Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Ridiculousness of Pokémon, Part III

My biggest pet peeve with the series is what I railed against last year. Well now I have a few more layers to add to that stance . For those who aren’t in the mood to dig back through to see those posts, I basically voiced my disdain for the series’ treatment of its battling.  

This includes things such as the prioritization of the entire game’s fighting system to the extent that everything else suffers because of it (i.e. if you take battling out of Pokémon, you’re left with pretty much jack shit).  Of course one could argue that this is the main premise of the game, but I’d take issue with that in itself. It’s always been my assumption that the designers simply relented at outright laziness to keep pumping out (at best) not only a math grinder (and not even a remotely deep one), but to exploit fans to the point where they don’t even want anything more from it either.

Let’s take that example I just used and run with it for a second. If you were to take battling out of Pokémon, what exactly are you left with? Pretty much a shell of nothing but another generic Japanese RPG. There are vistas to explore, some people to talk to but they are all contingent on not only just the concept of Pokémon, but battling with them. This can easily be tested by trying to find one NPC in any of the games that talks to you about something other than Pokémon or just something moderately distanced from them (you really have to fucking try to do it). You’re only ever acknowledged as a trainer within the world and nothing else. Even the other media outlets of the franchise offer options to the characters such as coordinating and breeding. In the games however, such things only exist as side-novelties; they’re superficial, they’re quick, they’re worthless (e.g. beauty contests). Yes, you can breed, but you’ll only be doing it for battling and not as an end game in itself (and you certainly won't be rewarded for it). You’re supposed to be cockfighting your Pokémon and anytime you try to ignore or deviate from that fact, the game simply becomes inane.  Some of the features that actually do have promise get abandoned long before a new gen is even initiated (one of the first examples of this that pops into my head is the types of Poké Balls that players are allowed to use), and the others are just contingent on showing off the current hardware’s gimmick (color screens, touch screens, etc). Things like the Pokétch function in Generation IV showed such promise (especially for the DS) for those who wanted to do more than just constantly battle, but it got left behind as soon as HeartGold and SoulSilver rolled around (whose Pokégear was further left behind for the sake of the C-Gear which I ranted about in the previous post).

One of the few pleasures that I’ve personally eked out of the games aside from battling is hunting legendary Pokémon. I’ll state upfront that this is decorated by my bias for what I want to see rather than what’s actually in the game (i.e. I’ll play it up wherever I can to make things more enjoyable), but it’s definitely one of the few things I’m able to really enjoy when I’m not grinding through some cave in hopes of getting to the next gym. The issue with this is that the games don’t efficiently acknowledge legendary Pokemon outside of a few vague NPC remarks (if you’re even that lucky), leaving the player to IMMEDIATELY run to the Internet, guides, or friends to get the information that the game doesn’t make them naturally curious to explore enjoyably for themselves. The mythology of Sinnoh for instance is a fantastic example, as the majority of legendary Pokemon in that particular region have almost deity-like statuses. Dialga controls the flow of time, Palkia---space, Giratina---antimatter. The game doesn’t say much more beyond that though and that’s the point I’m trying to make.

It would be easy enough to make up some bullshit mythologies to add to the canon so that fans would have more to obsessively fawn over, but the designers don’t do this.  Why? That’s easy enough for anybody to speculate on, but let’s just assume my aforementioned reason is the culprit (laziness). Even the Pokédex itself suffers from such things, as it doesn’t help illuminate on a legendary or unseen Pokémon for the player apart from one or two sentences (which range from generic information to outright fucking creepy). The mythology and general information is not played with and such information isn’t just sparse, it’s almost non-existent for anyone who would like to explore the regions further through the creatures themselves. They don’t play up these fantastical creatures that we’re all meant to be in awe over. It’s not just a suspension of disbelief thats required to confront this, it’s an outright limitation in the core design of the game. The titles merely allude to the fact that they might have the possibility to do it---someday. I’m calling bullshit now and fans should have as early as the late stages of Generation III. Imagine if the Pokédex entry on Pikachu could be built up to rival its Bulbapedia page (which in itself is the collection/collation of information from various media sources) in the game as well. It would certainly be a start.

And just to put some more of that in perspective, consider the possibility of what it would mean to add more depth to a legendary Pokémon in such a fashion. The mechanics themselves would have to be changed to complement it. Things like the catch rate would not only have to be altered, they’d need to be expanded. To process the information like the kind I’m proposing here and not have it come off as mere superficial design---you’d have to redesign the entire game in the background too. This would go miles towards giving the players such options that I vocally yearned for last year and in this post, and this is just one example.

I don’t really respect games where fans do most of the work for its overall allure, and the Pokémon franchise is pretty much the mascot for that entire concept.