This is a series of features that focuses on games that we keep playing again and again, either over an unhealthy number of hours or those that keep getting return visits long after they first graced our systems. In this entry Mitch talks about his favourite Pokémon games, which also happen to be the community's favourites too.
With each new generation of Pokémon, the overall number of Pokémon in the National Dex has climbed far beyond the original 151. Obviously, Pokémon has been spread over multiple generations of hardware, and this has further made it more difficult to "catch 'em all". On the Game Boy Advance, Game Freak began a method of alleviating this somewhat with remakes of the first generation games, giving gamers a more streamlined method of collecting the original Pokémon. This was continued on the DS with remakes of the second generation of games, Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilver.
As a relatively young gamer, this offered me an opportunity to partake in a generation of games that I'd missed out on. My earliest memories of Pokémon are of the original Gold and Silver, but I didn't actually play any of the games until the third generation and on. Though I admittedly didn't enjoy Pokémon LeafGreen as much as I thought I would, I'd always been curious about the generation two games. So, it came as an extremely pleasant surprise when it was announced that there'd be remakes of them.
Since then, I've played through at least one game from each generation – in their original forms – and the generation two remakes are still the ones that I go back to the most often. The Pokémon series is one that has – despite the subtle changes made to the formula across generations – more or less remained fundamentally stagnant. Some say this is a drawback of their approach, others would say that it's a strength, but the generation two remakes have always stood out to me as the most distilled and satisfying example of the Pokémon formula.
Pokémon has always been about the experience of travelling through a new region and encountering all kinds of new Pokémon along the way. No two playthroughs are quite the same, as diversity of Pokémon species – along with more nuanced differences in terms of moves, natures, EVs, and IVs – allow for completely unique team builds. Each Pokémon game has done this to great effect, but HeartGold and SoulSilver arguably had the best mixture of old and new Pokémon.
In addition to this, it featured a very diverse and broad array of Legendary Pokémon, something that has always been an aspect that I've loved about the Pokémon games. As opposed to most 'normal' Pokémon, most Legendaries have a history or backstory to them that makes them far more than just another thing to catch. Seeing as how there's only one of each, and that you usually have to go through several hoops to find them, it always feels like an accomplishment when you finally manage to bag a Legendary.
The greatest thing that the second generation games had – and something that no other game in the series has replicated – was an expanded post-game, realized through a second journey that goes through the Kanto region from the first generation games. One problem that I've always had with Pokémon games is that they tend to taper off after the initial quest is conquered. Sure, you can always try to finish the Pokédex or you can focus on making the perfect team, but I never really felt very compelled to continue playing a Pokémon game very long after beating the Elite Four.
This was changed when I played through SoulSilver, and it's the primary reason I go back to this one the most frequently. I was unaware that there would be anything significant beyond the Elite Four, and I'll never forget the moment that it's revealed that you get to go through an entirely separate series of gyms in another region. This makes the world feel significantly more expanded and it's something that I was mildly surprised was never done again.
There may be some technical reasons that prevent this from being viable, but there's really something important to be found in having an expanded quest in a Pokémon game. The goal becomes less focused on building one's team and more on utilizing it to the best of one's ability. Moreover, you're both given reason to continue training your Pokémon and given suitable resistance to train them. The second region is, to reference other popular Nintendo franchises, the 'Master Quest' or 'Lost Levels' to the first region, challenging those who have already beaten the game to do it again for an altered campaign.
Pokémon is a series that I always find myself coming back to, even when I feel that I've grown tired of its repetitive formula. While my personal favourite games remain HeartGold and SoulSilver, I eagerly hope that the new entries - Pokemon Sun and Moon - find ways to surprise us. I will certainly be eagerly awaiting what the Pokémon company has in store for us this year.