On December 14, Pokémon Violet & Scarlet: The Indigo Disk was released. I know this fact because I had it inscribed on my personal calendar. Given December traditionally has a sparse release schedule (after great games are pushed out in the earlier Fall for the Christmas Season), I was heavily anticipating the final piece of the Pokémon Violet & Scarlet DLC, as this was something that could be enjoyed like a whole new game. More Pokémon! More plot! More battles! I was on the edge of my seat, and downloaded The Indigo Disc as soon as it was available (and I had a few free hours to play it). I then kicked into high gear, got through all the plot preamble, and went to work stalking Pokémon across this fresh environment. I was ready, willing, and excited to fill out a Pokédex all over again!
And about five minutes later, I was playing the game while reading a comic book. If you were to see me there, looking at an iPad in one hand and a controller limply being manipulated in the other, you would assume I was bored out of my mind.
So let’s talk about what hurts so good about the mainline Pokémon titles.
We will start where Pokémon Violet & Scarlet: The Indigo Disk begins. You are introduced to a whole new area, the Blueberry Academy Terrarium, and your task is to catalogue every ‘mon inside this giant fishbowl. You are given a quick lay of the land, an easy explanation of the four distinct biomes included, and then you are ready to catch the 240 (or so) Pokémon stalking around this artificial environment. Some of these creatures may be found in earlier Pokémon Violet & Scarlet areas, but a large number (if not the majority… I do not feel like doing the math today) are unique to this terrarium. And, of course, the opening area is just lousy with wholly new Pokémon, so every last Doduo or Rhydon must be captured and catalogued.
But… Doduo and Rhydon are not new. Both of those example Pokémon are new to this game, but they were introduced with Pikachu, Jigglypuff, and the whole first generation back in 1996. And that is our first problem. There are 242 Pokémon available in the new expansion, and of those Pokémon, nine are brand new. And even that number is with the caveat that two of them are tied to a special raid/distribution that started when the DLC was first announced, and another two “paradox Pokémon” are wholly dedicated to distinct versions. Oh, and another two are “new” insomuch as they are evolutions of previously established dragons. So if you bought one $60 game and its $35 expansion, on December 14, you had the opportunity to catch three new Pokémon. Every other critter running around had already appeared elsewhere, or was exclusive to another (sixty dollar) Nintendo Switch cartridge.
Oh, and those three completely new Pokémon? One is gated behind the plot, and the other two require that you first register 200 Pokémon. So, if you have been playing Pokémon as long as the franchise has existed, you have to catch and/or evolve 199 Pokémon you have seen before. Well, 197. Two of those two hundred could be the previously established evolved dragons. So only 98.5% of your goal is recycled content. Don’t let anyone claim Gogglebob.com does not provide the proper, depressing stats.
Now, to be clear, this is not universally a bad thing. Catching “familiar” Pokémon can be satisfying for a veteran player. Pokémon Violet and Scarlet’s Rabsca, the psychic dung beetle, will never elicit a pleased reaction from me. But seeing The Sensational Character Find of 1999, Smeargle, stalking around its general area made me audibly and happily gasp. Bumping into familiar faces that had supposedly been banished to the Pokémon Negative Zone is inevitably a delightful reunion. But you also are required to catch all of these critters to earn the right to see the newest guests. And, while you might be excited about Alcremie or Hitmonchan making a return, there may be something wrong with your brain if you are enthusiastic about literally every ‘mon. Or, to put it concisely, I should never have to ambush a Pikipek ever again. And speaking of never doing something again, many of these Pokémon return with their unique evolution methods that were never fun in the first place, so good bloody luck coordinating the ol’ “double trade” involving two separate items just so you can have a viable Porygon-Z again. You technically can leave 38 registrations on the cutting room floor on your way to secure the two gated Pokémon, but you will likely have to deal with a healthy dosage of nonsense on your way to completing that Pokédex. And it is very likely nonsense you have suffered through before!
And this is all exacerbated by the fact that catching Pokémon has never been fun.
Given The Indigo Disk is an expansion on an already preexisting Pokémon title and its previous DLC, it is more or less assumed that you have already broken this game’s back over your knee before you even boot up this latest adventure. Such being the case, the “wild” Pokémon you encounter are all at levels that would give a cave dwelling Mewtwo a run for their money. But you can handle them! Just by being here, you have confirmed that you have handled everything else! In fact, it is extremely likely you already have a monster on your team distinctly dedicated to catching, and you can False Swipe and Thunder Wave to some easy catches. You have done this before! You have had to have done this before! And, while you can deliberately add some challenge to this whole process (like by using weaker, less optimized routes to weaken an opponent), why would you? You have a clear goal, and you are a goldarned human with a goldarned life, right? Why waste time on finding the least advantageous way to catch a cruddy Magby that is going to be banished to the Someone’s PC dimension forever anyway? You have Iron Boulders to catch, dammit!
But something terrible happens when you are already catching super powered Pokémon with your established super powered team: it all comes down to stupid, cruddy luck. You use False Swipe until your opponent has one HP (which takes like two rounds, tops). You use a single move to add a status effect like sleep or paralysis. And then you chuck Pokéballs and pray. Maybe you catch it on the first throw. Or maybe you inexplicably waste 30 Ultra Balls on a single resilient Electivire. Whatever the case, the active steps are over practically before the battle begins, and then you sit back and roll the dice over and over again. The best way to catch a Pokémon… Well… As previously mentioned, this is exactly why I started reading some old Fantastic Four issues with my spare hand. I am no gambler, and the “thrill” of waiting to finally get the notification that that Geodude is caught is not exactly engaging. I knew what the outcome was going to be, we just had to take extra, dull steps to get there.
Yes, this problem is magnified thanks to the conditions of the DLC. Under “normal” circumstances, you are working with your team to reach a point where they could be perfectly calibrated for catching. It is rare that you have access to all the tools for this kind of thing until the “end game”. The fact that you likely do have everything you need for this chapter is more of an exception than the rule. But this “exception” is definitely happening, and it lays bare how the act of catching a Pokémon in a traditional Pokémon game ultimately comes down to luck. And is there any way to fix that? Other Pokémon titles have tried other methods of catching, but past “main titles” and an adherence to this formula indicates nothing is going to change in the near future. Since roughly Pokémon Ruby/Sapphire (statement based on the fact that no one noticed False Swipe existed until Sceptile naturally learned it, and then the next generation stuck it on a TM), an “optimum route” to catching has been firmly established, and the last step of it has always been sitting around and waiting for the roulette wheel to stop on double zero. And the end result is always the same: gotta catch ‘em all is boring.
Yet I keep coming back to it like a dog. Hell, I keep coming back to the whole franchise like an excited golden retriever.
I was speaking to a random acquaintance about “videogame obsessions” recently, and I surprised myself by producing the very real fact that, “Come to think of it, I have 100% completed every Pokémon game.” I do not think of Pokémon as one of my favorite franchises (not in the same way I would practically die for a new Mario Bros. or Zelda [and I would kill for more Chrono Trigger]), but in this case, the proof is in the pudding. I have been playing all Pokémon titles to their absolute completion practically from the beginning (when it was damn near impossible to actually catch every ‘mon), and have intermittently gone completely insane when pursuing that goal. Yes, I did purchase a copy of Pokémon Sapphire for a friend when I was a “broke college student” under the condition that he let me leech a full set of starters off his cart before he got going. I gotta catch ‘em all. And more than it just being a compulsion, I must enjoy this on some level, right? I feel no debt to Pikachu, this is not a Voltron situation where I must purchase anything in the franchise out of some enigmatic sense of loyalty. I do not and will not “play” Pokémon Sleep. And, by Giratina, this is not even a situation where there are continual returning characters/plot that attract my devotion. Any given main character is simply “you”, all Pokémon are individual and separate dumb animals, and you are practically guaranteed to never see a human NPC after their debut (outside of more weird mobile titles). I must be playing Pokémon for the gameplay!
And… yeah. I totally am playing Pokémon for its gameplay. It is slow and stupid and I love it.
As has been mentioned previously on this blog, I bounced hard off Final Fantasy 16 at its release. In fact, it repelled me so completely, I started playing Final Fantasy 6. And I realized a significant reason for this: when playing a “plot based” game, I prefer the action to be subdued. I like the “active time battle” version of turn-based combat of Final Fantasy 6, because the lack of aggression necessary puts me in a better mood to “receive” the story. It has been proven that I can tolerate a lot of crazy bullshit if there is a “calm” battle system attached to proceedings, and even modern renovations of these systems tickle my fancy in a similar way. Final Fantasy 16, though, is an action game through and through. There are rewards for properly timing parries, or hammering that X button. And that gets my adrenaline pumping. That gets me in the mood for more action. And when I am in the mood for more action, I do not want to sit around and discuss the merits of magical slavery or a caste system that happens to include buff wizards. In fact, this is likely the reason I found Final Fantasy 16 to be “dumb”. When I am docile from chill battles, I am receptive to RPG nonsense. When the testosterone is flowing from slaying an abandoned town filled with trolls, I am in full judgmental mode. And you do not want to introduce a thinly veiled allegory for environmental decay when I am judgmental. I have already seen Captain Planet! You do not want me comparing your main character to Wheeler!
So the act of catching a Pokémon in Pokémon, a game all about catching Pokémon, is poor videogame design. But it works. It works for this low-impact world. It 100% does what it needs to do in a plot where the greatest threat to humanity is your foreign friend getting a terrible haircut. When I have my controller prepared for a new fighter in an established fighting game, I am ready for the blood to start gushing. When I am equipped for Pokémon DLC, I have a magazine at the ready. I know what I’m in for, and I enjoy it.
Even if I never need to see a pokéball to fail on catching a Tentacool ever again…
SBC #24 Greninja & Pokemon Violet/Scarlet: The Hidden Treasure of Area Zero
Greninja in Super Smash Bros Ultimate
- They any Good? Another fast “ninja character”. So, in a game all about smashing, this is one fighter that is dashing around like a maniac. I prefer smashing. But, hey, the toad has an unconventional stomp move, and that chargeable shuriken is pretty rad. Also, considering Greninja’s routes to actually smashing with water swords, we are clearly dealing with a secret anime sword guy.
- That final smash work? That whole ninja slashing across the moon thing feels cool, but it isn’t very Pokémon. More secret anime sword guy nonsense confirmed. Wait. Maybe this is a Pokémon attack, as it is basically Zoroark’s thing… again. Hopefully this is the last time we see that.
- The background work? Froakie was a Kalos starter, so we are looking at Kalos Pokémon League. Giant swords are good. Pillars of flame are good. The arena occasionally becoming a giant toilet is… different. Assuming you enjoy randomness in your randomness, this is a good stage.
- Classic Mode: Your turn, Greninja is an excuse to play with the idea of Smash characters matching Pokémon types. Bowser is a fire type with Charizard, Samus is an electric type with ‘chus, and the street fighters are fighting types with Lucario. Ivysaur fights alone because apparently no one could identify another grass type in the cast. Viridi for Smash! The final fight is Hands Type.
- Smash Trivia: Yes, Greninja’s signature “scarf” is his gigantic tongue. Given how up close and personal all the Smash Bros. get over the course of a fight, it is assumed that Greninja is the one fighter that knows exactly how every Nintendo character tastes.
- Amiibo Corner: You look closely at Greninja, and you realize he is weirdly bubbly around the joints. This is not a good thing. Do your best not to think about if your favorite Pokémon has tumors. And those side-frog eyes mean it is impossible to look this water/dark type right in the face. Good amiibo, but weird creature when you start thinking about it.
- Does Smash Bros Remember Today’s Game? The fact that Smash Bros. Ultimate never updated its Pokéballs past Pokémon Sun/Moon is a crime.
Greninja in Pokemon Violet/Scarlet: The Hidden Treasure of Area Zero
- System: Nintendo Switch. I wonder if we will one day see a Pokémon Violet/Scarlet Ultimate bundle on a future system.
- Number of players: There do not seem to be any new activities that encourage group play, so we are sticking to two players for trading/battling, and four players for raiding. Remember when the last game’s expansion introduced some whole roguish dungeon exploring nonsense?
- Did you catch ‘em all? Special thanks to Even Worse Streamer Jeanie for being the Scarlet to my Violet and helping me catch ‘em all before hitting Pokémon Home…
And is it just me, or is Director Cyrano cross eyed? Is he supposed to look like that?
- Like a rock: I do not understand how terastalizing to “stellar type” works. Or, to be more precise, I do not understand why I would want to bother. I am guessing there is some grand benefit to doing extra damage with a certain type of move, but I would rather confuse the heck out of an opponent when my Metagross switches to pure fairy type. Also, this has led to a normal type legendary, and that is an affront to mine eyes. Come to think of it, given the gimmicks are generally generational, this probably means we won’t see the turtle legendary being viable ever again.
- Say something mean: I do not care for the concept of the Blueberry Terrarium. I feel like the Pokémon franchise has always been about exploring, and finding the strange and unique creatures that might be in a place that no one has ever seen. We all know I did not catch the only Zapdos in the world back in Kanto, but the designers knew how to make you feel unique in detecting a thunder bird. But when you are completing a Pokédex for an area where Pokémon have already been wrangled, you lose something. Sure, Director, I am proud to have caught everything, but that Tauros didn’t exactly naturally occur in this Geodesic dome, did it? Paldea and Kitakami both felt more real.
- Favorite New Character: Is Carmine supposed to be tsundere? Or is she just there to show growth through gradually warming to the player?
Whatever. All I know for certain is that she is tall, has consistently good hair, and her grandpa keeps giving me clothes. Those are all the makings of a best friend forever.
- Regarding the epilogue: Pokémon Company, you did not need to create a monster that hypnotizes teenage girls into acting weird and dancing. The whole of deviantart thanks you, but the rest of society is giving you the side-eye.
- Favorite Pokémon (this batch): I cannot say enough good things about the Loyal Three coming off like classic anime villains. And we’ve got a big, green dog that cannot control his tongue? Okidogi might not have the versatility of Ogerpon, but he definitely has my undivided attention.
- Did you know? The Loyal Three and their attendant mythology is based on the real-life myth of Momotaro. Long story short: some kid is born of a peach, grabs a dog, monkey, and pheasant for company, and then slays an ogre that was stealing from the local village. Pretty straightforward distortion of the tale here. But! Since Momotaro was so closely associated with peaches, I demand everyone stop claiming Kieran has “onion” hair. It must be a peach! Even if it still looks stupid. And at least it is not a doughnut…
- Would I play again: I might be wrapping up this Pokémon adventure, but there are always more pocket monsters to find somewhere out in the world…
What’s Next? Time for a whole new world. With the Devil! Please look forward to it!