I love Pokemon. Pokemon Yellow was one of the first games I owned as a kid. I still remember the Christmas morning I was given it, along with the special Pikachu-themed Game Boy Color to play it on, and that now-hazy memory is one I hold very dear to me. Partially because getting stuff is nice, sure, but it's mostly because Pokemon would go on to have a tremendous impact on me. I became obsessed with Pokemon, as did a lot of kids my age, and my affinity for the franchise never completely faded after that. I’ve been playing Pokemon games for around twenty years, though how I spend my time playing them has shifted dramatically over the course of those two decades.
I was never actually incredibly interested in the collection and trading aspect of the games growing up. I know that sounds crazy, since that seems like such an integral part of the series, but I just didn’t have a link cable back then. My first experience with Pokemon was without a way to trade them, so that became the way I tended to play them. Nowadays, collecting rare Pokemon is the main way I spend my time playing Pokemon games. And when I say “rare Pokemon”, I’m not talking about Legendary Pokemon like Mewtwo or Lugia. Those Pokemon can usually be caught once per playthrough of any given game, and while that certainly makes them rarer than the average wild Pokemon, it’s not all that difficult to have at least one of each of them. There are Pokemon that are much harder to find than Legendary Pokemon, though. Series veterans probably already know what I’m referring to: the rare Pokemon variants known as “shiny” Pokemon.
For those unfamiliar, a shiny Pokemon is a Pokemon with an alternate color scheme from the norm. The color alterations vary wildly from severe to almost imperceptible. Some Pokemon have major changes that give them completely different style, like Gardevoir (particularly “Mega” Gardevoir.) Others are also given extreme changes, but actually end up suffering from the new look; there are a depressing number of shiny Pokemon saddled with a color palette themed around this awful, gross-looking shade of green. Between those two sides of spectrum, there are a number of Pokemon who don’t look better or worse shiny, just different, and these probably make up the vast majority of them. In addition to those, there are also an unfortunate number of Pokemon who barely look different at all in their shiny variants. Pikachu’s shiny form is a pretty infamous example of this: Pikachu is the most famous Pokemon there is, but it only gets a more orange tint with its supposedly-special shiny variant.
Most people who play Pokemon won’t ever encounter a shiny one, though. The odds of encountering a shiny Pokemon in the wild are extremely low. For many generations of Pokemon, the odds of one showing up were 1/8192. The odds improved to 1/4096 in X/Y, though, where they remain to this day. There are ways to improve those bad odds, however, and those methods are the reason I started shiny hunting in the first place. Unfortunately, different sources give different numbers so it’s difficult to verify exactly what the odds change to sometimes, but there’s no doubt that you get a significant boost to your chances if you know what you’re doing. Even so, some of these methods are extremely tedious to perform or difficult to pull off. Shiny Pokemon are pretty damn rare, for the most part, and that’s what makes them so fun to collect.
Aside from a few cases (and I mean very few cases) there are no shiny Pokemon waiting around to be captured in specific places the way legendaries are. There aren’t scripted encounters with shiny Pokemon, so it’s completely up to chance whether or not you find one. I knew about the existence and rarity of shiny Pokemon long before I was dedicating most of my play time to hunting them, and as a longtime fan of the series, not having one was starting to depress me. I wanted one just for the novelty of it; I just wanted to be able to say I had one. When I realized there were ways to increase your chances of finding them, I attempted to get my hands on one right away.
I hadn’t done a lot of research, but I knew of a method called “chaining” that could raise your odds to as high as 1/200. I won’t go into detail about the process (that link will tell you if, you're curious, though) but it’s a method that is pretty difficult to actually pull off, requiring one to notice minute differences between certain animations in order to be successful at it. I could not get the hang of it, and in my frustration, turned to another method of shiny hunting involving hatching eggs. If you breed two Pokemon that originated in copies of the game from different countries, the chances of the Pokemon hatched from their eggs being shiny increase dramatically. Unfortunately, hatching the eggs requires a large time investment, and since my motivation to find a shiny was relatively thin, I gave up pretty quick.
Shorty after that, however, I realized there were actually quite a few other ways to increase your chances. I stumbled onto what was perhaps the easiest and fastest method at the time (if you weren’t looking for a specific species of Pokemon) which was called “chain fishing”. Again, I won’t get into the minutia of how it’s done, but after I prepared a few special Pokemon for the task, it wasn’t that long before I had my first-ever non-scripted encounter with a shiny Pokemon. And to my delight, it was a first generation Pokemon I had some fondness for: Horsea. The, um… the seahorse Pokemon. I then went on to catch a few more shiny Pokemon with this method, getting a small taste of the shiny hunting experience.
My initial want was just to catch a single shiny Pokemon, but instead of feeling satisfied by the experience, I found myself wanting more. By this point, I was aware of most of the methods available to me, as well as the fact that my odds of finding them would improve dramatically if I had an item called the Shiny Charm. The only way to get this item is by completing the Pokedex (which is done by literally catching them all), and at that point it consisted of over 700 different kinds of Pokemon. It was a daunting task; one I never attempted even back when there were only 150 to catch. It had always seemed out of reach before, but I wanted it pretty damn bad at this point. I decided that would be my next goal: I would catch or trade for every single Pokemon there was and finally obtain the Shiny Charm.
I was filling out the Pokedex in my copy of Omega Ruby, and it was a pretty arduous process. There was an “easy” way to accomplish it, I suppose. I could’ve found someone online with a complete Dex willing to simply trade everything I needed to me; this was a process where we’d trade, then I’d trade back the Pokemon they just traded me in exchange for a new, one over and over, since having a Pokemon even for a second counts towards Pokedex completion. Even doing that would have taken hours though, given the sheer number of Pokemon I needed. I wasn’t going to ask a stranger to spend hours with me, nor was I going to spend hours connected to said stranger online, either. It just wasn’t going to happen. And I kinda wanted to do it for real, anyway.
Instead of cheesing it, I found every single Pokemon there was to find in in Omega Ruby, then hunted for others in my other Pokemon games, then transferred them over. I posted trades online for Pokemon that I didn’t have access to or would otherwise be a huge pain to obtain. I trained low-level Pokemon to evolve them and fill out those Dex pages, and bred fully-evolved Pokemon in order to obtain their un-evolved counterparts. So that I wouldn’t give up halfway through, I only tried to find a few new Pokemon every day and didn’t try to fill it out as fast as I possibly could; I didn’t want to burn out on it, after all. Because of that, this process took me several months to finally complete, but eventually I prevailed, and became the proud new owner of my own Shiny Charm.
Now that I had the Shiny Charm, my standard odds of encountering a shiny tripled, spiking up to about 1/1300, a huge increase over the 1/4096 odds I had before. The real treat, though, is that the charm had the same effect when using special shiny hunting methods, too, tripling my already-increased odds to numbers that weren’t nearly as out-of-reach as they had been before. I started getting more serious about shiny hunting, using a method called Dexnaving in my search. This method was far superior to chain fishing because not only is the pool of potential Pokemon much larger, I could specifically seek out the one I wanted instead of taking whatever happened to show up. Even with my dramatically increased odds, shiny Pokemon were still rare. From what I could find online, my odds while Dexnaving with the charm were somewhere between 1/200 and 1/600. (As I said, there’s a lot of conflicting information out there.) There was still a lot to do.
I found my first Dexnav shiny after about 700 encounters, which I did over the course of a few days. It was a Ralts, the Pokemon that eventually evolves into the previously mentioned Gardevoir, a Pokemon that’s powerful, well-designed, and treated pretty well by the new color scheme, too. Following that, I searched for an Eevee, which dragged on for quite a while, not appearing until around the 900th encounter, which was pretty bad luck. This one took me several weeks to find.
Since then, I’ve found quite a few shiny Pokemon, using several different methods and searching across multiple different entries in the series. I have around 50 shiny Pokemon right now, including a couple shiny Legendary Pokemon (or legend-adjacent, at least) that I spent quite a lot of time searching for. I plan to expand my collection further from here, too. The release of the Gen 2 games on 3DS virtual console (and the ability to transfer Pokemon from them into the new games) opens up some new possibilities for shiny hunting, which I’ve been exploring for the last few weeks.
It's a little strange that one of my favorite things to do in Pokemon games is something a lot of people don't even know is a thing at all. But that's okay. I actually think that the weird obfuscation of mechanics in these games end up making them better overall. Pokemon is as mainstream as video games come, with an awareness of and appreciation for the series found in people from from all walks of life, including some who barely (or even never) play video games at all. Even though the franchise has such wide appeal, it still has a very dedicated core audience who plays the main series games religiously. I think this is because in spite of having such mainstream appeal, the games have never actually sacrificed their depth in order to cater to their less-experienced fans. Sure, they bury that depth, making it hard to find without outside help, but… in the end, that’s what allows them their success. Anyone can pick up and understand Pokemon without being overwhelmed — hiding the depth from novice players keeps those players from feeling pressured to engage with systems they may not understand or even enjoy. At the same time, veterans know where to look for what they want, and it’s always in there somewhere. Pokemon is made for everybody, no matter how old you are or how experienced you are with video games. You can play Pokemon however you want to play it.
For me, that means spending my time hunting down shiny Pokemon. I enjoy figuring out the odds of me finding one through any given method, and I like the long hours it takes to locate them. I’m willing to put up with a lot of tedium to do so because that tedium makes it feel like a special moment when they finally appear. Shiny hunting gives the games a longevity for me that few games have. Most of my save files for the more recent Pokemon games have play times recorded at over 300 hours, which is not even counting the hours and hours spent resetting the games during my searches. I've spent so many hours doing something many people who play Pokemon games don't even know about; something that most people would find incredibly boring. For me, though, shiny hunting gave the series a new life, and it's a much longer life, too.