Friday, March 28, 2014

The Struggle - Out of Moves and Hitting Myself in Recoil

With the latest generation of Pokémon out for a solid 5 months, the online battling scene has evolved into a harsh environment. The days that you can take your in-game team comprised of your starter, HM slave, and random assortment of creatures into battle are over. Thanks to the release of Pokémon Bank and breeding shortcuts, it's now easier to quickly prepare a team of battle-ready Pokémon. But with these new tools comes a more developed competitive scene, something I failed to keep up with.

After preparing a team I was comfortable with, I hopped online to challenge trainers from around the world. In 2 days, I had about 20 battles. I lost none. I even had trainers ragequit (meaning I was doing something right). I was so confident, I recorded live gameplay and posted it on YouTube. You can tell by the optimism in my voice that I haven't touched the cruel world of rated battles yet.

Spent 200 battle points to change it's ability...
So after my romp in free battles, I took my "skill" to rated battles. First match, I get wrecked. Second match? Equally bad. Third? I manage a win, and then get crushed in the fourth. I quickly realize that my strategy is not very effective and go back to the drawing board. I get back online and still can't manage to pull a winning record. Frustration gets the best of me and I continue to play recklessly. Simple prediction errors cause my team to struggle with me on the losing side. Bitter at my online experience (and Cloyster, whose lousy Twineedle only hits twice!), I took a small break and reflected on how to improve my game.

In doubles, Kangaskhan, Talonflame and Meowstic all pose a considerable threat. While I've successfully played around Talonflame, I still can't manage to break through Meowstic and Kangaskhan. While I hate to admit it, my team can't possibly be competitively viable if I don't have answers to deal with common threats. To improve my team structure, I've watched a good amount of battles online. I am by no means a Pokémon Master, so getting new perspective from trainers better than myself helped me come back with renewed strength. I got some new tricks up my sleeves, but I don't want to spoil them just yet. ;)
Don't let that baby fool you, it's a menace!
An important lesson I've learned time and time again is that Pokémon is a game. Victory Road is filled with hours of struggle, training and Exploding Gravelers. It's a mental game that requires you to outwit your foe to emerge triumphant. I've made stupid mistakes and will continue to make stupid mistakes. It should have been obvious that Twineedle only hits two times, especially with "twin" in its name! But regardless, I will learn from them and grow. Being a Pokémon Master doesn't mean you win from every battle, it means you learn from them.
A tough road ahead, but I'll emerge victorious

Monday, March 3, 2014

18 Years of Pokémon

Pokémon recently celebrated its 18th anniversary. Shortly after Red and Green's release in Japan, it became a worldwide phenomenon and the rest is history. I have no idea what my life would be like without Pokémon. I met some of my best friends through it and learned a lot from the series. So of course, it's only appropriate I give 18 cheesy, cliched reflections from the wonderful world of Pokémon.

1. Never give up, no matter how many times you fall

You ever met Ash Ketchum? This kid has the dream to become the very best like no one ever was. Out of the current 721 Pokémon, how many has he obtained? 72. If "to catch them is [his] real test", Ash is about 10% done. He's managed to collect the badges in each region, but falls short of being the League Champion (except in the Orange Islands). And yet, he keeps at it.
We can't all stay 10 forever, but we can learn something from this idealist.
I mean, if you like Muk go right ahead.

2. With over 700 creatures, you got to have a favorite!

Pokémon has variety. Maybe floating magnets or living piles of sludge aren't your forte. But there are so many to choose from, you got to like at least one! As weird as it may sound, Pokémon is kind of like life. Even though there are aspects that are less than favorable, there's so much to enjoy.

 3. We can take a different path to reach the same goal

I start with Bulbasaur, you choose Charmander. We'll catch different Pokémon to complement our team, have a different strategy to defeat each Gym Leader, and maybe even choose a different Eevee evolution (or none at all)! But at the end of it all, we will both collect the 8 gym badges, defeat Team Rocket, and eventually become the champion. It just goes to show that there's no singular way to play the games. Which brings me to my next point.

 4. The world isn't black or white

5th generation will always have the best story in my opinion. It was the first to raise the issue of the ethics behind Pokémon battles, and while N, the leader of Team Plasma, didn't meet a clear resolution, he learned to value others' opinions. When ideals clash, a new truth emerges that we can learn from.




5. The rules change from time to time, but the fundamentals stay the same

With the addition of held items, abilities, new moves, new typings, and new battle formats, Pokémon battles have changed a lot since Red and Green. Regardless, the basic principles behind battles stay the same. Pokémon battles is like rock-paper-scissors with elements of chess. Water beats Fire, Fire beats Grass, and Grass beats Water. But Water can move in a way that let it beat Grass. The rules of life change constantly with new technologies and discoveries, but the fundamentals like honesty and humility remain steadfast.

6. A journey with friends beats a journey alone

If I had to summarize what the overall message of the Pokémon series is, it's friendship. Ash and Pikachu's travels across the land show the deep, emotional bond these two share. What I enjoy most about Pokémon is how a seemingly single-player game can transform into the greatest multiplayer experience thanks to trading and battles. And now with online trading and battles, I feel part of the bigger worldwide community. I can't begin to tell you about the countless hours me and my friends spend talking about Pokémon. It's a powerful tool that breaks down barriers and connects people. What other game could unite an entire community to simultaneously play and beat it?
When thousands of people gather to play Pokémon, Omanyte becomes a God.

7. There are some things you just can't explain

What is underneath Diglett? How does a Wailord and Skitty create an egg? Why was Hulk Hogan chosen to be the spokesperson during Pokémon's 10th anniversary? The world may never know.
I got to keep training brother!

8. Don't be surprised if you run into a surprise

Right before my management class, I pulled out my 3DS thinking I could get some training down before the lecture began. Three battles in, I run into a shiny Eevee! I ran out, hugged a random girl, and apologized saying it was "Pokémon business." Granted, I caught 10 or so shinies before, but it was still exciting! Always have those Pokéballs ready, you never know what you'll run into the wild.  

9. Old Arcanines can learn new tricks

Charizard has always been the laughing stock of competitive battling since Red and Green. Now, he's one of the biggest threats thanks to his Mega Evolutions. It took him 18 years, but by Arceus he did it! Other Pokémon have also broken from obscurity since their debut. Blaziken went from being good, to just average, to being banned TWICE! Wobbuffet? He got a new ability and bam! Straight to Ubers! There are so many Pokémon that got better over time, so never say it's too late to learn something new.


10. "It's Super Effective" doesn't necessarily mean it's effective

Just because Blissey is weak against Fighting-type moves doesn't mean Aura Sphere is the best choice. Brute strength alone can only take you so far. Different strategies such as putting your opponent to sleep or slowing them down through paralysis can easily turn the battle in your favor. Analyze the situation and come up with a plan; don't go charging head first.

11. Learn from the stupid mistakes you make at the beginning

I am guilty of only training my Venusaur when I first played Red. He was the backbone of my team at level 97. I prided myself on the fact I didn't use a Rare Candy. My second highest? Pidgeotto at level 32. You can tell I knew what I was doing. But hey, how else can we learn if we don't make our own mistakes? It's always a laugh to look back and see how much of a noob trainer I was.

12. Patience is a virtue

Have you ever hatched eggs in Pokémon? It takes bloody forever! You’re moving back and forth for 30 minutes only to realize the baby has the wrong nature or ability or whatever. Sure, shortcuts like having a Pokémon with Flame Body in your party exist, but I remember going through countless eggs in Firered just to hatch a decent Totodile. If I already hatched over 400 eggs in X alone, I shudder to think how long I spent in Pearl. But if I’m still at it after all these eggs, then I must have learned a thing or two about patience. Which reminds me, I probably need to go back and finish hatching those Machop eggs. That will be fun…
I've listened to the bike theme plenty of times.

13. With teamwork, even Magikarp can sweep a team

The videos are absolutely hilarious, but given the right circumstance, the flopping fish has what it takes to take the world. To pull this off, Magikarp requires teammates to help give it a boost to sweep. It just goes to show that the power of teamwork can overcome all.


14. There’s a time and place for everything. But not now!

Yes Professor, I know I can’t ride my bike indoors. Yes, I also know I can’t use the Helix Fossil during battle. Yes, I know I can’t use the Super Rod in the middle of the city. It’s an annoying reminder, but Oak’s got a point.
Riding your bike indoors? He'll know...

15. The world is a big place to explore

From the majestic snow peaks of Mt. Coronet to the glistening shorelines of Cianwood City, the Pokémon world offers breathtaking scenery. There are so many places to see and things to do, so stop being cooped up and get out there! After you finish reading this post of course :)

16. Sometimes, it’s just luck

You might have the winning strategy that can take on the biggest threats, but a stray Ice Beam could freeze your Pokémon and all hope for victory is frozen. It happens. You just got to accept that luck might play a role in determining a battle, so don’t take it personally. It’s not all bad though, sometimes luck might get you out of a bind when you need it most. How else can you explain Ash winning the Boulder Badge?
Thunderbolt sets off the fire sprinklers, soaking Onix. That's dumb luck right there.

17. Follow what you love regardless of what other people think

As my good friend Terral once told me, “middle school is the worst version of yourself.” For a time, I left Pokémon because I didn’t want to seem uncool or nerdy. I remember asking a pair of 8th graders with their Gameboy Advances out if they were playing Pokémon. “Yeah we’re playing,” they responded. “So what?” They were probably used to people mocking them, but they didn’t care. They had guts and I envied them. It only matters what you think. Nothing else matters.

18. If you’re not having fun, you’re doing it wrong!

Seriously! I don’t say Pokémon is my favorite video game series for nothing. It’s an expansive game with thousands of hours of replay value. It’s a universal language where everyone from die-hard Pokémaniacs to moms with kids that play have something to say. It’s a strategic game that challenges you to use prediction and smarts to overcome your opponent. It’s a collector’s hobby with an expansive community full of traders. It’s a shared experience which solidified so many of my friendships and helped forge new ones. But most importantly, Pokémon is just plain fun, and I wouldn’t still be playing if it wasn’t.  
The games that started a phenomenon.