On the surface, the Pokémon games are deceptively simple – catch some Pokémon, level them up, fight eight gyms, fight the Elite Four, win. For the main story, that’s pretty much all there is to it. Ok, there are a few exceptions – no amount of work is going to make a Farfetch’d a dangerous Pokemon that’s usable throughout the story. But for the most part, probably because Nintendo are aware that kids play these games, the story is pretty hard to screw up in.
And then you go to the Battle Tower or you play a random wifi match after clearing the Elite Four, and your team that decimated everything gets wiped away as if it wasn’t even there. Hmm. The rules of the story, where everything is fine, and even something rubbish can be improved by just adding ten levels no longer apply there. So how do you improve here? And that is where the metagame comes in.
Some aspects of the metagame are exposed within the game itself. The simplest aspect of it is a Pokémon’s typing. Different types do extra damage to other types, and take more damage from different types. This is relatively simple, and the first aspect of it that matters in the metagame is to ensure you have a team with decent type coverage. You don’t want to have a team composed entirely of fire and rock types, or a single water type Pokémon could finish off your team
The next most important aspect of the metagame is barely mentioned within the game. There are one or two characters that tell you that Pokémon raised by trainers are stronger than wild Pokémon, but there is little elaboration. This leads to many players not understanding this system and insisting on raising many of their Pokemon from low levels. But EVs, the system at work here, is actually one of the best ways to make your Pokémon more powerful than others of a single level if you understand them right.
The basics of EV training are explained in this comic:
If you don’t want to read the comic, here’s a simple explanation: Each time you defeat a Pokémon in battle, your Pokemon gains some Effort Values, or EVs. The amount of EVs and the stat they affect depends on the Pokémon you defeat (for a list, try looking on sites like Bulbapedia or Serebii.net). Every 4 EVs for one stat results in an extra one point in a stat. The maximum amount of EVs a Pokémon can get is 510 altogether and 255 in any one stat.
This is what the game means when it says that trainer raised Pokémon are more powerful than wild Pokémon. If you first caught the Pokémon at level 30 compared to one caught at level 5 and both are now at level 40, it is the amount of EVs gained that makes the difference, not the extra 25 levels. Indeed, if the level 5 Pokémon was levelled up by being dragged through the Elite Four while the level 30 was levelled up through battling Pokémon the same level as it, it is entirely possible for the one caught at level 30 to have more EVs.
Another aspect of the metagame that is important, and which is only giving an extremely superficial mention in the games is that of a Pokémon’s nature. In the game it mentions that Pokémon have different natures but it never mentions what the effect of these are. There are 5 natures that have no effect: Hardy, Docile, Serious, Bashful and Quirky. Of the other 20 natures, each raises one stat by 10% and decreases one stat by 10%. Picking the right nature to improve one of your stats is extremely helpful as a result. For example, if you have a Gyrados, you would probably go with an Adamant nature. This would increase its already very high Attack stat by 10% and reduce its comparatively low Sp. Atk stat by 10%.
Another neglected aspect of the game is that some moves are physical (and hence depend on a Pokémon’s Attack stat) while others are special (and hence depend on a Pokémon’s Sp. Atk stat). Knowing which moves suit your Pokémon can give you a big edge. For example, you see the Gyrados in the above comic is using Hyper Beam. However, Gyrados’ base Sp. Atk stat is only 60, while its Attack stat is 125. This means that if it replaced the special Hyper Beam with a physical attack, it could devastate even more of the landscape.
The final important aspect that you will come across in the game is IVs. These are values that range from 0-31 in each stat that are given to each Pokemon when it is generated. These affect the end result, much like EVs. These are less controllable – you can’t change them after all, but you can breed Pokémon specifically for those stats using power items. I won’t go into too much detail on these for this blog post, as they are rather complicated, but Serebii has a rather long explanation for those of you who are interested.
Armed with your new-found knowledge, you will now be able to assemble a much better team to take on the Battle Tower and those random online people. There is far more to the metagame however, and this was just a brief introduction, but other aspects of it, like battle techniques, are more learned by experience.