Not Final Fantasy Friday

Tomorrow morning I am not streaming Final Fantasy X with Jim the Editor, because he is on holiday in Wales and I will be busy performing a dangerous ritual to wrest vast amounts of spiritual power from the land itself at tremendous risk to my life and sanity making toast. But if watching us play a classic game and listening to our opinions on its gameplay, characters, themes, world, story, etc sounds like something you might enjoy, this might be a good time to catch up with the story so far, which you can do here!

An Evil Bag asks:

Now that we have Jellyfish Pokemon based off of stinging jellies and ghost jellies, what are some other hypothetical concepts based of real-world jellies? Like, maybe the box jellyfish or moon jellies, or the Man-0-war.

Also, I think jellies is a funny word, don’t you?

So I have a fun story about the word “jelly,” which is that in New Zealand we don’t use “jelly” to mean a sweet, fruity spread the way it’s used in America; we only say “jam” for the whole category of things that, in US English, are divided into “jams” and “jellies.”  “Jelly” for us means a fruit-flavoured gelatine dessert, which is what the US calls “jello.”  I think this is all true of the UK and Australia as well as New Zealand.  And we have peanut-butter-and-jam sandwiches; that is A Thing.  But here’s the thing; I also knew about peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches from American kids’ TV, and I didn’t know that the words meant different things depending on your dialect (it also didn’t help “jelly” is often purple in cartoons and I thought of “jam” as usually being red).  I thought Americans were eating what they would call peanut-butter-and-jello sandwiches, which they made from jars of pre-made jello, and naturally this led me to believe that they were all completely insane.

Anyway yeah I think a Portuguese man o’ war Pokémon would be legit; there’s a lot you could do with that.  A man o’ war isn’t technically a jellyfish at all, it’s a siphonophore, a colony of zillions of microorganisms in several different specialised types and roles.  You could have a unique evolution method where multiple Pokémon of different species combine into one, and you could play on the name and mix some naval motifs into the design, maybe give it an actual sail or some cannons.  There’s space for something interesting there, I think.

Any thoughts regarding the Champions’ teams in the PWT’s Champions Tournament? Do you like the new lineup for some of them (like Hoenn’s Champions, or Alder’s)?

Hmm.  Never really thought about them before.  Let’s see…

So, their teams are as follows (movesets and items are generally an improvement on their basic lineups):

Red: As his Heart Gold/Soul Silver team
Blue: As his Heart Gold/Soul Silver team, but swapping Pidgeot for Aerodactyl
Lance: Salamence, Haxorus, Kingdra, Flygon, Hydreigon, Dragonite
Steven: As his Emerald team, but swapping Skarmory and Claydol for Archeops and Excadrill
Wallace: Sharpedo, Swampert, Walrein, Starmie, Ludicolo and Milotic
Cynthia: As her Black 2/White 2 casual team, but swapping Milotic for Roserade
Alder: Reuniclus, Chandelure, Krookodile, Conkeldurr, Braviary and Volcarona

So, Red doesn’t change at all, and Cynthia just reverts to another of the Pokémon she used on Platinum.  It’s odd that Blue would replace Pidgeot, who is his strongest Pokémon on Heart Gold and Soul Silver, but throwing in Aerodactyl instead certainly makes for a more menacing line-up, and fits his obsession with rare Pokémon (although I seriously question his decision to teach it Fire Blast, particularly in a Choice Band set…).  The changes to Steven are, likewise, straightforward; Archeops over Skarmory fits his interest in rare stones and fossils; Excadrill over Claydol gives him another Steel-type to replace Skarmory and helps him to dig up cool new rocks.  I’m really not sure about Head Smash on Archeops with Defeatist to worry about, but I suppose it combos decently with Sitrus Berry and Acrobatics, and I’m glad to see the back of that bat$#!t special attacker Aggron set he used in the third generation games.

Wallace changes out most of his team, keeping only Ludicolo and his signature Pokémon, Milotic.  Wallace doesn’t have much of a unifying theme to begin with other than being a Water trainer; his battle philosophy revolves around grace and elegance, but all that translated to in Emerald, as far as I could tell, was using Pokémon who were a pain to kill, like Amnesiac Whiscash and Double Team Ludicolo.  His new team seems generally more heavy on offence, mostly due to the presence of Sharpedo and Starmie, but I don’t think that makes it any more or less appropriate to him.  I’m not keen on the fact that his Swampert is a special attacker, but I suppose it’s not as bad an idea as a special Aggron.

I actually don’t like Lance’s all-Dragon team much, simply because I was fond of the way his original Gold and Silver team worked around the single-type limitation while still making him very obviously a ‘Dragon Master.’  It made him stick out a bit amongst all the other single-type Gym Leaders and Elite Four members.  Multiple Dragonite is obviously a no-go, but I think I would have gone with a compromise team, replacing Haxorus and Flygon with Aerodactyl and Charizard, and maybe Gyarados over Kingdra too.  Also, Solarbeam on Flygon, particularly without Sunny Day anywhere on his team, strikes me as a… poor decision, especially when he could have just given it Flamethrower or Fire Blast.

Alder certainly gets more difficult by losing his focus on Bug-types, and there was nothing about Escavalier or Accelgor that made them strikingly appropriate for him (I mean, Reuniclus and Chandelure are kind of weird choices for Alder as well since they’re very calm and subdued by nature, but whatever).  Conkeldurr and Braviary appear on his casual Black 2/White 2 team as replacements for Druddigon and Vanilluxe, and I think they’re good ones; they’re more dangerous on the whole, and they fit Alder’s energetic style.  It’s unfortunate that Bouffalant is gone, because he almost works as a secondary signature Pokémon for Alder, sharing his excitable temperament and ridiculous hair.  Krookodile is okay as a replacement, I suppose, and probably stronger.  I’m neither here nor there on Alder’s lineup as a whole.

Hey Chris, a little while ago you talked about moves and the trend of proliferation for all of them. It got me thinking about proliferation of moves on Pokémon themselves. I’ve long thought that the expansion of movepools is actually not diversifying Pokémon but just reducing them all towards a point of “these moves give perfect coverage and power, this is all you should run”. How would you feel if the movepools were drastically reduced so each mon has more clearly delineated roles in battle?

Well, “less is more” is very much a core belief of mine in picking apart this franchise.  I don’t think it’s so much a matter of ‘more clearly delineated roles,’ because most Pokémon do have that down pretty well anyway; the problem is how easy it is to be outclassed by things that have a similar roles, and making moves less widely available might help with that.  The presence of TMs in some ways is a little unfortunate, because the increasing ease with which we’ve been able to teach those moves over the years (first breeding to recycle them, then just outright reusable TMs) sort of devalues the Pokémon lucky enough to actually get some of those awesome moves in their level-up lists.  Panpour is the only Pokémon in the game who naturally learns Scald!  Did you know that?  I sure didn’t.  Do you care?  I sure don’t, because just about every other Water Pokémon who isn’t also an Ice-type gets it too!

This is sort of part of the messed-up incomplete charm of the original Red and Blue – a lot of Pokémon just don’t have access to very good techniques, and with single-use TMs and no breeding, you have to think long and hard about what to do with those precious discs (well… except for the part where the games are so horribly glitchy that you can basically turn them inside out and make them your bitches without any special equipment or expertise whatsoever, but I’m a theoretical kind of guy, so sue me).  It was a little unfortunate that this ‘feature’ of Red and Blue came with little, if any, thought for game balance (something that I doubt was a major fixture in Game Freak’s mind at the time), so some of its victims are Pokémon like poor Sandslash, who will never get any Ground attacks at all unless you spend your Earthquake TM on him, and remains lacklustre even if you do.  Maybe today, though, it’d be a neat balancing factor on a really powerful Ground-type like (say) Excadrill if Game Freak were willing to arbitrarily say “yeah no Earthquake for you lol use the goddamn signature move we gave you” (and, in that particular case, it encourages Excadrill to be more like Excadrill too).  Might also give more of a point to some moves that look and sound cool but just have no reason to be used, ever, like Aurora Beam – every Pokémon that learns it also gets Ice Beam, with the exception of one (Xerneas, who has better things to do with his time).

On the other hand, can you imagine the backlash from the fanbase if that were implemented in a future game and hundreds of Pokémon lost many of their best tricks?  People get annoyed enough by the obsolescence of move tutors and the occasional TM.  I sure wouldn’t want to be the one to announce that.  Accumulating more and more skills and abilities for Pokémon just seems to be the way this franchise typically operates, and I don’t think that’s likely to change any time soon, whatever I might think of it.

I had a thought about a very special hypothetical pokemon move. One that, when you use it, allows you to pick two of your other moves in a sequence of your choice to use in one turn cycle. The move itself would be priority, but when the two other moves are used depends on the pokemon’s speed or that move’s own priority. What would you say the implications of such a move would be?

Well, if I’m understanding you correctly, you can use two moves in one turn.  You have to give up a moveslot to do it, which is a big sacrifice, fair enough, but in return you’re getting probably about 50% more attack power (being conservative because your second attack might be made without STAB, or be resisted or something).  People happily give up the ability to switch attacks for that kind of power (by using a Choice Band or Choice Specs).  That’s also without getting into the kind of combos you can pull.  You can use Dragon Dance and Outrage in a single turn, potentially giving your opponent no chance to respond if you were already faster than whatever they had out.  Ghost-types can paralyse you with Thunder Wave and follow up with Hex.  Dream Eater is finally viable against human players for the first time in Pokémon’s history.  Basically, you get one attack, which would otherwise be a perfectly good use of your turn, and then you get a second attack with some kind of bonus which would normally require careful set-up or big risks.  It also magnifies the number of possibilities your opponent has to be able to prepare for on any given turn.

I think this would be a very fun signature move on a specific Pokémon, something with lacklustre stats, but an interesting movepool with lots of neat support techniques (something like Spinda, maybe?).  The idea of making it widely available sets off a series of very loud and insistent alarm bells in my head, though.

My part 3 comes from your critique of that essay. So basically in your responses I gathered, you believe that the trainer and pokemon relationship has both equal and unequal characteristics. Do you also think that certain types of pokemon have more of a subservient attitude towards humans?

That seems unavoidable to me.  Some Pokémon are very used to teamwork and cooperation in nature, like Mightyena or Beedrill.  Taking orders in service to a larger goal just makes sense to them.  Other Pokémon are inherently very individualistic, like Charizard, or used to manipulating others, like Malamar.  That doesn’t necessarily mean they dislike humans, but they might be more likely to come to that relationship from the perspective that they know better than you do, or be more concerned with making sure they’re getting something specific in return for their help.

My part 2 question comes to this on a reverse side. This essay was written by a college student, Andrew Tague, called “Are Pokémon slaves willing companions?” It is in pdf. Do you believe he wrote his arguments well and countered the points he wanted to counter? Do you think he could have improved upon his essay?

Oh, do I have to?

Fiiiine.  But be warned; marking university students’ essays is actually part of what I do for a living, so I’m not going easy on him.

(here it is, by the way)

Well, the prose could certainly stand a fair bit of polishing, and if I were marking this essay for a class then I would probably scribble “reference?” in the margins next to a couple of sentences, but I like the point of it.  It’s not often you see people actually put up an internally consistent definition of slavery based on primary sources before assigning the label to Pokémon training.  It’s very easy to demonise Pokémon by saying “look, slavery” but most of the worst things associated with slavery in the mind of a non-specialist don’t apply to Pokémon training at all – and, in fact, calling it that trivialises actual slavery, which is still very much a thing in some parts of the world.

Having said that, I think that he actually concedes a few points to which you can come up with objections, and that there are in turn obvious parries to his own arguments which remain unaddressed (although in fairness this is rather a short essay to deal with such a difficult topic).  In particular one of my principle reasons for rejecting the ‘slavery’ thing has always been that I actually believe capture is consensual – partly because that’s just the way the anime presents it much of the time (the battle is about winning respect, not rendering the Pokémon unable to resist), partly because it very neatly explains why unconscious Pokémon can never be captured (something which is otherwise difficult to deal with convincingly), partly because the characters consistently treat physically restraining or abducting a Pokémon as being completely different to capturing it in a Pokéball from a moral standpoint (the former is unequivocally not okay).

Some people actually do object to pet ownership on moral grounds, and in particular the statements that pets “do not display levels of intelligence and self awareness” and that these are “defining traits of humanity” are actually not self-evident or uncontested.  I can certainly understand refraining from discussion in a piece of this length, but I would want one of my students to footnote that.

There’s an odd paragraph in there where he talks about using one Pokémon to catch another, and about the respect accorded to the Professors who initiate new trainers; he seems to be bringing these up as a point of similarity between Pokémon training and either slavery or pet ownership, but he doesn’t actually explain what the link is (his definition of slavery didn’t say anything about the acceptance of the practice in wider society, so it’s difficult to see how it’s supposed to fit into the overall argument).  You can extrapolate what he seems to be getting at in this part, but you shouldn’t have to; the argument should stand on its own.

Ash cares deeply for his Pokémon; this is beyond contestation to anyone with even a cursory knowledge of the anime, and it’s a perfectly fair point, and an important one – to which the perfectly fair and important answer, I think, is that Ash himself is indoctrinated in the system.  The kid’s supposed to be ten, for heaven’s sake; he may have (in fact, it’s Ash; he almost certainly has) a very limited grasp of the history and ethics of Pokémon training.  He wants the best for his Pokémon, beyond a doubt, but we really have to question whether he’s the best judge of what that is, or fully understands the impact his lifestyle has on his companions.  Ash himself isn’t naturally inclined to spend a lot of time on these questions (although, to his credit, he does recognise when he’s made a mistake), because he’s grown up believing that he has that right, and his society supports him in that belief.  He’s a good kid – it’s hard to deny that – but these are questions about the society Ash lives in, not Ash himself.

By the same token, Ash’s apology to Butterfree for the ill-considered trade and obvious remorse over that doesn’t change the fact that he was able to do it in the first place.  The conspicuous benevolence of the way the system seems to operate shouldn’t conceal the very real inequality in the power dynamic here, because to my mind that’s actually part of what makes the relationship so interesting.  Pokémon give up a lot to travel with humans, and although I continue to believe that they can abandon their trainers if they choose, that’s not always going to be an easy or practical option for them if they’ve travelled far from any suitable habitat.  Meanwhile, humans can give up their Pokémon with very little difficulty, and may even receive a new one more to their tastes in return.  Bear in mind that the Gentleman seems to have given up his Raticate with as little consideration as Ash gave up Butterfree, and with none of Ash’s remorse – the tone of the episode makes it obvious who we’re supposed to empathise with, but both exist.

Desiring the happiness of one’s slaves is not incompatible with the idea of slavery or ownership of another being – for me, as a classicist, what comes to mind is the Roman philosopher Seneca, who (like all wealthy Romans) owned numerous slaves.  He never argued for an end to slavery (I, at least, don’t think any such idea would have been conceivable to him, though that’s certainly debatable and I don’t know Seneca as well as perhaps I should), but he does speak at some length about treating them well, because he believes we should value people according to their moral fibre and not their social standing, and in fact argues that (say) an alcoholic or an adulterer is even lower than a slave because these people choose slavery for themselves (Seneca’s particular brand of Stoicism basically teaches, among other things, that we are all slaves to the circumstances of our own lives, which is an… interesting perspective, when you look at the circumstances of his life and his complicity in the Imperial administration of Nero, but let’s not go there today).  So, yeah – you can wholeheartedly commit to the idea of owning people while still making an effort to treat them kindly (although it bears mentioning that Seneca is, by his own admission, not really representative of his culture, class or era, and that his portrayal of his own relationship with his slaves could easily be distorted – we lack any testimony of the slaves themselves).  The legality of a slave’s status and the emotional nature of a slave’s relationship with his or her master do not necessarily go hand in hand – although personally, I think a society where such benevolent master/slave relationships were the norm rather than the exception would be so unusual that we might have trouble recognising it as slavery.  Having said all that, this is a very American debate, and in conversations with Americans ‘slavery’ tends to mean the slavery of the Antebellum South, which is not a period I know well (whereas, in conversations with me, ‘slavery’ tends to mean the slavery of the Classical Mediterranean – regular readers may have noticed that this is a theme), so perhaps it’s better to let this slide.

So… yeah.  I don’t think I would call it a terribly original piece, and the arguments themselves are fairly superficial and miss a few things that I, at least, think are important (make of that what you will), but he’s done his homework, all right.  I know I’ve never gone to the effort of presenting a formal definition of slavery for talking about this stuff, which is an important step.  B/B+.