After the 'Mega Evolution' announcement for Pokemon X & Y, some fans couldn't help but wonder two things: wait a minute, aren't those temporary power-ups you gain in-battle kiiiind of like Digimon's 'Mega Digivolution'? And how would the games maintain balance with said power-ups?
Both Pokemon and Digimon involve a variety of creatures humans use in battle -- so the comparison between both series is long-standing. But beyond that, both types of evolution give their monsters a visual and power upgrade...but Digimon got Mega Evolutions before Pokemon did.
So did Game Freak, the developers behind Pokemon, ape the concept of having a Mega level of evolution? This Monday I sat down via video conference with Game Freak's Junichi Masuda, a founding member of Game Freak who is Pokemon X & Y's director, and I asked him if there was any Digimon influence on the Pokemon franchise -- and if not, where did the idea of Mega Evolution come from?
It's just a coincidence. Here's Masuda:
Game Freak really believed that the evolution, the concept of evolution, is one of the defining characteristics of the Pokemon games -- it always has been, since the beginning. With Pokemon X & Y we had three main themes, one was beauty, one was bonds, like the bonds between people and Pokemon, and the third was evolution.
And so on the concept of evolution, we really wanted to take that defining characteristic with the series, and see if we could do something new with it, take it to the next level. But we knew that we had to keep the balance of the battles…after discussing with the team how we could do this, keep the battle balanced and introduce a new stage of evolution, we came up with the idea to require a held item -- a mega stone -- be held by the Pokemon, and also have mega evolutions be something that only happens during battles.
So what this does, it adds a bit more depth to the battles, because you have to hold this Mega stone in order to Mega evolve…that means you can't hold another item that may be quite useful…so this kind of creates battles with even more depth.
Nothing related to Digimon, and more like the natural progression of making something bigger, better, and faster in a sequel -- as so many video games tend to do. Which is not to belittle the inclusion of Mega Evolutions, of course -- this isn't just some mindless expansion of a previous concept. In fact, the adoption of Mega Evolution has influenced many important facets of Pokemon X & Y.
For one, your adventure isn't about catching them all, as was the case in pretty much every Pokemon game before this one. The in-game purpose of your adventure is to uncover the mystery of Mega Evolution, and a good portion of the game will revolve around that. The importance of maintaining that mystique also explains why, for the first time, a main Pokemon game is releasing nearly worldwide. Before, releasing in Japan first meant that by the time players in other regions got the game, most of the game's secrets were out in the wild, just a Google search away. Game Freak hopes that they can delay that inevitability a bit if everyone starts off on the same foot. Surely, having FAQ-like material appear online won't take that long, but for folks who buy on day one? For once, you won't already know the nitty gritty details of what to expect in advance. That's exciting.
Plus, balance-wise, Mega Evolutions are kind of a big deal, too. A lot of development time is spent trying to make the Pokemon games work just right -- but of course, it doesn't take much after launch for Game Freak to see where they've fallen short, gameplay-wise. Balance is a tricky thing, nevermind when you've got over 700 Pokemon to worry about. Throwing in a super powerful game changer like Mega Evolution complicates things, but the hope is that limiting Mega Evolutions to only one Pokemon only per battle, and that limiting it only to Pokemon who carry the specific stone, manages to add depth without throwing the whole thing out the window. We'll know once we get to play it, but for now Game Freak says they look forward to next year's Pokemon championships -- where they'll best be able to tell how well their design turned out.
And in case you're still sceptical about Mega Evolutions? It's not as if this is the first time Game Freak has expanded on the evolution concept, and there's plenty of evidence to back up that evolution has been a key idea to the franchise from its inception. While Pokemon doesn't seem to have as many different kinds of evolutions as Digimon, there are still a good number of curious, non-standard types of evolution -- from ones that require stones, to ones that require specific friendship levels, amongst others. Some of the most famous fan-favourite Pokemon, like Mew, Mewtwo and many fossil Pokemon, have stories and mythologies revolving around (sometimes forced) evolution, and the revival of long-extinct creatures.
It's almost like the Pokemon games came into existence at a time when humankind couldn't help but muse over our command of the natural world: Dolly, the first mammal clone, came into existence in 1996 -- the same year Pokemon was released in Japan.
In any case, make sure to check back for some more Pokemon coverage over the next week -- we've got lots to talk about after our interview with Game Freak and our hands-on time with the game. We'll be able to give you the answer to burning questions like, what does Game Freak think about the idea that Pokemon designs are becoming less creative? Why are there so many fire/fighting starters, and will we ever see anything than a starting trio of water, fire and grass type? And what's it like to play soccer with your Pokemon? All of that, and much more.