Pokémon: Catching the Birds

Seven Pokémon Leaders down, one to go. The first seven have their names and locations listed in the manual; the eighth is something of a mystery. I could find out where he is by reading spoilers online, but for the moment, I’d rather search for him myself. After all, I’m going to have to spend some time just wandering around in order to level up my team. I might as well have a goal in mind while I do it.

Thus begins the phase of the game wherein one revisits all the previous areas and looks for places that were previously impassable, but which one now has the tools to pass. This is always a fairly satisfying part of a game, for the same reason that hunting for secrets is satisfying — indeed, in many games this is the secret-hunting phase. Here, I’m hunting not for secrets but for the last remaining plot token. But in the process, I’m finding secrets. In particular, I’ve found Zapdos, another of the Legendary Birds.

Now, since my TPK, I’ve managed to capture Articuno (who, thanks to the trainer’s naming privilege, is now known as Loolah). Capturing a pokémon is much harder than defeating it, especially if it’s stronger than your own pokémon. At bottom, all you have to do to capture a pokémon is get into a fight with it, then throw an empy pokéball at it (by selecting the pokéball in the “use item” menu). But there’s a chance that you’ll miss, and even if you hit, there’s a chance that the victim will break free and continue the fight. More expensive balls are harder to break, and you can get an advantage by beating up on it first: the lower you get its hit points, the lower its chance of breaking free. But you have to be careful not to do too much damage and inadvertently end the battle. (I’d say that they’re useless to you dead, but technically, pokémon never die as a result of fighting; they just “faint”. This makes more sense of the ability to revive your fainted pokémon, but less sense of the fact that you can’t capture them in that state.) So you’re pulling your punches, but your opponent isn’t.

After a couple of failures, I bagged Articuno with a team that, between them, had the following crucial abilities:

  • Sleep attacks: not only does a sleeping opponent not attack, it’s a lot easier to hit with the pokéball.
  • Accuracy-reduction attacks: to make it less likely that it’ll wipe you out when it wakes up.
  • Wrap: This is a move learnable by things with vines or tentacles. It’s an attack that lasts multiple turns, until you decide to break it off or the opponent breaks free; while wrapped, the opponent doesn’t get to attack and receives a small amount of damage every turn. I had almost written this off as useless — why do a small amount of damage over multiple turns when you can do a whole lot of damage all at once? But turns out to be ideal for edging the opponent’s hit points down to just short of fainting.
  • Surf: needed just to get to Articuno’s hideout in the first place.

Also, of course, the team had to minimize vulnerability to Articuno’s cold-based attacks. Even with all this planning, the sleeping bird managed to break six or seven Ultra pokéballs before it stayed caught.

Capturing Zapdos will probably be broadly similar, but with the additional constraint that I need both Surf and Cut to reach it, and the attacks are electrical this time. A glance at the vulnerability chart shows that my best bet here is probably ground-type pokémon. Do I even have any ground types with the abilities listed above? I don’t know; I haven’t had to face situation like this before.

On the whole, I’m enjoying the challenge of the difficult captures much more than the XP grind: reviewing my lists, picking out a team with just the right skills like it’s Mission: Impossible or something. Unfortunately, the game is really geared more towards the grind. There’s an XP reward for defeating the same enemies over and over, but no real motivation to capture more than one of each species. You’re even punished a little for capturing a difficult high-level pokémon instead of capturing a low-level one and levelling it up: the latter results in pokémon with higher stats. I’d call this a flaw, but it’s probably part of what made the game a success. The fact that persistence is more valuable than skill or cleverness makes the game more accesible.


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