One lunatic's love-hate relationship with the Pokémon franchise, and his addled musings on its rights, wrongs, ins and outs. Come one, come all, and indulge my delusions of grandeur as I inflict my opinions on anyone within shouting distance.
As part of my eternal contract of service to the Dark Council of my highest-tier Patreon supporters (to whom special thanks, and a mighty tribute of souls and magic, are as always due), I regularly solicit topics from them to discuss in longer articles – and once again, that time has come. Today I’m supposed to be talking about the (so far) three generational flagship mechanics of the Pokémon games – X and Y’s Mega Evolution, Sun and Moon’s Z-Moves and Sword and Shield’s Dynamax – in all their aspects, both how they practically work in the game and how they influence the story and lore of their worlds. “Flagship mechanics” is my own term for these, I don’t think I’ve seen anyone else say it, but I like it better than “gimmicks” because I think it’s a better reflection of what the developers seem to want them to be, so I’m gonna keep using it, and you all just have to deal with that because… it’s my blog, so shut up.
Let’s start with a summary for people who might not be familiar with one or more of the games that introduced and featured these mechanics:
What would you think about scalar-typing? To keep it simpler you could have half, normal, and double value typings. STAB, weaknesses and resistances just get multiplied by .5 or 2. Girafarig could be normal & half-psychic, golem could be double-rock, maybe something like bibarel could be strictly half-water.
My worry is that it sort of… makes the game more complicated without adding any actual strategic depth. You’re still multiplying together a bunch of factors to figure out whether you can KO a given Pokémon with a given attack in one shot, or two, or three; there are still going to be some Pokémon that survive particular super-effective attacks and others that don’t. The decision-making processes, both in team building and during battles, are going to be the same; there’s just more variables to keep track of. I’m not sure there’s any compelling reason for it either; I don’t think there are any Pokémon that really need half- or double-strength types to properly express their identity. Also, double STAB would be crazy powerful and the idea makes me nervous. Pokémon already has some pretty big damage multipliers and I don’t think we need bigger ones.
P.S. Merry Christmas to readers who celebrate it, and happy solstice to those who don’t. I’m just sitting here in my made-up paradise country enjoying the summer sun and the freedom to gather in groups with people outside my household, so… uh… don’t worry about me, and stay safe, everyone – especially those in the US and UK.
The most important Pokemon move, in terms of its centralizing impact on the competitive metagame (at least in singles), is probably Stealth Rock. Having a Stealth Rock setter on your team is essentially mandatory in serious competitive singles play, and Pokemon like Volcarona and Charizard are singlehandedly dropped several tiers of competitive viability by their 4x weakness to Stealth Rock.
On the one hand, it does seem useful to have some way to check endless switching. But on the other hand, this one single move being Rock type has a really unfortunate impact on the competitive metagame for those of us who favor types that happen to be weak to Rock. The changes to Defog in Gen VI seem to have been intended at least partly as a SR nerf, so Game Freak seems at least somewhat inclined to agree, but several generations later, the impact of Stealth Rock is still enormous.
In your view, is this something that needs fixing? If so, how would you fix it? Remove type advantage/disadvantage from Stealth Rock damage? Add other mutually-exclusive entry hazards of other types (“Stealth Ice???”), forcing teams to decide which they’ll run in a way similar to Terrain? Other ideas?
So, mutually exclusive entry hazards of different types have been my go-to solution for this in the past, but I think there’s several things you could do – some of which Game Freak has done. You mentioned Defog, which I kind of like, since it’s a much more widely available counter to entry hazards, but comes at a cost that Rapid Spin doesn’t have (clearing your own hazards as well), and there’s also the new Heavy-Duty Boots item in Sword and Shield that just makes a Pokémon straight-up immune. Those are both a little blunt for my liking, though; they hit all entry hazards, when we really just want to hit Stealth Rock. I remember Smogon’s very first Create-A-Pokémon, Syclant, was a Bug/Ice-type with an ability that made it immune to Rock-type damage on the turn it switched in, which is an interesting response, but more a cool toy for that Pokémon in particular than a real nerf to Stealth Rock. You could just reduce Stealth Rock’s damage directly, but honestly its neutral damage output is probably fine; you could take away its ability to do more or less damage based on the target’s weakness or resistance to Rock, but that’s the most interesting thing about the move. That’s why I like the idea of having several competing options for that slot, with different type properties; it actually introduces an additional interesting decision (which one is most helpful for your team composition?), while also reducing the victimisation of Pokémon who are weak to Rock attacks in particular. On the other hand, it’s clunky – why are these moves mutually exclusive, when Spikes and Toxic Spikes aren’t? And what’s the best way of communicating that to a new player? My latest idea is to have Stealth Rock actually wear out over time; it can do a total of eight (or twelve, or some other number) “ticks” of damage, each of which is equal to 1/8 of the target’s health (Stealth Rock’s standard neutral damage). Pokémon with a Rock weakness still take a lot more damage, but they also wear the rocks out faster, which turns an unfair-feeling punishment into an additional strategic calculation. It’s another thing players then have to keep track of during battles, but you could probably add a counter or something to the battle UI (which has already been picking up some useful extra functions over the last few generations).
So there’s a Pokemon fan game that I’ve been enjoying for quite a while now called Pokemon Rejuvenation, and while they stay pretty true to the original Pokemon games, they also have added new things on top of the old system like more complex field effects, Gym Leaders with exclusive, signature moves, and a hard level cap where your Pokemon stop getting EXP at a certain point until you get your next badge.
One of these things I’d love to hear your opinion on, which is Pokemon Crests. Crests are inspired by items like Marowak’s Thick Club and Farfetch’d’s Stick. Pokemon Crests can be held by specific Pokemon to give them advantages to help make weaker Pokemon stronger. Here are some examples that were added: [cutting this for space and moving it to the end]
There are several more Crests, but you get the picture. What are your thoughts on this concept, how you like it in comparison to other ways of strengthening weaker Pokemon that we’ve seen, and how reasonable do you think this solution is?
Now that we’ve had the Fairy type for a while, how well do you think they achieved their conceptual goals, which ostensibly were to both nerf Dragon Pokemon and re-assert the offensive relevance of Poison and Steel types?
Pretty well, I guess? A lot of Dragon-types are still really good, but they’re largely carried by their extremely high base stats now; the game is noticeably much less about throwing Draco Meteors and Outrages while blocking with Steel-types than it was in generations IV and V. You can’t really make a competitive team with, like, four or five Pokémon from one of those two types and expect it to work, which… you arguably could, for a while? You still probably wouldn’t stick a Poison attack on a non-Poison Pokémon unless you were really strapped for better options, but I guess I feel less bad about using Poison-types in offensive roles now. Steel as an attack type often still feels redundant with other attacks that a lot of the same Pokémon tend to learn (and when do you need a type advantage against Ice, anyway? They don’t resist anything; just hit ‘em with whatever), but Steel Pokémon are fine, obviously.
How would you change/better balance Ice type Pokemon, aside from making them resistant to water-type attacks?
Well… I think Ice should be bad defensively; I think that works as a type identity thing. It doesn’t need to be as bad as it is, though. Resistance to just one other common, strong attack type probably makes it about as good defensively as Psychic, which is a poor defensive type but not actually comical, and supports a decent variety of tank and support Pokémon. Water… well, Water does seem like the most logical choice there; it’s not perfect, because one thing that Ice-type tanks need is a point of distinction from Water-type tanks (who both resist Ice attacks and can normally learn them). Maybe there’s an argument there for resistance to Dragon (although at that point you probably need to give Dragon a buff somewhere else) or Ground, instead of Water. I know you said aside from that, but I really don’t know that there needs to be much more, at least not in terms of adjustments to the type chart itself; Ice is also really strong offensively and I don’t want to risk overtuning it. I like the more indirect buffs like the addition of new Hail synergies – Aurora Veil, Slush Rush, Ice Face – and I like the suggestion in the comments of this post that Ice-types should get a physical defence buff during hail, to parallel the special defence buff that Rock-types get during sandstorms.
Hey, so I know you’re an utter madman and would like to eliminate types from the chart. That sounds really unnecessary but. If you got to rebalance the type chart a bit, change some of the dynamics, what would you do? How will you help the poor ice types? Will you finally stop the steel types?
I think you’ve maybe misunderstood me, because to me these are two unrelated issues. I don’t think the 18-type chart is, in principle, impossible to balance (I do think that 900 Pokémon are, in principle, impossible to balance, but that’s another whole thing). I don’twant to cut down the number of types because I think it would make the game more balanced (I mean, it might, but I don’t think it’s the only or best way to do that, and it wouldn’t be enough on its own). I want to cut it down… as weird as this will sound, basically for aesthetic reasons – to whit, I think it’s an ugly, overcomplicated mess that doesn’t actually need to exist. Beautiful or elegant game mechanics, to me, are ones where complex gameplay and strategy arise from the interactions of simple rules and principles. The type chart means that Pokémon does this in reverse: the fundamental rules are complicated and counterintuitive, but the resulting gameplay is not particularly any more interesting than it would be using a greatly reduced system.
I will admit, having said all this, that (like many things) I say this stuff partly just to be contrary. I’m not even all that committed to it; I just want to force everyone to think about it. I mean, people talk all the time about what new types they’d want to add, from time to time people ask me to talk about types I’d like to add; so clearly no one thinks the type chart is sacred and can’t be changed. Why is it so much more uncomfortable to talk about getting rid of some of it; why is anyone bothered when I say that I think that might be a good idea? It’s an uncontroversial axiom of good design that you should leave out or trim down elements that are unnecessary or bloated, but after last year’s… invigorating discussions… about Sword and Shield, I get the impression that a good chunk of the Pokémon fan community is pretty strongly opposed to what I think is a fairly obvious principle. I’d like people to consider, when they talk about game design in Pokémon and all the cool ideas they want to add, whether there are also things they’d like to remove – because that can also improve a game.
Anyway, to the question you actually asked… whatever, Steel should have a lot of resistances but maybe it could do with one more weakness (Water?), Grass and Bug are comically shafted and shouldn’t be resisted by so many things (maybe lose Flying for Grass and Ghost for Bug), thematically I just think it would be really neat for Normal to be strong against Fairy (it should really be strong against something)… and at that point I guess you should probably stop and playtest for a bit before tinkering any further. Something like that.
I know you get a lot of questions about type chart balance, and it seems like people are always trying to mess around with adding and subtracting weaknesses and resistances to improve their favored types (I’ll cop to a longstanding desire to see a defensive buff for Ice, my favorite type).
But recently on a forum, I ran across a suggestion that I found remarkable for both its simplicity and its potential to have a huge impact on game balance: reduce the super-effective damage multiplier from 2x to 1.5x across the board. What are your thoughts about this?
So, MegaEvolution is something of a base-breaking point for pokemon fans, but you’ve been known to mention it being a good thing for some pokemon (in terms of improved useability). Thus, I ask: which of the 50 or so existing megaevolutions would you say are necessary and worth keeping, and which ones are superfluous and shouldn’t have been introduced at all?
Well… based on that particular criterion, probably fewer than
half of them were a good idea, maybe even fewer than a third, which is a pretty
terrible success rate. Terrible enough,
in fact, that I think it’s pretty clear this rationale wasn’t really a major
part of Game Freak’s process for deciding which Pokémon to give Mega Evolutions
to (even though it’s something I like), and therefore arguably not a good
way of judging them. Particularly in the
first round in X and Y, Mega Evolutions primarily went to Pokémon that were
already fan favourites, like the Kanto starters, Mewtwo and Gyarados, and most
of those were already at least decent.
But… well, you asked, so okay, let’s make a list…
So, apparently the National Dex is going away. For all the Internet riots that have been going on about this, wasn’t it pretty much inevitable that the series would eventually create more Pokémon than it could fit in one game? And I’m saying all this despite knowing my personal favorite is almost certainly getting the axe (sorry Piplup, but you’re a non-Kanto starter, your animal basis doesn’t live in the same hemisphere as Britain, and your anime appearance was an obnoxious spotlight stealer)
Okay, I’m gonna hijack this question to get out everything I
think about this and be the one and hopefully only time I talk about it, so
here goes nothing: