Throwback Legends #5 – Pokemon

Welcome back to another Throwback Thursday! The franchise I want to discuss today is fantastic and has been an integral part of the RPG genre for over 20 years, but its had its ups and downs. So what makes a game about capturing monsters in a tiny ball (which scientifically, would cause explosions on the magnitude of splitting an atom) to fight for your amusement such a memorable game?

Pokemon’s initial release to America was 20 years and two weeks ago, but it had already been in Japan for over two years prior. In these past 20 years, the franchise has grown to become the highest grossing media franchise of all time. These numbers aren’t just because children love their adorable little monster pals either, beneath the cute monstrosities lies a video game of incredible design. Mostly. Ok, so under the hood, Red and Blue versions are, being kind, a catastrophic disaster spiral of… “features” (see: 151 Catch ‘Em All speedruns of Pokemon Blue). However, unlike many other titles who’s bugs show outwardly, these problems rarely appear in casual play without premeditated attempts at breaking the game, so credit where its due. Tangent aside, the mechanics of the core series of games are stellar.

The RPG aspects of the series have been phenomenal since its inception. The stat growth mechanics have become sublime over the years. These mechanics have been balanced in such a way that the uninitiated neither need to know, nor worry about, the hardcore training that goes into min-maxing a Pokemon, while also allowing competitive players to selectively create perfect stat blocks. As the series progressed more of these mechanics have been made visible and easier to calculate, resulting in a much greater understanding of the basics of the mechanics and a much higher skill ceiling in competitive play. Combined with the breeding mechanics introduced in generation two, natures introduced in Gen 3, and a multitude of items and characters that help the process, Pokemon has created one of the most hardcore of leveling processes within the genre with a 1:1 ratio of effort versus reward.

The one problem I do have with the series is the ever-increasingly childish writing, and I feel like that is a disservice. The first two generations taught us how to tackle the world head on and fend for ourselves with a little help from those closest to us, it taught independence and the strength of the self. These later generations (7th Gen especially) feel very much like it is trying to teach that the world will just give you what you ask for if you and your friends ask nicely enough. That’s all fine and well, but the world is a little harder than that, and I can credit the original games in helping to prepare me for the real world. The writing doesn’t make the games any less fantastic, mind you, but it has certainly made some major plot points in recent games feel less world-shaking.

As for the music in the series, I think I will do a Music Monday article on that. The music isn’t ambiance and would fit more closely within the “pop-like, lilting tunes” Hip Tanaka spoke of when he was going against the grain for Metroid, but there are a lot of good tunes and 20 years of internal remixing for each generation. I believe that in itself says what it needs to about the music. Two decades of Pokemon, and we still have the same battle theme.

Personally, I see generation two as the overall best of the main series of games. It has its faults, but it scores the highest overall in my book. Many of the hardcore aspects were still hidden then, but the quality of life upgrades from Gen 1 were the most necessary changes to the health of the franchise so far. Also, Gen 2 introduced my two favorite Pokemon: Umbreon, and Typhlosion.

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