Modojo Roundtable - The Pokemon Incident
The Knights of the Modojo Roundtable tackle all things Pokemon. The history of the franchise, the problems with gameplay, why it is so addicting, and in short, who's the coolest of the lot.
Cody Musser: The best place to start is probably at the beginning for all of us. Where did everyone start their adventures in Pokemon land, how long have you been having them, and why do you keep coming back? Is Pikachu really that addicting, or is it Geodude?
Louise Yang: I was pretty cynical about Pokemon before I started playing it. How can so many people be addicted to this game where all you do is go around collecting pets? It was with this thought in mind that I started playing Pokemon Blue. The game was easy to pick up and childishly simple. But I couldn't stop playing it! It was kind of frustrating. The story was boring other than catching Pokemon.
After beating the story in Blue, I tried out Red. I was a bit disappointed that Red was almost exactly like Blue, but with different Pokemon. It was a stupid marketing scheme, and I was even more frustrated knowing that I was caught in its trap. After beating red, I retired Pokemon for good.
Now I'm scared I may become weak and get Diamond/Pearl.
Robert Falcon: I don't get into Pokemon that much. Really. A few years ago I saw a Pokemon movie with a friend, and then I tried out the games for a while, but I just never caught onto them. It's not like I don't see what the craze is all about, it's just that I have so many other games that I can get into without having to worry about throwing around enslaved attacking creatures.
HOWEVER, with that said, I do enjoy a good game of Pokemon Pinball, both the original Game Boy Color edition and the GBA one. Those games happen to be a lot of fun and real easy to get into. So I don't mind kicking back with those at all.
Cody: I think I remember the series before the games. It used to be on early mornings before I'd head to school, and I'd watch it with my older sister. These were the good old battle days of anime before kids were screaming "Kamehameha" on every street corner. The show led to picking up red and blue, and those, apart from Tetris, were the only games I ever played on the OG GameBoy.
I even remember that I had picked up the Super NES cartridge that allowed GameBoy games to be played on TV, and hideously mono-colorized. That was how I first got Pokemon fever. Interestingly, it never did come again. I hated handhelds for years, and the DS and PSP were the first handhelds I thought had promise. Then came Diamond and Pearl, and with them ... trouble.
Elmer Concepcion: I'm actually in a similar boat with Cody here. It wasn't the games that got me first, Pokemon fever gripped me every day after school and I sat compelled to follow the continuing adventures. The series hit that magic formula of cartoon meets toy brand, which no cartoon since Transformers has ever captured. I snapped up the manga as soon as I passed it in the local drug store. It was a brilliant story guys, and I wouldn't hesitate recommending it today as a good example of quality manga. And I smile a little with embarrassment at the thought that I dragged my parents to the local KFC just so I could get one of those Vulpix toys they were giving away. I still have that Vulpix somewhere, adorably gathering dust and disease.
So yeah, I was hooked on all the peripheral products first. And it made the game all that much more rewarding when I'd finally saved enough allowance to pick up Pokemon Yellow.
Philip Jones: By the time Pokemon came out in the UK I was already a cynical old man ( being at least 20). I do remember giving it a go, but casting it aside, probably thinking "I should be learning Soul Calibur moves!"
Justin Davis: I'd never played a Pokemon game before D/P and I gotta say... doesn't anyone else think the games are just... boring? I enjoy the collection aspect but I'm having a hard time getting past the sloooow pace.
Louise: Justin, that's the thing. The game is boring and slow. If it weren't for the collection aspect, I don't think I'd ever play it. It's a nightmare for OCD completionists.
Elmer: But... but... it's Pokemon! My inner child is screaming with indignant rage that people are calling his favorite thing ever boring!
Older me knows a little bit more sense, but I can see where the kid's coming from. There was a certain amount of pride a kid built in having the ultimate killer Pokemon team. Coupled that with seeing your favorite badass Pokemon represent on the show, and you have yourself a recipe for a kid's first geekgasm.
Eugene Kim: I know I'm already on record calling the Pokemon series "overrated," so I won't remonstrate too much more. I'm definitely with Justin and Louise; collecting is entertaining, but the RPG/story aspect is a little bland. Maybe the whole game is made by trading and battling with friends, but I don't have any friends.
Robert: See, I'd go all out for a full-blown Pokemon game. And I don't mean the combat initiated by talk like in the Pokemon Colloseum. I mean something full-fledged like Smash Bros. but with all Pokemon. I could easily get into something like that.
As far as the collection angle, meh. If I wanted to collect things I'd collect video games.
Cody: Very true all around. I think we've touched on what makes Pokemon so addicting to some: the collecting aspect, and what makes it cannon fodder to others: the collecting aspect. Strange though, how it is so massive a phenomenon even now, when most of the young ones have moved on to popular media like Naruto.
It's hard to say it, but Pokemon is pretty damn old, and it still has the capacity to sell 1 million copies in a week, so it's obviously hitting more than just a childish market. That's pretty impressive. We all seem to have our gripes about the new games though, so what in particular do you guys find to be a turn-off in playing Diamond and Pearl? What specific elements of gameplay or events make Pokemon bland or annoying?
Elmer: Well, I suppose my only turn off is the fact that it's still the same game I beat nearly a decade ago. It hasn't changed, and looking on it now it's like going back to your favorite theme park from when you were a kid. The roller coasters are still great, some new rides were thrown in and you make sure to ride em, but it'll never be like your first time. Even then, it's a great afternoon and you could keep taking your kids along for the ride.
Oh, and Naruto may be a decent show but I'd trade every Naruto game out there for another run with the Pokemons.
Cody: Every Naruto game? Even that incredibly (and I mean INCREDIBLY) sexy looking 360 one on the horizon? Well, don't answer that. Let's keep on the topic of Pokemon here, but it would be an interesting discussion to have someday about how far anime games like Pokemon and Naruto have come, and how far they still need to come to be critically accepted.
Back on topic, one of the biggest gripes I have about Pokemon is the division of experience. It is nothing less than a huge pain in the ass to train Pokemon other than your main character, and it has pretty much always been. You'll always start with this under-leveled Pokemon that you have to switch out at the beginning of each battle, every single time, in order to catch a little bit of experience and have it not get killed. There is the item that makes an attempt to remedy that in Diamond and Pearl, although I can't remember what it's called, but even still, I'd much rather have seen something like all Pokemon in the party receiving halved or quartered experience for battles even without actually appearing in the fight.
Elmer: Oh yeah, that 360 one developed by Ubisoft Montreal... Point taken.
Right on about the other Pokemon in the party not gaining experience too, but it could be considered an unconscious way to encourage the player to trade out Pokemons that aren't really all that useful to you. You should be naturally switching out your current Pokemon for one that's useful to the situation, and given enough time ideally you should find your party somewhat even in level and flexible to tackle whatever situation. Ideally, anyway. It's still a pretty lengthy grind to the top of the league.
Ryan Morgan: Even though I love the Pokemon games, all of you are completely justified in your points about them being a lot of grinding with little story. I've had plenty of times where I'll put one of them down for a week out of frustration, only to pick it back up a week later and put 15 hours into it that weekend.
I just find that the lacking story and somewhat limiting design don't matter in the end. Whether or not you will enjoy the series centers on your party: the desire to add cool new Pokemon, the balancing act of type versus type, polishing movesets for the maximum damage, and just coming up with a group that you find fun to use. Not being able to get into that aspect (which could be considered amazingly robust RPG character creation, when you think about it), is the reason some people hate the series after giving it a shot.
Cody: I don't know if I'd say it's amazingly robust. Remember those PC Advanced Dungeons and Dragons games? Baldur's Gate, Planescape: Torment and the like? I've been into those recently, and that is where I start to throw around the term amazingly robust.
Changing topics a little bit, I'm floored nowadays when I think back to what Pokemon did to other games. New games like Spectrobes and Monster Hunter are really Pokemon in a different direction, and my favorite Pokemon inspired game has to be Monster Rancher, way back on the Playstation. The mechanic where swapping the disc game for any random CD created a new monster was genius, and also, entirely mindless. It reminds me a lot of the Pokemon grind and how seemingly boring endeavors can sometimes be captivating. Any other games you guys think Pokemon helped shape over the years?
Eugene: How could you forget Robopon? It's like Pokemon with robots, and incidentally, the main character's name is Cody. I don't know anything else about it except that the title sounds vaguely sexual. But fear not, readers, if Robo Porn really is your bag, check out Xenosaga.
Robert: Robo-porn? Now why am I reminded of that scene in Scary Movie 4 where the alien is humping the living hell out of a vacuum?
Cody: So. Off. Topic. Bringing things back on track, and as we're coming down to the wire, what is everyone's official stance on Diamond and Pearl?
To Buy, or not to Buy?
Fun, or not so Fun?
Robert: Probably not buy from my point, but that's only because I never got into the Pokemon games to begin with. The more of a fan you are, the better a time you'll have. That seems to be the general consensus.
Me? I'd rather go with something like, oh, Taito Legends Power-Up or Outrun. That's just my nature.
Philip: I find it slightly odd I guess, that Pokemon being 10 years old now, means it's getting played by kids who were born after it first came out. Hell, it's hard enough to believe the Game Boy is what.. 18 years old now? I should buy mine a beer or something.
So while I never got into the whole Pokemon thing myself, I will admit that the original Pokemon cartoon theme tune, is the best-est theme tune ever for a cartoon!
Elmer: But sometimes the more of a fan you were, the harder can be to get back in.
That's the boat I'm in right now. I completed my copy of Pokemon Yellow when I was back in middle school. It was one of the greatest (or at least most addictive) games I'd ever played so I feel I've conquered that mountain.
But the best part of the new games, in my mind, is the inclusion of battling over the internet. This is huge to me, since one of the best parts of the game has been trading and dueling with my friends (heck, even strangers) during lunch time at middle school. Maybe if I can convince three or more of my buddies to pick up the game, that'd be more than sufficient for me to give yet another Pokemon game a go.
Cody: Well, I guess we've figured out who isn't going to be picking the game up, and who is willing to give it a chance. We've been all around the Pokemon issue, but I thought we should finish this conversation up with one more question. This time, about the Pokemon themselves.
Out of all the Pokemon, which Pokemon do you, or would you guys use? Which is the coolest?
Justin: I'm not sure I'm quite ready to debate the relative "coolness" or practicality of the actual Pokemon themselves. I'm enjoying Diamond, but that kind of discussion is a level Poke-obsession I haven't reached, yet.
That being said, I picked Chimchar - the mischievious monkey with a flaming tail - as my starter. If a playful monkey is a cool pet, then isn't a playful monkey with a flaming tail even cooler?
Robert: If I had to use just one, I'd probably choose Charizard. Bad ASS.
But if I had to talk Pokemon, I'd pick Coffing just because it's cool as heck to say Coffing. Rolls right off the tongue. "COFFIIIIIIING!"
Cody: Charizard is like, the OG hardcore Pokemon. Everyone loved Charizard, and out of the starting Pokemon in Diamond and Pearl, just like Justin, I went with Chimchar. Seriously, does anything else need to be said, other than he's a monkey? Monkeys are cool. Plain and simple.
If I was to choose my favorite Pokemon of all the creatures though, I think it has to be Meditite. Honestly, he's like the Poke-Buddha, and that is insanely cool.
Elmer: Psyduck. I've always had a soft spot for the guy since his headaches equaled his power.
Cody: Well, I think we've blathered fairly sufficiently on the topic of Pokemon. We've touched on the problems with the game, why it excels past them and maintains popularity, the amazing tenacity of the franchise in reaching a refreshed demographic as well as adults, and, in a pathetically fanboyish tone, our favorite Pokemon. What else needs to be said?
We hope you guys enjoyed this roundtable, and if so, let us know in the comments. Specifically, direct us toward the next franchise or event you'd like to see us chat about.