Welcome to Pokémon WITS, episode 3. This time around I'll be talking about Pokémon forms and Mega Evolutions.
I'm sure we've all heard the saying, "Less is more," right? How about, "Too much of a good thing," heard that? These phrases go hand in hand with the focus of this episode. Let's start by taking a look at Pokémon forms.
Way back in the 2nd generation we were introduced to the Pokémon Unown, which while having many different forms, were each their own unique Pokémon within the Unown family. Meaning, they didn't change. It wasn't until Castform and Deoxys were introduced in the 3rd gen that I even realized forms were a thing. I had no problem with these variations. They were kind of cool, and more importantly they made sense with the inherent nature of the Pokémon themselves.
Of course they couldn't leave well enough alone. Now that they'd opened the door for special legendary forms, they had to do it again in the 4th gen with Giratina and Shaymin. But that wasn't enough. They also threw a pile of form changes into the general Pokémon population. Three forms of Burmy and Wormadon, two for Cherrim, two for Shellos and Gastrodon, and six for Rotom. Overboard, much? Now I'm not saying these are all necessarily bad. For instance, I think the Shellos and Gastrodon concept was really cool. There's no changing of forms here, they just look different depending on whether they come from the east or the west side of Sinnoh. Both designs were cool, and to me they actually helped ENHANCE the overall feel of the Sinnoh region by stressing the separation of east from west that exists as a result of a big mountain range down the middle of it. Rotom on the other hand... *sigh* Did we REALLY need haunted appliances? Honestly?! A washing machine, really?! URGH.
Of course they did it again in 5th gen with Basculine, Darmanitan, Deerling and Sawsbuck, Tornadus, Thundurus, Landorus, Kyurem, Keldeo, and Meloetta. And now in the 6th gen their numbers are going crazy, with 10 different Furfrou and a whopping 20 Vivillon and rising. I mean... everything in moderation, right? Am I the only one who thinks they need to reel it in a bit?
I'm gonna totally shift focus now, so just file those thoughts away. I promise they'll become relevant.
New topic, the evolution of evolution lines themselves. What I'm talking about here is when you've got an established Pokémon like Chansey, and over time you discover that it isn't a solo Pokémon after all, but in fact belongs to a set of three, just like other Pokémon already did back in the 1st generation.
In the 1st gen they were obviously setting down the basics. Things were still new enough that it wasn't any big surprise to think that new evolution methods were still being discovered, or that baby Pokémon could exist since there wasn't breeding in the 1st gen. Suddenly with the 2nd gen there were a pile of Pokémon related to those you already knew and loved. And it was cool, because it felt like they were expanding the Pokémon world. Additionally, that sensation of being connected to the 1st generation was super-reinforced by the fact that once you conquered Johto, you could cross over into Kanto and relive those memories in a new light.
In the third generation everything changed. Suddenly you couldn't trade with your old Pokémon games anymore, and the Hoenn region wasn't noticeably connected to the Kanto and Johto regions. The concept of expanding on the already established Pokémon was practically non-existent; Azurill and Wynaut were the only new ones. Maybe they were through with that idea. Or maybe not. Maybe 4th gen would expand on the 3rd gen the way 2nd did on the 1st.
Well, expand they did, but not only on the 3rd gen's Pokémon; they reached back to do it to 2nd gen Pokémon, and even to the 1st generation. IMHO those old evolution lines had been established too long to be subjected to sudden changes. But if they HAD to add to them, the least they could have done was pick the best candidates. Onix hatches from its egg and is the size of a house. Didn't it deserve a baby Pokémon more than Mr. Mime or Sudowoodo? And why not give a powerful new evolution to something that could have used it like Dunsparce or Shuckle, instead of heaping extra stages on Pokémon that were or at least looked and felt powerful already?
As a player, it felt wrong to me, like they were just trying to cash in on the nostalgia of the early generations, and throw out a bunch of big, powerful Pokémon because online battling had suddenly become a thing. It also felt wrong to me as an artist. Most of these designs were poor, featuring either boring, minimal, unwarranted changes, or just generally making things bigger, meaner and uglier. I can't help but feel particularly sorry for poor Togetic. It finally grew out of the confines of its egg and was able to move its body, only to end up as this ridiculous, solid mass.
If I've counted correctly, both the 2nd and 4th gens introduced an equal number of baby Pokémon, but while 2nd brought in 12 new evolved relations to existing Pokémon, 4th gen brought in 21! Admittedly there are some I like; Froslass and Dusknoir are in fact my favorite Pokémon of the 4th generation. But most of them, as I run through and make quick comparisons, I feel the designs and overall likeability took a beating.
After seeing what they were willing to do to some of these old and beloved Pokémon, I felt grateful at the time that each evolution set was limited to the established three evolution stages, meaning there were a lot of them they couldn't mess with and mess up. Unless of course, they were to ever add a fourth level to said evolution sets, heaven forbid... Incidentally, that thought carries us right into our main topic.
All right, so, I've gone on about how different forms have gotten out of control over the years, and I've gone on about how the creators aren't willing to leave well enough alone; they just keep going back to the old days with their ever-dwindling design sense and inflicting it on Pokémon of the past. When these two unfortunate trends cross paths and collide, we get Mega Evolutions, which are the worst of both worlds. If you're unfamiliar with Mega Evolutions, select Pokémon now have the ability to temporarily evolve into stronger forms during battle only. The effects of Mega Evolution disappear when the Pokémon faints or when the battle ends.
Before and up to the launch of Pokémon X and Y, I kept an eye on the news sites as more and more pocket monsters from the new generation were revealed. When suddenly there were no more to come, I was stunned to look through the collection and realize how few new Pokémon there were. The 2nd generation had been the smallest to date, with only 100 newcomers. 6th gen features a mere 72, and that's including the yet-to-be revealed event Pokémon. Why so few? Then it hit me; even though Mega Evolutions were introduced as just a temporary form change, Game Freak is actually looking to them to round out the new generation. There's 28 of them in X and Y, so yeah, that takes the total new Pokémon up to an even 100, same as the 2nd gen.
What is this shit?! Mega forms don't have their own Pokédex numbers, and you can only Mega Evolve one Pokémon per battle, yet they make up a major portion of the new Pokémon for this generation? What were they thinking?!
I'm a guy who likes to face each new generation of Pokémon with a team comprised solely of Pokémon introduced in said new generation. I think I'm in the minority here, but I know I'm not alone. So, it really sucks to think that if I wanted to make one of these new Mega evolutions one of my team members, say Mega Gyarados, I wouldn't actually be training a Mega Gyarados, but a regular Gyarados that can transform during battle only. That REALLY sucks! If I wanted to train Gyarados, I'd go back and do it on my Leaf Green Version, or even on my old Red cartridge.
But let's say I'm willing to put up with training a prior generation Pokémon in the 6th gen for the sake of being able to sort of have my Mega Evolution on my party. Having already picked one Mega Evolution, and only being able to Mega Evolve one Pokémon per battle, that essentially means all the rest are no longer viable options. My selection of new Pokémon with which to form my team just dropped by nearly 30 options! So, Game Freak's plan to round out the number of new Pokémon options by adding the Mega forms didn't really work after all. How lame is that?
If you've been watching Pokémon WITS in order, remember how I pointed out that the Fairy Type felt like it was thrown in haphazardly and as a result there were a bunch of weak and/or ugly Fairy designs. I feel the same way about Mega Evolutions; they were a bad idea for all the reasons I've already pointed out, but Game Freak decided to go with them anyway. As a result, we in turn have a pile of weak and/or ugly Mega designs just because they had to create enough of them to justify their presence.
Let's take a look at some of these designs, starting with a fan favorite, Charizard. It's quite a transformation. The dark coloration is more along the lines of a shiny Charizard's, and with the blue fire, it's pretty cool. The new wing shape along with the added claws on the shoulders and wings give the whole thing a very menacing appearance that seems suited to what a Mega Evolution is supposed to be. Incidentally, the Mega Evolution also triggers a change from Fire/Flying Type to Fire/Dragon, which is cool because Charizard has always, you know, been a dragon. So I'd have to admit they did a pretty good job with this design all around.
Wait a second. What's this? Well it turns out that Charizard is such an iconic Pokémon that he didn't get just one Mega form, but two, one for X Version and one for Y Version. So, how does this Mega form stack up against the other? Well, it just downright sucks. Y doesn't change color, it doesn't change Type, and in fact the differences between Charizard and Mega Charizard Y are so pathetic that they'd be hard to spot at a distance. It's a little spikier and has an extra set of worthless wings on its spindly forearms--so what? This design is totally throw away.
Moving on, they couldn't possibly give Charizard a Mega Evolution without doing the same for his fellow 1st gen starters. So here's Venusaur, and here's Mega Venusaur. Basically, Venusaur gets a few new leaves on its back and a flowery thing on its head. This is another throw away design, no doubt about it. But wait, maybe he's like Charizard and has two Mega Evolutions. That's it, this must be the failsome Mega Venusaur Y and there's a really cool design for Mega Venusaur X, right? Wrong! Venusaur fans, you get nothing! You lose!
These sort of throw away designs are exactly what I was talking about. They created a bunch of Mega Evolutions simply for the sake of having more of them, even when it was obvious they didn't have any good ideas on how to Megafy many of these Pokémon. And there's more of them. Ampharos grows some puffy, white hair, and suddenly it's a Mega Evolution? It looks ridiculous! And explain to me how having long hair somehow makes it a Dragon Type? Kangaskhan's baby grows a bit and jumps out of the mother's pouch, and suddenly that qualifies as Mega status? Give me a break! The list goes on.
Of course not all of the Mega Evolutions are THIS lame, but that doesn't mean they're good designs. If you look through them all, you may start to realize there are some trends. These ones all look like they're on steroids or something, their bodies bulked up to the point that it must be uncomfortable and hard to move. Then look at this lot. It seems long spikes, horns, and flowing fire/hair/ribbons/whatever are what it's all about. Do you remember what I was saying at the very beginning of this episode, about the concept of less being more? The designers clearly forgot that very important lesson here. Instead, they seem to have taken the approach that making something more complicated automatically gives it more substance, and all these designs suffer from extreme clutter as a result.
You may be thinking by now that I'm unpleasable and hate all Mega Evolutions by default, but that isn't quite true. Let me show you what I consider to be some good Mega Evolution designs, and explain why they differ from the others.
We already talked about Mega Charizard X. He was different enough from the original to warrant the changes, but they didn't overdo it by cluttering the design with a bunch of unnecessary crap. The same goes for these designs, Mega Gyarados, and Mega Banette. I'm honestly not crazy about either of them, but they work. Hell, if Mega Evolutions hadn't become a thing, they could have been perfectly acceptable designs for actual evolutions. Likewise for Mega Absol, which is the only Mega form I can honestly say I love the more I look at it. It's just plain cool. It manages to retain the essence of Absol, while adding a whole new flare that makes it a unique Pokémon all its own.
The main point here is that all of these designs have a NATURAL look about them. Most of these others--just plain stupid ones aside--look very unnatural.
You know how the Pokémon games and the anime are always talking about the importance of trust, friendship, and love between trainers and their Pokémon? They've been building on that noble concept since the beginning. But Mega Evolution to me feels like it TOTALLY contradicts those sentiments. Honestly, these designs feel so forced, the Pokémon look uncomfortable and like I said, unnatural. In fact, the whole Mega Evolution concept seems like it would be a great basis for a Pokémon movie--a movie where the VILLAINS would be forcing Pokémon into these Mega forms to unlock greater heights of power for limited amounts of time. Alas, the reality is the complete opposite, with Mega Evolution being touted as the most exciting new feature of the 6th generation. So, SO sad.
That's all for this topic. See you next time on Pokémon WITS.