A few weeks ago, I wrote a post discussing what I thought the current state of Pokémon was and how I believed it was falling behind the times along with what I thought could be improved. You can catch up here if you need a refresher. But one thing I want to make clear is that, despite its flaws and challenges, I do still love the Pokémon franchise. It holds a special place in my heart and I still love jumping back into these games and you know that if the rumoured Pokémon collection comes out next year, I will be spending all my monies on it. I wanted to take this blog to talk through why I still, despite being in my late late twenties, love to play what a lot of people assume to be a childish game and why, despite its missteps, it deserves to be given a chance.
Partners for Life
Credit: The Pokémon Company
A fundamental part of Pokémon is picking your partner, the one who will likely stick with you through-out your adventure and often, to some people, define you as a person. You pick from the holy trinity of elements: Grass/Water/Fire with the original choice to many of us being Bulbasaur/Squirtle/Charmander although this varies with each iteration. You will find that this battle rages on with every new generation when people are split into three camps depending on their chosen partner, with the original battle being two and a half decades old! Of course, the only true answer to the Gen 1 choice is Charmander… but I will let you fight me on that in the comments. As I played this from a young age, this picking a partner was a huge part of the game and one of my favourite parts and, for me, its one of the most exciting parts of new games where you spend your time speculating about the final evolutions and which one will be strongest etc.
Although picking the starter is where your journey begins, these games have a way of creating bonds and memories to other partners you encounter along the way as you build and evolve your team. For example, I have fond memories of my near indestructible Gyarados from Pokémon Gold who would make mince meat of anyone who stepped in his way, of my Umbreon who took every hit and more in ORAS double battles and of course one my first random encounter shinies, a humble Floette from my X (late I know). All of these Pokémon have stories that reflect my experiences as well as my understanding of the game and my level of maturity at the time. I love thinking about the team I want to take to the gym battles beyond, planning my team in my head and then being pleasantly surprised when a new or previously unused Pokémon earns my respect and a space in my team. This connection to the team and growth through-out all the games is very much within me as well, and not necessarily my playable avatar. For all intents and purposes, the controllable character is the blank slate that brings this team to life because they don’t grow as the journey goes on, however my connection with the team certainly does.
Its this party building mechanic that I get attached to as its the thing that makes each game personal to each player. They have their specific team they have built with their different moves and stats and as a result each team has their own story attached to it. Although there are Pokémon that are statistically better than others, there will always be points of differences between teams and therefore my team I have built is unique to me. And even the Pokémon I look and I think look strange or weird may be the backbone of someone else’s team. Having this journey, easy or hard, is what makes each game enjoyable to me.
Electric Mouse, Haunted Teacup, Poisonous Binbag
I love the designs of the Pokemon, its as simple as that. I mean there are hit and miss ones in every generation and they can look cartoony/childish at times, but I do really love the way they bring some of these Pokemon to life. Series such as Digimon have some cool designs and Monster Capture games like Tem Tem do bring some interesting critters to the table, but for me there is a charm that comes with most Pokemon designs. Some look fearsome, some look goofy while others are designed to just be cute. There is a ‘story’ behind their designs and a reason behind their evolution and I think its great. Often, with the announcements of a new generation, my most anticipated part of the game is seeing the new Pokemon as you get a feel for the game environment you are likely to be in. Take Sword and Shield, you can see that many new Pokemon were inspired by the English setting, from the sheep Pokemon Wooloo to the Knight-like Raven, Corviknight inspired by both the medieval heritage of the country and the massive raven that can be found in London. And of course, there is nothing more British than a cup of tea… so of course the ghost type Pokemon Sinistea which is a haunted teacup and its evolution, Polteageist , the ghost tea kettle.
For me it comes down to the charm of the designs. I know that I have commented on the maturity of the games, and sometimes this can be a bit too immature for older players, but I can overlook this in a lot of the designs because they are fun. Digimon has always struck me as more serious and the designs often reflect this whereas it is fun to consider what would happen if a Pokémon took on the shape of a bin bag. I mean as dumb as it sounds, evolution suggests that if they best way to hide would be to fit in with your surroundings then why wouldn’t you disguise yourself in rubbish bags?
A Trainers Journey
Now I am not going to tell you that the games are engrossing single player narratives that challenge and test you along the way because they aren’t. As mentioned in the first part, they aren’t hard and as I grow up I would also argue that the story itself isn’t compelling. They have tried to write in some interesting musings along the way, like in Black and White where they look at if Pokemon should be tamed and battled or in X & Y where it tries to comment on the ‘beauty’ of the world and how we are impacting it. These messages may ring true to younger players and potentially shape their views so its good that they take the time to try and reflect contemporary issues in an easy to digest form… but for me they feel a bit forced and unnecessary. For me, its all about the journey and that’s what draws me back. The idea that you start with a single partner and you battle your way across the map, gathering badges and evolving your team to fight the epic battles at the end. And often, these play out in my head as they would in the anime despite on my screen it being two sprites hurling pixels at each other. I could probably skip a lot of the story entirely if given a free roam option and allowed to be, not the hero character who beats the evil team, but simply a trainer battling for greatness.
The Pokemon games also do a great job at creating some compelling locations and recently they have been exploring some parts of the world closer to home (France in X & Y and Britain in Sword and Shield) and its nice to see the diverse world they are building. I will admit that Sword and Shield felt a bit blander than its predecessors but the DLC has improved on this… but I will save that for Part 3. You can visit jungles and deserts, old ruins and mysterious lakes. It is all about the journey for me and the mysteries you can uncover at each location and he diverse Pokémon that appear. I still remember some of the great moments as a child when I came across new locations and the feeling of excitement at finding new Pokémon hiding in the grass, for example when you are on Mt Chimney in Ruby & Sapphire and you just know there will be at least one Fire type waiting to join your ranks.
Sometimes, I think we have lost sight of the magic that can used to create these locations as today we rely on the hardware to create the locations for us and that innocence of childhood is no longer able to shape these in our mind. And we are so focused on the idea that we need to have a compelling story that strikes the right emotional cords that sometimes we miss the fact that the personal challenge you go on can be just as enjoyable. It is a reason why I love the nuzlocke challenges so much; it increases the challenge but it also ties the three sections I have mentioned here (Partners, Creativity and Journey) together and forces you to try harder with new times and as a result develop those emotional ties to the game.