2011-12-31: The Pokemon Story

One of the reasons I have enjoyed playing Pokemon games (and watching the anime and observing various other media it works its way into) is that I love all of the stories of the universe. I'm not going to try to claim I was there first, but I remember immersing myself in the world of Pokemon from the days when I got my first Gameboy (which happened to be a Gameboy Color) and a copy of Pokemon Red, when the anime was just starting to show up on TV. (In fact, I remember programming the television in my parents' bedroom to record it for me, because it would always start just before i got home from school. I would come home, do homework, and the tape would be rewound and ready to go by the time I was done.)

After that, I played Pokemon Crystal, and then for a variety of reasons (mainly cost, being happy with my existing game, and later, not having very much free time) I put the whole thing down for several years. Earlier this year, a set of hand-me-downs from some friends, a Gameboy Advance and a copy of Pokemon Fire-Red rekindled my interest in the franchise.

As of November, I have purchased a copy of Pokemon Black, and I've also bought my own Nintendo system to run it (A 3DS, which I'll talk about in a later post, I think.) I have six badges now and have played the game for some forty or so hours. It has been something of a journey, and this is actually the fastest I've ever completed a Pokemon game before. (In part because I've been giving it more time than I have anything else, and in part because I'm 23 today, and I was ten or eleven when I started playing my first Pokemon game.)

In the years since playing Red and Crystal, I've heard and read several snippets about the new features of the newer Pokemon games, but going all the way from the first and second generation games to today's release is rather impressive, and it has been really fun to see and use some (but admittedly not all) of the new features.

That's not all that's different though -- in Pokemon Black/White, your character begins the game surrounded by his two childhood friends (you don't really meet your adversary until the second town) who receive the other two starters at the same time you do. You very quickly learn about the kind of people your two friends are -- by battling with them!

Bianca is your friend who is kind of an air-head. She means very well but she's not completely thinking about exactly what she's going. As you (and likewise, she) move(s) through the Unova region, it becomes clear that Bianca's reason for taking the Pokemon League challenge isn't to become the strongest, but rather, to see the world and grow up as a person.

Your other friend is Cheren, whose goal is quickly revealed to be becoming the strongest. Most of your interactions with Cheren involve him having simply no clue why you (the player) were able to beat him. (The fact that I trained my Sawk and Unfezant up to Lv. 40 and 41 respectively when he challenged at Lv. 33 probably isn't related.) Cheren spends much of his time both trying to become stronger, and trying to determine what "stronger" is -- especially after a few encounters with the region's current champion, Alder.

That brings me and my thoughts about the game to an interesting point: In the original Pokemon Red game, there were no mechanisms by which you could determine whether or not your pokemon liked you. Pokemon Gold/Silver/Crystal added just a few of these implements, but a lot have been added in later generations, and in Black/White, there's at least as much game to be played in how your character interacts with and raises his pokemon, not just what their stats are and how successful your Pokemon are in battle.

In addition to actually measuring how much your pokemon like you, the game does a lot to frame your character as essentially the Ash Ketchum of the Unova region. Ash (or Red/Gold as the trainer's default name had been in previous games) isn't specifically referenced, but it's said frequently by the characters that "you" are a very even, middle of the road kind of person, with a strong personality. Additionally, your character meets almost every gym leader before the actual battle, helping them clear Team Plasma out of the way. After the official gym battle, nearly every leader talks about what an honor it has been to work with your character and The whole region is really interested in you specifically, even characters that in previous games would not have been introduced, such as Cedric Juniper, the father of Professor Juniper, who provided your original Pokedex.

Speaking of Team Plasma, their leader "N" also frequently comments to your character that he seems different from most of the other trainers in the Unova region. N is pretty interesting in that he's not exactly a villain, but he's also not really above using some Machiavellian tactics in order to achieve his goal, which ultimately, seems to be "treating the Pokemon nicely." In my experiences with N so far, it's unclear exactly what he wants to do in order to take care of the Pokemon who are so mis-treated. However, I can tell you that if the franchise weren't so squarely aimed at the younger markets, N would probably totally be asking the main character out on a date. I'm sure there's hundreds of thousands of words of fanfiction pairing N and the main character. N/Bianca is probably uninteresting, and she's a little bit too innocent anyway. N/Cheren wouldn't work unless N's goal is to get Cheren to realize that becoming the most powerful trainer isn't the most important goal. (I suspect that N/Cheren would only be a ploy on N's part to deactivate Cheren and reduce the total number of rivals he must face... for... uh... his goals.)

Anyway. I've got two more badges, an Elite Four, a Chapion and a few rivals and friends and teams to battle before I can (sort-of) count myself among the true Pokemon Masters of the Unova region. I'm looking forward to completing most of this in the next week or so, and then working on completing the Pokedex, completing side-quests (such as showing some scientists the Deerling, which change with the in-game seasons) and generally poking around until I find something better to do with my time, or the piece of hardware I bought specifically for this game. (I admittedly overbought, but there was other justification involved.)

And with that, I'd like to take just a moment to speculate on the possibilities of a Pokemon game on the Nintendo 3DS hardware. The 3DS hardware is pretty great, a nice jump up (both in size, and in computing and the potential to interact with the world) from the DS/DS-Lite. The 3DS has a pedometer, which could (and let's face it, probably would) be used with a new Pokemon game in the same way that HeartGold/SoulSilver (which I'd like to play at some point) used the Pokewalker. The StreetPass functionality also has more or less untold potential awesomeness in it, especially for people who frequently have the game system on their person in densely populated areas (with other people who do the same) -- like malls, school campuses, or anywhere in a nice metropolitain area.

So... yeah. Pokemon!