One of the tiniest game displays gave birth to one of the largest IPs on the globe.
It is impossible to overestimate the influence of Japanese role-playing games on popular and video game culture.
From Final Fantasy and Phantasy Star to Chrono Trigger, NieR, and Fire Emblem, JRPGs have crossed platform generations, connected the Japanese and North American markets, produced whole IP universes, and provided critical and economic successes for almost four decades.
Without the influence of JRPGs, modern gaming just wouldn’t exist as it does now.
Aidan Moher’s latest book, Fight, Magic, Items: The History of Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, and the Rise of Japanese RPGs, provides a fascinating in-depth look at the development of Japanese role-playing games, including its early success in the East, the difficult transition to Western culture, and their final global cultural influence.
The extract that follows by Moher examines Pokemon’s development from Gameboy screens to multi-billion dollar entertainment powerhouse.
Genshin Impact was created and released by Chinese developer/publisher miHoYo while borrowing heavily from Japanese games like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. It was released in 2020 and immediately became a sensation in the gaming industry because of its stunning aesthetics, free-to-play availability, cross-platform release, and gacha-based gameplay.
Because it was so inexpensive, the Game Boy not only made video games more accessible but also altered how we play them.
The Game Boy, which was about the size of a mass-market paperback book and was barely portable, relied heavily on Nintendo properties like Mario and Donkey Kong and—equally crucial for a device targeted at kids—a tonne of games that were produced in conjunction with well-known television and film franchises like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Jurassic Park, and Star Trek.
The draw for young people? An adventure-filled secret realm where mum and dad couldn’t watch the activity.
What draws grownups in? A smaller, calmer method to occupy the children before supper, fewer back cramps from sitting cross-legged on the floor two feet from the TV.
Each child could play Pokémon in their own unique way since it gave so much diversity and flexibility for the player’s approach to team building and training. This new level of accessibility, absent in other games, was made possible by Pokémon.
Kids took good care of their Pokémon, and being able to brag about a powerful or unusual capture on the playground was an honor. Additionally, because of its portability, Pokémon was exposed to the same social dynamics that fueled another well-known schoolyard phenomenon.
Pokémon mixed the grandiose adventure of the JRPG with a story that was more concerned with character growth and struggle than with the end of the world.
Kanto was a paradise a la Star Trek where people had advanced above such trivialities as fighting and creating vengeful gods to annihilate their foes.
Kanto’s citizens may spend their days training the creatures that slithered through high grass, prowled in shadowy caverns, and hid beneath the sea if they had nothing better to do.
It resembled a Tamagotchi sans the nocturnal alarms. While certain customization possibilities for the player’s party members were provided by other JRPGs, they did not come close to the limitless richness of Pokémon’s gotta-catch-’em-all gameplay.