Love/Hate – Dark Souls 3

Love

  • Refined Game Engine – As groundbreaking as the Souls games are, they have always been incredibly janky and take some time to get used to how clunky they can be (not to mention the extremely poor performance that the first two games had across multiple platforms). Dark Souls 3 is built off of the Bloodborne engine and thankfully no longer has these issues. The game looks gorgeous and runs at a pretty stable 30fps on consoles. While 60fps would probably be ideal for a fast-paced action game, 30fps would have been a pipe dream for earlier games in the series, so I’ll take what I can get at least.
  • Increased Combat and Game Speed – Dark Souls 3 takes some pages from Bloodborne in its design, one of which is the noticeably increased speed of the combat and enemy aggression. Your reflexes are certainly put to the test more often and it also helps that the game’s animations have been made are far more fluid and responsive. As a result, simply playing Dark Souls 3 feels better than it has in previous entries in the series.
  • The Bosses Are Better Than Ever – I would go out on a limb and say that Dark Souls 3 has the best-designed bosses in the entire franchise. This is because basically every boss now has multiple stages when their health bars reach a certain point, meaning that you are no longer stuck repeating the same patterns to defeat a boss throughout the entire fight. Naturally, this makes the bosses harder, but I find them so much funner and satisfying, and it really makes the bosses in the previous games feel less challenging as a result. Particular highlights include The Abyss WatchersDancer of the Boreal Valleythe Twin Princes of LothricThe Nameless KingThe Demon in Pain and the Demon From Below (funnest gank fight since Ornstein & Smough in my opinion) and especially Slave Knight Gael (the funnest, most epic fight in all of Souls, hands-down).
  • The Game World is Hauntingly Gorgeous – Dark Souls 3‘s story is one of a world that is dying because the flame can no longer be sustained and the age of dark must finally come to pass. The game world really conveys this well, with some really well designed areas and imagery, such as the scores of dead pilgrims who collapsed from exhaustion outside the high wall of Lothric, the familiar characters you find long dead on our journey (the giant blacksmith was bad enough, but no, how could you kill The Fair Lady too?!), to the evocative image of the dark sun in the game’s final areas.

Mixed

  • Weapon Arts – Other than the increased game speed, Dark Souls 3‘s biggest addition to the combat system is weapon arts, special abilities or attacks that each weapon can perform. It’s a pretty cool idea, but one which could have probably been implemented a little better as the arts are generally the same across each class of weapon, only really changing on some special weapons.
  • Nostalgia Reliance – I didn’t mind this too much myself, but it’s undeniable that Dark Souls 3 relies on nostalgia for the original Dark Souls throughout the game. From the numerous callbacks to characters and items, to the areas which are revisited (most notably Anor Londo). Some of this game’s “original” characters are also just straight rip-offs of previous characters, such as Siegward of Catarina, which just takes away from this game’s own identity and contribution to the franchise. Furthermore, Dark Souls 2 kind of gets the shaft, with only a few items and equipment sets carrying over, a handful of characters and one area is referenced (Earthen Peak, in the DLC). The story doesn’t even acknowledge Dark Souls 2 at all, which is somewhat surprising considering that that game was about overcoming the undead curse. It definitely would have been nice if the game had been a bit more equitable about calling back to both of its predecessors.

Hate

  • Disregards Dark Souls 2‘s Game Improvements – …and speaking of ignoring Dark Souls 2, while some elements from that game certainly didn’t need to carry over (eg, life gems, limited enemy spawns, etc), there were certainly some improvements which didn’t make their way to Dark Souls 3 for whatever reason. Dual wielding in power stance is probably the most obvious omission, and while you can dual wield some special weapons using weapon arts, it isn’t nearly as effective or viable. Bonfire aesthetics are also a very sorely missed feature, meaning that you have to replay the whole game once again if you want to replay a section. Even mixed-up NG+ enemy placements have been removed.
  • Linearity – Linearity is not a bad thing in itself, but in a Souls game it is incredibly disappointing to see, especially considering how interconnected the first game was. Dark Souls 3 is by far the most linear game in the series, offering only a few short, branching paths on the journey (the most significant of which is incredibly difficult to achieve, requiring the player to beat a mid-game boss who can easily one-shot them at the very start of the game). As a result, replays will almost always have more or less the same progression each time.
  • PVP Is Weak – I’m not really into the PVP scene in Souls games, but apparently Dark Souls 3‘s system is the worst in the series. This is, in part, due to more limited build variety (for example, spell casters are less viable because spells have been weakened overall and require multiple ring slots to make their damage output comparable to other builds). In addition, PVP in this game is a total gankfest. This is actually something I’ve witnessed even without being into the PVP, because invaders will often end up facing off against 1-4 defenders and be destroyed instantly.
  • Some of the Bosses Still Suck – For all of the boss improvements in Dark Souls 3, there are still quite a few bosses which are pretty bad. Deacons of the Deep is the lamest boss in the base game, only really being difficult if you don’t have a lot of magic defence investment to survive a cheap one-shot. Meanwhile, the Ancient Wyvern is basically an over-glorified set-piece that can be cheesed instantly if you know what you’re doing. Oddly enough, Dark Souls 3 also has the distinction of having the most inconsistent DLC bosses in the series. The Ashes of Ariandel DLC’s bosses are both amongst the worst bosses in the game. The Champion’s Gravetender and Gravetender Greatwolf don’t even feel like a boss fight and is just plain unfair if you can’t kill the Gravetender before the Greatwolf spawns. Meanwhile, Sister Friede is the dirtiest, most unfair boss fight in the entire franchise: her first phase is fun, but then in the second phase she gets a whole new health bar and you get ganked alongside a raging Father Ariandel. If you somehow manage to beat them in this phase, THEN Sister Friede gets resurrected with another full health bar and is even more deadly than in either previous phase. She’s also super fast, debatably too fast even for this game’s increased combat speed. This was by far the least-enjoyable boss in the entire game for me, and while I generally play these games without summoning, I had absolutely no illusions about completing this fight summon-free. Meanwhile, in The Ringed City DLC, Halflight, Spear of the Church is arguably the most boring boss in the entire game.

Love/Hate – Bloodborne

While it isn’t actually a part of the Souls series, Bloodborne is in a similar mold with some very key differences. In fact, FromSoftware would take inspiration from Bloodborne and carry it forward to the Souls-series proper. As a result, it’s clearly worth lumping this game into this love/hate series and see how it relates with the main franchise.

Love

  • Fantastic Style and Aesthetic – Bloodborne‘s biggest asset is definitely its aesthetic. Whereas Dark Souls is somewhat stifled by its fairly generic western fantasy style, Bloodborne has a much more stylish aesthetic, mixing steampunk, Gothic architecture and eldritch horror elements together to create a stunning world which is just incredibly cool to inhabit. This also extends to the game’s fantastic soundtrack, which further helps to sell the setting. Werewolves, religious fanatics and Lovecraftian horror in one package? Sign me the hell up!
  • Combat System is Really Fun – Despite appearing very similar on the surface to Dark Souls, Bloodborne‘s combat system is one of the main things that sets it apart:
    • Whereas Dark Souls emphasizes patience and defence, Bloodborne encourages aggression and speed. The speed of combat has been increased significantly through increased character fluidity, more aggressive enemies and the game’s lack of viable shields, meaning that you have to dodge constantly if you want to be successful.
    • Contributing to the aggressiveness of this game is the Rally system, which allows you a couple seconds after taking a hit to regain lost health by damaging the foe. This can be the difference between life and death in a tight situation and can save you having to use a blood vial to heal if you’re quick enough. Whole playstyles can be built around this system and it really does make you want to be more aggressive and risky while playing because you’re rewarded for your efforts.
    • Also contributing to the fun combat system is that every weapon has a secondary function which changes their moveset in interesting ways. For example, the hunter’s axe is a short-ranged slashing weapon, but can be extended to a two-handed weapon to give it increased range and sweeping attacks, whereas Ludwig’s Holy Blade is a longsword that can be sheathed into a slow and heavy greatsword. These are just a couple examples, but it’s a really cool system that makes all of the weapons far more interesting and fun to use. Plus these trick weapons actually make a noticeable difference in combat, some being more viable in certain situations.
  • Exploration is Very Rewarding – Bloodborne is arguably the Soulsborne game closest to recapturing the sense of exploration and interconnectedness of the first Dark Souls. It is considerably more linear and flat in comparison, but the game’s world is more interconnected than Dark Souls‘ sequels. Also, perhaps most importantly, it rewards exploration with some fantastic and meaty hidden areas. Discovering the pathway to the haunted castle of Cainhurst was one of the moments that made me fall in love with this game in the first place.
  • Memorable Characters – I would argue that the cast of Bloodborne are at least as iconic and memorable, if not moreso, than the cast of Dark Souls. Eileen the Crow and Lady Maria in particular are unforgettable and have stuck with me to this day (to the point that I have posters of each of them). The game also has such interesting and complex characters as the Plain Doll, Gehrman or the imposter Iosefka, not to mention even the minor characters such as the Odeon Chapel Dweller and Arianna which are quite memorable in their own right.
  • Streamlined Mechanics – While Bloodborne uses a lot of the framework of Dark Souls, many of the more complex elements have been streamlined or removed. Some people feel like this makes Bloodborne a lesser experience, but I feel like it’s just trimming the fat and focusing on pure enjoyment rather than busy work. For example, equipment load has been eliminated entirely (halle-freaking-lujah), meaning that you can focus your stats entirely on your actual preferred weapon loadout, rather than struggling to wear any kind of armour. Also, weapon upgrades are significantly easier, requiring only larger chunks of blood shards to increase your weapon’s damage and slots that you can put various damage-altering runes into. Magic has also been streamlined to items that you can use which spend your blood bullet supply and are just based off of one stat.
  • Some Fantastic Bosses – Bloodborne has an array of fun bosses, nearly all of which are top notch. Father Gascoigne, the Bloodstarved Beast, Martyr Logarius, Vicar Amelia, and Rom the Vacuous Spider are all great fights in the main game. The DLC also knocks it out of the park with some unforgettable and difficult fights. Lady Maria of the Astral Clocktower in particular is the boss which made me fall in love with the sweet, sweet satisfaction of trying and retrying a boss until you have learned their patterns. Ludwig, Laurence and the Orphan of Kos are also extremely difficult bosses, providing some of the ultimate challenges for veterans and newbies of Souls games alike. Soloing all of these bosses recently on a NG+ playthrough was one of the most exhilarating experiences I’ve had playing a video game, especially Ludwig and the Orphan, both of whom felt impossible to beat when I first played.

Mixed

  • Chalice Dungeons – The game’s chalice dungeons are an interesting and unique addition to Bloodborne which haven’t really appeared elsewhere in Souls games. They are procedurally-generated dungeons that offer players the opportunity to hunt for rare loot and face off against greater challenges and restrictions (such as defiled dungeons which halve your health bar). They also have some unique lore (providing the background to the game’s events), enemies and bosses that can’t be encountered elsewhere, giving them more prominence to the game experience. Unfortunately, chalice dungeons are also just kind of a slog in part due to the procedurally-generated nature of them which makes them all feel “samey”. Some people might be into them, but the only reason I forced myself through was that I had to in order to get the game’s Platinum trophy (and was by far the biggest obstacle to achieving that goal).
  • Invasions Are Rare – Due to removing hollowing from this game, FromSoftware had to change the way that invasions work. In Bloodborne you can be invaded if an enemy ringing an ominous bell appears in your world, which happens when you call for a co-op partner, or in certain areas where they spawn naturally. On the one hand, this allows players to control when they expose themselves to invaders rather than having it be constant, but it does make them very rare to come across.

Hate

  • Low Build and Equipment Diversity – Players who are used to Dark Souls‘ “play however you want” philosophy will probably be disappointed by Bloodborne‘s comparatively-limited selection of weapons and equipment. While each of these weapons play fairly differently due to the trick weapon system, the game just has less options across the board. With no encumbrance stat, players are forced into a light armour character. Magic isn’t really an option either – you can acquire items, such as the awesome Augur of Ebrietas, which serve a similar function, but are not something you can create an entire build around due to their very limited uses. Firearms are also rather limited, requiring excessive investment in Bloodtinge in order to do any real ranged damage, making them only useful for parries usually.
  • Blood Vial Farming – Bloodborne‘s healing system involves a consumable item called blood vials, which you can carry up to 20 of at a time. Unfortunately, they have to be acquired throughout the game world. You might easily have hundreds of blood vials in your inventory, but you can hit a difficulty spike that drains all your blood vials, forcing you to go back to earlier areas in order to farm more. I had this happen once or twice late in my first playthrough and it was incredibly annoying. This was even worse when the game launched, because your on-hand inventory wouldn’t automatically refill from your supply when you died.
  • A Couple Lame Bosses – Bloodborne‘s stable of bosses has less stinkers than most Souls games, but there are a few which stand out because of how much lower their pedigree is than the others in this game. The Witch of Hemwick in particular is not very challenging at all, and Micolash is embarrassingly weak for a late-game boss, and you spend more than half the fight just chasing his cowardly ass through the arena. In fact, the last 2 or 3 bosses before the final boss(es) are pushovers in comparison to the early-to-mid game bosses, suggesting a lack of proper playtesting to balance them out.

Love/Hate – Dark Souls 2

Love

  • Some Memorable Characters – Somewhat surprisingly, Dark Souls 2 has a lot of characters which hold up as well (or maybe even better) than the colourful cast from the original Dark Souls. Nearly all of the characters in Majula have their own memorable personalities, particularly The Emerald Herald (best waifu in the Dark Souls series, in my opinion). The NPCs you meet in the world are also pretty memorable, especially the very tragic Lucatiel of Mirrah, who is desperately fighting to hold onto her sense of self as the curse of the undead gnaws away at her memories. Even the bosses and their stories can be pretty interesting, especially King Vendrick’s tragic fall from grace which forms the backbone of the game’s narrative (and that’s not even mentioning the very compelling stories told in each of the DLCs). While many of the characters aren’t as important to the story as, say, Solaire of Astora or Lautrec, even minor NPCs such as Rosabeth of Melfia, Gavlan or the freaking ladder salesman Gilligan have their own interesting quirks that help you remember them long afterwards.
  • Best DLCs in the Franchise – The Three Crowns saga is straight-up the best, most generous package of DLC in the entire franchise. These three DLCs are by far the best content in Dark Souls 2, with some really fun areas to fight through and great boss fights (few fights in this series match the cinematic splendour of jumping into hell to fight the Burnt Ivory King). That said, each of these DLCs have at least one boss which is incredibly underwhelming and areas which are amongst the worst in the game, but thankfully these parts are all totally optional and intended as challenge areas.
  • UI and Mechanics are Refined and/or Simplified – Dark Souls 2 features a number of gameplay changes from Dark Souls, some of which are better than others:
    • Having most of the blacksmiths and shops in one central hub area is a great improvement in my opinion, having to scour the world to find smiths would definitely have been a pain in the ass if I had to do it two games in a row (you do have to find the boss soul traders and infusing blacksmith in the world though). Plus weapon upgrades have been significantly streamlined, so it’s no longer such a pain in the ass to try to get your weapon to the maximum level.
    • Online PVP is much more viable than in Dark Souls because the servers have been significantly improved and there are more dedicated PVP/PVE areas. I don’t tend to play much PVP, but the general consensus seems to be that Dark Souls 2 has the best PVP in the franchise in part because of this.
    • Dual-wielding has been significantly improved. It was technically possible in Dark Souls, but Dark Souls 2 changes up the mechanics to make it a much more viable and unique playstyle for players looking for a bit more risk.
    • Lots of small, but amazing changes, such as equipment load percentages being viewable on the equipment screen, the level up UI being more informative, being able to move while using estus, more ring slots hell yes, being able to use consumables without having your menu close, being able to respec your stats, etc.
  • Humanity System Makes More Sense – I really hated the humanity system in Dark Souls 2 when I first played, but now that I can see what FromSoftware were going for it makes way more sense to me, especially compared to the first Dark Souls. In Dark Souls 2, each time you die your HP max drops until you reach a 50% decrease. This is reversed by using a Human Effigy to restore your character’s humanity (plus you can find a ring pretty early on which makes the maximum health drop cap at 75% rather than 50%). The result of this is that players are actually incentivized to stay human more often now, which encourages more co-op, invasions and other online interactions which you could just ignore in the first game because of how difficult it could be to remain human. Of course, you can still just play hollowed all the time (like me…), but the system does encourage interaction with the game’s online component far more effectively than you would expect.
  • Bonfire Aesthetics – One of the cool additions to this game is the bonfire aesthetic item, which respawns enemies and bosses in an area, but at a higher difficulty. Have an area or a boss which you liked but don’t want to replay the whole game to get back to it? Use a bonfire aesthetic! It’s a great change which (spoiler alert) I really wish had carried on into future games.
  • New Game+ Changes – NG+ has received some much-needed changes which make it more enticing. First of all, Dark Souls 2 doesn’t force you into NG+ as soon as the final boss is beaten, rather you get to choose when to go into it. In addition to tougher enemies and keeping your equipment, NG+ also features new enemy placements, making replays more interesting, surprising and challenging than simply replaying the exact same game. It doesn’t change the game substantially, but it’s a nice feature.
  • Some Truly Top-Tier Bosses – Dark Souls 2 features the most bosses in the entire franchise, and some of them are simply amazing (particularly the DLC bosses). The aforementioned Burnt Ivory King is one of the most visually spectacular bosses in the entire series, while Fume Knight is widely considered one of the best bosses in the entire series. Other really notable bosses in this game include Sir Alonne, Flexile SentrySmelter DemonVelstadtSinh, the Slumbering Dragon and Aava, the King’s Pet. Considering how many of these bosses are from the DLC, it really shows you how high the quality was in those. In addition, even the worst bosses are still a fair bit more challenging than many of the bosses from the first Dark Souls, with far more attacks and animations (compare a relatively lame boss like the Dragonrider with the Asylum Demon and its very limited and exploitable animations – the Asylum Demon’s a more memorable fight, but I’d argue that the Dragonrider is at least mechanically more interesting).

Mixed

  • Enemies Stop Respawning – After killing an enemy enough times (around fifteen kills), that enemy will stop respawning each time you die or rest at a bonfire. I’m really mixed on this. On the one hand, it cuts down on some of the frustration of trying to run through an area over and over again if you keep getting stomped. There’s also another purpose for this change though – to prevent you from farming for souls and items, unless you use a bonfire aesthetic and make the game harder for yourself. I appreciated it at times when I was getting to grips with the combat system of Dark Souls 2, and there are certain boss runs which are absolute bastards until you thin out the enemies this way, but I’m pretty mixed on the concept overall. It feels like a bit of a crutch, plus it encourages frustrating game design if you can just grind your way to the boss room by killing enough enemies over and over.
  • Unrestricted Fast Travel – Fast travel was a mid-game reward in Dark Souls, but in Dark Souls 2 you have it pretty much immediately. Considering how this game is laid out, it’s definitely a necessity for this to be the case, but it’s undeniable that it cuts down on the memorability of the game world compared to the original.
  • Graphics Are Noticeably Worse – In my opinion, Dark Souls 2 looks worse than the original Dark Souls, in part due to less atmospheric effects and because the game’s dynamic lighting engine was gutted before release. The only reason I put this under mixed is because this has given the game some performance increases compared to the notoriously badly-optimized Dark Souls. Unsurprisingly, the framerate on the Scholar of the First Sin port on PS4 hits a steady 60fps, while apparently the PS3 version of Dark Souls 2 runs better than the original as well.

Hate

  • World Isn’t as Interconnected – Considering that the world design is generally considered Dark Souls‘ greatest strength, it’s unfortunate that from Dark Souls 2-onwards, the series moved to a more linear and flat world layout. That’s not to say that the game is totally linear; from the hub area of Majula, you can head in a few different directions as you please. However, the way that these areas are laid out is much more linear, like each path out of Majula is a singular, long path outwards to the next major boss, with links to other areas being exceedingly rare. After the revelation that was Dark Souls‘ world design, it really is a shame that the world was designed this way.
  • Slower Combat System – Dark Souls 2 has arguably the slowest combat system in the whole series, even slower than the first game in some respects. This partially because the healing system has been changed to where estus recovery is significantly slower, filling your health bar over the course of a few seconds rather than practically instantly. The game has also introduced life gems, providing additional, even slower healing to top up this. Add in the slow enemies and attacks and you have a game which can just be sluggish at times, especially when compared with Bloodborne or Dark Souls 3.
  • Enemy Tracking – FromSoftware obviously realized that backstabs were too easy to pull off in Dark Souls, but they arguably went too far in the opposite direction here. In this game, enemies track you extremely quickly, even in the middle of attacks (meaning that they will wind up an attack and you think that you have dodged it, but then will be hit anyway because the enemy attack tracked you). Obviously, this just feels cheap when it happens, especially since Dark Souls 2 is also considered to have some of the most questionable hit boxes in the series.
  • GANK – Dark Souls 2 is notorious for just throwing scores of enemies at the player and saying “good luck!” Admittedly, Dark Souls did this at times as well, but Dark Souls 2 does it far more often and far more notably (nearly half of the boss battles in this game have multiple enemies to deal with). It just feels like they were focusing more on the difficulty rather than making it fair for the player. The level of gank also doesn’t help the combat speed much, as you’re forced to lure enemies in and play very cautiously to survive.
  • Some Awful and Uninspired Areas – Some of the areas in this game are just the absolute worst, for two reasons:
    • There are some areas which are just the absolute worst in Souls. I would probably rather play through Lost Izalith, the Demon Ruins and face all of the Anor Londo archers than have to traverse Black Gulch again (although I might take it over Tomb of the Giants…). Poisonous statues raining bullet-hell throughout the level every time you take a step while enemies charge at you? Ugh. Shrine of Amana is also often cited as one of the most bullshit areas in the game due to its hidden insta-death ledges and bastardly long-ranged spellcasters, although I don’t mind it quite as much as most people do. I think my least favourite area in the main game is the boss run to the Executioner’s Chariot, which is not only long and annoying, but features ganks from enemies that can easily two-shot you and ignore your shield and is capped off with a very strong, respawning phantom before the boss. The lead-up to the Smelter Demon is also ridiculously brutal as you get swarmed by absolutely swarmed by Alonne Knights. That said, everything pales in comparison to the DLC areas the Iron Passage and the Frigid Outskirts, two of the absolute worst, least enjoyable areas in any Souls game. This just shows that FromSoftware forgot that these games are supposed to be difficult, but fair. The only positives of these two areas are that at least they’re optional, but they were so stupid that I just stopped trying very quickly.
    • Even the decent areas are often just boring and uninspired, especially compared to Dark Souls. Most of the areas just feel like generic fantasy settings (particularly the Forest of Fallen Giants and Lost Bastille area), with only a few such as the Dragon Aerie or Earthen Peak standing out for being visually interesting.
  • Some Truly Awful Bosses – Dark Souls 2 has the most bosses of any Souls game by far, and it’s exceedingly obvious that FromSoftware were going for quantity over quality here because the boss selection is by far this game’s weakest aspect. There are a number of instances where the bosses just feel thrown in for no good reason, but here’s the absolute worst offenders:
    • First of all, there are the uninspired bosses, such as the Belfry Gargoyles (an infuriating gank rehash of the Bell Gargoyles), Scorpioness Najka (a really boring ripoff of Chaos Witch Quelaag), Old Dragonslayer (literally just Dragonslayer Ornstein, reused for basically no discernible reason) and the Twin Dragonriders (the early-game Dragonrider boss, but only with two this time!). The DLC also has similarly boring reskin bosses, the blue Smelter Demon and two giant tigers, both of which cap off the aforementioned worst areas in any Souls games, giving the player and even bigger middle finger for attempting them.
    • Then there are the bosses which are basically just mobs of regular enemies. The Royal Rat Vanguard is literally just a group of rats, with one mohawked rat that you need to kill to win. There’s the Skeleton Lords, which are just a random bunch of skeleton enemies that explode and turn into an even bigger mob of skeletons (ugh). There’s the Prowling Magus and Congregation, which is arguably the worst “boss” in the game because they’re no stronger or more challenging than any of the actual regular enemies you face and just feel thrown in pointlessly. Oh, and then there’s the extremely shitty gank squad optional “boss” from the DLC, which basically forces you to run around in circles kiting the enemies until you can cheese them to death. Fun!
    • Oh, and then there are the truly awful bosses, ones who are just ridiculously badly designed. The Covetous Demon is absolutely pathetic, giving pushovers like Pinwheel a run for their money as the easiest bosses in any Souls game. This giant Jabba the Hutt just lies there while you wail on it, occasionally flopping over to try to hit you, but often missing. It’s just sad to witness. It can do a lot of damage if you get hit and are being too greedy yourself, but it’s never going to feel like a real challenge. I also consider the Old Iron King to be a really poor boss fight unfitting for a Souls game. Basically, the boss has the most obvious and slow attacks, telegraphing exactly what he’s going to do and then leaving his fists down for no other reason than for you to hit him multiple times, because he’s a video game boss. The only challenge in this fight is that the boss can very easily get a cheap kill by knocking you out of his arena, which is just utter bullshit. Similarly, the Ancient Dragon is often considered one of the most bullshit bosses in Souls, due to its enormous health bar, its insanely huge area of attack fire breath and that its damage output is enough to one-shot most builds. It’s just straight-up not fun to fight.

Love/Hate – Dark Souls

I recently began replaying Dark Souls, this time on PS4 with the remastered edition. Having played a ton of Soulsborne and Souls-like games in the past few years, it’s fascinating going back to the game which really popularized the modern action game formula. I’m definitely enjoying myself, but that got me thinking about all the things I love and hate about this franchise and the subgenre it spawned… and wouldn’t you know it, I have a series on this blog which is about just that! So without further ado, here’s what I love and hate about the original Dark Souls!

Love

  • Amazing World Design – This is arguably the best part of Dark Souls, where it really shines and is still unmatched, even by its successors. I’m going to split this into a couple parts to cover it more thoroughly:
    • Dark Souls‘ world is designed sort of like layer cake. Each new area is connected to the others in an organic way, and it isn’t uncommon to be exploring and to catch glimpses of other areas that you will soon be exploring or to discover a surprising shortcut to an area you previously visited (which is extra important because fast travel is unavailable for most of the game, and even then only in a limited capacity). Furthermore, the areas all stack on top of each other vertically, a very unique approach to an open world which is rarely attempted. The unique design with the shortcuts littered throughout give the entire world map a memorable interconnectedness that sticks with you long after your journey is complete.
    • The game is designed in a very non-linear fashion. There is an intended path for newer players which is evidenced by the difficulty of the enemies in each area, but there is technically nothing stopping players from risking going off this intended path into much more challenging areas for their level. In fact, the loot that you can acquire for doing so might make the challenge worthwhile, especially for veteran players. Furthermore, the game also has an optional starting item, the Master Key, for experienced players which makes the early game even more non-linear as it allows you to explore these higher-level challenges much sooner. To make this even better, the game actually has some special rewards for breaking the intended path, such as (SPOILER ALERT):
      • If you kill the sunlight maggots early enough, you will save Solaire of Astora from a tragic fate and allow him to be summoned for the final boss battle.
      • If you beat the Artorias of the Abyss DLC (end-game content in terms of difficulty, so that’s no light feat) before fighting Sif, she will actually remember the player but fight to defend her master’s honour anyway, giving the fight an even more melancholy air to it.
    • The vertical open world design even has thematic significance, as the homes of the (questionably moral) gods of light are found as you ascend the layer cake. In contrast, the darkest places are found as you descend, all the way down to the lowest point of the world in Ash Lake, where humanity itself and the Dark Soul was found. Considering that environmental storytelling is a crucial method in which the game’s narrative is conveyed, this thematic significance is particularly brilliant.
  • Unique Character Designs – In addition to the amazing world design, FromSoftware also really nailed the art designs for the different characters and bosses in this game. This includes the NPCs, such as the instantly iconic designs of Solaire of Astora and Siegmeyer of Catarina. The bosses are also incredibly creative and have elements meant to symbolize their characters. Rather than just having a dragon, instead we get the Gaping Dragon, which has turned itself into a huge maw in order to consume more. Or what about Gravelord Nito, a being made up of piles of bones and whispy darkness. Hell, even extremely underwhelming bosses, such as Pinwheel, have incredibly well-thought out designs – in his case, he wears three masks because he’s trying to resurrect his dead wife and child. FromSoftware just always puts this really creative spin on their creatures and it’s part of the fun of discovering what sort of twisted abomination they’re going to throw at you next.
  • Build Freedom is Insane – Perhaps the coolest thing about the Souls series in general is just how much freedom the player gets in determining their character build. You get two slots per hand, plus two magic rings and a handful of item slots to use however you see fit. You can run all manner of swords (short, long, greatswords, freaking ultra greatswords), axes, spears, bows, shields and various other exotic weapons, not to mention three varieties of magic with their own lengthy spell lists. Oh and did I mention that all of these weapons can be upgraded with elemental properties which wildly change their damage output? Hell, if you’re insane, you can even choose to run around punching everything to death. And that’s just the weapon options, you’ve also got tons of armour sets (from light, medium and heavy) and your stat distributions which can complement any playstyle, from clerics, to tanks, to melee fighters. Basically, if you can think it, it can be done and you can probably make it work. I like to play the melee glass cannon – minimal HP investment, but very high stamina and strength, running around with a claymore for heavy damage output. The way I see it, if I’m getting hit by more than a couple enemy attacks, I deserve to be killed.
  • Surprisingly Rich Story Told in an Unconventional Way – The Souls games are very unique for the manner in which they tell their stories. Rather than conveying narrative directly to the player, the story is told through the environment and item descriptions, which encourages the player to piece the story together themselves. While it is possible to entirely miss the point of everything that happens in the game because of this, it actually makes the game significantly more engaging and rewarding. Even then, the base mythology of the game is also very interesting and makes for a compellingly, strikingly bleak world.
  • Resource Management – I know that Demon’s Souls was the basis for this idea, but Dark Souls really popularized the notion of strategic stamina regeneration and healing in modern action games. FromSoftware struck a perfect balance between the game’s speed and the stamina regeneration, making it feel like an essential part of the game rather than a burden on the player.
  • Some Absolutely Amazing Bosses – The Souls games are renowned for their bosses, and Dark Souls has some of the biggest standouts in the whole series. So with that in mind, I’m going to shoutout some of the bosses which deserve special praise:
    • Artorias the Abysswalker is probably the funnest boss in the game. The funnest bosses in Souls games are often built off of Artorias’ foundation – a large, single warrior duelling you with relentless, heavy attacks, leaving just enough openings to sneak in a hit if you’re skilled. Every game in this franchise features at least one boss which is built in the mould of Artorias, and considering that they’re almost always top-tier bosses, it should really show you just how good Artorias is. The nice thing about these kinds of duels is that they don’t rely on gimmicks exclusive to the boss battle, rather you’re testing your skill with the game’s combat system.
    • Black Dragon Kalameet is one of the funnest dragon battles in the whole series, posing an exceptional challenge to the player while remaining totally fair. A lot of bosses this early into the Souls series feel less refined than later entries, but Kalameet is still a standout boss to this day.
    • Ornstein and Smough are probably the most iconic boss duo in the entire franchise; I was aware of their reputation years before I even faced them for the first time. The fight itself is exceptionally difficult, but manageable if you focus them down skilfully. They’re also probably the best gank fight in the series, with their differing speeds and attack patterns not feeling like utter bullshit to fight. That feeling when you finally defeat Ornstein and Smough is one of the most satisfying moments in the entire franchise.
    • I also want to give some smaller shoutouts to Great Grey Wolf Sif, Chaos Witch Quelaag, the Bell Gargoyles and the Sanctuary Guardian.

Mixed

  • Backstabs Are Too Good – I like backstabs in this game, especially for the weaker enemies when you’re a low level. However, they are a little too easy to pull off in this game due to the speed of the game and the way enemies attack. It becomes less of an issue later on in the game when there are less humanoid enemies, but if a player relies too much on backstabs then those later sections of the game are going to be way more painful. I feel like later games in the series handled backstabs a little better and made them harder to pull off, but they are a bit too easy here.

Hate

  • Really Obtuse Mechanics – It’s one thing to make the player intuit the game’s story themselves, but it’s entirely another thing to force them to understand a myriad of unexplained game mechanics. Some stuff, like equipment load percentages, are just not conveyed and make playing the game more of a chore, but there are other mechanics which are significantly worse:
    • Hollowing and kindling is a mechanic that I still don’t understand properly in Dark Souls. In this game, you use the Humanity item to gain humanity which apparently gives you some statistical bonuses (and scales with certain weapon types) the more you have. Humanity can be spent to reverse hollowing and to kindle bonfires in order to have more estus flask uses. None of this is explained to the player at all, particularly the stat-bonuses. Considering that humanity is a fairly rare resource, you become hollow upon death and can lose all of your “liquid” humanity if you don’t retrieve lost souls, it’s like the game penalizes you for using it. As a result, I usually play the Souls games in a hollowed state 99% of the time, because I hate using finite resources on the off-chance I’ll need them later. Hollowing is supposed to represent despair and growing apathy and I think that later games in the series conveyed that idea far clearer than Dark Souls.
    • Covenants can be really confusing and don’t have as many benefits or consequences as you would hope. They basically just encourage some roleplay and online interaction, but the feature isn’t very well fleshed out, nor is there much reason to feel devoted to your covenant.
    • Weapon upgrades are a HUGE pain in the ass, which is particularly unfortunate since I’d argue that it’s the most important aspect to keeping up with the game’s difficulty curve (try facing off against the Bell Gargoyles with a +1 or +2 weapon vs a +10 weapon, the difference is night and day). In order to upgrade your weapons, you need to collect titanite shards and require larger shards as the weapon is upgraded higher – okay, that’s fair enough. However, Dark Souls takes it to a stupid level from there. Let’s say you want to add elemental damage to your weapon. First, you need to find an smithing ember, which are hidden throughout the world. Then you have to find the blacksmith who can actually use that ember (did I mention that there are 4 different blacksmiths scattered throughout the world?), and then give it to them. AND THEN you need to have special types of coloured titanite which drop in specific areas to actually upgrade some of these weapons (but not all of them, because that would just be too complicated apparently). Even then, you have to take stat scaling into account, which is different for each weapon and changes when you add elemental damage, potentially making the weapon worse despite being “upgraded”. And that’s not even including special weapons, although at least these are pretty simple, requiring only twinkling titanite, dragon scales or demon titanite to upgrade (these are all very rare items though). Weapon upgrades are just a huge pain in the ass to manage in Dark Souls, and were in serious need of streamlining.
  • NPC Questlines Are Easy to Miss – Some of the most compelling stories told in Dark Souls are done through interactions with NPCs. Characters like Solaire of Astora and Siegmeyer of Catarina are unforgettably charming and compelling as you follow their journey through the world, and each questline ends in truly heartbreaking fashion if you can see them through. However, NPC questlines are incredibly easy to miss as you explore the world – do something at the wrong time and you could easily never see one of these colourful cast members again. It’s not like the characters give you clear hints where they’re headed next either, they’ll just show up unexpectedly and if you happen to pass their way then lucky you.
  • Janky Game Engine – Considering how successful Dark Souls was, it’s easy to forget that FromSoftware was a relatively small studio with a limited budget, and as a result the game has some pretty questionable design at times. Most notoriously, the game was really badly optimized in its initial launch on PS3, Xbox 360 and (especially) PC. The framerate in Blighttown and New Londo in particular was brutal, often dropping into the unacceptable neighbourhood of 10-15fps. The online performance was also very questionable and led to really frustrating moments with invaders lagging all of the place and backstabbing you out of nowhere. Most of these issues have been addressed in the remastered version of the game, but there are still some eccentricities that have been maintained, like the hilariously weightless ragdoll effect on dead enemies.
  • 4 Way Dodge Rolling… But Only While Locked On? – Dodging is a key skill in Dark Souls‘ combat, more skillful and rewarding than hiding behind a shield. Normally you can dodge in any direction, but for some reason when you lock onto an enemy this gets restricted to only 4 directions (forward, backward, left, right). I don’t understand this design choice at all because it’s not like encounters play out in a grid-like fashion to make this make sense and I’ve had this system throw me into enemy attacks unintentionally because of how restricted it is. As a result, when you get more skilled at the game you basically have to lock on and off of enemies to get around this arbitrary limitation.
  • Bosses Have Limited Movepools and AI – Perhaps owing to the fact that it’s the first game in the series, Dark Souls has a lot of bosses which are very predictable and exploitable due to their limited amount of moves and reactions. For an example of this, check out my low-level takedown of the Stray Demon – if I get behind it, it has only two attacks it can use with limited ways to actually hit me, meaning that I can basically just repeat the same pattern to whittle it down with little danger to myself. There are other examples throughout the game such as the Gaping Dragon which constantly jumps in the air when you get behind it, rinse and repeat. That said, the bosses do improve as you progress, and the DLC bosses are all top-notch. Also, some of the mini-bosses are pathetically exploitable, especially the stationary ones such as the hydra and the zombie dragon (which will just puke poison in front of it uselessly while you wail on it with arrows from far away).
  • Some Incredibly Frustrating Moments… – Sometimes Dark Souls is just an utter bastard to the player, with moments you just plain dread in subsequent playthroughs. Trying to fight the Hellkyte Wyvern is one example, as that thing will stunlock you with fire if you even try to approach it. The notorious Anor Londo archers are particularly egregious and there’s basically nothing in the game up unto that point which will have prepared you to face enemies that will knock you off of thin platforms with their arrows. I got stupidly lucky in my original playthrough and got past them on my first try, but in my remastered run I died to them so many times before I figured out a strategy through significant trial and error (basically, run and let them fall to their deaths like idiots). Sen’s Fortress is also a nightmare gauntlet of difficult enemies and traps, while Blighttown’s poisoned lake is just ridiculous (again, I got extremely lucky in my original playthrough and got through all the rickety platforms to the bonfire on my first attempt, in spite of the crap framerate).
  • …and Areas That Are Just Not Fun – While the above areas are frustrating, there’s at least some fun and skill to be had in overcoming the challenge. There are other areas though which are just awful, particularly in the latter portion of the game:
    • The Tomb of the Giants is stupidly dark and absolutely no fun to navigate as a result. To make matters worse, you’ve got enemies you can’t see firing arrows at you and giant quadrupedal skeletons which will rip huge chunks off of your health bar, all while you’re trying to avoid falling off of a ledge when you can’t see more than a few feet ahead of you. It doesn’t help that there are only a couple items you can equip to slightly illuminate the darkness, which could potentially leave you without a shield to defend yourself. The only nice thing I can say about the Tomb of the Giants is that at least it’s a relatively small area and that the views of Lost Izalith and Ash Lake are gorgeous.
    • …speaking of Lost Izalith it, along with its predecessor area the Demon Ruins, is the nadir of this game without question. Perhaps the worst aspect is that the areas are really uninspired, with long stretches of nothing of note (hell, there’s a good 20-30 seconds of flat, featureless terrain to run through every time you want to enter the Demon Ruins). The enemies are copy and pasted all over the place at random and are totally motionless until you aggro them, making this area feel super amateur. Hell, the enemies in this area are often filled with previous bosses the Taurus Demon and Capra Demon, not to mention one notorious section with an enemy which is literally the ass-end of the zombie dragon hastily re-purposed into a new enemy type. Rather than providing a fair challenge, the Taurus Demons and dragon asses don’t even respawn, which transparently signals that the developers knew that they weren’t fun but needed to have some sort of challenge. Capping the whole area off is the hands-down worst boss in the entire franchise, the Bed of Chaos, which is more of an exercise in frustration than anything else and which you will spend more time running from your bonfire to the boss room rather than actually fighting. FromSoftware has stated that they ran out of time and budget with Lost Izalith, and it really shows, even to the point where they included a shortcut that lets you bypass about 80% of it.

Love/Hate: Pokemon Gen 7

Generation 7 (Sun, Moon, Ultra Sun, Ultra Moon)
Love

  • Much-Needed Gameplay Refinements and Improved Accessibility – I’m going to break this down into two parts:
    • On the refinement end of things, HMs are finally dead!!! Thank freaking God, now whenever you would need to use an HM move, a Pokemon will appear which does it for you. This system is just so much better in every possible way. Gen 7 also brought in an improved battle screen which now gives you more information: the number of boosts or debuffs on a Pokemon, turns remaining for some special conditions and even whether your moves will be super effective or not. Some veterans might feel like that last refinement especially is “casualizing” the game, but I personally like it and feel like it doesn’t really hurt the game in any way – veterans already know the type matchups, so it’s good for teaching them to newer players. You can also remove status conditions after battle without having to use an item, which can be handy. On the other end of things, gyms have been replaced with island challenges and totem Pokemon, which I’m not so keen on, but the HM refinement was so good that it makes up for anything else.
    • On the accessibility end of things, getting into the competitive side of Pokemon has been made even easier than ever, to the point where Nintendo actively encourages it on the Pokemon website. Gen 7 sees the introduction of hyper training (which lets you max out your Pokemon’s IVs!), the ability to see your Pokemon’s IVs and EVs, passive EV training on Pokepelago, etc. The barrier to entry to get into the competitive scene has dropped significantly in the past 2 generations.
  • Z-Moves – Some people will complain that Z-Moves aren’t as “flashy” or “game-changing” as mega evolution was and I was initially unconvinced that they weren’t going to be more than another power creep gimmick. However, I feel like Z-Moves are a fantastic addition which has really improved battling. For one thing, they increase the viability and versatility of every Pokemon, not just a handful of special Pokemon like mega evolution did. Plus, every move gets some sort of special Z-Move effect, from increased attack power to special effects for some status moves which make them significantly more viable (eg, formerly useless moves such as Splash and Celebrate now give a +3 Attack boost and +1 to all stats, respectively, making many of outclassed moves actually worth using if you’re creative enough. You also have to strategize a lot more about who to give the Z-crystal to, which move to use it one, when to use it, etc.
  • Really Strong Story – Except for maybe Gen 5, Gen 7 has one of the best stories in the whole series, which is mainly down to some very memorable characters. I feel like Sun and Moon‘s story is a definitely more satisfying and coherent compared to the changes which were introduced in Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon, but they’re both definitely in a completely different league than nearly every other Pokemon game.
  • Alola Formes – These were such a fantastic idea which needs to be revisited in future releases. Basically, the Alola region has some Gen 1 Pokemon who have major type and design differences, similar to real-life animals which change in different habitats. These aren’t just small changes either, some have wildly different typings which fundamentally change how they are played. Plus the redesigns were (for the most part) great, especially the exquisite Alolan Ninetails. This feature has to be maintained going forward!
  • Alola Region Is Incredibly Distinct – There have been a number of interesting Pokemon regions throughout the years, but Alola has to take the cake for having the most personality to it. Clearly based heavily on Hawaii and its culture, the entire region, characters and its Pokemon revolve around this theme. Compared to, say, the Kalos region a generation prior, this really makes this generation stand out.
  • New Pokemon Are Design for Battling – Every single one of the new Pokemon have really unique gameplay design, which makes them all very interesting and worth trying out. Like, I’m not kidding when I say every single one, even this generation’s early-game Rattata, Caterpie and Pidgey equivalents, Yungoos, Grubbin and Pikipek respectively, have unique abilities, stats and evolutions which help them to stand out amongst an increasingly crowded roster of Pokemon.

Mixed

  • SOS Calls – Having gotten through the main game of both Moon and Ultra Sun, I really appreciate the SOS Call feature, where a Pokemon can request another Pokemon to come to its aid when it’s on low health – it’s fantastic for EV training, shiny hunting and EXP grinding. However, during your story playthrough, these things seem to happen all the time and they just become a pain in the ass if you try to fight through them. Considering that a dedicated player is going to spend the bulk of their playtime in the post-game, this feature is more of a positive to me, but I can remember myself and my brother getting extremely frustrated at all the SOS calls during our initial playthroughs so it’s worth a mention.

Hate

  • Too Many Cutscenes – Holy bloody crap this game constantly interrupts you with cutscenes. It’s so bad that it took me months to actually get through Moon because I just could not get into the game with the incessant start-and-stop gameplay. Many of these are tutorials as well which are completely unskippable, no matter how basic they may be. The cutscenes themselves are also unskippable, including the ending video which must have been at least 15 bloody minutes long. Much like Mass Effect 2 and its mining minigame that you have to perform to get a good ending, this just shoots replayability down the tubes, because there’s no way in hell I’m going to sit through all of that again.
  • Festival Plaza – Compared to the PSS in Gen 6, Festival Plaza is a huge step down in efficiency and functionality as this generation’s online hub. The idea of having your own home circus where you can meet with others is cool, but the server stability isn’t the best and it takes way longer to do anything that it should. The idea of having booths to get in-game benefits, such as levelling up a Pokemon, buying items or acquiring bottle caps, is also cool, but in execution they’re a pain in the ass because getting Festival Coins to pay for these is such an unenjoyable grind. In order to get FCs, you have to complete awful mini-game missions, limited global challenges, or talk to random people in your plaza. Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon attempted to sort of fix this by tripling the FC yields and by introducing the mediocre and frustrating Battle Agency, but even then, getting FCs has always been more of a necessary chore rather than something I look forward to.
  • Why Not DLC? – Gen 7 has some weird issues. On the one hand, there’s basically nothing to do in Sun and Moon after the main quest, other than train competitively or shiny hunt. On the other hand, Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon introduce a ton of new side content, but are arguably barely worth getting if you own the original releases, only really making them a begrudging purchase because they introduce some new Pokemon for completionists. So this begs the question of why Game Freak hasn’t gotten with the times and just incorporated DLC? I mean, the answer is because they’ll get more out of you if you rebuy the game, but that is obviously utter bullshit on their part.
  • Ultra Beasts – I’m a bit mixed on Ultra Beasts, leaning towards negative. I get that they’re supposed to be not technically Pokemon, so the fact that they all have very odd designs which clash with typical Pokemon design philosophy gets a bit of a pass for me. However, some of them are just plain ugly, particularly Buzzwole and Blacephalon, and they don’t do much to allay some fans’ fears that the series was “better in the old days”.
  • Again, Too Many Legendaries – Officially, Gen 7 has the most legendaries of any game to date. This is in part because some of them actually evolve, such as Cosmog and Type: Null, but we still have the four guardians, Necrozma, the 3 mythicals and then the Ultra Beasts (I’m not sure if they technically count as legendaries, but they feel very similar in status to me and I have always seen them as such). It’s just too much for me and that means that, of the new Pokemon introduced in this generation (not including Alola formes), a whopping 29% of them are legendaries or Ultra Beasts!

Best Pokemon of Gen 7: Primarina, Rowlet, Trumbeak, Rockruff, Bewear, Tsareena, Minior, Poipole, Stakataka
Shittiest Pokemon of Gen 7: Incineroar, Crabominable, Araquanid, Comfey, Turtonator, Bruxish

Thanks for reading this series, it was really fun to write! I think I’ll make Love/Hate into a new series here akin to the Retrospectives. I don’t have any other ones in mind yet, but I’ll keep this series concept in mind going forward.

Love/Hate: Pokemon Gen 6

Generation 6 (X, Y, Omega Ruby, Alpha Sapphire)
Love

  • New Graphics Engine Shines – The pseudo-3D sprites in Gen 5 were impressive, but Gen 6’s fully 3D models were definitely the direction that the series needed to head into going forward. It looks much cleaner and refined, and is so good that they’ve basically just gone and reused all of the models in Gen 7 and (I think) Pokemon Go as well. Oh and the new 3D models meant that shines could be made significantly more creative, with Gen 6 and 7’s shiny Pokemon being universally regarded as the best in the series. The engine itself is also much faster than the DS games were, with saves being basically instantaneous, and Kalos itself is quite beautifully and distinctly designed.
  • Player Search System – The PSS is probably the smoothest and cleanest online integration in any Pokemon game, making trading and battling with friends and strangers an absolute snap. This also introduced the Wonder Trade feature, which is always a fun little roulette wheel to spin.
  • Fairy Type – Similarly to the introduction of Dark and Steel Types in Gen 2, Gen 6 introduced the Fairy Type in order to make up for some of the typing imbalances that Gen 5 had created, while also giving an offensive boost to the Steel type and giving the underpowered Poison type a huge boost. This has gotten the balance of the typings back into a good place, although some might feel that the Fairy type itself is maybe a little too good.
  • Player Customization – This was a feature I never really expected to get, but when we got the ability to customize our avatar’s look, this was basically the only thing I started spending my money on in these games.
  • Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire‘s Gimmicks – The Gen 3 remakes brought in a few new features to the Gen 6 engine which are basically just small gimmicks, but they are so cool that they’re worth mentioning. The first is the 2 different bikes, which allow you to perform tricks and reach otherwise inaccessible areas (or just straight-up go faster). The second is the Eon Flute, which lets you freaking fly a Latios/Latias in real-time around Hoenn!!! This feature is just plain amazing and has the secondary benefit of making Fly no longer a basically-mandatory HM to navigate with.
  • Friend Safari – I personally really liked this addition, which looks at your friend list and assigns them 3 Pokemon which can be caught in the friend safari (although they need to be online for you to get all 3 of them). It’s nowhere near as fleshed out as the old safari zones, but it was really cool adding friends to try to get ahold of these exclusive and Hidden Ability Pokemon.
  • Mini-Games Are Actually Fun and Useful – The mini-games introduced in Gen 6 are actually quite fun. Pokemon Amie is like Nintendogs for Pokemon, and it’s adorable and amazing, while giving some boosts in battle if you want them. Meanwhile, Super Training makes EV training easier and more accessible than ever. Oh, but the returning Contests from the Gen 3 remakes still suck of course.

Hate

  • Stupidly Easy – As anyone who played a Gen 6 game what stuck out the most to them and odds are that the first or second thing they’ll say is that these games are way too easy. The Exp Share gets a lot of flack for this, but even without it the game is just stupidly easy. Like, in Gen 4 I would often be 10-20 levels lower than my opponents, but in Gen 6 you have to go out of your way to not be overlevelled. Apparently the difficulty was scaled down because there were worries about casual gamers and mobile games at the time, but the difficulty of these games makes them boring to replay.
  • I Don’t Like Mega Evolutions – This one is YMMV because I know some people really love their megas, but I really don’t like them. They’re definitely a flashy new feature and probably the most notable new addition to Gen 6, but I really dislike them because I feel like they limit your options. I mean, there are a very limited selection of Megas and if you want to run, say, a Charizard, Aerodactyl or a Lucario, then why wouldn’t you throw a mega stone onto them? You’re basically gimping yourself if you don’t. Plus if you see one of these Pokemon on the other team then you know that there’s a very good chance they’re running a mega evolution, limiting the potential variety. Or, for that matter, if you’re running a competitive team then you’re probably going to need a mega on your team (unless you’re running a very particular strategy) because they are so much stronger than any regular Pokemon, meaning that your pool of potential Pokemon is down to one of the 46 Pokemon which can mega evolve, and the Pokemon who missed out are just even more outclassed than ever. I get that some people will argue that megas make older Pokemon more viable by giving them these kinds of power boosts, but I feel like there are better ways to combat that kind of power creep than this. Plus it’s not like all megas are created equally, so we’re ultimately just continuing the same issue of having some Pokemon be significantly more viable than others.
  • Lack of Identity – After the clear attempts to reboot the franchise in Gen 5, Gen 6 plays things much safer. X and Y feature a ton of nostalgia-baiting, bringing back lots of old Pokemon at the expense of new ones. In fact, this generation introduced the fewest new Pokemon, at 72 (which is likely down to resources going into the new graphics engine and all the new mega evolutions, which just highlighted the nostalgia-focus even further). On the one hand, this helped to bring back people like me who hadn’t played a Pokemon game since Gen 2 and get them up to speed on the games I’d missed. On the other hand, it just really makes Gen 6 itself fairly unmemorable. The fact that Pokemon Z never happened also probably affected this, as the traditional “third version” of each generation is almost always better.
  • Weak Story – After the strong story of Gen 5 and the intimidating villains in Gen 4, you can’t help but feel that Gen 6’s story is a bit of a letdown. The story mostly feels like a “power of friendship” tale, juggling 4 different “rival” characters who are more akin to friends on a sightseeing trip. Team Flare are stylish, but much closer to the goofy incompetence of Team Aqua and Team Magma rather than a true threat. Lysandre is actually a pretty interesting primary villain with a cool motivation, but he doesn’t get enough to do and shows up a bit too late to make a major impression. Plus none of the gym leaders or elite four stand out either, which just further compounds how forgettable much of X and Y can be.
  • HMs Are Still a Thing – Why, 6 generations in, are HMs still an element of these games!? I mean, in X and Y they at least scaled this back down to only 5 essential HMs, but the Gen 3 remakes are still chained to 7 HMs. It’s just so frustrating that these are still a thing, even when Game Freak clearly can see that they’re a problem and scale them back as much as they can.
  • Origin Marking System – Starting in Gen 6, only Pokemon caught or bred in games released during or after Gen 6 could be used in battles using competitive rulesets (eg, most online battles or the battle spot). The result of this is that legacy Pokemon which you could have been using since Gen 3 were suddenly unusable in competitive play, meaning that you’d have to rebreed them (if possible). I wonder if this might have been introduced due to the rampant hacking in Gen 5, but the result is enough to make me hesitant to go back to earlier games because I know that I won’t be able to use any of the Pokemon that I use and get attached to again going forward.

Best Pokemon of Gen 6: Chesnaught, Delphox (I don’t understand the hate it gets), Greninja, Vivillon, Sylveon, Goodra
Shittiest Pokemon of Gen 6: Diggersby, Slurpuff, Barbaracle (the ugliest Pokemon in the entire franchise for me, I despise it)

Tune in soon for the next entry where I’ll cover the newest entries in the series, Generation 7.

Love/Hate: Pokemon Gen 5

Generation 5 (Black, White, Black 2, White 2)
Love

  • Insane Refinement and Ambition – Gen 5 was the first generation of Pokemon since Gen 2 to have a second game release on the same system, meaning that the team at Game Freak could build on their existing engine and spend more time on the finer details which would otherwise get overlooked for time reasons. Such things include:
    • On the smaller end of things, there are the quality of life improvements such as no longer taking damage from poison outside of battle and that Pokemon Centers and Pokemarts are now combined into one handy location! HMs have also been reduced in both number and importance, and TMs can now be used infinitely.
    • On the bigger end of things, the ambition of Game Freak in this generation was insane – 156 new Pokemon, tons of new moves and abilities (including new Hidden Abilities for nearly every existing Pokemon), dynamic camera angles in the overworld and in battle, and the music is also context-based. I mean, just read this description of the music from the Gen 5 article on Bulbapedia to get an idea of how insane the design was on this game: “The overworld music also changes in certain circumstances. Almost all the routes now have instruments that differ between the seasons, and layers that activate and deactivate when the player walks or stops, respectively; while music that plays in some towns and cities have layers that can be added by talking to citizens. These people can be seen playing different musical instruments like piano, guitar, etc.”
  • Animated Sprites – All battle sprites are now animated, change based on battle conditions (eg, low health or status conditions) and the camera can pan and zoom around them. This is just an insane amount of ambition because, by this time, there are now 649 Pokemon that have to be individually animated. You can certainly understand why it wasn’t done earlier (and why they dropped sprites after this game), because the amount of work that this must have required is mind-boggling.
  • Best Story in the Franchise – If there’s one thing that Pokemon Black and White are known for, it’s their really strong emphasis on story. At times, the emphasis on story makes the Gen 5 games feel closer to a traditional RPG than any other Pokemon game. Previous entries in the franchise had made some attempts at a story, but Gen 5 makes their attempts look completely half-hearted. Team Plasma are probably my favourite villainous team in the franchise, with a plan which is actually somewhat morally grey, as they want to free Pokemon from being caught and trained (there’s more to it of course, and their ultimate leader Ghetsis is a truly sinister bastard). The biggest highlight of the game’s story though is your character’s foil, N. He’s your antagonist, but he is not an evil person by any means. He is legitimately fascinating in his conviction and in how willing he is to change if you can prove that your convictions are stronger. Also worth noting is that all the gym leaders and major characters you meet are given personalities and, by the end of the story, they will have come back (including one epic showdown with all of the gym leaders coming to your side).
  • Major Version Differences – Each of the games in this generation have some pretty big thematic and aesthetic differences which go beyond the character and palette swaps that Gen 3 experimented with. Gen 5 goes so far as to include wildly-different version exclusive areas and Pokemon, with White‘s region appearing more rural and “traditional”, while Black‘s region is more urban and even futuristic. It can feel like you’re missing out if you don’t have both versions, but at least it makes it feel like you’re not just playing the exact same game if you do get both.
  • Alternate Formes – Pokemon that can change their “forme” have been around since at least Gen 3 with Castform and Deoxys (or even Gen 2 if you count Unown), but Gen 5 really cranked this feature up a notch. Nearly every legendary and mythical Pokemon gets some sort of alternate forme that they can activate, which change up their designs, stats and options in interesting ways. It’s a creative way to fill out the roster without having to rely on new Pokemon or evolutions.

Mixed

  • No Classic Pokemon – In Black and White, you can’t catch any non-Unova Pokemon until after the main quest is completed. On the one hand, I kind of like that it forces you to use different Pokemon than you might have otherwise, but this is obviously going to piss off a lot of people who don’t care for the new Pokemon and it does restrict your options a fair bit on each playthrough. Black 2 and White 2 do open up the roster a fair bit earlier though.
  • Linearity – Basically every Pokemon game is fairly linear, with only Gen 1 having any real freedom in the later stages of the game, but Gen 5’s emphasis on story takes this to a new level. It’s certainly a worthwhile payoff in my opinion, but it does make replays a bit harder to get into.
  • Seasons – I’m mixed on the season feature in these games. The day/night cycle in previous games was fun and wasn’t too inconvenient for players to get around. However, having your seasons cycle once every month is just painful at times, especially because certain items and optional routes are only available during specific seasons. That said, it is (again) ambitious and visually stunning to change many of the areas in the game every month, so I’m a bit mixed on it. Also, Deerling and Sawsbuck’s visual design changes in each season, which is quite striking to witness.

Hate

  • The Pokemon Are Polarizing – Sure, Game Freak were super ambitious introducing 156 new Pokemon in one game and if it worked out well then it could potentially recreate the feeling of discovering Pokemon all over again from back in Gen 1. However, I can’t help but feel like this actually resulted in a design philosophy of quantity over quality, which has resulted in some major issues which undermine all of the technical refinement this generation brought us. Plus, considering that Pokemon design is the backbone of this series, the fact that this generation’s roster is so mixed is an absolutely crippling issue:
    • Many of these new Pokemon just feel over-done and straight-up ugly at times. Kyurem and its fusion formes especially look awful and are pretty much emblematic of the cliche at the time that Gen 5 came out that the “Pokemon are starting to look like Digimon“. Some players may feel like Zekrom and Reshiram fit into this issue as well, but over time they have become straight-up two of my favourite legendaries in the whole series.
    • In general, the Pokemon designs themselves are extremely hit or miss this generation. Some evolution likes are just incredibly dumb or lazy, rehashing some of the absolute worst aspects of Gen 1 design (eg, anthropomorphizing a random object [Vanillish], or adding another piece onto the Pokemon to make it “evolve” [Klinklang], etc). Like, as much as people like to complain about Garbodor*, which is literally a Pokemon made of a pile of trash, it’s far from the worst-designed Pokemon in this generation. While a number of the Pokemon in this generation have since grown on me (such as Conkeldurr, Ferrothorn and Litwick), this generation still has by far the most Pokemon designs which I straight-up dislike (see: the shittiest Pokemon of Gen 5 below).
    • There are also a lot of new Pokemon which are clearly just meant to pay homage to classic Pokemon, which just makes the generation feel more uncreative and even makes Gen 5 feel like one of those wannabe knock-off Pokemon games at times. Without making too much of a stretch, it’s pretty clear that:
      • Woobat line = Zubat line
      • Audino = Chansey
      • Conkeldurr line = Machamp line
      • Sawk and Throh = Hitmonchan and Hitmonlee
      • Gothitelle = Jynx
      • Ferroseed line = Pineco
      • Klink line = Magnemite
      • Bouffalant = Tauros
  • Power Creep – It is generally acknowledged that power creep really noticeably set in in this generation, with many of the new Pokemon being straight-up stronger or, at least, better optimized than their older counterparts (many of which were designed for a time before the physical/special split was a thing and when the movepools were significantly more limited). This also marked the point where Fighting and Dragon-type Pokemon began to run rampant and making weather conditions last indefinitely made “weather wars” a defining aspect of the competitive scene.
  • Mini-Games Still Suck – Contests have finally been dropped this generation, but in their place we instead get Pokemon Musicals, which are arguably even more throwaway (although, on the plus side, they changed how Feebas evolves now, making acquiring Milotic less of a hair-pulling experience).
  • Dream World/Dream Radar – This key feature allowed you to play mini-games online in order to acquire rare Pokemon with hidden abilities… however, the servers for it have been shut down for years now, which rendered many Pokemon’s hidden abilities unobtainable outside of trading or breeding for years before Game Freak made obtaining Hidden Abilities possible again. Back in the day, I’d probably have considered this a plus, but the fact that this important addition was so time-limited and not something you can go back to really rubs me the wrong way as someone who likes to go back and replay old Pokemon games.
  • No Auto-Levelling Online – Just… why? Gen 4 had auto-levelling in online battles, meaning that all of the Pokemon would be scaled to a fair level, but for God knows what reason, this was removed in Gen 5. This is probably why the competitive scene tends to be at level 100 in this generation, but that means you have to get each and every one of your competitive Pokemon up to level 100 to do anything.
  • XP System – Gen 5 made a weird change where Pokemon gain more or less XP when a Pokemon is defeated based on the difference in their levels, rather than static XP gains based on the Pokemon. On the one hand this means that it’s very difficult to get over-levelled and means that lower level Pokemon will catch up faster. However, I feel like this isn’t nearly enough to make up for the fact that it makes grinding so much worse. Doesn’t it make more sense to just have lower level Pokemon’s XP yields suitable for lower levels, but trivial for higher levels like it is in basically every other generation?

Best Pokemon of Gen 5: Serperior, Whimsicott, Lilligant, Carracosta, Zoroark, Cinccino, Sawsbuck, Galvantula, Elektross, Haxorus, Volcarona, Reshiram, Zekrom
Shittiest Pokemon of Gen 5: Watchog, Simisage, Simisear, Gurdurr, Palpitoad, Throh, Sawk, Scraggy, Gothitelle, Reuniclus, Klinklang, Cryogonal, Kyurem (particularly its fusion formes), Basculin

Tune in soon for the next entry where I’ll cover Generation 6.

*For what it’s worth, I kind of love Garbodor.

Love/Hate: Pokemon Gen 4

Generation 4 (DiamondPearlPlatinumHeartGoldSoulSilver)
Love

  • Physical/Special Split Totally Changed the Game – As I’ve said before, in the first 3 generations, moves were classed as special or physical, depending on their typing (eg, all Water attacks were special, all Normal attacks were physical, etc). Gen 4 brought the long-overdue physical/special split, which made it so that attacks physical or special classing was based on the move rather than the type. This revolutionized battling, build variety and build viability in so many ways. For example, Pokemon whose attacking stats didn’t line up with their typing (eg, Flareon and Sneasel had high attack, but Fire and Dark-type moves were all special) could now take advantage of moves which matched their stats. This also made the multiple Water-type HMs a bit less of an issue, since Surf was now special and Waterfall was physical. In my opinion, this is straight-up the biggest and most important change to the core gameplay that the series has ever seen.
  • Challenging Difficulty – Having played nearly every generation of Pokemon games, I can say without a doubt that Gen 4 is by far the hardest in the franchise. The difficulty in these games can be truly savage at times, but it makes battling much more satisfying as a result. Some people might get frustrated by the difficulty, but as a series veteran, I can still remember some of the most intense, down-to-the-wire battles I had where I was 20 levels lower than my opponent and managed to eke out a win through superior strategy and just a bit of luck. This generation also brought in powerful battle items such as the Life Orb and Choice items, which are key items in competitive battling and which are very helpful to overcoming the challenge in these games. The intensity of this generation’s battling is unparalleled, making it straight-up the best generation for those who love Pokemon battles, in my opinion.
  • Touch Screen is Well-Utilized – As the first Pokemon game on the DS, the new hardware afforded the series a touch screen to work with, which is used in this game to house a number of handy apps which can be selected by the player. Some of these are basically useless (Coin Toss, Calendar, Roulette), but most are incredibly handy and save you having to constantly menu-dive for information.
  • First Truly Evil Antagonists – Previous criminal organizations in these games tended to be underwhelming. Team Rocket, while classic, are just incompetent thugs who cause mischief because it’s fun. Meanwhile, Team Aqua and Team Magma may have some pretty sinister plans (either flooding the world, or increasing the landmass), but they suffer because their goal made absolutely no sense and there’s no real motivation for it. Team Galactic, while somewhat bland, are at least straight-up evil, which makes facing off against them much more satisfying. I mean, these guys set off bombs, kill Pokemon and want to reshape the entire universe to suit their needs. Giovanni is always going to have a place in our hearts, but Cyrus of Team Galactic makes him look like a punk.
  • Gen 2 Remakes – While FireRed and LeafGreen are considered good remakes of Gen 1, HeartGold and SoulSilver are popularly considered the best Pokemon games ever released, full-stop. Combo the already-great core of the Gen 2 games with Gen 4’s battling improvements, add some new story beats and cool features (most notably, the first Pokemon in your party will follow you around like in Pokemon Yellow!) and you have an absolute beast of a Pokemon game.
  • Online Connectivity – Gen 3 had actually had some online functionality, but it wasn’t until Gen 4 that this was a widely-used and well-integrated feature. While being able to trade with strangers across the globe did make “catching them all” significantly easier than it was in previous generations, it was definitely a great new feature and necessary way to take advantage of new technology.
  • Item Storage – Finally, finally, item storage in the bag is now unlimited!

Mixed

  • New Evolutions – In general, Gen 4 has a strong lineup of new Pokemon. I’m not a fan of some of their designs (Drapion’s teeth have always bothered me, Carnivine just looks silly and is there anyone who likes Burmy and Wormadam?) and others are weird but grow on you over time (Drifblim and Skuntank for me, and I absolutely love Purugly), but perhaps the most interesting taking point is that a significant number of the new Pokemon in Gen 4 are evolutions for Pokemon from previous generations (26 of them, to be exact). Introducing a new evolution for a Pokemon is a delicate affair, as it can potentially mess up previously well-liked designs. Gen 4’s handling of this is… mixed, so say the least. Some of the new evolutions are just plain fantastic (Togekiss, Mismagius, Honchkrow, Leafeon, Glaceon, Gliscor, Mamoswine and Froslass), others are either underwhelming or awful (Lickilicky, Magmortar, Probopass, Rhyperior and Mime Jr), and others just make you wonder why they even bothered (Mantyke and Happiny).
  • New Art Style is a Step Down – Gen 4’s sprite work is easily as good, if not better, than Gen 3. However, the additional horsepower of the DS has been utilized to (presumably) save the art teams work on the overworld, because the game environments are now 3D rendered. While this makes sense, it just doesn’t look anywhere near as bright or high-quality as the full sprite work in Gen 3 did.

Hate

  • Everything Is Slow – Whatever new game engine they made the DS Pokemon games on, it is slower than molasses. Saving might be the worst of it (it can take 10-15 second each time), but it’s far from the only problem – surfing, battle animations, waiting for a health bar to deplete, backtracking through Mount Coronet to get anywhere, frame rate is back down to 30, etc. The slow pace can definitely make these games hard to go back to at times.
  • HMs At Their Worst – Like Gen 3, Gen 4 has 8 HMs. However, in order to get through Mount Coronet, the mountain range that divides the entire in-game map in half, you’re going to need Pokemon with at least 6 of these moves just to navigate. Again, considering that that’s 1/4 of your available moves taken up with mandatory HMs, plus the high difficult of the game, and HMs are more of a pain in the ass than ever. I mean, at least in previous games, you could get away with boxing a Pokemon that has certain moves (eg, Flash or Waterfall) after they’ve used them. Here? Not so lucky.
  • The Underground and Pokeathelon – This feature was a bigger deal back when there was still online functionality available, as it basically functioned as a multiplayer hub for secret bases. Now, it’s just a poorly explained, mostly-pointless, confusing way to get ahold of fossils and stones. Meanwhile, the Pokeathelon is basically just another mini-game similar to Pokemon Contests, right down to its confusing mechanics (Also, it doesn’t bear its own entry, but Contests return and are similarly still confusing and skippable.)
  • Stealth Rocks – While entry hazards aren’t exactly new (Spikes were introduced in Gen 2), they weren’t a problem until the introduction of Stealth Rocks. Swapping is one of the most important aspects of competitive battling and while entry hazards are a decent counter to that, I feel like Stealth Rocks are just too good. Spikes at least require you to spend 3 turns putting down additional layers of them, and even then they only affect Pokemon on the ground. Stealth Rocks are just stupidly overpowered in comparison – you only put out one layer, it hits all in-coming targets and the damage is based on the target’s relative weakness to the Rock-type. As a result, a Pokemon that is 2x weak to Rock will take 25% damage and Pokemon that are 4x weak (such as the iconic Charizard) will lose a whopping 50% of their HP just for swapping in. It’s not just Charizard either though, Stealth Rocks have made some already awful Pokemon even more unusable, such as Delibird, simply because of their typing.
  • Too Many Legendaries – There are simply too many legendaries in Gen 4. In the first 2 games, legendaries were very rare and felt appropriately special as a result. Gen 3 increased the number of legendaries, but they were still quite rare (especially the Regis), so it didn’t feel like an issue. However, Gen 4 introduces a grand total of 14 legendary Pokemon (5 of which are technically “mythical” Pokemon), which is a whopping 13% of the total new Pokemon introduced in the game. This results in two big issues for Gen 4:
    • In my opinion, the design of the new legendaries is hit or miss. The 3 lake guardians, Uxie, Mesprit and Azelf, look basically identical and play similarly since they all have the same typing. The mascots of Diamond and Pearl, Dialga and Palkia, are also probably the ugliest in the entire franchise, feeling a bit too “overdesigned”. Also, Heatran just doesn’t look like it should be a legendary, there isn’t really anything special about it, it’s just sort of thrown into the ring randomly.
    • Gen 4 actually features the most roaming legendaries in any game, with Platinum having all three of Kanto’s legendary birds on the loose along with Mesprit and Cresselia… and good God they are an absolute pain to catch.

Best Pokemon of Gen 4: Gastrodon, Infernape, Cherrim (Sunshine form), Mismagius, Honchkrow, Purugly, Chatot, Togekiss, Glaceon
Shittiest Pokemon of Gen 4: Wormadam, Mime Jr., Drapion, Carnivine, Lickilicky, Magmortar, Probopass

Tune in soon for the next entry where I’ll cover Generation 5.

Love/Hate: Pokemon Gen 3

(Just a disclaimer on this entry, Generation 3 is the only gen that I haven’t experienced first-hand. As a result, thoughts on this generation are based on the changes that it made to the series, research on the games’ receptions and my experiences having played the Gen 6 remakes of the games.)
 

Generation 3 (RubySapphireEmeraldFireRedLeafGreen)
Love

  • Hoenn Feels Very Distinct – Perhaps appropriately since Gen 3 was basically a soft reboot, the new Hoenn region feels quite distinctly different than the Kanto and Johto regions, which were based on Japanese geography. In contrast, Hoenn features much more island-hopping, giving it a coastal feel that gives it its own identity to set it apart from other generations.
  • Introduction of Abilities – The addition of abilities for every Pokemon was a fantastic new feature which fundamentally shook up how all Pokemon are used, made battling more unpredictable (since Pokemon might have 2 different abilities to choose from) and even opened up new design and balance opportunities (most notably seen with the ultra powerful, but lazy, Slaking).
  • Introduction of Natures – While this feature could easily be missed entirely by a more casual fan, natures have huge implications for competitive battling and breeding, as they can add 10% power to one stat, while hindering another 10%. This addition just further individualizes each Pokemon, as they now don’t necessarily have the exact same stats, and opens up new options for building up a moveset.
  • Art Design – The art style in the Gen 3 games is fantastic and, I would argue, the best in the whole franchise. The overworld design in particular is very reminiscent of A Link to the Past‘s gorgeous artwork and the game moves very smoothly at 60fps, a feature which no other Pokemon game can boast (outside of Gen 5’s battle system, which exclusively runs at 60fps).
  • A Couple Big Quality of Life Improvements – While it doesn’t refine the formula nearly as much as Gen 2 did, Gen 3 introduced a couple major refinements which Gen 2 sorely needed and which would become franchise staples going forward. Probably most importantly, the PC system was finally streamlined, automatically switching when a box is filled up, and now featuring a full graphical user interface, making box management less of a hassle. In addition, Gen 3 introduced the running shoes, which allow you to move through the overworld faster, even without having to hop on the bike – thank freaking God.
  • New Pokemon Are Very Solid – The new Pokemon in this generation are very solid all-round, with some becoming all-time classics on-par with the best of Gen 1 (Gardevoir, Mudkip, Blaziken, etc). There are only a couple Pokemon that I actively dislike (Spinada, Swallot), while there are others which are just questionable (by design, Volbeat and Illumise are basically the same Pokemon, as are Plustle and Minun), but all-in-all this was another classic generation.
  • Double Battles – I can remember seeing kids playing the Gen 3 games back when I was in elementary school, and I always thought that the new double battles were the coolest feature. They definitely are a flashy addition with some real gameplay impacts (eg, some moves have additional properties in double battles, being able to hit multiple Pokemon at once), although I would argue that this feature is under-utilized in-game.
  • Battle Frontier – While I haven’t experienced it myself, everyone sings the praises of the Battle Frontier in Emerald for being arguably the strongest post-game in the entire franchise (yes, rivaling the return to Kanto in Gen 2). From what I understand, it’s similar to the battle towers in other Pokemon games, but far more fleshed out, with much more interesting and rewarding battles. If you’re into the battling side of these games, then I can definitely see how you would fall in love with the Battle Frontier and how it can add dozens of hours of additional play.

Mixed

  • Underwhelming Remakes – FireRed and LeafGreen, the Gen 1 remakes introduced during this generation, are by all accounts solid games, although they’re also very basic as far as remakes go, doing very little to change up the gameplay (including locking off new evolutions until the post-game). Other than a new coat of paint and introducing the gameplay refinements of the previous games, the only other addition is the Sevii Islands, where players can catch Johto Pokemon. This still makes them the ideal way to experience Gen 1, but they could have done much more.
  • No Day/Night Cycle – The biggest missing feature in the Gen 3 games is the lack of a day night cycle. On the one hand, now you don’t have to wait until a certain time of day to catch Pokemon, or wait for weekly events, but on the other hand, this cuts down on the replayability of going back to old areas which made that feature so good in the first place. It’s omission just feels like a step backwards.
  • Version-Exclusive Villains – By all measures, having version-exclusive criminal organizations (Team Aqua in Sapphire, Team Magma in Ruby, and both in Emerald) is a cool idea, but the execution is underwhelming. Neither team has much personality outside of their aesthetics and (nonsensical) ultimate goals, meaning that you don’t really notice much of a difference if you try out the other version of the game. Worse, Emerald has both villainous teams taking center stage, meaning that in the late game you have to battle through both sequentially instead of just one, grinding the pacing to a crawl. I’d still put this feature under the mixed heading though since version-exclusive villains battling each other is still the only thing that makes either of these teams stand out and is at least a cool idea.

Hate

  • Too Much Water – I know it’s a meme at this point, but seriously, there’s too much damn water in these games. Like, imagine if 50% of the Kanto region was Rock Tunnel and you couldn’t escape from all the Tentacools attacking you constantly. I know you can get around this with repels, but you shouldn’t have to resort to that to get some relief.
  • Too Many HMs – HMs were annoying in previous generations, especially practically useless ones like Flash, Cut and Rock Smash, but they were only that – an annoyance. In Gen 3, they became a full-on blight on the series for the first time. In order to advance, you need 8 different HMs, 3 of which are Water-type moves as well (Surf, Waterfall and Dive; remember too that at this time all Water moves are special attacks too, so this cuts down on coverage significantly). Consider that you will only have 24 move slots available on a team at a time and you’re probably going to have to use up 1/3 of your moves on HMs, and somehow find multiple Pokemon to spread the different Water-type HMs to. This was the time when HM slaves came about, Pokemon which were useless in battle, but only carried around because then you wouldn’t have to waste a good Pokemon with bad HMs.
  • Old Pokemon Can’t Be Brought Forward – For the first and only time in the main series, Pokemon from Gen 1 and Gen 2 cannot be brought forward to the Gen 3 games in any capacity. This really sucks – imagine you spent years breeding a perfect team or catching shinies and then suddenly you can’t use them anymore. You can make the argument that this is because of the changes in IVs, natures, etc, but it doesn’t change the fact that this just plain sucks (and in the initial releases, hundreds of Pokemon were straight-up unavailable until the Gen 1 remakes were released). This is also the only generation in which this would be the case, which just makes this even more of a sore point.
  • Contests Are Boring – Maybe there’s someone out there who loves the Pokemon Contests mini-game, but the game does not teach you the mechanics very well at all. It’s interesting that they added a way to use Pokemon outside of their battle stats, but the mechanics of Contests aren’t nearly as interesting as those of battling. Worse, you “level up” your contest stats through the production of Pokeblocks, whose quality depends on how well you time (and understand) button presses in a mini-game. Even worse, the number of Pokeblocks you can give are finite, and there is one Pokemon that needs to max its beauty stat in order to evolve: Feebas. The result is one legendarily difficult Pokemon to not only acquire but to evolve as well. Add it all up, and you have a gimmicky mini-game that I don’t want to even bother touching again beyond the one mandatory tutorial the game forces you through.
  • The Regi Puzzles Are Ridiculously Obtuse – Pokemon has always been intended to be a social game, but I feel that the Regi puzzles take that a step too far. Seriously, the steps required to beat this puzzle are on the level of modern-day ARGs, and would be basically impossible to decipher alone – meaning that you will have to resort to a guide, which is far less satisfying than a simpler puzzle that you could actually figure out yourself. Even worse, the Regi-trio are widely considered some of the weakest legendaries in the entire franchise, meaning that it’s only worth it for a collector. Like, just look at some of the instructions involved in order to pull it off:
    • Surf to a specific spot in the overworld and then use the Dive HM to find an underwater cave with Braille writing. Proceed to learn how to translate Braille, because all of the “hints” involved will require that you can read it.
    • Use TMs and HMs such as Dig, Fly and Rock Smash at specific points where they would normally make no sense (eg, the game has taught you that they wouldn’t work in that spot).
    • Have a Relicanth and Wailord in your party – oh, that isn’t just what’s required though, you also need to have the Relicanth at the front of your party and the Wailord in the last slot. Do this at the right spot and you will now be able to find the caves which allow you the chance to find a Regi.
    • To find Regice, you literally have to find its cave and then just not touch your game for 2 minutes straight.
    • To find Regirock, walk to a specific spot and then use Strength (on open ground).
    • To find Registeel, walk to the middle of the room and then use Fly (inside of a cave, where it normally would not work).
  • Weak Story – Gen 3 is regarded as the first game in the series that gives any sort of serious consideration to its story, but it is also often criticized for doing a poor job of conveying it. For example, your rival (Brendan or May) is pretty much universally considered a boring disappointment, while Team Aqua and Team Magma are basically palette swaps with nonsensical plans and now real motivations.

Best Pokemon of Gen 3: Aggron, Gardevoir, Mudkip, Zigzagoon, Absol, Bannette
Shittiest Pokemon of Gen 3: Spinada, Swallot, Luvdisc (cute, but totally useless), Minun and Plustle (just… why? They’re not even good picks within their niche gimmick)

Tune in soon for the next entry where I’ll cover Generation 4.

Love/Hate: Pokemon Gen 2

Generation 2 (GoldSilverCrystal)
Love

  • Quality of Life Improvements – It cannot be overstated just how much better to play the Gen 2 games are, mainly due to some major quality of life refinements. For example, players now get significantly more item slots, which are automatically arranged by item type (items, Poke Balls, TM/HMs, key items), and you can set a key item to a shortcut with the select button rather than having to open the pack every time you want to equip it. PC management is also much less of a hassle, as Bill will phone you when your PC box is full and boxes can be arranged and re-arranged much more conveniently than in the past. In addition, so many elements of the game are much more refined compared to the previous generation, such as the battle sprites and the map design (compare the flat, boring and tedious to navigate Mt. Moon and Rock Tunnel with Dark Cave or Ice Path, and the fact that this is only a couple years removed from Red and Blue is very remarkable).
  • Significant and Game-Changing New Features – More-so than any subsequent entry in the franchise, Gen 2 introduced many new features which have not only gone on to be series staples, but have also deepened the battling system and have provided entire new ways to play the game. The result is that, while Gen 1 now feels archaic to play, Gen 2 is just as much of a joy to play today as it was on release. There are just so many new and important features that I have to break them down further below:
    • The most obvious new feature is the morning/day/night cycle, which makes the game constantly replayable throughout the day. It can be a little annoying to have to wait for that perfect Pokemon you want that’s only available at night time, but it is a cool enough addition that it shouldn’t be a hassle.
    • The Special stat of the previous generation was also split into Special Attack and Special Defence, making Special-based Pokemon much more balanced.
    • Held Items are a huge new addition to the series, to the point where an otherwise-competitive team would probably be considered nearly worthless without held items.
    • Shinies were introduced here and were incredibly rare to acquire, especially compared to subsequent generations. This twist made the simple act of catching significantly deeper and more challenging, if you wanted it to be. To this day, there isn’t really a feeling I get that’s quite matched by a shiny encounter.
    • Breeding was introduced in this generation, and provided a bedrock for hardcore players to let their inner-eugenicist shine and breed a perfect team. It was certainly in its rough stages at this point in the series, but it is really cool and handy and can help you get ahold of strong and/or shiny Pokemon at higher odds.
  • New Typings Perfect the Balance – The new Dark and Steel typings were great additions, being introduced in order to balance out the type imbalances of the previous generation. In fact, you could definitely argue that their introduction in Gen 2 finally perfected the series’ typing balance.
  • Endgame Content – Generation 2 is lauded for also including the Kanto region from Gen 1 in the game, providing a whole additional mini-campaign once you have beaten the main game. It provides hours of meaningful additional content and even gives you a battle against the main character from the previous game at the end.
  • Best Rival – The game’s rival character, canonically known as “Silver”, is easily the best rival in the entire franchise. While he starts out as an abrasive and abusive asshole (which alone is enough to make you want to beat him), he eventually grows and matures as he learns what it means to be a good trainer. No other rival before or since has been nearly as compelling as Silver and it’s always a joy to take him on.
  • New Pokemon – The new Pokemon added in this generation are all rock solid, design-wise I would consider it the best single generation of them all.

Hate

  • Doesn’t Go Far Enough – While the Gen 2 games make huge improvements on the previous generation, it also unfortunately leaves some big legacy issues completely intact, which are just annoying and even baffling when you look back on these games. Most notably, the game still requires manual box switching whenever your PC boxes are filled up, which could potentially cost you a legendary or a shiny if you don’t get back and change the box in time. The fact that physical and special attacks are still tied to typing is also an unfortunate reality of this generation, especially since this game adds 2 new Water-type HMs.
  • Feels Like an Epilogue – Generation 2 has easily the weakest story in the entire series, in part because the whole setup feels like nothing more than an epilogue to the first generation, most notably regarding Team Rocket’s return and search for Giovanni. Most things relate back to events in the first generation and the game doesn’t really attempt to stand on its own.
  • Roaming Legendaries – Of all the new features introduced in Gen 2 that would be carried on into the future, probably my least-favourite is roaming legendaries. While it can be exciting to just randomly encounter one of the three legendary beasts, that’s part of the issue – simply encountering them. It’s totally random where they will be at any given time and you can’t track them until you have encountered them at least once, so capturing them can result in hours of frustration. Furthermore, their position changes based on the route you’re on, so you can’t even manipulate them into coming closer randomly. Even then, when you do find one, they will immediately run away, meaning that you need to either encounter them a dozen of times to have a chance of catching them, or you need to trap them in with Mean Look and then hope that they don’t faint.
  • Persistent Sloppiness and Bugs – While Gen 2 isn’t nearly as bad as the previous generation when it comes to bugs, there are still some truly shocking examples of sloppiness which have made their way into the final product. One of the more notorious bugs was the duplication glitch, which happens if you turn off the power in the PC boxes at a certain time – while handy, the fact that it can be triggered so easily is certainly questionable. Worse, many of the new Apricorn-based Pokeballs just straight-up don’t work as intended, such as the Love Ball. It’s supposed to have a higher catch rate against Pokemon of the opposite gender, but it ends up only working against Pokemon of the same gender instead. Considering Nintendo’s rather regressive stances on LGBTQ options in their franchises, this is pretty clearly an unintentional move.
  • Weak Pokemon Selection in Main Game – This one is actually a multi-point issue which I will break down as follows:
    • Most of the Pokemon you encounter prior to the post-game are not very competitive, especially if you don’t take the time to find the rarer encounters early on (such as Phanpy or Heracross). I’m not even talking about the legendaries here, even relatively straightforward Pokemon like Houndoom, Misdreavus or Magcargo aren’t even available until the post game, to say nothing of arguably the strongest obtainable Pokemon, Tyranitar. Furthermore, many of the new evolutions aren’t available until the post-game (Steelix and Scizor) or through very rare item acquisitions (Kingdra), and even then require trading to receive. Hell, even old mainstays that could be useful like Arcanine or Ninetails are gimped because the only evolution stones you can find before you get to Kanto are Moon and Sun Stones. As a result, players will typically end up having to rely on their starter and a constantly-shifting team due to the weak selections available at any give time.
    • Compounding the previous issue, many of the new Pokemon in this game are staggeringly uncompetitive, even for their era. Up until recently, Sunkern was straight-up the weakest Pokemon in the entire series (yes, even worse than Magikarp), and its evolution is not great either. Generation 2 brought us two Pokemon which are largely considered the worst in the entire game: Delibird and Unown, not to mention such laughable poor Pokemon as Dunsparce, Jumpluff and, at the time of their release, Azumarill and Quagsire (subsequent generations would buff them retroactively to make up for their useless stats). Furthermore, Gen 2 introduced the concept of baby Pokemon, which are basically useless competitively. They only really functioning for collecting purposes, because they’re admittedly quite cute, but there’s a reason this concept was phased out after the fourth generation. So, consider that most of the Pokemon you meet in the first half of the game are so awful, and you can see why viable team composition will be so limited. And furthermore…
    • Chikorita gets screwed so hard by this game. Like, if you pick Chikorita as your starter, you’re in for a rough time. First of all, in Gen 1 it takes quite a while to find any Pokemon with the same type as your starter, so no matter who you pick, they’re going to give you something you can’t get elsewhere. Poor Chikorita has to compete with Bellsprout and Hoppip immediately and, while it is better than both, it still makes you feel like you’re on the backfoot from the start. The gym selection doesn’t help either, as six of the eight gym leaders either are either super effective against grass (including the first two gyms), or resist grass attacks. The only time Chikorita is actually a decent pick is against the notoriously difficult Whitney, as it has relatively good bulk and can spread status attacks to her Miltank, and against arguably the easiest gym leader in the game, Chuck, since it’s super effective against his Poliwrath. All that said, I have a major love-hate relationship with Chikorita because of this – it’s like playing the second generation games on hard mode when you pick Chikorita, and the suffering we’ve shared has endeared me to the little, green dinosaur.
  • Phone Calls – The phone in the game is actually pretty handy, but at least 50% of the time you get a call, it will be something totally useless which is just disrupting.

Best Pokemon of Gen 2: Houndoom, Bayleaf, Tyranitar, Umbreon, Espeon, Kingdra, Marill
Shittiest Pokemon of Gen 2: Unown, Delibird (I like its design, but it’s so frustrating to try to use)

Tune in soon for the next entry where I’ll cover Generation 3.

Love/Hate: Pokemon Gen 1

It isn’t really something that I have mentioned here on IC2S, but I absolutely love the Pokemon franchise, particularly the flagship handheld games. I have many fond memories of getting ahold of a classic Gameboy, playing the first two generations of games and managing to catch the first 150 Pokemon in my copy of Pokemon Blue*. Like most people who were there from the beginning, I missed quite a few of the later generations as I grew up and took interest in other things. However, like some of the finest things in life, maturity only rekindled my love for these creatures and in the past few years I have become a bigger fan of this series than I ever was as a kid, playing just about every main game in the franchise at least once at this point and proudly rocking a living Pokedex.

Of course, I’m the Retrospectives guy, I love collating my thoughts on a franchise in a digestible fashion. While I’m not going to go and do a full-on Retrospective for every game in the Pokemon franchise, I will go into some of my thoughts on each of the 7 generations, specifically the things that I love and hate about each. So, without further ado, let’s move on to my thoughts on the first generation.

Generation 1 (Red, GreenBlue, Yellow)
Love

  • Creature Design – It should go without saying that the original 151 Pokemon are classics, in part due to nostalgia, but even at the time they were strong enough to kick-start the franchise’s popularity. There is a class of Pokemon fan dubbed “genwunners” who never grew beyond the first or second generation and which believe that everything was best in this generation; admittedly, fans like this lionize the first gen’s designs a bit too much (for example, Exeggcute, Electrode and Dugtrio’s designs are about as dumb as much-maligned later Pokemon, such as Garbodor or Kling-Klang, for the exact same reasons; in addition, a number of Pokemon are literally just real animals, such as Krabby or Seel).
  • Established the Formula – If you’ve played the original Pokemon games, then you will definitely recognize that every subsequent Pokemon game is simply building on the skeleton established by these releases, as the whole concept of capturing Pokemon, the battle system and world navigation have remained largely intact. It’s a legitimately enthralling formula, which is why it has remained this way for so long.
  • Following Pikachu – While having Pikachu as a starter Pokemon in Yellow is actually awful as it is so much weaker than any other starter Pokemon and can’t evolve either, the ability to have Pikachu follow you around is such a nice quality of life feature which makes you actually want to use the underpowered rodent. Considering how often it is requested, it’s surprising that this feature was only brought back once since.

Hate

  • Broken Mechanics – If you haven’t played a generation one game in a long time, then you might not remember that these games are famously broken on a fundamental design level, to the point where I have to break this down into more bullets just to cover a handful of the more egregious examples:
    • The Psychic type was incredibly overpowered, being only resisted by other Psychic types and being weak only to the very underpowered Bug type. To make matters worse, Ghost types were supposed to be super effective against Psychic, but due to poor programming, Psychic types were made immune to Ghost attacks (seriously). Even if it had been programmed correctly, the only Ghost attacking move was very weak and the only Ghost Pokemon was also part Poison, which is super weak against Psychic attacks.
    • Dragon types only had one attack, the fixed-damage move Dragon Rage, meaning that they could never be super effective or take advantage of STAB (same type attack bonus, which gives a 1.5x attack multiplier if the Pokemon possess the same type as its attacking move).
    • Critical hits and one-hit KO moves were based on the Speed stat, meaning that you could manipulate this stat to guarantee these would land every time, allowing players to cheese their way through the game.
    • All moves are classed physical or special based on the type (eg, all Fire attacks are special, even Fire Punch, and all Ghost attacks are physical). Furthermore, while physical stats are split between Attack and Defense, the special stat is only one value, meaning that a Pokemon with a high Special stat will be both specially offensive and defensive. This only compounds with the overpowered nature of Psychic types, which have high Special stats in general.
    • Against certain Pokemon, particularly legendaries, Poke Balls will miss. The only solution to this is to weaken the Pokemon as much as you can, hit it with a status move and then just keep chucking balls until the game decides that they stop missing. It might take 10-15 balls to do so, but it’s a serious annoyance.
    • Some moves just plain don’t work as intended, such as Focus Energy, which is supposed to increase your critical hit ratio, actually cuts your critical hit ratio by 75%.
  • Awful Sprites – In Red and Blue, some of the Pokemon’s sprites are just plain ugly. I mean, just look closely at those sprites in the Generation 1 heading above – they’re so bad. Blastoise looks bloated, the perspective on Seaking is super awkward, Eevee looks sinister rather than heart-meltingly cute, and what the hell is going on with Golbat!? Hell, even Pikachu, the freaking series mascot, looks incredibly derpy. Thankfully this issue was rectified in Yellow, which featured new sprites for many of these Pokemon (which is actually probably the best feature introduced in Yellow, in my opinion).
  • Clunky Pokemon and Item Management – Having to switch boxes to capture Pokemon is a pain, especially because you only can carry 20 in a box and the game does not warn you when it is about to fill up. As a result, you can easily get screwed out of a Pokemon you wanted because your box was full and you didn’t change it. On a related note, you can only carry a small number of items at a time, meaning that you’re going to be constantly storing and swapping items at your PC (which also has a finite space available, because of course it does), or constantly tossing items in order to pick up valuables you find along the way (having recently played Yellow, this was one of my biggest barriers to enjoyment).
  • Poor Map Design – While the region of Kanto is itself is laid out in an interesting fashion, giving players options to tackle the gyms out of order if they can overcome the level differences, most of the individual areas are very poorly designed. I had completely forgotten this aspect of the game in my recent playthrough, which made navigating any area a bigger headache than it should have been. The game has lots of open, unused spaces (such as Viridian and Pewter City), meaning that you can often have absolutely nothing of interest on screen while navigating. Caves are also notoriously annoying in this way, since they’re almost always flat and open (Mt. Moon is particularly egregious in this regard). Furthermore, in caves you’re often far away from a Pokemon Centre so you NEED to have tons of healing items to avoid blacking out (which compounds with the item slot restrictions). Rock Tunnel is especially pronounced in this regard, because the entire route is flat with no shortcuts to turn around if you need to stop and heal. Even some of the regular routes are just gruelling slogs to push through, such as the path from Lavender Town to Fuchsia City, which features 4 long routes to get through. The result of all of this is that generation one games just feel like a gruelling process to push yourself through at times, especially if you’ve played any subsequent game in the series.

Best Pokemon of Gen 1: Charizard, Eevee, Jolteon, Ninetails, Venomoth, Arcanine, Lapras
Shittiest Pokemon of Gen 1: Mr. Mime, Jynx, Exeggcute, Electrode, Zubat/Tentacool (just because they’re an in-game annoyance)

Tune in soon for the next entry where I’ll cover Generation 2.

*Before my asswipe of a “friend” started a new save file on my copy without asking, thereby wiping out all of my Pokemon.