Ok, before we begin, let me say a few words about myself and Pokemon. Pokemon was the game that solidified my interest in gaming, particularly Nintendo, and gave me the interest in studying game design. I might not be writing these blogs if that game never existed!
So do you want to be the very best, like no one ever was? I know I did. This was so true in my case, that I used to go to local tournaments sanctioned by the Pokemon company. I had since quit attending these events, mostly due to getting distracted by other games, and having trouble keeping up with the other players. I certainly didn’t get enough practice after a while.
That being said, I noticed a trend with some players. There were a few occasions where I would win a game due to me taking a risk based on luck, and succeeding. I would be courteous enough to say “good game” regardless of the outcome. In these cases, the other player might say I didn’t “deserve” the win due to luck, or that it wasn’t a “good game” thanks to me winning in such a manner. I won’t name names, (I don’t remember them anyway), but I think that is poor sportsmanship.
However, this article isn’t about issues with Pokemon’s competitive community. It is about a common complaint that players have with the game, the element of chance. Pokemon has a lot of chance in it. This article will be looking at how might chance be completely removed from the game, and if each case would be good or bad for the game as a whole. Before I begin, there are a lot of terms used from this game. If you aren’t familiar enough with these games to understand it, this article might not be for you.
Let’s list most of the cases that chance occurs in Pokemon:
- Damage variation
- Move accuracy
- Side effects
- Blocking moves
Now, in order for chance to be removed entirely, anything that normally might happen would have to always happen, or never happen in a new system without chance. This would mean a lot of actions would have to be modified or removed. Let’s look at each one separately.
Something not immediately obvious to newcomers is that using the same move on the same opponent under the same circumstances doesn’t always lead to the same damage. This is probably a relic of the genre that Pokemon was built upon, RPGs. Most RPGs partially randomize damage per hit. It isn’t super noticeable, and often isn’t relevant, but can throw a player off his game if he get’s the lowest possible damage when he needs to do one more point of damage.
The easiest way to fix this is to change the damage formula so that the same hit always does the same damage. This would make it a lot easier to learn which attacks will KO in 1, 2, or 3 hits and so on. I actually would recommend such a change.
We should also look at critical hits. These occur at random, and deal bonus damage. It is nearly impossible to predict, and similar to damage variation, can throw players off when they least need them to.
The only way to change them is to remove them entirely, or to make them occur under certain circumstances. Unfortunately, the odds of a critical hit can vary in the game. Some attacks have a higher chance of scoring one. Some effects, like using focus energy, holding a scope lens, or having the ability super luck can improve the odds overall. There are also effects that prevent them from occurring at all!
I suppose that critical hits would always happen when the odds normally just increase, while they would never happen in the cases that an effect prevents them. Under the usual circumstances, they wouldn’t happen either. An issue with this is that moves with an increased chance would always cause a critical hit, and many of them are reasonably strong to begin with! Would they be weakened to make up for this? Additionally, there are moves that do this in the game already. What additional use would they have in comparison to increased critical hit moves? Removing Critical hits from the game seems questionable.
So one of the more annoying features in Pokemon is to use a powerful move and have it miss when you need it to hit the most. I usually avoid choosing moves with a default miss chance, so I don’t have to worry about this unless there is no better alternative move for a particular set.
Without chance, all moves would hit all the time! There is an issue with choosing a strong move that might miss, and a weaker move that usually doesn’t. If both hit all the time, you would never use even a slightly weaker move! These games have a lot of moves, and try to balance out decision making between choosing one move over the other. I really doubt that limiting the number of uses alone would discourage using powerful moves if all moves always hit. A new drawback would have to be added to encourage players to use slightly weaker actions over stronger ones.
There are some moves that can take out an opponent in one hit, but rarely hit. These would have to be heavily modified, or removed entirely from the game, if there would be no more chance in a Pokemon game.
Additionally, changes in evasion and accuracy would have to change dramatically to remove chance as well. This is much harder to envision without removing all actions that change these things.
Okay, a lot of moves from this game have side effects. Powerful moves like thunderbolt have a 10% chance of causing paralysis, for example. Many, many others have either a small, or large chance of causing effects like this.
If all moves with these effects are altered so there is no element of chance, it would mean that many frequently used attacks would always cause the effect, or never will. While removing the effect entirely would work for some moves, particularly those that are useful without the effect, other actions won’t make as much sense. Perhaps the weaker moves would always cause the effect, while stronger moves for the most part won’t.
This doesn’t sound too bad, but you do have to consider how some side effects work as well. The easiest effects to alter include sleep and freeze. Sleep currently cancels 1-3 turns for the effected Pokemon. Freeze has a 20% chance of going away before the frozen Pokemon attacks. This means that a frozen Pokemon could lose anywhere form zero turns, to all subsequent turns for the rest of the battle.
For argument’s sake, sleep could be changed to last 2 turns, and freeze could last only 1 turn. Keep in mind that sleep moves usually have a chance to fail, and only certain attacking moves have a 10% chance of freezing in the current game. Both functions will have to be altered as well. It would mean some attacking moves will always freeze the target in a system without chance. Both changes sound a little easy to abuse, if you ask me.
We also have to look at confusion, paralysis, and similar effects. Both confusion and paralysis have a chance to prevent attacks. In confusion’s case, the Pokemon loses its attack, and it hurts itself. Confusion also lasts 1-4 turns, so that will have to change to a specific number of turns. With paralysis, the Pokemon loses speed on top of not always attacking.
But how to handle the loss of an action? For paralysis, you might need to cancel an action every set number of turns. An example is that the Pokemon attacks every other turn. Alternately, paralysis could (hypothetically) last only three turns, and cancels the first and third turns. Confusion could run under similar terms, though its duration will have to be different from paralysis.
All in all, I think removing chance concerning side effects would be too easy to take advantage of, or at least be too hard to change and still have them in the game.
This last one should be easy to figure out. Blocking moves like protect prevent damage and effects done to the user for the entire turn. If used on the previous turn, as a result, similar actions will have a lower chance of working on the current turn for that Pokemon. The easy fix is to make it impossible for protect and similar moves from working two turns in a row.
This change will have less of a negative impact on the game, as some players don’t take the risk of protecting two turns in a row.
So, what is the best way to handle chance in Pokemon? Should it be changed at all? Should it be removed entirely? I suspect that if the designers want to remove the element of chance, they should be selective about it. Maybe remove damage variation, but not critical hits. Double protects could be removed, but most other luck based rules should probably stay.
Pokemon has a history of trying to create a persistent universe. Altering the element of chance too much, particularly with accuracy and side effects to the extent that some moves don’t exist anymore, breaks with this tradition. In all honesty, players may just have to look at chance in a different light. It seems to be there for some game balance purposes, such as powerful attacks that miss more often, or paralysis only having a 25% chance of canceling a turn (as opposed to always canceling an action every set number of turns, which could be easily abused).
Something that most players think is true about luck is that skill isn’t involved. While you don’t have control over the outcome, you do have a choice to make based on what the odds are. In a turn based game, the ability to make a choice, even if you are taking a risk based on luck, is still a skill.
All in all, I think that luck in some way should stay in the game. To do otherwise would require the next game to change dramatically, to the extent it is a completely different game. Ultimately, that would be bad if it is still trying to be the same game system but without luck. If it is a completely new type of Pokemon game in a new genre, it would be different enough for that to not matter. Most likely it would have to be a spin-off, though.
So those are my thoughts about luck in Pokemon. Did you find this analysis enlightening? Do you think there is a better way to remove luck from the game? If so, how do you think it should be done? Let me know in the comments what you think!