Saturday, June 12, 2010

How It All Went Down

If the roughly 30-level difference seems quite high, it is because, as you might have gathered from previous posts, I do not like to level-grind.  I believe that it is a symptom of bad game design, and thankfully I have found that the Pokemon games are better than that, placing greater, or at least equal, emphasis on strategy and tactics as on the grind.  I have long been of the belief that these games can be won without engaging in any random battles at all, and I have put my belief to the test through my own playthroughs, where I level up Pokemon only through experience gained from battles with NPC trainers at fixed locations.  The only time I engage a random encounter is when I want to capture the wild Pokemon, in which case my Pokemon does not gain experience from the battle anyway.  All of my Pokemon above are the result of me picking out my teams early, then spreading out experience evenly so that no one falls behind.

That said, I obviously didn't train all of these Pokemon in my copy of HeartGold.  These were my six best Pokemon hand-picked from across four different Pokemon cartridges.  Swampert migrated over from Emerald, Venusaur and Jolteon from FireRed, and Lucario was traded over from my Platinum team.  My Skarmory was bred from one that I had had to trade for with a SoulSilver player.  Only Typhlosion was part of my original HeartGold team, which I took to the Johto championship and through most of Kanto.  I normally only use six Pokemon per game (because it's hard to raise more than six), which I assemble early on and then stick with, but because this was supposed to be "the final match," I thought it only fitting to look back at my previous campaigns and bring in representatives from each of my past lineups, in order to construct my own comprehensive all-star team to pit against Red's.

As for the move setups, the only TMs used were to teach Jolteon Thunderbolt and Flash, the latter for its field effect allowing me to navigate the pitch-black Cerulean Cave.  Typhlosion and Venusaur learned Blast Burn and Frenzy Plant via move tutors, and a Heart Scale was used to make Skarmory "remember" Night Slash.  Everything else was learned either through leveling up or via HMs acquired as part of the story.  I also didn't use any stat-enhancing vitamins.

Now, on with the play-by-play:

Red would of course start with his signature Pokemon and the franchise mascot, Pikachu.  Pikachu is not even a fully-evolved Pokemon, and although it is very quick, its attack and defense ratings are poor.  Red's is equipped with a rare Light Ball, doubling its Attack and Special Attack stats, making it a legitimate offensive threat.  It's not a big deal, however, because Pikachu's best attacks, Volt Tackle and Thunderbolt, are Electric-type moves, which are completely ineffective against my lead Pokemon, the part-Ground-type Swampert.  That leaves Pikachu only Quick Attack and Iron Tail.  Quick Attack is a weak Normal-type physical attack, only mildly useful because it is guaranteed to strike first even against an opponent with a higher Speed stat.  The AI would normally only use it to finish off an already nearly dead Pokemon, thereby robbing it of a potential last gasp maneuver.  I wasn't worried about that.  The only move left for me to watch out for was Iron Tail, a very strong physical attack.  It's a Steel-type attack, however, meaning its effectiveness is reduced by 50% against Water-type Pokemon such as my Swampert.  More importantly, its accuracy is only 75%, so if it didn't kill me outright, a protracted battle would probably see it missing a few times, allowing me a few turns of unanswered attacks.

I started off the fight by using Mud-Slap, a weak Ground-type attack.  Earthquake was the much more powerful option, but I'm not a hardcore numbers guy, so I wasn't sure if I could take Pikachu out in just one turn.  If Earthquake only brought it to the brink, Red would just use a Full Restore to fully heal Pikachu and completely undo my work before I could finish the job.  Having faced that exact frustration against previous trainers, I had learned that, against opponents that I could only almost KO in one turn, the more effective strategy was to lead with a weaker attack, then finish with the stronger move in the second turn.  Mud-Slap is particularly useful for leading because it also has the added effect of lowering the target's accuracy, so Pikachu's already risky Iron Tail would become even less accurate.

The round began and, as anticipated, Pikachu attacked first with Iron Tail.  It was a hit, nearly halving my Swampert's health.  My Mud-Slap did what I needed it to, lowering Pikachu's accuracy and even doing decent damage, thanks to Ground's supereffectiveness against Electric.  Confident that my Swampert would survive another hit, I queued up Earthquake for the next round, while Pikachu again went for Iron Tail.  I smiled with satisfaction as Iron Tail missed this time and Earthquake sent Pikachu packing.

Red summoned Venusaur next, probably hoping to capitalize on its 4x Grass-type advantage against my Water/Ground Swampert.  As is customary in single-player story battles, however, I am permitted to change my own Pokemon in response to his selection before the round begins.  Typhlosion, my Fire specialist, is the obvious choice, but I decide to go with Skarmory instead.  Skarmory was my weakest Pokemon, the only one that I had brought without any specific purpose in mind.  I had it in my party because it is a practical necessity to have a Pokemon with Fly at all times in case I need to retreat quickly back to town, and Skarmory, the physical tank among Pokemon, is also the best Flying Pokemon with whom I would actually be okay wasting a move slot on Fly.  Being a Steel/Flying-type, it did have the advantage, both offensively and defensively, against Venusaur.  With its poor attack stats and options, I didn't expect the type advantage to overcome the level difference in this case, but I wanted to give Skarmory at least a chance to contribute in some way beyond just being a shield for my other Pokemon (although it was technically serving that role as well here).

I select Fly, which, in battle, is a modestly powerful two-turn attack that may be compared to the Dragoon's Jump in Final Fantasy--the user takes flight in the first turn, then strikes on the second.  Venusaur attacks with Frenzy Plant, the ultimate Grass-type move, with a Special Attack power of 150.  Venusaur is faster than Skarmory, so I have to take the hit before taking off, but Skarmory endures it surprisingly well--it would take another two Frenzy Plants to KO Skarmory, and since Frenzy Plant is also a two-turn maneuver that leaves its user having to recharge on the second turn, the battle could go on for some time.  The persistent Hail effect of the snowy battlefield meanwhile would whittle away at the health of both Pokemon, which was what I wanted, because I never intended for Skarmory to win the battle, only for it to weaken Venusaur enough to guarantee that I could finish it with a single attack from Typhlosion.

Fly does decent damage, and Venusaur switches from Frenzy Plant to Giga Drain in an attempt to recoup some lost health.  Skarmory gets off one more Fly before expiring to a second Giga Drain, after which Typhlosion comes in to finish the job.  Typhlosion is also slower than Venusaur, so it still has to put up with losing some health to a third Giga Drain, but I won't need Typhlosion either after this round.  Flamethrower puts Red's Grass Pokemon away at last.

Red's third Pokemon is Blastoise, and I am again prompted to switch my own Pokemon.  Both Jolteon (Electric) and my own Venusaur have type advantage against the Water-type Blastoise.  Jolteon is the much safer choice, however, because I am almost certain that Blastoise will be packing an Ice-type attack, which would be supereffective against Venusaur.  Even so, poetry takes precedence over strategy in this case, and I am determined to take out each of Red's elemental starters with my own starter Pokemon.  Venusaur was my starter from back in Pokemon FireRed, where I actually technically played as Red.  But here I was ready to show him which of us was the true Venusaur master.  Besides, I had only bothered to scout Pikachu's moves, so I wasn't entirely certain that Blastoise would have any Ice attacks.

Blastoise leads with Blizzard, which one-hit-KOs my Venusaur before it can even act.  I'm feeling rather silly at this point, because I have wasted at least three turns with my foolishness.  First, I must now switch in Jolteon after all.  I have it use Thunder Wave to paralyze Blastoise.  Paralysis reduces a Pokemon's speed by 25% and also leaves it with a 25% chance of missing its turn due to inability to move.  I had relied heavily on Paralyze moves to get me through almost every major battle in every Pokemon game leading up to this.  Whereas the level and type mismatches I so often faced had regularly robbed even my best direct attacks of their punch, status afflictions did not discriminate, and a paralyzed Lv.75 Dragonite was just as likely to miss its turn as a much lower-level Pokemon.  I hadn't needed Thunder Wave against Red's first two Pokemon, but I expected it to again make the difference against Blastoise.

Blastoise uses Blizzard again, and it not only reduces Jolteon to near-death, but also induces the Freeze status, which is much rarer but even more debilitating than Paralyze.  I could use a Full Restore to get Jolteon back in condition to fight and maybe even win, but I still want to take out Blastoise with Venusaur.  The second turn I must waste is on reviving Venusaur.  I do so with the understanding that I will be sacrificing Jolteon on the front lines to another Blastoise attack.  The third turn I waste will be on reviving Jolteon.  To pull that off, I switch my weakened Typhlosion in for the unconscious Jolteon.  Typhlosion already did its job against Red's Venusaur, so I'm okay with sacrificing it to revive Jolteon.

When Typhlosion falls, it's finally time to bring in my Venusaur again.  With Blastoise paralyzed, Venusaur will be able to attack first this time.  I intend to finish it in one move with Frenzy Plant.  I'm gambling here, because I'm not certain that Frenzy Plant actually will finish it in one shot.  As I said, I haven't studied the math that deeply.  I know that Frenzy Plant has 150 Special Attack power and is supereffective against Water, but I don't know how exactly that translates into damage against whatever Blastoise's HP and Special Defense ratings are.  I only know that it will do a lot of damage.  With Blastoise having taken four rounds of Hail already, I take the risk that Frenzy Plant will be enough.  It is.

Red sends in Charizard next.  Again, I have a chance to swap out my Pokemon.  Typhlosion and Skarmory are dead, Jolteon and Swampert are at about 50%, and the Fighting/Steel Lucario would be at a severe disadvantage against the Fire/Flying Charizard.  I decide to leave Venusaur in, knowing that it will die immediately but intending to use that one turn to heal Swampert.  This proves to be an almost crucial error.

Remember that Frenzy Plant leaves its user unable to act in the next turn.  During the recharge period, you cannot attack, use items, or change Pokemon.  The one exception is that, in single-player battles, you can still shift your Pokemon out when prompted after defeating an opposing Pokemon.  Knowing this, I normally only use Frenzy Plant with the expectation that it will KO my opponent, so that I can then bypass the recharge period by switching out my Pokemon.  Somehow, I forgot to do so this time, and I was left to watch as Charizard toasted my Venusaur with a supereffective Flare Blitz, my turn completely wasted since I was not even able to heal Swampert.

I'm in a bad situation at this point.  I only have three Pokemon left, two of them in bad shape, the third out of the question for this match-up.  Even with the type advantage, I know Swampert will not be able to kill Charizard with just a single Waterfall.  Moreover, Charizard would be faster, and I don't know if my weakened Swampert would even be able to survive its first attack to get off a Waterfall.  I decide to send in Jolteon instead.  Jolteon is faster than any of Red's Pokemon, and it also has a type advantage against the part-Flying Charizard, but I go with Thunder Wave again instead of trying for damage with a supereffective Thunderbolt.  Thunderbolt would probably not one-hit-KO Charizard, whereas Thunder Wave's debilitating effects would give Swampert a chance in the event that Jolteon fell.

The Thunder Wave pays off immediately, as the paralyzed Charizard is unable to move for that turn.  I use the next turn to heal Swampert, and my Jolteon, not so fortunate this time, falls to a Dragon Pulse from Charizard.  I still don't think my Swampert can take out Charizard in one Waterfall, but with it now at full health against a paralyzed Charizard, I'm confident that it will win out in the end.  In fact, I'm so confident that, instead of attacking right away, I use Swampert's first turn to revive Jolteon, since I know I will need it later.  Luck is against me, as not only is Charizard able to move, but it gets a critical hit with an Air Slash, dismissing my Swampert unexpectedly in one move.  That's just rotten luck, as there's no way to really plan for these criticals, but it leaves me reeling.

I have to bring back Swampert, but a normal Revive only resurrects a Pokemon to 50% health.  That won't be enough if Charizard hits with Air Slash again, so I'll need a second turn to heal Swampert before I can send it out again.  That means I'll need two turns just to heal, and it's unlikely that Jolteon will survive longer than one.  Lucario's chances are only slightly better, but I have to go with that.  I send in Lucario and revive Swampert.  Fortunately, instead of using its Fire attacks, Charizard uses Air Slash.  Lucario survives to heal Swampert before falling in the next turn.

It's Swampert's second chance and, with the Hail having chipped away at Charizard, I'm ready to just go with the Waterfall.  To my dismay, it leaves Charizard with just a sliver of health, after which it strikes Swampert with Air Slash again to reduce its health by more than half.  I expect Red to use a Full Restore, both healing Charizard and curing its paralysis, thus leaving me in the worst possible condition, but before the round is up, the Hail, which takes effect at the end of every round, manages to finish Charizard off.  It wasn't all according to plan, but it worked out this time.

Red's signature Pokemon were all done.  Next up was Lapras.  A Water/Ice Pokemon, it was Red's only dual-type and also the one I knew least about among his team.  I left Swampert in so that I could revive Lucario.  Lapras took out Swampert with Blizzard, so I sent in Jolteon next.  Thunder Wave as usual, and then Lapras's Brine took out Jolteon.  A half-dead Lucario was my last Pokemon and I had no expectation of winning with just that, so I revived Jolteon again.  Blizzard took out Lucario, and now Jolteon was my last Pokemon.

It was not an ideal situation.  I had gathered now that Lapras could kill either Jolteon or Lucario at 50% health.  I doubted any of my other Pokemon would fare better.  Since a Revive only brought a Pokemon back at 50% health, I would again need two turns just to set up a Pokemon to take Lapras on.  With only one 50% Pokemon alive at a time, the only way I would be getting those two turns would be if Lapras missed a turn.  I would just have to keep switching between reviving Jolteon and Lucario until that opening came up.

Despite Paralyze's supposed 25% chance of stopping a Pokemon from acting, more than four turns went by without Lapras letting up one bit.  In fact, I think a full seven rounds went by, during which Jolteon and Lucario took turns dying.  At the end of that seventh round, I didn't even have any more Revives.  With a half-dead Lucario on point, I contemplated using one of my three Max Revives on Jolteon.  Max Revives are extremely rare and cannot be bought in stores, so they are only to be used in the most desperate circumstances.  Was this desperate enough?  I considered it, but then realized that, once Lucario died to resurrect Jolteon, I would just have to use another Max Revive on Lucario, because I needed Lucario to take on Red's final Pokemon.  No, I was going to have to make my final stand here, betting it all on Lucario.

I used a Hyper Potion to fully restore Lucario, then braced for the Blizzard, which I knew could do at least 50%, but which I could only hope would do less than 100%.  To my surprise, Lapras used Psychic instead.  And to my surprise, it did just less than 50%.  I wondered why it would resort to using a weaker attack, after having used Blizzard already to wipe out Lucario so many times.  The AI doesn't always make sense, but if there were an actual reason for this shift, it could be pivotal.  I tried to recall the last several rounds and count how many times Lapras had used Blizzard.  My guess was that Lapras had exhausted its uses of Blizzard, which left it with only attacks that would require three turns to take out a 100% Lucario.  If I was right, that was something I could work with.

I used another Hyper Potion and watched Lucario absorb another Psychic.  With my Lucario at just over half health again, I chose, instead of healing up or attacking, to use its Swords Dance move to sharply raise its Attack.  If Lapras used Psychic again, Lucario would survive and I would heal on the next turn.  If it used Blizzard, then Lucario might die and it would be game over.  But I was so sure I was right.

As it turned out, it didn't matter on that turn.  The Paralyze finally kicked in and stopped Lapras from attacking at all.  For the next turn, I had a few choices.  I still didn't feel a need to heal, but I could either attack with my boosted Close Combat or boost again with another Swords Dance.  Close Combat was a supereffective Fighting-type move with 120 Attack power, and the first Swords Dance would have raised its damage potential considerably.  But again, I didn't know exactly what "sharply raise" amounted to in practical terms, and I didn't know if I could KO Lapras yet.  As a part-Ice-type, Lapras was the only Pokemon on either team unaffected by Hail, so it was still at full health.

I took my chances and used Close Combat.  Lapras barely survived, and although it again could not move, I grimaced because I knew that Red would use a Full Restore on the next turn.  I used that same turn to use a second Swords Dance, guaranteeing that I would KO Lapras in the next hit.  The problem was that, if the now un-paralyzed Lapras attacked first, Lucario might die because the side effect of Close Combat is that it lowers its user's Defense and Special Defense.  So that Pyschic would hit a little harder the next time.

Ultimately, I had to bet on my Lucario being faster than Lapras.  If I healed and Lapras was faster hitting with Psychic for 50%, the fight was over anyway.  I would be forced to spend every turn healing just to survive the turn after, and a comeback would be impossible, unless I expected to outlast its uses of Psychic as well.  No, I went with Close Combat for the kill, and Lucario did not fail me.

Red's final Pokemon was Snorlax, an extremely durable Normal-type, which I had originally been saving Lucario for.  Again, I had to face the concerns of whether Lucario would be faster, whether it could one-hit-KO Snorlax, whether it could survive Snorlax's attack if either of the above was answered in the negative.  But I had come too far to have any more doubts.  Close Combat was the call, and that was it for the match.  Snorlax was out in one, and Red was done.

* * * * *

Was it the hardest Pokemon match of my life?  No, not by a long shot.  In fact, it was somewhat anticlimactic how easy it was.  I beat him on my first try.  I wasn't even forced to use any of my rare items.  Although I had used about 15 revives, most of that had been during the period when Jolteon and Lucario were taking turns dying against Lapras, which, in hindsight, may have been unnecessary.  Honestly, I had a much harder time against Lance at the end of the Johto campaign.  Now that was a truly hard-earned victory, one where I had had to rely heavily upon Paralyze, Leech Seed, Confuse, and accuracy-reducing moves and items, just to buy my Azumarill chances to take out Lance's overpowering dragons with Rollout, a normally weak Rock-type move that just happens to double in power over each of five consecutive hits, assuming its user can survive that long without missing, which was extremely unlikely against such opponents that could KO my best in one hit.  Up against that, I had had to perfectly plan every move in advance just to open up room enough for luck to enter in and win the day.

Although Red is supposed to be the ultimate trainer, in practice his team is highly flawed.  In terms of typing, it is more balanced than the typical Gym Leader's team, but most of his Pokemon are still only single-types with very common and exploitable weaknesses (i.e. no Dragons or Psychics to counter).  My team, on the other hand, although much lower in level than his, was by far the strongest team I had ever used.  It almost felt like cheating, even though my Pokemon were all legit and all my own, which I had raised from base forms and low levels over dozens of hours.  But the team I had used against Lance, consisting only of Pokemon I had caught in HeartGold, had included such Pokemon as Furret and Noctowl, both evolved from incredibly common Pokemon found within the first hour of play.  I would give them names and call them my own too, but any experienced player knows that these are garbage Pokemon.  It only made it that much more gratifying, however, when I managed to take them to the championship, winning it through a combination of effort and cunning.  A few key Thunder Waves notwithstanding, there was less of that cunning required in this fight against Red.

I suppose also, in general, the rules of the single-player game always favor the player.  Not only can you revive your Pokemon, unlike the AI, but that prompt to shift Pokemon after informing you of your opponent's next Pokemon is clearly unfair to the AI.  For obvious reasons, it's not a part of player-vs-player battles, and there's even an option to turn it off in single-player.  Were I to do so, I seriously doubt I would stand a chance against Red.  But that's not the default setting, not "regulation," as it were.  Leave it to masochistic players to challenge themselves with that.

As much as I wish Nintendo would take Pokemon somewhere new, I can't pretend that I won't be there when Pokemon Black/White comes out and is more of the same.  But for now, I'm satisfied knowing that, after training for six games in four regions over two generations, I finally beat Red and "won" Pokemon.

1 comment:

Czardoz said...

So now that you've come full circle and beaten the man you once were, perhaps you see that you and Red are really the same, both strategic poets of monster battling. Instead of crafting the most balanced team, he chooses what might be called sentimental favorites? Instead of a hard-line numbers duel, you're both going for "the beautiful fight," like battle as choreography.