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Evolution of Pokemon Designs - Sun and Moon

by Caleb Compton on 01/19/21 11:24:00 am

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

The following article is a reproduction. The original article, and over 150 others, can be found on RemptonGames.com

Transcript:

What’s up designers, and welcome back to Rempton Games. In today’s episode of evolution of Pokemon design we have made it all the way to the Generation 7 games, Pokemon Sun and Moon. These games do more than most games in the series to shake up the formula and try new things, and while I have mixed feelings about the games themselves I do think this generation is possibly the most interesting generation of all in terms of Pokemon design.  As always we will be discussing the themes and motifs of this game, along with technological and mechanical improvements to find out how the Pokemon of this generation have changed from previous Pokemon in the series. Without further ado, let’s get started.

Pokemon Sun and Moon are the second games in the series to take place in an American inspired region – in this case, these games are set in the Alola region, which is based on the islands of Hawaii. Much like in Generation 5 with the Unova region, this choice of location had a huge influence on the design of these games and their Pokemon. Most obviously, there are several new Pokemon that are clearly influenced by Hawaiian culture, including Comfey (based on a Lei), Pa’u style Oricorio modelled after hula dancing, Bruxish, based on Hawaii’s official state fish the reef triggerfish, and the island guardian Pokemon of Tapu Koko, Tapu Lele, Tapu Bulu, and Tapu Fini that are based on the four major gods in the Hawaiian religion.

In addition to these strongly Hawaiian themed Pokemon, Alola has several Pokemon that are based on other islands or tropical regions around the world,  including Toucannon, based on the Toucans of Central and South America, Passimian, modelled after the Lemurs of the Island of Madagascar, Komala, drawing inspiration from the Koalas of Australia, and even the Tsareena family which are based on the Mangosteen, a fruit native to the islands of Thailand and called “the queen of fruits”.

In addition to taking inspiration from tropical and island-based animals and plants, the decision to base the region on an isolated island played into the themes of the game more broadly. The first major theme of the games is evolution, and not in the way that Pokemon normally deals with it. The islands of Alola are completely separate from any other region in the Pokemon world, and this has caused everything about them to evolve differently. This can be seen with the people and traditions of the island – the culture of Alola is very different from other games in the series. Instead of taking on a gym challenge the player must complete island trials, where they solve unique puzzles and fight giant, super-powered Totem Pokemon instead of traditional gym leaders. Functionally this isn’t that much different from facing Pokemon gyms, but it does help show the emphasis that the games place on their unique culture and traditions.

However, this theme of adaptation and evolution can, of course, be seen most clearly with the Pokemon themselves. For the first time, Sun and Moon introduce brand new “Alolan” forms for Generation 1 Pokemon, giving these Pokemon completely new designs and types. This is not only a cool way to add new forms for old Pokemon in a generation that sadly does not include any new mega evolutions, but it also mimics the way evolution happens in the real world. Because they are surrounded by water, islands are completely separate ecosystems from the rest of the world, and often develop completely new species that cannot be found anywhere else in the world. These Alolan forms presumably started out the same as Pokemon from other regions, but were able to evolve into completely different forms in a new ecosystem.

Several of these regional forms also play into the tropical island aesthetic of the region, including Alolan Marowak which looks like a Firedancer, Alolan Raichu, which surfs on its tail, and Alolan Exeggutor which grows much taller and becomes a grass DRAGON type in what is considered to be its “true” form. These games even introduce a human character – Samson Oak – who is basically the “Alolan form” of his cousin, Professor Oak from the original Red and Green games.

Aside from the Alolan forms, the other Pokemon that represents this theme of natural selection and evolution is Oricorio. Oricorio is a flying Pokemon whose form and secondary type change depending on which Island it is found on – it has the fire Baile style, electric Pom-Pom style, the psychic Pa’u style, and the ghost Sensu style. The Oricorio forms are a pretty clear reference to Darwin’s finches, a group of birds found on the Galapagos islands that developed different beaks on different islands, and helped Darwin form his theory of evolution.

While isolated ecosystems can lead to some really interesting unique creatures, they also have a downside – these ecosystems also tend to be incredibly fragile. This leads to the second major theme of these games – invasive species. The introduction of outside species into an isolated ecosystem can be catastrophic, and is a major problem not only on islands but all around the world. Many Pokemon found in the Alolan region weren’t originally native to these islands, but were instead brough over by trainers from other regions. These include Alolan forms like Rattata and Meowth, but it also includes Pokemon like Mareanie and Yungoose, which make their first appearances in these games.

In fact, Yungoose were purposely introduced into the Alolan region to stop the spread of the invasive Rattata, but the Rattata evolved to be nocturnal while the Yungoose were active during the day. This actually mimics what happened on the Hawaiian islands, where mongooses were introduced to catch rats, but have actually had a major negative impact on the bird populations of the island.

This theme of invasive species also inspired the development of one of my favorite additions to this generation – the Ultra Beasts. The ultra beasts are a group of Pokemon from other dimensions that are invading the Alolan regions by appearing through “ultra wormholes”. The ultra beasts are very unique monsters in the series because they are not from the Pokemon world as we know it, and truly look the part. While many fans complained when these creatures where first revealed because they don’t “look like Pokemon”, I actually really enjoy them for that very reason. Their designs look bizarre and alien, which is important because it helps them stand out as invaders from another dimension. I also like that they give the Pokemon designers the opportunity to stretch out and make designs that never would have gotten into the games otherwise.

I only have two problems with the ultra beasts. First, like every cool idea in Pokemon it seems like a one-off – they introduced the idea in Generation 7, but have done nothing to develop or expand on it since. My other complaint is that they introduced the coolest freaking design in all of Pokemon when Nihilego possessed Lusamine, and they don’t even let us catch it! Seriously, this thing is so rad, and it might legitimately be my favorite Pokemon of all time if we were actually able to catch and use it. Why would you do this to me Game Freak!

The ultra beasts also tie into the final theme of these games, which is the theme of alternate dimensions and parallel universes in Pokemon. This is probably the generation that plays with these concepts the most, and does it in a really cool way. However, I’m going to save my discussion of those themes for a separate video on the Pokemon multiverse.

Now that we have looked at the major themes of these games and this region, lets look at some of the common design traits and motifs of these Pokemon. For this section I’m actually going be splitting these Pokemon into 3 categories – Alolan forms, regular Pokemon, and Ultra Beasts.

First, lets start looking at the Alolan forms. These Pokemon are really interesting from a design perspective because they provide an opportunity to directly see how the design philosophy of Pokemon has changed since generation 1, by comparing different designs for the same Pokemon. I think there are two main different ways that GameFreak makes Alolan forms in Pokemon. The first is by softening the design – this can be seen in Pokemon like Alolan Raichu, Ninetales, and especially Persion, which are all smoother, rounder versions of their original forms. The second main way is by simply adding details, which can be seen with Alolan Dugtrio, Golem, Muk, and Marowak, which are all similar to their original forms but with a few extra added doodads. I think that these changes are pretty emblematic of the change in style Pokemon has made overall towards designs that are rounder, but generally more detailed than in Generation 1.

Moving on to the regular Pokemon of this region, let’s begin with the starters. Like the past few generations, each of the starters of this region are based around a unified theme – in this case, performers of some kind. Decidueye is based on an archer, specifically Robin Hood, but may have also been inspired by swash-buckling actors like Errol Flynn and Cary Elwes. Incineroar, the fire type, was based on a wrestler. While Pokemon has had a number of fire/fighting starter Pokemon, some players are confused why Incineraor isn’t a fire/fighting, but rather a fire/dark type. The reason is because Incineroar isn’t just a wrestler – he’s a heel, who intentionally plays the villain. Finally, the water starter is Primarina, based on an opera singer. I named mine Melpomene.

There are a few things that stand out to me about the designs of Pokemon from this generation. The first is their color schemes – Gen 7 Pokemon tend to have very bright, saturated colors. Good examples include Crabrawler, Oranguru, Turtonator, Bewear, Comfey, and Bruxish.  Minior is an especially good example – while it’s outer shell is a subdued brown, inside it can be a wide array of bright colors.

Another hallmark of this generation is its elaborate designs. These are designs that, while highly detailed, don’t look cluttered. Examples include Golisopod, Kommo-o, Lurantis, Tapu Koko, and Lunala. All of these designs are far more complicated than anything you would see in the first few generations, but unlike generations 4 and 5 the details do not seem “tacked on”, but are rather an integrated part of the Pokemon’s concept. In fact, there are almost no instances in this generation of random spots, rings, or stripes added to the Pokemon, and Rockruff is the only example I can find of a Pokemon with unnecessary spikes – something that used to be much more common in the designs. These are things that were present as recently as the previous generation – while less egregious than Generation 4 or 5, generation six was still full of extraneous details on Pokemon like Meowstic, Malamar, Barbaracle, and even Goodra.

Instead, I like the way that many of the details are integrated into these Pokemons’ designs in a way that demonstrates the concept of the Pokemon, but is not too “on the nose”. Examples include Rowlet’s leafy bowtie, Gumshoos’ “jacket”, Crabrawler’s boxing gloves, or Salandit’s bandana.

Finally, let’s talk about the ultra beasts. These Pokemon are all very different from one another, but the one thing they all have in common is that they intentionally break the rules of Pokemon designs. Many of them, including Nihilego, Kartana, Xurkitree, and Blacephalon, have no obvious faces – something that is extremely rare among normal Pokemon. They may also be made of strange materials – such as paper for Kartana or glass for Nihilego – or have a body plan that doesn’t make sense, like Naganadel, Celesteela, or Guzzlord. They may also simply be unintuitive takes on “unpleasant” animals that Pokemon has avoided basing creatures off of, such as Buzzwole being a buff mosquito or Pheromosa being an elegant cockroach princess. Also, while many of the regular Pokemon of this generation have elaborate designs, these ultra beasts are without a doubt the most elaborate.

The other thing that they all have in common are that they are delightful, and we need more of them. Especially that Nihilego form.

In terms of mechanical and technological improvements in this generation, there actually isn’t too much to talk about. The flashy new battle mechanic in this generation was the introduction of Z-moves – powerful new moves that can only be used once per battle. Because they are just upgraded moves, I don’t believe that Z-moves really had any effect on the designs of Pokemon in this generation. Similarly, it seems that we have reached the limits of the effect that technological improvements can have on Pokemon design. These games are not only running on the same hardware as the previous games, but are using the exact same 3D models to represent the Pokemon – the first time that a new generation has not produced new sprites or models for the Pokemon. To be clear, I have absolutely no problem with Game Freak reusing models (as long as they don’t lie about it…), but it is a sign that further technological improvements are unlikely to change what is possible for Pokemon designs.

If there are any mechanical similarities that tie this generation together, it would be the fact that this is a generation of gimmicks. Nearly every Pokemon in this generation has a gimmick, whether that be a unique typing, an exclusive special ability, or a signature move or z-move. Great examples of this include Salazzle’s unique fire/poison typing and corrosion ability, Lycanroc’s multiple forms, or Wishiwashi’s schooling ability. Other than Togedemaru being overshadowed by a far-superior Pikachu imitation with Mimikyu, there are almost no Pokemon in this generation that can’t claim something special that helps them stand out from the crowd.

Until Next Time

But what do you think? Do you disagree with something I said? Is there a major pattern that I missed, or got wrong?   I would love to hear your thoughts about the Pokemon of this generation down in the comments.

That’s all I have for this week. If you liked this video make sure to give it a like, and subscribe so you don’t miss more videos like this in the future. If you want to see more, check out my other videos – I have already covered the previous six generations in this series, or you could check out my previous video where I talk about a personal project dealing with artificial life programs. I also have nearly 150 articles on the Rempton Games blog, which you can check out at the link in the description down below. And join me next time, where I will be talking all about how Minecraft worlds are generated. Until then, thank you so much for watching and I’ll see you next time.


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