements versus the normal catch-and-battle gameplay.
Game Freak elevated the series further by introducing a new, more effective battle system in their recent entries. Instead of declaring whether a move is physical or special based on typing, the basis behind physical or special now depends on how the move operates. For example, if the move happens to not physically touch the opponent, it would be classified as a special move. The developers paired this with a third, new move category: status moves. Status moves included Toxic, Confuse Ray, Agility, etc.
While the game introduced features like the Poketch, the most notable feature added in Diamond and Pearl was the introduction of WiFi incorporated in the games. Thanks to technological upgrades with the Nintendo DS system, players could now trade, battle and communicate online. The new Global Trade System (GTS) allowed players worldwide to search for a pokemon to trade for or put one of their existing pokemon up for trade. The system was revolutionary and relatively effective, with the interface and trading pokemon being easy and straightforward.
Like previous entries in the core Pokemon franchise, Diamond and Pearl received a third, upgraded version in Pokemon Platinum, releasing on Sep. 13, 2008, in Japan, with North America, Australia, Europe and Korea receiving localized versions the following year.
Pokemon Platinum was essentially a better version of Diamond and Pearl, adding more quality-of-life fixes making the game a better experience overall. Platinum also added a new key feature known as the Vs. Recorder, allowing players to record their online battles.
Return to Gen 2
The second entry in the mainline Pokemon franchise for generation four took players back in time, revisiting the Johto region. Pokemon HeartGold and Pokemon SoulSilver were full-fledged remakes of the GameBoy Color games, Pokemon Gold and Pokemon Silver, releasing on Sep. 12, 2009, in Japan, with North America, Korea, Australia and Europe having released the games in Spring of 2010.
The games received high praise from fans and critics alike, maintaining all of the elements loved by fans of the originals while adding quality-of-life and balance changes that make the remakes the clear choice in reliving what was great about Gold and Silver. While many changes made the games better, from graphical upgrades, easier team-building, and the Pokegear being redesigned, the most memorable addition is that of the Pokewalker. This exclusive accessory came bundled in with the game of choice.
While gimmicky at first, the Pokewalker attempted to incorporate playing the game as part of your daily routine or in your everyday life. The device served as a pedometer while also being able to store a single Pokemon from the main game. Pokemon held in the Pokewalker gained experience and increased their friendship, as well as allowing players to catch exclusive pokemon only obtained through the Pokewalker.
HeartGold and SoulSilver are considered the gold standard for Pokemon remakes, improving nearly every aspect from the original titles. Detailing every improvement doesn't come close to actually playing the games, a must if you consider yourself a true Pokemon fan.
Gen 5: Pushing The Narrative
Although still on the Nintendo DS System, the next generation of Pokemon was looking to push the franchise in another direction. On Sep. 18, 2010, the games Pokemon Black and White came, following the same routine with the rest of the world receiving localized versions the following year.
With each new generation comes a new region, this time trainers beginning their journey through the Unova. 156 new pokemon were introduced in the region, the most new pokemon ever released in a title. While the games did not present too many new ideas to the already successful formula, the additions to gameplay in these entries were perhaps the most impactful for future generations to come.
First and foremost, you can't mention generation five without talking about animated sprites. Black and White had fully-animated sprites in battle for the first time in a core Pokemon game, a step forward for the franchise overall. Surprisingly, even on what was seen as an aging console, the graphics looked relatively advanced for their time despite not aging well as future generations released. Still, being that the Nintendo DS was already six years old from its release, it was quite an accomplishment to see Black and White lay the groundwork for future games.
Another aspect that fans and critics alike highlight in reviews of Black and White was the emphasis on the story. Plots for previous entries tended to be the same in each game, usually consisting of a group of bad guys wanting to summon or use legendary pokemon for their well-being. While prior generations made attempts in incorporating the overarching story with the normal Pokemon experience, Black and White began the trend of Pokemon games emphasizing a game’s storyline, as well as showing character development and allowing players to determine who really was good or bad.
The transitions from continuing the normal progression of any Pokemon game to implementing a story that appealed to many players is what set these games apart from entries prior, feeling like a proper RPG title rather than just another Pokemon game.
Black and White also introduced a new gadget: the C-gear. The C-gear allowed players to access multiplayer functions anywhere along their journey, allowing players to choose from using wireless, WiFi or infrared functions and having other applications that were unique to Black and White. It also allowed players to add customization to their game, as the C-gear was displayed on the bottom screen, similar to the Poketch in generation four. Unfortunately, the feature has effectively become obsolete due to WiFi systems being closed by a lack of support of older consoles by Nintendo.
Generation five is also notable for having a unique release cycle in comparison to other generations. Instead of releasing a third game that was upgraded from the previous entries, Game Freak and Nintendo opted to release brand new games based on the same region under the name Pokemon Black 2 and Pokemon White 2.
Pokemon Black 2 and Pokemon White 2 were released on June 23, 2012, with localized versions released in North America, Europe, Australia and South Korea later that year. While these games brought over everything from the previous entries, the main storyline and order in which routes were encountered changed almost completely, making Black 2 and White 2 feel brand new to players.
While updates to Pokemon Global Link, an upgrade from the previous system used in generation four, made the experience of online connectivity easier, changes between Black and White to Black 2 and White 2 ultimately did not carry over completely into future generations. Some may argue that as a failure on Game Freak, while fans of the games view it as more reason as to why generation five is unique compared to other generations, for the gameplay experience overall was designed to draw new fans while attempting to make the games stand out from other RPGs the Nintendo DS had to offer. Overall, generation five is another set of games that are must-plays if you want to enjoy Pokemon in all its glory over the years.
The Pokemon franchise has progressed tremendously from its humble beginnings on the Nintendo GameBoy system. What was once just a game about catching and battling pokemon to become a Pokemon Master ended up developing into its own RPG genre that fans worldwide continue to adore today.
The Nintendo DS-era of Pokemon games is arguably Game Freak and Nintendo at its peak, with so many great games that were not just revolutionary for the franchise, but monumental as what a developer can do if given the proper tools to succeed. It is hard not to recognize what the Pokemon franchise had accomplished on a console loaded with so many acclaimed RPG titles. While it is easy to credit sales numbers to the number of units that the DS family of systems sold, the reception from fans and critics alike was undeniable.
Mind you, no video game is perfect, for even fans had their gripes with generations four and five upon release.
Pokemon Diamond and Pearl had less original pokemon and added evolutions to existing pokemon, turning off some fans. The games also notoriously required you to have six Hidden Moves to traverse Mt. Coronet, an integral part of the gameplay. And even though Pokemon Black, White, Black 2 and White 2 had the most new pokemon released in a game, fans were critical of Game freak, feeling as if the company shot for quantity versus quality. Despite these initial criticisms, fans have grown to appreciate these titles as the years progress, recognizing the franchise's accomplishments when putting the games into context.
Generations four and five have a special place in many people's hearts, myself included. With Game Freak releasing full remakes of the games Pokemon Diamond and Pearl in the Fall of 2021, titled Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl; hopefully, the magic that people felt and enjoyed when playing the originals can be recreated for old and new fans alike.
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