Welcome back to the Pokemon love/hate series! We’re covering the newest mainline entry in the franchise today, Pokemon Scarlet and Violet. There’s been plenty said about these games already and they’ve quickly become some of the most polarizing entries in the entire franchise, representing a bright future for the series while also being mired in technical issues which would be enough to sink any other game. I’ve got plenty of thoughts on these latest games in the Pokemon franchise so let’s dive in and find out what I love and what I hate…
Great Pokemon Designs – I’m not one of those “new Pokemon look so bad!” people that come out every time there’s a new generation, but I’ve been really pleasantly surprised by how good this generation has been. During preview season I was unimpressed by a lot of the new Pokemon that were being shown off, but getting to see Pokemon like Grafaiai, Gimmighoul and Fidough up close in battle and in the overworld, I have really warmed up to them. There are also an unusually high number of top-tier Pokemon for me this generation, which run the gamut from cool basic Pokemon like Flittle, flawless evolutionary lines for Fuecoco and Sprigatito, awesome paradox Pokemon and really interesting legendaries. As usual, I’ll have my list of best and worst Pokemon of the generation at the end of this post.
Lively Open World – My expectations for an open world Pokemon game were very much tempered by Sword and Shield (not to mention Game Freak’s never ending capacity to under-deliver at every opportunity), but I was shocked by just how lively the Paldea region can be and how much personality its Pokemon inhabitants exude. Everywhere you go, Pokemon will react to your presence in interesting ways. Pokemon like Hoppip or Gogoat may walk up to you with curiosity, while Deerling or Stantler may be skittish and flee, Dugtrio and Orthworm will hide from you underground, Cyclizar can often be seen bounding around without a care in the world, and aggressive Pokemon like Tauros or Veluza will actively come after you to initiate battle. It also helps that battles now seamlessly occur on the overworld map instead of in themed arenas as in previous Pokemon games, meaning you can actually see Pokemon continuing to go about their business even then. It’s really cool, immersive to see in action and far more fleshed out than I had expected.
Overworld Shinies – Shiny hunting is one of my favourite parts of the Pokemon experience, even if my patience for long, full-odds hunts is lacking. This is a big reason why I love exploring in Violet, because I know that at any moment I could come across a shiny Pokemon. This is a pretty simple way to make world traversal much more engaging because I am constantly watching for shinies to appear. As of the time of writing this entry I’m currently up to 3 shinies found at full odds, but I will the shiny charm soon, making this vigilance even more rewarding and will eventually start using herba mystica to up my odds even further.
Freedom to Choose How to Advance the Story – Pokemon games run on a pretty standard formula, but Scarlet and Violet make the inspired decision to split the now standard “gym battles”, “evil team” and “raids” storylines and make them be able to be tackled at your own pace and discretion. While there is a “recommended” and “incentivized” path, you’ll still be weaving in and out of these plots at will. It also helps that these three main plots all improve as you go, especially the titan plot with Arven. By the second battle I was all-in on his story and it only gets better as you go along and the three plots become unified in the climax of the game. I am not exaggerating when I say that Scarlet and Violet have possibly the best story in Pokemon, up there with Black and White and I’d argue that it definitely eclipses Sun and Moon.
It’s also worth mentioning that there are also several completely optional side-plots and characters in the academy who you can get to know and help out. Your teachers are a colourful cast and it actually helps the sense that you’re off learning at school in these games (completely with mid-term and final exams!).
First Pokemon Game to Feel Like a AAA Experience – Pokemon was very much designed as a handheld, social experience and really excelled at establishing this formula for itself for a long time. However, one of my issues with Sword and Shield was that it felt like it was a half-measure, attempting to take the Pokemon series into a console-based future but with the mindset of a game that was still rooted in 25 years of handheld traditions. For Scarlet and Violet it feels like Game Freak finally stepped back and thought “Okay, how can we leverage the technology we have to make a Pokemon game with a modern, open-world structure?” The result is a game which is leaps and bounds removed from the traditional structure of how you interact with the Pokemon world, while retaining the core RPG mechanics that make the game work. It’s a huge step forward for a franchise which has been accused for decades now of creative stagnation.
Customization – Character customization has been a big factor of Pokemon games since X and Y and I’m sorry to say that Scarlet and Violet take some baffling steps backwards in this regard. While you can still change your look, hairstyle and most of your clothing, for some reason your main outfit is set between one of four seasonal styles. I have no idea why the hell they would do this, other than “you’re at an academy and therefore need a unified dress code”, even though this is a fantasy game and they could do whatever they wanted to. This game’s player card is also far less interesting and far more limited than Sword and Shield‘s customizable trading card system, to the point where I stopped bothering trying to perfect it early on.
Graphics – Look, I didn’t care about the stupid N64 trees in Sword and Shield because of the scope of that game and the fact that it looked much better elsewhere. However, the graphics in Scarlet and Violet are notably bad given the game’s much wider scope. You’re meant to get to the top of high vistas, look down and go “Oh wow!”, but instead all I can think is “Wow, those textures sure are muddy” and “Man, this world sure is lacking in foliage and detail”. This would be one thing if the game ran really well, but it does not (which we’ll get to later) which just makes the graphical issues even more pronounced. Now, I certainly think that the graphics are functional and don’t actually impact my enjoyment of the game, hence why I put it in the Mixed section rather than Hate, but it’s worth mentioning since we’ve already seen better looking open-world Switch games for years now.
Tera Raids – Raids were by far my favourite addition in Gen 8, despite some frustrating network issues that tempered that enjoyment somewhat. While I’m happy that they’re back in Gen 9, their implementation here feels like one step forward and two steps back.
On the one hand, these move way faster than they did previously. In Dynamax raids it wasn’t uncommon to wait 45 seconds each turn for people to pick their moves, then actually have to watch them all play out before going to the next turn again. Tera Raids, in contrast, occur in real-time and moves all take no more than a second or two to resolve, meaning that the whole process goes far faster. However, it also means that you and your allies need to be focused and acting deliberately, otherwise you may miss your turn or use a heal too early.
Tera Raids have also improve the cheer system to no longer give random chances of bonuses, instead allowing you to boost attack, defense, or provide a heal up to 3 times per battle. This is incredibly useful and really helps strategizing during these raids.
On the other hand, raids basically are the endgame, especially 6 star raids. These raids are legitimately hard, especially because the Pokemon will create an energy shield halfway through the battle which reduces damage significantly. Sure, you can terastalize to break this shield easier, but 6 star Pokemon will drain your tera orb during the battle, making it take several turns of attacking fruitlessly and trying not to die to make it work. Meanwhile, if a 6 star Pokemon can buff itself, or has a super-effective move against you, it will spam it every turn and just wipe you out. The result of this is that raids have basically devolved into an extremely limited meta of viable Pokemon who can buff themselves massively, heal themselves/take several hit, and/or provide massive team support, all of which need to be max level and ideally using competitive EVs and IVs. On the one hand, it’s exciting to overcome this, but on the other hand it’s frustrating because even a single weak teammate can make a 6 star raid team worthless. Making all this worse is that if you do manage to win a 6 star raid, you aren’t even guaranteed to get a rare item drop, which is what the entire endgame of Scarlet and Violet revolve around (these rare items are needed to easily get competitive boosts and shinies). Now, to be fair, 5 star raids have a chance of dropping these rare items as well and are significantly easier, but it just increases the grind required to access endgame items even more.
Add onto this that, somehow, the online infrastructure of Scarlet and Violet for raids may actually be worse than Sword and Shield (which was worse than Gen 7, which was worse than Gen 6…). At least in Gen 8 I could do a surprise trade or player card swap to cause the raid list to refresh regularly, but in Gen 9 you only get a grand total of 8 random raids at a time that everyone in the world can get into at the same time and these can only be refreshed every ~30 seconds, meaning that you have like a second to try to get into a raid before none are going to be available. There’s also a random raid option, but that’s a band-aid on a bullet wound when you want to get into specific raids. Why they couldn’t just implement a server browser with some basic filters is beyond me.
Performance is Shit – Without a doubt, the main talking point about Scarlet and Violet at launch has been the game’s notoriously awful performance, innumerable bugs and poor programming. Fun story: literally the first thing I did in this game was move the right analog stick to get a better look at my character’s room, which caused the camera to clip into a black void. I wasn’t even trying to break the game either, but it set the tone for the experience to follow. Your camera will constantly clip out of the world, I’ve had characters go invisible, Pokemon disappear or slide out of frame during a battle, menu screens and icons that freeze in place and refuse to go away, etc. The performance woes are the real problem though, with the frame rate regularly dipping below 20fps in and around city areas. It’s real bad and can make the game headache-inducing, although saving and resetting your game will often alleviate some of the performance issues. Still, it’s an unacceptable state to launch a game in and clearly was due to The Pokemon Company’s mandated game release schedule.
No Level Scaling – The biggest issue with Scarlet and Violet‘s ambitions of being open world and letting you chart your own path is that Pokemon and trainers’ levels are all set from the start. That means that you can go into an area, be massively under-levelled and grind to beat that area, but if you do then several other areas of the game will be a boring chore because they will all be hopelessly under-levelled. You can somewhat counter this by following recommended progression guides, but if you spend any time exploring and filling your Pokedex off of the main path then you’re pretty easily going to find yourself over-levelled in no time at all.
The Map is Pretty Empty – While the Pokemon make the world interesting and alive, the actual design of the Paldea region is really unengaging. In previous, more tightly-designed Pokemon games there were all sorts of secrets and cool things to find hidden away in the world, but in Scarlet and Violet you will mainly find basic items, or TMs if you’re lucky. The main reward for exploration are stakes which can be used to free legendary beasts, which is admittedly pretty cool. However, the cities are where the game really falls flat. Previous Pokemon games would always have hidden shops, people who wanted to trade, people who could tell you things about your Pokemon, or even just flavourful lore dumps. In Scarlet and Violet, towns are basically worthless. Towns will basically just have food shops which are arbitrarily spread out over a half dozen locations through the town with different menus, item shops (which get spread out between two locations, plus Pokemon Centers themselves) and, if you’re lucky, clothing shops (which are also spread out between 1-2 types of clothing per shop). Very rarely will you come across people wanting to trade or do anything interesting, so you’ll basically just enter to do the gym challenge and then leave quickly (again, the shit performance in cities doesn’t help either). It’s a real shame, considering that places like Goldenrod, Celadon and Lumiose City had so much going on in them and are so memorable to this day, I can’t imagine Paldea’s cities doing the same.
Still No Voice Acting – This would probably be my big caveat to the point about Gen 9 feeling like AAA Pokemon, because these games still, somehow don’t have any kind of voice acting. I get that it’s probably a localization issue, compounded with the time and money that it would take that TPC are too cheap to invest in, but goddamn, voice acting would add so much to this game’s story and characters. It’s just one more embarrassing mark against this series that takes some major steps forward but then shoots itself in the foot with moves that feel super goddamn lazy.
Missions Can Be Dull – While I do like the storylines in this game, some of the actions that you have to do to complete them can be really dull. The worst offender in this regard is Team Star bases. There are five Team Star bases spread across the world map, they all play out the same way and they’re all easy and boring. All you have to do is use the auto-battle mechanic to make 3 of your Pokemon beat the crap out of 3 opposing Pokemon. Rinse and repeat until you defeat 30 Pokemon and then you’ll have to fight a boss. And if this doesn’t sound easy enough, you get an extremely generous 10 minutes to complete this and unlimited opportunities to heal. I don’t know how you could struggle to complete these missions unless you’re massively under-levelled and using a full team with poor type matchups. Gym challenges can also be pretty boring. Most of these involve doing some sort of chore before you’re allowed to fight the boss and they make me yearn for the days when I just had to fight 2-5 trainers before the leader which would act like a mini-tutorial for that gym’s theme.
Slow Battle Pacing – If there’s one major caveat to Pokemon battles occurring in the overworld now, it’s that it has slowed the pace of battles to a crawl not seen since Gen 4. Battles often have long delays between actions, especially if a Pokemon gets swapped out of faints, where you may wait like 5+ seconds before you’re able to make a decision on how to proceed. Thankfully most move animations have been sped up to compensate for this somewhat, but this is definitely the most sluggish battles have felt in several generations.
Let’s Go Feature – Pokemon following you on the overworld has always been a fan-favourite feature in these games, so the idea of having your companions come out whenever you want and even battling for fetching items for you automatically seems enticing. Well… as with most things in this game, the implementation really lets it down. This all comes down to the fact that the tether for this ability is extremely short and is based on your Pokemon’s actual movement speed. This means that if you try to navigate the world at a normal pace on the back of your riding Pokemon, you will almost immediately get too far away from your companion and cause them to head back into their pokeball. This is especially frustrating for the Pokemon who evolve by following you around for a certain number of steps, forcing you to either travel the world at a regular pace, or slow your movement to a crawl so you can have a Pokemon follow you. Suffice to say, I barely use this feature now, which is a damn shame.
Scarlet and Violet have been a bit of a mixed bag for me. I love seeing Pokemon living in the open world, constantly keeping an eye out for shinies and struggling through competitive and raid battles, but the performance and design issues are undeniable and unforgiveable and I’m often finding myself yearning for the tighter, focused design of Gens 2, 4 and 5. I hope that Game Freak will actually do something to improve this game and win back some community trust, but given the history of this franchise I’m not holding my breath.
Best Pokemon of Gen 9: Ceruledge, the entire Sprigatito line, Iron Valiant, Miraidon, Koraidon, Roaring Moon, Klawf, Flittle Shittiest Pokemon of Gen 9: Frigibax, Palafin (the base form is super lazy and the Hero form is an abomination), Sandy Shocks, Dudunsparce (25 years for this… Dunsparce is already the joke, you don’t say the same joke again and expect it to be funny), Gholdengo
It has been a while since I did a Pokemon Love/Hate and you may notice that there was one glaring, recent omission from my list – where were the Let’s Go games? I have had a half-finished Love/Hate list for these games in my drafts for a while and debated restricting this series to the mainline games only, but recently I decided to give it another shot. Since these game released I’ve had a lot more thoughts about Let’s Go and was surprised at just how many things I liked and disliked about them. So, without further delay, I’ve finally got this list written up for your viewing pleasure!
Pokemon Appear in the Overworld! – At the time of release this was a controversial addition, but I have always loved it. Random encounters in Pokemon are a series legacy but they have always been annoying. Let’s Go completely shakes that up by having Pokemon appear in the overworld. This makes the world itself feel far more alive as you have Pokemon going about their business on it, plus it allows you to hunt what you want at your leisure (and if you accidentally encounter one, that’s your own fault). Even better, shiny Pokemon apper on the overworld in this game, so you could be just travelling casually when one pops out at you unexpectedly! It makes simple route traversal exciting since you never know when or if a shiny may appear and is something I wish was retained in Sword and Shield.
Riding and Following Pokemon! – Following Pokemon has always been a requested feature in Pokemon games, despite the fact that it doesn’t really add much functionality and is more of a characterful quality of life improvement. Well, Let’s Go goes a step further because not only can you have your Pokemon follow you, but you can freaking ride on top of several of them!!! This replaces the bike feature from the original games and is an absolute joy to experience once you unlock it! Hopping on an Arcanine’s back and bounding across the Kanto region never gets old… and don’t even get me started on soaring in the skies on a Dragonite!
Can View PC Boxes in Overworld! – This was a simple but HUGE quality of life improvement, easy to overlook. Being able to manage your party and caught Pokemon while out in the wilds is such a time-saver. No longer do you have to trudge back to a Pokemon center or sit through a lengthy Fly animation and then make your way back to where you were hunting, now you can just take care of this whenever your heart desires. Sure, it does make things a tad bit easier to be able to swap out your party on the fly, but the convenience more than makes up for this. Honestly, of all the features that made their way from Let’s Go to Sword and Shield, this is probably my favourite!
Partner Pokemon Interactions are Adorable – Let’s Go takes the Nintendogs-style Pokemon interaction systems introduced in Gen 6 and takes them to the next level. Not only do you get to interact with your partner Pokemon in various ways but you can also dress up your partner in several cosmetic items! It’s one of those additions which doesn’t really have any effect on gameplay but, like, my Eevee’s wearing a hat and a vest, holy shit I want to hug it! The whole point of this game is to grow as attached as possible to your partner Pokemon and all these features go a long way to pulling that off.
Single-System Co-Op Mode – Holy shit, a Pokemon game with a built-in two player mode?! The mode itself is very simple, but this was actually an amazing feature for me regardless. My fiancé doesn’t play a lot of games or care all that much for Pokemon, but this simple co-op mode allowed us to share some bonding time together catching Charmanders and hunting for a shiny one. I’d love to see this feature return in the future, especially since I now have my own kid who is getting to the age where he could appreciate joining me in a Pokemon adventure.
Streamlining – In addition to the improved access to the PC box, Let’s Go has expected quality of life improvements over the Gen 1 games or their Gen 3 remakes. Most obvious is the removal of HMs, which are now just performed by your partner Pokemon. The most notable example of streamlining though is that the item finder has been removed and repurposed. I always found the item finder to be a pain in the ass, not worth mapping to Select over the bike, but in Let’s Go its functionality built right into your partner Pokemon – when you walk around their tail will start wagging faster as you approach a hidden item! It’s a clever and much better way to handling this function, I love it.
Pokemon Go Integration – It was believed that the Let’s Go games were created as a way to rope new fans into the franchise who had only played Pokemon Go, and to that end several mechanics from the mobile game carry over to Let’s Go. However, the actual interaction between the two games is seriously lacking. For one thing, Let’s Go only includes the first 151 Pokemon, their Alola variants and the Meltan line, so most of the Pokemon Go Dex can’t even be used at all. Furthermore, transfers only work one-way – you can only transfer compatible Pokemon to Let’s Go and none can be sent to Pokemon Go. This has given me a handy, niche use where I can offload duplicate Pokemon Go shinies and legendaries to send to Pokemon HOME, and it has given me access to the Mystery Box to get several Meltans and Melmetals, so it’s not a complete wash. Still, the interaction between the two games could have been far more ambitious and it feels like they just did the bare minimum to integrate them.
Missing Areas – At this point it’s pretty obvious that the Gaming Corner from Gen 1 is never coming back due to its simulated gambling, which sucks but fair enough. They’ve set the precedent and it’s more or less expected that this will be the case, even if it does make the game feel a bit more empty. But why the heck do Game Freak refuse to do a Safari Zone area anymore? The Safari Zone was one of the funnest distractions in the original games, why is it completely gutted here in favour of the Pokemon Go transfer room? Again, there’s kind of a precedent here to take the Safari Zone away so it’s not a complete shock, but it’s disappointing none the less.
XP Gains – Let’s Go completely shifts the focus in Pokemon away from battling to catching, doing away with random battles entirely. As a result, your main source of xp comes from capturing wild Pokemon, supplemented by the occasional trainer or gym battle. In my opinion, this is a more tedious system compared to random battles though – catching a Pokemon takes longer than grinding random battles. Even then, previously oppressive areas like the Rock Tunnel were at least a good way to farm for xp til you were strong enough to get through. In Let’s Go, I just dodged around every Pokemon and didn’t get into any battles I didn’t want to, meaning that I was also missing out on xp I probably needed. In general, this also makes it difficult to measure your relative level, since you can’t use wild Pokemon as a measuring stick for your progress and instead have to commit yourself to a battle not knowing if you’re about to get stomped or not. That said…
Partner Pokemon is OP – Oh, you thought that Pokemon X and Y were too easy? Just for fun, I wanted to see if I could solo Let’s Go with only my partner Pokemon, without grinding and by using as few aids as possible (eg, medicine). This is very much doable in Let’s Go, as my partner Eevee went down maybe once or twice (and one of those was to a lucky Horn Drill Seaking) and then my other Pokemon were easily able to clean up afterward. Your partner Pokemon is just plain overpowered in this game, which isn’t helped by the fact that they can learn several insane (and stupidly named) tutor moves for coverage. Oh and Eevee gets several more tutor moves than Pikachu does, because screw you Pikachu.
Mew and the Pokeball Plus Are BULLSHIT – The Pokemon Company have really been preying on their fans’ compulsive desire to “catch ’em all” in scummier and scummier ways over the years and the Pokeball Plus was one of the most blatant examples. For $60 you can get a Pokeball motion controller which can only really be used in Let’s Go… wow what a crappy deal. But wait, if you don’t buy it then you can’t get Mew and will therefore never complete your Let’s Go Pokedex! Making matters worse, you have to buy the Pokeball Plus new because the Mew is on a serial code packaged inside, meaning that you can only ever get 1 Mew per Pokeball. Well fine, I’ll just transfer my Mew from Pokemon Go to Let’s Go… lol, no they don’t let you do that for completely arbitrary reasons which definitely aren’t related to making you buy a shitty $60 accessory. Oh and speaking of which…
Forced Motion Controls – If there’s anything Nintendo loves more than gimmicky motion controls, it’s making them not optional even when the potential to do so is built right in the game itself. If you play the game in hand-held mode, you have to turn the entire system to line-up your shot and then press a button to throw the ball. This is generally what I prefer, but sometimes I want to detach the joycons and put the system down on a flat surface or dock it. Boy it sure would be nice if I could just press a button to throw, but no – when you switch to the joycons the game forces you to rely on terrible motion controls to aim you throws. You can aim right at a Pokemon and have the ball fly off in the complete opposite direction, which is bad enough since it wastes your resources, but in this game Pokemon run away at a high rate so you could even lose a shiny because of this. Like… you’ve built an alternative into the game already, why force me to deal with the gimmick you came up with to sell Pokeball Pluses? It’s bad enough for me, but I can only imagine it’s even worse for players with motor control issues. And all this just compounds another big issue with the game…
Endless Catching Is A Boring Core Mechanic – Let’s Go does away with requiring you to battle and weaken Pokemon in order to catch them. Instead it has you just throw Pokeballs at every Pokemon you encounter, with very little that you can do to swing the odds in your favour (you can throw a berry, land an excellent throw or use a better Pokeball, that’s it). If you want one of your Pokemon to be stronger, you have to grind catching that same Pokemon over and over again to get candies. Let’s Go just demonstrates to me that battling in the mainline Pokemon games is a far more interesting core mechanic, since it makes any Pokemon you want to catch tense as you try to avoid knocking them out, but also manageable as you can stack the odds in your favour.
Friendly Rival – I get that Let’s Go is meant to be “baby’s first Pokemon game”, but… like, so were Pokemon Red and Blue and everyone in my school had few issues getting through those games. One of the weirdest changes to me is that they take away Blue, who was famously a dickhead who you wanted to beat in every encounter, and replace him with Trace, who’s just a pleasant nobody. Like… why Game Freak? They seem obsessed with giving us friendly “rivals” for the past several years (in fact Sword and Shield are the first games to reverse this trend in ages), but they make for boring characters to interact with and battle against.
Seriously? Another Kanto Remake? – Let’s Go mark the second full remake of the Gen 1 games. Sure, it’s been quite a while since FireRed and LeafGreen, but these games are coming out only two years after the Gen 1 games were re-released on the 3DS virtual console. Furthermore, Gen 1 is so oversaturated and over-represented by The Pokemon Company that it can’t help but make Let’s Go a bit disappointing for long-time fans.
Competitive Scene Was Dead on Arrival – As soon as the battling mechanics for this game were revealed it was obvious that Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon were going to continue to be the main platforms for competitive Pokemon until Gen 8 arrived. Why, you may ask? Well, Let’s Go strips out abilities, held items, several moves, not to mention that it features a greatly scaled-back Pokedex, has no auto-levelling system (meaning you have to get all your Pokemon to level 100 to stand a chance) and there’s no breeding for ideal natures or IVs (although Bottle Caps are still a thing at least). The worst thing though is that Let’s Go ditches the EV system that has been in place since Gen 3 and replaces it with AVs, which are effectively EVs that you can use to max out every single stat. No longer are you forced to specifically decide how you want to build your Pokemon’s stats, now you just max out all your stats because you’re literally handicapping yourself if you don’t. This also means that most Pokemon are straight-up useless because their stats don’t make them good at any one thing when everything’s maxed out. Yeah, it’s no wonder that VGC never even bothered with a Let’s Go league in 2018 and 2019.
It’s Not For Me – Some people really enjoyed Let’s Go, and that’s totally fair. I’m not saying that they’re objectively bad games or anything, and as you can probably tell I really loved the characterful additions this game brings. However, I like battling with my Pokemon and Let’s Go does not cater to that side of the fandom at all. Endless catching makes this game so dull for me, to the point where I haven’t even gotten through the entire thing and don’t really plan to. Hell, the only reason I bought it was to try to get a shiny Melmetal and even then I had to wait for a pretty hefty price drop before I could justify it. I think that Let’s Go has its own niche within the Pokemon fandom and I actually do hope that we get Let’s Go sequels in Johto in 2021, but this spin-off just doesn’t do it for me… which is fine, I guess.
Over a year ago I wrote the first of what would become my Love/Hate series, a retrospective of the pros and cons of each generation of Pokemon. Since then, we’ve obviously gotten the start of another whole generation of Pokemon with Sword and Shield and, having completed the main story and gotten some time to mull over my feelings on the game I feel like it’s time for a Love/Hate update. That said, this is of course only my opinion and there’s the potential for it to change over time (opinions on the Pokemon themselves in particular are likely to soften as more time passes). So, with that in mind, let’s get this started!
Raids – Easily my most-anticipated feature from the previews was raid battles, which pit four players against an extra-powerful Dynamax Pokemon. I’m happy to say that these are about as fun as I had hoped, requiring some additional strategies to get through successfully. That said, for four- or five-star raids you’re definitely going to need 2 or 3 human companions because the default NPC trainers are terrible.
Dynamax Makes Gym Battles Climactic – Restricting Dynamax to raid battles and gyms was a truly inspired move. By the time you get to a gym, you’re already pumped up by the music and the roar of the crowd as you march out onto the turf and then send out your first Pokemon. Then, when the battle is drawing to a close, you finally get your chance to bring out your Dynamax Pokemon and things get even bigger and more exciting. I have to admit, with these rare intervals, Dynamax is a really cool feature and the flashy moves make for a suitably epic climax to each challenge, almost like a reward in itself.
Some Great Characters – I was actually pretty surprised how well fleshed out many of the characters were in Sword and Shield. Hop starts out as your standard friendly rival, but he actually learns to not just define himself in the shadow of his superstar brother or feel like he’s hurting the family legacy. Meanwhile, Marnie is carrying the hope and dreams of her town on her shoulders as she battles through the Gym Challenge. Bede goes from arrogant prick, to desperate to prove himself worthy, to humble over the course of the story. It’s also pretty exciting to see Sonia earn the mantle of Pokemon Professor for her efforts in studying the Darkest Day. All-in-all, these characters are great and are going to be remembered for years to come.
Quality of Life Improvements – As always, Sword and Shield have brought some much-needed refinements to the formula which just make playing the game more enjoyable. These include Surprise Trades which go on in the background while you play, nature-changing mints, XP candies for quick and easy level-ups, access to PC boxes at any time, name raters and lotto-ID in every Pokemon Center (halle-freaking-lujah!) and the introduction of TRs to replace move tutors. It’s a lot of little things, but add them all up and it makes the experience of actually playing the game far more enjoyable.
Spoiled For Choice – While much has been made of the restricted Pokedex in these games, you are absolutely spoiled for choice at the start of the game. Most Pokemon games will very slowly dole out the available Pokemon, often repeating the same ones over and over from route to route. Sword and Shield say “screw that!” and give you two packed routes and then throw you into the Wild Area in the first couple hours, absolutely spoiling you with choices for a solid team. While I did eventually settle into a composed team by the second or third gym, the amount of choice you get off the bat was impressive and helps ease the sting of the restricted Pokedex in the first few hours.
Customization – Due to an increased emphasis on multiplayer options, Game Freak have really upped the number of customization options available to the player. Almost everyone I’ve encountered playing the game has customized their character beyond the default outfits (which is almost too bad because even the default outfits are really cool). Even better, the Card Maker allows you to design your own player trading card, which has no real purpose other than to be cool… and I love it. It’s such a small, pointless feature but probably my favourite thing in the whole game.
Some Really Cool Pokemon Designs – As always, there are some really great Pokemon introduced this generation. Corviknight, in particular, is probably the coolest “starter bird” Pokemon of all time, while Yamper and Wooloo make your heart melt as much as any Eevee could, and the Galarian forms are all quite interesting and distinct. There are some wildly different Pokemon in this game and several of these experiments pay off in interesting ways.
Graphics – Much has been made about the graphics in this game and, while I’m nowhere near as critical about them as some, I understand the criticism. Personally, I like the game’s aesthetic and think that it looks very pretty in places like Wedgehurst, Galar Mine, Slumbering Weald and Ballonlea. That said, the game has an embarrassing amount of pop-in, with characters just disappearing into thin air if you move more than a couple dozen meters away. Worse, the frame rate drops in the Wild Area are really bad a times, especially when playing online (and, considering that this is basically how you’re supposed to be playing in the Wild Area, this is a big problem). The game doesn’t even look particularly taxing for a Switch game so this lack of optimization is frustrating.
The Wild Area – A lot of people love the much-hyped Wild Area, but I’m pretty mixed on it personally. On the one hand, it’s certainly cool being able to explore the world, but the design is very limited. Each area is basically just three patches of grass spawning the same three or four Pokemon over and over again. The world would feel more lively if there were way more Pokemon in each area instead of just having to see the same three again and again – it’s pretty bad when traditional routes feel way more lively and diversified than your open world. World traversal is also a pain in the ass because you can’t climb over even tiny hills. Oh, and the dynamic weather sounds great, until you get stuck encountering Pokemon over and over again in snow or sandstorms, trying to figure out where you’re trying to go. Look, I think the Wild Area’s a decent trial run of this concept of an open world Pokemon game and I do think that this is where the series is going to be going in the future, but it’s going to need to feel way more open and lively if it’s going to be better than traditional routes.
Camping – Much was made of camping in this game, but there’s very little going on with it. I mean, it’s pretty cool seeing your Pokemon (or an online player’s) walking around the camp, but it gets boring pretty quickly. You can also play with your Pokemon, but there’s only two toys available and they also get very boring quickly. Then the only thing left to do is make a curry, of which there are a 151 different varieties! There are probably some players who are going to have fun filling out their “curry dex”, but it’s a pretty lengthy mini-game which involves a ton of resource gathering with little reward… basically, for all the effort you go through, your Pokemon just get some XP, happiness and get healed. It can be handy when you’re out in the Wild Area and need to heal, but just using a healing item is far faster and less of a pain in the ass.
In-Game Events – Holy crap, Game Freak are actually using online functionality to add things to their game and keep players engaged? So far they have been having special events which make certain Gigantamax Pokemon appear more frequently in raids and have even released new Gigantamax Pokemon into the game (apparently there are 30+ unavailable Pokemon in the game’s code which are going to be released in future). That said, there Pokemon are such a pain to obtain. First off, you have to find the Pokemon to begin with. Second, these tend to be five-star raids and therefore require at least a couple online partners to succeed, which can be enough of a pain in the ass to wrangle. Then you still have to win the raid and you only get one chance to catch the Pokemon. What if it breaks out? Too bad, you have to go through the whole process all over again of finding the Pokemon in a raid, wrangling your partners, winning the raid, etc… Just trying to get a Gigantamax Snorlax recently took me hours of unsuccessful attempts.
Weak Story – As good as some of the characters in Sword and Shield are, the story surrounding them might just be the weakest in the entire main series.
For the story itself, you get endorsed by the Champion and go complete all the gyms. Every once in a while something unusual happens, but for nearly the entire game the Champion tells you to forget about it while he goes to deal with it instead. The “evil team”, Team Yell, aren’t even all that much to talk about either, they temporarily block your path and fizzle out quickly. The villain is potentially interesting, but he gets very little development and makes maligned villains of games past like Lysandre look positively inspired by comparison. Eternatus is also very poorly explained as a villainous Pokemon.
Worst of all though is the post-game, which involves you running around Galar to each of the gyms and fighting a bunch of repetitive, weak raid battles… but you don’t even get a chance to catch the Pokemon you fight. Oh, and you also have to fight a pair of chodes, Sordward and Shielbert, who might be my least-favourite characters in the entire series. They suck and this whole post-game is just a pain in the ass that I only plowed through in order to catch the box art legendary.
It’s also worth noting that several characters are totally underserved by the story. Professor Magnolia, for example, shows up maybe twice in the entire game and ends up getting completely overshadowed by Sonia by the mid-point of the game.
Feature Removal – Look, I know much has been made of this already, but it’s really difficult to ignore the fact that over 500 Pokemon are missing from this game. On top of that, the removal of Megas and Z-moves sucks. I’m still exploring what the region has to offer, but the longer I play, the more this exclusion is going to sting because it cuts down on the variety Pokemon has always offered.
Dynamax and Gigantamax – Like I said earlier, I actually like Dynamaxing as a mechanic in gym battles, but allowing it by default in online battles isn’t very fun. It encourages stall in order to get through the three turns, while also being broken for certain Pokemon because of the additional effects of attacks (being able to set weather or terrain AND cause damage is so much more deadly than the more powerful base damage of one-use Z-moves). Gigantamax, on the other hand, is kind of a pointless addition considering the additional work it caused. The only difference is that the Pokemon gets a new look for three turns and can use a G-Max move if they have the right type of attack. Funnily enough, these G-Max moves tend to be less useful than the default Max Moves they replace… so can I just have my Megas and Z-moves back? Please?
Online Features – Online stability has never been a sure thing with Game Freak, but I had hoped that they’d be able to get with the times on Switch. Unfortunately, the online functionality in Sword and Shield is not great at all. Not only does being online in the Wild Area make your frame rate tank, but it also can cause connected players to float in the air or go into impossible places. Navigating the online menus is a waiting game, as you can wait for a minute or two for it to refresh and show you a bunch of useless notifications. Trying to connect to raids is also a total crapshoot, if any even show up in your feed (this is a particular sore point for me because raids have been my go-to entertainment thus far). Oh, and to make matters even worse, basic stuff like the VS Recorder and the freaking GTS have been removed! I know some people have said “oh, well just use Discord if you want to get a specific Pokemon”, but no, screw that. I should be able to just search the Pokemon I want or deposit to get what I want. Removing this key feature is just a kick in the nuts for a collecting game like this, especially when you have pointless shit like Gigantamax and camping which were clearly taking up a lot of resources to implement.
Catching/Level Cap – Game Freak put themselves into a weird situation by allowing you to encounter extremely-high level Pokemon in the early game if you wander around the Wild Area. Their solution to this potentially game breaking problem? Just outright forbid you from catching Pokemon of certain levels until you have a gym badge allowing you to do so. This is a baffling decision. For one thing, it discourages exploration – after all, why go off the beaten path to look for new Pokemon if the game isn’t going to even let you catch it? In the early to mid-game I was just blitzing through the Wild Area to get the gym badges so I could be allowed to catch Pokemon. Even stranger, your team’s level cap outpaces the catching level cap very early, so you can be rocking a team of Pokemon at level 40 and still not be allowed to catch Pokemon of a lower level than them. It’s such a dumb decision and I don’t think that this was the right way to handle it.
Game Just Feels Half-Baked – The sum of a lot of these issues is that the game just feels half-baked and incomplete, likely due to the strict annual release schedule of these games. Missing features and unsatisfying story might not even be an issue if Game Freak had some more time on their hands, or if they’d be willing to outsource some of their work. Game Freak and The Pokemon Company really need to take a 2-3 year break to give us a game with some serious, uncompromised passion behind it, although given the success they have regardless I can’t see this happening…
Some of the New Pokemon… – Good God. I was really liking every Pokemon that was officially revealed prior to release, but having played the game in full there are some seriously butt-ugly Pokemon hiding in this roster.
I feel like Eiscue deserves a special mention here. It’s a penguin with a gigantic ice block on its head and then when the ice block breaks, it’s got this stupid, derpy, sad face underneath… what the actual hell. It’s so stupid and derpy that I can actually see myself turning around and maybe liking it someday, but right now I’m deciding whether or not this Pokemon is worse than Barbaracle.
The four fossil Pokemon are also so bad looking. I find the idea of having two Pokemon fused together to be an interesting one, but then you remember that Kyurem Black and White exist and that these Pokemon look arguably worse. Having genetic abominations that look like they wish they were dead is funny in a Judge Dredd comic, not in Pokemon. These things are seriously the most casually unethical development in a series which has long lampshaded the fact that it’s all about cockfighting.
It’s also worth mentioning that the final evolutions of the starter Pokemon are pretty much universally acknowledged to be the worst ever. They’re all incredibly disappointing or off-putting, which is particularly unfortunate since their first evolutions are actually probably the best since at least Gen 2.
Best Pokemon of Gen 8: Corviknight, Wooloo, Eldegoss, Thievul, Yamper, Frosmoth, Flapple, Dragapult, Zacian, Zamazenta, Galarian Weezing
Shittiest Pokemon of Gen 8: Chewtle, Sandaconda, G-Max Copperajah, Impidimp’s entire evolution line, Pincurchin (guaranteed to be a future “most forgotten Pokemon”), Eiscue, Dracozolt, Arctovish
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.
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) 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.
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) 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.
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.
Generation 4 (Diamond, Pearl, Platinum, HeartGold, SoulSilver) 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!
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.
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.
(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 (Ruby, Sapphire, Emerald, FireRed, LeafGreen) 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.
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.
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.
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 DarkCave 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.
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.
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, Green, Blue, 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.
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). RockTunnel 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.