Tag Archives: Pokemon

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.

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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 Influences

A while back, a friend posed a question to a group of us, asking what 15 games had most influenced us. Bel posted about it a while back, and I came up with my list around the same time. It’s now the first post of Blaugust. These are in roughly the order in which I encountered them, which means that they’re roughly arranged by date, but not quite. Trimming the list to 15 games is hard, and each of these led to other similar games in almost all cases.

Sonic 2 (1992)

This is the game I would credit with getting me into video games in general. My earliest memories of gaming are of me playing as Tails in this game. Tails is essentially invincible, but can be a valuable co-op partner if the person controlling him is good. Even if they’re not (and when this came out I certainly wasn’t), it’s not a real drawback. This being one of my first experiences is probably why I value co-op games so highly now.

Honorable Mention: Super Mario World

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Overkill (1992)

I’ve talked about Overkill before, so I won’t expand here. This is the first game I “beat” on my own (Like a lot of games in the genre, Overkill starts again harder when you beat the last stage), and it established my love of scrolling shooters.

Honorable Mention: Touhou 7: Perfect Cherry Blossom

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Street Fighter 2 (1992)

This is a bit of an odd case. I played Street Fighter 2 with friends before any of us knew what we were doing, or how to do a fireball motion or any of that, and found it fun. I learned what a Hadouken was too late to put any of it to practice in these matches or in the arcade, but memories of those experiences are why I found fighting games fun. I eventually enjoyed the more over-the-top games (BlazBlue, Marvel vs. Capcom) more than Street Fighter, but this one remains special.

Honorable Mention: Tekken 2

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Illusion of Gaia (1994)

Illusion of Gaia (or Illusion of Time if you’re in Europe) was my first “Action-RPG” of sorts. This is the game that taught me that games could have actual stories beyond “rescue the princess” or “stop the bad guy”. This game in particular is somewhat difficult, so I didn’t actually beat it on a real SNES; I played it to completion on an emulator years later.

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Mario Kart 64 (1997)

The joy of multiplayer, now with twice the players. Mario Kart 64 was my first 4-player game, and therefore the first game around which gatherings were specifically held. Prior to this, gaming was something my friends and I did while hanging out, this marked the start of hanging out specifically to play games.

Honorable Mention: Star Fox 64

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Mega Man X4 / Mega Man 8 (1997)

These released in the same year, use almost the same sprite for the main character, and were played by me literally back to back, so they can share this slot. They also share terrible voice acting (but I didn’t know better back then) and relatively high difficulty (which is common to the series). This was the expansion of my earlier enjoyment of the Mario and Sonic games, but with an additional layer of complexity that wasn’t just “jump on enemies”. I went back and played a lot of the earlier games later, and they’re also great. The same can’t be said for what came after…

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Pokemon Red/Blue (1998)

This might as well be My First JRPG, but it’s hiding some ridiculousness underneath. The simple nature of this game and ease of understanding the basics got me in, and trading with friends kept me in. As I got older, I grew to enjoy the complicated parts.

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Legend of Dragoon (2000)

This game made me aware that JRPGs as a genre were a thing I was interested in. Legend of Dragoon grabbed me in a way Final Fantasy 7 did not*, and it became my life for a period of time in 2001. The story is a bit cliché, and the translation is terribad (they couldn’t keep things consistent). But the combat system requiring timed button presses is fun (others have described it as “tedious”) and it has beautiful backgrounds and animations for the PS1 era.

*I died to the guard scorpion because I didn’t know “Attack while the tail’s up” was a mistranslation and it’s the same ATB tutorial boss the series used since FF4. I was 10; I hadn’t played any of the SNES games yet.

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Super Smash Bros. Melee (2001)

AKA the most fun I had with a multiplayer game since Mario Kart. Despite what some people say, this is a fighting game at its core, so a lot of the same principles of spacing and timing apply. At the same time, the simple nature of inputs and the chaotic nature of combat allow for people without much knowledge of the game to play and have fun. The skill ceiling is rather high, so it’s possible to see experienced players completely destroy beginners, but it can stay fun as long as the skill gap isn’t too wide.

Final Fantasy 5 (1992)

My favorite Final Fantasy, which is surprising when people learn I played this after 4 and 6, and it was the fan-translated version on an emulator. I’ve also talked about this one before. (As a reminder, you have exactly one month to finish/join the Fiesta.) My love of systems was established by this game, and it hasn’t worn off. Pieces of it still shine through in later Final Fantasy games, most notably in Tactics, X-2, and 14.

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Shining Soul 2 (2004)

This is probably the game in the list that other people are least likely to have played. Shining Soul is a dungeon crawler of sorts for the Game Boy Advance, featuring a variety of characters and a very simple story. I picked this up because I liked the dragon, but I ended up playing more of the wolf. I’m fairly certain this was the start of my trend of playing non-humans in things that allow it, in addition to the start of me actually enjoying dungeon crawlers.

Honorable Mention: Diablo 2

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World of Warcraft (2004)

I didn’t play WoW until 2007, right when Burning Crusade came out. By sheer virtue of the number of players it had at its peak, World of Warcraft was the first MMO for many people, and I count myself among that crowd. It’s thanks to WoW that I met a bunch of the people I now associate with, including Belghast and Kodra. It’s had ups, it’s had downs, but what I think of as an MMO is shaped almost entirely by World of Warcraft, from my preferred roles to what kinds of classes I like.

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Mass Effect (2008)

Mostly what Mass Effect did was teach (or re-teach) that I didn’t dislike shooters. I played a bunch of Goldeneye when that was relevant, and a fair bit of Halo 2 in high school, but after that everything seemed to be Call of Duty and competitive multiplayer, and I wasn’t a big fan. Mass Effect brought me back in a number of ways, mostly thanks to RPG mechanics and abilities. Mass Effect 3 did even more, thanks to the greatly expanded abilities on show in the multiplayer.

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Bastion (2011)

Bastion is a marvel of sound design. It’s also pretty and plays well, but those are honestly secondary to the music and the narration. This opened me up to the difference sound can make in a game. Without the work of Darren Korb and Logan Cunningham, Bastion would be a good, but not terribly special top-down action game, and it would draw unfavorable comparisons to things like Diablo or Sacred 2. The music and voice are what distinguish it. (My personal favorite track is Spike in a Rail.)

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (2011)

I played Oblivion when it came out and didn’t like it very much. I tried it again in 2008 and liked it more, but not enough to “finish” it. Skyrim engaged me in a way that Oblivion did not, and the streamlining of certain things (like attributes) made the experience much more enjoyable for me. Oblivion (and GTA) made me think I didn’t like Open World games, and Skyrim taught me otherwise.

Honorable Mention: Saint’s Row 3

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Final Words

Now that I’m here at the end, this is kind of a ridiculous post. Expect most of my Blaugust posts to be about a 5th of this. Thanks to MobyGames for the vast majority of the screenshots.

Forgot to mention this when it went up, but for more posts about… everything, check out the Blaugust Initiative.

Current Events #1

Since I’m not going to be around to partake in the podcast this weekend, I’ll use this as an opportunity to comment on current things. Let’s get rolling!

Amplitude Kickstarter

The best rhythm game on the PS2 is getting an HD remake/sequel for the PS3/PS4 if it can hit a rather lofty goal here on Kickstarter. This was an incredibly fun experience in solo, local multi, and online multiplayer, and I really want this to succeed. That said, I dunno how well a PS-exclusive kickstarter for a niche genre will do, even coming from the company responsible for the original (and Guitar Hero, and Rock Band, and Dance Central).amplitude

Pokémon Announcement

Nintendo announced two new Pokémon games today: “Omega Ruby” and “Alpha Sapphire”. Presumably these are remakes of, or at least related to, the original Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire that originally released for the Game Boy Advance twelve years ago. There’s not much info to go on here, but I hope they address some things wrong with these games the first time around. Team Magma had it right: Hoenn has entirely too much water. An eternity encountering Tentacool doesn’t make for an interesting game.

Final Fantasy Five Four Job Fiesta

Not exactly current, as registrations are still almost a month away, but it has a blog here, a twitter here, and a subreddit here. The Final Fantasy 5 Four Job Fiesta is an event in which people agree to play through FF5 (the best Final Fantasy) under the constraint that you can only use 4 jobs out of the 20 normally granted to you over the course of the game. It started as a fun thing on a forum in 2009, and spread beyond the forum to become a fundraiser in 2011. Last year it raised $7,475 for Child’s Play. I encourage you to register and play this year even if you’ve never played FF5 before, especially since the release of the android/iOS versions makes getting a copy much easier.YHEJu3_C7HpHiCBI