Pokémon is not a regular occurrence in my life. Most of the time my interaction with the series will max out at thinking fondly of time spent playing the games, or choosing Lucario in Super Smash Bros Brawl. However, when the planets align and the fates conspire, I will take DS in hand and become one of the most indefinable gamer types in existence: The Pokémaniac.
There are many reasons that one might take up the task of being a Pokémon Master. Hell, some might not even care so much to be a master of the monsters, but rather just get in to enjoy a light-hearted RPG. I fall somewhere in between the two extremes. Me, I play Pokémon mostly because I’ve always played Pokémon. It’s more tradition than compulsion, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.
I take the game fairly lightly, mostly enjoying mastery of the two basic gameplay elements, battling and collecting. I don’t even properly understand what EV points are, nevermind how to make use of them and turn my monsters into fighting machines. I just like re-memorizing the different strengths and weaknesses of each Pokémon type every couple years, and then using that knowledge to lead my avatar (who is a 10-year-old girl) to victory over everyone else in my game card’s virtual world. It’s a very simple kind of satisfaction, but it’s one that I’ve yet to tire of.
The only qualm I have here is that while being able to drop all of my enemies in one hit is exciting for a while, eventually I always end up longing, for the, well, longer battles of other RPGs. Pokémon battles generally last about three minutes if it’s a full-on six-on-six fight, and that’s even when things aren’t going particularly well for either side. Wild battles and lesser trainers work perfectly fine with this formula, but when the gym leaders, rivals, and villain team leaders fall just as quickly, it feels fairly anticlimactic. This lends a much greater sense of importance to the Elite Four, who always put up a decent fight. I don’t want every fight to be a Tonberry King, but the battles that are supposed to be epic usually lose a lot of their punch because they’re over before you can really get into a groove.
There is of course an exception to this shortcoming, and it might be even more annoying: legendary Pokémon. I have fond memories of sitting in my room with my old gray brick Game Boy, hopelessly flinging Pokéballs at the legendary birds in the Blue version, entertaining myself with the thrill of the hunt, and that succulent joy of finally capturing the god-like avians. That thrill lingers no more in my soul, and legendary Pokémon now seem more of a chore to me than a enjoyable trial.
In SoulSilver, I’ve literally used two entire lunch breaks (and time away from work as well!) trying to catch the elusive Suicune, but the motherbuzzer simply will not be caught! I’ve spent thousands of Pokémon dollars on the finest Pokéballs money can buy and weeks amassing a collection of rare ball types, and yet none of them can hold the monster. I’ve engaged it in combat over a dozen times, the battles ending only because I ran out of capture devices, or more often because the beast killed itself because it ran out of attack moves and was forced to resort to the self-damaging Struggle move. Exasperated, I’ve moved on, and chose to come back only once I’ve found a way to acquire more Master Balls, which catch without fail.
All this trouble, and Suicune even stands still on the map, waiting for you to challenge it. It’s peers, Raikou and Entei are not so kind. They are equally ball-resistant, and to make matters worse, they travel randomly around the world map, making you play an awful game of cat-and-mouse until the game decides to take pity on you and you wind of in combat with one of them. At this point, you get a single move to make. Either you can throw a ball and hope for the best, or you can fire one attack off on the beast. After whatever happens (or perhaps even before, if your chosen fighter’s speed is low) the beastie will immediately run away, making you chase it around the world again. There are moves that can keep a Pokémon from running away in battle, but I don’t have the patience to not only find, but raise a monster for that sole task.
It gets progressively worse in that Game Freak has been doing this since the original Gold and Silver versions, and usually lets no less than three pocket monsters behave in this fashion. Which isn’t a whole lot when you consider that there are now a total of 493 of the little buggers. And that’s too many. Especially when you consider that a whole new generation will be unveiled by the end of the year. I was more than happy with 150. 250 wasn’t even that bad. I’d even feel less harassed by the sheer amount of monsters if Nintendo would allow just one version of the game in which you could actually catch them all. I know it flies in the face of everything the franchise stands for (NB: Making huge truckloads of money), but they could just make one special game card for me. I’m not saying it has to be an official release or anything. Having to trade between the two newest games isn’t a huge pain, but having to go back two handheld generations is a bit excessive. Moreso because even then there are a handful that can’t be obtained without cheating. Or the GTS.
And therein lies the greatest boon of the current Pokémon generation. The Global Trading System makes catching all those little bastards less of a tedious waste of time and more of a waiting game. Japanese kids will give you whatever you want so long as you’re willing to part with a monster that has an English name, and I have a lot of those. The Pokéwalker, the pedometer-esque device included with HeartGold and SoulSilver is another huge leap towards filling my Pokédex (bestiary, for the uninitiated). Not only does it let you catch new critters wherever you go without having to whip out your DS, but it also gives you access to a lot of Pokémon that you’d otherwise have to trade over from Diamond, Pearl, Sapphire or Ruby. And you get exercise at the same time! Everybody wins!
I’ll probably still never fill that Pokédex though. I’ve been making a sincere effort in SoulSilver, but I was very intent on doing it in Pearl too, and that petered out around the 300 mark. I even had a DS Action Replay to work with back then. If you could somehow play the game without ever getting the National Pokédex (which registers all monsters, the Johto Pokédex cuts out at 251) and pretend it didn’t exist, I probably would have done that. 251 is a much more reasonable goal. But I’m still going to go for it, because I’d like to do it even once, and better now than next year when I have roughly 100 more of the fuckers to catch.
After all this complaining, you might imagine that I’m not overly fond of the Pokémon franchise, but in reality I’d consider it my favourite RPG series. I know that all those Final Fantasies and Dragon Quests give you access to all the content in the game without making you buy several older installments in the series, but something about Pokémon really resonates with me. Strategy has a lot to do with it. Not many times in Pokémon will you just mash attack until everything is dead. I like that it makes you consider every move you make, and even though I’ll never actually finish a game, I do love the collecting aspect. I just like amassing large amounts of useless crap, and even better when it’s confined to the interior of a tiny little game card, and not cluttering up my living space.
So I’ll keep playing Pokémon. I’ll keep at SoulSilver until something shinier drags my attention away, and I’ll buy either the Black or White version when they come out next year, despite the fact that the last thing I want is another generation of new Pokémon. Next time you scoff at the “hook ’em while they’re young” marketing tactic, think about me and how much I love Pokémon despite all the things that annoy me about it.