So you’ve never played a Pokémon game and you want to know what all the fuss is about.

One of the challenges in writing about games is that it’s often easiest to compare them to other games. The problem is that this is useless to readers that don’t have similar lived experience to you, and so you probably end up subjecting a non-zero portion of readers to this:

Never Seen Star Wars
Credit: Randall Monroe of XKCD, a webcomic that’s much funnier than my blog. Used under Attribution-NonCommercial 2.5 Generic license. I think I’m doing this right, please don’t sue me Randall.

In this situation there are two options: Option 1, which is much easier, is to just sort of roll with it and everyone who doesn’t like and experience the things you like can suck it. Option 2 is try to add to your writing some sort of intro or explanation, or at least an easy gateway to the subject at hand.

This writeup exists because I realized I was doing that exact thing in my Pokémon Legends: Arceus review earlier. Instead of adding several extraneous paragraphs to that review, we have this post.

Anyway, Pokémon games! I’m a big believer that the best way to understand a game is to play it, so if you’ve never played a Pokemon game before, and you’re not sure where to start, here’re my suggestions on how to enjoy the series.

Go buy a Nintendo DS or 3DS, and a copy of HeartGold or SoulSilver, and play through that. The console will cost you between $90-120 bucks, and the game will cost you between $100 and $1200 dollars.

Gametrodon Alternate Option: If you want to avoid spending more on the game than the console, I personally recommend you pick up Alpha Sapphire or Omega Ruby instead, but you will need a 3DS for those ones.

As video game piracy is a very serious crime, I under no circumstances advise you to download a pirated ROM of the game, and load into something like DeSmuME or another emulator of your choice. Emulation is bad, bad, bad, and it’s your fault for wanting to play a 13 year old game whose price has skyrocketed to ridiculous levels because there’s no digital download or alternate purchase options available, you filthy consumer you.

In any case theoretical fictitious person, now that you’ve finished that playthrough, congratulations! You’ve played what is generally considered the best mainline game in the series. Every meaningful and primary mechanic that has been introduced over 25 years is present in that game. Cool!

Perhaps you don’t want to do that. Perhaps you have other things to do with your time or money. Perhaps you think trying to figure out which torrent is the game, and which one is just a 30 gig WEBM of muppets fucking while Ram Ranch blares out of your speakers is not a fun time. In that case, here’s a very brief summary of the Pokémon series.

A Very Brief Summary of the Pokémon Series

Pokémon is a 25 year old game series. In it, the player takes on the role of a child who wants to become a Pokémon trainer. Pokémon are, for lack of a better way of putting it, magic animals that can be caught in small spherical capsules called Pokeballs. The player is generally given a single starting Pokémon, but must catch all future Pokémon by battling and catching them.

Pokémon have several traits for battling, invluding their species, typing, stats, and moves. Species is the type Pokémon, i.e. Pikachu or Squirtle. Typing is an elemental affinity that gets used as part of damage calculation, both when attacking, or being attacked, like Electric or Water. Stats are also used as both part of damage calculation, and determine action order in combat. Moves are actions a Pokémon can take in combat. A Pokémon can know up to 4 moves at any point in time. Move effects can vary heavily, from simply dealing damage, to inflicting status effects, to temporarily changing stats or other features. There are a variety of other mechanical systems that can differentiate two Pokémon of the same species that might at first glance appear to be identical. They won’t be covered here.

The player can also battle other trainers’ teams of Pokémon. The battle system is one of the games’ two main systems. While it has received a variety of tweaks throughout the years that have changed the strategies and tactics available, the general base has remained the same. The player can bring up to six Pokémon into a battle, and opposing NPC’s or human players can do the same. Battles are turn based, and each round each player chooses an attack from a menu. There are several factors that can play into which attack gets executed first, but the primary one is whichever Pokémon has a higher speed stat. When an attack hits and would do damage, the amount of damage is modified by several factors including the type of the attacking Pokémon, the type of the move, and the type of defending Pokémon.

For example: fire does extra damage to grass, grass does extra damage to water, water does extra damage to fire. There are also secondary mechanics that can modify/nullify move damage, such as Pokémon abilities. When a Pokémon runs out of HP, it can no longer fight. The player’s Pokémon gain experience points for knocking out opposing Pokémon, both in trainer battles, and wild battles, and level up when they gain a certain threshold of experience points. Whichever trainer runs out of Pokémon that can still fight first is the loser. When the player loses a fight, they lose a small amount of money, and are then returned to the last Pokémon center they visited, with no other penalty.

While exploring the world, the player will end up in random encounters and can attempt to capture wild Pokémon. Doing so requires using a consumable item called a Pokeball, or one of its variants. Different variants have different success rates, but generally speaking, lowering a wild Pokémon’s HP increases the chance of the attempt being successful, and inflicting it with various status conditions can also increase the chance of success. While the player can catch a massive number of Pokémon, only 6 can be carried with them at any point.

In terms of story and game progression, the player is given a hard goal, and a soft goal. The hard goal is generally to complete a series of battles with challenging trainers, almost always called gym leaders, and the soft goal is to catch at least one of each species of Pokémon in the game. The hard goal is what dictates actual progression between areas, with the player being unable to progress past a given point without defeating a specific enemy trainer. The form of these blockcades can be both organic, i.e. defeating that trainer gives the ability to cut down a small tree, and the player’s path forward is blocked by a tree, or inorganic, such as the NPC simply refusing to let the player past until they have been defeated.

The game worlds tend to be made up of towns populated by shops, small points of interests, and the gyms mentioned above, and are separated by various paths and small dungeons. Almost all towns have a Pokémon Center, where the player can restore their Pokémon to full health, and also change out the Pokémon they’ve caught with the ones currently on their team. Almost all games in the series are fairly linear in requiring the player to move through towns and challenges in a specific order. That said, almost every area is able to be revisited later once the player gains the ability to travel quickly to or between towns via flying Pokémon at some point in the game.

After collecting all the badges from the gym leaders, the games then generally have a final challenge in the form of a harder dungeon, followed by an area called the Pokémon League—several more difficult trainers in a row. Usually once the player enters this zone, they cannot back out until they either defeat all the trainers, or lose.

After this goal is completed, the player is often given free reign to explore the map at their leisure. This portion of the game tends to be referred to as the post-game, and what it contains can vary quite heavily between individual entries in the series. Some games contain bonus continents, while others simply add a few additional dungeons, with most falling somewhere in between.

Games tend to be released in pairs, with each given pair offering basically the same story and gameplay experience, but with some minor differences as to which Pokémon are available to be caught. Many games have some form of connectivity with other games, allowing Pokémon caught in older games to be transferred to newer ones, but usually only after the player completes the post-game.

And this concludes a brief summary of the mechanics of Pokémon games. The games have plenty of other features, some of which are common to many of the games, and others that only appear in one or two. But the core elements between the games—exploring, battling, training, and catching—are present in all of them. Anyway, I’m going to finish writing the actual review of the new game now.