As [Pokémon](tag:2538552) celebrates its 20th anniversary, you could say that Nintendo is sticking to its guns. As the original trilogy -- Red, Blue, and Yellow -- hit the Virtual Console with new iterations of the series having been announced for later this year. Will we see any differences in the "gotta catch 'em all" formula in Pokemon Sun and Moon? It's hard to say, but there is another option out there being developed by a team made of fans. Ascending from the ashes of the old is Pokemon: Phoenix Rising.
The team, consisting of members spread out over 10 countries, have taken on the task of developing a free Pokemon game, utilizing user feedback. Though the members love each entry in the series, they've grown tired of each having only a slight variation on the original expression.
“[Nintendo sticks] to their formula; it’s safe and it works. [They've] taken more risks with spin-offs, and they haven’t done well,” Game Director Gavin Marshall said. “That tells them that fans don’t like the changes.”
And he’s right: Pokemon Black & White sold over 15 million copies, while Pokemon Ranger, one of the franchise's riskier ventures, sold less than 3 million.
The Phoenix Rising team has shown their deviation from Nintendo’s usual playbook by taking community feedback seriously. Fans following the project’s presence on Deviantart, Reddit, and Twitter have made some big requests regarding what they’d like to see from the game.
Multiple game saves, difficulty settings, and character customizations are a few of the ideas that stood out from the messages, tweets, and posts that the Phoenix Rising team has received over the course of their project's development.
“A lot of the features were either suggested or inspired by community feedback,” Marshall said. “And that’s important because fans are imagining something that we’re very close to creating.”
Another difference players will notice when they jump into the game later this year is that some staples of the Pokemon formula are missing. There won’t be eight gyms to visit, no Elite Four to conquer, and no “gotta catch em all” mentality that has ruled the franchise since its birth.
Phoenix Rising is treating the monster-catching adventure more like a traditional RPG. Your trainer will level up, take on side quests, and choices will affect how the game plays out, including what ending you finish with.
“Initially the game was generic, like the 20 years of Pokemon we’ve already had. Gym leaders, the Elite Four, becoming a champion, and, you know, catch em all,” Marshall said. “But instead, we’re focusing on legendary Pokemon, each will have its own backstory.”
As the game’s title suggests, much of it’s story will revolve around the phoenix Pokemon Ho-Oh and the lore surrounding it. The game opens in the region of Hawthorne, a peaceful nation established through a rebellion against a tyrannical king that has come to find itself in turmoil once again.
The Council of Oracles, a governing body set up after the fall of the old regime, has begun to fall out of the public's favor. And a man named “King” claims he’s of royal lineage and has questioned the actions of the Oracles, drawing a divide throughout Hawthorne.
While no official release date has been announced, the team behind Pokemon: Phoenix Rising is aiming for a 2016 release. There's also one other hurdle the game must overcome in order to be successful: navigating the copyright infringement minefield.
“There’s always the chance that we get noticed by Nintendo, GameFreak or The Pokemon Company and they simply say ‘Nope,’” Marshall said. “There is very little we can do about that.”
Shut down is a constant threat the Phoenix Rising team deals with; Nintendo has shut down other fan-centric projects, like a Mario 64 emulator and a Zelda browser game, in order to retain complete control over their massively popular IPs. They've even gone so far as to issue copyright claims over footage of their games on YouTube 'Let's Play' videos.
Seeing their creation as a tribute to the franchise they love so much, the development team has taken care not to step on any toes. But the Phoenix Rising team has little to no wiggle room if confronted by the IP’s original creator.
“This is not something we’re trying to gain financially from; we’re not trying to hurt the franchise, we’re paying homage to the series,” Marshall said. “We’re making a very intricate piece of digital media.”