A Pokémon Trainer is You! XXVI: Björk

[Catch up on the story so far here!]

Last time, on A Pokémon Trainer Is You:

Which of the debaters at the museum do you agree with?
– Hammond-Spruce: There’s so much science can learn from ancient Pokémon, and it isn’t fair to write them off as savage monsters that are too dangerous to bring back.

There’s obviously a lot of reason to be cautious about the technology they’re discussing – in fact, didn’t you see a disaster movie with this exact premise once? – but you think the bottom line on this one is pretty clear.  The technology to return extinct species to the world is within humanity’s grasp; how can you not reach out and take it?  Yeah, you’re pretty committed; research to resurrect extinct Pokémon is a good thing, full stop.  I don’t know why that matters, of course; it’s not like you’re ever going to be in a position to make major world-changing decisions directly related to this topic.  Why the hell would you be?

Continue reading “A Pokémon Trainer is You! XXVI: Björk”

Gym Badges

The eight Kanto region badges. Clockwise from top: Boulder, Cascade, Thunder, Rainbow, Soul, Marsh, Volcano, Earth.

One of the seemingly immutable fixtures of the Pokémon games is the system of gyms and badges.  In each game (barring the Alola generation) the main challenge set before you, as a young trainer, is to visit eight Pokémon gyms, battle and defeat their leaders, and earn their badges – little bits of metal and brightly-coloured enamel that you pin to the inside of your coat, so you can flash them at people to get into clubs and impress boys.  I assume.  Today, in this article brought to you by the Dark Council of my Patreon supporters, we’re going to talk about badges and their history and meaning.  I honestly don’t know how that’s going to go, but that’s what’s happening, so let’s get to it!

There is a venerable video game trope of “Travel the World, Raid the Dungeons, Defeat the Bosses, Collect the Things” that provides a useful structure to hang your story on.  There’s multiple Things of a single class that you’re trying to collect, or perhaps multiple pieces of a single Thing, and they’re in different places being guarded by different enemies.  This means developers can do things like, say, create a series of thematic dungeons with thematic boss fights, without having to come up with a unique story rationale for why you’re going to each one – it’s more gameplay mileage out of a single story element.  That sounds lazy, but creating a video game is essentially about training players to do something, then presenting them with more and more variations and twists on that thing, so some amount of repetition can be part of good game design.  Arguably the most straightforward and best-known examples are from Japanese games – Pokémon Red and Blue are themselves classic examples by now, but there’s also things like the elemental crystals of early Final Fantasy, or pieces of the Triforce in the Legend of Zelda series, as well as plenty from western games.

But why badges?

Continue reading “Gym Badges”

Lilycat asks:

Doesn’t Raihan look like Garchomp? Considering his sandstorm…weather team….do you think it was a wasted opportunity that he didn’t have a Garchomp?

I mean I suppose they’re saving him for the rumored diamond pearl remakes…but what are your thoughts?

Yeah, I guess I can see it?  Like, those particular shades of navy blue and scarlet, together with the white “spikes” on his hoodie… seems like it could be a deliberate stylistic reference.  I can think of reasons not to give him a Garchomp, but not fantastic reasons.  Like, as you said, if they were planning to release Pokémon: Timey Diamond and Spacey Pearl or whatever in 2020 or 2021, then those games would definitely have Garchomp, so there’s a decent argument for leaving it out of Sword and Shield, but I think you are allowed to put it in both; there are several Sinnoh-native Pokémon in Sword and Shield, including the iconic Rotom and Lucario, so there is going to be overlap anyway.  You could also argue that gym leaders almost always have a signature Pokémon that’s new in their own generation – in Raihan’s case, Duraludon – and putting a “pseudo-legendary” Pokémon like Garchomp on his gym team would overshadow his star player, which is clearly undesirable.  However, his Champion Cup team actually does include a pseudo-legendary Dragon, namely Goodra.  I don’t think it was necessarily a mistake to leave Garchomp out of the Galar Pokédex and thus deny Raihan the opportunity to use it, but I do think it was a weird choice to do that and then lean into what seems like a Garchomp-inspired character design, rather than picking one of the many other Dragon Pokémon that do exist in Galar, like Haxorus or Noivern.

Then again, I can see an argument for that being kind of the point.  The Pokémon that are missing from Galar aren’t gone for good, and they even have fans in Galar; maybe Raihan loves Garchomp but has never had the opportunity to catch one.  Arguably his costume would look… well, over-the-top if it matched a Pokémon he actually used, but comes across a bit more subtle as a reference to a foreign Pokémon that he likes but doesn’t have.

Marnie, Piers and Team Yell

Okay; let’s get cracking!  New generation, renewed sense of purpose, momentary spike in my will to live… aaaaaand it’s gone.

Oh well.

I’m going to begin with my character studies of the major players in the plot of Sword and Shield, rather than Pokémon reviews like I’ve done in the past, partly because I want to get my thoughts on the story out there while the games are fresh in people’s minds and it’s more immediately relevant… and partly because I was still doing Pokémon reviews for generation VII just a couple of months ago and frankly I need a minute (also I am kiiiiinda thinking I should go back and do the characters from Sun and Moon that I missed out).  Let’s start with the, uh… pseudo-villains… of Sword and Shield – Team Yell – and their reluctant “leaders” Piers and Marnie.  In more ways than one, Team Yell are a continuation of things we saw in Sun and Moon with Team Skull.  Team Skull are arguably not “villains” in Sun and Moon, and certainly not the main antagonists.  They’re set up as troublemakers and petty criminals, but if anything we’re supposed to come to sympathise with them by the end of the game, and their leaders earn redemption in the epilogue.  Team Yell are the same, but more so: they’re obstructive and annoying, but they never really hurt anyone as far as we see, and once we learn their true nature, it’s clear that their motives are – if not exactly “pure” – certainly understandable.

Continue reading “Marnie, Piers and Team Yell”

Latest PokéJungle pieces

In case you haven’t been watching my Twitter feed, here’s two articles I recently wrote for PokéJungle:

From last week, the second entry in my “Gym Leaders Rated” series, on Misty.

And just up this morning, a think-piece I’ve titled “Galar, the Industrial Revolution and the Philosophy of Pokémon,” which is about why I think Great Britain is a particularly interesting place to have a Pokémon region, especially following Alola.

Anonymous asks:

Why is it that if I challenge a Gym Leader like Misty, who carries 2 Pokemon, that I’m allowed to use up to six against her? Surely the people that makes the rules don’t honestly believe she or any other Gym Leaders have strong enough Pokemon and strategies to contest a potential 2 vs 6, right?

I know people hate it when I do this, but my instinct here is to point to the anime and say “well, they do restrict the numbers available to the challenger; that fact just gets elided to produce a smoother gameplay experience.”  Besides, a single Pokémon can and will wreck an entire team’s $#!t if you don’t know what you’re doing (looking at you, Whitney’s Miltank and Winona’s Altaria), and the Gym Leaders are, for the most part, supposed to be testing a trainer’s basic/intermediate/advanced proficiency, not trying to block them or halt their progress.

Anonymous asks:

Why do you think there hasn’t been a Dark-type gym yet?

Difficult to be sure, but I suspect that it’s because Dark is the “evil” type (literally, in Japanese) – their strongest and most distinctive powers are all pretty much the antithesis of good sportsmanship, relying on trickery, subversion and malice.  Although I don’t think any characters in the games have ever actually said it, that’s a pretty good reason not to have a Dark-type specialist be front-and-centre in your sporting organisation’s public relations, education and outreach programs (and just look at the Dark-type Kahuna in Sun and Moon… the results sorta speak for themselves).  Of course, anyone who actually trains Dark Pokémon knows that they aren’t really evil, just pragmatic, and trainers who are already skilled can do wonderful things with them, but, well, their optics just aren’t good, put it that way.  You also probably don’t want to encourage new trainers to pick them as a speciality.

LadySeychelles asks:

Hey, what are youre thoughts on the gym leaders? I always have fun thinking what they could do in Pokemon society

Well, there seem to be basically three things Gym Leaders do in a community: they test and certify trainers wanting to challenge the Pokémon League, they provide instruction and a learning environment to junior trainers, and they solve people’s Pokémon-related problems.  Most of them – with some notable exceptions, particularly in Kanto – are pillars of the community, well-known and generally trusted.  The last few generations, particularly V and what I’ve seen so far of VII (if we say that the Captains are basically equivalent to Gym Leaders), have been making a very deliberate effort to show that most Gym Leaders also have “day jobs” in addition to their Pokémon-related responsibilities – Cilan and his brothers run a restaurant, Clay is a mining tycoon, Viola is a photographer, Clemont is an electrical engineer, Ilima is a painter, etc.  So it might well be that, in some regions at least, Gym Leaders actually work as volunteers.  These are people who just care so much about Pokémon training that they will devote a significant portion of their own free time to running what is basically an entire sports facility (or, in Alola, administering trials) so that members of the community can learn more about it.  Which I think is pretty neat.

Anonymous asks:

I’m replaying HeartGold atm and just got to Bugsy when I noticed that his gym is spider web-themed, like Burgh’s and Viola’s. Why does GF make bug gyms with spider web designs? Can’t they do something else? Would be cool if they made like a beehive or an anthill gym or something, imo. Whaddya think?

Well, in point of fact they did make a beehive gym – Burgh’s original gym design from Black and White, before the renovations that took place in Black and White 2.  It was not one of their better gym designs, to be honest; the gimmick was that some of the walls were made of gluey honey and you could walk through them, which effectively just made moving through the gym painfully slow.  So, in answer – they can and they have, but it takes more than a good theme to make a gym fun.

viridian kingof kanto asks:

In XY the Gym Leaders and Elite Four all held titles of nobility which increased (the Champion as Grand Duchess and GLs as Marques). But you yourself are also able to climb the social ladder and gain titles. What do you think that meansforthesociety?

Well… to be perfectly honest I think it means that the noble titles are really not very important in modern Kalos.  They’re an anachronistic remnant of what I think may once have been a Pokémon-training aristocracy that ruled Kalos in a period when not everyone could train and battle with Pokémon, probably before the invention of mass-produced Pokéballs.  At one point, membership in the nobility made it possible for people to become trainers.  Today, anyone can be a trainer, and being good at it can get you into the nobility – but since it’s no longer exclusive, the nobility can’t really act as a cohesive group with distinct goals and values anymore.  Its political power has been supplanted by modern democracies, and its central position in the institution of Pokémon training has been supplanted by the Pokémon League.  All that’s left is ceremonial.