Welcome Back, Trainer
Part 3: Sinnoh Country for Old Men
The fourth generation of Pokemon was an odd period of time. It began with the release of Pokemon: Diamond and Pokemon: Pearl in 2007 and stretched all the way until the fifth generation debuted in 2011. To this day, that four year stretch between updates is the longest that a generation has lasted. I mention this as odd because out of all the main-series Pokemon games, Diamond and Pearl are probably the least popular among the fandom.
Having played through them – or having tried to – relatively recently, I can attest that this lack of popularity is grounded in solid reason. I don’t want to spend too much time harping on why these two entries are definitely the weakest of the primary pairs, but Diamond and Pearl are Pokemon’s nadir.
Despite being weaker games than their predecessors, they – and by extension the fourth generation as a whole – managed to add a lot of great, franchise-defining features to the brand:
107 New Pokemon
As always, I’ll start with the deluge of new ‘mons added to the ever-growing catalogue. The number of whole cloth Pokemon introduced in Diamond and Pearl was relatively small. Most of the new monsters were additions to existing evolutionary families. For instance, Electabuzz and Magmar – series staples since the first games – received new evolutions. The elaboration on already extant families received a mixed reaction from fans.
The community’s gripes were not founded in the Pokemon themselves, but rather in what it took to trigger their evolution. Many of these newcomers required very specific items to evolve. Most of these items were introduced in the fourth generation games. Thus, Pokemon’s already expansive item catalogue bloated even further.
As an example, let’s take a look at the Protector. The Protector is used to evolve Red and Blue staple Rhydon into its new form, Rhyperior. The evolution of Rhydon is literally the only use for the Protector. Instead of using level-up, happiness, time of day, or an existing item, the designers of pokemon decided to introduce a new item that was useless outside of a single function that could have been accomplished through existing means. It may not sound so bad, but the Protector is only one of a handful of similar items – each other one used to evolve a different Pokemon.
There is a line between adding depth to a game and adding filler; for a lot of fans, Diamond and Pearl’s pokedex contributions felt like filler. The mixed reception of the new Pokemon was not the only controversial part of the new games:
The Physical/Special Split
Before I go any farther, I’m going to take an editorial moment. It wasn’t until researching this piece that I discovered the physical/special split was controversial and I found its controversy very surprising. In my opinion, it was a long-time coming and is still one of the best changes made to the Pokemon games in the whole history of the franchise.
In the first three generations of Pokemon, an attack would be classified as a physical or special attack depending on its type. For example, Fighting moves were physical attacks while Electric moves were special attacks; the strength of a Karate Chop would be determined a Pokemon’s muscles, while a Thunderbolt’s power would be linked to a Pokemon’s energy – or whatever.
While this made a loose sort of sense, it also caused a lot of problems for some species of Pokemon. Sneasel, for instance, suffered greatly under the old system. Sneasel is a Dark/Ice type Pokemon that has high Speed and Physical Attack stats. Under the old system, both Dark and Ice attacks used the Special Attack stat, meaning that Sneasel’s usefulness was severely curtailed by its focus on the physical.
Starting with generation four, attacks were not lumped together based on their type. Instead, which attack stat was used to determine damage would vary on an attack-by-attack basis. All types would have both physical attacks and special attacks in their pool. For example, the Ice move Blizzard would remain a special attack, while Ice Punch became a physical attack.
To me, the benefits of this change seem obvious. A whole bunch of Pokemon that had been hampered by their stat distribution went from useless to viable overnight. But while some pokemon gained ground, others lost it. It was the ground lost by fan favourites that sparked the controversy over the physical/special split.
The poster child of damage done by the physical/special split is Alakazam. For a long time, Alakazam was the perfect example of a Pokemon optimized for offensive power. It hit hard and fast, using its sky-high Special Attack stat to inflict excellent damage. It was aided in being powerful by its ability to learn Thunder Punch, Ice Punch, and Fire Punch. Using these moves (which, prior to generation four all used its Special Attack stat) it could deal super effective damage to basically anything. When generation four rolled around, all of the Punches were switched to using Physical Attack, and Alakazam’s Physical Attack is abysmal. Overnight, Alakzam went from an all-purpose cannon to a cannon with only a very narrow purpose.
But, again, I don’t see this as a bad thing. The competitive Pokemon scene was suddenly populated by a much more diverse cast, instead of having the same old faces hogging the spotlight. The physical/special split wasn’t the only change to move-sets that allowed some newcomers to compete:
During breeding, it was always possible for the offspring to inherit some moves known by the father. Usually, these moves were ones taught by TM or HM. However, starting in generation four, it was possible for the offspring to pick up a variety of moves depending on their available “egg moves”.
Egg moves are a small collection of moves that are available to a Pokemon if those moves are present in their parent’s level-up tree. If a parent knows one of its offspring’s egg moves at the time of breeding, the move will transfer to the hatchling Pokemon.
The introduction of egg moves broadened the horizons of a lot of different Pokemon, allowing many to see the light of day in the competitive scene when they may have otherwise been relegated to the shadows. One key move can make all the difference.
Along with vastly expanding move pools, the fourth generation also vastly expanded the number of Pokemon available to trainers:
Transferring Pokemon From Older Games
Diamond and Pearl were the marquee Pokemon games for the Nintendo DS – the sequel to the Gameboy Advance. The DS was a distinct upgrade – in terms of hardware – over the previous handheld system. New technology allowed for Pokemon you trained in previous games to be brought forward into your new games.
The gulf between the first two generations and third was too big to be bridged using the technology of the Advance, so those who spent their timing training their favourites in Red and Silver found themselves stonewalled when they picked up Sapphire. Not so when they grabbed up Pearl. Using the backwards compatibility of the new system and an in-game feature called Pal Park, your favourite Pokemon from your third generation games could be brought into the newest iteration of the franchise.
Since then, the Pokemon games have gone out of their way to ensure that anyone trained in your past adventures could join you in your future ones. Now that we’re talking upgraded technology, it’s time to talk about the internet’s impact on Pokemon:
GTS (Global Trade System)
Some of you might forget what 2007 was like, but in case your memory is hazy, it was around the time that WiFi was just starting to become an omnipresent fact of life. With its ubiquity on the rise, the DS incorporated a WiFi feature. With WiFi now a part of the features offered by Nintendo’s handheld system, it also became a part of the in-game features offered in Pokemon.
Wireless internet facilitated the introduction of the Global Trade System – which is exactly what it sounds like. The GTS is a network that allows Pokemon players to exchange their critters from wherever they are in the whole world. There was also a battle option introduced with the GTS, allowing players to challenge each other across the globe.
Since Diamond and Pearl, worldwide connectivity has become the norm for Pokemon games, with each generation elaborating on what can be done using your nearest WiFi connection.
The sequel of the fourth generation was Pokemon: Platinum. It told a similar story to the one present in Diamond and Pearl, but it did its best to infuse the villains of the story – Team Galactic – with a little more personality and menace than they had in the initial games. Beyond the enhancements to the story, there isn’t too much to be said about Platinum. Since Emerald codified what features would be standard in the sequels (expanded move tutors and the Battle facilities), Platinum just did its best to meet player expectations.
Heart Gold and Soul Silver
I mentioned that many in the fandom consider the Diamond/Pearl/Platinum trilogy to be the low point of the Pokemon games. However, the whole of the fourth generation escapes being demonized because the remakes of the generation are incredible.
In the first of these primers, I mentioned that the fans received Gold and Silver with open arms. Well, that loving reception was even more emphatic with their remakes. Not only were these fan-favourite games getting a graphical makeover, an update to the behind-the-scenes mechanics, and even more new Pokemon species – but they were arriving just as many fans found their hopes for Pokemon’s future wavering.
Heart Gold and Soul Silver are also notable for their truly expansive postgame experience. In the original Gold and Silver games, you were able to explore the Kanto region of the first generation after defeating the Elite 4. That feature is intact in the remakes, but it also includes a host of new battles against powerful, iconic trainers from the games. These rematches include the ability to regularly hold bouts against any of the 16 gym leaders featured in the games.
Not only did Heat Gold and Soul Silver trip over themselves to give the players an amazing adventure, they also introduced a couple of features that are worth mentioning here:
Registering Multiple Items
Since the first generation games, players have been able to “register” one of their important items for use in the overworld of the game. This will be old hat to anyone familiar with the idea of hotkeys. Essentially, you make one of your items one button away, instead of locked behind a series of menus. Usually, players went for their fishing rod or their bike.
Starting in Heart Gold and Soul Silver, players could have their cake and eat it too. These remakes allowed multiple items to be registered to hotkeys at once, a convenience that players have had in every game since.
Speaking of convenience:
Hold Item IV Breeding
I definitely gave Pokemon breeding the cliff-notes treatment when I covered it back in my first article. There’s no way I could include everything there is to say about the ins-and-outs of the process. Breeding would be an article unto itself.
In my drive to be concise, I missed mentioning something introduced in generation three: hold items that matter while breeding. In the third generation, the items primarily affected fertility or likelihood of reproducing. HG/SS took things a step further, having hold items impact the potential power of the offspring. If a parent was holding one of a series of items, the fledgling Pokemon would be born with better IVs in a stat that corresponded to the item held.
Since this idea was introduced, it has held true throughout the franchise. Other items have seen their importance rise due to their impact on breeding. In particular, the Destiny Knot and the Everstone.
The Everstone ensures that the Nature of the parent holding it will be inherited by the offspring, while the Destiny Knot ensures the transfer of 5 IVs from the parent holding it.
Your Pokemon Look Tired, They Should Have a Rest
And we have once again reached the end of another generation. The fourth generation was a long, winding journey. Its start in the Sinnoh region was slow, but it ended with a triumphant return to the Johto and Kanto regions. With remakes of Diamond and Pearl likely on the horizon, it seems like a good time to reflect on the shortcomings of their original incarnations so that we can temper our hype with a harsh dose of reality.
Next time we focus on the fifth generation and Pokemon’s first attempt at telling a meaningful story. See you then!
Jackson is a content writer for AYBOnline, and host of The Player’s Guide podcast. His opinions are his own.