Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Ridiculousness of Pokémon, Part IV

The experience of playing through any of the Pokémon titles often naturally leads to a place of extreme player-entitlement. To be honest, this is something that most games in general are guilty of, but focusing on the franchise at hand leads to some interesting questions to say the least. The world that players are meant to inhabit is so skewed narratively and mechanically, that nearly no illusions are present in which they aren’t ‘the special one’ (i.e. the game doesn’t even try to pretend you’re just another trainer rising to prominence).

Sure, we’re consistently given things such as rivals to serve as wannabe illusions/complements, but at no point do the actions of that rival manifest in such a way that would challenge the player to honestly think of them as such (and in turn, think of themselves outside of the ‘I’m the special trainer’ mindset). The only one that even came close was Blue and this was mainly due to the fans running amok with nostalgia and deifying him as a meme as time passed.[1] In reality, he wasn’t that much different and at best, was only a notch above the others due to the limitations in the software/hardware at the time. Also, take a look at the situation in this sense---very, very, VERY rarely does the player actually witness an in-game battle that is not their own (for example, two regular trainers engaging each other or two legendary Pokémon clashing in the wild). Of course there could be a plethora of situations that would call for simple spectation (off the top of my head, an example would be coloring a Champion as a formidable fighter long before the player has to engage them him/herself).

Exacerbating this even further is the fact that over 60% of the NPCs in the games are barely even that---‘Non-Player Characters’. It’s possible that the original Japanese versions of the game are able to hide this better, but I’m assuming for the sake of argument that at best they’re only minutely less embarrassing. Most of the time, NPCs are just ‘grindstones’ or ‘event-dispensers’.  They exist mostly for the player to gain EXP from (which is a can of worms in itself to engage in most RPGs period) or they exist to give the player some tool (such as a Hidden Machine) that they need to proceed further in the ‘narrative’. To ask for anything such as ones with actual writing or creative existences (e.g. importable characters across different games) would be stupid on my part, so I’ll spare you the ‘what I wants’ in this paragraph. However, to keep this entitlement rant going, I'll also assert that this applies to the base moveset in the games as well.

The total number of moves actually rivals the number of creatures in the current roster (i.e. 649 pokemon sporting  559 moves).. This stifles any sense of individuality the games could possibly have for the sake of having control over the stat-play that's so popular among the hardcore players. If the moveset were say---double the number of current creatures (i.e. 1,200 moves between 649 Pokemon), we’d be looking at a much richer experience, but only special legendaries and mascot fodder have noteworthy signature moves, and most of them can learn the same moves. The moves themselves don’t differ that much between most Pokémon and when it does, it’s only in the most extreme cases.

Fittingly enough, where individuality is positioned up front and center, it’s pissed on within the same game or one title later. The previously-mentioned OT/Nickname dilemma is one of the more prominent ones (e.g. when a player loses their status as an Original Trainer when transferring any Pokemon across gens). Another example is one of the sneakiest and one of my most personally reviled: Shiny Pokemon.[2]

The concept is intriguing, but the execution is nothing short of insipid. The rarity between any player catching a shiny Pokemon without any kind of aid is pretty damn rare and THIS is assuming they play any of the games for well over 200+ hours.

First and foremost, shiny Pokemon are simple palette swaps in the franchise's current state. In generation II there was a slight difference in  IVs (1/2 of the underlying code that individuates the overall battle efficacy of any given Poke), but after generation III it was scrapped and left these catches as rare aesthetic ‘treats’ to stumble across through extensive play. A palette swap Pokemon in itself doesn’t bother me, but the method to which they are applied in every single game I’ve seen them in is as I said---nothing short of stupid. Personally speaking, more than half of them are just plain ugly. The colorings reek of programmers childishly turning the tone meter all the way in the opposite direction and expecting players to freak out when said ugmo jumps out at them in the wild. 

There’s nothing wrong with questioning why each individual species of Pokemon don't AT LEAST have a dozen different colors.

 (and if I really want to be demanding, differing sprite positionings between each one), because current Pokemon variations such as Shellos[3], Spinda[4] and Unown[5] are just bad arguments. Such a drastic variation between each Pokemon species could realistically turn a 649 roster closer to 8,000 if done with a certain level of expertise. As it stands for any of the current games, I don’t begrudge any player that has hacked a shiny Pokemon (or got it ’off the back of a truck’) over the course of their play, as the rarity of even encountering these butt-ugly palette swaps is ludicrous to begin with. I’ve seen children and adults act like idiots to get their hands on them, trading away hard-earned Pokemon for these things, all in the name of grasping a jokingly superficial status of individuality and expression.

Just so you have more of a sense of what it takes to get a shiny Pokemon the ‘legit’ way (speaking towards something more removed from flat out numbers), it recently took me three weeks of Soft-Resetting[6] (basically just cutting the system on and off) my DS in Pokémon Diamond to get a shiny Giratina[7]. I spent at least two hours every day doing it nonstop and came away getting one fairly easy after about 3,000 resets. And yes, I only did this just to say I did (and to also palpably grasp the insanity of catching one personally) and also because I’m a stubborn idiot.

And us idiots compose 90% of the Pokemon fandom and most of those are unquestioning slaves to the little scam that ‘NintenFreak’ has set up. A smaller amount are fans that are so dependent on the franchise’s system that they---inspire this quote from Morpheus:
"And many of them are so inert, so hopelessly dependant on the system, that they will fight to protect it."[8]
The rest are in my arena---and are arguably the worst. These are the players who are well-aware of the inanity of the franchise but continue to give our vote of approval with further purchases. Either way the coin falls, it’s not likely to matter. Why? Because gamers are known for a lot of things, but speaking with their wallets isn’t one of them. GameFreak & Nintendo now UNDERSTANDABLY rely on this basic rule of thumb, which is why the series only grows in popularity.