Pokemon is an interesting game. It is one of the few JRPGs with actual pvp content, and the single player is remarkably “fair” in the sense that whatever the opponent uses, you can use as well.
It is one of Nintendo’s most popular series, and while series like Yo-Kai are trying to muscle in, they all fall flat.
Some people will attribute this to a certain inertia in the fans, the same force that keeps WoW in business after all these years. But I actually think there are some rather intelligent base decisions that affect its success in this regard.
The three basic things that I feel makes Pokemon so very popular are as follows:
- Simple Stats
- Accessibility and Depth
Note that not one of these refer to the design of the Pokemon themselves. Yes, we all know that one of the common complaints of the new generations is the lack of original Pokemon (because “pile of sludge” is so much better than “pile of garbage”), but the Pokemon isn’t what makes Pokemon so great. It’s actually more mechanical than that, and definitely more obvious.
First thing to note when you are discussing Pokemon is that it was not built as a single player experience. Ever since the beginning, it was designed with interaction between players at the forefront, and this shaped many of the design philosophies of the game. Yes, most people start it out as a single player game, but Pokemon does its best to help transition you from single player to multiplayer, and the fairness of the game is its most powerful tool.
What do I mean by fair? If you look at other RPGs like Final Fantasy or World of Warcraft, you notice many things are “enemy only” or “player only”. In WoW, for example, many bosses have an “enrage timer” that ticks down to when they activate a super-mode and kill everybody. Final Fantasy also has enemies that are immune to most of the status effects, or have ridiculous amounts of HP. Players, on the other hand, usually get a far wider range of abilities that no enemy could even hope to utilize. In these games, you are special, and so are your opponents.
In Pokemon, it is different. Everything that the enemy can use, you can use, and vice versa. Sabrina pounding you with an Alakazam? You can get your own to use and abuse. Is Lance being a complete tool with his 3 Dragonites? Go get yourself a Dratini, and you too can have a Dragonite. Is Koga being super duper annoying with his Toxic + Double Team strategy? You can, again, use that as well! Everything thrown against you can be used by yourself, which is a very liberating experience.
It also lays down the framework for the multiplayer portion of the game. Each and everything you can do, your opponent can also access. This allows you to have much more information than in other RPGs, and gives everyone a larger sense of balance. There is no “I can’t do that”, only “I chose not to do that”. In WoW, for example, a Warrior will never turn invisible or hurl fireballs, as they are specific to their own classes. In Pokemon, the only reason you can’t use a Toxic+ Protect strategy is that you are choosing to use a different strategy.
But now that we have determined that Pokemon is a multiplayer game, why is it so
good successful? Simply put, the stats are simple enough, yet provide enough depth, for people of all skill levels to participate. In Pokemon, you have six stats, HP, Attack and Special Attack, Defence and Special Defence, and Speed. All of these are fairly intuitive and are put rather plainly. A move that increases defence does just that, increases your defence stat. In games like WoW, you have a bunch of base stats like Strength, Agility, and Stamina that affect the “real” stats like Health, Armor, and Attack Damage all in different ways to each class. A belt that gives +20 Strength means different things depending on what class equips it. This can be very confusing for someone wondering if +20 Strength is better than +12 Attack Damage.
Another thing to note is that Pokemon has two types of damage, Physical and Special. There is no real difference between the two, there is nothing “special” about Special Attack or Special Defence. The only difference is that some Pokemon specialize in one over another. Golem, for example, has high Attack and Defence, but pitiful Special Attack and Special Defence. This allows for a more offensive game, as if a Pokemon were to be hard to kill, they would need to be defensive on both sides. But, to be offensive, a Pokemon only has to focus on one type of damage.
That is also not to mention Pokemon and Move Types, which also play a huge roll in the game. Each type can have it’s own weaknesses and resistances, which is constant in every battle. This lets you know the weaknesses of a Pokemon just by looking at their types. For example, there is no Poison/Normal Pokemon, but we know that if one were to exist it would be 2x weak to Ground and Psychic, but it would be immune to Ghost, resistant to Poison, Fairy and Grass. I know that no matter what Poison/Normal Pokemon comes out, I can know the weaknesses and resistances without having to look it up, which is another huge asset to game balance.
At the very start, I said that Pokemon is an accessible game, but I can almost assure that most of people reading this do not understand the depth of the strategy involved. When you’re first introduced to Pokemon, your understanding is… basic at best. Use damaging moves to hit the Pokemon until they fall down. Simple enough. Later you may learn about the different types, and may even have a weak grasp of Special Attack vs Attack, you don’t want to give your Gengar Mega Punch, for example.
But what if I told you that this image, is actually a thing that happens? The beauty of Pokemon is that at its core, it is a simple game. But, at it’s most complex, it is a frighteningly deep game about math, probability, and psychology. It’s like chess, if both players made their moves at the same time, the chess pieces had different stats and abilities, you could choose your own set up, and it wasn’t like chess at all.