On Playing With Your Favorites

Pokémon is one of the most interesting game series in recent memory in terms of both depth and accessibility. Each game releases is really two games in one; the first is a relatively simple RPG where you level up, collect (usually) 8 badges, challenge the Pokémon League, and possibly save the world (or at least the local area) along the way. Behind that is a vastly more complex set of mechanics and features relating to breeding, raising, and capturing pokémon for the purposes of battling competitively. Game Freak somehow manages to cater to both aspects with nearly every release.

The most recent release is the second pair of games in Generation 6, Alpha Sapphire and Omega Ruby (OR/AS from here on out). Each generation so far has brought refinements on what came before, along with new pokémon and new areas to explore (or in some cases, areas to re-explore). There are currently 719 pokémon (with 2 unrevealed event legendaries) and 18 types across 6 regions, and not all are created equal. Variances in type combinations, movesets, abilities, and stats mean that some options tend to overshadow others. For example: why use Pikachu when Jolteon is faster, can hit harder, and has a generally more useful ability? Despite that point, you can beat the game with Pikachu. I feel like one of the great successes of Pokémon is that “because I like it” is perfectly viable for getting through the surface game. Playing against other people is a bit of a different story (but that didn’t prevent this year’s world champ from winning with a Pachirisu).


The First Steps

At this point, making it through the game is relatively easy. Generation 5 introduced a catch-up experience mechanic, where experience was adjusted based on the relative levels of the pokémon involved in order to help keep the team relatively balanced. Gen 6 got rid of this, but revamped how the Exp Share item worked, causing it to distribute experience to your entire team whether or not they participated (which goes a long way in keeping your team relatively close in level). Grinding is therefore not terribly necessary, unless you do something like replace your entire team at once. I will admit that the type chart is still rather complicated, and having at least some knowledge of it is highly important, but learning the basic relationships mostly makes sense, and obscure ones don’t come up that often (I never remember what ghost or electricity resist, but ghost pokémon aren’t that common and electric pokémon tend to fall over in a stiff breeze). In gyms you usually can get some sort of type-related tip at the start, before you face specialists for that type.

The plot in most of the games is quite linear, with progress gated by badges. Figuring out where to go next is not usually a problem; it’s almost always the local gym or the next nearest city with a gym, and the plot usually tells you in great detail when it’s not either of those. Most of the non-remake games since Generation 4 have been trying to simplify travel too, usually by a reduction in required HMs. Black/White for example, only requires cut exactly once to beat the game. OR/AS reduces some of the backtracking that was a component of the originals by letting you automatically travel with some of the other characters to the next destination.

As far as what pokémon to use, nearly anything is viable. A well-balanced team will usually have more success because you can get more favorable type matchups, but this isn’t strictly necessary. An otherwise unfavorable type matchup can be overcome with levels, abilities, moves, or some combination of these. It’s important to remember that like most Nintendo games, it’s uncomplicated enough that children can pick up and beat the game.

basic pokémon

The next steps

When you beat the game, you might start wondering about battling other people, and the knowledge and effort involved in this process is anything but uncomplicated. In my opinion, this is where the refinements really show. I’m probably about to talk about some things that will seem nonsensical if you aren’t already somewhat familiar with Pokémon, but stick with it.

Effort Values (EVs) and Inherited Values (IVs) are numbers that affect a pokémon’s stats, and prior to generation 6 they were almost entirely invisible (IVs still pretty much are). As the name might imply, IVs are essentially a pokémon’s genes; they’re an unchangeable characteristic of a given pokémon and never change once it’s caught or received. Each pokémon has a value ranging from 0-31 for each stat providing a random stat bonus. This is one of several ways in which any two pokémon of a given species may have different stats. The only way to “improve” these is via breeding parents with good ones to make children with better ones. Prior to Gen 6, a max of 3 of these values (out of a total of 6) could be inherited, so the end result was still at least 50% completely random. Gen 6 allowed 5 of these values to be passed down if one of the parents is holding a particular item, making it far easier to get near-perfect pokémon. (Most pokémon only use one of the two attacking stats anyway, so 5 stats is sufficient.) EVs are different and are mostly earned by playing the game. Super Training was added to provide a way to raise these without battle, but more importantly you can see what your progress is in the super training readout, and reset them if you want to redo something. Prior to that, resetting them involved force-feeding a bunch of berries and there was no indication of how many it would take. (For the record, the expensive vitamins that claim to raise a pokémon’s stats raise their EVs.)

Other changes to breeding have also made the entire process generally more reliable. Pokémon have an increased chance to have the same ability as their mother (or the non-ditto when breeding with ditto) instead of the coin flip it used to be. It’s now possible to pass down a nature 100% of the time, instead of 50% of the time or not at all. It’s now possible to pass down egg moves from either parent (instead of just the male parent). While there are still random components involved (Nidoran family, I’m looking at you) it’s far less random and time-consuming each game to get “competitive-quality pokémon”.

selfish perception
This went on longer than originally intended, so more on this topic later. Until then, have fun!

On Honorable Mentions

Recently, Aggrochat discussed our Games of the Year for 2014. It’s been an interesting year for game releases, but we still managed to find a large number of games to talk about. My personal top 5 for the year is Transistor, Diablo 3: Reaper of Souls, Pokémon Omega Ruby/Alpha Spphire, Shovel Knight, and Infamous: Second Son, but I feel like there were some other games that came out this year that deserve recognition. Some of them got mentioned in the podcast (most notably Dragon Age: Inquisition, and Divinity: Original Sin, which I am not talking about because I haven’t played as much of them as I’d like), but here are 5 more games that were not mentioned in no particular order that make the GOTY Honorable Mentions list.

Super Smash Bros. for 3DS/Wii U

This one couldn’t make the main list because I haven’t given it as much time as I’d like. A lot of the annoyances in Brawl (like tripping) are gone, but the changes aren’t entirely favorable to the characters I played most in previous games (Marth & Pikachu). I find the game a bit awkward to play on the 3DS, but the Wii U version already feels like an old friend. The new characters are pretty cool, especially Bowser Jr. and Mega Man. I haven’t tried online play, but I hear that’s also much improved from Brawl. There are a lot of interesting new ideas (Great Cave Offensive, Crazy Orders, 8-player Smash) but some that fall flat (Smash Tour). Overall, I do think this is the best version of Smash Bros. to date, and it’s a welcome addition to the Wii U’s library.

Crimzon Clover: World Ignition

I wrote about this one already, but I think it’s the best scrolling shooter currently on Steam. This version of Crimzon Clover is a re-release of a game that technically came out in 2011, but the World Ignition release is the game’s first release in English, so it counts for this year. The variations between the modes and ship choices keep the gameplay interesting, and the difficulty levels mean that it can be played without getting your face immediately punched in. That said, it’s no walk in the park, and I’d have a hard time recommending it as someone’s first game in the genre. I do recommend it to anyone who likes flying small objects into showers of bullets while wielding overwhelming firepower.

Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call

I wrote about this one already, too. If Game of the Year were decided by how much time I played any given game this year, the winner would be Final Fantasy 14. The runner up would probably be Theatrhythm. I really love rhythm games, and I don’t think any other good ones came out this year. The RPG-structure and soundtrack for this one also increases its personal appeal. Playing along to things like “Torn From the Heavens” is awesome, and tracks like “Tempus Finis” make me look forward to Type-0 HD this upcoming year. I hope there’s a Theatrhythm Kingdom Hearts at some point in the future; Theatrhythm Dragon Quest was recently announced.

Mario Kart 8

Mario Kart 8 deserves recognition for a few reasons. It presents exactly what’s expected of a Mario Kart game (although it is thankfully a bit lighter on the Blue Shells than Mario Kart 7). It’s fun in local multiplayer and online, and it’s had one of the better DLC releases I’ve seen from any game in a while. It’s also worth noting that the game is really pretty with a lot of detail in both the courses and the racers (who interact with each other in small ways when close). The course selection (both new and retro) is pretty awesome, including one of my favorites from the DS game, Tick Tock Clock. The antigrav mechanics work well and change things up just enough to make it interesting.

South Park: The Stick of Truth

If you like South Park and Paper Mario-esque RPGs, you should play this game. It’s funny, inappropriate, and quite fun. It’s somewhat easy to forget about because it came out in March, but I found it entertaining all the way through. In addition to all of the things South Park normally makes fun of, it also likes to make fun of RPG and video game conventions while cheerfully making use of them. It picks up where the Black Friday episodes of South Park leave off, so watching those is recommended. It’s probably not as strong of an RPG mechanically as Divinity or Dragon Age, but I still haven’t beaten either of those, and Stick of Truth kept me going until the very end.

Farewell, 2014

It wasn’t the best year for AAA releases, but it wasn’t a bad year in games, all things considered. I hope some of the issues of this year stay in this year (which is just wishful thinking) but there are lessons to be learned going forward. Here’s hoping that 2015 doesn’t disappoint (and that Ori and the Blind Forest gets a solid release date).

On Jumping Good

The developers of Final Fantasy 14 have been very slow to make balance changes. The last patch to make major balance changes before last week was in December of last year, with major Warrior buffs, Summoner nerfs, and quality of life improvements for just about everyone. With Ninjas coming in with patch 2.4, it became clear that there were some balance issues between them and the existing melee DPS Jobs. As I’ve mentioned earlier, Dragoons had a few issues with positional requirements and magic defense that Ninjas and Monks did not share. I expected the patch to address these, and maybe nerf Ninjas a bit. (Ninjas were balanced on the assumption that Ninjutsu is hard, and it sort of isn’t. More on that later.)

What actually happened was beyond the wildest dreams of every Dragoon player I know. Buffs were received in multiple places, addressing both survivability and damage. The required math to figure out where they ended up in relation to the other classes is beyond me, but I have my suspicions.

Potency ↑

A few abilities got flat damage increases. Full Thrust went up by 30 potency (and so Life Surge -> Full Thrust became better burst). Both dots (Phlebotomize and Chaos Thrust) went up by 5 potency per tick (for a total of 30 and 50). The direct damage portion of Chaos Thrust also went up by 50 when used from behind; I’m pretty sure at 600 total that’s the highest displayed potency on any single target ability across all classes.

Impulse Drive didn’t get a potency increase, but now has full potency from all sides of the enemy (which incidentally means that it’s the only offensive ability you should use other than heavy thrust before Level 26). To go along with this, the positional requirements on all combo steps have been essentially eliminated (Heavy Thrust and Chaos Thrust still do more damage from the side/rear), and combos can no longer be “missed” by positioning incorrectly.

Cooldown ↓

The Dragoon’s signature Jump ability had its cooldown reduced from 40 seconds to 30 seconds. In addition to the straight damage increase this represents, it also allows it to line up nicely with Power Surge. Life Surge’s cooldown also decreased.

As a related note, I personally think that the way Ninjutsu’s 20 second cooldown aligns nicely with the ninja’s ability set is why that class was not as hard to play as anticipated. A 1-minute long rotation of Huton, Suiton, and Raiton overlays over the “standard” rogue rotation in a mostly predictable way.

Survivability ↑

The most important change in this patch for Dragoon survivability is that the magic defense on their armor increased to be equal to the amount on comparable Ninja/Monk armor. This change alone means a lot for survivability in boss fights, and it allowed us to use Dragoons as fireball soaks in T5 this past week. In addition, the cooldown that melee like to use at the worst times, Blood for Blood, had the damage taken component reduced for Dragoons only. (Monks and Ninjas can continue to kill themselves with it.) Combined, these might mean that Dragoons survive the boss AOE they’ll inevitably get hit with.

The End of loldrg?

Dragoon is still the melee that is perceived as being the easiest to play, and playing either of the other two optimally requires running it up to 34 anyway (for the aforementioned Blood for Blood). Because of this, there are a lot of potential dragoons, and some of them are still… unfortunate. The past two weeks have taught me that while good dragoon players are amazing, bad dragoon players are still bad, and no amount of patching is likely to fix that.

Maybe next game, guys.