Change is good

Recently I commented about how recent generations found the difficult balance between introducing novel Pokemon so they are relevant and how to renew interest in classic ones. I also shared that in my opinion no Generation feels as “old school RPG” as the first one, partly because of how clunky and oversymplified things are at times. Remember how in Gen I the “it’s super effective” message appeared even when dual types made you receive neutral damage? That lack of polish is part of the charm that comes with playing retro games. You work a lot in those games to experience a shard of potential that the next games in the Series always strive to find.

The Pokemon experienced has been reinvented a number of times with its shared of ambitions that fell flat and forgotten concepts. It’s a huge topic to tackle and I could go overboard with lists on the subject (most likely I eventually will), but right now I just want to state that this continuous effort to “polish” the raw gem that were the original games has always been present. But among all the Pokemon games none seems more willing to push the envelop in polish than Gen VI games.

For starters it corrected some obvious flaws that the game mechanics had been carrying since forever. In the original games Special moves were consistently stronger than Physical moves, no physical type possessed high-powered moves aside from Normal, which provided no benefit as far as coverage goes. As more games were produced Physical attacks started to catch up with their special counterparts but often they came with a terrible downside: status reduction (Super Power, Close Combat), Recoil damage (Wood Hammer, Brave Bird) or mediocre accuracy (Stone Edge, Dynamic Punch). Sure, when we got to that point the difference between the two stats seemed much more balanced, so after Gen IV, Gen V pretty much kept things the same, almost as an admission of things were solved for the best. But this state showed its limitations as in Doubles Intimidate was so prevalent that being a physical attacker was almost like a punishment in and on itself, also it was much more easily to “fill” coverage slots in singles for any special attacker by fitting a Hidden Power of a strategical type, giving the Special users a lot of extra versatility. Gen VI was smart enough to correct this state of things by tactically reducing the Battle Power of the most used special attacks, bringing them down to a level in which neither spaming STAB moves or carrying Hidden Power was as safe as it had been before.

The Critical Hit mechanics were even more clunky to the point they were mostly irrelevant. They still remain one of the most widespread sources of random hax in the game, but their effect is less dramatic after the damage was toned down to a 1.5 boost instead of the original double multiplier. Also the boosting made more sense this time around: you could achieve 100% critical hit ratio with proper set up, allowing you to exploit the advantages criticals have over other sources of damage boosting (such as ignoring Status drops and abilities that interact with the mechanic). Other battle mechanics that were too weak to be used in actual combat were boosted considerably (Wrap/Bind are the most powerful they’ve been since Gen I), but none is as prévalent as Critical hits, that can happen pretty much at any point in battle.

The last mechanic also fixed a critical flaw that had been present in every game which was the special Pokeballs in which your pokemon were caught and those you got by breeding. In older generations it was night impossible (unless you used RNG abuse) to get a decent competitive Pokemon in a Pokeball of your choice. This was because Egg moves (arguably the biggest competitive mechanic introduced in Gen II) were not compatible with Pokemon caught in special balls! So only a handful of the pokes you could catch were able to play a handful of movesets if you wanted to opt for a aesthetical pokeball choice. Because for the most part, Pokeball types are just style details and play little to no part in the rest of the game. So either you played with style or you played to win, there wasn’t a middle ground between these two things. Gen VI decided to dial back into this tradition and actually allowed new players to breed their favorites into a Pokeball of their choice if some conditions were filled.

The last change that I just presented actually stirred a bit of noise in the community, for players that went the extra mile to get their Pokemon into a proper Pokemon and make it battle-able were easily matched in the newer games by people who did not go through the same trouble. Simplification carries that kind of seed into it: it means many people have been trying hard things historically, like people who “wasted time” walking because they did not live when cars were invented. As an old player I’ve been touched by this kind of backlash, but I don’t revile change, I welcome it fullhearted as thanks to it I can play Pokemon in many different games that couldn’t be tried before, as they were too time consuming for me to enjoy them.

We have gotten hints that Gen VII will be moving further in the simplification efforts. So for me that is a reason to be excited about the things to come.

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