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20 December 2016 @ 10:31 am
Game Review: ポケットモンスターファイアレッド  
I am not a member of the Pokemon generation.

Like I've mentioned before, I got out of consoles after the NES, so my first introduction to Pokemon as something more than that thing people talked about that I didn't know anything about at all was in Smash Brothers, so I thought of pokemon as basically natural disasters. Sometimes they were avoidable, sometimes not, and sometimes you could control them and really annoy your friends by spamming lightning bolts. But nothing about the context around them. And then while we were on the road to Chiyoda, Pokemon Go came out in Japan and I finally managed to create an account and play the game. And for whatever reason, I find it really fun and still play basically every day. Mass Transit makes it easy.

Then year is the 20th anniversary of Pokemon, and so I thought now is definitely the time. And after consulting my friends, and then ignoring most of their advice, and loaded up a copy of Pokemon Fire Red--in Japanese, for the practice--and set out on my journey to ポケモンゲットだぜ! (pokemon getto da ze!, uh, something like, "Pokemon, I'm gonna get them!")

I love how overconfident my rival was, since he lost literally every battle with me.

I'm not sure what I was expecting, but it wasn't this.

I'll warn you at the outside here. I have no nostalgia for Pokemon at all, so unlike something like Master of Magic I don't have a warm haze to glance through to it. And so the most cutting statement I can probably make is that the best part of playing this game for me was that I found out my emulator has a turbo function that increases gameplay up to 1000% normal speed and, according to my napkin calculations vs. the in-game timer, it saved me 15 hours.

My expectations were wrong, was the main problem. I had been led to believe that Pokemon was mostly about catching them all, since that's the catchphrase (hiyoooo  photo emot-3.gif). And that is indeed part of it. But actually, Pokemon is about wandering around long roads and having psychopaths challenge a minor to animal fights on the flimsiest of excuses.

"Ha ha ha! You're a healthy child!"  photo emot-gonk.gif

I knew about going to the gyms and fighting the elite four--or, as they're called in the Japanese, the 四天王 (shitennou, "The Four Heavenly Kings"), which is a much better name--but I didn't realize that literally everyone in the entire world is completely obsessed with pokemon to the exclusion of all other topics.

This might be an artifact of playing Fire Red, rather than X/Y or Black/White like were also suggested to me, but I was expecting a bit more to the world. Some kind of backstory, or explanation about why Pokemon were such a big part of the culture. Fire Red clearly takes place in our world in Japan, and references a pokemon fossil being found in South America and マチス, (Matis, localized as "Lt. Surge") is clearly an American solider who fought in some war and came to Japan to adopt the Way of the Pokemon. Pokemon evolved, because you find fossils. What's going on here?

Well, who knows. The game doesn't tell you, because it's a remake of a Game Boy game where there simply wasn't enough space on the cartridge to deal with these problems, and anyway, they're honestly not important. There's plenty of weird implications in the Pokemon games, but they mostly come out through the Pokedex entries and fans asking each other, "So...if there are no animals except pokemon...what do people eat?" (Wholesome answer: they're all vegetarians and eat all the berries that are everywhere). The gameplay is the main character walking down long roads, passing by people walking in circles or standing around who say something of questionable relevance, and then you fight them. For hour after hour after hour.

Also there are pokeghosts.

I am familiar with the depth and complexity of pokemon evolution and the battle system second-hand, though I don't know any specifics because the game doesn't explain it.

I know about vulnerabilities and super-effectiveness partially because the game does tell you when attacks are good are bad against certain types, but mostly because I played with a chart in the background that has all of the types on them. I know about Same-Type Attack Bonus because the walkthrough I was looking at mentions it and i looked it up. I didn't even realize that pokemon could learn moves that weren't part of their types or something they learned while leveling up, or why one would want to do so. I still don't know what EVs are, how they work, why I would want to feed my pokemon berries, what the benefit of attacking particular types of trainers in order to raise specific stats in the pokemon I'm trying to train, anything about breeding at all...

Some of that is because in the normal course of the game, none of that is necessary. My final team when I beat the shitennou and Rival-san was:
  • Raichu: Level 51, Thunder Shock, Thunder Wave, Thunderbolt, Slam.
  • Gyarados: Level 46, Water Pulse, Dragon Rage, Bite, Twister.
  • Charizard: Level 54, Flamethrower, Spark, Aerial Ace, Fly
  • Snorlax: Level 55, Strength, Psychic, Rest, Body Slam
And then a Farfetch'd and a Vaporean along for Cut and Surf respectively. And it took a couple attempts and I often had to hide behind Snorlax while I revived and healed my other pokemon, but it wasn't really hard. I didn't have to go grind...though of course I still did, at the beginning of the game. And maybe that carried me through.

What has science done?

I realize it's hypocritical of me to complain of obfuscated game mechanics when I love roguelikes so much and Dark Souls is one of my favorite games of the last decade, and I will cop to some hypocrisy. Throwing all those mechanics at the player would have been counterproductive when it's possible to win and the game was originally designed for pre-teens.

Also, a lot of that comes down to the social experience of the game. Like the original Legend of Zelda, and like Dark Souls hearkening back to it, Pokemon games are about talking to your friends who are also playing the same game. Hearing that you can capture the legendary birds, not just hear the bird trainers talk about them. Learning that certain pokemon and trainers carry items and you can steal with them the right moves. Stumbling on something yourself and excitedly going to school the next day and telling people that if you level that useless flopping fish pokemon for long enough...  photo wheeeeee_emote_by_seiorai.gif

That is a valuable experience and designing for that is a good choice. Multiplayer in the age of the internet gets a deserved bad reputation because it's so easy to be a terrible person when dealing with people you aren't forced to care about, but local multiplayer with people you know is one of the best experiences in gaming. Pokemon is designed for the latter, for secrets on the playthrough and breaking out the link cable during lunch to prove that you are the very best, the best that ever was. Without that element to the game, I just didn't enjoy it that much.

Victory is mine!

I'm positive that was the problem, though. I've read repeatedly that the games get less opaque and more accessible down through the generations, and there's strong suspicion that there's going to be a Pokemon game coming to the Switch. softlykarou and I are probably going to get a Switch, and if we do, we'll pick that up. I'm sure I'll appreciate it more. Most of my problems with Pokemon came from wanting to play Fire Red, to see the first generation and the story that everyone always talks about when they're complaining that Pokemon went wrong somewhere.

The problem isn't with the game. The problem is with me. And in a different context, if I had grown up with a Game Boy, I'm sure that I would have loved playing this game and mostly focused on the differences between the English and the Japanese. But as it is, I'm just glad I finished a Pokemon game and can move on with my life.  photo 65599addbaf4d227.gif
Current Mood: disappointeddisappointed
Current Music: Smooth McGroove - Pokemon Red/Blue/Yellow - Route 1 Acapella