One of the things I enjoyed the most about attending both Final Round 20 and DreamHack Austin was finally getting to meet so many Pokkén personalities in person. Regardless of who I talked to from that community, I walked away from nearly every encounter with the same overall impression: these were all people wildly motivated by their love for the game, a love of which that’s somewhat tempered by fear of their title being abandoned by Bandai Namco and/or The Pokémon Company.
At Final Round in particular, in the wake of Pokkén Tournament 1.5’s arcade announcement, I had the same conversation a lot.
“I just hope they announce a Switch port soon. Or a new title.”
“Do you think we’ll get the arcade characters?”
“Those balance changes are great! I want to get to play with them on console.”
“…what if this is it?”
Trying to find new ways to say “Patience! Have patience!” ended up becoming a mini-game of sorts for me.
No one wants to be told to wait. I get that. We all want to play the newest versions of our favorite games yesterday. As someone that has been following Namco’s fighting games closely for over a decade now, it’s a strange feeling to watch this new generation of gamer go through nearly the exact same thing mine did. I hope, with the arguments below, I’m able to help Pokkén players not only understand this wait period, but why it can be a good thing for them in the long run.
You are not the first.
Let’s have some release dates for comparison’s sake.
|Title||Arcade Release||Console Release||Notes|
|Soul Calibur 2||July 10, 2002||JP: March 27, 2003
NA: August 27, 2003
EU: September 26, 2003
|Arcade version had several balance patches. Console releases for different regions also had different balance changes.|
|Tekken 6 and Tekken 6: Bloodline Rebellion||November 26, 2007,
December 18, 2008 (BR)
|October 27, 2009 (BR)||Console version is BR version, original never released on console.|
|Tekken 7 and Tekken 7: Fated Retribution||March 18, 2015,
July 5, 2016 (FR)
|June 2, 2017||Console version is FR version, original never released on console.|
|Pokkén Tournament||July 16, 2015||March 18, 2016|
|Pokkén Tournament (Arcade) post-release new cast/balance changes||July 20, 2016 with Darkrai release.||???||Where’s my OP penguin, Namcops?!|
I have obviously cherry-picked Namco’s most extreme fighting game release periods. Just to quickly cover games I left out: games like Tekken Tag Tournament 2 had a shorter turnaround time, but were also made for the same console as their previous counterpart. Also, Tag 2 had several assets already completed for the game from the series’ previous title, Tekken 6. Tekken 5 is the odd exception of a Namco Fighter that came out on console a year after release, then had an arcade update that was also ported about a year later.
Generally, Namco takes at least a year or longer to release one of their arcade titles. This is a company that tries to fine tune things as delicately as possible within the arcade environment as a sort of controlled open-to-the-public beta test. I totally get wanting to play these games as quickly as possible, but as a word of caution, let’s look at when Namco decided not to follow this slow-paced model.
It’s called Soul Calibur.
Your game is very good because it was in arcades first.
Soul Calibur 2 isn’t a perfect game, but there’s a reason why that title is seeing a resurgence of sorts in both online play and the tournament scene. (For those not in the know, Soul Calibur 2 will be a main title at Combo Breaker). It’s beloved by many because the gameplay has a strong identity unique from the rest of the series, and its depth and success exists because of a lengthy arcade balancing run. Technically, the US console version is Version E of Soul Calibur 2, with versions A-D appearing slowly over time in the arcade. If Namco released version A of Soul Calibur 2 straight to console, the number of Cassandra infinites would have made the game’s run in the tournament scene a lot shorter in the early 2000s.
But we don’t have to theorize too hard about that. That’s exactly what happened with Soul Calibur 3. Soul Calibur 3 went straight to console without any arcade balancing run, and frankly, it was a broken mess. Variable Cancel, terrible balance, wall splat glitches… there’s a lot that went wrong with SC3 in the tournament scene, too much to cover in this article. Namco released an arcade version in Japan of SC3 after the console run, and quietly never spoke of SC3 again. SC4 and SC5 both suffered from similar, but less extreme fates. In SC5’s defense, at least, arcade players were actually involved in its development and the problems arising from that game are not from its programming melting under the light of scrutiny.
Pokkén Tournament had the extra burden of being a brand-new IP with a series of against-the-grain design decisions. That a community coalesced so strongly around it was a victory in and of itself, one I’m not totally convinced TPC, and maybe not even Namco, were prepared for. We saw what happened with the donation drive. Final Round 20 was just another successful and hype event. Seven different characters represented in top 8. International competition. Upsets. Intense matches. High-level play abounds, lots of players, and lots of sharing of information. Every top player was approachable and playable. Top to bottom, the Pokkén community couldn’t have asked for a better representation of how strong their scene is going. And it wasn’t even just the main tournament: the community pooled together to also run at least two other side events on the floor at Final Round just because they wanted to, and had the people to.
TPCi is capitalizing now with the new 2017 tournament series, but the question still looms: did they really anticipate this?
Namco and TPCi are probably still trying to figure out their direction, too.
Look: Tekken is a big deal. The company is wrapped up with Tekken 7‘s release, and I can’t fault them for dumping their primary resources into it. They absolutely should. I could end this section here, were I cynical.
There is so much about Pokkén that is wonderfully experimental. The shifting cameras, the color-coded attack triangle, the design challenge of bringing Pokémon-style battles to the fighting game genre… there’s a lot going on, conceptually. As solid as Pokkén has ended up being mechanically, I want the Pokkén community to think about what’s not present for just a moment. We don’t talk about it too much because we’re FGC and we don’t really care as much about customization or single-player content as the rest of the gaming world might, but it’s worth noting how shockingly empty the single-player game is. I don’t think this is without reason.
This is pure speculation on my part, but I really do believe that a lot of the decisions in Pokkén Tournament were the result of both companies testing the waters of what was possible with their collaboration. We saw Namco incorporate Pokkén’s multi-camera design into the online/side preference mechanic of Tekken 7 arcade–for all we know, they went into this project viewing Pokkén as nothing more than a demo reel.
Pokkén was also very clearly a test of the Wii U hardware’s capabilities, as the battle engine was constructed purely to take advantage of Nintendo’s asymmetrical console. Almost exclusively, the focus of Pokkén is in the gameplay. So much so that the core Pokémon audience probably felt a little left behind when they couldn’t put various hats on their Pikachu, or battle an in-game gym, or what have you. Since I started writing this article, the Switch has officially released and its capabilities are almost perfect for solving some of Pokkén’s biggest logistics problems.
All I’m saying is, Pokkén was a success despite being completely out there. Realistically, a barely-updated Pokkén Tournament 2: The Pokkéning could just add Tekken-esque customs and a RPG-lite story mode, and it’d probably sell like hot cakes to both casuals and the tournament scene alike. I know that sounds cynical too, but it’s a real world possibility that would deliver Scizor to you, and make money for Bandai Namco hand over fist. Considering how well the original did on release, it really seems it would be a financial mistake to not pursue the series further in some way.
But, let’s put everything else aside. I think there’s one really important thing to consider, above all else.
You’ve been very fortunate thus far.
…and considering all the announcements you’ve already gotten this year alone, there’s no reason to think this luck’s going to change anytime soon. The game you have right now is great. You’ve proven you love your series. I saw the community band together at Final Round, and at Dreamhack, with my own eyes and that is what this is ultimately about. Revel in this community you have. Look at the people around you. That’s the sort of passion that kept people playing Soul Calibur 2 for so long. Not prize money or fame, but just an adoration for the game.
Do you know how many new IPs get only a few minutes in the sun, before fading away? It’s not even sad, it’s expected. New, ambitious projects show up, do their thing, then usually those teams move on to something else, if not separate all together. The world moves on. When you see sequels, it’s usually either because the original project went far and beyond original expectations, or because the company behind the project is already a behemoth anyways and can afford to do it. Pokkén is in a wonderful spot in this scenario. It’s a new idea that did well using the clout of two already massively successful companies. It’s built upon one of gaming’s most beloved franchises. Frankly, Pokkén Tournament could’ve been a minimal budget 2D airdasher contracted to the lowest bidder and I’m certain TPCi would have broken even on name alone. Instead, they trusted Namco to make a pretty wild game for their license and got a good return on investment. If I’m wrong I’m wrong, but I’ve seen much worse games march on. Pokkén will too, and if Namco appears to be moving slowly, it’s probably for a good reason. History has good things to say about the Namco games that waited.
So, patience. Have patience. And keep playing.