Thoughts on Pokemon Sun

It’s best not to try and review a game a full four months since beating it, that much is common sense. That being said, there are a lot of movies, games, and albums I said I review on this website, which I went on to never actually write. Instead of letting another small failure pile up, I thought I could spare 30 minutes of my time to send this game off into the sunset.

Released somewhere in the vicinity of Pokemon’s 20th Anniversary, Pokemon Sun and Moon represent a fairly significant shift in terms of gameplay and plot that the core games typically tackle. For nearly 20 years, almost all of my life, Pokemon games have been about leaving your Mom at home to fight 8 Gym Leaders, while occasionally battling a Rival with some character arc, a “Team” of bad guys, and the Elite Four and the Pokemon League Champion.

Now, in Sun and Moon you still do most of that stuff. You leave you Mom at home, but she has little bit more of a personality than usual, and a Meowth. You battle a Rival, but in an anti-hero way, he’s just a misunderstood well-meaning brother of one of your best friends. You fight the Elite Four in the end, but for once the games actually make becoming League Champion feel a little bit more significant.

But walking away from a formula 20 years old didn’t always pay off in ways that I had hoped. Set in the Hawaii-inspired Alola region, there are four islands to explore — none of which have any Gym Leaders on them. Instead, there are an assortment of Trials (Boss Fights) against gigantic versions of Pokemon called Totems, which unlock battles with the Island Kahuna. While the Trials were harder than your average battle against a trainer, they lacked the oomph of a Gym Leader battle. When you defeat an island’s Totem Pokemon, something’s just missing. You’re told that defeating the Totem Pokemon is this great challenge by every Trial Captain, but it’s just a Pokemon after all, so you kill it and move on and that same Captain says “Great job kid!” When you walk into a Gym, there are mentors who test you before you can reach the Gym Leader; environmental puzzles, and then some philosophical musings from the Leader before the fight. When you walk out of a Gym with a badge you feel like you’ve taken down a person of significance, earned respect, and moved closer towards the end game.

While Pokemon Sun’s pacing and sense of accomplishment felt off, thanks to the removal of the Gym system, it still earns a place in my heart for its attempt at story telling, and of course the story that naturally develops with your team. The story in Sun feels the closest that the stories in game have resemble those normally reserved for the Pokemon animated films, which is to say, characters emote and go through development arcs, which is more than most Pokemon games have tried. Some characters introduced as good guys become bad, and vice versa, which in a game made for kids is still something. Problem is, Pokemon Sun and Moon tries to do more with the story than their technology allows for, with repeated animations and dead-eyed reactions being a constant problem.

The Team

So, as per usual the best thing about Pokemon is the story that you develop with your team. Part of the reason I go out of my way to document these teams is because, while it’s fulfilling to grow your team and grow close to them, it’s a repeatable, dispensable joy. Every time you see a game through to conclusion, you’ve easily spent 50-60 hours together, and the same sense of family arises from within. As a child in the early 2000’s I enjoyed Pokemon Silver so much, but without a long-term means of documenting that play-through, it’s a very faded memory. Since then, I happen to have save files for every game I’ve played since — from taking up Emulation in High School with a copy of Pokemon Ruby, to randomized runs in College, and today — my Pokemon Sun team. Each named after a character from Tenchi-Muyo, I remember a little something about each of them. Ryoko is the first Misdreavus I caught, evolved, and brought to the end-game. Ayeka is my token poison type, and her Pokedex entry has the words “reverse harem” in them, seriously. I went back an island to catch Mihoshi, after I missed the one patch of grass where you can catch a Vulpix. Washu is the first bug type I’ve ever brought to the end game. I distinctly remember the Alolan-form evolution music that played when Ryo-Ohki evolved, and I remember when Sasami was a bright-eyed Poplio.

And when the game ended, my gothic-lolita dressed Carmine returned home, where Mom was still hanging out with Meowth, and it felt like a definitive ending.

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What’s Up? (4/3/17)

Everything Old is Still Old, It Turns Out: Emulation and the Nostalgia Chase

No coincidence that the longest thing I’ve written in months, is a review and love letter about the arcade I never had, something that itched a nostalgia for something that wasn’t even a memory for me – old arcades. The nostalgia chase is something you can be constantly frustrated by, or learn to live with. I think I’ve managed it well. It comes in waves. In high school I lived and breathed chiptune music, and discovered Gameboy Emulation. I rediscovered Pokemon cards early in my college years, and I got deep into 1980’s vinyl and Nintendo 64 games in my later college years. At the start of “real life” years, I think the Nintendo 64 stuff was wearing off, though I was happy to build a solid collection there.

Here of course, it helps to have a web blog like this, with which a record (however embarrassing) of my nostalgia chases come and go. Thousands of words written about Pokemon games litter the distant past, while a few dozen about the decidedly nostalgic Vaporwave and Future Funk musical genres color the recent past. The part that becomes frustrating is wondering how in-control I really am sometimes. When I find myself playing an emulation of an 18-year-old Gameboy game, the dopamine-joy-chasing part of me is happy, while the critically thinking part is asking “this again?” But I guess, where some people have that album they listen to once a month or that movie they watch over, and over again — I have this.

Mass Effect

Something else I also can’t seem to escape, no matter how much I want, is thinking about Mass Effect. The original game instantly gripped my attention 10 years ago when I saw a best friend of mine playing it. Without really having an understanding of the worlds of Mass Effect or Star Trek, I instantly made a comparison between the two. In a way, I felt like I was being introduced to my version of Star Trek. I felt like I was there on the ground floor of a new sci-fi universe that might survive my entire life-span, much like how Star Trek was there before my birth, and will survive long after my death.

Unfortunately, its a sci-fi universe who’s best story is told between three very different games. The first of which, while it might have the best story, has the worst gameplay. The sequel, Mass Effect 2, is by far my favorite, with a darker feel, cyberpunk vibes, and the best characters. The downside of this being the best game? I’ve played for 160 hours, more or less milking it of everything it had, making replays hard to fathom. And finally, Mass Effect 3, the game with the best gameplay of the series, but an utterly disappointing story. If Star Wars: The Return of the Jedi ended with Luke Skywalker in a room with Darth Vader and three buttons, one which killed Vader, one which made Vader a good guy, and one which made Luke turn into Vader, you might start to approach what made the ending a complete fustercluck.

Upon the release of Mass Effect: Andromeda, which is for all intents and purposes, a reboot of the entire franchise, I can’t help but look back and feel stuck as a Mass Effect fan. Behind me are three games; one that kind of sucks to play, one which I’ve played to death, and one that I know ends in an incredible unsatisfactory manner. Ahead of me is a new game, that is broken, poorly received, with none of the charm that pulled me into the original. I want to traverse and experience Mass Effect again, but not with Andromeda… not until that experience doesn’t come at the cost of $60.

What’s Up? (3/16/16)

Sick
Sucks to have a string of days where the defining characteristic is how sick you are. I’ve had this sore throat and cough, which is almost the secondary source of frustration. Worse is the night sweats I’m getting; I can open the window and throw off all the blankets, but I still wake up a sweaty mess. But what are you going to do right? Life goes on.

Thoughts on Writing 
So I just got this mechanical keyboard which makes typing a joy, a noisy, noisy joy. There’s a very real difference with mechanical keyboards, the feedback you get with each keystroke is really unlike what you get with the new membrane style of keyboard you likely have on your laptop. With this new-found positive feedback, I think I’ll draw up some goals for writing on this blog.

  1. I definitely want to write a movie review for 10 Cloverfield Lane which spoilers, I loved.
  2. I need, need, need to write a review for Art Angels by Grimes.
  3. And for that matter, I should write a review for Illmatic by Nas.
  4. And finally, I’d love to write something for the Nuzlog again, exploring what makes randomized runs in Pokemon such a fun thing to do, especially for writing narratives. I can’t help but document my gameplay whenever I do a randomized Pokemon run, the random stuff that happens is just too much fun.

EVE Online
I’ve been reading Empires of Eve by Andrew Groen, a book that tells a narrative history of EVE Online, an MMO with a surprisingly rich and interesting history. I have nothing but good things to say about this book – its captured my attention more than any book I’ve picked up in the last four or five months. The politics, treachery, and cunning tactics of players in this online videogame, and the drama that happens within it, should be read by people who are not regular video game players. There are great stories here, you just need to open up to the idea that great stories worth telling can happen in a virtual space.

Soul Swapped Challenge: Episode Five

Gulpin is dropped from the party to make room for the Mysterious Egg, and Zoey makes way to Iggy Azalea Town via Union Cave. Along the way, we pick up HM 6: Rock Smash, which relaxes my worries that I wouldn’t be able to progress through the game. Without Flash, some caves will be difficult, but otherwise – it looks like we’ll find the HM’s we need.

Zoey investigates the Ruins of Alph, an ancient ethereal space filled with only the most mystical Pokemon of them all… Doduos. All of the Doduos carry Skull Fossils, which is mildly disconcerting. The Ruins of Alph are a big letdown, and the Doduos who guard the ruins are faster than Slugma and always deal some damage, so they’re disappointing and dangerous. There are no good items, no good Pokemon, and the encounter rate feels ridiculous. It’s a big empty room. Outside of the Ruins, Zoey catches a Taillow and Gible.

Heading down Route 32: The team is Swalot, Slugma, Meditite, Diglett, Taillow, and Egg. During a battle with a Trainer, I get confused and think that we’re fighting a really awesome wild Zubat – and waste a Pokeball. “Don’t be a thief!” Route 32: proves to be rough, and everybody but Swalot passes out on the way to the nearest Pokecenter. Speaking of… is there any other instance in Pokemon games where there’s just a Pokecenter in the middle of a Route? They must have play-tested this part of the game and realized that Route 32 is way too long, and that it needed a Pokecenter to break it up.

For a while, I just grind out some levels for the weaker members of Team Zoey – but a trainer battle against one Gentleman Veronica is worth mentioning, if only because they shout “Sploosh!” after losing. Luvdiscs prove to be valuable training partners, because they dish out crazy amounts of Experience for some reason. It’s at the point where I don’t want to battle wild Gibles because they give out so little Experience. One Meditite is at Level 8 she can handle Trainer battles fairly well, so I head back down Route 32 to fight all the trainers I intentionally avoided the first time. Everybody but Diglett is over Level 10, which means it’s time to move on. On next week’s episode: Zoey goes spelunking in Union Cave!

Soul Swapped Challenge: Episode Four

At the top of Spout Tower, Zoey finds Lazy Kim: the Eldest of the Water Trainers of Violet City. After defeating his Wartortle and growing to Level 17, Swalot has the chance to learn Super Fang, but I opt out. Zoey gets $1,200 and sends some to Mom. She also gets the TM.70 Rock Tomb in lieu of Flash, which will make navigating caves way, way less fun.

In the Dark Cave, Slugma finds an Ekans with TM 58, and while I have no clue what that is, I want it. Zoey’s Diglett uses Yawn to put Ekans to sleep and capture it – and the TM it’s holding. Unfortunately the TM 58 is Perish Song which totally isn’t worth the effort. For what it’s worth Ekans has Drizzle, which makes it rain during battle – so at least I got to laugh at that.

The first trainer at Falkner’s gym uses a Smoochum – so I don’t know if this is an Ice gym or a Psychic gym… but I’d rather it be an Ice gym so that Slugma can deal some damage. Falkner’s Gym sure has some lazy design though. For all of the fancy elevator high-rise stuff built into it, doesn’t it go to waste when you design a puzzle to avoid Gym Trainers that is as easy as “walk on the Glass path?” (By the way Zoey, it turns out this is a Psychic-type gym, so that really blows for Swalot, Ekans, and Gulpin… good thing you have Slugma). Speaking of, Slugma Blaze-Kicks a Medicham out of existence, Levels up twice, growing from Level 7 to Level 9 and learning Fire Punch in the process.

Oh by the way, have I been calling him Falkner? Turns out that’s wrong: the gym leader of Violet City is Sailor Monk: Psychic-type master. The poor guy uses a Beldum which falls to Slugma’s newfound ability to punch things in addition to kicking them. His second Pokemon, Hypno, uses his psychic cunning to… Thrash… to thrash about, which knocks out Slugma, and leaves Swalot to finish the job. Hypno gets confused after thrashing, and Sailor Monk shouts out “We’ve still got the wind!” Which is priceless. Zoey receives the Zephyr badge, which grants the obedience of Pokemon up until Level 20, which Swalot is really close to reaching. It also grants the use of Rock Smash, which I’m sure we’re never going to get… and he gave us the TM 51: Ominous Wind, a Ghost-type move that nobody can learn. I’m starting to get nervous about whether or not we’re going to make progress; I think we should have an HM by now… On next week’s episode: Zoey makes an omelet out of the Mystery Egg.

Soul Swapped Challenge: Episode Three

The road to Violet City is paved with the victories of Swalot; and along the way Zoey managed to add two more members to the team. One is a Gulpin who has a boosted Speed Stat, but the Stall ability that prevents it from attacking first. The other is a Diglett with Cubone’s signature Boneclub and Bone Rush attacks, and the Heatproof ability that weakens the power of Fire-type moves. An interesting find: Diglett was holding Shoal Salt, an item only obtainable in Ruby, Sapphire, and Emerald. Where did she get such a thing? ~Mystery intensifies~

Back on Route 31 Diglett is put to the test against Lady Stacey’s Caterpie, who you don’t want to mess with. In all seriousness, that Caterpie came really close to beating Diglett. Caterpies have the Aftermath ability I suppose – which takes 1/4th of the HP away from the Pokemon that knocks it out – making them dangerous after death. Swalot has Gastro Acid though, and can suppress the Aftermath ability so that beating Stacey’s four Caterpies doesn’t absolutely wreck him. As a reward for beating Lady Stacey, Zoey receives one Iron. Swalot’s Defense and Special Defense are already his best stats, so why not make them a little better with Iron?

Quite frankly, I always forget whether or not you’re supposed to take on Falkner’s Gym, or Bellsprout Tower first. I love me some Bellsprout Tower, and Violet City is one of my favorites… but this time I think I’ll go with the Gym Challenge first. Scratch that. It’s mandatory to hit up Sprout Tower first. Or should I say… Spout Tower? Because it turns out the Soul Swapped Randomizer made everybody in Sprout Tower Water-type Trainers.

Somehow, a trainer uses a Pokemon I straight-up have never, never seen before: a Lumineon. I mean, how many years have I been playing Pokemon, and there are still some that I don’t know? Is that a good sign or a bad one? Somewhat ironically, Swalot has the chance to learn Hydro Pump midway up the Water-Type Spout Tower – and I let him. At the loss of Stealth Rcok, Swalot now knows Hydro Pump. On next week’s episode: Zoey faces the Elder swimmer.

Soul Swapped Challenge: Episode Two

Zoey and Swalot retrieve the Mystery Egg, only to be called into action yet again by Professor Elm like the heroes they are. On the way back to New Bark Town, they run into a Ralts, and rightly so, Swalot is intimated and his attack is cut – both he and Zoey know that a Psychic-type is not what they need to deal with so early on in this game. But really, a Ralts with the intimidate ability is kind of precious.

Know what’s not precious? Zoey’s rival: Poet Tia and her kidnapped Larvitar. No, I didn’t come up with those names on my own – that’s all the work of the Soul Swapped Randomizer. By sheer luck though, Zoey’s rival happens to have a great Pokemon to counter Swalot, who’s Poison Jab really doesn’t come in handy in a fight against a Larvitar. After defeating Larvitar and growing to Level 9, Swalot has the chance to learn Explosion, but I can’t abide by giving my starter Pokemon a sacrifice move like that… Zoey needs a sidekick, and he can’t go exploding over everything all the time!

Zoey’s friend Lyra offers to teach us how to catch Pokemon, when her Marill is swept away by Ratata’s Whirlwind, ending the battle before she can even catch it. Of course the game moves on as if Lyra caught a Pokemon, which makes the whole silly ordeal that much funnier. Even without Lyra’s help, Zoey manages to catch two Pokemon on Route 46: one Meditite and one Slugma. Nothing of note except that Slugma; despite being the team’s second blob, knows Blaze Kick. Thanks again to the Soul Swapped Randomizer.

It’s getting late, so I decide I’ll do a few last battles before going to bed. I think the choice to train Slugma over Meditite says more about just not liking Meditite than preferring Slugma. I’ve also always wanted to put together a team of blobs. As an added bonus, this Slugma has the Frisk ability, so if any wild Pokemon are carrying items, we’ll know about it. I train Slugma a single level before calling it a night. On next week’s episode: Zoey goes to Violet City!