Thursday, March 8, 2012

I'm about to talk about Pokémon, but first, did you know that the alt-code for é is Alt+0233? This is a very handy alt-code to memorize if you're ever planning on talking about Pokémon in any significant capacity--assuming you don't have one of those foreign keyboards where you don't need alt-codes to type accents. If you have one of those, you'll probably be okay.

Yeah, those Spanish classes with los acentos in the typing assignments are sort of a sink-or-swim crash course (so like a shipwreck-type crash course) in alt-codes, since it's a pain in the neck to recordarlos.

Anyway, I was going to say something about Pokémon, right? Well, I like Pokémon, but I gotta say, it's hard to care about it anymore. I think the biggest problem is that there's no challenge at all. It needs a Hard Mode. But the fundamental game mechanics make it almost impossible for the difficulty to scale.

I mean, the idea of the combat system is that you're supposed to build a team of a small number of Pokémon that you acquire at various points in the story, each with different strengths and weaknesses, to make a balanced party where you swap out Pokémon depending on the opponent's team. That's what it's shooting for. That's what I try to do in my playthroughs because it's the most fun way to do it. But it never works.

Why doesn't it work? It's because of this.

If you've ever played Pokémon before, you're probably nodding in agreement. On the surface, the game seems like it wants to promote a diverse party with a wide variety of Pokémon who shore up each other's weaknesses. But in practice, the optimal strategy is to take your starter Pokémon, level grind the crap out of it, and brute-force your way through every encounter.

And it really does work. I tried doing that self-imposed challenge once, you know, the one where you never use any Pokéballs and you only ever battle with your starter? I quit in disgust because it was easier than a regular game. The worst part is you don't even have to level grind. If you only ever use one Pokémon, it gets 100% of the experience in every encounter. It just naturally zooms up the charts, and there's nothing you can do about it unless you deliberately sabotage it by running from every random encounter. Every additional Pokémon you train is sucking XP away from what would otherwise be a juggernaut; by diversifying your team, you're actually handicapping yourself.

Okay, so playing with a full team isn't the optimal strategy, but at least it's possible, right? No. Because you have no choice. You have to play through the beginning of the game with your starter. The only Pokémon you can catch early on are crappy Rattata and Pidgey and Caterpie clones that god knows you don't want to bring all the way through the end of the game. And by the time you have enough options, it's too late--all the enemy trainers have Pokémon that are way stronger than the ones you can catch in the wild. The only way to get any use out of a newly-caught Pokémon is to take it into the tall grass and grind its level up just so that it can be on the same level as the powerhouse starter that you already have.

In fairness, the newest generation has made wild Pokémon a little stronger compared to trainers, and the changes to TMs did wonders for making newly-caught Pokémon usable. But making random encounters more powerful had the side effect of making your initial guy shoot up the level charts even faster, so your new team members still have to do just as much grinding to pass the mustard. And now the trainers are a joke because their guys are meant to square up against wild Pokémon that are ten levels below you.

See, they can't make the game harder by making the enemies stronger, because all that does is make you level up faster. They can't make you level up slower because all that does is make it impossible to add new Pokémon to your party. So it pretty much just sucks.

Like remember in Gold & Silver how good Mr. Mime was in Gold & Silver? No? Of course you don't. You couldn't capture one until the end of the game. By then you had a million other psychic Pokémon, plus a million more non-psychics that could use psychic attacks, so Mr. Mime was fucking useless. He'd have been a powerhouse if you could catch him by the second gym, but that wouldn't do, oh no.

...I could probably rant more but I'm running out of steam so I'll leave it at that for now.

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