Thursday, 18 March 2010

Why is Pokémon considered to be just for kids?

Now I know a lot of people may laugh when they see this article. But seriously, why? I’ve just spent the best part of dinner today considering the base stats of different Pokémon, weighing up whether or not I could use them to kick Jo and Sneeze’s asses in battle. I’ll start with a brief (or maybe not quite so brief as past articles have shown), history of my experience with Pokémon as usual.

Like most 90’s kids I got into Pokémon around 98/99 when the Anime was first aired in Britain. I loved the show straight away, and of course I got the game for Christmas that year (in fact I got both Red and Blue, but I only ever played Blue, never got round to Red). Obviously I also collected the trading cards, even though I didn’t know how to play the TCG at the time. My fascination with Pokémon lasted until about 2001, when I was 12 and around the time of the 2nd generation games and episodes. I played Silver, Gold and Crystal, but I started to fall out with the anime at around this time, partially because I didn’t like the new Pokémon and partially because I had just started attending secondary school recently, and felt that I needed to ‘grow up’. Yeah, that seems remarkably stupid to me these days. I still liked the damn show, but I felt like people would look down on me if they knew I was into such a ‘childish’ programme. The games also fell prey to this ‘growing up’ soon after, and subsequently I ignored the release of the 3rd generation of games (Ruby, Sapphire and Emerald).

Along came 2007 and my friend decided that we should both import a copy of the new 4th generation games. With the full (and maybe questionable) wisdom of my 18 years I agreed. He got Diamond and I got Pearl (I wanted Diamond but he got there before me...) Anyway I figured by this point in my life that I really shouldn’t care what people thought about me, and if anyone had a problem with the games I enjoyed playing then they probably weren’t worth knowing anyway. I ended up really enjoying playing Pearl, but I didn’t get particularly far (I seem to remember I halted just before going to the town with the 8th gym, Sunyshore) and left it for a few months. I got back into it around Christmas 2007, when I’d started attending university and had met my current group of friends (including Jo and Sneeze). There were 5 of us to begin with, 3 who already owned the game, and 2 who got it for Christmas that year in order to join in. There are only 4 of us now, since one of the guys left the course, but since then me, Jo and Sneeze have been heavily into the deeper sides of Pokémon, like training them up for competitive battling taking Individual Values, Effort Values and Natures into account and trying to get the rarer ones that require a great deal of effort to obtain. In fact we have been to 2 events in Chesterfield and Sheffield together to obtain the legendaries Darkrai and Arceus (we went to the Arceus one just 4 days ago in fact). I personally love the fact that I can play Pokémon properly, as it’s meant to be played, with other people these days. I never got that chance when I was younger, and I don’t think there can be any argument that the Nintendo DS’s wireless capability makes things a hell of a lot easier (no more fiddling about with link cables, or even having to bring link cables with you!)

Now this is my major problem with the commonly held view of Pokémon: the system is incredibly deep. I’ll give an overview here:
Each Pokémon has 6 stats: HP, Attack, Special Attack, Defence, Special Defence and Speed. They gain Experience Points (EXP) as they battle and level up, increasing these stats. However these stat gains are influenced by various factors, one of which is Individual Values (IVs). This is a hidden number attached to each Pokémon, between 0 and 31 inclusive that determines what sort of stat gains the Pokémon will get in that stat. The higher the number the higher a Pokémon will advance in that stat. IVs can be calculated using online calculators and passed down through breeding. So, by working out a Pokémon’s IVs from its stats, you can use selective breeding (since two of the IVs are passed down off each parent) to breed the perfect Pokémon.

Next you have Effort Values (EVs). These are gained by fighting enemy Pokémon. Each Pokémon gives EVs for 1 of the 6 stats (the same species of Pokémon will always give the same type of EV), and the number is determined by their level of evolution (1, 2 or 3 depending on how many times the Pokémon has evolved). There are a few exceptions to this rule, such as legendaries which generally give 3 EVs, but since legendaries are normally one-off encounters, it’s not really feasible to EV train using legendaries. Each Pokémon can have a maximum of 510 EVs, and no more than 255 EVs in any one stat. For every 4 EVs in a particular stat, the Pokémon gains an extra point in that stat. So, a Pokémon can gain a maximum boost of 63 in any stat by being EV trained in that stat. Technically, it is better to give 252 EVs in 2 stats, and 6 in another, so that the last 3 (EV 253, 254 and 255) in each stat aren’t wasted, since these last 3 wouldn’t add up to another stat gain anyway as the number of EVs is rounded down. There are items that a Pokémon can hold in the game to boost the number of EVs they get from an encounter. These 6 ‘Power’ items give the Pokémon holding them a boost of 4 EVs of the stat to which they relate after battle, regardless of what EV type is given by the Pokémon being fought. There is also a very rare disease that Pokémon can catch, called Pokérus. This can be contracted by a Pokémon after any battle at a very small random chance. When afflicted with Pokérus, the afflicted Pokémon can pass on the disease to all other members of your active team as you fight. The important thing about Pokérus, however, is that it doubles EV gain after battle, including the 4 EVs given by the Power items. Consequently, a Pokémon fighting another Pokémon that gives attack EVs, equipped with the Power Bracer (which gives attack EVs), and inflicted with Pokérus will gain 10, 12 or 14 EVs after battle, depending on the level of evolution of Pokémon they fought, instead of the regular 1, 2 or 3, making EV training much faster. Pokérus fades from a Pokémon after a while, and after this point they can no longer pass on the disease, but they still receive the double EV gain after battles.

Pokémon also have base stat values. These are a set of numbers that give an overview of what that particular Pokémon is good at. For instance, a Pokémon with a high Attack base stat and low Defence base stat would reach a much higher value in Attack than in Defence. This must all be taken into account when choosing what to train a Pokémon in. Do you play to the Pokémon’s strengths, and try to increase those strengths, or do you compensate for the Pokémon’s weaknesses to try and make it a better all rounder?

Finally there are natures. There are 25 natures in total, such as Adamant, Modest, Hasty, Serious etc. These natures raise one stat’s final value by 10%, while lowering another by 10%. No natures affect HP, so there are 5 that raise each stat, while lowering one of the other stats. The 5 natures that both raise and lower the same stat have no effect on the stats overall. So, by manipulating this it is possible to give a Pokémon an even further boost to their stats. For example if you want a Pokémon that has a good Attack stat, but don’t care about its Special Attack stat, you would want a Pokémon with the Adamant nature, since this raises Attack while lowering Special Attack.

That’s it for Pokémon stat development (I bet you just breathed a huge sigh of relief didn’t you?), so now on to types and moves!

As of the 4th generation, moves are divided into three types: Physical, Special and Support. Support moves usually do no damage and cause some sort of effect (Poison, Paralysis, altering a stat up or down etc.) Physical moves are based on the Attack stat of the Pokémon and are defended against using Defence. Special moves are based on the Special Attack stat of the Pokémon and are defended against using Special Defence. As a side note, HP is the amount of ‘life’ a Pokémon has, when this is expended by taking damage from attacks it faints, and Speed determines which Pokémon goes first in a battle, usually the one with the higher speed, although this can be altered by certain moves. Both Physical and Special moves have Power, which determines how much damage they do, Accuracy, which determines how likely they are to hit and a type.

As I’m sure most people know, Pokémon can be of one or two of the seventeen types: Fire, Water, Grass, Flying, Electric, Rock, Ground, Poison, Normal, Fighting, Psychic, Bug, Ghost, Dragon, Ice, Steel or Dark. This has an effect on the Power of moves used by that Pokémon. If a Pokémon uses a move of its type, it gains Same Type Attack Bonus (STAB). STAB increases the power of a move to 1.5x its regular value. The type of a Pokémon determines how effective certain moves are against it. This can be 0x, 0.25x, 0.5x, 1x, 2x or 4x regular damage. 0x is when a Pokémon is immune to a type of move due to its type. For example, Ground Pokémon are immune to Electric moves. 0.25x is when a Pokémon has two types, and both are resistant to the type of move being used such as a Water move being used on a Water/Grass Pokémon. 0.5x is the same as above, but when only one type is resistant. 1x is regular damage, either when the type matchup is regular, such as Electric vs. Fire, or when a Pokémon has two types and one is resistant while one is weak, such as a Fire move being used on a Water/Grass Pokémon. 2x is like 0.5x, but when the Pokémon is weak instead of resistant, and the same goes for 4x compared to 0.25x. So taking STAB into account, a move can technically increase to 6x its regular power. For example, if the move Thunder, an Electric move is used on a Water/Flying Pokémon, both of which are weak to Electric, by an Electric Pokémon, the base power would increase from an already respectable 120 to a massive 720 (120 x 2 = 240 for the Water weakness, 240 x 2 = 480 for the Flying weakness, 480 x 1.5 =720 for the STAB). Yeah, nothing would survive that I’d like to bet.

Just as another side note, I’d like to direct you to this picture at Bulbapedia, the Pokémon Wiki if you will:
That picture shows the formula, when using the Pokéradar, of obtaining a Shiny Pokémon (a Pokémon with a different colour to usual). A shiny can be found at any time when you enter an encounter with a wild Pokémon. The usual chance of this happening however is 1 in 8192. Don’t you just love base 2? According to this formula, if you plug all the numbers in, once you reach a chain of 40 Pokémon using the Pokéradar, your chances of getting a shiny increase to approximately 1 in 200, a massive increase. The chain number that can be used in that formula caps at forty, so there is no way to increase the chance further than this.

Taking all of these things into account, you can produce Pokémon that stand a good chance in competitive battling. But now, wrestling this article back onto topic, I’d just like to point out that I have now given a fairly detailed look into the inner mechanisms of the 4th generation Pokémon games. These are systems that allow you to get the most out of the game, but I can’t really imagine many ten year old kids grasping the finer details of how these mechanisms work, such as the shiny formula I just explained. These are really complex and sophisticated systems at work, which can be manipulated with the right knowledge, and this seems to suggest to me that the games are developed as much for adults as they are for children. Sure, the look and feel of the game can be quite childish at times, but that’s because it’s aimed at children. Strip that away and you have a really deep, complex system that is incredibly fun to play. Take films such as Ice Age for instance. These films are aimed at children, but there is a lot of humour in there that can only be understood by adults. It is the same sort of thing, except that in Pokémon it is the depth of the system in place that adults can really appreciate. Besides, if you’re like me in that you’ve really stopped caring what the world at large thinks about you because since they’re by and large a bunch of boring old farts trying to grow up too fast anyway, and you grew up with Pokémon, you can still appreciate even the more childish side of the games for the nostalgia they bring.

Well I’d better wrap this up now, since I’m once again on the 4th page of the Word document I’m writing this in (I tend to do that a lot when I’m writing about games). So congratulations once again for getting to the end of one of my incredibly tedious articles (I don’t know, maybe if you’re a Pokémon fan like me you might have enjoyed it) and have a picture of a Pikachu as a reward:

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