What is Pokémon?
Pokémon is a portmanteau word derived from the original Japanese name of the game: Pocket Monsters. It all started back in 1995 – nearly twenty years ago – and it is wholly remarkable how little the core game has changed in all that time. Each Pokémon game involves a young hero, his friends, a team of bad guys, and lots and lots of monsters: which you can defeat in battle or have fighting at your side.
The first goal of the game is to follow the story, defeating bad guys, “gym leaders”, the “elite four”, and usually an additional super-tough cookie. But that’s just the start! If you enjoyed yourself you may feel a strong urge to find all the Pokémon in the game’s region (or country). This is referred to as “completing a Pokédex” – gotta catch ’em all.
Which game should I buy?
Why are there so many of them?
The “proper” Pokémon games are released in pairs: X/Y, Heart/Gold, Black/White, Ruby/Sapphire, Red/Blue, Diamond/Pearl etc. Each game of a “pair” (for example Ruby and Sapphire) will tell EXACTLY the same story in EXACTLY the same “region” – think of a country in the Pokémon world. The only real difference between Ruby and Sapphire are some of the Pokémon that you can encounter during the game.
For example, each will have a different “Legendary” Pokémon (often the one pictured on the box) and a about dozen other Pokémon that will only appear in Ruby or Sapphire – the other couple of hundred will be the same in both!! The idea being that someone with Ruby will trade unique Pokémon with someone with Sapphire in order to catch all the Pokémon – which is a nice little way of making the game sociable; even if most of the trading is now done on-line instead of with underpowered infra red ports or antiquated link-up cables!
While each pair tells the same story, each different pair will tell a different in a different region, with a different threat to the world’s safety, and an fresh team of baddies. However, some titles have been remade, upgraded and updated, to appear on newer versions of Nintendo’s consoles.
Some story arcs have had a 3rd game published – a kind of “super” version which usually contains all the Pokémon from the other two and a few extras. For example, Pokémon Diamond and Pearl were enhanced in Platinum … if you have Diamond or Pearl there’s no need to get Platinum, but if you don’t have either of them then Platinum is the one to go for!
Confused? You might well be. Here is a summary of the games, each column represents on “story” in the Pokémon world. Assuming you want to experience ALL the Pokémon stories, play through one game in each row!
Red/Blue/Green*(GB) Yellow**(GB) Fire Red/Leaf Green(GBA)
Gold/Silver(GB) Crystal**(GB) Heart Gold/Soul Silver(DS)
Ruby/Sappire(GBA) Emerald**(GBA) Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire(3DS)
Black 2/White 2(DS)
*Red and Green were the names of the original “pair” in Japan, elsewhere they were named Red and Blue.
**One of the “special” versions that enhanced the preceding pair (to the left).
If you want to start on the Pokémon road, grab any one of the 3DS games and you’ll be fine.
THE SPIN OFFS
To further complicate matters Nintendo have released a plethora of “spin off” games. While some of these are perfectly adequate games in their own right, they are certainly not as good as the “proper” Pokémon games. They are often considerably cheaper but, unless you’re simply after all Pokémon you can eat, I can’t honestly recommend them. These games are the Pokémon Mystery Dungeon series, the Pokémon Rangers games, Pokémon Rumble, Pokémon Link, Pokémon Stadium, Pokémon Battle Revolution, Pokémon Park etc. Don’t get me wrong, they can be fun, but they do not represent a good entry into the world of Pokémon.
Pokémon is all about battles but defeated Pokémon aren’t killed; merely knocked out and are soon revived by a visit to a Pokémon centre. Battles are turn-based affairs and each Pokémon can have up to 4 moves; they can be attacking, defensive, or of a stat-boosting variety. Each Pokémon in the battle will choose a move, then each move will occur in turn, with the faster Pokémon likely to go first. This is repeated until all the Pokémon from one team/trainer have been defeated (normally not a long ordeal).
All Pokémon have one or two types and each move of a Pokémon is of a single type. At the start of the game most moves are of “normal” type which are “normally effective” against other Pokémon. After a few battles, your first Pokémon will learn a grass/fire/water move depending on its type. Grass moves are “super effective” against water Pokémon, water moves are “super effective” against fire Pokémon, and fire moves are “super effective” against grass Pokémon. This is a neat little triangle and will help you, early on, to gain a significant advantage over your foes. However, Pokémon has MANY types and all of strengths and weakness are not terribly easy to remember. While initially daunting, this chart will really help you (1) realise how deep the gameplay of Pokémon is, and (2) keep one step ahead of most of your foes throughout the game. DESPERATELY DAUNTING TYPE CHART
You should also be aware that a Grass Pokémon executing a grass move, will perform that grass move at 150% of its normal strength. A fire Pokémon executing a grass move will perform that move at 100% of its normal strength. A water & grass (twin type) Pokémon executing a grass move will perform that move at 125% of its normal strength.
But is isn’t even that simple! Some Pokémon have 2 types. For example, one could be a Flying and Water type – both of these types are weak to electric attacks, so electric attacks on a fire & water Pokémon will be FOUR TIMES more powerful than normal! Understanding twin types, and how they work, can be critical in the later stages of the game.
Pokémon have stats – lots of stats actually – too many to talk about here. But you should know a bit. Each Pokémon has two attack stats: attack and special attack, and two defence stats: defence and special defence. Each move uses either attack or special attack. Some Pokémon have strong special attack stats while other have strong (physical) attack stats, while others still have similar levels of each. Be careful not to give special attacks to your Pokémon that have poor special attack stats. Similarly, attacking a Pokémon with a high special defence with a special attack move won’t do as much damage. You can play perfectly well without paying attention to all of these, but it will explain why some moves perform unexpectedly better than others.
Battle wins provide experience points for the victor and these points equate to an increase in the level, and therefore power, of your Pokémon. These increases may appear small they soon mount up. After a few level increases, your Pokémon may “evolve”. This means that it will turn into a more powerful creature; a good thing. Some Pokémon, however, require a certain item to evolve, or to only evolve in a certain location, or at a certain time of day, or even only after being traded with a friend! The variety here can also be quite daunting, but there are guides to tell you how to evolve each and every Pokémon – and characters in the game’s story will often give you hints.
So those are the main principles, don’t be daunted, leap in and have fun – but be loosely aware of the mechanics in the background. You kids will love it – they’re not violent games and there is a strong ethical sense of right and wrong throughout. Honestly, I’ve been playing games for over 30 years and I can’t recommend this series highly enough. For certain it won’t grab everyone, but it really is worth finding out if you are one of the many of us fall for its many charms!