Shortly after my twelfth birthday, something released to the world that would change the entertainment industry forever by giving birth to a franchise that has been wildly successful but strangely uninfluential. This was the U.S. release of Pokemon Red and Pokemon Blue. As successful as this series has been, it has done little to nothing to advance the gaming industry.
It is not like Ocarina of Time, whose Z-Targeting and use of rotating 2-D sprites to give the illusion of 3-D revolutionized the industry. It is not like Super Mario 64, whose player-controlled camera solved a problem that many other franchises banged their heads against. In fact, nothing from Pokemon has made its way into other games, but it doesn’t take long to figure out why that is the case.
Pokemon is really nothing more than a JRPG with an overabundance of potential player characters. As it does nothing new, there is nothing that it has that can spread to other game series. And that’s fine, really–I’m not bashing the series for its lack of innovation with the core concept.
I loved Pokemon. I watched the anime. I played the card game, which served as a wonderful introduction to Magic: The Gathering later (the rules are almost identical, after all). And I played the hell–the ever-loving hell–out of the original games. I had Pokemon Blue, and I shudder to think of the hundreds of hours I poured into it. In my circle of friends, I had the Level 255 Charizard that, for months, no one could defeat–obviously. And no one knew how I had a Level 255 Charizard.
It was a kid named George, a year older than I, who figured it out and ended my reign of terror with his level 255 Blastoise.
It was all thanks to what I’d named my character and the use of the Missingno. glitch–a glitch that was fair game to us, because anyone who used it to duplicate Rare Candies was going to get curbstomped by someone who actually bothered to level to that point.
Then Pokemon Yellow released, and I got it–most of us did. And it destroyed the fine balance of the games. Venusaur, Blastoise, and Charizard–powerful Pokemon, to be sure–were now dirt common; you were sure to get all three simply by playing the game. When you needed a Grass type, you went with Venusaur, you went with Blastoise for a Water type, and you went with Charizard for a Fire type. The only problem these Pokemon had was that they were single types–though Venusaur was Poison (a trait that did little more than make him more vulnerable to the already-obscenely-powerful Psychic types) and Charizard was Flying–but couldn’t learn any Flying moves. I’m pretty sure Charizard was Flying in the original two (not including Yellow), but I know he was given Flying in Yellow.
Surfing Pikachu also became available, which was a Pikachu who knew the Surf ability. Since the player still had to trek through the Safari Zone in order to get the Warden’s Teeth (If you don’t understand that sentence, then… don’t ask) for the Strength HM, this didn’t really help a great deal–except in battles, where a Surfing Pikachu could crush a Geodude, sometimes Graveler, Onix, and Diglett without problem. The damage formulas were not nearly as well-balanced then: the type advantage of using an ability whose type matches the attacker was negligible compared to base damage and the Super Effective difference, and a Surf was powerful enough to kill almost everything in a single hit. This was rectified a bit with Pokemon Stadium and the series going forward.
However, none of that mattered against an Alakazam or Mewtwo. We all know Psychic was broken then, but it wasn’t actually the Special Attack / Special Defense problem that most people think. It was that Psychic had a type advantage to almost everything, and the only types to which it was weak had Poison as a secondary type. The Caterpie/Metapod/Butterfree line would be the only exception, but as its stats were really weak (Butterfree has never been a top tier), it didn’t matter. Plus, there were no Bug attacks that were worth a damn.
Ghost types were an absolute joke. There were only three, and only one of those was worth using: Gengar. Haunter was decent only for those who couldn’t freely trade to get a Gengar, but there was no reason to use Haunter–or, god forbid, Gastly–when Gengar was available. Plus, Gengar could learn Strength, a fairly powerful Normal type attack that did have some use. But there were no useful Ghost moves, and all three Ghost types also had Poison as a secondary–meaning they were weak to Psychic.
Then the next generation was released. I got Pokemon Gold. Without discussion or planning, my best friend bought Pokemon Silver. He had also bought Pokemon Red. It was rather curious, and I’m sure that he named his in-game rival after me, and I know that I named my in-game rival after him. This was near the end of our friendship, since my increasing atheism and leaning toward the goth side would separate us, though not on bad terms. At that point, though, we were still friends. We still versused regularly (whenever someone nearby had a link cable, as neither of us had one), and we even battled Pokemon Cards over the phone. I’m still not 100% sure that he didn’t cheat a few times with his goddamned Chansey coin.
He and I both played through the games. True to the game, he was always just ahead of me in progress. When he reported that he was finished with a city, I would be arriving to that city. No matter how hard I tried, no matter what I did, he was always about an hour of progress ahead of me. I’ll never understand it, but considering the games… The in-game story certainly became true for me. “I just got my Eevee! I’m going to turn it into Espeon!” he would say about fifteen minutes before I arrived in… whatever that city was called.
Strangely, I can tell you all of the cities in Gen 1. I could also name all 151 Pokemon from memory, and could put them in Dex order if you gave me enough time and a few hints. But the next 100? One of the cities was called Cherryblossom, right? I don’t recall any of the cities, but that’s because I didn’t play through Gen 2 nearly as many times as I played through Gen 1. Getting 151 Pokemon was never a realistic goal for me, because getting all the starters was a distant daydream. No one was willing to trade them to you at earlier stages, for fear that the principal or a teacher would come out, forcing us to put our games away, and leaving them without their star mon. We weren’t allowed to have the games at school, of course, so that was a real threat. Many were the battles interrupted by the sudden appearance of a teacher, and it wasn’t always possible to meet up later in the day to fix a trade that went wrong.
So why were we playing? We weren’t trying to battle competitively–not really–and we weren’t seeking Dex Completion. So why were we so addicted? Because it was FUN. It was extremely fun.
I couldn’t begin to guess how many times I played through Pokemon Blue. Well over 20.
We lost interest, though. Many things happened then.
First, we simply got older. Pokemon Ruby and Sapphire released in 2002. In 2002, I was getting drunk with friends in a double-wide trailer we stayed at each weekend, playing Dungeons and Dragons and Super Smash Bros. I was an aspiring rock musician and played in a band, and I was getting laid. Pokemon wasn’t even on my radar. The other kids with whom I played–the same was true of them, at least to some degree.
In a very real way, we had outgrown Pokemon.
This was inevitable, of course, because the games didn’t evolve in the same way that the Harry Potter series evolved. I was 11 when Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone released–Harry Potter was for my generation. So was Pokemon. It was a wonderful time to be 10-12 years old. These two huge, incredible entertainment properties released for our generation, to our generation. One grew up with us; the other refused to. Pokemon was the one that failed to age properly.
Perhaps because Rowling was able to write the books faster than Game Freak could make the games, Harry Potter grew up with us, at more or less the same rate. Around Order of the Phoenix, Harry Potter began falling behind, but Pokemon had fallen behind by Ruby and Sapphire. And very few of us stuck with it. I was dating (literally) the hottest chick at the school; she was the singer in our rock band. I did things that college students were supposed to be doing, largely thanks to the lack of parental supervision, culminating in my arrest at 17… But anyway.
Many years passed, and Pokemon Diamond / Pokemon Pearl released–again, shortly after my birthday–in 2006. It had been out for a year or two before I picked it up. I just wasn’t interested. But I did finally get it. At first, it was like seeing an old friend once again. “Hey, old friend! Good god, where have you been? I’ve missed you!” I said, even though the starters could never hold a candle to Charmander, Squirtle, or Bulbasaur. “Bidoof?” I asked. “Okay, well… that’s a Rattata colored brown, isn’t it? It’s okay. I’ve made some poor choices, too. Starly? It’s cute, but… isn’t it just a Pidgey? At least in Gen 2 you had the sense to just use Pidgey again. What happened?”
That became an issue. Starly was just a copycat of Pidgey. Bidoof was just a copycat of Rattata. Wurmple was just a copy of Weedle. To say that I was unimpressed by the new Pokemon would be an understatement. I wasn’t simply unimpressed–I was rolling my eyes.
Then there was the Beauty Contest. “Oh, old friend… What in the hell happened to you?” I cried, for this was the equivalent of finding out my old friend was secretly harboring a deadly heroin addiction. It was bad enough to see these blatant rip-offs of old Pokemon being presented as “new,” but the Beauty Contest? And, if I remember correctly, the Beauty Contest was forced onto players and had to be done at least once to make progress.
But I did it, and I didn’t hate it. I didn’t enjoy it. I was supremely disappointed that my old friend had stooped to such levels. But it was something to do, and I did it. My Luxio and I–Shinx and Luxio were good, new mons, at least.
I got the fourth gym badge and reached the swamp. At that point, I saved the game… and never played it again. What had gone wrong? It’s hard to say. Pokemon Diamond and Pearl… simply didn’t do it for me.
We never liked Gen 2 as much as we did Gen 1. I have my hypotheses why that might have been the case, but the primary one… is simply that it was the same goddamned game again. It was like Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario Bros. 3, except the improvements here weren’t nearly as drastic as SMB1 and SMB3. It was really just two new types and some new Pokemon.
Dark–let’s face it. Dark should have simply replaced Ghost, because Ghost was clearly always meant to be Dark in the first place. That’s a pretty large fuck-up, considering Dark was implemented almost entirely to curtail the power of Psychic types. But look at the type advantage chart–they’re virtually identical, except that Normal attacks don’t hit Ghost Pokemon and Dark is weak to Poison. Simply rename “Ghost” to “Dark” and add a half-weakness to Poison, and it’s the same freaking thing. Dark and Ghost are not both necessary, and it only clutters the type chart. Ghost should never have been a type any more than “Rat” should be a type, or “Bird” should be a type. “Ghost” was just a characteristic that three Pokemon had; the types of those ghost Pokemon should have been Dark. I understand that it was a Gen 1 mistake, but they fixed it in Gen 2 with the dumbest possible way.
Gastly, Haunter, and Gengar should have become Dark/Poison, and their ghost abilities should have been removed–or relegated to simply being oddities for those three Pokemon, in the same way that Pikachu had a few oddities and was able to learn both Surf and Fly. A new type to use against Psychic wasn’t necessary–all that was necessary was to rename “Ghost” to “Dark” and create some mons that didn’t combine Dark with a weakness to Psychic, and create some abilities that actually did damage and had Dark as the type. Implementing both was a stupid decision.
It also introduced Steel, which I am totally onboard with. But Poison already sucked as a type–did they really have to harm it more by giving a type immunity to it? Compare Poison to Fire. Fire has 4 x2 strengths and 4 50% weaknesses. Poison has two x2 Strengths, 4 50% weaknesses, and 1 0% weakness. It’s an utter joke, and this is why the game will never be balanced: the types aren’t balanced.
Every Type should have the same number of Strengths, the same number of 50% weaknesses, at least 1 type it can’t affect, and the same number of types that are Strengths against it. Once that is achieved, then individual Pokemon can be created to make use of that. As long as it’s not balanced, though…
Psychic/Dragon. Can you imagine that? Prior to the implementation of the Fairy type, that would have been disastrous.
Anyway. It’s not my goal here to critique the series, not really.
Other than Umbreon, there were no mons in Gen 2 that I really liked, and I only like Umbreon because–remember earlier when I said I was starting to lean toward the goth thing? It’s no surprise I liked the Dark type. But here, things began to get complicated, but they didn’t get complicated in the right way…
Breeding for eggs became mandatory to get some Pokemon, and that was tedious as fuck. There was nowhere to catch Pichu, so if, for some god forsaken reason, you wanted a Pichu, you had to breed. This also created the need to breed in order to get the best IVs. So before you could do any real battling, you had to catch dozens of specimens, Release all the ones with the worst stats, and then take careful notes of their stats. Then you had to gain them a few levels–the more, the better–and do some asinine calculations to figure out which one was actually the best. Then you had to do it again, but you had to get a member of the opposite sex. Then you had to breed them at the daycare, and repeat the process all over again until you had one that wouldn’t get crushed immediately.
I never bothered to do it. So the above paragraph may have some inaccuracies and mistakes. I don’t care. The very thought of stepping into that was unappealing, and it was unappealing even then. It was not like Chess, where you could, on your own merits, blaze a path to success. It was more like World of Warcraft–you had to grind. There was no other way.
It also introduced the Happiness mechanic, and some mons who could only evolve through Happiness. Ugh. Great. Something we can’t directly control. Thanks, Game Freak. How irritated was I to realize that my Umbreon could only evolve if my Eevee evolved at night and had a high enough Happiness? Very irritated.
It also introduced the Day/Night mechanic, which made sense but was also fucked. Because now, in addition to needing to know where a certain Pokemon appears, you had to know what time of day it appears. What if you couldn’t play during the Day? What if you couldn’t play during the Night? What if you couldn’t play on Sunday or Wednesday to do the Bug Catching event? You were just screwed. I think it was Sunday and Wednesday, but it doesn’t matter.
A bunch of useless berries and apricorns were added, too, which was just more tedious crap to keep up with, most of which didn’t affect the game enough to bother with. Oh, my Lure Ball increased my catch rate against Water types? Great, because Water types are soooo hard to catch. Berries were useless. Even with strategic planning, the idea that your Pokemon with the anti-Confusion berry would get hit with confusion was laughable. Plus, the berries were one-use, so if it was useful, it immediately became grinding to get a bunch of them, which was immediately not fun anymore.
But no one in their right mind would have held a Berry, not when items like the Quick Claw and all the others were available and vastly superior. Let’s see… A one-time use item that restores 10 HP or instantly cures Sleep… or something that lasts forever and gives my Pokemon a small chance to act first? And the Quick Claw wasn’t even one of the good items!
So in addition to having to breed for the best stats–after pouring over the 251 Pokemon and figuring out which mon you needed–and after grinding them up to a sufficient level, you also had to find and give them the best item for them to hold. Can you see why this wasn’t much fun? Give me a Pokeball, give me a Pokemon, and fucking let me have at it. Get all this other shit out of my way.
It’s not because it’s complex. I love Aion, Rift, and World of Warcraft pre-Cataclysm. I love complexity. Disgaea PC is currently in the lead for my Game of the Year 2016 award, and Disgaea is complex as shit. The problem here is that the Pokemon series became complex in the wrong way. It became complex in a way that requires tedious grinding (which is strange to come from a huge Disgaea fan), not clever strategies and tactics. Though strategies and tactics do play a role, they do not eliminate the need for grinding, and it doesn’t matter how clever you are–if your IVs suck, you won’t win.
It’s kind of like World of Warcraft. I’m a PvPer–a titled PvPer. I do arenas. Did arenas, I should say. I did briefly return a few months ago, to check out Warlords of Draenor, but I left again shortly after hitting Level 100. It’s just not for me anymore. If Blizzard wants me back, then they have to:
- Give Warlocks back our curses.
- Give Affliction Shadowbolt back.
- Take Cyclone and Fear off the same DR.
- Give back Soulburn: Waterbreathing.
- Give back Felflame.
- Restore the WoD perks to baseline Warlock abilities. Seriously. They took abilities away from us and then gave them back as Warlords of Draenor “perks.” Great, thanks, Blizzard. My “perk” is that my Drain Soul is now back to how it was before you fucked it up. Gee. Thanks. How creative and inspired you are.
- Restore Howl of Terror to a baseline ability. It already shares DR with Fear; there was no reason to turn it into a Talent.
- Give us back Death Coil.
- Remove Soul Swap from the game. It’s broken, and you’ve had to nerf shit repeatedly since you implemented it. Just remove it from the game and give us back our DoTs.
- Give Haunt back its old functionality and remove its Soulshard use.
- Get rid of the Soulshard crap.
- Give me back my Spellstone.
- Drain Mana would be nice, too. I once won a 44 minute arena match with my ex-wife because of a beautifully timed Drain Mana. It was epic; it was a beautiful, awe-inspiring match, ending in our victory when we were only 1 minute away from the match timing out into a Draw. I wish I still had the video of it.
I realize that’s quite a lot of demands, but they’re pretty much in order of importance–except Soul Swap. If Soul Swap is removed, and then the next 6 bullets are done, then I’d be willing to return to the game. Until then, Affliction is a pale imitation of its former self, and it’s just not any fun to play.
Before I got off onto all of that, though, my point is that I do arenas. And one of the things that bothers me are the people who insist that World of Warcraft is not a gear-based game, that it’s skill-based. Because that’s utter bullshit. I don’t care how good you are. If you raid without gear, your DPS will suck. So how, exactly, is this not a gear-based game? If you try to Arena without a full epic PVP set, you’ll get curbstomped. How is this not a gear-based game? The upper echelons of PVP are skill-based, sure, but the gear is a huge part of this, as well. In raiding, skill is almost negligible. In 1500+ arenas, skill becomes increasingly important, but it’s still gear-based, even at 2700 rating.
Pokemon is now the equivalent of being gear-based. Gen 1 didn’t have the complexity for skill to play much of a role, either, and it showed, even then, that the series was going to become based more on stats and “things that happen outside of battles” than the battles themselves. But it wasn’t yet a problem, and it was only slightly a problem in Gen 2.
When I, and many others, attempted to return with Diamond/Pearl and Black/White, we expressed our dismay, our concerns, and our disappointment, and we were rudely insulted as “genwunners,” written off as blinded by nostalgia, our complaints ignored by the idiots who have now played the same exact game 7 times and haven’t noticed.
Because that’s another huge problem with the Pokemon games: they’re all exactly the same. You play a 10 year old kid going to 8 cities to fight 8 gym leaders, solving small problems in cities along the way, usually by overcoming a criminal organization, and then defeat the Elite Four. Along the way, you’ll need to learn to Cut trees, to use Strength and push boulders, to Surf… Along the way, you’ll find a Game Corner or Game Corner Copycat, you’ll find a large city with a Mega Mart, you’ll find a Safari Zone. The only differences will be the names of people you encounter, the types used in the gyms, and some of the Pokemon themselves. Download a graphics hack of Super Mario Bros. 3, though. Tell me–is it a different game? No, of course not.
And that’s what the Pokemon games have more or less been since the beginning: graphical hacks of the previous generation. Nothing ever really changes, and the games are exactly the same. It’s almost like Mega Man 3, 4, 5, and 6. Actually, it’s exactly like Mega Man 3, 4, 5, and 6.
That, I’m sorry to say, is pretty much the Pokemon series.
But we were interested in returning. Rather than addressing our complaints and welcoming us back into the fold, though, and walking us through the new grindy elements and mechanics, we were rejected and insulted.
That’s fine. You keep playing the same game over and over. Zelda and Mario fans do it. It’s a pretty obvious staple of Nintendo’s repertoire: just release the same game again, but change its name, and the stupid people won’t know the difference. Moreover, you can get the stupid people to loudly insist that it’s not the same thing. And, in a case of beautiful irony, these same people will criticize the Call of Duty games for being identical.
So I’m a genwunner, and the above freaking treatise explains why.