If a developer announces that a loved franchise is suddenly turning into an MMO/multiplayer/MOBA title, the initial public response can look like disappointment. Those aren't the types of genre shifts that people typically clamor for...unless the game in question is Pokemon.
When it comes to Pokemon, people are receptive—I often see folks online ask why a Pokemon MMO hasn't happened yet. I mean, the franchise seems kind of suited for it, no? Imagine having a world with a ton of trainers in it, all trekking into the wild in search of more Pokemon. Imagine being able to face off against anyone you come across. Imagine being able to be a gym leader, or a part of the Elite four. Hypothetically, having that sort of connection with other people in the games would be pretty sweet, no?
I won't rule it that a Pokemon MMO could happen in the future—the far future, given Nintendo's glacially slow pace when it comes to doing anything online. But for now at least, a Pokemon MMO doesn't exist.
Even so, while playing Pokemon X & Y this weekend, I felt a bit of hope about the possibility of one day getting a Pokemon MMO. Maybe it was that I was able to get online right away, with no hassles. Within minutes, I was trading a Haunter up on the new Wonder Trade. The way Wonder Trade works is, you put something up, and you get something random in exchange—could be awful, could be amazing, but always exciting.
Or maybe my hope came from the fact that, with a few taps, I was battling my Pokemon up against a Japanese player I'd never met. (I won.) (They rage-quit.)
Or maybe it was the giddiness about joining the Pokemon Global Link and participating in ranked matches.
Mostly, though, what gave me hope about the possibility of a Pokemon MMO was the "Passerby" section of the Player Search System (which is what Game Freak calls the new online system). On that part of the PSS menu, I can look at the avatars from people all over the world—even if they're not on my friends list. Sometimes, these folk will blast out errant messages that are meant for nobody in particular. Koans, Hallmark-cardesque axioms, threats—I've seen all sorts of stuff on there.
If you tap on one of the many avatars that go by, you can view the person's profile—which includes that person's in-game character, a message, their stats (like play-time, trades, etc) and an assortment of random factoids they choose to disclose. Like maybe Pablo is actually a girl with a girlfriend who thinks the most important thing in the world is friendship. And more amazingly, you can also look at each other's goofy PR videos that tell the world how awesome you are in the most embarrassing way possible. I love it.
What I like best, though, has gotta be the "O-Powers"—which let you grant temporary all sorts of temporary bonuses to people. Like maybe you want to give the cute boy from England some an experience gain bonus. With a couple of taps, you can. Or maybe you think it would brighten up a Japanese player's day to see that someone from America wants to boost their friendship level with their Pokemon. I'm having a lot of fun just randomly picking people to give O-Powers to—it reminds me a little about how Persona 4 Golden let you send out an SOS to people on the PlayStation Network, which they could respond to. In doing so, they could grant you health and SP—something that could be a godsend, given how difficult the Persona games are.
Granted, Persona 4 is a game where the presence of other protagonists doesn't quite make sense. The single player story in Persona 4 can only put one dude in the role of the hero; that's set. Pokemon, meanwhile, has the sort of story where many trainers striving to be the very best makes sense. You can't be the only one that's out there challenging gyms and collecting Pokemon, right? That seems wrong somehow. And yet Pokemon has kind of always felt like that—playing through the games has felt like an isolating experience. Before, seeing that a gym has only had you as a winning opponent was initially met with pride, only to be washed away with a sense of sadness. Only me, huh? What a lonely world, Pokemon is.
Well, not anymore. Even if you don't do anything in the PSS, you can see that you're playing alongside hundreds of other people. Pokemon X & Y may not be the MMO many of us wish for, we may not be able to go out into the world of Kanto, Johto or Kalos together just yet...but the whole thing feels a little less lonely now, at least.
The Multiplayer is a weekly column that looks at how people crash into each other while playing games. It usually runs every Monday at 6PM ET.