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An entirely Pokemon-related series of rambling articles. This weblog exists because I won a competition for it (somehow) so I'll try to make each article a high-quality affair in its own right. No filler here.
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The subject of my weblog-winning weblog log is...

Posted October 16th, 2011 at 03:12 AM by (=Nemesis=)

Pokemon.

Goodness, what a surprise, says the PokeCommunity at large. We were expecting it to be about marzipan. However, I'm going to be very specific with this one. This is about the two virtually exclusive natures of Pokemon which seem more or less at each others' throats, with two very different ideologies warring upon one another. Aha, now that I'm using violent imagery, I have your interest.

On one side, we have the Competitors. That's probably most of you reading this. If you're interested in a Pokemon, it's probably because it has a good type combination, high base stats with an appropriate spread, a useful ability, a move pool you can nicely abuse - pick any three. It must have the right nature, and either perfect Individual Values, or an ideal Hidden Power. Out there in the big scary world, nothing less will do.

On the other side, we have the Sentimentalists. Those are the ones who feel a little ashamed when they've allowed a Pokemon to faint. The ones who take it personally when their Girafarig let out a roar! The ones who not only nickname their Pokemon, but actually take time over choosing a good name, as well! In extreme cases, they might even refuse a Shiny Pokemon if they don't care for the colour. Unbelievable.

I place myself firmly in the Sentimentalist camp, and I'm not ashamed to say it. I have dabbled a little in the Competitor's realm, though I don't really like it. It's the combination of inhospitality and high learning curve, I think, that puts me off the most. Anyway.

There's a significant disparity, which is that Sentimentalists are not really able to compete at their best, and this really boils down to three core game mechanics.

Individual Values. I know why they're there, and it's a good reason. IVs are the parallel of genetic pedigree. Higher values are for better-bred specimens, and lower values are for those with lower origins, in a sense. Shiny Pokemon are the "freak" species, their detriment being that generally speaking, a Shiny Pokemon does not have perfect IVs and thus, Shiny Pokemon don't usually make good competitors. I believe the Competitors just use them as some sort of trophy-prestige-thing.

I certainly don't disagree with the IV system by itself, and not in this respect of Competitors vs Sentimentalists, either. It differentiates them. The Competitors spend a very long time gunning for genetic perfection to yield a very slight advantage in combat, and the Sentimentalists willingly forgo this advantage because the greater glory lies not in setting up a production line breeding process to find the perfect genetic soldier, but in bringing that Geodude you just happened to run into first, to greater victory.

IVs, though, are but one prong in a rather nasty-looking trident of hidden qualities.

The Nature system is far more of a divider, and this is what does the most to give the Competitor an immediate runaway advantage, at the moment. In the old days, Nature was really there for a new sort of game mode, the Battle Tent, or Battle Palace. It was clearly a Sentimentalist idea, that Pokemon should choose moves that reflect their own personality when left to their own devices. However, the idea was not brilliantly implemented, meaning that only a few Pokemon with specific natures would stand a good chance of consistently surviving rounds. Because of this, the idea of the Battle Tent disappeared after Emerald, yet Natures remained. As you probably know, every nature increases one statistic by 10%, and reduces another by 10%, for everything apart from HP. Though this doesn't seem like a lot, it has a profound effect on battling performance in the big league. That's one that Competitors will never allow to work in any way except in their favour, and it's one that Sentimentalists will not want to manipulate because the idea of rejecting one Pokemon's given personality, the closest thing they have to a "soul", in favour of another, goes against their own nature. I'm not giving up on my Adamant Charizard, I could hear them say; we've come too far together.

The third prong in this vindictive trident is the Effort Value system. EVs work on the principle of training against specific Pokemon in order to yield specific statistic gains. Every time your Pokemon defeats an opponent, or was even involved in its defeat, gets a boost to a little hidden number. By the end of a Pokemon's EV training, it will have accumulated around 130 additional points in whichever statistics they trained in. That is a heck of a lot of points and makes a bigger average statistical difference than IVs and Natures put together. Unfortunately, a very small percentage of trainers even know about the EV system, and an even smaller percentage actually knows about how to go about EV training in the most appropriate way. That's one major problem with the EV system, to a greater extent than the other two. The other major problem is that once EV training has taken its course, it is very difficult and painful to undo it all. You need some very rare berries, and obtaining those means either planting and carefully maintaining them (DPPt), or going for some very long walks indeed (PokeWalker) or spending a few hours on community work (Rock Smash) and dealing with inexplicable Frenchmen (Shard de Berry!). If the system for undoing the "damage" of EV training was more fathomable, I would be happier to excuse it. If the system were more transparent, I would, similarly, be happier to excuse it.

I know that for some of you, sympathising with what seems like a case of prima donna whining, looks difficult or impossible. But I ask you, if you had played a recent Pokemon game with no knowledge of the game from outside it, and having only the information that the game itself provides, wouldn't you be similarly alienated from it all? I can assure you that, confronted with messages such as "Your Pokemon needs to work harder", "Your Pokemon's potential is rather decent all round... incidentally, I would say its best aspect is Special Defence - it's very good in that regard" and being told that "Gentle" nature reduces one sort of defence in favour of another sort, you would be feeling confused by the additional layers of detail that are hinted at, but never explained properly.

Somewhat tangential, here's another point that strikes me as significant between Sentimentalists and Competitors. Competitors really like to talk tough, coming up with terms that seem to be more about separating themselves from the children's pet animal game they're quite clearly playing.

Here's a prime example: a Pokemon assigned to learning environmental navigation moves (through HMs, such as Surf and Cut, or certain TMs, like Flash) is called an "HM Slave", or in extreme cases, where a Competitor is trying his very best to look Mean And Tough, an "HM B****". Their words, not mine. To the Competitor, an "HM Slave" is the lowliest of the low, who could, figuratively speaking, be replaced at a moment's notice. They'll never enter a battle in their entire lives, and that makes them scum.

To the Sentimentalist, however, the "HM Slave" is anything but. While no officially adopted term seems to have reached widespread use among Sentimentalists, I use the term "Chauffeur" to describe Pokemon which cart you from A to B. "Chauffeurs" are essential and indispensable. They're likely to be your closest companions for the hundreds of hours you may pour into a single game. They could have humble origins (such as the venerable, understated Sandshrew) or could live among the legends (my Latios has been my most long-serving "Chauffeur" - because his Pokedex entry remarks that he doesn't like to fight - and thus he's never had to). Alongside the starter Pokemon, in fact, the "Chauffeur" can be recognised as the most important Pokemon to have available, to a Sentimentalist.

These are two cultures that really don't get along at all. The Sentimentalists probably wish that future games would bring the Competitor's advantages down a notch or two, and the Competitors probably wish that the Sentimentalists would all shut up and learn to play the metagame properly. A lasting irony is that every new combat gameplay feature in generations I to III designed to appeal to Sentimentalists has widened the competitive gap and given the Competitors a greater advantage.

However, lateral developments such as the Contest (later expanded into the Super Contest), Pokethlon and Pokemon Musical, seem to be experiments designed to increase the appeal to Sentimentalists without disturbing the core gameplay. It's actually worked well; the Contest was easy to get into and added another dimension into coming up with a moveset. Its comparative success was recognised and it was further developed for Diamond and Pearl. The Pokethlon is a splendid diversion in an already fantastic HG/SS, with enough variety and interest to keep it fresh. The Musical, while not nearly as well-developed as the Pokethlon, was something else to do in a moment of calm, and it's hard to get over the memory of Kyurem in a straw hat.

At the same time, the new Triple Battle and Rotation Battle modes are appealing and not difficult to get into. Triple Battles are more complex and strategic, relying on hidden properties of moves to hit adjacent or opposite opponents; it is more in line with the Competitor's interests. Rotation Battles are unpredictable, daring, and fun; they are more in line with the Sentimentalist's interests.

In short, I would say that after Generation III, Game Freak learned an important lesson, and started working out ways to enrich the gameplay and appeal to both factions of the community. And with such successes as they have found, I would conclude that they have learned their lesson well.

I'll wrap this up with a brief analogy, to illuminate the importance of this conflict, and to illustrate my reasons for thinking that it has been at the heart of Game Freak's concern since the very beginning.

The Pokemon anime contains an idiot. That idiot's name is Ash Ketchum. We know Ash must be an idiot because when it comes to things like battling he has absolutely no idea of what he's doing. Ignoring the very different rules the anime has (where you can use Agility, Quick Attack and Iron Tail all in the same turn), he will usually send out Pokemon with a severe type disadvantage, keep forgetting that you have to weaken Pokemon before attempting a capture (as if he has Alzheimer's disease restricted to the part of the brain responsible for PokeBall management), and decide one day that "polishing" Brock's Onix with a Water Gun attack will be just fine. I remember a time when I looked at a Diamond and Pearl episode to find out just how bad the newer series was, thinking it might be a good episode because "Ash uses Pokemon from the different regions to compete in the League Championship". I turned it off after he decided that his most reliable choices would be his Cyndaquil, Heracross, Bayleef, etc. (as in, some of his least reliable); he somehow managed to forget, for example, his Sceptile, which is probably the most capable battler he's ever trained.

But it is in his darker hours where he shines the most. The very first episode proved, like many to come, that this imbecile had enviable bravery and determination when it came to protecting his Pikachu, more than making up for his outright incompetence in the field of battle.

How is this relevant? For all Ash's incompetence when it comes to the arena, he seems to understand something that most of the competitive battling community does not. He doesn't treat Pokemon like a collection of numbers, collated and approximated and to be rejected if their estimated chance of victory slips below the optimum.

And guess what? This is because Ash is based on Satoshi Tajiri, who demonstrates his unfaltering sentimentality almost every time he utters words. You may mock us, Competitors, but the creator of Pokemon was in our camp all along.




NB: If you've noticed some mistakes by now... so have I. This was the original entry that won a contest for a weblog, and I'm keeping every word of it, warts and all.
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