#WhateverWednesday – Pokemon: Why the Franchise Endures

Sam av

Yep, another Pokemon post. You may have noticed I have an obsessive personality.

Pokemon Cards: My First Pokemon!

I’ve been playing Pokemon since I was twelve years old. It all began when a kid on the bus was selling off his collectible cards. I got a handful of them for a quarter each. My first (and lasting favorite) Pokemon was Vulpix, a fire-type fox.

I found out later that the kid selling his cards was saving up to buy trading card game cards instead. They still looked cool, but could also be played as a game. The next thing I did in my journey to become the very best [like no one ever was] was to trade off all of my collectible cards (except Vulpix of course) for trading cards instead, and thus began my descent into madness. My first order of business? I got my hands on no less than thirteen identical Vulpix cards. Honestly, I just felt like all of them needed to belong to me.

I became pretty adept at trading cards. I knew the value of each of them and I knew what people’s favorites were, and at the tender age of twelve, I learned how to free other kids from valuable cards to give them their favorites instead. My thirteen Vulpix cards turned into two binders and a shoebox, and though my parents thought it was stupid, I got booster packs in every Christmas stocking for the next several years.

I knew that Pokemon was also a TV show (which I thought and still think is pretty terrible, honestly). At the time, I didn’t know it was also a game.

It was my next level of Pokemon Hell.

The Pokemon Games

The Pokemon games are more or less released by ‘generation,’ so this first one was Generation 1. And each generation has a brand new addition of Pokemon, a region (the world of the game) and several versions. The versions have very slight variations, and one of the variations was that you could only obtain certain Pokemon in each game, most notably the Pokemon often featured on the game’s cover, its iconic Legendary Pokemon.

So I borrowed Pokemon Red from a friend. Unfortunately, the save battery inside of it was dead, so the workaround was for me to stay up late playing and then leave it on overnight to pick up in the morning. Naturally, the next step was to buy a game, and I bought Pokemon Blue. Why Blue, you ask? Because that was the game that you could catch a Vulpix in. I bet you aren’t surprised.

I’m going to spare you on the minutiae of every generation and the associated games. If you’re already a Pokefan, I’ll just bore you. And if you aren’t, you’d just be bewildered. What I really wanted to talk to you about–the purpose of this blog post–is why the Pokemon games are so amazing despite what you may have heard.

The Game’s Premise

Before we begin, to be clear, when I say “The Games,” what I am referring to are the Nintendo handheld main plot games. I am not referring to Stadium, Colosseum, Pokemon Ranger or Mystery Dungeon, or any of the Pinball Games. I’m not talking about Pokemon Snap or Hey You, Pikachu! or any of that nonsense. When I speak of the games, I mean the game I am about to describe.

In the games, you take the role of a Pokemon trainer at the beginning of your journey. The professor, a local Pokemon expert, will explain everything you need to know: the world is inhabited by Pokemon (‘pocket monsters,’ creatures that are kind of like pets who also fight), we catch them and use them in battles, and they can be valuable partners and friends. You will then be given your first Pokemon and your mission will become clear. You should help the professor with his research by documenting every Pokemon you see (Catch them all!), and challenge the land’s eight gyms (where your Pokemon will fight other Pokemon), then defeat the Elite Four and become a Pokemon Master, the most elite class of trainer. Along the way, you’ll have to help people out, explore, find as many Pokemon as you can, and battle other trainers.

At the time of this post, we are about to be introduced to the 7th generation of Pokemon with the upcoming release of Pokemon Sun and Moon.

Why Pokemon is Still Fun After All of These Years

The number one reason I am still fond of the series after all of this time is that it maintains many layers of complexity. I tell people that the game is as easy or as hard as you want it to be. It’s a fairly simple matter  to travel from town to town, topple the gyms, beat the Elite Four, and call it a day. That part of the game you can defeat in perhaps thirty hours or so, give or take. So if that’s all you’re looking for, it’s a game that might be too simple, and one you can’t even fathom having lasted this long. You catch whatever you see, train them up, and win. Case closed.

But, you could complete the Pokedex, a task that requires you to observe every single one of the game’s more than 700 Pokemon. This is a task that Nintendo has made impossible to complete with any single game. To obtain the rest of the Pokemon, you’ll have to trade with other trainers with different versions. In some cases, you’ll need to move Pokemon from game to game as far back as the original Gameboy games. It’s way more difficult than it sounds, because the old systems are not compatible with the new systems. You’d have to transfer from a Gameboy game to a Gameboy advance game using a Gameboy Advance (which has both slots), from a Gameboy advance game to a Nintendo DS game using a Nintendo DS (which has both slots), and from the Nintendo DS to the 3DS using the wireless internet, and so on and so forth. Furthermore, legendaries in the distant past were almost impossible to get your hands on. The earliest versions of Mew were obtained only through attending a Trading Card Game tournament held by Wizards of the Coast.

You could try to become a competitive battler. Nintendo hosts online tournaments where you can face off against other real people. You might think you’re really good at this, like you know your type matchups better than anyone you know. Like you found the strongest Pokemon and you’re smarter than everyone else. I can promise you…if you feel this way and haven’t faced a real competitive trainer, you’re wrong.

The year Pokemon Black came out, I decided I’d try a tournament. The prize was some ultra rare, perfectly bred Cloyster to match the one someone else had used to wreck a tournament and some kind of item. I didn’t have any illusions that I’d win the tournament or anything, but I wanted to see how I rated against real people.

I didn’t win a single match.

Not even one.

I’d been playing for about ten years, and I couldn’t win in even one match.

It’s So Complicated…

I realized I had some things to learn. As it turns out, Pokemon are incredibly complicated creatures. It’s not as simple as having a high level and a killer move set. There are more important things:

  • IVs
  • EVs
  • Abilities
  • Natures
  • Impeccable breeding

I could have a full blog post on this, but there are other sites who have already done it better. I am going to explain it briefly, though, so you know just how complicated this gets.

  • IVs
    • IVs are hidden, permanent values for a Pokemon’s stats, like little boosters in the background. A great Pokemon will have maximum IV values in the stats you find important. You can’t change or control this…it’s kind of like a Pokemon’s DNA. However, you can breed for this. In the old games, it was really hard. It’s a lot easier now.
  • EVs
    • EVs are stats acquired through training. When you defeat a wild Pokemon, it will award specific EVs after the battle. For example, defeating an Audino will award Hit Point (HP) EVs. There is a cap on how many TOTAL EVs your Pokemon can gain, so you’ll want to focus only on the stats you find important.
  • Abilities
    • Each species has a small handful of abilities of which a Pokemon can have only one, and some abilities are superior to others. These abilities award certain advantages in a fight. For example, the ability Swift Swim will double your Pokemon’s speed if it is raining. Some of the abilities are incredibly rare and can only be obtained in certain, difficult to reach areas. However, you can kind of control which ability is passed down through breeding.
  • Natures
      Pokemon have exactly one Nature. A Nature is an innate increase and decrease in stats. A nature will increase one stat and decrease another. For example, the Timid nature has increased Speed, but decreased Attack. Nature can also be controlled during breeding.

Impeccable Breeding

Let’s take an example. Say I’m trying to breed a Ferrothorn.

See how it has an incredibly low speed stat? Chances of me attacking another Pokemon fast enough to go first? Slim to none. But Ferrothorn can also learn a move called Gyro Ball, and the greater the difference between Ferrothorn’s speed and the opponent’s speed, the more damage Gyro Ball does. So decreasing the speed stat is in our best interest. Ferrothorn is also ridiculously weak to Fire, so increasing Special Defense is a good idea, too. (Think of ‘special’ as synonymous with ‘magic.’ Attack and Defense refer to physical damage. Anything ‘magicky’ would deal with Special Attack and Special Defense).

So, we need to breed a nature that lowers speed and increases Special Defense. That nature would be Sassy.

We’d breed this Pokemon so that it had maximum IVs in HP, Attack, Defense, and Special Defense. Special Attack won’t matter…it’s too weak a stat to be worth investing in. We don’t want an IV in speed because it will weaken the strength of our Gyro Ball move.

We’d train this Pokemon to have Max EVs in our desired combination of Defense, Special Defense, and HP.

I prefer the ability Iron Barbs to Anticipation, so we’d go for that.

And finally, Ferrothorns main purpose is as a trap setter. Setting traps damages the opponent. We have choices: Stealth Rock, Spikes, and Toxic Spikes. Ferrothorn can learn all three, BUT, to do that, we have to strategically breed other species to pass the move down. I believe I had to use Dwebble/Crustle to do this.

This is why the Pokemon you used to win the plot portion of the game are almost always terrible. You fight whatever Pokemon appear…you don’t pick and choose. So the Pokemon you catch have random IVs and garbage EVs and random natures. But when you are ready to get serious, you can invest the time needed to breed the perfect champion of the battling game.

And don’t even get me started on compiling a team. With hundreds of moves to choose from and endless combinations of move sets, Pokemon teams, natures, abilities, etc…a team is a very personal choice. There are even different battling modes, with one of the more popular being that you can fight Pokemon pair against pair with two Pokemon fighting side by side against another, and some moves will damage your buddy Pokemon, too.

I’ve Already Gone Too Deep, Huh?

Suppose I better rein in my enthusiasm. So yes, I like to share the wonders of the Pokemon games with friends. At first glance, it’s a simple questing RPG where you collect and battle monsters. Beneath the veil, it’s a grinding, strategy fighting game and a monumental challenge for completionists.

As for me…

I’m a collector.

I love strategy.

And this game lets me have dogs and foxes that breathe fire and dragons I can fly around on.

And now, thanks to Pokemon Go, I get to dive even further into Hell. At first I thought I’d be a casual fan, but then I thought why not let it consume my soul instead? (Quotation not mine…but I don’t know the source).

I can’t abide the thought that there are still trainers out there better than me. How am I supposed to be the very best, like no one ever was, if I can’t even place in a tournament?

It’s a very difficult situation for me. *laughs*


S.K. Balk lives in the frozen wasteland of Northern Michigan. She is the author of the dystopian medical sci-fi THE BLOOD OF NERYS (also available in print).

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About oneofthedragons

Samantha K. Balk and F. R. Donaldson met on An Archive of Our Own, one of the many fanfiction sites online, when Sam asked Frankie to illustrate the fanfiction that would one day lead to Sam's first novel. They've been friends ever since! This blog was created as a way to share the oftentimes difficult journey any new author experiences on the uncomfortable quest of an introvert for attention to his or her most personal work. It is meant to remind you that authors don't just appear fully fledged like a George R. R. Martin, that all of us start out unsure and feeling inadequate. Feel free to ask us anything. Sam: sammykaye9@gmail.com Frankie: reluctant.fraggle@gmail.com

Posted on August 4, 2016, in #WhateverWednesday and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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