A new Pokémon game came out today (as of writing this post, not when it goes up). I’ll probably write specifically about it once I’ve had some time to play it, but today I’m going to write about Pokémon types and the progression and change of that system over the past couple decades. There are plenty of posts and articles out there about why the types are effective or ineffective against each other, how type matchups play out, the balance of types, and all that mechanical crunchiness, so I’m going to mostly focus on the experience of watching that change happen.
Now, back when I first started playing Pokémon, I didn’t really understand the game beyond the “some types are supereffective or not very effective against each other.” Stuff more or less made sense to my childish mind, and I didn’t really consider how the types and effectivness levels existed as a system. That all changed when the second generation came out and I started encountering Dark and Steel type Pokémon. It was still early enough in the franchise that almost all of the Pokémon with the new types were completely new. The only ones whose type actually changed was Magnemite and Magenton. It makes sense, looking at the Pokémon themselves, but it made me really start to think about what the changes meant and why they were put in place.
It was pretty clear why Steel type was introduced. They wanted another “Rock” type they could add to Ground type Pokémon without introducing a 4x attack power modifier from Water and Grass types. It made sense. Give some Pokémon an out from that particular death trap. But Dark type just sort of felt like “normal, but mean.” I mean, the epitome of that is the attack, Bite, that changed from being Normal to being Dark type. Throw in other Dark type moves like Taunt, Swagger, and Thief, and it felt (to young me playing the first few generations of Pokémon games) like they added it because they just wanted something to get past some of Normal’s type weaknesses and make it meaner. I mean, presently it is clear that they wanted a way to counter some of the constant power of the Psychic type, that it was a smart, conscious choice in creating a balanced table of Pokémon types, but I remember thinking that it existed solely so they could have a “mean” type.
In more recent years, adding in the Fairy type seemed like another dumb but understanable choice. Dragon types were almost always too powerful for anything else to compete with, thanks to their variey of secondary types, available movesets, and general resistance to some of the other powerful types. Fairy type put an end to that, though it also upset the balance in a new way, heavily weighting things in favor of Fairy type Pokémon. At the time, it felt very much like a retconjuration of the world as established. I remember reading something in one of the games about how it was discovered that many existing Pokémon were actually Fairy type, completely replacing existing types (Celfairy, which is honestly fair, given the name) or tacking on an additional type (Ralts and it’s non-fighting evolution sequence).
I remember thinking that, given the power of Dragon type pokemon, this retconjuration was a bunch of bullshit since there’s no way someone saw a Jigglypuff shrug off a heavy swipe from a dragon’s claws and then think to themselves “Yeah, that’s a Normal type Pokémon, for sure.” It was a more drastic change, but they couldn’t have made such a change without it being drastic or introducing a huge number of fairy type pokemon given how many generations of the series had been released by that point. Fairy types were added in Gen 6, so there was a huge existing library of Pokémon that needed to be updated to reflect the change and allow people to feel like their old favorites were all still somewhat relevant.
I’ve never really been one to dunk on the appearance or names of Pokémon when they’re announced because my two favorite Pokémon are a cabbage-backed plant-frog (Bulbasaur) and a metal-as-fuck smooth-to-spiky rock-lizard-dinosaur-knight (Aron). I recognize the whole franchise is patently ridiculous or scarily serious (Phantumps and Palossands are fucked up, lemme tell you), so it doesn’t bother me if a new Pokémon is a lit candle or a steel-wool sheep. Type mechanics, though, and the whole “we discovered a known thing was actually different despite how obvious it should have been this entire time” is what I trip over. Every time. At the same time, though, change can be fun and the whole “grungy fairtale” feel of a lot of the latest Fairy type Pokémon was pretty neat, so I won’t hold it against them. I’ll just complain about it years later on my personal blog.