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Old July 6th, 2014 (08:18 PM).
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Ephraim225 Ephraim225 is offline
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Greetings again! With ORAS coming out in November this year, I've decided now is a good time to explore something that I've been wondering about ever since...well, since Gen 4 basically. What I and probably several others have found is that, with some exceptions, the older games are more enjoyable and interesting than the newer ones, and there are plenty of valid arguments to back that up, it's not just nostalgia. This will be a series of reviews of every major Pokémon game as well as a few spinoffs that still retain the main series gameplay. We'll examine why the old games are great, how the series changed to become even better, and how it changed for the worse. So, we're gonna start with the original games: Pokémon Red and Pokémon Blue. To properly begin the review, let's ask ourselves: just what is Pokémon anyhow?

Pokémon is a Japanese Role-playing Game, a genre which, to me, has become stagnated and sterile since battles typically turn into giant flowchart simulations where most battles are decided based on how much grinding you did. Not a whole lot of turn-based JRPGs do anything interesting with the genre unless gameplay isn't the focus in the first place, or they introduce more action elements into it. That's where Pokémon shines - it changed things up considerably by adding a new element to the genre: capturing and training monsters to use in battle against other monsters. Actually, Megami Tensei had done the same thing nine years prior, but Pokémon more or less brought RPGs to the mainstream whereas RPGs were once Dungeons and Dragons with the CPU doing the number-crunching for you. Pokémon also got a US release before Megami Tensei did.

At the start of the game the player is tasked with creating a complete guide to all the Pokémon in the game, and given a choice of one of three Pokémon to begin the game with. The different Pokémon, of course, have elemental weaknesses, but the chart is a lot more intricate than the typical RPG. The manual provides a chart explaining them all, and it's pretty easy to read so you'll want that on-hand. Pokémon can learn new and different attacks as they level up, but they can only know four moves at a time, so they have to forget moves to learn new ones. Rather silly, really, but it forces the player to make a decision about what moves they take into battle. The game lets you have your Pokémon battle other human players and not just the AI, and the level of strategy is much deeper than one would expect while also being very much accessible.

Pokémon has a strong competitive following due to the strategic depth, and it's a good thing too, because the main story of the game doesn't pose too much difficulty. Obviously you could just grind past all opponents, but most enemies don't have any real strategy and often only use one type of Pokémon. That means you can beat the game simply with Rock-Paper-Scissors, or even using the starting Pokémon exclusively (since battles are one-on-one even if both trainers can have up to six Pokémon) though there are a few speed bumps. Some bonus bosses would have been nice, and unused data suggests there was to be one or two, but after beating the final trainer in the game, there's only one additional dungeon with one final Pokémon to capture - the strongest in the game, in fact.

Granted, this game doesn't have the best design in the world - Psychic Pokémon, for instance, have a clear dominance over every other type - but only two Pokémon in the game are generally agreed to be so completely overpowered that nothing can stop them. Some are still better than others, however, and certain strategies are very annoying when the enemy uses them, such as spamming evasion-boosting moves. The N64 game, Pokémon Stadium, has a number of AI opponents to fight who are much smarter than their 8-bit counterparts, so that's arguably where the real challenges lie - however, I consider Stadium more of an expansion since it emphasizes building a team in the Game Boy games and then using them in the N64 game. Not worth buying on its own, but a decent additional challenge.

Now, I stated the game is accessible, but I have a few issues with competitive battling in this game. First, obviously since this is an RPG there's going to be elements of luck - missing attacks, critical hits, things like that. This is not something we want in a competitive game, though it's hard to imagine what the solution to this would be. Still, battles can be fun to watch regardless. Building a team and optimizing it is also more difficult than it needs to be: consumable items that teach moves are only available in limited qualities per playthrough, requiring a restart to get another one, and there's a hidden stat modifier that goes up independently of regular experience points after defeating foes - maxing that out can take a lot of time. Glitches can assist in getting the items and Pokémon you need, though - this game has lots of bugs, and thankfully very few of them hurt the overall game. In fact, exploiting bugs can be a lot of fun. Still, I'd prefer battles to not be won by the time spent grinding.

The human characters in the game aren't too interesting. Pokémon is not really known for having compelling plots or characters. I believe it was due to the game being made during a time where complex video game plots were still a secondary goal of making a game. That said, most characters in Pokémon only have a few lines, outside of your rival who reappears constantly to try and beat you, and the boss of a gang called Team Rocket. They appear a few times trying to make a quick buck in some nefarious scheme. The only real reason your character takes them down is that you happen to cross paths with them. Nobody else is really shown doing a thing about them, which kinda makes it feel like the player is being set up specifically to be a hero and the best trainer in the world, which I suppose is the point of the game.

I also found it silly that the four best trainers in the region have little dialogue and no plot relevance, even though they seem like they could be interesting characters. I suppose there's little characterization so other media, such as the TV show and manga, can write the characters in different ways, since the plot would be the focus of these other media. Worldbuilding isn't perfect either: Isn't capturing and battling with wild animals kind of cockfighting? I guess you could say asking questions like that ruins the whole thing. One thing's for sure though: It's clear that different players have come up with different answers to questions like this, just read any webcomic based on the games. If the developers set out to create a setting that requires your imagination to fill in the blanks, more power to them - they've succeeded.

I have a few problems with the game, however. There are items in the game called Hidden Machines that can teach Pokémon new moves. THESE moves, however, have out-of-battle effects: Strength for pushing boulders, Cut for cutting things, etc. They basically remove obstacles that prevent sequence breaking. Thing is, moves taught by HMs can't be deleted. At all. What's worse, most moves taught by HMs are only good for the out-of-battle effects. They should have either had regular items serve the same purpose. Even though I like that HM moves add a way for your Pokémon to interact with the world, it's silly to have to waste one of your limited moves on it. Most players have one or two Pokémon dedicated to learning HM moves, making the whole thing feel pointless anyways. Ultimately this doesn't hurt the experience THAt much, but it's not the only issue.

151 Pokémon are available to train and battle with, although some are exclusive to one version of the game or another - the idea being that if your friend had the version you did not, the two of you could trade to finish your collections. A ground-breaking feature, for sure, and one that adds a social element to an RPG not seen before. In retrospect the multiple version thing had good intentions but was ultimately a bad idea, since I believe most of us got the wrong message and bought both versions anyways so we could catch them all on our own. We don't really need multiple versions anyways since some Pokémon evolve by being traded, and some are rare enough to warrant being traded for. What's truly awful, however, is that in every generation except the fifth, a third version is released - in this case, Yellow version.

Yellow doesn't add too much, in fact it's an inferior version in my opinion - most battles are easier, I don't care too much for the improved graphics, some of the fun glitches have been fixed, and Pikachu following you around on the map doesn't really make up for it. Yellow version feels like a cash grab, especially since most of its changes are related to the TV show. Future third versions would make general improvements and add more content - which often obsoletes the previous two versions. That's a rant for another review, though. Overall, Pokémon is a very fun game, and while it has problems, few of them detract from the experience. I recommend giving it a try at least once, and if you like what you see, read about all the different ways you can play these games - it's quite interesting and will add considerably to the replay value.
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Old July 6th, 2014 (08:54 PM). Edited July 6th, 2014 by machomuu.
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Pokemon wasn't really a major player in RPGs becoming prevalent in America. Neither was Megami Tensei, for that matter (since the first SMT game we got was the original Persona on the PSX). There were a good number of popular RPGs that came before it. In terms of Western RPGs, the Ultima is practically the RPG that made RPGs what they are. It's easily one of the most important, if not the most important RPG in history. But in terms of JRPGs, Final Fantasy and Dragon Warrior (as it was known at the time) were easily the biggest players, both of which predated Pokemon by around 10 years. Even more, games like Terranigma, Secret of Mana, and Chrono Trigger were huge influences on the RPGs of today.

And I don't know how current those statements about modern RPGs are, either. As someone whose favorite genre is RPGs, it's becoming harder and harder to find commercial RPGs that actually push for grinding. And the turn-based ones have been rather unique as of late. Games like Bravely Default, Crimson Shroud, pretty much any one of the modern SMT games, Radiant Historia, etc. I would have agreed some number of years ago, because TBRPGs always had the most potential to be samey experiences, even if they had good stories. But when I see games like Final Fantasy: The Four Heroes of Light and The Last Remnant, games that change up mundane into a completely different beast, it gives me hope for unique ideas in the industry. And formulas are becoming less of a thing, with even Pokemon, one of the most stagnant RPGs I've ever seen, making big changes as of late.
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