The 3DS Pokemon Games Are So Easy They’re Hard

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So usually after I post a video game review, I just kind of leave it at that. I know no one else really cares as much as me and there’s not a huge demand for my in-depth thoughts on the complexities of Nioh’s combat system. But Pokemon is different, and, as I wrap up my Ultra Moon experience, I had to talk about one of the more unique challenges I’ve had in gaming recently: if you’re good at the game, the new Pokemon games are so easy it makes it harder.

First off, yes, I know these are supposed to be children’s games and I shouldn’t take them so seriously. Well if they weren’t meant to be taken so seriously, they wouldn’t have such an intricate metagame. But yeah, they’re kids’ games that adults like me still hold on to. Even still, the 3DS games are quite easy. And what I mean by easy is that there’s so many more ways to level Pokemon up faster than ever. You get EXP from catching Pokemon. EXP Share gives EXP to the whole party and you get it really early in the game. If you use Pokemon Refresh (or Pokemon Amie in X and Y), the more hearts your Pokemon has, the bigger boost in EXP you get. Then add in the fact that Super Training, a system of maxing out a Pokemon’s stats introduced in X and Y as a series of mini games, is now even easier (you don’t even have to do anything. You just put the desired Pokemon in the right section of the new Poke Pelago and wait until the training is done) (They totally stole the Poke Pelago idea from Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth) (Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth is the most influential Japanese game of the last five years don’t @ me), and you’ve got an easy recipe for an overpowered team.

You probably think this is a lot of crying over nothing. “What’s so bad about having a powerful team? Just turn off EXP Share and don’t use the optional training aids.” I mean, yeah, I wound up turning EXP Share off for a while, but I’m like a dog with a treat on its nose. If you offer me a way to soup up my team, I’m going to take it without thinking twice. I can’t control myself. My brain won’t allow me to pass up any possible advantage. And literally the only reason any of this is a problem is that, for the first time, I actually felt the pressure of the level restrictions placed on you as you progress through the game. In the traditional 8 gym storyline of past games, every couple badges you earn unlocks the ability to control higher level Pokemon. In Sun and Moon and the sequels, there are only four such increases, and each one only bumps you up 15 levels, despite the fact that it’s easier to gain more than 15 levels than not as you progress through each island. For example, after you beat the third island you’re able to control Pokemon up to level 65. Well, in between beating the third island and beating the fourth, you have to do two separate events that are important to the story, one of which forces you to face about a million trainers. I spent the entire time actively trying not to level up my team. Then on the fourth island, I spent the entire time actively trying not to level up my team. When I beat the fourth island, three of my six Pokemon wound up being over level 65 and unusable. Yes, I easily could have remedied that by swapping them out for lower leveled Pokemon from the PC, thus adding more depth to my lineup, but who has time for that? Not me, apparently.

Listen, in the grand scheme of things, this is a pretty small complaint. The more I think about it, I actually don’t think it’s a complaint at all. I kind of enjoyed managing the levels of my Pokemon, because it was a different challenge and different experience than the typical Pokemon formula everyone is so accustomed to. Ultra Sun and Moon are still great. Sun and Moon are still great. I understand they were supposed to introduce a new generation of fans to the game, so more forgiving gameplay certainly makes sense. But maybe hold off on some of these advantages until the postgame next time? I don’t know. That’s why I don’t work at Game Freak, I guess.

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What’s the Deal with Microtransactions?

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Much like every other time I write about video games, I feel like I should offer a disclaimer that I’m about to put on my gaming nerd hat, and if you don’t play video games or couldn’t care less, I won’t be too offended if you skip this one.

As someone who’s pretty plugged into the gaming world, the main talking point I’ve seen for the last couple months is the rise of microtransactions. In-game purchases that  expedite the improvement of a character, give the player a competitive advantage, or just give the player some cool new gear. In games with an emphasis on online play and competitive matches, it can seem almost necessary to buy all the perks you can lest you get left behind by all the other people who did. The complaints are pretty simple- if I already paid for the full game, why should I be forced to pay even more after? Why does every game need them? In the case of DLC expansion missions, why not just release the entire game at once? Personally, I had never really gotten overly worked up about it. I usually avoid shooters (I’m very bad at them), and I thought the biggest culprits for microtransactions were phone games and shooters, particularly ones like Overwatch, whose loot box system is pretty much just another form of gambling. Then NBA 2K18 came out, whipping up a storm of controversy with the pretty clear encouragement to spend a lot of actual money in the game. And, again, I wasn’t all that upset. NBA 2K has been an important thing in my life for about a decade now, and there’s been microtransactions for at least six years. I figured the people who were upset had just never really played before. Then once I started playing, I found the presence of microtransactions to be pretty overwhelming. Within an hour of playtime,  my MyPlayer was already way behind everyone else. Then I realized that part of the reason I was unfazed by the reports of microtransactions in one of my games was that I had grown accustomed to them without even realizing it. Madden and Fifa have made buying points a necessity for completing in their various Ultimate Team modes for years. Star Wars Battlefront was one of the most heinous examples of sapping consumers dry of all time, and it doesn’t look like Battlefront 2 will be any different. Pretty much every game I buy has a special edition for $20 more that comes with special perks that you just have to have if you want the full experience. Even Shadow of War has them, and once the cold arm of capitalism comes for Middle Earth, I’m invested. But beyond just being kind of annoyed, I can’t really get too mad about it. For one, they kind of prop up the gaming industry as a whole. When companies have more money, they can hire better people and make more, better games. That’s no the worst thing. Secondly, I’m kind of just really lazy and have no willpower, so I’m usually inclined to take the easy way out.

Final Fantasy XV is a prime example for me. There are still a lot of things I haven’t accomplished, including the hardest dungeon, the secret post-game dungeon, and the secret hard mode of every dungeon. That’s an awful lot left for a game I loved playing and invested a lot of time into. So why the cold feet? Because even after a meticulous play through of the main story and like 95% of the side quests I’m still extremely underleveled. And I realized I’m just too old to level grind. I just can’t do it anymore. Unless it’s a transcendent game I literally can’t stop playing (any PokemonWitcher 3Persona 5, the Arkham games, etc.), I can’t sit there and fight the same enemies for days on end. There’s just too many other things I could be doing. What’s the payoff? Sure there’s bragging rights. But these days, you can find any part of any game ever on YouTube. It’s already how I solve any puzzle that befuddles me, anyway (if I’m stuck on a puzzle for more than 45 minutes, I’m looking up the answer). At the moment where I knew I was probably out, if the game gave me the option of paying however much to get a bunch of high level weapons and training boosts and all that, I probably would have paid (actually, I think there was the option to purchase various exp boosters, so score one for me for resisting!). As a Millennial, I’m used to being cast as the pantomime villain for the various problems with today’s society (yes, a lot of people my age are terrible people. A lot of old people are terrible people, too), but one thing I won’t really fight is the idea that we all have tiny attention spans and need to be doing a million things at once. Now, I have no problem devoting a long time to doing, watching, or playing one thing, but it takes something special to keep me from using two or three screens at once. And the more repetitive and monotonous the thing is, the more my attention is wont to wane. So if a game tells me if you want this sweet looking outfit you can either pay $5 or play for hours and hours and hours, I’ll start off trying to earn it organically, but I usually have a good sense of whether a game is good enough to keep playing forever, and, if it isn’t, I’m going to start justifying spending the money real fast. It’s just a fact. I don’t like it and I wish there wasn’t the option to spend even more money than I already do on video games, but it’s a fact.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that we can get as upset as we want over microtransactions, but they’re not going anywhere. There’s just too much money involved, and, using myself as representation for the entirety of the gaming population, people are always going to wind up completing a microtransaction at least once. Maybe it’s only $1, but if a game sells 10 million copies and everyone spends $1 extra, now there’s $10 million more in profit than there would have been without the in game purchases. You can complain about it online to your heart’s content, but I highly doubt all these companies are suddenly going to develop a conscience overnight. The only thing that will stop microtransactions is a lack of profit, which won’t happen. Believe me, I’ve tried to hold off. I got one of the special editions of NBA 2K18 (Best Buy Gamers Club 20% off all games, boiiiiiiiii) and told myself that was enough. By my second week of play, I had no choice but to spend more money if I wanted to compete online, which is one of the reasons I get the games in the first place. It’s annoying and depressing and unfair, but it’s just the way games are these days. Every game will have their own marketplace soon if they don’t already. Every game will have some kind of loot system that you can pay to get around. Every game will EXCLUSIVE dlc that you can ONLY get by preordering the Gold Edition from Gamestop. It’s easy to say just don’t buy anything in-game, but it gets hard when the people you’re playing with or against are miles ahead of you because they took the shortcut. It’s pretty much become pay to win or don’t play at all. That’s a bummer for a lot of people, and the only real solution is for companies to eliminate microtransactions, and, barring some unexpected government interference, I doubt that’ll ever happen. So maybe go back and play some old games, maybe just wait until they release the edition that has the dlc built in (I got the Witcher 3 edition that included both major dlc expansions for $30, biggest steal of all time), maybe resist the transactions and embrace the grind again. Build up your character the old fashioned way and feel like you accomplished something. Fight the man with elbow grease, just like your grandpa did! And if you don’t feel like doing any of that, you’d better get ready to pony up.

The Official Pokemon Game Power Ranking

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(This might be a little niche for some, so I’ll forgive you for skipping this)

Unless you’re a diehard like me, you probably missed the fact that, over the weekend, Nintendo released Pokemon Gold and Silver for 3DS. There was nothing new, it wasn’t updated or anything. It was just the original Game Boy Color version available for download on the Nintendo eShop. Heck, I’m as plugged in to the Pokemon world as anyone, and I didn’t know about it until Friday night, when I immediately bought it. For only $10, it seemed like a no-brainer. After all, this was one of my favorite games of all time, and, if you count Game Boy as a true video game console (which I usually don’t), the first video game I ever owned. Might as well download it for a rainy day. Unsurprisingly, from the second I purchased Gold (I originally had Silver and later Soul Silver, so I figured I’d see how the other half lived), it began calling my name. I started playing the next day. And, more than anything else, it made me want to write about Pokemon, because, besides sports and myself, it’s the thing I’m most passionate about. I know, I know. It’s stupid and I should grow up. Well, I don’t really care. I’ve lost out on countless opportunities to spread my social wings so I could stay in and play Pokemon. I once played White for thirteen hours in one day. In the post-Generation II worlds, I’m willing to spend entire days catching the same Pokemon over and over again until I get one with the nature I’m looking for. I live to EV train and super train and, at one point or another, have pretty much known every single Pokemon’s strengths and weaknesses. Point is, I care way too much about Pokemon, but I wouldn’t change a thing. I’d rather be passionate about something juvenile and make-believe than not care about anything at all. So yes, I am still single.

Anyway, now that that’s out of the way, I can focus on the issue at hand. My previous Pokemon posts have been exclusively about my Pokemon football league (round 3 possibly coming soon?), but now that I’m back in to Gold and with Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon looming, it’s time to unveil the Official Brian’s Den Pokemon Rankings. This only takes main series hand-held games into account, so no Pokemon Stadium or 2, no Colosseum, no Snap, no nothing. Only the true games. Also, Crystal is excluded because, somehow, it’s the only main series game I’ve never played. It may seem impossible once I get to the actual rankings that I would have skipped the third entry to the Johto games, but it’s true. Literally every other generation I’ve played at least one of the initial games and the third game, but Crystal remains unplayed. Maybe one day. As always, if you disagree with these rankings, you’re wrong.

  1. Gold/Silver/Heart Gold/Soul Silver– I’ve decided to include any remakes in with their original counterparts because it’s less work for me, but even if they were two separate entities, it wouldn’t change much. It’s my personal opinion that Gold and Silver are easily the greatest Game Boy games of all time. They may also be the greatest games of all time, period. The way the world looks is perfect. The colors are so bold and work perfectly every step of the way. It has the greatest 8-bit soundtrack of all time. It has the luxury of using the first two Pokemon generations, two of the strongest generations. It has much more plot than Red and Blue, but doesn’t overdo it like the later games tend to do. I think the first erection I ever got was when I discovered you could face all the Kanto gym leaders after you beat the Elite Four. It’s literally two full Pokemon games in one. Its a perfect Pokemon experience. The fact that the DS updates could take all that and make it better still blows my mind.
  2. X/Y– The first Pokemon game to come to 3DS (and the only reason I bought a 3DS)(Diamond and Pearl were also the only reason I bought a DS)(The only reason I’ll get a switch is when they release a Pokemon game for it, honestly), X and Y might be the most heavily anticipated Pokemon game I can remember (keep in mind I had just turned 4 when Red and Green first came out in Japan, so the whole “awareness of what other people are excited for” and “looking forward to something for a long time” didn’t develop for a while). To say that it didn’t disappoint would be an insult to the game. It surpassed all my wildest expectations instantly. The world is a beautiful, diverse wonderland unlike anything ever seen on hand-held game devices, and features a charming (I think) batch of new Pokemon to go with it. The new features such as Super Training and Pokemon-Amie added a brilliant new layer of gameplay that somehow brought me even closer to my fictional companions. Adding the Fairy type was another A-plus move by a game series that is no stranger to them. Sure, the plot is very over-the-top and many of the new features make raising Pokemon ridiculously easy, but that didn’t stop me from spending 150+ glorious hours in Kalos.
  3. Ruby/Sapphire/Emerald/Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire– The only instance where I prefer the original to the remake, I came reaaaalllllly close to putting this number 2, if only for the simple fact that the finally, finally, introduced the ability to run. Words can’t express how important that was. Hoenn is a top three region: it has my second favorite soundtrack, my personal favorite generation of Pokemon, and, for the first time, weather. The plot was a little overwrought, but I think I’ll probably stop criticizing the actual plots of these games because the nature of media made ostensibly for children is to have extreme, binary plot points where it’s easy to differentiate between right and wrong. But I never emotionally matured after 6th grade, so that’s fine with me. Also, it’s easy to look back and say “yeah, no duh it worked,” but it was a pretty big risk at the time to stage a Pokemon game in a region totally disconnected from the Kanto/Johto continent. RubySapphire, and, to a slightly lesser extent, Emerald, are near perfect gaming experiences that suffer only because their contemporaries are divine gifts given unto us by a higher power.
  4. Black/White/Black 2/White 2– As I literally just said, Pokemon games typically don’t lend themselves to too much nuance and character complexity, but Black and White really change that. There were story elements and plot beats that, frankly, we had never come close to seeing before in a Pokemon game, and haven’t really seen since. It’s not saying a whole lot, but the character N is far and away the most complex, most developed, and most well-written character in Pokemon history. For large portions of Black and White (and parts of Black and White 2) the villain team isn’t necessarily cut-and-dry pure evil. They actually have genuine motives that aren’t “let’s just destroy the world and see what happens.” Both games had more mature storylines than every other Pokemon game, and, while I certainly appreciate and mostly love the levity the other games provide (when they aren’t veering into melodrama in the third act), it’s nice to have at least one game that sort of challenges you in an emotional way. Being based on New York City, Unova offers an urban feel that comes as a welcome departure from the typical fantasy-RPG maps of the other games. Yes, it’s a goofy generation of Pokemon, but for the most part they embrace it (maybe my favorite touch ever put in a Pokemon game is the fact that Vanillite, the ice cream cone Pokemon, can be found outside what’s essentially a giant meat freezer). Probably the most underrated games in the Pokemon saga. (Side note that doesn’t really factor in to the ranking: while playing White for the first time, my final battle against the villain leader was easily the most epic battle in the history of Pokemon. I have no idea how long it lasted. It could have been thirty minutes, it could have been an hour, it could have been ten hours. I used so many revives and full restores and swapped out party members so many times it’d make your head spin. It was the most intense few minutes of my entire life. The world could have ended around me and I wouldn’t have noticed, I was so locked in. I wish there was a recording or literally any evidence whatsoever, but, alas, you have to take my word for it.
  5. Red/Blue/Fire Red/Leaf Green– I know, I know. “What are you doing? How are they not number one? What about my childhood?” Look, I hear you. I respect everything Red and Blue represent. They were the first, they have classic, classic Pokemon that still rank as the number one generation for pretty much everyone but me (and I have it second), Gary is easily the best rival, the best starting Pokemon, it’s the most challenging by a mile. Hell, Dragonite is still my favorite Pokemon ever. I’m not putting them this low for attention or to throw out a hot take. This is what I actually believe. Think about Red and Blue: there’s virtually no plot whatsoever, Kanto, while the first region, is pretty nondescript in all honestly, and there’s so many goddamn bugs. And I don’t mean Weedle and Caterpie. Psychic types are totally overpowered. With only a weakness to bug type (and only three bug type attacking moves, none of which were powerful) and without the division of special attack and special defense, most psychic types were virtually unstoppable. Look, I get it, I take Pokemon too seriously, but these things matter to me. And without the amazing Game Boy Advance remakes (which rectified everything that was wrong with the games, updated the graphics, and added some interesting subplots), they might rank even lower. That’s not to say don’t play these games. They’re important pieces of the culture at large, but if you somehow haven’t played the original Pokemon games, Fire Red and Leaf Green and much more enjoyable experiences.
  6. Sun/Moon– I know it was met with universal acclaim by critics, but the people I talked to who actually play Pokemon games were kind of divided on Sun and Moon. “Where are the gym leaders?” “It’s too easy.” “Feels too much like a series of mini-games not a real Pokemon game.” Every single one is a valid complaint. But, personally, I loved Sun and Moon. I thought it was fresh, I thought it was original, I thought every new thing they added worked. The plot is actually pretty crazy, in a good way, and complements the world around it in a way that only Ruby and Sapphire can really match. I loved the four islands and how each one had a different personality, and thought the island trials were clever and a good way to switch things up from the tried and true “8 gym leaders” formula. No generation of Pokemon fit their region better, and it gets bonus points for Alolan Exeggutor. These were great, great games, and I know Ultra Sun and Moon will be great too.
  7. Diamond/Pearl/Platinum– I feel really bad for this generation of Pokemon games. Much like Godfather 3Diamond and Pearl suffer greatly under the weight of the larger franchise. If they were called literally anything else, Diamond and Pearl would be considered classics. And they’re still great games! I actually think the plot and region are some of the more interesting ones because of the emphasis it places on history and mythology, and it introduces a lot of cool and important Pokemon. It also brought Pokemon into the (relatively) current gen. Being the first to arrive on DS, it laid the groundwork for most of the side features and display elements you see in the newest games. But there’s just something about it that kind of makes it forgettable. I think it’s only fault is that it’s not the other games in the series.
  8. Yellow– I just wanted to separate this as a protest against Pikachu. Pikachu sucks and isn’t worthy of its own game, regardless of how popular the show is.

There you have it. As I said before, if you disagree, you’re probably wrong. Don’t forget who the expert is, here. Who else do you know who’s willing to devote countless hours of his life just so he can have enough experience and data to compile a power ranking for a stupid website? The answer is no one, that’s who. Now go catch ’em all.