Hey, it’s time for another Love/Hate series! This time we’re going to be going through each of the generations of PlayStation consoles and handhelds! I’ve always been a PlayStation fanboy, having grown up along with each successive system. Hell, I even wrote a defense of the PS Vita when it was becoming a punchline and wrote my review of the notorious DOAX3 on the Vita version of the game for the 200th blog post celebration. So with that said, let’s go back to the beginning and look at the original PlayStation console – what I love about it, what I hate, and everything in between!
- Genre-Defining Experiences – The original PlayStation was the most successful console of its era at a time when video games were literally entering a whole new dimension of possibilities. Considering the limitations of computing at the time and that 3D game design was basically uncharted territory, it’s amazing how well a number of developers were able to make the transition and provide experiences which helped to establish genres as we know them today. For example, the 3D action platformer was established during this time with titles such as Tomb Raider, Ape Escape, Spyro and Crash Bandicoot, and games in this genre have retained most of these foundational elements since. Racing games such as Gran Turismo also play nearly identically to racing games from the PS1 era, just with more glitz and polish. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater was also responsible for establishing the skating game genre, which would be hugely popular well into the PS3 era. Survival horror was really established on the PS1 with Resident Evil, Dino Crisis and Silent Hill, providing an experience which is almost entirely exclusive to the PS1. These are just a few examples, but it just goes to show that the PS1 was a key foundation for gaming as we know it today.
- CD-based Format – In a time when cartridges were the go-to method for game storage and when CD players weren’t particularly common, the PS1 showed the value of multi-media storage formats. Having game’s played on CDs was a huge benefit for a number of reasons: they were less bulky, cheaper and could store far more data than the competition and they allowed PS1-owners the freedom to use the system as a CD player when they weren’t gaming.
- The DualShock Controller is the Granddaddy of Modern Controllers – The title pretty much says it all. While the original, analogue-less PlayStation controller was basically just a refinement of controllers of its era, the DualShock set the new standard which has been replicated in all future controllers since (barring gimmicks like the Wii of course).
- Easy to Pirate For – Sure, this wasn’t exactly an intended feature, but with the cheap proliferation of CDs, the PS1 was notoriously easy to pirate games onto, a “feature” which has only gotten more valuable in the years since support for the console has died. It was also fairly easy to modify the system, such as replacing parts in order to circumvent the system’s region locking features.
- My Favourite PS1 Games – Obviously this isn’t a comprehensive list of good PS1 games, but the games that I love and grew up on include Ape Escape, Metal Gear Solid, Twisted Metal 2, Vigilante 2: Second Offense, Future Cop: LAPD and Driver.
- Janky Gameplay – The jump to 3D gameplay was a new frontier back when the PS1 came out and while it’s impressive that there are some seriously good games in this era, nearly every game from this era feels incredibly dated and incredibly clunky. Between the low-res graphics, janky controls and (especially) the wretched camera controls that defined nearly every game from this era, it’s really hard to go back and play a significant number of games from this era.
- Original Controller was Outclassed by DualShock – The original PlayStation controller was fine, but when the DualShock came out it controlled so much better and made the original controller completely obsolete. The fact that the PlayStation One Classic came packed with the original controller was a baffling decision on Sony’s part, because not only was it inferior, but it also meant that huge games like Ape Escape could not be included. The lack of analogue sticks on this original controller also did not help with the camera issues which plagued this era’s games and wouldn’t really be rectified until midway through the next console generation.
- Hardware Limitations – The PS1 had some really annoying hardware limitations, even compared to its competition. Memory Cards were a particular annoyance, the official ones only had 15 blocks of memory if I remember correctly, but some games would take up multiple blocks so you would fill them up very quickly. You could also buy unofficial cards, but I had one knock-off which corrupted and actually managed to ruin one of my discs! The PS1 also required a multitap if you wanted more than two players at a time, whereas the N64 could have four players at once. This was unfortunate and really cut down on the potential for local multiplayer games such as Vigilante 8: Second Offense.
I’m going to do something slightly different here – normally I’d just be looking at the Dark Souls trilogy itself when doing a love/hate series, but I’m actually going to change it up slightly and include other games in this subgenre that I have played and which I feel could make for a strong comparison. As a result, I’m bringing you the Souls-like samurai game from Team Ninja, Nioh! Having gotten into Bloodborne and Dark Souls from my itching for a new Ninja Gaiden game, could Nioh live up to Team Ninja’s reputation for rich and satisfying combat? Read on to find my thoughts…
- Amazing Combat System – I’ll just come out and say that Nioh has the best combat system in any Souls-like game. Team Ninja really hits it out of the park, nailing a really precise combat system while the game’s speed somewhere between Bloodborne and Ninja Gaiden. The result is a very fast-paced game that is deep, skillful and incredibly satisfying to master. There are also a couple of big innovations which help make Nioh‘s combat stand out so much:
- Ki Pulse takes the stamina regeneration of Souls games and adds in an active-reload system which will allow you to replenish your stamina instantly if you do it correctly. This creates a balancing act where you can risk running out of stamina but get it back quickly in order to keep your attacks going longer. It takes a bit of practice, but once you get the timing down it becomes second-nature and allows you to be incredibly aggressive.
- Weapon stances are also a huge addition in this game. All weapons can be held in high, mid, or low stance, which significantly changes the way the weapon performs. Each stance changes your combat and dodge speeds, and some enemies are best fought in different stances (for example, Yoki are susceptible to high stance sword strikes which will hit them in the head and stun them when they break their horns). While you might be tempted just to stick with one stance, learning to master stance chances makes a huge difference in combat and just further deepens the experience.
- You can see your opponents’ ki meters, meaning that stunning them becomes a reliable strategy should you choose to go for it. I liked using a heavy axe as my secondary weapon for this very reason, with only a single strong high-stance attack I could destroy most enemies’ ki bars.
- Addictive Loot System – Nioh features a Diablo-like loot system. Unlike Dark Souls where each piece of equipment has fixed properties (until you upgrade it anyway), all equipment in Nioh has randomized perks. You can spend ages in the blacksmith just reforging your armour and weapons to get the perfect perks which complement your build and playstyle. It can be addictive just collecting all the loot drops and looking for that one piece of armour or weapon that is better than the one you have already.
- Spirit Guardians Are Cool – Even if it was just aesthetic, the idea of picking the spirit guardian that accompanies you on your journey is awesome (I went with the Paired Raiken, because having two lightning puppies with me is amazing). However, each guardian provides unique bonuses while they are with you which can further optimize your build, while also being able to help in a pinch. However, the trade-off is that when you die, your guardian spirit stays to protect your lost Amrita (this game’s souls-equivalent) and no longer provides you with any bonuses unless you choose to sacrifice your lost Amrita. It makes for a pretty interesting trade-off and makes death just that much more tense.
- Fun Side Content – Nioh‘s mission-based structure allows for the inclusion of various side content for players to enjoy. These are all pretty fun and provide you with more loot, from bite-sized side missions, to challenging duels, to the challenging-but-rewarding twilight missions. This side content allows you to get your equipment and levels upgraded without having to do repetitive level grinding and farming like other Souls-like games tend to.
- Meaty DLC – Team Ninja did a good job with the DLC packs for Nioh, providing players with three expansions with plenty of new missions, weapons and challenging bosses to sink your teeth into. This extends the length of the base game by several hours per pack while also providing an epilogue to the main game’s story. The bosses are also all consistently fun and challenging.
- Builds on the Souls Formula – Nioh definitely cribs many elements from the formula of Dark Souls – stamina-based fighting system, clever level design emphasizing traps and exploration, shrines are this game’s bonfires, etc. However, Nioh also adds plenty of its own elements and twists to the formula, which allows it to stand out on its own and not feel like a ripoff (unlike, say, Lords of the Fallen). Even something simple like the bloodspots in Souls games have been given cool twists – in Nioh, blood spots can be used to spawn revenants, which have the equipment of the player who was killed and which can provide you with amazing loot drops if you risk spawning them into your game.
- Living Weapon Feels Like a Crutch – As I mentioned earlier, your Guardian Spirit can provide you with help in a pinch. It does this by building up a “living weapon meter” over time as you attack enemies. When the meter is filled you can unleash your living weapon, which makes you invulnerable and allows you to dish out a ton of damage in a short time (similar to Spartan Rage in the newest God of War). Certain builds can also optimize living weapon build-up, meaning that you can potentially cheese your way through boss fights. I’d say that Nioh can to be more difficult than Dark Souls, but when you can just pull out your living weapon in a fight it makes battles feel much easier and more forgiving.
- Onmyo and Ninjitsu Skills Feel Like an Afterthought – One of the other different elements of Nioh is that it features a skill tree. Usually this provides you with bonuses to your weapons, but players can also spend them on onmyo magic and ninjitsu skills. In practice, they function similarly to consumable items in Dark Souls where you equip them, select them on the d-pad and have a finite number of uses. The system could have been interesting, but as it is it just feels like an afterthought that you can’t reliably build around, unlike pretty much every other aspect of the combat system. On occasion I’ll bring out an elemental resistance pill for a boss battle or use magic missiles on foes, but that’s about it.
- Loot Management is an Obligatory Chore – Basically every mission in Nioh ends with you spending 5+ minutes just going through your inventory and selling or breaking down all of the useless loot you acquired on your journey. As addictive as it is to find better loot out in the game world, most of it is crap and having to actually sift through it all and dispose of it quickly becomes annoying. The upcoming Nioh 2 needs to find some sort of way to streamline or automate this process because as it is right now it is a major pain in the ass.
- Menu-based World Design – Perhaps the biggest difference between Nioh and Dark Souls is that Nioh is played out over a series of missions and that the world is navigated through menus. The missions themselves are quite good, but this structure makes the world itself feel considerably less interesting and cohesive in comparison. Your mileage may vary, but this makes the game just a bit less compelling and engaging than Dark Souls or Bloodborne for me, despite being by far the funnest in terms of its actual gameplay and mechanics.
- Story Leaves Little Impact – Unlike Dark Souls, the story in Nioh is told in a much more straightforward manner, with cutscenes before and after each mission. Unfortunately, the story is not very well told, seemingly just jumping between scenes with little connective tissue to contextualize everything. I enjoyed some of the characters, such as Hanzo, Edward Kelley and Saoirse, but I quickly stopped caring about what was supposed to be happening around me because I couldn’t follow it. It’s unfortunate too, because a better-told story could have made for a much more engaging game and a more interesting world too for that matter.
- Online Interaction is an Afterthought – Online play in Nioh isn’t nearly as accessible as it is in Dark Souls, requiring you to dig through some menus in order to use it. Without an equivalent to summoning signs, the odds of getting summoned to someone else’s game are pretty low. There’s also a global clan battle system somewhat similar to covenants, but this also feels like a total afterthought and only provides you with some bonus resources if you sacrifice specific resources every few days. I basically didn’t even bother exploring the online in Nioh because it felt so inessential.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Generation 7 (Sun, Moon, Ultra Sun, Ultra Moon)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Generation 6 (X, Y, Omega Ruby, Alpha Sapphire)
- 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.
- 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.
Generation 5 (Black, White, Black 2, White 2)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.