TooMuchTime asks:

Knowing what we do of Pokémon and Trainer culture in setting do you really think modern armies like what Lt. Surge seemed to be apart of would actually make sense in the Pokémon world? I figure any kind of military they’d develop would be more warrior-like than soldier-like given the strength a single skilled trainer can wield with their team.

This has sort of come up a little bit before, and the short answer is that my take on it is… very different.  Mostly, I don’t think we should underestimate the degree to which one powerful Pokémon could be fµ¢£ed up by many weaker Pokémon with intelligent leadership and strategy.  It seems to me like warfare is basically a thing of the past in the utopian setting of the Pokémon world (except in Ransei, the setting of Pokémon Conquest, which is, like… somehow canonically contemporary with all the other Pokémon games, even though Ransei is clearly based on sengoku-era Japan and uses mediaeval technology; look, I don’t fµ¢£in’ know), and I honestly doubt they’ve ever had a large-scale war with truly “modern” technology (i.e. post-World War II, because Lt. Surge is definitely a WWII veteran and definitely came to Kanto during the post-war American occupation of Japan, which is another whole… thing).  I also truly don’t know how Pokémon would stack up against, like, modern firearms and explosives.  I think you probably could persuasively argue, depending on which sources and portrayals you look at, either that humans with modern weapons are more reliably lethal than Pokémon and would just shoot them, or that Pokémon would render all human weaponry obsolete.  Like, can Psychic Pokémon use telekinesis to block sustained machine gun fire?  Will a Steel Pokémon’s skin stand up to a bazooka? (If they could, would those weapons even be used?)  I have genuinely no idea, but honestly… my instinct is “probably not.”  What’s more, I think if you really pressed Game Freak on it, they’d probably say that it hasn’t come up in a long time because their world is now peaceful (like modern Japan is), and that modern trainers wouldn’t put their Pokémon in harm’s way like that anyway.  The point is, I don’t think we’ve ever had a good look at what mass combat involving Pokémon trainers is actually like (again, except Ransei, which honestly seems more like Pokémon trainers LARPing warfare than an actual war – I think deliberately), so anything we say is going to be extrapolation. But let’s assume we’re thinking about war being fought mainly between Pokémon trainers, using Pokémon attacks rather than human weapons.  I think the actual rules of the games probably give us reason to be fairly pessimistic about the odds of super-elite Pokémon trainers taking on large numbers of mid-level chumps.

I think the best analogy here is to generation VI’s horde battles, which absolutely can go badly if the horde has some way to exploit their action economy advantage.  Five low-level wild Pokémon may not be able to efficiently take down a single high-level enemy by brute strength, but there are lots of effects in Pokémon that don’t care about level disparity.  Hordes of wild Pokémon with Sand Attack can be a colossal pain, as can hordes with Growl or even Leer.  Of course, you can easily thrash large numbers of weaker opponents by using area-effect attacks like Discharge or Surf… but if those weaker opponents are part of an army with a coherent strategy, then I’ll bet you anything some of those Pokémon will have Wide Guard, Lightningrod or Storm Drain.  And there are plenty of other nasty things hordes could theoretically do that would absolutely wreck high-level Pokémon who theoretically have the advantage in brute strength: sources of damage that don’t care about attack or defence stats, like Super Fang, Endeavour and Night Shade; field-wide buffs like Rototiller, Howl and Aurora Veil; Trick Room combined with a barrage of flinch effects like Bite or Air Slash; smart use of weather, terrain and status effects.  If your enemies are relying on a small number of very powerful trainers with extremely high-level Pokémon, I think military intelligence is going to be important too – because if you know their teams, you can spam counters.  What’s more, because you’re relying on chumps whose training consists of maybe two months of drills, you can adapt and put together new army compositions much faster than they can, in spite of the larger numbers you’re fielding.  All that is doubly true if a majority of elite trainers are type specialists (which seems at least plausible).

The obvious counterpoint is that elite Pokémon trainers who know they’re likely to be fighting in a war are also going to be preparing their teams for mass combat.  They’re not going to use the same strategies they would for one-on-one duels.  There are lots of Pokémon attacks that, for game balance reasons, don’t hit multiple opponents in double battles, but which you’d intuitively imagine would have some degree of effectiveness in crowd-control if used correctly (maybe you need specialised training to do this, but you’re an elite trainer preparing for a war; you can do specialised training): flashy special attacks like Flamethrower, Draco Meteor or Hyper Beam; disabling techniques like Sleep Powder, Supersonic or Spider Web; multi-hit moves like Spike Cannon or Rock Blast, and so on.  And of course there are all the attacks that definitely are canonically effective against multiple foes, and all the ways a smart trainer can build a team of Pokémon that cover each other’s weaknesses, and the combos that you can pull off with two Pokémon that know each other well.  I’ll leave the details to your imagination.

I think there’d be some back-and-forth on this – there would be periods and regions and cultures in which warfare was dominated by small numbers of elite warriors (like, again, what Pokémon Conquest seems to portray in Ransei), and there would be ones in which warfare was dominated by large numbers of troops using simple, easy-to-learn techniques that scale well for mass combat. Y’know, like real history.  Probably most of the time you’d have both.  That balance is going to be dictated by lots of variables outside of strict combat effectiveness: what is your culture’s economy based on, and how much of your workforce can you afford to spare during a war?  Which Pokémon are common in your territory, and what moves do they learn at low levels without special training?  How expensive is it to feed and house the Pokémon you’re using, and what fraction of your people can afford to keep Pokémon on their own dime?  Do you have Pokémon that naturally live in groups and work together?  Do you have access to special resources like evolutionary stones that can give Pokémon a major boost in power without extended training?  Those are the kinds of questions I’d be asking, if I were called upon to build a Pokémon army.

8 thoughts on “TooMuchTime asks:

  1. A very interesting topic. I mean nurse joy uses Chanseys and Officer Jenny uses Growlithe in their service so it wouldn’t be too out of whack to think that soldiers would use Pokemon. I know it would be a little more depressing thinking about Pokemon used in warzones and getting killed, but the manga already kills Pokemon in their stories and even in the show and games (case in point: Cubone’s mother). My only question would be, who would they be fighting? Another country/continent we haven’t seen yet? Also I suppose just because they’re in the military doesn’t necessarily mean a war is happening. A good point you raised, I like it.

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    1. I mean, X and Y contain a canon story about a war in the last where we know that Pokémon fought and died. (Well, we know of one Pokémon dying in it but it’s safe to assume that it wasn’t the only one)

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    2. Chris mentioned it too, but Lieutenant Surge is about as lacking in subtlety as you’d expect an American written by a foreigner to be.

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  2. “i.e. post-World War II, because Lt. Surge is definitely a WWII veteran and definitely came to Kanto during the post-war American occupation of Japan, which is another whole… thing” except even if you assume the games take place in the 80s or ’86 at earliest specifically, Lt. Surge is too young to have been in WWII (presuming it even took place). Cause in his artwork and sprites he looks like he’s in his forties at most.

    Unless WII took place much later or Surge is much older than he looks. I took ’86 because of the Stand by Me reference, but Gen I and III also confirm it has been ’69 at the very least cause an NPC in Pewter Museum talks about the moonlanding

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    1. I don’t think the games take place in a definite historical time. There’s lots of technology that seems like it’s from the 90s, or from the future, but the creators grew up in the 60s and 70s, and based on everything they’ve said about their reasons for making the game, it sounds like sharing the experiences of their youth was important to them.

      Anachronisms are allowed, I think; unless we have a good reason to believe they cared about keeping the timeline consistent (and I’m not even sure they care about that *now*, let alone when the first games were released).

      To me he’s an explicitly American war veteran who lives in Japan, and in the mid/late 20th century the reason there are American war veterans living in Japan is… kind of inescapable. Even if World War II *literally didn’t happen*, it’s still the reason he’s there.

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      1. Could be that it’s why he’s there on a metalevel. That’s very likely to be honest. But from an in-universe perspective it doesn’t make sense.

        And I agree that Pokémon doesn’t keep a strict timeline, so there can be inconsistencies. Plus, Gen I was basically fantasy Kanto, so those kind of details make sense in that generation. Additionally, as of Let’s Go he’s called ‘The Lightning Lieutenant’, rather than ‘The Lightning American’.

        And it’s not hard to see in general that the Pokémon world has been distanced more and more from the real world as the franchise grew.

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