Personally, I was a fan of the Pokémon anime before I became a Pokémon gamer, but if you’re at all familiar with the Pokémon franchise, the phrase “Gotta’ Catch ‘em All!” probably rings a bell. Why this phrase? I guess because it makes for really good, really catchy marketing. But once I started playing the games, I had two problems with it. The first is that you are placed into the game as a Pokémon trainer, so catching them all isn’t actually the goal of the game. The second is that, unless you’re a cheater, it’s difficult to say the least. And it seems that John Funk in his article “Can’t Catch ‘em All” shares the same sentiment. They make it sound so easy, but in reality, catching them all takes a lot of time, dedication, and some social connections you may or may not have.
The inherent goal of any Pokémon game is to beat the 8 gym leaders and defeat the Pokémon League; that’s it. You beat those 5 major elites (yes, there are 5 elite 4’s. Surprise.), and the credits begin to role.
Yet this only signifies the bare minimum of the gaming experience. I know, because the first time I ever played Pokémon Leafgreen (a third generation remake of the first generation game), I was focused on speed-play. This means that I didn’t train anything but my Bulbasaur (one of the three starter Pokémon), I skirted around any trainer I could, avoided wild Pokémon like the plague, and somehow managed to beat all 8 gym leaders. Long story short: I made it to the Pokémon League, but after trying and failing several times, I realized that my one-mon army just wasn’t going to be enough, no matter how many potions and revivals I used. After some reflection, I realized that the game is designed in a way that makes it both improbable and impractical not to engage the game as, if not someone set out to capture them all, at least as a proper Pokémon trainer. I restarted the game, this time taking care to play the game through, catching various Pokémon and searching for hidden items, referring to some walkthroughs (not cheating!), and I beat the Elite 4 my second time around with hardly any problem. For me, this journey is what makes the game enjoyable, and that’s what I consider “complete.” That said, I never actually had the means to “Catch ‘em All.” Time and dedication, maybe, but I never had anyone to trade with. And in the third generation when connecting to Wi-Fi was in the far future, to complete the regional Pokedex (which means capturing all of the Pokémon in the region, which in my case was Kanto), you had to know someone who owned both a link cable (if you didn’t already own one) and Leafgreen’s brother game, FireRed. And if completing the regional Pokedex wasn’t hard enough, the gamer can eventually receive the National Pokedex.
That’s a lot of Pokémon. At that point, hacking seems like the only way.
This was back in the third generation of Pokémon. There are now 6 generations, a whopping total of 721 species of Pokémon, and the question is relevant now more than ever whether it’s worth a player’s time and effort, or whether it’s even a possible feat, to catch them all. A few minutes of Google research will show you that the internet is full of forums and blogposts and articles asking the question or answering it. If you’re a player who doesn’t care about the Pokedex, and is content with training your team and exploring the game, like I am, then the interaction with the gameplay hasn’t changed much since generation one. There are still hidden items, there are still small side-games to complete, and there’s still enjoyment in figuring it all out. Those who feel like they must complete the Pokedex, despite the large and still growing numbers, the interaction does change immensely because those players are constantly looking for the easiest ways to do so. “Gotta Catch ‘em All” is a lie, and quite possibly one of the biggest lies I was ever told as a child. Besides:
…All you get is a diploma.