Archive for January, 2008

Pokémon: Full Heal

There’s an item in Pokémon called “Full Heal”. You can buy it at several of the stores in the game. What would you guess it does? If you said “Restores all of a pokémon’s lost hit points”, then you think like me. You’re also wrong. That’s what “Max Potion” does. “Full Heal” is Pokémon‘s equivalent of the Final Fantasy “Esuna” spell: it removes all status effects (such as “poisoned” and “paralyzed”) from a single pokémon. And this made me realize something: I have a strong preference about the terminology for these things. Wounds are “healed”, status effects are “cured”. Doing it the other way around sounds wrong to me, even though the words are almost completely interchangeable in normal English usage.

Even in the context of games, my preferences aren’t completely industry-standard: consider the “Cure Light Wounds” family of spells in D&D, and all the games that have similarly-named spells in imitation. Are my terminological expectations completely groundless? I don’t think so; the various Pokémon FAQs and hint sheets I’ve been looking at tend to favor my usage, even if the game itself doesn’t. Still, this is something worth bearing in mind as I look at other games.

Pokémon: Collection status

My pokédex 1My in-game pokédex, that is, not the “pokédex” page on this site, which is just a list of my current pokémon inventory. currently lists 108 types as “owned”. This doesn’t mean I currently own them all, just that I’ve owned each of them at some point. Some have been traded away or evolved.

The 42 remaining 2Mew still doesn’t count. unowned types can be divided into four categories. First, there are those that I can only obtain by trading. There are 13 species like this (including one obtainable through NPC trade I haven’t been able to make yet), although 5 of them are evolved forms of other things I could trade for, so I could potentially obtain them all by trading with other players only 7 times. I have purchased a second GBA from a reader of this blog, who has my thanks and can take credit here if he wishes, so trading will be within the realm of possibility again once I have that in hand.

Second, there are those that I can catch, if I go to the right places. There are 9 species like this, including the elusive Kangaskhan and Tauros. The remaining types, I held off on catching because they’re evolved forms of things that I have, and a pokémon that has been evolved by hand is generally superior to one that’s caught in its evolved form.

Third, there are things that I can evolve from pokémon I have by using special stones on them. (The game does not specify how the stone is applied, and perhaps it’s better not to know.) There are 15 species like this, including the three evolutions of the Eevee, a unique pokémon. I’ve been putting off evolving the Eevee for flexibility in trading: I don’t want to turn it into a Flareon and then find out that someone else wants a Jolteon that I can no longer produce. I’ve been putting off evolving the rest of them because the evolved forms generally have limited opportunities for advancement: they have better stats than their unevolved forms, but they can’t learn all the attacks that their unevolved forms can. As long as there was a possibility that I’d keep using them, and thus levelling them up, it seemed a good idea to keep them unevolved. But I’ll probably abandon this by and by.

That means I currently have only 5 pokémon that I have any real reason to level up. The maximum party size is 6, so I could take all five of them out to the depths of the Unknown Dungeon at once, with Adrian in the lead. But in one case, I’m hesitant to evolve it, lest I repeat a mistake.

At the very start of the game, the player is given the choice between three pokémon: a Charmander, a Bulbasaur, or a Squirtle — basic fire, grass, and water types. This is the only point in the game where you have the opportunity to obtain any of these types. Assuming that all players want as complete a pokédex as they can get, the smart thing to do is for players to trade their initial choices with each other immediately, then level them up until they evolve and trade them again. Since I didn’t know what I was doing, I did not do this. Evolution only goes one way. Consequently, my Squirtle (Godwin) is now in its final evolution, and an unfair trade for anyone with the Charmander and Bulbasaur I sorely need.

Later in the game, the player gets another similar choice between an Omanyte and a Kabuto, two fossilized pokémon that can be revived by the scientists on Cinnabar Island. As with the initial pokémon, both of these species can evolve through experience. If I evolve my Kabuto, what will I have that’s as valuable as an Omanyte?

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1. My in-game pokédex, that is, not the “pokédex” page on this site, which is just a list of my current pokémon inventory.
2. Mew still doesn’t count.

Pokémon: Safari Zone

Spending some time on a train, I realized that this was exactly the sort of situation that I’ve been saying that the Gameboy was designed for, and decided to take advantage of my semi-distracted state by pursuing the elusive Kangaskhan in its habitat, the Safari Zone. This is the most tedious and frustrating region of the game, and there are several pokémon that can be found nowhere else. I’m still missing two, the Kangaskhan and the even more elusive Tauros.

The thing that makes the Safari Zone so tedious and frustrating is the change in the rules. There’s no combat — presumably your pokéballs are confiscated at the entrance or something. Instead, you get to throw bait, rocks, and special safari pokéballs in an effort to capture the pokémon you encounter. No matter what you do, there’s a chance that it’ll run away — the Kangaskhan and Tauros are particularly skittish. Throwing bait tends to make pokémon stick around longer, but it’s no guarantee that they won’t immediately run away anyway. Throwing rocks allegedly weakens their resistance to the pokéballs, but there’s no way to gauge this. It all feels very random, with no sense of progress within an encounter.

Worse, there’s no sense of progress throughout encounters either. When you’re hunting for a specific pokémon, you tend to encounter a lot of other things first. That’s true anywhere in the game, but outside the Safari Zone, you can at least beat them up for XP. If you go into the Safari Zone and don’t come out with any new pokémon, you’ve made no progress in the game whatever.

To make things even worse, entering the Safari Zone costs a bundle of money, and you can only stay there so long before you have to pay another bundle of money. (You also get only so many safari balls per visit, but that’s not a serious limitation. I don’t think I’ve ever run out of balls.) At least you can save before entering so that you don’t actually have to pay for fruitless visits.

I suppose that the designers put in the Safari Zone to provide some variety, and at least it has more to do with the game than the teleporter mazes and the like that they used for variety elements elsewhere. But on the whole, I’m thinking that it’s not really part of the game I want to deal with much. I’m going to have to see if I can get someone to trade me a Kangaskhan and a Tauros.

Year One

Today is the first of January, 2008. I started this blog a year ago today. When I started, there were “just over 300” games on the Stack. Strangely, that’s still true. I removed 20 games from the Stack over the course of the year, but also purchased some new games (abiding by the terms of the Oath), not all of which I have played. Note that the point system of the Oath doesn’t necessarily shrink the stack very fast — indeed, when I buy games for $10 or less, it doesn’t shrink it at all. Purchasing an anthology can actually make the stack grow. Also, in the middle of the year, I moved from one apartment to another, and in the process of clearing out my possessions, found some discs that had escaped the initial count. Perhaps 2008 will see the Stack clearing faster — there were a couple of major interruptions in 2007, such as the aforementioned move, and I did tackle some pretty long games, such as GTA3. On the other hand, there can be interruptions anytime, and I have some pretty long games remaining (including one Elder Scrolls game), so who knows?

This blog has been the most complete record I’ve ever made of what I’ve been playing, but it’s not completely complete, as not everything I play is on the Stack. For example, I played quite a few fan-made DROD holds after completing The City Beneath. There’s a lot of really well-made DROD out there, but the best-designed ones tend to be the most difficult, probably because the people who care enough to put a lot of effort into design are the most experienced players. Other off-stack favorites of the year include Desktop Tower Defense, Trilby: The Art of Theft, Portal: The Flash Version, and Angband.

As for what’s next: I have a couple more days of Pokémon ahead of me before I head home, then I intend to finish up Final Fantasy V. After that, I have made a promise to play Portal. After that, I’m open to suggestions.

Pokémon: Bad Influence?

Years ago, when I was playing Pokémon for the first time, a friend of mine, another grown-up gamer, asked me if I thought that this game was a bad thing to give to children on the grounds that it promotes slavery. I’ve pointed out before how the practice of capturing pokémon is pretty abominable: you beat them up and lock them away, and in the process they become your friends.

It’s more of an issue in the cartoons, where pokémon seem to have human-like minds, and the relationship between Ash and Pikachu is indeed one of loyal friendship. In the game, pokémon are more like animals, and are treated no worse than many domesticated animals in real life, and better than some. (If there are any types of pokémon that are routinely slaughtered for their meat, the game makes no mention of it.) Still, the game anthropomorphizes them somewhat. Some are literally anthropomorphic — the Mr. Mime pokémon is basically human in appearance, and the psychic Kadabra is a caricature of Uri Geller, complete with spoon. There’s also a plot event concerning “the ghost of Cubone’s mother”, a pokémon murdered by Team Rocket. By calling it “murder”, the game implicitly grants Cubone’s mother human status.

Even so, I can’t agree that Pokémon can be blamed for introducing children to the idea of slavery, because the idea is already all around them. The model for the master/slave relationship is the parent/child relationship. Just look at the rhetoric used to justify slavery when it was legal: “It’s really for their benefit. They’re like children. They need a firm guiding hand.” Pokémon is at least far enough removed from reality, blatantly bizarre enough, that it’s hard to imagine taking an explicit “They’re like pokémon” seriously.

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