Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Fire Starting - Diamond & Pearl

Fire Starting 4 by T Oliver Prescott on GroovesharkThe next stop on our Pokémon adventure is the release of Pokémon Diamond and Pearl in April, 2007. This should come as a stark contrast to yesterday's post, because 2007 was an absolutely amazing year for me. I've often said to my friends and family that 26 is the ideal age to me. If I could have just stopped right there for a while, it would have been perfect. Some people say they want to go back to their high school years, but not me. Those years didn't agree with me. Others want to relive their college days, and while I admit those years were a blast, as I've covered already I was young and naive. When I was 18-20, I thought I knew everything there was to know about the world, but I couldn't have been more wrong. When I turned 26, however, I understood that I didn't know all there was to know about the world and I'll always be learning, but what I did understand most importantly was myself and where I fit into the world.

After the end of my first marriage, there was a long period of depression. I was really down on myself for all the mistakes I'd made. I felt like my entire life was made up of one failure after another. I had a hard time pulling myself out of that rut. I looked to the wrong sources, the wrong people, for support. All of that was better than living in an abusive relationship, but it was still a fairly hard time. By April, 2007, however, I had finally left my Metapod phase behind and evolved into a beautiful Butterfree.

When Pokémon Diamond was released on April 22nd, it was just in time to find its way into my beloved Nintendo DS  before a very uncharacteristic vacation to California. You see, several months before April my core friends had invited me (peer pressured me) to go with them to Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in Indio, CA. It was really their scene more than it was mine, but I did want it to be mine, and I knew if I went with them I would have a blast. I stepped slightly out of my comfort zone and agreed to go. Aside from them, I didn't know who else was going, but I knew it was going to be a significant group. I was really looking forward to going up until I met a young woman.

She and I started seeing each other at the end of January (her version) or beginning of February (my version) and despite our best efforts we were quickly falling for each other. This relationship came at a time in my life when I'd lost faith in love and romance. I had given up on the idea of romantic happiness, and it was one of the liberating notions that allowed me to figure out who I was as an independent person. It allowed me to be happy and feel fulfilled without being with someone else, or measuring my worth against their happiness. So it was my greatest and best failure that year that I could not stop myself from falling in love with this person and (eventually) marrying her - but I'm getting ahead of myself. We were seeing each other quite regularly by the time April rolled around and there came a day when we had to announce we were going to be away for a while going to Coachella - wait, you too? What was happening? We had separately planned a vacation together by accident. Her story was similar to mine in that her friends had convinced her to go, and she was part of a larger group of people going that I had been otherwise unconcerned with.

Before she could play Pokémon Pearl,
I insisted she play Pokémon Leaf Green.
I am a harsh mentor.
So things started getting more and more serious between us, which left one important question unanswered. Does she play Pokémon? I had to begin grooming her to be the very best like no one ever was, if she was up for the task. Before we had started dating her feelings toward video games were luke-warm. She enjoyed them casually, but wasn't super interested in them. That was certainly better than being completely against them, or jealous of them. It was a start. Pokémon is the perfect hook to get your girls gaming with you, if you can manage it.

So hand-in-hand, armed with our trusty DS's and copies of Pokémon Diamond and Pearl, we were off on our whirlwind adventure to California - which ended up sweeping us all the way to Las Vegas. What ensued was one of the most amazing, magical and romantic weeks of my entire life. I had previously been musing to myself how romantic comedy movies really set up people to fail with unrealistic expectations. I felt that nothing in life ever remotely happened like it does in movies where two quirky people have a series of misadventures and end up falling crazy-in-love with each other. Well, this trip set me straight. It does happen, but it's rare and wonderful like getting a Shiny Bulbasaur if you reset Pokémon Fire Red over and over (1 in 8192 chances)! When times are tough in life, I just think about April 2007 and this magical trip and it helps me feel better.

Let's get back to Pokémon Diamond, though. This game was the Pokémon Renaissance of my life so far. Not since my original copy of Pokémon Red had I become so involved and absorbed in a Pokémon game. There's so much I could say about it, but I fear if I start gushing I'll go dig up my copy and start playing it again. It was my on-again/off-again game for several years. I will say that I love the Nintendo DS. It's one of my favorite video game systems ever made, so to have the first Pokémon on that system was bound to go over well with me. I was also a mentor to a bright new Pokémon trainer, my future wife, who would grow to become one of my greatest Pokémon rivals. Then there was the matter of rivalry itself.

Meet Deez
This is what a Pokémon trainer
who doesn't EV train his
Pokémon looks like!
Pokémon Diamond destroyed the previous limitations of who I could trade and battle with. Prior to 2007, all my rivals had to be within an arm's length of me. I hadn't had that kind of Pokémon playing companionship since I was in high school ten years earlier. I'm sad to admit it, but most times I would eventually buy the alternative copy of the game and just trade with myself in order to "catch 'em all." It was tough being a 20-year-old Pokémon player in those days, but all that changed in 2007! Nintendo DS was built with WiFi compatibility, so I could easily battle trainers all over the world in the comfort of my living room! More importantly, I could finally test my mettle against my ultimate rival, my younger brother.

Since the early days of Pokémon Red, I have been naming my Pokémon trainer after myself, and the rival character after my brother. Even though we were young in those days, somehow I knew his love for Pokémon mixed with our sibling rivalry would make us destined to cock-fight our Pocket Monsters until the end of time. It was in 2007, I learned he, too, had been naming his rivals after me even though we had never spoken of it before. Because I'd moved more across the continent, our Pokémon rivalry had been on hold for a decade, but now we were free once more to battle to our hearts content. It was a glorious time to be alive. I was coaching my new Pokémon pupil by day and clashing with my Pokémon rival by night.

I pulled all the punches, too. I educated myself on Pokémon IVs (Individual Values) and EVs (Effort Values). I bred about 500 Chimchar to get the ultimate Infernape. I spent hours upon hours breeding and hatching eggs to get the ideal amount of IVs. I spent another eternity of hours battling that Pokémon and his allies against the same opponent over and over to get the correct EVs. If you don't know what these things are (you're lucky!) it's because you've never gotten into the darker side of Pokémon - competitive battling. It's honestly something I consider myself quite an amateur at, but all this extra effort paid off when I defeated my brother with a well trained team.

I have about 10 boxes full of these guys if anyone wants one.
(Not a joke)

Even though Pokémon Diamond is not my favorite Pokémon game, it certainly the one that got the most love because of where I was in my life at the time. It strengthened a bond with my girlfriend which would later blossom into a marriage and family. It reunited me with my brother across 3000 miles, whom I hadn't been gaming with since the early days of Final Fantasy XI. It was really a fantastic year for me. Let me know in the comments your favorite years and ages to be!


PS:  I mentioned that Pokémon is a good series to get your girlfriends interested in gaming, because it's something you can do together. It's nice because it has all the hardcore aspects you could want in competitive play, but it can also be cute and silly, which makes it a great in an intro game to people who don't play too many games. I also wanted to add the "Kingdom Hearts" series to that comment. It's funny to me, because I was really excited about Kingdom Hearts due to the Square Enix / Final Fantasy involvement, and my wife was really excited about the Disney aspect. We didn't know each other at the time it came out, but it's great that it's a series that hooked both of us in different ways. We still play them together today.

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