Playing Games

The master wizard, a talking cat named Jinx, seems wary of any novices with cat allergies

Funny, despite the fact that I am allergic to cats, in all my years playing mages in RPGs I’d never before thought about the two going hand-in-hand.

Despite the talking cat’s ascertain that I might not be wizard material, Fantasy Life is fast proving itself to be one of my new favorite games. Props to li’l brother for the excellent birthday gift because honestly I’m convinced Level 5 made this game specifically with me in mind. In fact, the only complaint I have with it is there is just too much to do and I can see myself easily getting burnt out on the game.

Luckily there is a rather decent multi-player feature in the game and I also have several other games to switch out with. Most of these are pretty amazing in their own right like Persona Q, Devil Survivor Overclocked, Bravely Default, and my newest acquisition Etrian Odyssey Untold . . . along with Pokémon X.

That probably seems as odd to you as it does to me even though without fail the number one RPG suggestion I am given is to play a Pokémon game. Despite the fact that I don’t know anything about Pokémon!

Seriously. I was a freshman in college when the “Pokémon craze” took hold here. Not only was I outside the target demographic, but my own interest in something is always directly proportional to how much buzz there is about it.1 Frankly, I kind of pride myself on my Pokémon ignorance simply because of this.

In any case, despite my fervent objections time and again I’ve been told I all but owe it to myself as a fan of RPGs to play Pokémon. Interesting fact, though, is that there was never a specific title I was told to try. That really should have been my first clue. True all of my favorite series, Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, Tales, and SMT, can be jumped into at any point and can more-or-less be fully enjoyed without the history of previous titles. But even among all of those there are definitely titles that stand out as the best suggestions to start with. Obviously, some are just better games and others just lend themselves to being a good starting point for one reason or another. The thing with Pokémon games, though, is they are all basically the same exact game. It’s mind-boggling that they’ve managed to make and sell so many games in the last two decades that are not just formulaic, but actually just a copy-paste from 1998 with shinier graphics. I suppose that was a plus in a way because it meant I didn’t have to put any thought into choosing. I saw X in a bargain bin for $3 and just grabbed it.

In case I haven’t been clear enough, here is what I knew before popping in the cartridge:

  1. The series is about little monsters in balls that fight each other. Also, there are children called Trainers.
  2. Pikachu.

#2 deserves a bit of explanation and/or emphasis. There are 721 Pokémon and the only thing I know about them is they have really stupid names like Jigglypuff and Mewtwo. Pikachu is the only Pokémon I recognize.

Some twenty hours into the game2 I don’t really feel that much more knowledgeable. In all honesty the only thing I feel I’ve learned is that these games are deceptive. First, there’s the main gimmick — the Pokémon catching — which is almost impossible to fully accomplish. At least not without devoting your life to it or cheating. Additionally, I do not find any amusement in the ludicrous elitism that the collection seems to inspire. It’s right up there with legendary equipment drops in the endgame of MMORPGs. Sure you have all this fancy stuff, but it’s only good in a virtual world!

Second, the battle mechanics are needlessly complicated. I’m no stranger to weaknesses and status effects, which are very common mechanics in RPG battles. I’ve played some pretty hardcore battle systems that at best were punishing and at worst were brutal rage-quit moments. But the sheer number in this game is daunting to the point that actually utilizing it requires constantly referencing a chart, which I am sure the average twelve-year-old is not doing. Especially since any need for strategy is offset with a high enough level and/or stat when even ineffective attacks can one-shot.

Admittedly, I might care more for the battle system if things were organized in a more intuitive way. As it is the moves have a naming system that’s almost as random as the Pokémon themselves and are not indicative of what type they are. Yes, they’re labeled (in very small text). They’re also color-coded, which does me exactly no help whatsoever. It’s also hilarious to me that any research online into the more finite mechanics of this game always has a top response that is some version of “lol newb.” I guess after one title you’re either supposed to know all this intuitively or come to the realization that such intricate knowledge is a waste of brain space.

Having not finished the game yet, there is a possibility however small that the entire thing could redeem itself. At any rate my conclusion at this point is a mixture of baffling disbelief and boredom. I absolutely do not understand how such a prolific series is as popular and long-lasting as it is when each title is fundamentally the same game. For me, the main aspects of gameplay are repetitive and frustrating at best. I can see the hallmarks of what would be an absolutely fantastic game, but instead it’s just kind of mind-numbing. I honestly don’t get the draw, but at the very least I can say I’ve played a Pokémon game.

  1. This is why I didn’t read any of the Harry Potter books until the fourth was out and that was only because they were nearby while I was bedridden with an awful sinus infection.
  2. I have the sixth badge.

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