Years ago, I played Pokemon competitively for quite a while. Whether it was over Wi-Fi or simulators, I just couldn’t get enough. But as with all things, it came to an end.
I packed up my faithful DS shortly after the release of Black and White versions and never looked back. Fast-forward to December 2015. Finally got around to getting myself a 3DS and started to play through X version, followed by Alpha Sapphire. I also have Y version but that can wait for now.
Like many people who grew up with the first generations of Pokemon, I had my “First Gen is best Gen” hat firmly on for the first few towns. For what it’s worth, X and Y are pretty good. I could do without Team Flare and the story was kind of all over the place. But in terms of additions to the franchise’s mechanics, it’s all pretty solid. I can appreciate the changes that are being made with respect to competitive battling as well but I’ll get into that later.
How is it that my competitive battling experience has sullied Pokemon for me? There are a few keys areas we need to consider.
When you start playing online, you get rid of bad habits really quickly. Sort of like losing your baby teeth. They start falling out early so your stronger teeth (in this case, better battling habits) can take over.
There’s a certain methodology behind building a competitive team that differs from an in-game team. It was very challenging for me to get myself out of the competitively-viable mindset and into one that would let me stomp the Youngsters and other in-game trainers.
All through my naive days playing Red, Gold, and Ruby versions – before I started playing on the net – there were convenience tactics that would be abhorrent to me now.
For instance, I’d briefly considered using both Fire Blast and Flamethrower on my Nintales. Reasoning is simple enough: higher PP and accuracy on Flamethrower for the times between Pokemon Centres but having access to a move with a little more punch for the crucial 2HKO. I couldn’t bring myself to do it, however.
Thankfully, TMs are now multi-use but still. That little voice in the back of my head telling me it’s anathema to give up so many move slots with the same type.
It’s these small differences between optimal strategy in competitive and optimal strategy for in-game that made it very challenging. Sadly, when trying to reconcile these differences I ended up somewhere in the middle. A team that was somewhat good in-game but had the whispers of a competitive past.
The same thing happened when catching legendaries. Do I use Kyogre in my team and possibly spoil the EVs? Is it worth the effort soft resetting to get the nature I could potentially use? Am I even going to take these Pokemon online? These questions are the ones that plagued my entire journey through the story.
Playing through the story, everything was pretty okay. Beat the criminal organisation, train the Pokemon past level 50, beat the Elite Four. Sure it’s the same as the other games but I enjoyed it. A few minor concerns but there was an objective. There was something for my play to work towards.
Once the Elite Four fell, however, things took a turn for the worse. I’d accidentally wandered into Zygarde and caught him without much difficulty (yay luck). But then there was nothing left to do. In the first few games, being able to explore new areas, complete your PokeDex, and track down these unique legendaries was enough to drive excitement and keep training.
Even the desire to get your team to level 100 was a temptation rarely resisted. As someone who battled online, the unique legendaries – and, indeed, every other Pokemon – were just chess pieces. There was no reason for me to hunt them down; the majesty of the adventure was gone.
Even training to the level cap was pointless. WiFi battles will auto-scale my Pokemon. Sure, I could play in the Battle Resort. Stagnant battles that don’t have any pay off? No thanks. I’ll stick to my online competitive battles.
The Temptation of Competitive Pokemon
The great thing about Pokemon online battling is that it’s accessible. All you need is a copy of the game that you are already playing and a friend (or access to a forum). The transition in-game from the Pokemon League quest to the Battle Frontier/Mansion/Resort is inspiring for players. It sets them up with the notion that they are the best trainer in the world. Not entirely incorrect because in the context of the world inside the game, they are. Online battling is the natural progression for these people.
What this meant for me was being trapped in a cycle of wanting to get through the story, make a team, and recapture lost glory but then remembering the amount of work needed to play at that level. The result is a ten-hour playthrough of mild discomfort.
I still love Pokemon as a franchise, I do. But now that I’ve seen through the looking-glass, I simply can’t go back to the offline mundanity.