Pokémon Sword & Shield have been a hot button issue for some time now. Between the National Dex controversy, the lack of graphical fidelity, new mechanics that will just seemingly be left out in future entries and more, it seems like this may be the first new-generation main entry a larger number of fans would rather not play. While some are understandably disappointed, these characteristics may be a good thing, mainly for those seeking to compete with the behemoth that is the Pokémon series. 2019 may just be the perfect year for some competitors — and that might be only the start.
Pokémon inspired plenty of games after becoming a massive success in the late 90s and early 2000s, but a handful of these games disappeared after two, or even just one iteration. A few continued on throughout the 2000’s, but none were quite as frequent as Game Freak’s juggernaut series. In the past few years new potential competitors have come and gone, while others are returning to try once more to gauge interest.
The Return of Even More Late 90s Nostalgia
First, let’s start with the other big names in the monster taming RPG or “mongame” subgenre. Digimon, a competitor to Pokémon that has lasted just as long, is receiving a remaster of both of the Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth games for Nintendo Switch and PC while fans wait for the somewhat recently delayed Digimon Survive as well as the next Digimon Story title, along with the western release of the mobile game Digimon ReArise. Digimon has seen somewhat of a comeback in the west since 2015, when Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth was first Digimon RPG announced for Western release on consoles after several years. Between these games as well as the Digimon Tri movie series, the upcoming Digimon Adventure: Last Evolution Kizuna film, and the re-release of the original Digimon virtual pet toys, it seems that this franchise is trying to cash in on childhood nostalgia, in a similar vein to how Pokémon has been recently; it has also been successful in doing so, while not exactly to the same degree.
While plenty of Pokémon fans also grew up with and fondly remember Digimon, it isn’t the only one of Pokémon’s early competitors to make a comeback. Koei Tecmo just recently announced that the original Monster Rancher will receive a port in Japan in the near future, although as of writing it has only been confirmed for release on Nintendo Switch, Android, and iOS. It’s also not known if it will see a release outside of Japan. Whether this could potentially lead to a new title in the series is unclear, but the fact that Koei Tecmo is even considering a re-release shows that they are aware it still has a dedicated fanbase.
While Digimon and Monster Rancher were known not only through their games, but through their anime and other merchandise as well, another series introduced in the late 90’s was known through the JRPG series it was spun-off from. The series I’m alluding to of course, is Dragon Quest Monsters (Formerly known as Dragon Warrior Monsters outside of Japan). The next Dragon Quest Monsters title, which has yet to receive an official title, was announced for unspecified “modern consoles” during the 20th Anniversary livestream. This new title will star child versions of beloved Dragon Quest XI party member Erik, as well as his sister Mia. Traditionally, the spin-off series has appeared on Nintendo handheld platforms, with one exception for the original PlayStation. Between its history, Dragon Quest XI S coming to Switch soon, and Dragon Quest Builders 2 having recently increased the visibility of the series in the West, it seems likely the next Dragon Quest Monsters game will appear on Nintendo Switch as well. That’s not to say it won’t appear on PlayStation 4 at all, but from what we know about the background of the series, it seems less likely. Dragon Quest Monsters has usually been well-received by both Japanese and Western audiences. With the definitive version of the most recent main series entry fresh on everybody’s mind, maybe the spin-off series will become a bit more well known. It would also be the perfect time to reintroduce the spin-off series to Western audiences, since Dragon Quest Monsters Joker 2 was the last one to see a release outside of Japan back in 2011.
A Recent Competitor
While Pokémon influenced plenty of other games over the last two decades, it nearly met its match in 2013 when Level-5 released the first Yo-Kai Watch. This series, once thought to be so popular in Japan that it would overtake Pokémon, received its Nintendo Switch debut in June with Yo-Kai Watch 4, which just a few weeks later was announced for release outside of Japan. In addition to that, a remake of the first game will also be coming to Nintendo Switch. All this and yet, Yo-Kai Watch isn’t Level-5’s only monster taming game to hit the Switch. The beloved Studio Ghibli animated hit, Ni No Kuni — which Yo-Kai Watch 4 seems to take plenty of gameplay inspiration from — is being remastered for PlayStation 4 and PC, and is also receiving a release on Nintendo Switch. Will Yo-Kai Watch catch a second wind after declining sales in the past few years and will it finally find a larger audience outside of Japan? It’s hard to know for sure, and it likely won’t have the same popularity boom it once did, but there may be some increased interest due to gameplay and platform changes.
These are just the bigger titles confirmed for release so far and doesn’t even include the rather recently reclaimed trademark for Fossil Fighters, or the not yet in development World of Final Fantasy sequel. Believe it or not, there are even more of these types of games coming out in the next few years.
As previously stated, all these aforementioned titles and series are the more well-known ones, but there are also a handful of indie titles inspired by both Pokémon and other games that will be coming soon.
Siralim 3, a six-on-six monster battling RPG with roguelike elements and inspired by Dragon Quest Monsters 2, just recently received a Nintendo Switch release on July 5, after seeing release on PC and PlayStation 4 earlier in the year. Interestingly enough, Siralim 3 even has a cross-save feature, so player data can be shared between different platforms..
Similar to Siralim 3, another title that also takes inspiration from some of the same games, as well as Shin Megami Tensei, is Monster Crown. Monster Crown features a much darker story than many other games mentioned due to its Shin Megami Tensei influence, It also features deeper breeding mechanics inspired by those seen in the first Dragon Quest Monsters. Monster Crown hasn’t been fully released yet but a few alpha versions have been played by backers. Like Siralim 3, it will also feature cross-save compatibility.
(Side note: the creators of Siralim 3 and Monster Crown even have a podcast which discusses the subgenre called Project Bestiary: where they talk about various “mongames” and their different aspects)
A perhaps more well-known indie title in the subgenre that many have been discussing recently is Ooblets, a Pokémon and Animal Crossing/Harvest Moon inspired life sim where players grow the titular creatures and have them compete via dance-offs through card based combat. While whether it will be successful is currently a controversial topic, it will still be interesting to see how it fares against its inspirations.
Similarly inspired by life sim titles as well as Monster Rancher is the upcoming RE: Legend. Unlike any of the other games mentioned, RE: Legend features a class system for tamers so they can fight alongside their creatures, and will even have online co-op for battles as well as exploration.
That’s already a handful of indie titles, but we’re not done yet. There’s also Monster Sanctuary, a 2D monster taming metroidvania hybrid. On that note, it’s also possible that the term “mongame” may become more commonly used as more of these types of games come out, similar to how metroidvania has become a catch-all term for games with similar gameplay to Metroid and Castlevania. If Monster Sanctuary seems like an interesting combination of different gameplay elements to you, you can try out the demo via Steam.
After all that, those aren’t even all the “mongame” indie titles currently in development. There are still plenty more, but for the sake of my sanity, I’ll let you find them on your own.
So, even if Pokémon Sword and Shield ends up leaving a sour taste in the mouths of some fans, as long as they can be open-minded, then they might find plenty of other similar titles they’ll enjoy. Who knows? They may even end up liking them better than Pokémon. As for me, I’m cautiously optimistic that I’ll enjoy Pokémon Sword and Shield just fine. I’m also still hoping for a Monster Hunter Stories Switch port or sequel to be announced.
@monzukan featured image created by Rachel Briggs