Some wanted to rid the land of black wheels. Others wanted to become the best (the best there will ever be). The important thing is that the two options involved strange worlds, endless adventures and the company of peculiar creatures that would become our best allies. Few children in the 1990s and early 2000s didn't enjoy Digimon and Pokémon in one way or another.
Both franchises arose almost simultaneously and with many elements in common that provoked, for some reason, comparison and competition among their followers to see which was better. Although they were born in the world of video games, both Pokémon and Digimon became a mass phenomenon first in Japan and later worldwide.
Comics, animated series, movies, toys, t-shirts and merchandising of all kinds which filled shops and homes across the world. So let's do a little review of the areas in which they stood out to end, once and for all, a confrontation comparable to Marvel vs DC.
Pokémon hit the market on April 27, 1996, created by Game Freak, Nintendo and the mind of Satoshi Taijiri. Its name means "pocket monster" and, contrary to what most people believe, it doesn't come from the English 'pocket monster' but from the Japanese 'Poketto Monsutā'.
Its first editions (Red, Green and Blue) placed us in a world full of creatures that we would have to capture and train to win a championship and get a copy of each Pokemon. The mechanics of turn-based combat, the RPG elements and the great variety of Pokemon that we could capture, 150 in the first generation, brought a disproportionate success that continued to grow in the following years.
On the other hand, Digimon's origin is more curious. At the end of 1996 Tamagotchi arrived in Japan, a Bandai device that offered the experience of a virtual pet to care for and watch grow. The toy was a real triumph among girls and so, the following year, a new version was released for the male audience that included monstrous dinosaur-like creatures, evolutions and combats called V-pet (virtual pet). Because they were much simpler games, Bandai began expanding Digimon's world and entering other markets before Nintendo.
The Pokémon franchise has more than 50 video game titles and continues to release new releases on a regular basis, even conquering the smartphone world with Pokemon Go. Its main branch of video games maintained the mechanics of the original and were adding new features, better graphics and new generations of Pokemon that kept the interest of players even when the titles were quite similar between them.
The pixelated world and 2D animations of Pokemon FireRed, one of the franchise's best-rated instalments, has given way to three-dimensional reality, more animated combat and customisation options that have made a comeback in recent titles.
But Nintendo also wanted to take risks and released numerous video games that focused on other aspects of the RPG such as exploring dungeons or directly abandoned it and were introduced in genres such as fighting or simulation.
Except for a few exceptional cases, these secondary titles used to end up forgotten in a drawer while those that respected the classic formula were the ones that stood out and continued to sell hundreds of thousands of copies. If something works, why change it?
The format that made Digimon famous was more limited, the franchise had to explore different options long before its competition and that made it somewhat more unstable. Without abandoning the production of updated V-pet devices, video games emerged that are worth highlighting as Digital Monster Ver. S: Digimon Tamers (1998), which translated the V-pet experience into a desktop console with few additions.
The other big hit came in 1999 and was called Digimon World, a PlayStation title that combined the open world and combat style of Pokemon with an interesting breeding element of your Digimon that conquered the public and made a difference.
After that, uncontrolled swings were made between platform genres, Super Smash Bros combat and RPG. Despite not having been so successful, Digimon has more than 20 video games. The last big surprise was Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth (2016), which received very good reviews.
Manga, anime and films
This is probably the real reason for the popularity and success of both titles. Pokemon's first season premiered in 1997 and Digimon's in 1998 and became a must-have on television around the world.
Digimon had the advantage that it had already developed its history and universe through the Japanese manga or comics, and that made its history a little more mature in its beginnings, deepening the link between human and Digimon that Pokemon had not dealt with in their video games.
With the series something similar happened to what was seen in video games. Pokemon has lasted longer and has maintained a standard model throughout its seasons, but has presented a repetitive scheme and few profound changes throughout history.
Digimon, on the other hand, has changed its world and protagonists with each season (quite a few less than Pokemon) and that has made the quality have spikes and falls. Digimon's season one, a direct continuation of the manga, was a huge success and continues to be remembered with affection by its followers.
The films, with a loose script in general and a clear objective of taking advantage of the fame of the main products, deserve little mention.
Image: Toei Animation.
This is when the creativity of Nintendo's and Bandai's marketing departments stands out. The huge success of the video games and the series made both companies see a real gold mine.
Fans of Pokemon and Digimon wanted almost any product that went on the market and toys, clothes or collections of letters filled the stores. Both franchises had gone far beyond the world of video games into which they were born and created a snowball effect greater than could have been anticipated. Both brands did it and both took advantage of it, so at this point we find ourselves with a technical tie.
And the winner is...
It is difficult to decide for one or the other and that is probably because there is no reason to do so. Digimon and Pokémon are part of the recent culture and are of immense value to those who enjoyed them at some point in their lives.
The competition between the two can only be understood from the cold perspective of two companies that want to get time and money from the same public bias. But the fans, those of us who go into the digital world or leave our home in Pueblo Paleta to go on an adventure, are able to see beyond a simple comparison.