It is safe to say that Nintendo hit the jackpot with the Pokemon franchise. With what almost feels like a billion official releases, and an anime which has been around for more than two decades, fans will continue to chase that impossible “Catch 'Em All” dream well after the Sun has collapsed onto itself.
Although simplistic by nature, the franchise continues to be popular with gamers of all ages. The more cynical among us might credit its success to its brilliant marketing team, but there is obviously more to it than just a slogan. More than the fighting mechanics, Pokemon excels at creating an experience that genuinely feels unique to the player. The story might be identical, but the player's team is their own.
There is an overabundance of games that share similarities with the Nintendo juggernaut. This is not to say they copied Pokemon, but a fan of the franchise would, most likely, enjoy the following titles as well.
Similar Games to Pokemon
1. Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth
- Systems: PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita
- Publisher: Bandai Namco Entertainment
- Developer: Media. Vision
- Release Dates: March 12, 2015 (JP) / February 2, 2016 (NA) / February 5, 2016 (EU)
Shall we get the most obvious one out of the way? Digimon has been around since the 1990s and was considered a direct competitor for Pokemon. Setting aside the debate of which is better, Digimon has blown hot and cold for its entire gaming history. Although a select few, including myself, might have a soft spot for the original PS1 trilogy; they have admittedly not aged all that greatly. After a lackluster showing on the PS2, there was a lot of hope riding on Cyber Sleuth not sucking.
Thankfully, Media. Vision's title proved to be the kick in the ass the franchise needed. Players step into the shoes of an amateur hacker, who is given a Digimon Capture device by a strange character in an online chat room. Digimon monsters inhabit Cyberspace Eden, which is a futuristic version of the internet, and can be captured once someone has this device. As the hacker investigates Eden's deeper levels, they are suddenly attacked and corrupted by a creature known as an “Eater”. This proves fortuitous, as now they can travel freely between the virtual and real world.
Despite picking up momentum towards the tail end, the plot is hardly anything to write home about. Game-play wise, Cyber Sleuth sticks to what works: a straightforward 3v3 turn-based combat system. Like Pokemon, the end game demands that the player makes use of a balanced team, one that leaves room for adaptation depending on the enemy. Since there are 249 Digimon to catch and train, some only available via a complex fusion system, experimentation is highly recommended.
Digimon Story Cyber Sleuth Trailer
2. Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch
- System: PlayStation 3
- Publisher: Bandai Namco Games
- Developer: Level-5
- Release Dates: November 17, 2011 (JP) / January 22, 2013 (NA) / February 1, 2013 (EU)
What would happen if one were to combine Level-5's JRPG pedigree and the breathtaking animation of Studio Ghibli? Well, there is no longer any need to wonder, as the two companies decided to provide an answer during the previous generation. Focusing on the PS3 version, Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch is a marvel to behold and one of the console's best titles.
Aimed towards a younger audience, the narrative follows a five-year-old boy named Oliver, who is sent on an adventure once his mom falls victim to an unknown illness. Desperate to save her, he meets a mystical creature known as Dippy, who tells him that the cause of the sickness is due to an evil that is spreading in his home world. Together, they journey to a vast and fantastical world, in the hopes of bringing an end to the spreading darkness.
Ni No Kuni is a game filled with childlike wonder. From the sprawling overworld to the detailed and varied kingdoms, and the awe-inspiring score – everything about its presentation hits the mark. The story might be rather predictable, but the animation delivers it with such majesty that it is easy to get sucked in.
Similarly to Pokemon, familiars can be captured and used within battle. With each victory, they gain experience to level up and can eventually evolve as well. The combat is not turn-based, as the player controls a single member of their team to fight in real-time. Besides standard attacks, skills can also be used to deliver some serious damage. A criticism would be the lackluster AI for your teammates, as it can lead to a few frustrating moments against the harder bosses.
With a sequel scheduled for a western release later this year, there is no time better than the present to experience one of the highlights of 2013.
Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch Trailer
3. Pocket Mortys
- Systems: Android, iOS
- Publisher: Adult Swim
- Developer: Big Pixel Studios
- Release Date: January 13, 2016
Yes, you read that correctly; a free-to-play mobile game. A direct parody of the Pokemon series, this delightful entry is set in the insane world of Rick and Morty. With a season 3 currently underway, it would be easy to dismiss this spin off as a quick cash grab to try and conjure up some excitement for the show. Add the word ‘free’, and one cannot help but be hesitant.
The animation series is amazing, always willing to push the envelope in terms of story and character development. There has yet to be a lazy moment, and Pocket Mortys continues that trend. Once downloaded, the game can be played while OFFLINE. How rare is that? Due to the decision of focusing on a single player experience, there are no real play-to-win elements.
Taking control of Rick, players travel to different dimensions to try and capture all of the Mortys. Once a dungeon is defeated, a badge is earned which can be used to challenge one of the Council of Ricks, which serve as this game's elite four. The combat system is a direct copy of the handheld Pokemon games, with success hinging on how effectively someone can make use of a literal rock, paper, scissors system.
If you are a fan of Pokemon and Rick and Morty, this is an easy recommendation. It is apparent that a lot of love and attention was put into this quirky hybrid, one that can satisfy both sets of fans.
Pocket Mortys Trailer
Any Games Like Pokemon ?
4. Dragon Quest Monsters (Dragon Quest Monsters: Terry no Wonderland)
- Systems: Game Boy Color
- Publishers: Square Enix (formerly known as Enix)
- Developer: Tose
- Release Dates: September 25, 1998 (JP), January 25, 1999 (EU), January 27, 2000 (NA)
A spin-off series for one of the longest running JRPG franchises of all time, Dragon Quest Monsters was first released in 1998 and has since seen more than 5 direct, or indirect, sequels. The idea spawned from a gameplay mechanic introduced in Dragon Quest V (1992), where monsters could be caught to fight alongside the player.
Each game features a new cast and takes place in a unique world that can be explored via an overworld and dungeons. The playable character for the first three titles was a younger version of one of the leads from the main franchise. This changed with the release of Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker and its sequels, as they introduce unique protagonists that were tailor-made for the game.
Although changes have been implemented since the original game, battles follow the basic formula where one to three enemy opponents face off against your own team. Once it is your turn, a variety of options are presented: fight, plan, items or flee. Ignoring the three obvious ones, plan is where the monster can be given a suggestion of what skill – offensive, defensive or support – should be used. Depending on their personality and wildness, they might obey or do as they please.
Monsters can be caught throughout the series, although the process does change from the fourth entry. In the earlier titles, items could be thrown to increase the chance that once the creature is defeated, they would offer to join your party. The latest three additions introduced a scouting mechanic, which is a command available in battle and can be repeated indefinitely until the monster joins or gets angry.
There are very few gaming franchises with the track record of Dragon Quest. The Monsters spin-off series has proven to be no exception and should be high on the list for any JRPG fan, not only those with a love for Pokemon. Also, Akira Toriyama designed the characters and monsters – What more does an anime fan need?
Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker Nintendo DS Trailer
5. Yo-Kai Watch
- System: Nintendo 3DS
- Publishers: Level-5 (JP), Nintendo (World Wide)
- Developer: Level-5
- Release Dates: January 11, 2013 (JP), November 6, 2015 (NA), April 29, 2016 (EU)
With the announcement that Level-5 will be releasing Yo-Kai Watch 2: Psychic Spectres later this year in North America, it seems like a perfect opportunity to talk about this younger alternative to Pokemon. Taking place within Sakura New Town (or Springdale for the West), a boy named Nate (or the female version, Keita) discovers a rather peculiar capsule machine that summons forth a Yo-Kai. Naturally, this supernatural entity does what all ghosts would do at that point; it gives our protagonist a Yo-Kai Watch, which can track other mischievous phantoms lurking around town.
Yōkai form part of Japanese folklore, generally referring to otherworldly beings like spirits and demons. Although their appearance is varied, they often share similarities with animals and humans. Depending on the literature, they can be violent or good. As someone who is fascinated by the legends of foreign cultures, Level-5's game immediately earned a must-buy status.
Although a much more wholesome product is presented than the stories that inspired it, Yo-Kai Watch is a brilliant title that manages to create a strong enough identity to set it aside from Nintendo's moneymaker. Once a Yo-Kai is located, Nate (or Keita) can give them food before or during battle, to try and entice them to join your team. If successful, a Yo-Kai medal is received, which allows that ghost to be summoned while in combat. Up to six can be kept in the player's team at a time, with experience being gained after every victory. Once they reach a certain level, an evolution can also be triggered.
The setting is what truly validates Yo-Kai Watch's existence; stepping away from the fantastical and presenting a modern urban environment to be explored. Besides the main quests, each entry in the franchise boasts an impressive selection of secondary missions, which could reap benefits like unlocking unique Yo-Kai.
YO-KAI WATCH Launch Trailer
6. Persona 5 (PS4)
- Systems: PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4
- Publisher: Atlus (JP), Atlus USA (NA), Deep Silver (PAL)
- Developer: Atlus
- Release Date: September 15, 2016 (JP), April 4, 2017 (World Wide)
The best for last? Well, it is hard to argue against Atlus' recent critical and commercial darling. Released earlier this year on the PS4, Persona 5 is what Pokemon would be like if it was directed towards a slightly older crowd, and had its weirdness amplified to about a thousand. Although this entry will focus on the fifth game, all the previous four entries and pretty much anything with Shin Megami Tensei in the name is worthy of anyone's time.
After being falsely accused of assault and placed on probation, the protagonist (Joker) moves to Tokyo and enrolls into Shujin Academy. Over the course of a school year, he and a few of his friends awaken to their Persona Powers, which allow them to travel to an alternate reality that is governed by the negative desires of humans. In these areas, they find massive palaces that are controlled by a sinister adult, who would need to be defeated for their behavior to change in the real world. Realizing that they are the only ones up for the job, Joker and his crew form the Phantom Thieves; whose purpose is to change the hearts of these rotten people.
Game time is divided into two main section: social links and dungeons. The latter involves visiting one of these palaces and battling it out with random enemies, before taking on the boss. Although each member has their own persona, Joker is capable of inspiring enemy personas into joining the thieves, and new ones can also be created by fusion. With well over 200 to collect, there are countless builds to try and see what works best for yourself.
Social links set Persona apart, as Joker would need to develop his relationships and abilities to reap benefits while exploring a palace. Atlus has stuffed Tokyo with an overwhelming amount to do, but it is all carried out with such charm and expertise, that a dull moment is hard to find.
Persona 5 - Official Launch Trailer
Since the original release of Pokemon Red and Blue, it is impossible to deny the influence that Nintendo's franchise has had on the industry. Many companies have tried to replicate the formula, but the ones that tend to leave a lasting impression, pull it off by understanding why so many people enjoy playing Pokemon rather than just copying the recipe.
Do you think there is any other game that just screams Pokemon? Please do not hesitate to leave a comment with any recommendations.