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Game Design Essentials: 20 RPGs

July 2, 2009 Article Start Previous Page 17 of 22 Next

16. Pokémon (series)

Designed by: Satoshi Tajiri (creator)

Influenced by: Dragon Quest. insect collecting

Series: Many games, organized into "tiers" of similar compatible titles. There have thus far been five tiers and 14 games, plus a few side games like Pokémon Ranger and the series of console add-on games beginning with Stadium.

Legacy: In Japan these days it almost seems like if the RPG wasn't inspired by Final Fantasy, then it must have been inspired by Pokémon.

Pokémon takes the party-switching element of the Dragon Quest games and radically expands it, offering players up to 151 characters with which to fill out his team. Later games kept those characters (well, most of them) and added in many more.

At the moment, there are 493 possible monsters from which the player can construct his team, although due to the trading mechanics and rarity levels of various monsters in different games, most players won't be able to choose from all the monsters in the full set.

Also like Dragon Quest, Pokémon is a game that remains surprisingly unchanged from its original form. The first games, it should be said, had a uniquely heavy design for an original Game Boy title. Each of the 151 monsters has one or two types which determine its weaknesses, stats in four (later, five) categories, and up to four moves, each with its own type, and each with a number of move uses.

What could have seen as overkill in the Game Boy era looks prescient now that the series is on the much-more-muscular DS, for, with a few rule hacks like held items here, and support for occasional two-on-two battles there, the core combat play works much the same as it did in the old days. "If it ain't broke, then don't tear it to bits in the name of 'advancement'," could have been developer Game Freak's motto.

Pokemon FireRed Version

Another thing that Pokémon does to further the role-playing aspects of the game, as far as presenting the world as if it were real and thus causing the player to get pulled in further, is the degree to which it treats the Pokémon as real creatures. That is, there is flavor text for every Pokémon species, and information such as height and weight that doesn't play a large role in the series.

Although an individual Pokémon has about the same number of stats tied to it as a character in a Dragon Quest game, the game expends more information on making it seem real: each has multiple portraits, descriptive text, and even its own growl, a feature that dated back to the original Game Boy game. I generally am less interested in matters of immersion than many people, but Pokémon's scheme is fairly effective, I have to admit.

One difference between this and the Dragon Quest model is that the player's character doesn't actually participate in fights, except as a directing agent. Humans in Pokémon's world have no stats; the beings who slash and leap in fights are not the same ones who wander the map.

The front-line Pokémon do all the fighting. They are traded back and forth between trainers, even into, effectively, other universes through either a strange link-cable portal or, these days, converted into photons and broadcast through the ether.

Do they question the motives of the god-beings who command them? Do they treat their lot philosophically? Do they pine for the pixel-grass in which they spent their childhoods?

Article Start Previous Page 17 of 22 Next

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