Pokemon's Potential

Posted by MikeLemmer (536 posts) -

I didn't expect to put 50 hours into Pokemon X over the past week. I had set off that time block for Dark Souls 2, then promptly saw those plans waylaid by a combination of Twitch Plays Pokemon and a sale on Pokemon X.

I was surprised I enjoy this "children's game" with its roots in the Tamagotchi craze over 15 years ago so much. It's a solid game in a neglected subgenre nestled between RPGs and pet simulators. It simultaneously satisfies my desire for interesting mons and strategic battles; every pokemon I captured because I "liked how it looked" ended up filling a useful niche in my party. The Super Training (get into the nitty-gritty of tweaking your pokemons' stats) and Pokemon-Amie (spend time petting & feeding your pokemon) modes emphasize this duality of strategy & pathos, the constant conflict (and attempts to reconcile) having the team you want and the team you need.

It wasn't long until I began getting attached to some of my pokemon. My starter pokemon, the firefox, was a cute little bugger. My mature stoicness quickly melted after I fed him a few treats and scratched his ears. If I held the 3DS far enough back for the camera to register my face, he would tilt his head when I tilted mine. Such damn basic responses, combined with a bit of animated personality, still reminded me of my old pets. That feeling got stronger as I captured more pokemon that reminded me of... something. A Lucario that kept wanting to duel me. A Lapras I always wanted to hug I nicknamed "Nessie". An Amaura that had a haunting trill for its cry. A Disaster Hound that reminded me of an old friend...

Years ago, I had a dog named Trouble. She got her name after an exasperating week of dealing with her as a puppy; it stuck. I still remember the feel of her fur, the way she ran around on three legs (she lost one when a car hit her on the highway; we were just happy she survived), the dopey grin on her face... Trouble seemed like the perfect name for the Disaster Dog I captured, and I found myself reminiscing whenever I sent her into battle or scratched her ears. When I played the original Pokemon Red in my childhood, surrounded by a dozen dogs & cats, I never quite got the draw of it. I don't know if it's the improved emphasis on playing with your pokemon, or the fact all my old pets have died and I've been in apartments where pets aren't allowed ever since, but Pokemon hit me hard in the gut. I felt like the critic in Ratatoille, smashed by a wave of nostalgia from what was supposed to be something simple & trite. Silly? Perhaps. As silly as a kid's bond with a pet...

Somehow, Pokemon did this right. It might be the animal-based designs, or their background as natural parts of the world, or the simplistic plot of a young boy traveling the world with his friends, or even the fact they don't actually speak, but Pokemon nails the strong bonds between a kid and his pets. It avoids the dual threats of treating the mons as amazingly fantastical creatures, thus divorcing it too much from reality (like other mons RPGs), and removing all danger from the experience until the pets are simple playthings (like other pet simulations). It represents the way kids imagine their relationship with their pets. It's an all-too-rare feeling in games, and the most unique thing about Pokemon.

So where can it evolve from here? More than the usual "add more Pokemon" approach, I think Nintendo should double-down on making the Pokemon feel more alive. I want my mons to have a few quirks and odd rivalries/friendships I have to take into account, just like when you have multiple pets in the same space. I want the vague bookkeeping aspects, like storing and releasing pokemon, fleshed out to the point you start caring about what you do to them, too. I want more reasons to give up absolute combat efficiency in order to be a better caretaker for my mons. I want Pokemon to remind me more of my youth, when it was me, my pets, and treks together into the backwoods...

#1 Posted by takashichea (344 posts) -

Yeah, this game is pretty addicting. When I was in the Leaf Green gen, I sunk like 200 hours in it. I thought I retire from the Pokemon craze. It was cool seeing my youngest bro took up Pokemon Black while my sis took up Y. I felt left out, so I got X. I got beat bad, but it's fun playing Pokemon with folks. I ran in some folks who notice me playing Pokemon. They get all nostalgic on me. It was cool hearing them talk about Pokemon. Some gave me tips on X since I haven't been updated. The game mechanics changed a lot since Leaf Green. X felt really easy since leveling up was too easy.

This franchise is pretty magical. Even you're in your 20's or 30's, you can't help smiling and talking about Pokemon.

#3 Posted by crusader8463 (14415 posts) -

I'm having the opposite experience sadly. I recently decided I would go down the rabbit hole of trying to collect them all and have been playing through each game along the way with a friend. Once we beat each game we plan to go back and catch all the missing guys we need and trade them all up to the Pokemon Bank/Pokemon X/Y. In doing this however I started doing research into how breeding works, and for the first time in the 18 years I have been playing Pokemon I discovered and learned about how Pokemon natures work, all the different stats, how they can be min/maxed, the different power tiers, and how -very sadly- not all Pokemon are created equal. There's some Pokemon that just have such high stats that they blow everything else out of the water and now that I'm aware of this I find myself unable to just enjoy the game as I used to. Now the RPG min/maxer in me feels like using anything but the best/strongest is just a waste of time and I find myself unable to just build a party of Pokemon around whether or not I think they look awesome.

I would like to see them go back to the drawing board on that kind of stuff when they make the next generation Pokemon. Some kind of system that mirrors the world of the anime where any Pokemon has the potential to be the strongest as long as their trainer puts in enough effort and training to do so. That way I can go back to playing the Pokemon I want because I think they look cool and not have to worry about what tier of power they fall into. I would also like to see them put more of a focus on the trainer and it not be all about the Pokemon. Giving the trainer a tech tree of powers that can buff their Pokemon, maybe an option to focus on breeding skills over battling skills etc. Having you/the trainer evolve and change over the course of the game is something they never touch on and is something I wish they would.

#4 Edited by MikeLemmer (536 posts) -

@takashichea: Yeah, I'm still trying to nail down why it has such long-lasting appeal compared to Monster Rancher & Digimon. My current theory is it strikes a good balance between cartoony & maturity (in mechanics if not in plot), similar to why Calvin & Hobbes still has such wide appeal.

@crusader8463: Once again, the constant conflict between having the team you want and the team you need. I'm personally dreading getting into competitive play myself & abandoning some of my favorite Pokemon because they aren't high-tier enough. For now, I'm taking solace in Twitch Plays Pokemon proving you can win the game with nearly anything if you put enough time & effort into it.

I agree with rebalancing the pokemon, but not a tech tree for the trainer. I would rather have such trainer "perks" organically stem from how they treat their pokemon & choices they make doing so. Do you keep the weak pokemon on your team because he's close to astronger one, or do you split them up & tell the stronger one to suck it up? If your strongest pokemon wants to return to the wild, do you let him? How do you discipline your pokemon if they misbehave? Do you constantly use the same team, or do you let them relax & take a break while you swap in different ones? If you flesh out their behaviors, wants, and needs enough, it would feel more like managing a team of actual beings than just min-maxing the best possible combinations.

Hrm, now I'm drawing parallels between being a Pokemon Trainer and a Sports Team Manager...

#5 Posted by JoshtheValiant (21 posts) -

@crusader8463: There is definitely merit to your arguments. That would be great to see.

In the meantime, I went through the same process as you during gen 2, and Pokèmon X was the first game since Blue I actually completed (though I came close on Diamond. Made to the Elite 4) for that same reason.

The solution I found came from a board game based on the Order of the Stick webcomic. While I think that game is not great, I learned an important lesson while playing one of the characters: fun.

Elan the bard is a support character whose main strategy is to get points by helping others. It is difficult to win this way. However, his abilities are so consistently wacky and the loot he gets that give him points are so hilarious that all of that doesn't matter as much. He's just FUN. In fact, that's literally his highest point card. "FUN".

I'm normally a competitive gamer and I don't like to lose. Playing Elan pulls me out of that mode. I have nothing to prove, and I enjoy seeing the results of my efforts, even when they end badly for me, because OF COURSE attacking the minotaur with a hand puppet powered by the faith of my friends isn't going to work. But it might have, and that would have been even funnier!

I adopted the same stance on other games I play. In Soul Calibur, when I'm frustrated by Alpha Patroklos or having a bad day as Siegfried, I pull out Dampierre and just laugh. In Smash Bros, I play Diddy and yell "MONKEY PUNCH!" or some variation with every attack. The same works for Pokèmon, when my scrafty named Jerome walks up and uses high risk moves, "because SWAGGER." He even knows the move swagger. I have never used it, but I can't bear to delete it. Because SWAGGER.

Find what makes you laugh. Nothing else matters. It's just a game. :)

#6 Posted by TheManWithNoPlan (5269 posts) -

I'm probably one of the biggest fans of the series and I couldn't agree more with that last paragraph. In more than one respect, I'd much rather see Nintendo double down with what they've already got, adding quirks and features, rather than keep adding tons of new Pokemon and regions. The little features they added with X/Y regarding that stuff felt like they've began trying.

I remember playing Heartgold a few years ago and was happily surprised to see that they added a new feature of letting your Pokemon walk behind you throughout the game. It was a relatively minor touch, but it made me all the more attached to my team. Little things like that can make all the difference when it comes to successfully iterating on a series, but for some unknown reason they decided to scrap that for the subsequent games. :( It really felt like a two steps forward, one step back kind of situation.

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