Although the first Pokémon (or, rather, “Pocket Monsters”) game was launched in Japan way back in early 1996 with the original Red and Green versions, most of us didn’t get a chance to experience the series, the franchise or the phenomenon until around three years later. Since then the series has managed to captivate a new generation of players and it remains to be one of the most popular game series of all time. The cast of characters have increased from a paltry 151 to almost 650, and imitators have tried, but failed to take its torch.

My first experience of Pokémon was way back in 1998, playing Pokémon Yellow imported from Japan with a friend in secondary school, whose name I still use for my in-game rival. We often had no idea what was going on in the game, but we were still compelled to collect every last pokémon that we could by trading with each other in the playground.

So how can it be alright for someone in their mid-twenties to still be playing Pokémon? Some could say that the addiction created from trying to “catch ‘em all” is a strong one. For me, though, it’s something far deeper, embedded in the games mechanics, which can lead to much more obsessive-compulsive behaviour than merely trying to track down 493 pokémon across many games:


Two Pichus… different stats!

Many of you will not be aware of the underlying genetics system that has been part of the series’ gameplay since its first incarnation. Have you ever caught the same monsters in the same area that are of the same level, and yet they each have different stats? I had always wondered about this, but it wasn’t until Diamond and Pearl came out that I decided to look into it. Communities have sprung up around the web where they discuss how to get near perfect stats for your pokémon, how to train seemingly weak pokémon to take down legendary ones, and which obscure moves you can breed from one pokémon to the next so they can help you beat the elite metagame players.

So… where should we start on Pokéugenics and other customisations? In terms of what will affect your pokémon in battle, you’ll need to focus on Individual Values, Effort Values, natures, Abilities, Moves, its Held Item and possibly different forms if it has any. Purely aesthetic values that allow you to personalise your poképal are Genders, Shininess, Conditions, Ribbons, Poké Ball type and other minutiae.

Individual Values, or IVs, are largely hidden values which are the hardest to control. These are the genes of your pokémon that determine its maximum possible stats, whether it be HP, Attack, Defense, Special Attack, Special Defense or Speed. The highest possible IV for a stat is 31, and the lowest is 0. The chances of finding a pokémon in the wild with perfect IVs for all stats is one in over a hundred billion, so it’s probably best to stay realistic and either focus on an above-average spread or perfect IVs in only one or two stats, depending on what you want to do with your pokémon. IVs are controllable only through breeding and / or exploiting the game’s Random Number Generator (RNG). Both take time and patience, but if you aren’t too fussed about getting a very high spread across all your stats, I recommend the former. The latter is too complicated to go into here!

Thankfully, the breeding system for IV inheritance has been improved for Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilver. Whereas before a few IVs from the parents would be passed to their offspring randomly, now one IV can be chosen from each parent by using the Power Items to ensure you get a pokémon with at least two perfect stats (providing the mother and father have at least one each). Legendary pokémon are a different kettle of fish. They can only be caught once and they can’t be bred for the most part, so catching one with great IVs requires you to repeatedly soft-reset your game or abuse the RNG until you find one suitable for your needs. Personally, I can’t be bothered with this, and I find legendaries rather boring as they are overused and exploited in competitive play.

The IV Judge

The best way to determine a pokémon’s IVs  is with online calculators or in-game hints. Characteristics were introduced this generation (Diamond / Pearl), and while they hint towards which of your IVs is highest. If a pokémon’s profile states that it is “Capable of taking hits”, for example, then it means that this pokémon’s highest IV lies in its Defense stat. However, it also means that this IV is one of the following numbers: 1, 6, 11, 16, 21, 26, or 31. In theory, this could mean that because this is only your pokémon’s highest IV, all the others are 0. That would be highly unlikely though. If you want to check further, the IV Reporter, who is an NPC in Pokémon Platinum’s Battle Tower, will give you some more definitive answers. If he tells you that “This Pokémon has outstanding potential overall” then it means that the sum of all your IVs is relatively high. If he keeps saying “It can’t be better in that regard” in relation to individual IVs, that means that one of your IVs is 31.

Effort Values, or EVs, are a much more feasible way of strengthening your pokémon. Once you learn about EVs and start EV training it is difficult to ever look back. Each time you fight an NPC’s pokémon, or a wild pokémon, your monster will gain a hidden point that will affect one, or more, of its stats. The stat that is affected depends on the pokémon you fought. Gastlys have great Special Attack stats, while a Magikarp’s best stat is its Speed. So if you want to train an Alakazam to be faster than its opponents and hit harder with its special attacks, you could keep fighting Gastlys and Magikarps until your EVs are maxed out. The most you can raise an individual stat by is 63 points, and you get 127 points to play with in total. Of course, ignoring this will just increase your pokémon’s stats randomly across the board, depending on what you have fought throughout the game. EVs can be maxed out faster with their respective Power items, the Macho Brace or Pokérus, the pokémon virus.

A Modest-natured Darkrai

A beneficial nature for a pokémon can really improve its stats. There are 25 in total, from Bold to Timid, Serious to Quirky. If a nature is neutral, all your pokémon’s stats will rise as usual. Alternatively, your pokémon’s nature will be beneficial to one stat whilst detrimental to another, meaning that one stat will have a 10% higher maximum whilst another will have a 10% lower maximum. Neutral natures aren’t especially desirable, because in most cases a pokémon has an unnecessary stat. In the case of Alakazam, he is focuses on Special Attacks and Speed, so his physical Attack stat is useless. Therefore, a Modest (+SpA, -Att) or Timid (+Spd, -Att) nature would suit him most. With a 1 in 25 chance of getting the ability you want, you may need to increase your chances by having a pokémon with the Synchronise ability and the nature you desire at the front of your party if you’re hoping to encounter it in the wild, or by attaching the Everstone item to a mother with the nature you’re after when breeding.

Another option to think about when customising your pokémon is its ability. Some pokémon have more than one ability available to them. Abilities jazz up gameplay even more, and can influence the game both in and outside of battle. An ability can make or break a pokémon. Some can be gimmicky, but if your opponent is unaware of them, you could be on your way to a winning streak. The best abilities are often given to weaker pokémon. This is the case for Wonder Guard, an ability that blocks any attack other than super-effective ones. Unfortunately, this ability is only available to Shedinja, who only has 1HP, rendering him near-useless in competitive play. The Pickup ability is one of my favourites when I’m starting a playthrough of a Pokémon game. It’s only useful outside of battle, but it allows you to find items like Rare Candy and PP Max after battles.

Pikachu♀ waves to Pikachu♂ in Ilex Forest!

Most pokémon tend to have genders, which chiefly affects breeding. The offspring of two compatible pokémon will usually be the same pokémon as the female, and will occasionally inherit the male pokémon’s moves. However, gender differences can also change the pokémon’s sprite ever-so-slightly. For example, female Pikachus have a slight dent in their tails, and male Alakazams have larger mustachios than their female counterparts. Some pokémon also have different forms. These forms may present purely visual differences (Spinda, Unown), change their typing (Castform, Wormadam) or even affect their base stats drastically (Deoxys, Giratina). Each case is different, with some forms having to be captured separately whilst others change depending on the weather or which item they are holding.

Shiny pokémon present yet another sprite variable. Think of these in the same way you would about a shiny Panini sticker from your favourite album. Only instead of there being a 1 in 10 chance of getting one… think more like 1 in 8192. They’ve been around since the second generation (Gold / Silver), and in all that time I’ve caught two (not including the Red Gyarados)… a Buneary and an Azelf with unbelievably low IVs. Simply for show, or magpies.

Perhaps the most important part of all in how you customise your pokémon is by deciding which four moves it should learn. The kind of moves you use with your pokémon to get through the game are probably quite a bit different to what you’ll need to progress through the Battle Frontier or compete in the metagame once you reach endgame. The best strategies are listed at the aptly-named Smogon University community, which predominantly focuses on which moves you should teach your pokémon and how to spread your EVs for competitive play.

Hot Skitty on Wailord Action!

Almost all pokémon learn new moves by levelling up. TMs, HMs and Tutors can be found as you progress through the game, and each of these offer you alternative moves. Egg Moves refer to special moves that can only be taught to offspring by breeding, or even chainbreeding, different pokémon. Let’s say you want a Wailord to have the move Double-Edge. You’ll need a Skitty? that knows Double-Edge (male passes the moves) and a Wailord? (female determines the pokémon). Leave them together in the Day Care Centre and after a while, an egg will be produced. The baby Wailmer that hatches from it will know Double-Edge as soon as it hatches! One move in particular is affected by your IVs – Hidden Power. This can range in power from between 30 to 70 and can be any of 16 types of attack. This means that if you’re lucky you may end up with an Alakazam with a hard-hitting Hidden Power Fire to obliterate Steel-types, or even a Wailord with a Hidden Power Electric to hit opposing Water-types.

Some event-only pokémon have special moves that are otherwise unobtainable. These promotional pokémon may be obtained from real-world events, Wi-Fi or other DS, Wii or Gamecube Pokémon games. My favourite examples of these would be Pikachus with the move Surf or Fly, which are still available this generation either from Pokémon Battle Revolution, or HeartGold / SoulSilver’s Pokéwalker.

The last way to customise your pokémon that really makes a difference to its performance in battle is by choosing the item it should hold. These can range from HP-restoring items such as Leftovers, to items that double a pokémon’s Attack stat like Thick Club.

If you are planning to play any of the Pokémon (Super) Contest sidegames, you may want to take into account that each of your pokémon’s moves has a certain appeal level too. More important for succeeding in these contests, though, is your pokémon’s condition. These are your pokémon’s strengths in the fields of Cool, Beauty, Cute, Smart and Tough Contests. They can be raised by cooking poffins and feeding them to your pokémon. The lower the smoothness and the higher the level of the poffin, the better.

A Giratina's Ribbons

Ribbons are effectively achievements for the pokémon in question. There are 80 in total, but obtaining all of them with one pokémon is impossible as several overlaps cannot occur. To obtain the highest amount of them possible would require you to first catch a pokémon in one of the third generation games (Ruby / Sapphire / Emerald), beat the Elite Four and all the Contests, transfer them across to Pokémon XD or Colosseum to complete Mt. Battle, and then transfer them via Pal Park to the fourth generation games and complete even more tasks.

The final minutiae I will go into are largely unimportant, and yet some people still fret about them. If you are catching your pokémon then you may want to choose which of the 25 different Poké Balls you want to catch them in. These can be customised further in-game with Seals that you can buy to put on your Ball Capsules.

If you caught or bred your pokémon in your own game you may also want to give it a nickname. When carrying a pokémon egg, some (mad) people take into consideration the best location to hatch it that reflects its character in its Trainer Memo page. Therefore, instead of showing your pokémon is from places like Solaceon Town you can say it originates from “Flower Paradise” or “Ravaged Path”. The date you catch or hatch it on and the person who caught it could also be important… if that’s your cuppa.

When you’re building a team, if you don’t want to end up getting obsessive-compulsive about training your pokémon then I recommend you only stick only to your favourites. Don’t soft-reset for days on end trying to get a shiny Lugia or an IV-perfect Pikachu. If you use your pokémon for the main quest and to battle against unwitting friends, you can often overpower them with the right Moves, nature and a few EVs in the right place. Just remember that in terms of influence on your pokémon’s final stats EVs > nature > IVs.









2 responses to “Pokéugenics”

  1. Susan avatar

    It’s surprising how deep the game can go especially as more features are added on with each game. Still, what I find the most appealing about Pokemon are their cute appearances and the rpg element to the game. ._.

  2. Andy T avatar
    Andy T

    I’m a Pokemon fiend myself but have never got into the super deep breeding…but since I’m going to be getting Heart Gold / Soul Silver soon and I already have a full Pokedex perhaps this is something I’ll look into this time round ready to take a perfect team into Generation 5 which I’m already far too excited about for an adult.

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