Welcome Back, Trainer
Part 2: Digging for Gems
When I was ten years old, I loved Pokémon. From the moment I opened Red version on Christmas until I saved that particular cartridge for the last time, I was hooked. But I was also a child. My interests were ever-changing, and I had just discovered Magic: the Gathering. It was time to set aside Pokémon and let something new monopolize my attention.
When the second generation of Pokémon games were released, I was nowhere near the franchise – instead focused on new things. But the fond memories of Red never left. They were filed away in the nostalgia bank for whenever I felt like getting my rose-coloured glasses on and looking back.
It turns out, there were a lot of kids like me out there; those that rode the wave of Pokémon’s initial rampage before moving on to other things. Coincidentally, I had befriended a bunch of those kids in high school. In tenth grade – with the assistance of some decent weed – we all got it into our heads that we should make Pokémon cool again.
Unfortunately, none of us were cool enough to make the trend catch; but we did all go out and grab copies of the latest games: Ruby and Sapphire, the flagship titles of Pokémon’s third generation.
Whenever I think of the moment I became a Pokémon fan, I don’t think of being ten. I think of being in grade ten, a little buzzed, and loading up Pokémon: Ruby for the first time; that was the moment I was hooked.
Ruby and Sapphire
You may be wondering why I spent so much time on my little anecdote-esque intro up there. I think it’s because you should probably know that I can’t be objective when writing about generation three. The third generation is my generation. The games aren’t perfect, but they are to me.
Ruby and Sapphire were released in 2003, and unlike previous iterations of Pokémon, they were not universally lauded by the fanbase. While they made a lot of advancements when it came to gameplay, the influx of new Pokémon combined with a completely new and unfamiliar region threw a lot of people for a loop.
Gold and Silver spent a lot of time playing with the familiar – adding cool racing stripes and a sexy paint job to a car the fanbase already knew how to drive. Ruby and Sapphire made them trade in their automatic for a stick shift.
Not only did the aesthetic configuration of the games change, but the gears and pistons under the hood received an overhaul. At this point, I feel like I should stop telling and get to the show:
I have to admit to an error in my last article. There was a major mechanic introduced in Gold and Silver that I totally skipped over. The reason why I spaced on including it last time was because it didn’t come into its own until the third generation. The difference between what the two generations did with the weather mechanic is night and day – or rather, rain and sun.
Weather is a powerful mechanic and there are now four different types that can be summoned in battle: Sun, Rain, Snow, and Sand.
Sun is meant to assist fire and grass Pokémon. Grass healing and boosting moves work better under the sunlight – fitting with a chlorophyll theme. On the other side of things, offensive fire moves get a serious buff, increasing their power by 50% – searing heat and whatnot. Strong sunlight also weakens water moves by a corresponding 50% and reduces the accuracy of certain storm-themed moves (Thunder and Hurricane).
Rain is the other side of the coin from sun. It boosts the power of water moves by 50% while inhibiting healing moves influenced by the weather and cutting fire’s power in half. Electric and Flying types like rain too because it grants Thunder and Hurricane 100% accuracy.
Snow functions a little differently. It only benefits one type, rather than a swathe of them. In this case, that type is Ice. While it’s snowing, Ice Pokémon get the ability to use the powerful move Blizzard with perfect accuracy and any Pokémon that aren’t the Ice type take incremental damage from the striking hail.
Sand is similar to snow. It benefits the “earth” types (Ground, Rock, and Steel). All other types take chip damage while fighting in the sandstorm. Rock types get an additional benefit from the sand, receiving a serious bump to their Special Defense.
Chip damage and situational boosts may not sound like a major change to the nature of Pokémon battles, but the third generation also introduced a feature that really allowed weather to make its effects felt:
Abilities are my favourite feature from generation three. Abilities are a semi-unique trait granted to each Pokémon species. I say semi-unique because there is a limited pool of abilities to choose from. These abilities range from the useful in battle – Water Absorb allows a Pokémon to heal when hit with Water-type attacks; to the useful in the adventure – Pickup allows a Pokémon to grab a random item to hold as you wander around the overworld; to the more-or-less useless – Big Pecks prevents the Pokémon’s defense from being lowered, a situation rarely encountered beyond the very early stages of the game.
Some varieties of Pokémon can have one of two abilities. For instance, the Pokémon Golem can possess either the ability Sturdy, which prevents it from being knocked out in one hit, allowing it to hang on at 1 HP if an attack would otherwise take it out from full HP; or the ability Rock Head, which prevents it from taking damage from its own moves.
With the help of abilities, weather went from a cute trinket mechanic in the second generation to a game-changer in the third generation. Abilities like Solar Power, Swift Swim, Snow Cloak, and Sand Force allow otherwise mediocre Pokémon to perform above-and-beyond in the right situation. Additionally, certain abilities – Drizzle, Drought, Sand Stream, and Snow Warning – kick up weather when the Pokémon possessing them is sent into battle.
Along with abilities and weather, there came a whole new slew of Pokémon to take advantage of these mechanics:
135 New Pokémon
To be exact. The Pokémon of the third generation are diverse and interesting; they range from the intimidating Metagross to the adorable Skitty. When they were released, they received a mixed reception. I mentioned that Gold and Silver took a bit of an “expansion pack” approach with their additions to the game – and this included their approach to new Pokémon. A lot of their additions were tied to evolutionary families introduced in the first game. It linked them to the familiar.
The third generation’s Pokémon were wholly independent creatures. They were the unfamiliar, the abject, the unwelcome. Many players found that they weren’t fond of floundering through the unknown. But others – like me – appreciated the truly amazing designs that called the third generation home – Pokémon like Absol and Gardevoir.
But whatever you think of the new Pokémon, one thing that every player appreciated was the deepening of the type pool. The first two generations were dominated by the elemental types; Water, Fire, Electric, Grass, and Flying Pokémon were prolific. Meanwhile, other types like Dragon, Ghost, and Dark only had two or three evolutionary lines to their name. Ruby and Sapphire unleashed a deluge of these underrepresented types into the franchise, vastly expanding the options available for all types of trainers.
Not only did all of these cool new Pokémon come with abilities, they also had another unique feature added to their profile to further influence their potential:
Every Pokémon you catch starting with the third generation has a nature; you can catch an Adamant Machamp or a Modest Porygon. The nature of your Pokémon effects its growth. Your Pokémon can either have a neutral nature, which means that all of its stats develop at the same rate – or it can get a nature that reduces the rate at which one stat grows while boosting another.
Using one of the examples I listed above: the Adamant nature increases the rate at which the Attack stat develops while hindering the growth of Special Attack. So, if you are planning on using a Pokémon that relies exclusively on physical attacks, it is wise to hunt for an Adamant Pokémon.
The growth rate of Pokémon stats ties into the most monumental change of the third generation:
My lovely assistant for this next section
If you enter into any discussion about Pokémon online, it will be only a matter of time before IVs and EVs come up and the conversation devolves into an incomprehensible scramble of jargon and numbers. While on the surface, Pokémon is a colourful adventure filled with exotic creatures, the deeper layers are a mess of number-crunching and spreadsheets. I will be the first to admit that numbers and spreadsheets are not my usual forte, but I am going to do my best to write a layman’s explanation of the guts that twist beneath the flesh of Pokémon:
IVs (or Individual Values) are the DNA for a Pokémon’s stats. They help differentiate Pokémon of the same species from one another. They are an invisible number – as in, you can’t just look at your Pokémon’s in-game summary and find out its IVs. An IV determines the maximum potential a given stat can reach. As of generation three, the base number of an IV can range from 0-31. A stat with an IV of 0, when fully developed, will be substantially lower than a stat with an IV of 31 – even if both of those stats belong to the same species of Pokémon.
IVs existed since the beginning of the franchise, but with refined breeding and the division of the Special stat in the previous generation, they began to play a much more central role – especially to competitive Pokémon – in the third generation. Trainers hoping for a leg-up against their foes would spend hours cultivating Pokémon eggs in the hopes of hatching a Pokémon with perfect IVs in all of its stats.
There are small exploits in the system to make breeding perfect Pokémon easier. These exploits mean that those devoted to spending the time breeding will always have a leg-up in the competitive scene. The third generation allowing players to manufacture objectively better Pokémon rankled some people. There are many who view the revision of the IV system as a con of the third generation rather than a pro.
Along with the updated IV system, the EV (Effort Value) system was also revised. Effort Values are points awarded to your Pokémon when they defeat other Pokémon in battle. Every 4 EVs in a given stat translates into an additional +1 to that stat when the Pokémon reaches level 100.
The Machamp from the section on Natures is being optimized for attack, so its trainer wants to put some EVs into that stat. They go out and start knocking out wild Machops for the EVs they award. Machop gifts 1 attack EV when defeated, so if the trainer wants to give their Machamp a +1 attack, they have to knock out 4 Machops, for a +2 they would have to knock out 8 and so on.
EVs are not unlimited. A given Pokémon cannot have more than 510 EVs; a Pokémon that reaches 510 EVs is considered “fully trained”. Additionally, an individual stat is considered fully trained when it has 252 EVs invested in it. Any Machops knocked out by our Machamp after the 252nd will not have any effect on its stats. However, if that Machamp hasn’t invested anything in Defense, it can go out and start knocking around Geodudes to get some EVs in that stat.
If you have been following along, and you want a Pokémon to reach its maximum potential, you want to have 31 IVs and 252 EVs in the stats you want to specialize in.
Effort Values are just as exploitable as Individual Values. There are many different Pokémon damage calculators online that can be used to figure out exactly where sweet spots are if you want to knock out certain Pokémon, or survive attacks from others.
Again, let’s visit our Machamp. This trainer is going to be taking this Machamp into battle against his friend who has a really badass Hypno. Since Machamp is fighting-type, and Hypno is psychic-type, this Machamp is at a disadvantage. Odds are good that Hypno can knock out Machamp with one attack if Machamp has no Special Defense investment. However, with the the help of a damage calculator, our Machamp trainer can figure out exactly how many Special Defense EVs are required to survive an attack from Hypno and fire back with an attack.
While the updated IV and EV systems are much cleaner than the systems that came before, they are also responsible for widening the gap between casual Pokémon players and competitive Pokémon players. It has become very difficult for the two player types to interact on an even field. The optimized Pokémon of the competitive scene make the lovingly raised companions of the casual community seem like pushovers when they meet on the battlefield.
Speaking of the battlefield, what was possible in Pokémon battles got an upgrade in the third generation as well:
Up until the third generation, there was only one format for Pokémon battles: one-on-one – you versus a single opponent. In generation three, double battles were introduced. Double battles were presented by having pairs of trainers challenging you along your adventure. They would approach you, each of them sending out Pokémon while you sent out a pair of your own.
Game Freak did their best to play up double battles, introducing abilities that only worked in doubles, making doubles the primary format for Nintendo officiated competition, and having two of the most infamous gym leaders in franchise history – Tate and Liza – fight you as a duo.
The third generation had a lot of baggage packed into it. Much of it that was difficult to find unless you did your research. But it wasn’t all complex, covert rules crunch; there was also a lovely trinket feature brought in to keep you amused:
Ribbons were a cute little feature introduced to help you feel more attached to the Pokémon that have been with you through thick and thin. Ribbons are granted for doing things like conquering the Pokémon league, breeding a perfect Pokémon, winning Pokémon beauty contests, and becoming fully EV trained.
While the feature isn’t anything to write home about, it’s pretty fun, and so it’s been in every game in the franchise since Ruby and Sapphire.
Just as Gold and Silver were followed by Crystal, Ruby and Sapphire were followed by Emerald. The third generation set the trend for Pokémon narrative structure. In the second generation, there were two major legendary Pokémon – Ho-Oh and Lugia – the mascots of Gold and Silver respectively. In the third generation, Ruby got Groudon, Sapphire got Kyogre, but there was a third legendary Pokémon, the apex of the pyramid – Rayquaza.
Rayquaza was the centrepiece of Emerald, the lynchpin of its story. After the third generation, all legendary mascots would come in threes; a duo to front the flagship titles with a third monster to be displayed and focused on in the sequel.
The Battle Tower, the Move Deleter, and the Move Tutor gave the impression of being an experiment in Pokemon: Crystal. The result of the experiment was the Battle Frontier in Pokemon: Emerald. Instead of just a single facility, the Frontier was a collection of arenas in which you could test your skill – each one under the command of a colourful character in the vein of a gym leader or an Elite 4 member.
While the rewards involved less in-game renown and no experience points, you were able to climb the ranks of the Frontier to earn battle points. These points could be turned in for powerful hold items or used with the much-improved Move Tutor to teach your Pokémon whole hosts of attacks they couldn’t otherwise learn.
This is also a good time to mention the Move Reminder, which I probably should have mentioned while talking about Ruby and Sapphire, but which fits much more neatly here. The Reminder is a character who is able to – for a price – teach your Pokémon a move that it has already forgotten. This may sound like an odd feature, shouldn’t your Pokémon be learning better moves as it levels up? Well, not all moves are great for all situations.
For instance, the move Taunt forces the opposing Pokémon into using only attacking moves. While playing through the story mode of the game and facing NPCs that mostly spam attacks, Taunt is typically useless. However, when battling other humans, Taunt is a very useful move and can completely shut down whole strategies. So, if a Pokémon learns Taunt early in its life, you will likely delete the move while playing through the story. However, if you decide you want that Pokémon to use Taunt when fighting other humans, you can go to the Move Reminder and have the move re-taught.
Additionally, some moves are “hidden” on certain Pokémon. The move is technically in the Pokémon’s level-up tree, but it is only accessible through the Move Reminder.
The third generation was the first time Pokémon was presented with ungraded technology. The first two generations were playable on the original Game Boy/Game Boy Colour, while generation three was created for the Game Boy Advance. Naturally, this upgrade presents a compelling “What If?” question: “What if we could play the original games on this new platform?”
Game Freak decided it would be a good idea to answer that question. They released Pokémon: Fire Red and Pokémon: Leaf Green in 2004. These two games are remakes of the original Pokémon games set in Kanto.
Both Fire Red and Leaf Green incorporate the new features from the second generation and the third generation. Breeding, Dark and Steel typing, Abilities, and Natures are all present when they weren’t before.
Additionally, the remakes expand the Kanto map to include a region only accessible in the post-game (after becoming the champion). This region – the Sevii Islands – is a small archipelago that incorporates a new storyline involving Team Rocket and more mythical Pokémon.
We Hope To See You Again Soon!
The third generation brought a lot to the Pokémon world. The designers started to invest in the depth of their world, showing that they wanted to bring their fans more than just the same game again and again. The investment shows through in efforts like redesigning the IV and EV system from the ground up, filling out the number of Pokémon available to each time, and completely changing the scenery.
Of course, it’s impossible to please everybody, and the third generation is the first time that we see a division forming among the franchise’s fans. This division is a topic we will return to in more detail when we move onto the fourth generation. But hindsight is 20/20 and now – at the dawn of the seventh generation of Pokémon – the third generation is admired for all it brought to the games.
Jackson is a content writer for AYBOnline, and host of The Player’s Guide podcast. His opinions are his own.