Pokémon is amazing. It's cemented itself in my top three video game series', often switching positions between Super Mario and The Legend of Zelda. It truly was a franchise I grew up with, and I owe a great deal of my current successes and overall well-being to its games - but that's another story for another time. Unfortunately though, the majority of what I loved about the franchise has slowly diminished over the years, and that's largely due to my mindset over the games themselves. Yeah, it's a "it's not you, it's me" kind of thing, but let me do my best to elaborate.
I'd say my first major gripe with the series occurred during my play-through of Pokémon Black, which I explain in the following paragraph. I didn't finish the Gen V games (don't shoot me) as I had a lot on my plate at the time, and I never felt motivated to return to my adventure or start anew. My initial progress didn't entirely enthral me anyway, and upon exploring the rest of it through forums and YouTube videos, Gen V didn't really seem my cup of tea.
Sooner or later though, Gen VI began to loom its not-so-ugly head around the corner, and my inner Pokéfanatic once again emerged. I was excited, especially due to the major shift in 3D gameplay. However, it wasn't before long that I started to notice something. It was that same gripe encountered in my previous adventure when playing Pokémon Black. It was something, not super impactful, but definitely a bit of a nuisance - like a very small pebble in the depths of your shoe. What was this, you ask? Well, I found myself making decisions within the game based on my knowledge and experience within the meta-game world. What I mean by this, is things such as deciding not to catch a Pokémon based on instant appeal (whether this stemmed from its aesthetics or type etc.), something I always used to do back in my previous adventures. Heck, I used to (and still do) love Skarmory in the Gen II days, and despite its lack of usefulness at the time it would always be a staple in my lineup of six. For the majority of my play-through of Pokémon Y though, I instead only caught 'mon that I thought would be great to test for the "competitive scene", regardless of whether I liked them personally or not.
I can vividly remember always having the thought of the post-game throughout my adventure, something that definitely isn't a healthy habit in order to experience the single-player campaign to its full potential. Before I knew it along came the post-game, and it was as if the adventure itself had swiftly passed me by. I soon became heavily focused on the meta-game of Pokémon X & Y, and built upon my knowledge of breeding, EVs, IVs, natures, abilities, egg moves, move-set combinations, held items, Mega Evolutions, and all that strategic malarkey. I was sucked in, absorbed, and consumed. It was definitely an interesting, engaging, challenging, and rewarding experience - but was I enjoying it? Not for the most part. What had happened to me? I guess I just wanted to prove I was an awesome Poké Trainer or something, but I lost the important value of what drew me to the franchise in the first place - and that was the beauty of the single-player adventure itself.
An excerpt from my "Why We're Still Playing Pokémon Gold, Silver, and Crystal" feature article helps further illustrate this:
With the last three generations of Pokémon game entries, I always felt somewhat 'rushed' to get through the adventure so I could jump online. It's probably just me, but knowing that there's a world of veteran players out there to compete against and trade with, discretely dictated the choices I made throughout my adventures - which I wish I could shake off! Why would I want to waste time to raise a Pokémon that I'm fond of but sucks statistically - and will therefore not be a favourable choice in competitive play - when I could essentially kill two birds with one stone and raise a Pokémon with high stats and 'genetics' for use in my adventure as well as the meta-game? Why would I want to find a Pokémon the hard way when I could simply trade with somebody online to speed-up the process?
There was no fun in having to choose a Pokémon just because it was superior, or have the work done for you by somebody else - and for me that was all because of the temptations of online services. It's probably a stupid mental setback of mine, but for me, the lack of an online mode in a Pokémon game enhances the overall experience and adds a certain magic to the game. The feeling of finding and catching Pokémon yourself, trading with people in person, as well as being able to focus on nothing but the adventure (and being successful with your favourites) is something I miss.
This really hit me when I was sorting a few 'mon in my PC's 'boxes', only to find some of the companions who travelled with me early on in my adventure collecting dust. I saw my once-dependable Greninja, Talonflame, and Pangoro, and realised that although they're practically useless in competitive battling (in their current states at least), they were staples in the early stages of my main adventure. As a child, I thought of my Poké squad as some form of imaginary friends, and, as sad as this may sound, a little bit of that mindset still lingers with me even at 24 years of age when playing a Pokémon game. So seeing these once-great partners tossed aside struck a chord, and that's when I started to question why I'm still playing the game, or at least in the way I was, anyway.
As mentioned earlier, I guess these decisions were made due to my own limited way of thinking, but I certainly never felt this way when playing the first three generations of Pokémon game. I knew some of the deeper intricacies that the Pokémon universe contained back then, but never let it dictate my decision-making throughout my adventures across the three generations. Come to think of it, despite Gen IV arguably being the era that took Pokémon's competitive scene to the next level, I actually resisted temptation to let its meta-game sway my play-through decisions. As stated, it only really started affecting my experience from Gen V onward.
Now don't get me wrong, I fully appreciate the complexity of Pokémon's strategic meta-game - it's actually quite remarkable. It's a giant game of mathematical chess, brought to life with engaging critters, aesthetically appealing attacks, and unique mechanics and concepts. The intricate detail of how these games work is certainly something to marvel at. But it's an option, and isn't a mandatory part of the game, which I tend to have to remind myself from time to time. I guess just the option of post-game breeding and highly tactical battling ingrained my brain to think a certain way when playing through my adventure, something that wasn't necessarily present (or at least as much) in the earlier games. And for the love of Arceus, I am by no means a "Genwunner" either.
So, what's next? Currently, I'm playing Omega Ruby (finally), and I must say I'm enjoying the game a hell of a lot more than I did Pokémon Y. And that's not due to the game itself, from what I recall X & Y were excellent adventures in their own right. So what is it? It's my new take on the series, or should I say resurrecting my old ways - I'm ignoring all things post-game and simply taking the game for an adventure alone. If I ever decide to step into the meta-game scene again, then sure, it'll be an option available to me as and when I fancy it. But one thing's for sure, I haven't let it impact the main adventure, at least as of yet. Sure, my Grovyle doesn't possess the ideal nature I want it to, nor does my Gyarados have 'Moxie' as its ability - but I don't care! I'm hoping to do the same with Pokémon Sun/Moon, and use a 'stop-and-smell-the-roses' approach to take in the sights and sounds of Alola (I'm talking as if I'm actually going there - but hey, we're gamers), instead of letting my mind race ahead to work out all things meta-game.
All in all, I'm still an avid Pokémon fan, and probably always will be, but I realise I'm one of those people who need to fixate on mentally separating the games' main adventures from the meta-game in order to continuously enjoy the franchise as I did growing up. Maybe I'm overthinking my play-throughs, but I just wanted to express my thought processes before the new generation of Pokémon games hit our shelves in November 2016. Hopefully you've understood where I'm coming from here, regardless of whether you share similar thoughts and experiences or not.