Monday, February 14, 2011

Pokemon: A Basic Overview

I’ll admit it: Pokemon was a notable part of my childhood. I used to buy and trade cards; still have about 600 of them stashed away in my room (including the illusive holographic Charizard that was all the rage back in the day). I saw the first movie in theaters, and it was amazing (seen the majority of every other Pokemon movie since then). And you better believe I’ve been playing Pokemon portable games since the days of Red and Blue. Still got my Blue cartridge sitting on my dresser.

So suffice to say, I know a little bit about Pokemon. Granted, I never played competitively. I was more of a trade and collect kind of guy; not that I didn’t like battling, or that I was ever a passionate enough collector to get anywhere close to “catching em all”.

Introduction and History

I sometimes come across people new to the world of Pokemon, asking various questions such as “what goes into a good team”, “how do I battle effectively”, and “what kind of game is pokemon?”. The intent of this post is to give an overview of the series and basically be as informative as possible. I just felt like writing this because I’m actually in the middle of EV training a new team from the ground up in HeartGold.

So, Pokemon is a very broad, very big franchise. There’s the TV show, the movies, the card game, the console games, the merchandise (oh, the merchandise!), among others. But it all really comes from the main series of portable games, which themselves started on the Gameboy Color with Pokemon Red, Blue, Green (which was only available in Japan), and later Yellow. Now, before you feel overwhelmed by there being so many versions in a single generations, the first thing you should note is that most of the games in a generation are nearly identical in terms of everything but the pokemon available to you. The typical trend is, you have two versions which are pretty much the same, but one version will have a slightly different roster of pokemon available than the other. So there will be perhaps 4-6 Pokemon that can only be found in one version or the other. In the case of the first generation, these were Red and Blue (and Green). Later, a third version will come along, with all the pokemon of both previous versions, and often a couple gameplay variations. In this case, that’s Yellow.

Currently, there exist five generations of Pokemon games (though the fifth hasn’t quite reached North America yet). Each one usually introduces a new region to explore, which in turn means new characters and never-before-seen Pokemon. The Generations and their games are as follows..

Generation 1 (Gameboy) - Red, Blue, Green (Japan only), and Yellow

Generation 2 (Gameboy Color) - Gold, Silver, Crystal

Generation 3 (Gameboy Advance) - Ruby, Sapphire, Emerald + FireRed and Leafgreen (remakes of Gen1 games)

Generation 4 (DS) - Diamond, Pearl, Platinum + HeartGold and SoulSilver (remakes of Gen2 games)

Generation 5 (DS) - Black, White

However, even though the series spans at least a dozen titles now (not even counting Generation 5 and any spinoffs), over the course of more than a decade, the gameplay really hasn’t changed that much. Under all the bells and whistles and advancements made with each new generation are the same core principles introduced to the world with Red and Blue.


If one had to give these games a genre, I suppose “strategic turn-based RPG” would fit the bill well enough. You play as a Pokemon Trainer, with the simple goal of becoming the best of them all. To prove your mettle, each region of the world has in place a Pokemon League, headed by the Pokemon Champion, who is the reigning strongest trainer in the region. To be eligible to challenge the Champion, you’ll have to beat the Elite 4, a team of the four strongest trainers after the Champion. To be eligible to challenge the Elite 4, you’ll need all eight gym badges for that region. To get those, you’ll have to travel around the region, visiting Pokemon Gyms, who are lead by Gym Leaders. Each Gym Leader will relinquish his/her badge when you manage to defeat them. In short: Explore the region, beat the Gym Leaders, beat the Elite 4, become a hero. That is your quest. Whether you’re playing Pokemon Blue or Pokemon Platinum, this is your long term objective.

Now, gameplay. This is perhaps where most of the series’ longevity comes from. As of Generation 4, there’s about 500 Pokemon in existence. The vast majority of which are quite unique from each other. Simply put, the series’ gameplay revolves mostly around interactions with Pokemon. Battling with them, trading them, playing games with them, befriending them, traveling with them, growing with them, etc.

As you travel through the game, you’ll come across many other characters that you can get information from and chat with. Many of them will also challenge you to a battle if they see you. Which brings us to what is perhaps the most prevalent aspect of the series.

Pokemon battles are turn-based, which means there’s no player skill involved in them. Victory is obtained with knowledge, tactics, and in many cases, a bit of luck. Most battles are known as single battles, where you and one other trainer each send out one pokemon at a time to fight. Trainers are only allowed to carry up to six pokemon with them at a time, and battles are tag-team affairs. Generation 3 introduced double battles (my favorite type), which has each trainer sending out two Pokemon at a time to fight.

At the beginning of each turn in battle, you have four options. You can fight, use an item, switch your pokemon out, or attempt to run away (you can’t run away from battles with other trainers though). Each of these will use up your turn should you choose them. Choosing fight brings you to your pokemon’s set of moves. Each pokemon can remember up to four moves at a time. Moves come in a very wide variety, with some dealing damage, others lowering the stats of your opponent, others raising your stats, etc.

Each pokemon has limited amount of HP, or hit points, that is depleted as they sustain damage. Once one fully runs out of HP, it faints and becomes unable to fight. A battle is over when all of a trainer’s on-hand pokemon have been KO’ed, rendering him/her unable to continue.

Those are the basics, anyway. A brief overview of the series and what it’s about. If I haven’t mentioned it already, I’ll say it again. Much of the draw of Pokemon comes from the possibilities presented. The series’ slogan “Gotta Catch Em All!” is still one of the loftiest goals you can achieve in gaming. Going into a new generation and meeting dozens of new pokemon holds a certain level of fascination. Anyway, this post is for the outside looking in. Stay tuned for Intermediate Tips and Tricks, for those who’ve already bought a game and are now wondering what to do with it.

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