A game’s mechanics can make them or break them. And Pokemon has some seriously questionable ones.
So, I’ve made it absolutely no secret that Pokemon is basically my favorite franchise. All of it. But I’ve also made it very apparent that I’m quite aware of its flaws, whether they be the flaws in the anime or the games. Pokemon’s narrative struggles aside, the games aren’t marred only by… “suspect” storytelling. A lot of the mechanics woven into the franchise’s core gameplay are incredibly irritating. So here’s a list of the worst offenders.
Quick Disclaimer: This list is only comprised of mechanics that are still in effect, as of Gen VII.
5. Mega Evolution
So here’s the thing. Mega Evolution is kind of dumb. But at the same time, I’m perfectly cool with it, to an extent. We got a lot of really cool evolutions out of it, like Mega Gardevoir and Mega Beedrill. However, I think Gamefreak’s handling of this mechanic was exceptionally poor in quite a few ways. First of all, requiring the Pokemon in question to be holding an item in order to achieve it is just stupid. There’s no reason for it. The thinking is probably that Mega Evolutions are so powerful, giving them an item would make them too dangerous. But, uh… no. At least not all of them. That’s actually more of a minor gripe, however.
The bigger problem I have is that several of these Mega Evolutions should’ve just been regular evolutions for Pokemon who previously didn’t have complete evolutionary lines. Pokemon like Gardevoir and Charizard, I can understand. They’re fully-evolved Pokemon. I can also understand the legendaries, who don’t really need them and got them more as a novelty than anything. I can even make some allowances for a Pokemon like Heracross, who is reasonably powerful enough on its own to really be considered a fully-evolved Pokemon.
But then there are examples like Mawile, Sableye, or Lopunny – Pokemon who aren’t a part of fully formed evolutionary lines and aren’t very good, on their own. Any of those cases would’ve benefitted from one more evolution. So their getting Mega Evolutions just seems unnecessary.
It’s possible there’s the worry of these Pokemon being too powerful to be allowed to exist at all times. There is a certain strategy to choosing which Mega you’ll activate, provided you have more than one candidate on a team. But in a non-competitive environment, that argument is basically meaningless. It also makes the game, itself, more punishing if you wanted to use one of those Pokemon – especially in Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon, wherein all Mega Evolutions are locked into the post-game.
Z-Moves are cool and all, but a monstrously powerful move, used by a Pokemon with below average stats might as well be a barely average attack. It’s no replacement for a whole new stat spread and (in most cases) ability. Giving Mega Evolutions the ability to use Z-Moves would admittedly be a bit overkill, however. Most of them hit really hard, as it is. At the end of the day, it’s an interesting gameplay concept with a wonky execution.
4. Level Grinding
I love RPGs. I don’t really have much of a problem with Level Grinding, when it isn’t such a slog. But there is a noteworthy problem across some recent Pokemon Games – lack of viable options to do this. Games like Gen II, Gen III, and even Gen IV did an excellent job of making these games less grind-y by way of introducing rematches to the mix.
The PokeGear allowed the player to arrange rematches, the Vs. Seeker allowed players to force rematches out of any previously defeated trainers, visible on-screen, and PokeNav let you see when a trainer wanted a rematched, but without having to call them. Gen VI didn’t really have a ton of rematch options. There was the Battle Chateau, which let you take on Gym Leaders and whatnot. But the process of getting to them was overly tedious, as opposed to just waiting. There were also a few restaurants in the game that were decent for the task.
However, Gen V and Gen VII are pretty bare bones in this regard. Gen V has a few facilities that have similar functions, but that’s neutralized by their static power levels. And since the level curve in that generation was so much higher (seriously, Gamefreak. Why the heck doesn’t Deino evolve until level 50? And why does Zweilous evolve at friggin’ 64? Larvesta at 59? Guys. Come on…), level grinding is just tedious. It’s a chore, is what it is. And Pokemon games had, up to that point, been one of the few RPGs where level grinding was not, in fact, an extreme trial of one’s patience.
Gen VII is perhaps the worst offender because there’s basically no good means of level grinding. No facilities like the Battle Chateau, no PokeGear equivalent, and no item like the Vs. Seeker. Yes, Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon give us the Roto Exp. Boost, but that’s particularly unreliable since you have to essentially do the equivalent of rolling a Nat 20 for it. There’s certainly the benefit of a (slight) Exp boost from Pokemon Refresh. But say you’re playing a Pokedex Completion run. Do you really want to expend all that extra effort on every single Pokemon you need to evolve? The only reliable means of getting Exp before defeating the Pokemon League in Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon is regularly fighting wild Pokemon in the final room of Victory Roa- I mean Mt. Lanakila, hoping you don’t get an overly long string of Sneasel from the random encounters, since they don’t give much Exp at all. Alternatively, you could just repeatedly dive into the Ultra Worm Hole to battle even tougher wild Pokemon but at the price of only being able to fight one per visit, meaning you’ll have to do that mini-game a lot.
After you beat the Elite Four, that’s basically the place to do all your level-grinding. Which isn’t bad, certainly. But it’s a bit lacking in variety. And sort of lessens the gameplay experience since we’ve had these rematches to look forward to, in past games. For a region where the people seem to be even more into battling than anywhere else, people sure seem to avoid, you know, battling.
3. Trade Evolution
This one’s pretty straightforward. Evolutions that require trading are stupid. Why? Because it requires you to have a friend who plays the games. If you’re the only one in your social circle who does, you’re out of luck. Yes, there’s the global system, but if you want to just use your own Pokemon that you raised from scratch, this is annoying. Furthermore, it just doesn’t make sense. If they only evolve via trade, then how do wild ones exist anywhere? Was every Golem or Gengar that ever existed released by some trainer who didn’t have need of them, any longer? Furthermore, based on the description of how this works (the Pokemon bathing in the energy from the transfer machine or whatever), how did they pull this off before they had the transfer technology? It’s not just an annoying inconvenient mechanic, it also breaks immersion in quite a few places, making it doubly annoying.
2. Recoil/”Suicide” Moves
The concept of extremely powerful attacks that can hurt the user is fine. They’re boom-or-bust tools to any Pokemon’s kit. Which is why most of them aren’t used in standard competitive play without an ability or setup move to mitigate the recoil. But. Comma. There’s one thing about these moves that is infuriating – when wild Pokemon have them.
You know where I’m going with this. You’ve whittled your target down to a sliver of health. It’s been paralyzed, frozen, or put to sleep. Victory is within your grasp. And then the unthinkable happens – the Pokemon wakes up, thaws, or fights through the paralysis and… knocks itself out with a pitifully stupid choice of a recoil or self-destruct attack. Seriously. Why? Why is this a thing that can happen? Why would you knowingly give a wild Pokemon that kind of option? And why does the AI have to be so braindead that it doesn’t think to not use those options in their movepool when it would take them down to employ them? And, by far, the absolute worst about this in Gen VII is Lapras.
“Wait,” you say. “Lapras doesn’t learn any recoil or self-destruct moves.” Ah, but it does – Perish Song. All it needs is three turns. Three turns and it’ll bring you down with it (unless you, possessing the sense that the AI lacks, switch Pokemon. But that’d waste a turn). Lapras… has a pitifully low catch-rate. And if the first move it uses when you engage it is Perish Song, wouldn’t ya know it, three turns is exactly how long it takes to optimize your chances (provided you can drop it into the red in one hit, which is a dangerous game since it’s so tanky). In that time you can reduce its health, throw some sort of status effect on it, and (assuming you have one at the time) trigger a Roto-Catch. And by the time you’ve done all that, the Perish Song takes effect. Your Pokemon drops, and the Lapras with it.
In my own horror story of the scenario, I managed to optimize my chances before it got the Perish Song off. And despite those optimized chances, it broke out of every Pokeball I threw at it. And then the Perish Song robbed me of my chance. Given how long it took to get the thing to show up in the first place, by that point I just threw up my hands, said “F–k it,” and transferred one over from an older game. “If they don’t wanna make this reasonable, I’m not gonna play by the parameters they set, to begin with.”
Pokemon like Pineco and Voltorb? Whatever. They’re pretty common and have reasonable catch-rates. But extremely rare Pokemon with pitifully low catch-rates? That’s just straight up nonsensical. And all that actually leads into the fifth, and by far most infuriating mechanic in the game.
The extent to which RNG is woven into Pokemon’s core gameplay is absolutely egregious. Just about every aspect of the central game is bogged down by terrible RNG walls. Pokemon are encountered randomly and appear based on a percentage. Then there’s Gen VII, which introduced SOS battles, where a Pokemon can call an ally. Several Pokemon only show up at all as SOS partners. And some of them only show up as the SOS partners of Pokemon that are already pretty rare, themselves. Or, put more simply:
And that’s just getting Pokemon to show up. The idea of there even being a capture-rate is obscenely stupid. The other day, in fact, I blew nearly 50 Ultra Balls, trying to catch an Articuno I’d gotten down to 1 HP, paralyzed, and used a Roto-Catch on. Articuno doesn’t even have the worst capture-rate of the sub-legendaries.
And while we’re on the subject, can I just point out that that little bit where the Pokeball shakes is unfathomably stupid? What’s even the point of that? If it was supposed to be an indicator of how close you are the catching the Pokemon in question, then there should logically never be an instance where the Pokemon breaks out after the ball shakes three times, then on the next throw, it breaks out immediately. That, right there, just reinforces the problem. You worked to optimize your chances and are now locked into a position wherein you basically just have to keep throwing Pokeballs at it until it decides to stay in, periodically stopping to heal your Pokemon so the wild one doesn’t KO you from all the free turns they’re getting. Pray you capture it before all its moves run out of points, too. Otherwise, it’ll have to fall back on Struggle which, you guessed it, inflicts Recoil Damage. For crying out loud, RNG even manages to affect a Pokemon’s gender.
Why don’t they all just have a 50/50 even split? Some of them I understand, to an extent. Things like Combee, for example, or Pokemon with a 100% rate in one gender or another. And, obviously, there are the genderless Pokemon. Though even with Salandit having a gender-based evolution, I don’t fully understand why its ratio is as skewed as it is. And then there are Eevee and the Starter Pokemon, all of which have about a 12% chance of being female. And don’t get me wrong. I understand the logic. Fewer females, less reproduction, thus the logic behind those Pokemon being so rare. Whatever. But what if someone does just want to have a female starter, for whatever reason, to play through the game with? Maybe they want an all-female team. Maybe they’re actually roleplaying as they go through the game. That is what the RP in RPG stands for. Why have such a dumb wall in the way?
There are other irritating things to this, as well. Getting critical hits when you really don’t want to, and accidentally knocking out something you want to catch. Missing with a really crucial move that could turn the tide of a battle. And then there’s the king of the RNG Lottery:
Never have I seen a figure in a videogame who has earned the favor of the RNG gods in such a convincing manner. You’re traveling through a cave, are you? Well, you will see this guy. You wanna run away from the battle? Sucks to be you, friend. You ain’t goin’ nowhere. Even if you’re twenty levels over it. And if it’s strong enough, it’ll make sure of it with Mean Look. What’s that? Supersonic only has 55% accuracy? Why, he laughs at your puny numbers. And, just for good measure, let’s also give him Confuse Ray – a more accurate move with the exact same effect! Goodie!
RNG is, by far, the most aggravating aspect of the Pokemon franchise, in terms of gameplay. It affects the entire thing. I’d be perfectly fine if all it affected was the accuracy of attacks, the occurrence of critical hits, and other little things like that. But burying the main feature of the game with random encounters in 2017 (yes, it’s 2018, but the last new game was last year, so whatever)? I understand that a large part of this is because there are so many Pokemon. It makes it easier to manage. And if you must use the random encounter mechanic, then fine. But you could at the very least not tilt things so far out of favor for the people playing. There’s difficulty, and then there’s outright obnoxiousness.
There’s a main series game coming out for the Switch, and I’m genuinely excited for it. It’s been a long time coming. I don’t expect the core gameplay will be any different from what we’re used to, of course. But I can at least hope something’s done about this particular blight on the series. Heck, it’d be great if they could work over all of these problems.
Once upon a time, I said that “Pokemon, as a franchise, needs to evolve.” At the time I was talking about the anime. But it’s very clear that the games are in the same boat. Incremental changes and fun gimmicks are all fine and dandy. But if the core gameplay isn’t going to change up, every now and then, like so many other major Nintendo franchises (Mario being the most obvious one), then at least the mechanics could stand to drop their Everstone for a while, and improve. All I want is for the franchise to continue to get better. And fixing things like this would be a step in the right direction. It’s been doing a great job of updating itself ever-so-slight, so far. Maybe it’s about time it tried something a little more drastic. Perhaps if they just take that step, they can prove that they still have it in them to be the very best, like no one ever was.
Agree with this list? Are there other mechanics you’re not fond of? Maybe moves you just hate? Maybe the mechanics of any of the spin-off titles, like Mystery Dungeon or Pokemon Ranger? The ball’s in your court. Or, if you enjoy articles like this, feel free to check out my breakdown of what constitutes a piece of media as “Junk Food,” versus a “Guilty Pleasure.” In the meantime, that’s all from me today. Thanks for reading, as always, folks. Keep up the awesome.