Pokemon Omega Ruby and My Fabulous Pageantry Adventure

I’ve been a fan of Pokemon since before I first picked up Pokemon Red all those years ago. Since then, I’ve made an effort to play at least one game from each generation of Pokemon games. While I don’t mind the repetitive aspects of the franchise, and I appreciate the changes they’ve made in terms of storytelling, multiplayer, and more, after 15 years of fighting gym leaders and saving the world I wanted to spice up my Pokemon experience.

Then I remembered this post I made back in 2010. The gist of it is that I always thought that the addition of Pokemon Contests was unfulfilled potential. While it’s presented in the anime as an alternative path for trainers who don’t care about Gym Leaders, in the games it always played second fiddle to the main path to the Elite Four. However, with the release of Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire last year, I decided it was the perfect opportunity to change my approach: I would become a Pokemon Coordinator.

Omega_Ruby_Alpha_Sapphire_Contest_May

I would also play in Japanese because the Pokemon games give you the option to choose now. “Why not?” I thought.

What would a “Contest Run” of Pokemon entail? Essentially, rather than my primary motivation being gym badges, I would instead value the earning of contest ribbons. While I would fight the Gym Leaders, foil Team Magma, and more, these would be more means to an end. Instead of caring about my Pokemon’s battle stats, I would mainly focus on their essential Contest qualities: Beauty, Toughness, Coolness, Cleverness, and Cuteness.

When Steven asked me if I was motivated to take on the gyms, I even answered, “No.” He seemed quite surprised!

One outcome of this path is that my Pokemon almost perpetually had impractical movesets, whether for single or multi-player. To give you an idea, here are a couple of my Pokemon towards the end:

277Swellow Albania the Swellow @Red Scarf
Coolness Champion
Aerial Ace
Fly
Brave Bird
Quick Attack

284MasquerainChiba Mamoru the Masquerain @Pink Scarf
Cuteness Champion
Bubble
Water Sport
Sweet Scent
Bug Buzz

Those aren’t just the movesets of someone who has no idea what they’re doing, they’re chosen so that each Pokemon has 3 moves according to their Contest specialty, (Bubble, Water Sport, and Sweet Scent are all “cute” moves in Pokemon Contests), and even their items, the scarves, boost a Contest quality but provide no benefit in battles. It really made me feel like I was grooming my Pokemon to have little to no practical skills, and that they could only survive in the lofty world of pageantry.

Of course, as it was a single player campaign I didn’t put in a Smogon level of research into all of this. I’m sure that any TRUE Contest aficionados could tear me a new one. I mean my management of berries and blocks (the things you feed to your Pokemon to improve their contest stats) was terrible!

Omega_Ruby_Alpha_Sapphire_Lisia

One cool new addition to Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire that made the Pokemon Contest path feel more significant was the introduction of a new character: a world-famous Contest Idol named Lisia (Lutia in Japanese). As the premiere Pokemon Coordinator and the one who sets you on your path to competing in Pokemon Contests, she becomes a motivating factor. Lisia was my goal, my aspiration, and the reason why I continued to make my Pokemon as clever and beautiful as possible. By the time I earned all 5 Master Rank contest ribbons and earned the chance to take on Lisia and her daunting Mega Altaria (Dragon Dance is amazing in Pokemon Contests), I had reached my own personal Pokemon League.

In the end, I became an overall Contest Master and even took on the Elite Four and Steven. Though I could also add “Pokemon Champion” to my list of achievements, in my heart it was more of a nice epilogue than the true climax of my journey.

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The Elite Fourdinators: Pokemon Contest and What Could Have Been

Ever since the first games, the Pokemon franchise has tried to include side quests and activities, things that change the game from the classic “beat 8 gym leaders and fight the Elite Four.” There’s the “end of game” content that only happens once you become champion. There have been ideas like the Safari Zone and the Bug-Catching Contest, which were alternative methods of catching Pokemon, as well as alternate venues for battling such as the Battle Tower and Battle Frontier, both of which function as a sort of arena for “advanced” players. But it was in Ruby/Sapphire/Emerald that they introduced a concept which came the closest to being a true alternative from the gym badge system: Pokemon Contests.

In Pokemon Contests, elemental types don’t really matter. Nor do things like attack power and hit points. Unlike the Safari Zone, the Battle Frontier, and all of those other extra features, the Pokemon Contest system is the only competitive activity which was so different from the rest of the game that almost none of the traditional rules applied to the way contests worked.

The goal of a Pokemon Contest is to win the votes of a panel of judges in a specific category, such as “Beauty” or “Intelligence,” and in order to do so you must have your Pokemon be more appealing than the others. To this end, every attack has its own unique features and functions entirely separate from battling and trying to KO your opponent. For instance, the attack “Flamethrower,” which is a Fire-type attack in battles, is a move which shows off “Beauty” in a Pokemon Contest. Contest Pokemon have to be fed strict diets and be groomed properly to win the visual portion of the competitions. They eventually even included dancing.

It might sound pretty boring compared to the intensity of taking on your rival in a flurry of lightning and sandstorms, and this might even be the reason that Pokemon Contests are non-existent in Pokemon Heart Gold/Soul Silver, but the big thing that Contests had that previous side games in Pokemon didn’t was 1) rewards and 2) increasing levels of difficulty. Instead of getting Gym Badges, you get Contest Ribbons, and as you go from city to city, the Contests get more challenging. In a way, it could be seen as an alternate path to the Gym system, something that wasn’t so much a game within a game as it was another activity entirely. It might even be perceived as something on par with battling. In fact, the anime tried to push this idea, by having characters like Haruka (May) and Hikari (Dawn) decide to forego the path of collecting Gym Badges and have them focus on obtaining Ribbons. The only problem is that in the anime, Contests resemble battling with a somewhat different flair, and the games themselves don’t give any rewards other than the Ribbons, essentially meaning that it’s still considered “inferior” to hitting the Gyms.

I think that Pokemon Contests could have become a really viable alternative to Gym Battles, and that it should be an option at the start of games to go on the path of a “Pokemon Coordinator,” the term the series uses to denote people who have devoted themselves to Pokemon Contests. There should be personalities you get to know and the opportunity to practice against opponents. Perhaps winning should net you TMs that are rare and powerful within the context of Contests. There should be an equivalent of the Elite Four to take down, and when you win over them, there should be an ending. Most importantly, you should be able to play against your friends.

I understand that it might be virtually impossible to try and balance two completely disparate systems running off the same basics in the same game. I also think the concept of the Pokemon Contest could stand to have some tweaking, such as making Type matter more, or perhaps even taking a cue from the anime and having it come down to battles where you’re judged on not only your ability to take down your opponent but to look good doing so. But I really believe that, done properly, Pokemon Contests could truly add another layer to the world of Pokemon by giving kids a different kind of opportunity to go off on an adventure.

Here’s hoping to their return in Generation V.

Pokemon types don’t really matter. Nor do things like attack power and hit points.