Coming down from nostalgia is quite painful.
Better as memories
As a rule, I believe it’s much better to leave things in the realm of your childhood as they appeared than it is to take them back out and see them in a modern light. This is mainly because most games from early in our lives are actually quite terrible. As much as I hate to admit it, Pajama Sam’s: No Need to Hide When It’s Dark Outside is probably not as criminally underrated as I remember it being back in the day, but that memory of it being the greatest game ever is far more fun than having it become another flawed point-and-click adventure game for young children.
Pokemon fails to hold up
Now, I don’t think Pokemon is terrible, but the nostalgia is definitively leaving as I wander my way through Route 29 on my way to meet Mr. Pokemon. All those basic questions I asked myself in the last article are still present in the forethoughts of my mind, and all I can do is march my way forward and hope something happens to grab my attention.
The first thing that catches my attention is the battle system. Turn based combat can be quite deep and rewarding when used properly, as seen in games like Earthbound or Lost Odyssey, but Pokemon’s combat system is minimalistic to a fault. You really only need three moves to fully master the system: one move in your Pokemon’s main type that is your main damage attack; one status effect move that leaves it unable to attack or taking severe damage per turn; and one move that is strong against your Pokemon’s weaknesses so that you can’t be completely blind-sided. If your Pokemon has two types, you can use your fourth move there.
But those are really the only options worth pursuing, as there are few combos available worth pursuing. Yes, you can teach your Pokemon how to use Lock-On, then hit with a powerful Zap Cannon attack, but moves like Thunder are far more efficient, and hitting with that twice does more damage than Zap Cannon would anyway. Since most battles are 1-on-1, the amount of versatility needed is minimal, as you can always switch out before your type weaknesses are exploited. Just get your two main attacks and a status effect move, and you’re good to go.
Of course, since there is only one dominant strategy, the fights become very repetitive. Each battle revolves around using your most powerful attack available until the other Pokemon faints. Thrilling. This lack of tension could be alleviated with some story reasons behind certain battles or a more dynamic battle system that requires faster reflexes or (gasp!) a real time battle system that actually feels like the battles we all watched on our television screens when the cartoon was a big deal. Sadly, none of that is here, so I’m just going to use my Scratch attack over and over and over and zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz………
Oops, sorry about that. Just surprisingly isn’t all that excited to hit the same buttons repeatedly with a small tearing sound effect being my only reward. That, and the leveling. Oh, the leveling! I put forth in my last column that Pokemon would be better as a whole if the levels weren’t actually visible, and relative strength was something that had to be figured out by the player in battle situations. But playing through the game, I remember why they would never do such a thing: this game relies heavily on the Skinner Box.
Oh, don’t pretend you don’t know to what I’m referring. We all love that little feeling of satisfaction when a character advances to the next level. The problem with Pokemon is that that little *ding* sound you hear is 90% of the reason you play the game. It doesn’t take long to discover every Pokemon in the area, and travelling only takes so long. No, most of your time in the game is spent training Pokemon entering those tensionless battles where I hit the same buttons to use the same attacks and hear the same battle noises so I can watch the experience bar move slowly but surely to the right side until *DING!* I’ve levelled up and can start the process all over again.
When you become aware that this never-ending cycle is what your life has become, it’s hard not to feel the game attempting to drain any real enjoyment out of the game so that it can fully engulf you in its Skinner Box. ‘Yes!’ it calls to you ‘Keep battling those Level 4 Kakuna. Sure, they can’t hurt you*, making their defeat inevitable, but their ‘Harden’ ability ensures defeating them will take far longer than it should. You want to run, but you NEED the experience defeating an evolved Pokemon will give you, don’t you? Yes, that’s it. Gooooooooood.’ And yes, you should read that in Grima Wormtongue’s voice.
*Thing I just realized while writing this article: it’s actually impossible for these Kakuna to exist, as it’s already well established in the game world that eggs will always hatch in the form of the lowest member of the evolution chain. Since you can’t make a Weedle evolve before level seven regardless of the circumstances, there’s no way for this to occur naturally. Even if you made up a rule explaining that evolution works differently in the wild than it does it with trainers, that Kakuna should still know how to use Poison Sting, as Poison Sting is the first thing a Weedle learns how to do and Pokemon do not forget moves when they evolve. Ergo, this Pokemon legitimately only exists in this form to bestow tons of experience onto the player while also arbitrarily lengthening early gameplay with these drawn out battles. Ugh…
Ok, I’ve now rambled for nearly 950 words talking about how little I enjoy about this game nowadays, so I think it’s time to say something nice to offset it. Let’s see… Oh, I know! In Soul Silver, you can now make running a toggle function, meaning you don’t have to hold the button down anymore just to sprint. You can also run indoors now. I like that.
Yeah, I’m done. I’m sorry, Pokemon, but it’s over between us. I’d like to say that it’s me, but honestly, I think you’re a really out-dated, poor excuse for a turn-based combat system with no handle on characterization or story-telling in a world with so much potential to do so. When you start making the sequel to Pokemon XD: Gale of Darkness, call me. Until then, I’m going to play X-Com: Enemy Unknown and enjoy the best turn-based strategy has to offer.
Oh, but before I go, I’d like to point out that in my final act, I named my rival ‘Bettman’ in honour of all my fellow professional hockey fans. Stay strong, guys. Stay strong.