Until very recently, I had never touched a Pokémon game. Sure I'd faced off against the handful of Pokémon that show up in every iteration of Super Smash Bros., and I always found the monster designs interesting and cute. I was 14 when the original Pokémon Red and Blue hit the US, possibly just a hair too old to be in the original target demographic, and while I've always been curious about the franchise, I never really dove in.
That all changed when I was introduced to the latest chapter in the series. I figured "hey, why not. I like JRPGs. I like cute things. What could go wrong?"
I often go back to that statement now, when I'm feverishly grinding at 4am instead of sleeping. How innocent I was. Pokémon Alpha Sapphire and it's twin, Omega Ruby turned me into a raging Pokémon addict.
I'm almost embarrassed to admit the full level of my Pokémon ignorance, before going in.
I knew it was a fairly light JRPG with turn-based battles, and I knew there were hundreds of adorable elemental monsters to collect. I could pick Pikachu — and maybe a few other high-profile pocket monsters — out of a lineup. And I knew that the series is insanely popular, with a new game or a remake of an older version just about every year.
What I didn't know what just how snappy and addictive the gameplay would be.
Pokémon moves lightning fast for a JRPG. You move in and out of battles quickly, and most of the turn-based affairs only last a couple of turns. Managing a team of six, all with their primary type (there are a dozen, including fire, water, flying, dragon, etc.), and getting a feel for how to effectively match them against opposing types is immensely satisfying.
That, coupled with the fact there are hundreds of different creatures to catch and level up, makes for a shockingly deep and customizable game.
I went from "oh, this is cute," to "oh my god, I love this," within the span of a couple of hours.
This probably sounds redundant to anyone who has experience with the series. But going in completely fresh, I was almost stunned by that depth. Especially considering its usual demarcation as a "kid's game."
Six thousand things to do
I'm exaggerating, but only slightly. I had no idea how many features and mechanics were in the game. On top of the core systems for catching, battling and leveling up Pokémon, there are myriad mini games, a virtual petting zoo for you to play with your critters, crafting, berry collecting, secret hideout scouting and decorating, and so much more. If I were a young child and only got a few games per year, I could easily see the appeal of the glut of content.
Not all of it is equally interesting. The little contests you can put your Pokémon in are shallow, and the "super training" mini games to boost your Pokémon's stats are pretty rote. Thankfully, all of the extra stuff is completely optional.
Then there's trading. Traded Pokémon get a hefty XP bonus in battle, and since Nintendo releases two slightly different versions of each game, with a slightly different Poke-population, you need to trade to see everything.
I've gotten some of my coolest creatures from wonder trading
I traded a fair bit with my girlfriend, but I had the most fun with "wonder trade." With wonder trade, you pick a monster to send over to a random stranger on the internet, and get something random in return. Yeah, sometimes you get bullshit, but I've gotten some of my coolest creatures from this little grab-bag. I found myself catching extra critters just to put them up for trade. And if you get something crappy, you can always just trade it back.
I haven't even gotten into breeding yet, though my Pokémon-crazed friends are getting me ready for my new career as a Pokémon breeder.
Sure, I always thought Pikachu was cute in the Super Smash Bros. games. But that was before I met the likes of Vulpix (a tiny, fire-powered fox) and Litwick (a ghostly little candle) and Skitty (a psychic cat). I started with a Mudkip, which people have assured me was a smart choice, and things just got cuter from there. I even have a Pikachu decked out in frilly party clothes.
They aren't all cute, but most of the monster designs are at least interesting. I'm partial to the likes of Lunatone and Solrock, "meteorite" Pokémon that look like hyper stylized renditions of the sun and moon, respectively. And there are just plain funky looking creatures, like Xatu, a bird with a gorgeous color palette and angry-looking face on its belly, and Rolsalia, an animate flower that looks like a delicate, deadly rose.
The use of color and unique animation gives each critter a personality. Even the duds at least look cool. I was compelled to catch or trade constantly, and I found myself getting excited (and shouting in the general direction of my very patient girlfriend), every time I encountered a new creature.
The best part is, I've only been introduced to a fraction of the available 700+ Pokémon, and I'm already overwhelmed by the breadth of choice available.
No nostalgia required
my girlfriend was amused that I had no idea what a Charizard looked like, but I'm intimately familiar with Wingulls
I'm one of very few adults for whom Pokémon Alpha Sapphire and Omega Ruby is their very first experience with the franchise. As such, I've gone in with absolutely no nostalgia for the older games, and that's come with some fascinating observations. For example, my girlfriend, who is herself a longtime Pokémon fan, was amused that I had no idea what a Charizard looked like, but I'm intimately familiar with Wingulls. I have only the vaguest notion of what some of the original 151 Pokémon look like, but fairy type Pokémon (which were introduced in this generation) are often among my favorite kinds to do battle with.
I hear people talking about how there's too much water traversal in Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire, but I'm having a blast surfing and diving all over the world, battling wild Tentacools and Relicanths and other creepy-cute sea creatures.
My girlfriend was horrified when she learned that I was teaching HMs (special moves that can't be easily changed) to one of my most powerful Pokémon. "You're using a legendary Pokémon as your HM slave," she cried out, and explained the error of my ways as one would a very small child.
At another point, I used a super-rare master ball (the most potent of all Pokeballs) to try to catch a fairly run-of-the-mill Clamperl. Oops!
All said, I think I've done ok. I have a roster of about two dozen monsters that I keep in rotation that I'm leveling up to god-like status, and I'll keep continuing to trade and catch new goodies. Plus, there's plenty of late game and post-game content to enjoy.
I'll probably be playing Alpha Sapphire for a long while. And after that? I'll probably be ready for my next Pokémon game. God save me.