Gotta Grind ‘em All: Is Pokemon for Me in 2018?

Despite being a giant video game fan, and a huge RPG nerd to boot, I somehow skipped the Pokemon craze when it hit the U.S. in the 90s. I was the right age, with the right mindset, but something kept me from ever picking it up. Besides putting in a few curious minutes on my brother’s copy of Pokemon Red on the original Gameboy, I missed the boat.

But 2018 me is a very different person than awkward teenager me, so I’m wondering if now might be the time to get onboard. Of course, Pokemon GO, the mobile augmented-reality phenomenon, piqued my interest, as have this week’s releases of Pokemon Let’s Go Pikachu and Pokemon Let’s Go Eevee on the Nintendo Switch. So I started thinking about why I avoided Pokemon for all these years, and I think I’ve figured it out.

The grind. You hear about it a lot in Japanese RPGs, the need to repeatedly plow through battle after battle against normal enemies to strengthen your characters enough to proceed. Stuck on a difficult boss? Grind. Otherwise, you’re doomed to die over, and over, and over. Given that storyline has never been a huge part of the Pokemon series, the grindy battles seemed to be pretty much all the games had to offer. Awkward teenager me was not interested in the grind. If it didn’t have anime heroes vanquishing evil while falling in love, I probably wouldn’t be playing.

However, I’ve found my tastes have changed since reaching adulthood. I don’t know if it’s something chemical in my brain, a newfound love for the primal surge of endorphins that comes from making numbers on a screen get larger, but I spend a ton of time playing classic games and grinding for way more levels and money than I need. I find it sort of… soothing? It’s hard to explain. Maybe there’s a sense of accomplishment in it, something we stop seeing so often post-school, when no one is putting gold stars on our well-written papers or awarding us trophies for moving speeches about Western democracy. I may not be a Nobel prize winner, but darn it, I hit Level 99 in Dragon Quest, and that’s good enough for me!

That’s why I think I might be ready for Pokemon. The newest games, Let’s Go Pikachu and Let’s Go Eevee, are apparently designed to remove a good deal of the grind and focus much more on the Pokemon GO-esque style of play that favors capturing new creatures over building up the ones you have through combat. Still, it might be a good transition game, particularly since it connects with Pokemon GO in some interesting ways — sharing Pokemon across games, for example.

I have plenty of friends whose tastes I respect who swear by Pokemon. They’ve been fans from the beginning, and I’m sure they find it odd that I’m not. Grabbing a copy of the newest game (I’m getting the Eevee version because, let’s face it: Pikachu is cute, but it’s got nothing on that little dog-fox-thing we call Eevee) on a system I adore, the Switch, will make it easy for me to grab a few minutes of play on the go, or join up with my wife or other friends in some multiplayer.

My thought is that this will get me primed for the 2019 release of the next “big” Pokemon title release. It’ll be the first core game in the series released on a home console, as opposed to a handheld — semantics about the Switch being both a home console and a handheld notwithstanding. And no doubt it will be the most refined of the core Pokemon experiences yet.

That’s not to say I’d have to wait, though. There are already a ton of great and highly refined Pokemon experiences out there now, notably last year’s Pokemon Ultra Sun and Pokemon Ultra Moon on the Nintendo 3DS, modified and enhanced renditions of Pokemon Sun and Pokemon Moon.

So, if you’re like me, and haven’t taken the Pokemon plunge just yet, consider taking it with me. Being open to new experiences — and not closing yourself off to something just because it’s popular — can be a lot of fun. We’ll see if I’m still on the road to being a Pokemon master after taking Eevee for a spin on Switch.