Pokémon’s Multiplayer Isn’t Fun Anymore

Have you ever met a competitive Pokémon player? I have, they keep them locked up in a back room in my university as part of one of those experiments that slipped past the ethics committee. People who play a fairly basic collect-’em-up RPG but have become obsessed with random number generator manipulation and the building of stats the game doesn’t even want you to know about come pretty near the top of the list of “people who like ruining fun things” alongside Linux users and people who use valuable internet for Snapchat.

Instead of the random variation and natural breeding system Nintendo intended with it’s Individual Values (stat-determining and unchangeable values unique to each Pokémon, which can gradually be passed on through generations of breeding), a freakish Poké-farming mentality has taken hold. Instead of the feeling of achievement and gradual stat growth gained through raising Effort Values (invisible points gained in certain stats by defeating different Pokémon, which affect how much a stat rises on levelling up), a soul crushing, deterministic grind takes place.

If you’ve never heard of these values before, do yourself a favour and don’t look them up. It’s a bit like being told all the secrets of the cosmos. Once you’ve got the manual and know how it all works, suddenly it’s not fun any more.

It was around the time I played Pokémon: Alpha Sapphire that I stopped finding it entertaining. I realised that I was no longer forging my own journey through a colourful world of discovery and adventure. I was cycling up and down endlessly in order to hatch eggs, checking their IVs and then discarding them.

I wasn’t scraping together a team of six nicknamed little buddies to take me through eight gyms and the Elite Four. I was working my Gardevoir like a North Korean gymnast against endless Oddish and Spinda to try and get her Special Attack stat up to 232 EV points.

To be constantly training for what’s basically a metagame concept – competitive play – means discarding all emotion and all charm from what are very charming games. You gain the small burst of excitement of stomping all over your opponents, but at the cost of getting immersed in the world.

The Pokémon we grew up with.

The Pokémon we grew up with.

And after all that, the optimum strategies and movesets are all listed online, with only three or four variants at most on most monsters. The effect is that you don’t even get the excitement of victory, because like scissors, paper, stone, everyone already knows which Pokémon setups beat which others and have adjusted their teams accordingly.

With no creativity in victory, there is no point in competing. Ironically, it actually becomes more fun to just play with whatever Pokémon you like best, play through the game with them normally and not stress too much about what the pros say you should do. It adds variety and interest to the game – and if you somehow do manage to take down your friend’s Tyranitar with a Beedrill, the victory is all the sweeter as a result.

Nintendo have tried to remedy the problem by adding more and more Pokémon, but with only a handful of changeable stats, there is only so much that approach can add. It also may have caused inadvertent harm, by making the list of creatures so long that few of them are memorable for reasons other than their use in battle. A real overhaul of the way Pokémon grow and develop is needed.

Some element of randomness – a property to be sprinkled very sparingly on most games – may be necessary, simply because the consistency of knowing which EVs will be awarded from which Pokémon makes it far too easy to game the system.

Movepools would become a factor, too. At present, all Pokémon in a species can learn the same moves, which makes planning movesets too by-the-numbers. It also doesn’t reflect real life. Not all of us are capable of all the things humans can do, so why should Pokémon be? Instead, when generated, a Pokémon could be able to learn 75% of moves its species can learn, chosen at random. Then, another layer of stats could determine hidden abilities on top of the one overt ability each Pokémon possesses – for example, a predilection for high accuracy, or increased physical damage.

It would be an enforced variety, but it would introduce an element of tension and reactive skill into competition between players, not just the ability to memorise movesets and EV training spots.

Pokémon offers huge potential for storytelling, player interaction and exploration. With online connectivity that potential climbs even higher. But for that to be used to the greatest extent possible, the narrow band of acceptable competition needs to be widened or done away with.

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Robin Wilde

Co-Editor of Cubed Gamers, meaning I send out, take in, edit and upload content. I'm also in charge of doing much of the graphics and design stuff for the site.

4 comments

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  1. Mark 4 September, 2015 at 15:07 Reply

    While I definitely agree about the problems with Pokémon multiplayer, specifically in regards to the hyper-obsessive “gaming the system” that is required to do well in playing multiplayer, I disagree that the solution is to add more randomness and more ways in which each individual Pokémon is different from the other. All that will result in is the same people being even more obsessive about it and finding new ways to game this brand new mechanic, either by spending even more time to get the ‘perfect’ Pokémon, or byjust resorting to cheating devices more often.

    Look at the ultimate strategy game: Chess. Chess is classic and eternal simply because neither side is at an advantage nor a disadvantage. A person doesn’t have their perfectly bred, perfectly IV’d and EV’d shiny chess pieces to help them along to victory; they have a king, queen, a pair of rooks, bishops, and knights, and handful of pawns – just like the other guy. It’s your wits, your intuition, and your ability to anticipate the enemy which leads you to victory.

    If you want to get rid of the crazy-obsessiveness of fans on crafting the perfect team with the perfect strategy, and instead encourage innovation, imagination, and surprise, the solution is simple: ditch IVs. Let’s face it: everyone who enters any kind of competition already has 31s across the board, or at least where it matters. All IVs do is make a person spend hours on getting a single Pokémon who could be trained to be a champion. And if you’ve worked your butt off and now have that single perfect IV Pokémon – 1/6 of a team – you better believe you’ve already looked up the strategy and what type of a monster you’re going to train. You can’t afford not to – if you decide after a while that this Pokémon just isn’t working for you, that’s hours and hours of time lost.

    Compare that to simply catching, training, and using a Pokémon from the wild, feeling free to swap in and out different Pokémon from your battle team. You can still breed to get specific moves or specific abilities, but almost every Pokémon has the potential to be a champion. It immediately levels the playing field. No longer would you get hammered by a particular opponent and think “Wow; wish I had thought of that.” Now you can freaking do it.

    Remember, the challenge with Pokémon was supposed to be catching them all, not breeding them all endlessly to get a stat a few points higher than the other guy. There’s a reason.

    • Robin Wilde 3 September, 2015 at 17:21 Reply

      EVs are capped – at 510 as I recall, or a maximum of 255 per stat. Because a stat only gains an extra point for every 4 EVs, in practice the maximum is 252. The problem isn’t that they’re not capped, but that everyone already knows the most efficient and effective spreads for each Pokemon.

      • Samuel McCosh 3 September, 2015 at 21:21 Reply

        I know but having some kind of cap or competitive/non-competitive division would make the online battling at lot better for those who both want to stat min/max and those who just play through the main game then want another challenge but not against people who spend hours getting perfect stat pokemon etc etc.

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