Published on October 7th, 2015 | by Zog125
Greener Grassy Terrain: A More Balanced Future For VGC?
VGC. Is it an esport? Maybe not. Yet. But it’s still our game. And while we’re not all the way there to playing a fully-fledged esport, it’s interesting to think about how we could get there. We know competitive Pokémon’s not a perfect game, so how could it be better?
Obviously, since I fell short of Worlds this year for a variety of reasons (several game-related), I haven’t had many Pokémon-related things to do. I’ve been away in Japan, looking into game design and wistfully yearning for a future title in a metagame that isn’t so inherently luck-influenced. So, as they say over there, the Devil makes work for idle hands, and I’ve been thinking of ways in which future generations of Pokémon could become a more enjoyable and diverse competitive game. Where even Houndour itself could be useable. How, you ask, could something so utterly revolutionary and groundbreaking ever happen, in this very video game? The first place to start… is the game itself!
Game Freak have made a huge effort in improving VGC in the last couple of Generations, and it shows. The Battle Box, online battling and rankings, the balance tweaks in Gen VI, it’s all excellent. But there’s still quite a few places that could use some shaking up if we want to see the competitive game grow bigger. So here’s a few creases to think about!
Your Type Chart is Venomous Poison
My relationship with the type chart has always been tumultuous, if passionate. If I’m Heidi Klum, the type chart is Seel. Basically, the only difference is it’s unbalanced, as opposed to having a weird face. The Pokémon, that is. It all boils down to some types being better than others. For example, the Water-type: it’s only weak to Grass and Electric, and only resisted by itself, Dragon, and Grass. Which is a problem, since every fully-evolved Water-type can learn an Ice move. This means that Water-types don’t really interact well with the metagame and are rather dry, a problem ironically only worsened by Rain. There are dozens of Pokémon of less common types that are basically tournament-unusable because they’re 100% flattened by well-played Rain. Rain and other monotype-heavy, polarised teams are very matchup-influenced and in my opinion, are the single worst thing about the game in its current state. And it didn’t take losing cut at Nats to getting re-paired (Thanks, dopey Hydreigon-owning oaf who knows who he is) to an unwinnable mono-Rock matchup for me to tell you that. Stuff like Rain, where if you don’t have a counter to it, you lose on team preview (but if you do have one, you win). Rain is boring, it’s stifling and it’s holding the game back. Rain just needs to go. It’s worse than Jim Davidson.
So how could we easily make Rain less of a problem? My best suggestion is: the Poison-type! A type so bad I forget it’s a type; instead I think of the time user Rebel sang the Alice Cooper song at a dog so horribly it bit him in the face. Poison is so bad, there isn’t a single primary Poison-type Pokémon in the top 50, despite its positive matchup with the new Fairy-types. It’s bad because Poison-types have both bad stats and hardly any resistances. Essentially, Poison is bad. However, as well as actually thematically making sense, were Poison to resist and be super-effective on Water, suddenly Drapion, Weezing, Tentacruel, Dragalge, and Scolipede all become totally viable teambuilding options and the game becomes more interactive for the player.
Similarly, you have the Bug-type and Ice-type, pure (or Vanilla) Ice-type in particular being dangled by its metaphorical ankles and forced to sign over its life savings for the funding of Death Row Records. Bug- and Ice-type Pokémon are flat-out inferior and should never be making it into anyone’s serious teams. Typical example: it’s all well and good having Mega Heracross, with its amazing stats and powerful STAB moves, but when it simply cannot win against a huge amount of popular choices (namely Talonflame and Sylveon), it might as well not exist. Mostly though, it’s the weakness to Hyper Voice spam that makes Heracross such a bad choice. Which takes me onto the next subject!
Every Man Needs a Tool
Being the type of person I am, I take great care with the items I equip, both for myself and my Pokémon. For myself, that means dressing like David Blunkett stuffed into Macklemore’s washbin. For my Pokémon, that means using the most effective items possible. Effective items, in Generation VI, are sadly lacking in number. As the kind of lover who’s actually pleased at receiving a small Swarovski crystal owl on an anniversary, you can imagine how upset I was at X/Y’s removal of type-based Gems, which comprised 9 of the 12 items on my two Worlds teams. I was so addicted to gems that I managed to take Psychic Gem Beheeyem to the World quarter finals and still have no regrets. Gems were, essentially, my entire strategy, and back in the day, my teams chewed through those carats like a less-charismatic, gold-digging Bugs Bunny. So when they were gone, I had only one option: to whinge at the lack of variety in items and demand that Game Freak add more.
I am, of course, only half joking; I’m just that kind of guy. That said, currently the best items are the Sitrus Berry, Lum Berry, Life Orb, and Choice Scarf, with the resist Berries, Leftovers, Rocky Helmet, and Focus Sash being useable and the Mental Herb, Safety Goggles, and power-boosting Choice items okay for niche uses. You’re not going to see any serious players using anything not on that list. So, how about we change that? Here are some cool ideas!
- Bring back the Gems! They’re already in the game (at reduced 1.3x power), so why not? I’d still use them. Plus doing so relights the fire of Incinerate, making it hotter than a young Jason Orange and otherwise a worthwhile moveslot.
- We’re all sick of Hyper Voice, and the Safety Goggles already exist to give an Overcoat-like effect, so why not have a Headphones item that gives the holder Soundproof? Fixes Scrafty’s crippling weakness to Sylveon while still giving Sylveon the option to win with Moonblast, and gives infinitely more switch-ins to the dreadful syringomyelic death scream that is Pixillate Hyper Voice.
- How about an Eviolite that instead gives 1.5x Attack and Special Defense? High-risk, high-reward, lets more people play with their favourites. A Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2 that, if viewed, does not induce involuntary seppuku by the nearest sharp object.
- And power up the Binding Band from 1/6 partial trap damage to 1/3. Then Infestation Bug-types, Cradily and Goodra instantly become a viable strategy, instead of a stupid idea used only by Weevil Underwood in real life.
Those are only a few suggestions, but they’re worth thinking about!
Everything in its Right Place
Obviously, it would be a big ask to expect Game Freak to make every single Pokémon and move into a worthwhile choice for competitive play. They’ve evidently had a go at it in Generation VI, with a lot of the lamer Pokémon receiving minor stat boosts or interesting new moves like the Terrains and Electrify. What they failed to account for, however, is that it all still gets steamrolled by the poorly-balanced Mega Kangaskhan, Sylveon, Talonflame, and Rain, so again all these options might as well not exist. You can argue that not every Pokémon needs to be viable, but I’ll always counter that there’s no harm in making more of them more useful to those that do play competitively.
So, it’s baby steps, I suppose. In the future, with the game growing as well as it has done, I’m sure Game Freak will move away from introducing broody kangaroos that can, literally, potentially one-hit KO approximately 99% of Pokémon in the game, through Focus Sash and Sturdy, with no setup, two rolls of the RNG, whilst having one weakness and with no used stats below base 100. Now, that is Dappy-in-a-petrol-station stupid. Let’s hope for a slower-paced and more interactive game based more around tactics and reaction, instead of this whole charade of having these uninteractive one-dimensional threats like Rain and Sylveon that have to be dealt with proactively and through a limited selection of Pokémon. With just a few little changes, we could very quickly have a healthier competitive game. Take a look at these ideas:
- Fix Prankster, the most irritating ability in the game! Easily done by adding base power to Swagger and by removing Full Paralysis. I lost in top cut at UK Nats by getting 5/6 turns fully paralysed by some dude who did practically nothing but spam Prankster Thunder Wave and specs Hyper Voice. That isn’t how you play to win a tournament and I’d say simply don’t be that guy, but I’d rather the game didn’t give that kind of play the chance of working in the first place.
- Remove Rock Slide’s flinch rate. A common request, and why? How did I go out of the top cut of the Major? Choice Scarf Rock Slide flinches 5/6 times. Happens to loads of people, shouldn’t be possible in the first place.
- Reduce the power of Parental Bond. I think this kind of goes without saying: I will reiterate that every single Pokémon in the game that can OHKO Kangaskhan can also be OHKOed by Kangaskhan. The destructive rage of a single mother off the rails has escaped from backstage on Jeremy Kyle. Now, it’s after you, on your Nintendo 3DS. But in Pokémon, there is no Graham in aftercare. Only the bitter draught of defeat.
Showdown at the OK Computer
Now, these are all just small balancing changes, which are relatively inconsequential and not enough for Pokémon to explode as an e-sport. So what do I think would be the single healthiest thing for the game? A separate game mode for competitive battling. Basically, an officially-implemented Showdown. Make your Pokémon in-game, choose everything about them, battle with them. No need to worry about time commitments or Pokémon availability, and no need for hack checks or anything else at all. Just pure and simple competitive Pokémon. Don’t like it? Stick to the main game and play like you have done before. Do like it? Then wouldn’t that be wonderful?
Greener Grassy Terrain, Indeed
Anyway, those are a few of my thoughts on how to re-tune the game we love into something more sporting. Who knows, maybe some of this stuff might actually happen? Interesting, right?
Something a lot of people don’t pick up on with competitive Pokémon is, a lot of the winning comes down to building the most effective team that beats everything. Not a team that has a strategy as such: a team that beats as much as possible. That generally means finding the most overpowered combinations, and exploiting them to the max. How to win more games? Learn how to identify what’s good, and how to build with it. How better to do that than think about what is strong and how you could beat it? Even though it might seem like it’ll never happen, it’s always useful to challenge yourself by analysing the game and its balance. If you’ve never tried it before, give it a go!
So, I hope you’ve had an enjoyable read! Maybe have a think yourself on what really is unbalanced about the game, and how you’d change it. It’s a really good topic, so I’d like to hear what you think!