Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Looking Forward: It Isshu What It is

Setting is, obviously, one of the most important aspects of fictional media. A setting is what can separate two stories from being seemingly identical. What is Star Wars without that galaxy far, far away or Lord of the Rings without Middle Earth? Locales are as much characters as the cast. Pokémon is no different. Each generation, clearly much work is put into bringing to life the world the monsters and their trainers inhabit. Before I move forward to talk about the setting of Pokémon Black and White; Isshu, I’ll take a moment to look back on the evolution of setting in the Pokémon games since the beginning.

I’m committing a cardinal sin and faulting the original games on something: Kanto was a bland region. There is little to spice the generic towns and cities up aside from a few unique areas such as Pokémon Mansion and Pokémon Tower, though to be fair this can be blamed largely on the limited capabilities of the Game Boy. Gold and Silver later remedied Kanto’s blandness by having a blackout put half the region out of power and having a volcano eruption decimate Cinnabar Island and the Fuschia City coastline. With the improved graphical capabilities of the Game Boy Color, Gold and Silver brought us the much more interesting Johto region; filled with ruins, lakes, icy caves, lighthouses, and other landmarks not seen in the first game, making the rural and forested Johto region a very distinct setting from the industrial and urban Kanto.

Move forward to the hyper eco-friendly region of Hoenn, with many towns built seamlessly into the natural environments they inhabit. While I still found Johto to be the more interesting region, Hoenn definitely holds the prize for the most imaginative region. Nothing in Generation IV compares to the likes of Fortree City, Pacifidlog Town, and Sootopolis City. Sinnoh I like to place only above Kanto overall. It has a few interesting features such as Snowpoint City, Mt. Coronet, and the ever cool Sunyshore City, though overall I feel it simply wasn’t as imaginative as the Hoenn region had been. These are simply my own opinions though, and feel free to start a flamewar in the discussion thread about which ones you think were the best instead.

Now we look forward to the setting of Pokémon Black and White: the Isshu region. We’ve seen a few locations in screenshots, and it has been described as being very far away from the other 4 regions, very technologically advanced, and quite different in appearance geography wise compared to the settings to come before it. The statement of it being far away from the others is an interesting comment. It’s common knowledge that all of the handheld games’ locales are based on places in Japan, but if Isshu is indeed far away from Kanto, Johto, Hoenn, and Sinnoh, could it possibly not be based on a region in Japan at all? It wouldn’t be the first, after all the hellish Orre region of Pokémon Colosseum and XD were based on the state of Arizona. Perhaps Isshu is to the west, and could be based on Shanghai or Hong Kong. Or, to the east! Those skyscrapers of Hiun City almost look evocative of Toronto or perhaps Seattle and the desert lying north of the city could be evocative of Californian metropolises.

One more thing I’d like to touch on about Isshu is something particularly brilliant revealed: the region will be different between the two versions, featuring different aesthetics and exclusive areas. White version will have more rural looking towns and cities, and has an exclusive area known as White Forest. Black on the other hand has more urbanized looking areas and has an exclusive area known as Black City. Kudos to you GameFreak for finally making version differences that go beyond a few Pokémon and which mascot Legend you catch.

If early screenshots and videos are any indicator, GameFreak is outdoing themselves with the Isshu region. I’m feeling optimistic Isshu will be just as vibrant and interesting as any of the regions before it. No adventure is complete without a place to adventure in, and this looks like it will fit the bill.

How to Not Get Caught

Trainers step into tall grass, Pokémon appear, battles ensue, Poké Balls are thrown, and monsters are captured. It’s our world’s circle of life. Except, some of us get caught in this circle more than others. My parents told me it was a blessing to be one in eight thousand, but considering how many Great Balls I’ve dodged over the years, it’s anything but. Take this shiny Scyther’s advice, and you can avoid rotting away in Box 12 of Bill’s PC stuck in between a Bidoof and a Muk.

Step one: avoid the roads. You know who use the roads? Trainers. This sounds obvious, but I don’t know how many naïve Caterpies I’ve seen become a newbie’s first capture because they didn’t have the sense to stay away from the National Park’s trails. I don’t care if the humans leave food behind as they walk, that half-eaten rice ball is not worth an eternity in the storage system.

Step two: Know a trap. I know it may seem like a blessing from Arceus when you find sweet, precious honey slathered on the bark of a tree; but that sweet nectar is a poison in disguise. As soon as you sink your paws into that delicious honey, you’ll be Thunder Waved before you know it. Anything that seems out of the ordinary is not just too good to be true, but too risky to even be considered.

Say you couldn’t resist the Sweet Scent, or their Squirtle’s headbutt gives you the rudest awakening of your life, and you have to fight. All is not lost! Even if you can’t whirlwind the wide eyed novice back to New Bark Town, you can still run! Kick up a cloud of dust, jab their Chikorita in its huge doe eyes, screech so loud you wake up the forest for all I care. Any dignity you lose fleeing is certainly not worth having to suffer tentacle rape from a high leveled Tentacruel because you have a valuable Egg Move.

Step four: fight the Poké Balls. Sometimes you can’t get away, I know that. Chances are, this unprepared dolt of a trainer only has a limited supply, so drain the Balls Pocket and make him think twice about getting this page in his Poké Dex. If you really want to rub salt in the wounds, shake your would-be prison four times before you bust out, their reaction is worth it every time.

Step five, and this works every time: fling poo at them. No trainer is going to want to have a prolonged battle when their target is drenching them in Poké Excrement. As an added bonus, spicy flavored berries make the smell worse.

Good luck my fellow wild Pokémon. Follow these steps, and you’ll never be captured. Stay wild, stay free.

SCYTHER was captured by a challenger from Sinnoh by the name of Frank mere minutes after this interview.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Looking Forward: Three on Three

A few weeks ago, another trailer for Black and White was released on the Japanese website, and naturally, the trailer soon spread like a brushfire to fans the world over. Seriously Nintendo, why do you even try keeping one region in the dark in this digital age? This trailer showed off a few more new Pokémon, some new online features, more shots of the Isshu region, and one thing that was possibly the most radical new feature yet shown to us in the forthcoming generation: triple battles.
We’ve all loved double battles ever since Twins Gina and Mia first challenged us to fight with two Pokémon instead of one back in 2003. Generation III introduced many tweaks and additions to the battle system, but this was the most notable. This was something new, something different, something exciting. For Ruby and Sapphire, double battling was a major selling point of the game. Many trainers would challenge the player to double encounters, and even a (particularly frustrating) Gym battle showed off this new feature. Pokémon Colosseum took this even farther: every single battle in the game was a double battle.
Double battling dipped in prominence though in Generation IV, it wasn’t nearly as important or widely used as it had been in the Advance era. A few double encounters littered the map, and the option remained to use in the Battle Tower and multiplayer, but little else. An interesting advance came in tag team battling with partners (either in-game NPCs or another player via wireless or WiFi), and a few rules were changed, such as fainted Pokémon being replaced at the end of the turn rather than immediately as they had been in the previous generation of games.
And now, multiple Pokémon fighting is posed to make a comeback, in a big way. Now, half your traveling team is on the field at once. Some immediately dismissed this idea, claiming it was just another instance of the games’ ever escalating nature and situations. Some embraced it for the very same reason.
One poster I saw had a legitimate concern: How is this supposed to be kept from being more of the same of what double battles brought? Would it simply be the same with an extra two moves per turn? Could half of a full team be demolished in a single turn because Earthquake or Surf demolishes the entire field? There needs to be significant enough differentiation from double battles to justify this feature’s presence. Otherwise, it seems to be posed to become just another shallow and unnecessary feature to the game. Triple battling needs to justify its presence, or it should not be promoted as a selling point of the game.
This feature needs thorough implementation; with numerous in-game trainers using it and a Gym Leader or Elite Four member challenging the player to a triple battle as well. Moves that cater to triple battling specifically should be added to the move sets of Pokémon. Yet the fact that you have three possible moves per turn could at the same time open up new possibilities for strategies. Three turns worth of set up for stealth rock, light screens, etc. can be accomplished at once, leaving room to proceed directly into whatever else is planned the next turn. Again, it all depends on how well this is integrated and constructed.
With that in mind, I’m reserving judgment on triple battles until I send out my three monsters for the first time. It may not be the most original idea to add onto the series, but it is a new idea nonetheless, with possibilities all its own if done right. It may come and go as quickly as the link cable minigames in FireRed and LeafGreen, or it may cultivate its own dedicate niche in the fan community. Only time will tell.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Set Apart This Dream

Hey everyone. When I saw Flyleaf in concert in June, it blew my mind. The song Set Apart This Dream, off of their Memento Mori album, wasn't one of my favorites, until Lacey Moseley (the lead singer) explained its meaning and did an amazing live rendition of the song. It inspired me to tinker with animation and after a month of chipping away at it bit by bit, I made this little music video. Enjoy!