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:
I watched a Pokémon video on YouTube where the guy pointed out that, for all the hype Mega Evolutions got prior to the release of XY, you actually only ever fight three Mega Evolutions throughout the course of the main story: Korrina’s Mega Lucario, Lysandre’s Mega Gyarados, and Diantha’s Mega Gardevoir. He argued that 1) the first one doesn’t even count because it was just a Mega Lucario battle, and 2) this is a big reason why XY felt too easy, especially since you can Mega Evolve after the third Gym. He suggested that, since you fight Lysandre before the final Gym, Wulfric and the Elite Four should all have been given Mega Evolutions, something the anime actually does (sans Drasna). It’s an excellent point and I… don’t know why Game Freak didn’t do this in the first place, now that I think about it. The final rival battle at Victory Road should probably also have given them their eventual Mega Absol, if Wulfric should have a Mega. What do you think?
Y’know, I never really thought about that – when I played X for the first time, I never used Mega Evolution unless my opponent did as well, because it seemed “unfair,” so I guess I just wasn’t thinking about it very hard. But yeah, considering that Mega Evolution is generation VI’s flagship mechanic, it’s… not actually in there very much. Alpha Sapphire and Omega Ruby are kinda light on it as well, at least in the main story; there’s… what, Archie/Maxie, Wally and Steven? But then there are a lot more in the postgame: May/Brendan, Matt/Courtney, Zinnia and all of the Hoenn Elite Four. X and Y don’t really have that. This seems doubly weird considering how much work must have gone into designing the Mega Evolutions. Wouldn’t you want to show them off? I can see a perspective where finding all the Mega Evolutions is mainly meant as an end-game side-quest for the player, a little challenge for the 100%-completionists, but a) the Pokédex already provides plenty of that, and b) it would make a lot more sense if Pokémon had, like, Final Fantasy-style “bonus bosses” where you really needed the right Mega Evolution to win.
So now that we have Mega Evolution, Z Moves, and Dyna/Gigantamaxing, if you were in charge, for Gen 9, what would be their totally unprecedented, initially controversial, yet eventually beloved battling Schtick,? Also what type of cake do you think would taste best half burned?
Well, the answer to the cake question, I know from experience, is chocolate; like, ideally you don’t ever want your cake half-burned, but I would say that, of the half-burned cakes, chocolate is the one that suffers the least.
As for the other thing… sooooooooo, I don’t just have a developed idea for one of these lying around, and I’m not sure if there is a “best” answer unless we develop the setting and story in concert (which… no; go away and leave me alone), but here’s three spitball ideas.
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…
did you notice that in gen 7 mega evolution was quietly retconned from an emotional bond-based transformation to being more of an energy-fueled mutation and generally a cruel thing to do to a pokemon? the SM and USUM pokedex entries for mega evos are pretty much all about how much pain the pokemon is in, how it’s been mutated into a grotesque form that distresses it, how it hates being in that form, etc. and none of them are positive or mention the pokemon’s bond with the trainer
Well… I’m looking through the Pokédex entries and I think
it’s a bit more ambiguous than that.
There are several Pokémon for whom this seems like a fair description of
the Pokédex text on their Mega Evolved forms, but they’re certainly not a
majority, and there are also two Mega Evolved Pokémon who explicitlylike
their new forms: Mega Slowbro is said to be “pretty comfortable” ensconced
inside Shellder, while Mega Pinsir supposedly never touches the ground because
it’s overcome with happiness at being able to fly. There are two more that explicitly cite the
importance of the Pokémon’s bond with its trainer (Mega Charizard Y and Mega
Gyarados). I think that pretty well
rules out any general statement about what Mega Evolution is like for all
Pokémon; it affects each of them differently (which, well, makes sense). But there are also those more
disturbing entries referencing things like “sharp pain and suffering” or body
parts becoming “misshapen.” I think in most
of these cases it’s relevant that the Pokémon involved are… well, let’s just
say they’re not necessarily Pokémon you’d want at a child’s birthday
party. Mega Evolution is – in my opinion
– an exaggeration of everything distinctive about a Pokémon. Whatever a Pokémon already does, Mega
Evolution turns it up to eleven. I don’t
think they were designed with the intention that they should be proper viable
organisms in their own right; they’re ridiculous overpowered battle modes that
are supposed to be assumed for minutes at a time, at the very most. It sort of makes sense that they should often
be quite stressful. Furthermore, if you
have a Pokémon already known for viciousness or destructiveness… well, let’s
see what happens, starting from the ones that aren’t particularly objectionable.
Read a thing on twitter recently that hypothesises that Gen V were the last mainline games that felt quote “Comfortable in their own skin”, since VI, VII and VIII all have big showy gimmicks whilst feeling the need to keep oldschool fans happy. What’re your thoughts on this as one of the internet’s prime Pokemon overthinkers?
Hmm. It doesn’t especially square with my intuitions or experiences about those games – I didn’t enjoy V as much as VI or VII, in spite of it having what I still feel is the best story of the Pokémon games so far. I think I just disagree outright with the characterisation of Mega Evolution and Z-moves (I mean, I assume that’s what this is referring to; I don’t know what else it could mean) as showy gimmicks. They never felt intrusive to me, and I always got the impression that most Pokémon players really liked Mega Evolution? Certainly a lot of people are upset that it’s apparently not coming back. They’re also fairly major additions to the battle system that come with a fair degree of strategic depth, and they’re part of the culture of each region in which they appear. I don’t know whether all that’s going to be true of Dynamaxing, and frankly neither does anyone else, despite all the people lining up to declare otherwise.
I think there is… let’s say a certain amount right now of people trying to fit their anger over the recent National Pokédex (ahem) “issue” into an overarching narrative of why Pokémon has been in decline ever since… since whichever generation they thought was best. That’s not necessarily a wrong thing to try to do, but it rarely comes with arguments that I find convincing on the basis of my own experience of the games, and at the moment it seems like it’s tied to a desire to pre-judge Sword and Shield, which I just think is silly. I mean, for heaven’s sake, even after a Pokémon game comes out, it takes me months to decide whether I liked it (and only some of that is because I don’t usually pick up the game on launch day).
Guilty confession time: I’m warming up to Greninja’s battle bond ability, and think that the concept is something Pokemon should continue to explore. Hear me out. I know Ash-Greninja specifically is pure pandering to anime fans. But the implementation of the concept is, in my opinion, mega evolution done right. Mega Evolution was supposed to be about a strong bond between Pokemon and trainers making the Pokemon stronger, which would strengthen the franchise’s partnership concept. But of course, mega stones simply became an OP held item that you could use as soon as you obtained them. Battle Bond, on the other hand, really emphasizes the participation of the trainer (I think Ash feels pain when his Greninja does or something?) and occurs in the heat of the battle, once the Pokemon has already started taking out foes. What if in a future generation, all the starters’ final evolutions had battle bond as an ability? It might need some adjustments, like needing to be at a certain level to activate, and maybe a friendship or affection requirement as well. But overall, I think Game Freak could really work with this.
Do you think Game Freak will continue to add new evolutions to existing Pokemon now that mega evolutions exist?
I think the two are largely unconnected. Think about it: generation V had no new evolutions of existing Pokémon, before Mega Evolution was introduced, and generation VII featured neither. In fact, the only new evolution of the past three generations – Sylveon – actually coincided with the introduction of Mega Evolution. It’s true that both serve a similar thematic purpose; they both give a new generation of games a more concrete link to Pokémon’s past. I agree that new evolutions seem to be on the way out, but I think the “replacement” concept to fill that role, if any, is much more likely to be the continuation of regional variant Pokémon. Mega Evolution is generation VI’s mechanic and tied to the history of Kalos and Hoenn, just as Z-moves are generation VII’s mechanic and tied to the history of Alola, just as the Dream World was generation V’s and has not returned (though the hidden abilities it unlocked remain). The concept of regional variation, by contrast, doesn’t carry mechanical or worldbuilding baggage, and innately lends itself to being reused again and again through new forms that express the personality of each new region. Even that, though, is not certain; the designers may have liked regional variation as a feature of Alolaspecifically, expressing the unusual paths that evolution can take on archipelagos in the real world. To me it’s most plausible that generation VIII will feature no new evolutions of existing Pokémon, no new Mega Evolutions, and no new species-specific Z-moves (I’m 50/50 on new regional variations), instead spotlighting some other entirely new mechanic that will be tied to the history of the new region and the plot of the new games.
All of this is, of course, as likely as not to be proven completely wrong within the next couple of weeks (heck, maybe even days). I don’t do predictions; it makes me ill-tempered.
If Aerodactyl is from prehistoric times, then how do you think there’s a Mega Stone for the species when AZ’s ultimate weapon was fired only three thousand years ago? PS: I hope your PhD is going well!
crap I never thought of it like that
I suppose it’s possible that either the Aerodactylite results from some relict population of Aerodactyl (the anime seems to like having isolated populations of “fossil” Pokémon that turn out to be not quite extinct) or that the ancient Kalosian kingdom had some magical equivalent of the modern processes used to revive individuals of extinct Pokémon species. But I’m kinda taking shots in the dark here.
PhD is actually kind of on hold at the moment, in favour of a year’s intensive study in Greece, with a bunch of other students at a similar point in their careers. But yes, it is amazing.
I was wondering what you thought of the pokedex entries on Mega Glalie from Sun and Moon – “The excess energy from Mega Evolution spilled over from its mouth, breaking its jaw. It spews endless blizzards” and “It envelops prey in its mouth, freezing them instantly. But its jaw is dislocated, so it’s unable to eat them.” This seems like pretty direct evidence that Mega Evolution is harmful, and known to be such, by the people who put the dex together. Why are the professors pushing this?
I don’t know how harmful it can possibly be, seeing as mega evolution never lasts more than a few minutes and all the changes are instantly reversed. I think lines like this stress that mega evolved forms are not actually viable organisms and aren’t supposed to be; they’re ridiculous super-overpowered battle modes that exaggerate everything about the base Pokémon to the point that it becomes self-defeating in non-combat situations.