In 2018, most people are aware of the Pokémon franchise. Ever since its introduction to society in the late 90’s, both the game and its fanbase have been growing, and although Pokémon gained widespread popularity through the games, anime series, and trading card game, similar series such as Digimon and Monster Rancher were relatively popular as well. Pokémon may have the advantage when it comes to brand recognition, but what about other, more recent monster raising RPGs which have a decent amount of popularity; how do they stack up against the juggernaut that is Pokémon? And considering Pokémon is popular enough to have their World Championship live-streamed, could we see official tournaments for the other franchises in the future? Possibly, and it’s more likely than you might think due to the Nintendo Switch, multiplatform releases, and growing online communities.
To look towards the future, first we have to observe the past and why Japan has been more open minded with these games than the rest of the world. While the West has often brushed many of these games off as nothing more than “Pokémon Clones”, Japan has been able to easily embrace them, which may be due to Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride. Dragon Quest V originally released on September 25, 1992 for the Super Famicom, just a few years before Pokémon, and was the first JRPG to feature the ability to recruit monsters to your party. These monster recruiting mechanics were later expanded upon in the Dragon Quest Monsters series, which itself was released not too long after the first generation of Pokémon, and saw moderate success outside of Japan with about half of the series reaching western shores afterwards. In the past decade or so, more people have been able to recognize that these so called “Pokémon Clones” stand out on their own and although none of these games or ongoing series have even anywhere near the same popularity as Pokémon, they have larger fanbases than one might expect. These fanbases could also grow even larger with a few upcoming titles launching on a popular console.
The Nintendo Switch Could Bring New Life To These Series
Nintendo’s popular handheld hybrid console has brought a larger audience to plenty of returning series and previously released titles, so it’s likely that these games could get a larger audience with its help as well. While Pokémon Let’s Go Pikachu and Let’s Go Eevee will be the first to launch on the platform, there are already a few other similar titles planned for release as well.
Yo-Kai Watch 4 hasn’t yet been confirmed for release outside of Japan — even Yo-Kai Watch 3 hasn’t yet, but it will be the first title in the series to launch on Nintendo Switch. Not that much information about it has been revealed yet, but we do know that it will change up the gameplay with multiple playable human protagonists and add the ability for human characters to fight alongside their Yo-Kai friends. Once thought to be a potential “Pokémon Killer” due to the reception of the first game in Japan, the Yo-Kai Watch series has declined in popularity, and hasn’t been the runaway success they expected in the West either, but Yo-Kai Watch 4 being on Nintendo Switch could change that. The popularity of the console, as well as many players preferring it over the Nintendo 3DS, could encourage older fans to return to the franchise, while others who didn’t consider the series previously could become more interested.
Although they aren’t part of a series (yet), there are also some upcoming indie games more players may consider due to launching on Nintendo Switch. Re: Legend, a monster raising and life simulation RPG by Magnus Games, focuses on co-op gameplay but will also feature PVP battles. Monster Crown, another monster raising RPG heavily inspired by games like the first and second generation of Pokémon, Dragon Warrior Monsters, and Shin Megami Tensei, puts a lot of focus on breeding monsters and will feature online battling and trading, encouraging fans to play together.
Although not yet confirmed for a sequel or an enhanced port on Nintendo Switch, the often overlooked Monster Hunter Stories, the monster raising spin off of the Monster Hunter franchise, also has plenty of potential and could see a release on Nintendo Switch after having received a port on smartphones in Japan. Receiving positive critical reception including an 8.9 out of 10 from Casey Defreitas of IGN, the original Nintendo 3DS release didn’t sell as well as expected in Japan — despite an official tournament and an updated rerelease, and the localized version was overshadowed by the Nintendo Switch and other more popular games released at the time (such as Destiny 2). With the newfound international popularity of Monster Hunter World as well as the upcoming release of Monster Hunter Generations Ultimate on Nintendo Switch in addition to the Japanese smartphone port, it would be a shame if Monster Hunter Stories wasn’t given a second chance.
Although it’s currently unknown if there’s a new Dragon Quest Monsters title in development, the series has almost always been exclusive to Nintendo platforms, with the exception of Dragon Quest Monsters 1+2 for the PlayStation and Dragon Quest Monsters: Super Light for smartphones. A new game in the series launching on Nintendo Switch could give it a slight popularity boost in Japan, while in the West if Dragon Quest XI does well we could see the first international release of a Dragon Quest Monsters game since Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker 2 in 2011.
So maybe all these titles confirmed for Nintendo Switch or potentially coming to the console could give these series and games the extra boost they need to start getting more widespread official tournaments, but what about fans who don’t own a Nintendo Switch? Won’t they feel left out once these games launch? This may be true for some games, luckily others won’t be Switch exclusive, which brings us to the next point.
Multiplatform Releases Will Attract New Fans
While Pokémon has always been exclusive Nintendo consoles — with the exception of Pokémon GO of course, these other games either have been or will be on several platforms, giving more fans the ability to play them. Re: Legend will be released on PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. Monster Crown is set to launch on PC, Linux, Android, and even PlayStation Vita*, in addition to Nintendo Switch, and is set to include cloud based cross-save functionality between platforms.
Yo-Kai Watch is in an interesting spot because while the main games remain exclusive to Nintendo consoles for the most part, they don’t have to. In fact, the first Yo-Kai Watch game was almost released on PlayStation 3 instead of Nintendo 3DS and also received a smartphone port in Japan in 2017. So while Yo-Kai Watch remains Nintendo exclusive for now with the exception of the first game, we could see the series on other consoles in the future.
While these multi-platform releases will be able to help potential fans have access to these games, what are the communities like online? If older titles aren’t being supported any more, how do these games stay relevant? Well, there’s a simple answer to that question.
Online Communities Are Only Getting Bigger
While Pokémon perhaps has the largest online community, these other similar games and series have larger online communities than you might expect, and belonging to the same sub-genre, there’s plenty of crossover.
Digimon is probably the closest in popularity to Pokémon, being meant for a slightly older audience and the only other series to continue having worldwide releases since its introduction. It wasn’t until Digimon World DS, known as Digimon Story in Japan — a fiasco which you can learn all about here, that the series started having online features.
Digimon Story Cyber Sleuth, the first Digimon RPG to release outside of Japan after a seven year gap, had questionable online functionality. Online battles were randomized, with nearly no way to battle against friends or specific players without pure luck or somehow rigging the system. The second game, Digimon Story Cyber Sleuth: Hackers Memory (pictured above), vastly improved the online features of the first game, adding ranked battles, event battles with special rules, online avatars, and Digimon accessories. Although the online features in Digimon Story could still use some improvement, with a growing official online community, I expect the upcoming PlayStation 4 exclusive Digimon Story title to have the best online functionality and the largest online presence the franchise has ever seen, even if it’s still not as big as Pokémon.
Both Re: Legend and Monster Crown have been developing their online communities ever since their initial announcements, and only grew once they were able to launch their respective KickStarter campaigns and fully fund their games. While Re:Legend will feature both online co-op and PVP, Monster Crown will have official tournaments held online, and has already hosted live-streams of some online battles.
While the Dragon Quest Monsters and Yo-Kai Watch communities are somewhat smaller, they do still exist and there’s actually a bit of crossover with the Re: Legend and Monster Crown communities. While Yo-Kai Watch doesn’t have the popularity it once had in Japan, and severely lacks it in the West, there are still a handful of YouTube personalities who cover the series, most notably AbdallahSmash026 (who we recently interviewed). And while Dragon Quest Monsters isn’t huge in the West either, and lacks the YouTube community Yo-Kai Watch has, there’s plenty of crossover in the Monster Crown community due to their similarities, with fans talking about different games in the series, English fan translations of those which didn’t see a release outside of Japan, and the possibility of more recent titles being localized for the West soon.
For Now, Pokémon Remains the King
There’s no doubt that Pokémon will still be the most popular franchise of this subgenre, but we could see a rise in popularity for these other games in the future. Thanks to the popularity of the Nintendo Switch, upcoming multiplatform releases, and ever expanding online communities, it might not be long until we see more official tournaments for these games that will hopefully reach a national if not international level.