Sunday, October 9, 2016

The coolest trick the Pokémon games ever pulled was broken before it happened

This isn't another Hammer devlog, I'm afraid. I'm still working on that, but it's kind of on the back burner right now; I'm putting most of my energy into job hunting!

This is just a blog post containing some thoughts on Pokémon - or, rather, one specific Pokémon, and the really nifty trick it almost pulled from a game-design perspective by blending mechanical edge-cases with the social nature of the Pokémon games.

Basically: it occurred to me recently that it's a real shame Shedinja happened after the Pokémon games were A Thing instead of back during generation I. Everybody just found out about it from external sources, really; no one discovered it. And that's a shame, because it means that Shedinja isn't half as cool in practice as it should be - but mechanically this thing is great, if you don't go and document exactly how it works before anyone actually finds it on their own.


So, you've got this creepy cicada-husk-ghost guy, right? And it evolves from Nincada:


...who's a generic cicada nymph.

Except, here's the thing: no matter what you do, Nincada never actually evolves into Shedinja. It evolves into Ninjask.


There is no direct way to evolve Nincada into Shedinja. Shedinja is considered a Nincada evolution, but you can't just turn a Nincada into a Shedinja.

Shedinja appears - unbid and unannounced - in your party after Nincada evolves into Ninjask, but only if there's an empty slot.

Here's the thing: Nincada can technically be obtained early enough that you could conceivably have fewer than six Pokémon with Nincada in your party, but it's not really likely, and (furthermore) Nincada will not evolve quickly. It's in the Erratic experience group, which means that it gains later levels really fast - it only needs a total of 600000 experience to reach level 100, which is just 75% of the first "normal" group - but those early levels are awful. And Nincada ain't exactly hot shit. You're not going to get it to level 20, playing normally, and have fewer than six mons. It just won't happen.

So, looking at how Shedinja is supposed to happen, it's kinda brilliant: if you evolve Ninjask in a particular edge case (non-full party) that is really unlikely to come up unintentionally, this "new" Pokémon appears. And it's not announced, remember! You don't know you have Shedinja until you check your party and see it. It's completely conceivable that you won't know you have Shedinja until you're in the middle of a battle, and it's just there.

There's no NPC trainer in the game that uses Shedinja, either, nor any way to encounter it in the wild. There is exactly one way to lay eyes on this thing.

And here's the fun part: even after you obtain it, Shedinja doesn't behave like any other mon in the game. It has a fixed HP stat of 1. This actually requires it to have a special case in the stat calculation formula, since under normal circumstances 1 HP is actually less than the minimum algorithmically determinable HP a Pokémon can have. (11 HP, for 1 base HP/0 IV/0 EV/level 1.)

Any attack that hits Shedinja - any damage it takes, period, for that matter - will automatically knock it out. No matter what you do - level 100, perfect HP IV, full HP investment! - it will never get another hit point.

Here's the thing, though: Shedinja is the only Pokémon in the game to have the ability Wonder Guard. What Wonder Guard does is cancel out any damage Shedinja receives from attacks that don't hit a type weakness. So, Shedinja dies to weaknesses - and Bug/Ghost has a lot of those, to be fair; it's kind of a bad typing - and to indirect damage from hazards and weather and status and... But hit it with an attack that does neutral damage and it will never, ever die, no matter how powerful the attack is.

This is the stuff of schoolyard rumors! This is a freaky, weird Pokémon with a freaky, weird design and a unique typing, and it completely breaks a lot of core game mechanics and interacts with the game in ways that nothing else does. I want you to imagine being in grade school, hearing some kid talking about this thing at the lunch table. You don't believe it! It sounds like bullshit. Shedinja doesn't pass the smell test - it exists in a land of Mist Stones and Mewthree and Venustoise and...

Except it's real. It exists. Evolve Nincada with that empty slot, and Shedinja just happens. And it actually is as weird and completely outside the way the game is supposed to behave in battles as it sounds.

And its ingame Pokédex flavor text amounts to "this thing is weird and no one knows how it works, and also there's a hole in its back and if you look into that it'll steal your soul." Again: this is the stuff of a schoolyard rumor.

Except it exists.

I think it's really sad that they didn't have this idea until Ruby/Sapphire, by which point the franchise was already in full swing and there was no way they wouldn't have detailed strategy guides that told you exactly how to obtain Shedinja and what it did out day-and-date with the games. Because that just makes Shedinja into a curiosity, when the way it's actually built mechanically smacks of something that was meant to interact with the playerbase and spread almost as an urban legend, until marketing said "no, we want to sell Shedinja figures and t-shirts and lunchboxes and cereal and condoms and knee implants, you can't do that."

What a shame.