“Gotta Catch Em All?”

Which could also be subtitled, “I’m not sure I wanna be the very best…”

So, I’ve been a gamer a long time… I’m a more recent convert to playing video games, but I enjoy a few. My girlfriend on the other hand, is a huge Pokemon fan. So, after years of studiously avoiding the pokediction — I finally started a game. I needed something light and distracting to do as a break from working on my thesis and a little, cute DS game seemed like a good choice.

This could easily turn into a “tell me about your character post” as I expounded on the virtues of my Raticate… I love that guy. But instead — I just wanted to mention how my experiences with Pokemon have really been an adventure in discovery of two things… player expectation, and related to that, task resolution.

Having played a good amount of Pokemon Heart Gold at this point I realized that the game is fun, but there are large chunks of the play experience that I’ve completely missed… did anyone else know that you were supposed to just wander into everyone’s houses, and talk to every random bald-guy in the street? Well, apparently some people do know this, and after the first time my girlfriend gave me the, “wait, how did you miss this stuff” look, I realized that my goals as a player and the goals of the game for me as a player just don’t match up.

By that I mean, the game assumes that I am going to talk to everyone, that I’m going to wander into houses, and that I’m going to enter every shop and carnival-looking tent I see in every town. It assumes I’m going to want to raise berries in a pouch I carry around on my back, and that I actually care about collecting shards and apricorns… which, frankly, I don’t.

The game also seems to assume that I actually want to catch a lot of pokemon… and gather the ones I can’t catch. Two different people have already asked me what I’m going to evolve my Evee into. I haven’t even gone back to the guy I met before who is supposed to give me an Evee if I go back and see him. But I’m really happy with the team I’ve put together, and they don’t have any glaring weaknesses, so I’m a little confused as to why I’d even want the freakin’ breeding stud-master of all pokemon? My friends are equally confused as to why I wouldn’t… And that reminds me — the game also seems to assume that I want to wander back and forth between towns and cities I’ve already been to and completed the tasks in just because some guy calls me on the poke-phone and asks me to take out his garbage or to let him ogle my flaafy… Why would I spend hours running back to towns I’ve already been through? It’s confounding to me.

The point is, for a player who enjoys seeing everything, exploring every corner and talking to everyone this could be a great deal of fun. I generally just find it tedious. I mean, I enjoy some aspects of the game a great deal. I enjoyed initially building my team, I enjoy the gym fights and seeing the different kinds of pokemon, but really, that’s only a small part of the gameplay experience. I guess that really covers the task resolution idea as well…

I thought of something else as I was writing as well… Internal Consistency. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t expect super-high rationality out of a Pokemon game, but well, I’m still trying to figure out why, when I beat a trainer… I take money from them and then we talk, maybe exchange phone numbers… but when I lose and all my pokemon faint, then I black out and get robbed. It’s just creepy and it seems out of line with other events in game… oh well.

Ultimately, I’ve enjoyed the play experience as a way to re-examine my views of player expectation through this new lens.

Thanks for reading.

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7 responses

  1. Actually, this is why I don’t play as many JRPGs. Talking to every villager, raiding their homes for loose change, and backtracking are staples of the genre. These tropes have been lost in Western RPGs.

    1. I knew a little about the first two, but I was really surprised by the amount of backtracking… That really frustrated me.

  2. I kind of enjoy the Pokemon games too… actually I really like them and they are a big deal in my house. The wife, daughter and I all play them and we own every one of the standard pokemon games released in the U.S.(we don’t get the dungeon or ranger series).
    Despite my Poke-fan status, I too find the backtracking and need to invade people’s homes a bit tedious. Generally I build a team of favorites, play through the game using an official guide, which doesn’t give you any real secrets, but it does tell you where the essential stuff is located. Then when I beat the elite trainers I put the game down for a bit. Every once in a while I pick it back up and spend the time going back and getting the things I missed. At least until the next one is released.

    1. This sounds about like the way I’m going to end up playing. I have my Android Pokedroid Pokedex open, my girlfriend helps me find stuff on Bulbapedia (sp?), and I have a team I really like. Once I’m through, I’ll be done.

  3. I’m all about catching them all. I import my pokemon from game to game and trade for what I can’t catch. There’s something really special about pulling out a pokemon for a battle that has been with you for nearly ten years. You can’t really get that with any other video game. As I work through a knew game I’ll change up my roster fairly regularly. Sometimes it might be to blast through a gym leader while other times its just because I like one pokemon better than another. Then, once you’ve beaten the story you have enough variety to battle competitively online.

    Talking to every person is an old JRPG trope. Anyone who plays JRPGs knows to check every knook and cranny as well as talk to everyone at least twice. That said, the pokemon series is known for having countless things that happen “behind the scenes” that you wouldn’t know about unless you are a longtime player or use a guide.

    I’d still like to see the series fill out a bit. I’d love to see the exploration and game play become less formulaic and more organic. I really think the games could learn a little bit from games like Rune Factory and Harvest Moon. They’ve got a similar laid back feeling, but you have much more of an option to do your own thing.

    1. I’m really impressed with your use of pokemon you caught YEARS ago. (I realize that statement could sound sarcastic — trust me, I mean it honestly, that’s such a cool thing I was taken aback for a minute by the implications when I read it.) I mean, I’ve revisited old PCs that I played and we’ve had “reunion” games with old groups, but you’re right, this is something you really can’t do most of the time with other types of games.

      One thing you said though was sorta central to my point above though — what if you aren’t someone who plays a lot of JPRGs? What if you pick up a pokemon game because you just think it sounds cool, or want to know what all the fuss is about (like I did) or you are, you know, 12? What if all that is totally foreign to you? My point — if you are anything like me, then you find yourself continually in a state of near game-ending frustration because even trial and error only seems to reap limited results and you end up missing so much that you have to go back again and again to make sure you’ve actually done something that will let you advance the game.

      Ultimately, it’s whatever you enjoy — and like I said, parts of it are really, really fun — but I think my one pokemon excursion will likely be enough for me.

    2. I do import my older Pokemon to the new games. I have a Charizard, Mew Two and Raichu, along with some others, that I have moved from game to game. This keeps me from losing those Pokemon I worked so hard to build up, if my wife decides to play one of the older games. However, I don’t spend a lot of time trying to catch all the Pokemon. I will put the effort in for Legendary Pokemon and a few special/personal favorites, but I skip quite a few of them.
      However, I don’t spend a great amount of time looking for items.

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