Our 20 Year Journey to be Pokemon Masters20 years? I need a drink... Oh, maybe next year...03.04.16 - 9:07 PM
Yellow, Blue, Silver, Sapphire, Fire Red, Heart Gold, Black, Black 2, Y and Alpha Sapphire.
This is what my journey through Pokémon looks like. To anyone else who hasn't played the series, this list looks like a strange amalgamation of colors that form a sickly rainbow, but to me, and to many, it's a representation of growing up. The series is two decades old now, and since I was 5 I've been travelling with these creatures. I've fought the Elite 4 many times, I've captured hundreds of Pokémon time and time again, but I'm still not bored with the franchise. Taken at face value the series appears hardly changed, but just a few hours with each game shows you how much Pokémon has evolved over the decades, and just how much of a powerhouse franchise it is.
However, things weren't always rosy and perfect — Game Freak's first entries in the series, Red and Green, took 6 years to make. The company was blighted by low finances and, as a result, some staff walked out during the production of the game, which delayed the release. Finally, on February 27th 1996, Pokémon was released to Japan for the first time. These entries were only a moderate success initially, but a secret broke out that kick-started the series' popularity. Shigeki Morimoto, one of the lead programmers, created an additional Pokémon as a prank, but he didn't intend for anyone outside of Game Freak getting hold of it. That was the plan, at least, until the company's president Satoshi Tajiri discovered it and announced the 151st Pokémon to the game's fans in CoroCoro Comic in the spring. This surprise resulted in a surge in popularity, and a competition on April 15th was announced where 151 people could win this brand new Pokémon — Mew. This small event propelled the games into mainstream popularity, and as a result, has seen the series last two decades.
I find it amazing to look back at the series just to see how much it has changed visually. I grew up watching the anime series; I'd tape it so I could watch it over and over, I owned every movie on video, I collected Pokémon cards and I tried to buy all the merchandise I could. Pokémon was a phenomenon that swept me up in its wake. While I adored the games, I longed for years that my creatures would look just as they did in the cartoons, and over the last 20 years this has gone beyond Pikachu losing a few pounds: color has been added, they began to move when they were released from their Pokéball, and then they would move when making an attack. The leap to 3D in 2013 blew my mind — it managed to fulfil the childhood dream and made my party look like the spitting images of their anime counterparts. It reinvigorated the series' image and was more than just a fresh lick of paint.
Perhaps my biggest childhood dream, even bigger than my Pokémon looking like they were from the anime, was becoming the champion. This spirit never dampened between each game, and with each new region I explored, I felt the need to conquer the Elite 4 every time. Yet Pokémon's story has mostly been the same series of tropes game to game. Generation 5 was the first to buck this trend with the introduction of N, the leader of Team Plasma who just wants to free all Pokémon, and the first (and only) Pokémon game in which you don't fight the champion before the credits roll. It's a huge shock to get to the end and find your enemy has already beaten the champion, before they proceed to summon a castle out of the ground. It's only a small shake-up to the formula, but it does enough to keep players interested, and X and Y has followed suit by adding little extras and changing up things that add enough diversity to keep the series going.
Another beauty of Pokémon is the social and communal aspect of the series. I grew up coercing friends and playing Pokémon as part of a group, and today I still manage to keep this up. I never got a link cable for my Game Boy Color so I had to settle with talking and helping out my friends at school with Pokémon. I made sure that with Ruby and Sapphire I would save up for a cable, and I did just that, saving every last penny for a month, doing extra chores. I had to be able to trade Pokémon with my friends. The link cable opened up new possibilities for me — it meant that I could finally get that Alakazam I wanted, or get the Zangoose I needed to complete my Pokédex. This little cable meant I could finally prove to my fellow trainers that I really was the best Pokémon trainer in the school.
Come Diamond and Pearl, I didn't have to rely on my friends as Wi-Fi opened up a whole new Pokéball for the series. The possibilities seemed endless from then on: Imagine the feeling of knowing you could communicate, trade and battle with trainers all across the world for the first time! I couldn't get enough of it, and Pokémon is expanding evermore with its Wi-Fi capabilities. Wonder Trade might be the best mechanic — a Pokémon lottery-type feature which sees you trading random Pokémon with a random person — because it allows you to fill your Pokédex efficiently, as well as help out people without the use of friend codes.
Despite my later preference for collecting, battling might've been the best part of my childhood, as each fight taught me something different. When you won, you knew you were the best trainer, but if you lost, despite early frustration, you gain inspiration; a new goal to reach. Throughout the years, battling has changed in many subtle ways. The most notable addition comes from the additional 3 types we've gained since Generation 1. Remember getting a Magnemite in Pokémon Gold and Silver and finding out it was now a dual Electric and Steel type? Such a simple addition changed the formula dramatically by providing new combinations, weaknesses and stat advantages — Dark types are one of my favourite categories, as they made for excellent all-rounders with a slick aesthetic design to match, while Fairy types really shifted the dynamics of battle. With this new type, Dragon Pokémon now had another weakness, and Spiritomb was no longer impervious to every type, meaning Fairy could be the deciding factor in anyone's party. These additions allowed for a deeper experience by providing legible stat bonuses on each type, such as Steel's remarkable defense, and changed the face of battling forever.
With the type additions came a shift in the physical and special split, as well. I've always favored types like electric, water and ghost, and these were restricted to special-type attacks. When Generation 4 was released, these allocations shifted to moves rather than type. This meant that I could keep using my favourite types but create a varied move-set that would allow me to create a powerful Pokémon capable of destroying anyone. It's such a subtle change that you barely notice it, but when you go back and revisit older games it makes a huge amount of difference, especially competitively.
Something else crucial to competitive play is Effort Values; EVs provide additional stat boosts depending on what Pokémon they defeated, and the only way to find this out prior to Generation 6 was to wait until the Pokémon had levelled up, which made for a time-consuming grind-fest. X & Y added Super Training, which meant you could track and specifically train one stat through minigames or through core training, where you let your Pokemon attack training bags to gain stat boosts. It made this aspect of Pokémon more accessible for players like me who usually just let their stats increase as they will. I could take time out to boost Delphox's special attack and turn him into a powerhouse much easier with Super Training, and it was just another way I could create the perfect party.
Regardless of everything, the reason Pokémon doesn't feel like it's changed is because the core game is still the same, and that core helps players retain an amount of nostalgia for the series. Everyone remembers their first Pokémon journey, and everyone remembers their first gym badge, so exploring similar territory in a new game allows us to revisit those memories. The new features always feel right at home and only enhance our experience, rather than detract from it. Most importantly, Pokémon has reminded me that there is no one way to play the game: you can be a champion and leave it there; you can try to become the worldwide champion and enter real competitions; you can try and collect all 721 monsters; you could become a breeder and help out the rest of the world &mdash. There's no one way to play Pokémon; that's never changed over the years, and I would never want it to.