With the recent release of Pokémon X and Y instantly becoming the fastest selling installment in the venerable franchise, outsiders may be looking in wondering why a “children’s game” has become so popular with every demographic of gamer. The answer, quite simply, is because of the series’ merciless, brutal grind. Why, though, is a universally hated mechanic so appealing when applied to adorable pocket monsters?
The not-so-deep, dark secret of the Pokémon series is that it has more statistics to keep track of than, say, Fantasy baseball. With the release of X and Y, the series glossary of Pokémon — the Pokédex — lists 718 critters, not counting some of the pocket monsters’ different forms (such as variant genders and colors). Each of those 718 Pokémon have an enormous move list, and can reach up to level 100. Each creature’s set of basic RPG stats — attack, defense, speed, and so on — can be manipulated with specialized training, and each creature also has three different trainable happiness quotients as well, which can affect a variety of things, from the Pokémon performing well in a battle, to being able to evolve to a new form.
Pokémon can appear in two genders (or no gender, as is the case with robots) with different population rates, and can come with one of a few special abilities, and even a complementary hidden ability. Once you get to Pokémon breeding, you start focusing on which gender can pass down which ability (and hidden ability), the Pokémon’s nature (a personality trait that affects stat growth), and the secret modifiers that affect statistics, effort values (if you fight fast Pokémon all the time, your critter becomes faster) and individual values (essentially a creature’s genes).
So, just one out of 718 Pokémon has way, way too much to grind and manipulate. Furthermore, when you add shiny Pokémon (a special alternate color scheme that sparkles) into the mix, you’re adding a 1/8192 — or 0.012% encounter rate.
There’s even more statistical madness prevalent in the series, such as the in-the-wild appearance rate of a given Pokémon, as well as the formula that determines if it will be captured or break free from the thrown Poké Ball portable jail cell. Basically, Pokémon is a thinly disguised high school math book. No one enjoys homework or tedious grinds, and tedium is the enemy of entertainment, so why does Pokémon succeed across all ages, and how come other games haven’t captured its method to success?
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