In his review of Pokémon: Sapphire/Ruby, Chi talks about the lethargy Pokémon trainers eventually experience. The game's problem, he writes, "is that at the end of the rainbow it expects players to stay in Oz rather than go home." He's right.
What makes us stay in Oz for as long as we do? Mindless leveling up is a hazard in all role-playing games (RPGs), but Pokémon offends more than most. Why? The sheer number of creatures who need raising has something to do with it. A player can have more than 50 separate beings in his entourage at one time, each with 100 levels of potential. Other RPGs involve self-improvement or parenting; the world of Pokémon is a virtual classroom, with the player as teacher. Trainers instruct dozens of little minds, each with its own strengths and weaknesses. Nurturing each of these "students" can be overwhelming.
Pokémon's designers have tried to ease the burden of leveling up. Traded creatures earn more experience points, and Rare Candies raise levels. But Nintendo could do more. Why does a level 100 Pokémon, who has achieved butt-kicking beast Nirvana, need points? Can't it just fork all its experience over to its lower-level buddy? And why does every Pokémon grow to level 100, anyway? Maybe some should grow only to 30 levels, or 50. Then trainers could breed them for stronger pets.
That's what Enix did in Dragon Warrior Monsters 2. Weaker monsters max out at, say, level 35, but live on in their more powerful children. When those children are born, the parents disappear, cutting down on the number of creatures to take care of. Players also get to control several party members at once, ala Final Fantasy or Earthbound. Everyone fights together, and everyone divvies up the spoils. But Pokémon take turns fighting. Sapphire/Ruby's 2-on-2 battles are a step in the right direction, and I wish there were more of them.
It's possible to make a "monster ranching" game without all the mind-numbing repetition—Enix could and did. But Pokémon's roteness makes the game addictive. The Pokedex—an encyclopedia that records our efforts to catch 'em all—keeps us hooked. Would the Pokémon franchise be what it is without its creepy high and corresponding low? Dragon Warrior Monsters 2 is fun, but it's not the shot of digital heroin that Pokémon is. We buy new Pokémon games to fill the void the old ones leave in us. Nintendo could've done more to extend the life of Pokémon: Sapphire/Ruby. But if they did, would we wring our hands waiting for Pokémon: Special Donald Trump Edition?
But then a friend introduced her to the seedy underworld of the Mario brothers and she spent her saved-up birthday and Christmas money to buy a Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). Her mom didn't like the Nintendo at first, but The Legend of Zelda changed her mind. (When Tera got Zelda II: The Adventure of Link one Christmas, she suspected it was as much for her mother as for her).
Though she graduated from Agnes Scott College in 2002 and recently learned how to find the movie theater restroom by herself, Tera still loves video games. Far from being a brain-rotting waste of time, they've helped her practice spatial skills and discover new passions. Her love of games like Kid Icarus and The Battle of Olympus led to a degree in Classical Languages and Literatures. She thinks games have a place in discussions on disability and other cultural issues, and is excited to work with the like-minded staff at GameCritics.com.