Last week's Pokémon Direct wasn't much more than a brief highlight reel and a teaser trailer, but it did manage to be useful in that it confirmed that Pokémon's seventh generation is on the way. More interesting, though, is that Pokémon Sun and Moon will apparently be compatible with the eShop versions of original Red, Blue, and Yellow, which begs the question: How exactly will this work?
I mean, the actual process is easy enough to understand. The eShop games will be compatible with the Pokémon Bank - a cloud-based Pokémon storage service - which will make the actual transfers trivial. Sadly, Red, Blue, and Yellow won't be compatible with Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire or X and Y, but the fact that it's compatible at all is pretty cool. The question is how Generation 1 monsters will translate.
To understand the issue here, let's take a little trip back to 2002. Pokémon moved to the Game Boy Advance that year, effectively rebooting the series in the process. Monsters from the first two generations were not compatible with Ruby and Sapphire, infuriating fans who had taken the time to build up huge collections. From that point on, it was possible to transfer monsters from generation to generation, but there was a clear dividing line between the Game Boy games and later versions.
That dividing line had as much to do with in-game mechanics as hardware. To give you an idea of some of the issues at play here, here are a few of the differences between the original Red/Blue/Yellow and later versions:
- The Special stat: In the original Pokémon Red/Blue/Yellow, the Special stat was one number. That stat was split into Special Attack and Special Defense for Gold and Silver. In transferring monsters from Red/Blue/Yellow to Gold/Silver/Crystal, Special Attack and Special Defense was calculated based on the original Special stat. That will probably be the case with Sun and Moon as well.
- Stat Experience vs. Effort Values: This is where it gets a little bit more complicated. Later games have Effort Values - a finite pool of points that are distributed depends on which monsters they defeat. The original games have a somewhat similar system, but there's no limit to the number of points you can invest. As a result, monsters trained in Generation 1 have the potential to be better-rounded than monsters trained in later games.
- Base stats: Going even deeper than Effort Values, we have Individual Values - the base stats that determine a monster's maximum stats. The actual stats are roughly similar, but the way that they're calculated to is quite different. In later generations, each stat can have a value from 0-32, which determines the floor and the ceiling of that stat. In Red/Blue/Yellow, though, they range from 0 to 15. I'm not going to try and explain exactly how they're calculated, but Smogon has a pretty good explanation. I can't even begin to tell you how all of this will translate from the old games to the new games. No doubt Game Freak has a way around it, but the difference in base stats is the chief hurdle they have to overcome in being able to translate monsters from the original games. Moreover, several monsters received updates to their base stats in Pokémon X/Y, meaning that a Pidgeot from Pokémon Red may end up being significantly weaker than one in Sun and Moon.
- Traits, Gender, and Personalities: Finally, we have traits and personalities, which are systems introduced back in Ruby and Sapphire. The former gives a monster a special ability, while the latter determines which stat is buffed and which one is nerfed. Gender is explanatory. These are apt to be assigned randomly; so if you're planning on doing some training in Red/Blue/Yellow, you'll have to take that into account.
To put matters into perspective, let's compare a Charizard from Pokémon Red/Blue/Yellow and a Charizard from Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire (via Pokémon Showdown)Charizard (Pokémon Red/Blue/Yellow)
HP: 359/Attack: 266/Defense: 254/Special: 268/Speed: 298
Charizard with Jolly Personality/Investment in Attack and Speed (Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire)
HP: 298/Attack: 267/Defense: 192/Special Attack: 228/Special Defense: 206/Speed: 328
As you can see, a Charizard from Red/Blue/Yellow has more hitpoints and better defense while still retaining comparable attack. The ORAS Charizard has better speed because it has a Jolly personality, giving it a speed boost. The upshot of all this is that a Charizard trained in Red/Blue/Yellow will be much better than one in Sun/Moon unless all Effort Values are set back to zero upon being transferred. And that's probably exactly what's going to happen.
For most players, the differences will be a non-issue. It will be an easier way for them to transfer favorites like Charmander or Mewtwo so that they can have them for their collections. But if Game Freak wants to maintain some semblance of continuity between the original generation and the new games, some translation is definitely going to have to happen under the hood.
Putting all of that aside, though, Red, Blue, and Yellow being compatible with Sun and Moon is pretty neat. Pokémon's continuity is part of what makes the series special, lending monsters from older games a certain sense of weight and personal history; and up until this point, the first two generation has been excluded from that continuity. Making Sun and Moon compatible with Red/Blue/Yellow will help bring the series full circle, even if it won't restore all of those old collections.
As for how it will actually work under the hood, though, we'll just have to see.