A Brief History of Pokemon Battling

Pokemon’s been a big part of my life, and I can’t count the number of hours I devoted to playing it and formulating teams to engage my friends both online and off in vicious combat. And pretty much just as I and everyone else bought Heart Gold and/or Soul Silver, a new series is coming out in the form of Pokemon Black and White.

As with every new Pokemon game, people will come out to complain that the game “is pretty much the same thing,” and while I can see where they’re coming from, I always engage this question first from the perspective of multiplayer battling. There, despite the fact that only a handful of changes and new moves get made from generation to generation, and the numbers themselves don’t change that much, those additions result in fundamental, sweeping changes to the metagame.

So, I’m going to briefly summarize each generation’s trends in terms of 1v1 (2v2 might be for another day).

The original generation, Red, Blue, and Yellow, was characterized by an almost frightening level of luck vs skill. Double damage-dealing critical hits were plentiful, speed ruled, and even the most well-thought-out plans could be laid to waste within a few turns. Here, out of 15 Pokemon types, Psychic was by far the most dominant, and everything worked towards either using Psychics or using Pokemon that could potentially defeat them. In a way it was the most frightening generation of games to play.

With Gold, Silver, and Crystal, the addition of the concept of “held items” which could do things like heal status ailments one-time or recover a bit of Hp every turn, a host of techniques that could repair or prevent damage, and two new typings with lots of immunities and resistances, the game became a lot more defensive. This was also the first and last time the games would actually modify the base stats of Pokemon compared to a previous game, which also contributed to the emphasis on defense. Games lasted many, many turns longer than the typical RBY match, and the path towards victory was gradually chipping away at the opponent’s team in just the right way.

Ruby, Sapphire, Emerald, Fire Red, and Leaf Green is noted for both its extreme offense and its extreme defense, with the attacker slightly favored. The reason this was the case was because the way leveling up and gaining experience worked now, a Pokemon could not be completely offense-oriented without sacrificing defense or vice versa, and so overall Pokemon were either a lot more frail or a lot less powerful. The game also introduced the concept of “abilities,” constant effects which would apply to the Pokemon regardless of their actions, things such as the ability to levitate and avoid ground-based moves and creating weather effects upon entry, which would add subtle, yet profound changes to how Pokemon worked with the other members of their team. All in all, complex plans leading to overwhelming victory were common here.

Now we’re at the current generation, Diamond, Pearl, Platinum, Heart Gold, Soul Silver. I haven’t played this one nearly as much as the others, so my observations are not as keen, but I’d say the biggest change here was the complete revamping of the concept of “Physical” and “Special” attacks. Where once these designations were inherent to the Pokemon type of the attack, resulting in the existence of  “physical” Fire moves and “special” Fighting moves, for example. So because the defensive side of Pokemon did not receive a similar reworking, it became a lot more difficult to actually use defensive Pokemon, predicting when and where to send them in and when to withdraw them. That said, however, stalling and playing defense can still work, and work well. This is probably the most “balanced” generation in terms of strategies.

And all through this, I had a ton of fun exploiting holes and weaknesses, both technical ones and psychological ones, and trying out every Pokemon I could. I was never anywhere close to the best player, and probably have no chance, as my desire to learn and experiment tend to override my desire to win.

So there you have the path of evolution for Pokemon Battling. Who knows where it’ll go next?

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8 thoughts on “A Brief History of Pokemon Battling

  1. Good overview. It’s also worth noting that the competitive Pokemon community is pretty big and there are a ton of resources at Smogon University to help seasoned gamers revitalize their interest in the franchise and start playing against other humans. After finally finishing the Pokedex in Generation IV, I’ve started looking into breeding and EV Training to prepare for the Battle Tower while playing through SoulSilver, and I’m impressed at how fun the game still is. It just goes to show that there’s a lot more depth to Pokemon than the initial “gotta catch em all” slogan implies.

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  2. Same here Ogi-cha. I could spend 2,3,even 4 months to catch and hone my Pokemon to a fine point just to take the eilet four down. And then comes the REAL fun. Now I just opened the national-dex and now can assemble the best of the best from all the generations and triumph over all!!! (MUHAHAHAHAHA!!!)>=D [ imagines ] TYRANITAR, USE HYPER BEAM!!!

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  3. It would have been nice to have this experience. I grew up with Pokemon from when I was about 8 years old, and my ‘strategy’ has always been ‘replace all gay moves with badass damage-dealing ones’ lol. It wasn’t until I was old enough to understand the teams that I read about in Nintendo Power’s monthly featured team column that I gave it any thought, and at that point I was already largely done with the games, lol. Luckily now I have SS though so it’s time to start giving thought to these things~

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  4. The games have certainly evolved (no pun intended) over the years. They are definitely not the same as they were in the Red/Blue days. Nintendo has done a good job improving all the flaws in old games with new games, such as dividing attacks between Physical and Special, giving good abilities to otherwise weak pokemon, tweaking attacks so that they better match what they do (like Earthquake and Surf hitting all pokemon on the field), and creating a wealth of held items that can make even weak pokemon devastating.

    The Pokemon games now offer an endless amount of things to do – you can always try out new strategies, raise different pokemon for battle, and try your different teams against different opponents. They’re just never the same each time I play. One of the reasons I’ve never grown tired of the games in the past 11 years.

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  5. Pingback: To Be an Electric Type is to Be One with the Speed of Light! …or Not « OGIUE MANIAX

  6. Pingback: Showdown! At! The Internet! Pokemon Battling Nostalgia Ramblings « OGIUE MANIAX

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