In an enormous change of pace, pokemon reviews but they’re ones I did as part of the exchange instead.
Part of the Chapter Review Exchange! Two months later than it should be, but…
So, I’m of two minds at the opening.
Your very opening lines establish that this is a big deal to your character quite well and the mention of procrastination is already giving an idea of his personality. And hey, experienced seven badge trying for the eighth trainer instead of a newbie, that’s cool.
On the other hand…it’s opening with a gym battle, which are surprisingly difficult to make interesting for something that involves superpowered monsters shooting magic attacks at each other.
[He was a large quadruped, with giant, hand-like extremities taking the place of paws. His smooth, sky-blue skin and white underbelly were accented by orange pads at the wrists and ankles, in addition to a set of spiky protrusions jutting outwards from his cheeks. Two gray, fin-like structures extended from and wrapped around either side of his head, while a third encompassed where there would have been otherwise a tail.]
And this kind of thing doesn’t help. I know there’s people out there flogging the advice to describe each pokemon in painstaking detail for the hypothetical non-pokemon fans wandering by, but this style doesn’t even amount to coherent descriptions so much as a list of traits from looking at a picture (it’s not at all how fantasy creatures in novels are described, where the author actually has to communicate what the creature looks like), and it’s really jarring from a narrative point of view – no one says, “Hey, it’s my pet. He was about one foot tall at the shoulder, with inch-long yellow fur accented with darker brown spots so elongated they were almost lines. He had four legs with four toes on the back legs and five on the front, with curved nails on the end of each toe…” One rule for description is to try to talk about what’s special about the individual, so instead of describing the official art of a swampert, decide what stands out about his swampert – maybe his skin is smooth now because he’s shed his skin recently and all the injuries with it, so he’s in peak health for the battle.
[The two Pokémon exchanged hard hits for quite a while; Axle very rarely dodged unless an opportunity was readily and obviously available. With the other’s onslaught, neither of the combatants found themselves able to focus heavily on the creation of powerful and efficient attacks, an aspect of the fight which worked to both Axle’s advantage and detriment. With an arsenal of rock type moves at his disposal, however, the Swampert obviously held the advantage over the opposing flying type.]
It makes sense to summarize bits of the battle, but diving right into summaries is also momentum-damaging. It’s better to say something specific and then kind of generalize that to how the whole thing was going. (Also, this isn’t even particularly clear – Axle isn’t dodging, but “the other” is sending an “onslaught” of moves and that’s preventing him from focusing on using moves, but also the altaria is in the same boat…that doesn’t sound like they’re exchanging hard hits, it sounds more like a mutual death of a thousand cuts situation.) If they “exchanged hard hits for quite a while”, much better to open with a description of them exchanging a representative set of hard hits and then say it continued. If they’re interrupting each other’s moves/sending incomplete moves to try to interrupt moves, then show that exchange of moves and say it continued. Etc.
Even more important is to think about what information you’re giving. What I just suggested would increase the amount of information you’re giving about how the battle looks or is playing out, but you also want to think about what else you can communicate in the same space. You say his pokemon pushed him to get into this battle, and that’s the most unusual element here, so I think focusing on that right from the start would make the most sense. Does Axle seem like he’s having second thoughts now, or does your trainer worry he might be? Or is he gamely weathering the blows because he expected this? Is this style of battle also a matter of Axle preferring it and your trainer going along with it, much like he went along with the demand they fight at the gym in the first place, or is your trainer largely calling the shots here and Axle’s just obeying whatever orders come down?
[I silently chastised myself for not having had earlier taught Axle the move Ice Beam. A double effectiveness, in addition to a long range of attack, would allow for a quick and easy battle. I’d ordered it for pickup at a TM shop, but I had been pressured into the Gym Battle without it having arrived.]
So, it opened with him saying he’d procrastinated and has to stop, and that his pokemon pushed him to get on with this already, but this confuses all that. Ice beam is so incredibly useful for this gym. If he couldn’t afford it, or couldn’t get it, or if they wouldn’t be able to master it for months, etc sure, but to have ordered it as if it would be useful but then not bothered to wait for it seems incredibly foolhardy – like his real problem is that he considered thinking this through at all to be procrastination in the first place. I don’t think that’s what you’re going for, but I’m not sure what you are trying to get across by bringing up that it’d have been easy to teach his pokemon the most useful possible move for a dragon gym but he just didn’t.
If this is here because you wanted to avoid using it, but then feel you need to explain why the move doesn’t show up, then you want to work backward from there to the best explanation possible, which is to say, something very simple to understand and that doesn’t raise any further questions. “It was a shame Axle hadn’t been able to master ice beam yet.” – now there’s no concrete time when Axle will, so it’s not a matter of just waiting another couple days. Or, if TMs existing and being able to instantly teach pokemon moves is a piece of canon you don’t feel comfortable ignoring, just say something like that he couldn’t afford it rather than he tried to buy it but it wasn’t there but he did order it but it didn’t show up yet. You could also just give Axle ice beam and have it not work properly because he isn’t experienced with it – maybe it completely fizzles under a blow unlike his other moves that he can pull off despite getting hammered by his opponent.
[The first solution to come to mind to defeat the opposing Altaria without the convenience of Ice Beam was to limit its motion. I simply directed Axle to back the dragon into a corner with an opaque, self-sustaining tidal wave in Muddy Water, to the point it couldn’t fly away. He then proceeded to pummel it with Rock Slide after Rock Slide.]
And…how did this work? Why couldn’t the altaria fly over the wave? Was it wrapped around like a bubble? And how could Axle keep a normally temporary move going nonstop while also using another move?
[Axle burst from the ground in a shower of wet dirt, shot upwards towards the dragon like a rocket, and knocked it out of the sky with Return. It squawked as it hit the ground.
The Swampert refused to relent. A devastating combination of Rock Tomb and Rock Slide led to its inevitable entrapment under a stunning amount of boulders. It still remained conscious, however, and struggled with a scowl as Axle approached.]
The altaria seems mildly put out by getting rocks smashed into it. Neither of the pokemon seem to actually feel any of the blows, which is another problem for presenting the battle as suspenseful. You get better with that as the battle goes on, but by opening like this, you undercut the rest. If your ending to the chapter is going to be about how brutal and dangerous battles can get, you need that at the forefront from the beginning. And you continue with:
[“Swampert is temporarily unable to battle; Drayden has invoked the Sleep Clause and will be unallowed to put another opponent to sleep for the remainder of the battle. Challenger, send out your next Pokémon.”
Drayden waved the referee off as he announced the results of the round. “Cheap move on my part, I’ll give you that…” he began, “But I hope you didn’t expect me to lay down and die?”
I chortled, somewhat exasperated, as I returned Axle. “Guess not… Of course you should try to do everything you can to win… It’s just…”
“A perk of being the final Gym in the circuit means I’m able to restrain myself less than the other Gym Leaders. Don’t let yourself be fooled into security solely due to my lack of strategy. I’ve been training with my team for a lifetime, decades before you held your first Pokéball…”
“Why don’t you just sweep the floor with me then?”
Drayden laughed openly for a moment, as if my comment brought him amusement. “The Gym Challenge is meant to be a difficult, not impossible task. Enjoyable. Frustrating, certainly, but not to such a degree as to deter all participants from continuing on.”
Cocky, isn’t he…]
Yeah, it makes sense that the gym badges wouldn’t involve going up against a gym leader’s very best team. But this option makes a joke of us even watching the battle, so might as well just start with his zoroak eking out a victory and collapsing. Whether or not he wins is now based entirely on whether or not Drayden feels like letting him win. If he wins by a mile, it’s because he looked like he sucked so much Drayden went too easy on him, and he might as easily lose despite being really skilled simply because he projects too cocky a front and Drayden accidentally pushes too hard. The only real strategy/skill/tension available for trainers becomes if you can do a surprising thing right when the pokemon’s whittled to low health but before Drayden shuts you down. And that’s a pretty dystopic way to frame a battle.
This is also why having fic follow rules like “sleep clause” or other callbacks to competitive battling balance is often a poor idea – the point of /trainers/ is that they’re supposed to be training up individual pokemon, not having a string of handicaps and extra rules imposed to make things as equal as possible between the two humans as they duke it out with their perfect IV L100 pokemon with ideal EV distribution.
(It’s also ripe for all sorts of abuse – if gym leaders decide if they think you’ve impressed them enough and then let you win, then you’ve taken what was supposed to be merit based and redone it so every marginalized group is screwed as gym leaders just happen to think they needed to work a little harder, sorry, try again.)
[“There’s no point in getting too hurt, Jet… It’s all just for a stupid piece of metal I pin to a case that’s shoved in the bottom of my backpack…”]
It’s definitely a flip on the script that his pokemon are raring to go and he’s not, but, like he says, this is all for a thing he gets. Why do they want it so badly? Do they even, or is it just Jet? Why did Jet in particular insist on doing this right now when he’s still not used to his new body, why is he willing to try so hard and get so hurt and keep going even when exhausted? And this is a trainer who seems to be pretty concerned and observant for his pokemon, so I’d guess he’d be aware of whatever huge, incredibly important thing must be motivating Jet.
[“Somin! Oh my god!” I yelled, leaping over the Zoroark and kneeling at the site of the wound. I shimmied my jacket off as fast as I possibly could before pressing it up roughly against the Zoroark’s leg.]
This seems like it’s what pokeballs are for. I mean, if they’re not useful for transporting injured pokemon and making that aspect of pokemon training more humane, they’re nothing but cages.
So – your main character seems like he’s pretty nice, but I’m baffled by the overall world around him and where you’re going with this. Why does he want gym badges, and how did he even get this far when he’s telling his pokemon not to try that hard because they can get hurt? Why do his pokemon want this so much? Do they even, or was it only Jet pushing? What do gym battles and badges even mean when it’s clear they aren’t actually saying much about ability? Even the ending doesn’t really have much force because, well, he didn’t want to do this in the first place, so it’s not exactly him getting laid low by his willingness to risk his friends for his own gain, it’s him not being great enough at this to protect his friends from their own foolhardiness.
If Jet is the one who was pushing for this, I’d suggest just showing Jet and Somin’s chunk. Opening with the tide of battle going poorly for him, then Jet determinedly pushes them almost to a win, then we see the consequences for Somin trying to finish things. If the other pokemon were also gung-ho about this, spend their various battles getting into that – is the timid Victor battling because his trainer sent him out so he has to give his best, or is he excited despite his nerves, or is he doing it because Jet was so enthusiastic and he doesn’t want to let his teammate down? There’s little actually interesting about battles themselves, but there’s space in them to pack a ton of interesting things into. You have some of that, but most of the battle seems to be happening according to the common fanfic formula, where you feel obligated to say this happened and then that happened. You should either pare down the parts that are just a series of blows or pump things up with information about why the blows are happening, how the ones giving/getting smacked feel and why they’re there, etc. Like, I think it’s a adorable that a giant metal ant has anxiety, but if that’s the only fact that goes with his battle scene, then you’re better off introducing him later in a scene that would have a better fun-durant-facts ratio.
[None of the residents particularly owned any for protection, but the town wasn’t in any danger, as only small scavengers and birds lived nearby.]
I’ve seen this suggested a lot in fic, but it really doesn’t seem canonical, especially for a fic based on the original games in particular. It’s not just that the player gets yelled at for putting a foot in tall grass but that various NPCs throughout the game will reference needing pokemon to travel, even ones who don’t battle you and by all appearances don’t identify as “trainers”. I’m guessing you’re trying to set up being a pokemon trainer as unusual, but I think the better way is to draw a strong distinction between having a pokemon for travel and actually raising pokemon – we see so many NPCs, including adults, who have no badges, weak pokemon, and generally no ability to handle themselves in an actual trainer battle.
[I was allowed to explore around the surrounding forest when I was young – at first with only my mother’s supervision, until the animals got used to my presence – and was later allowed to be by myself but was told to not venture too far as danger lurked in the denser areas.]
Similarly, I think it’s better to embrace the idea that the pre-game period really was pretty claustrophobic and boring and little kids can only leave with adults, which is not too far off how a lot of little kids can’t go anywhere without adults normally. The starting town is before the adventure itself gets going. It’s bland and tiny and hemmed in, and then the rest of the game is a series of expansion where more and more areas unlock.
[ until the animals got used to my presence]
Also, while low level pokemon being roughly as tough as real animals works fine, it’s best to avoid actually referring to them as animals because it gets confusing – there’s also all sorts of pokemon that clearly aren’t animals, like bellsprout, and you later mention ants which would suggest there are real animals coexisting with pokemon so the terms should be kept separate.
[“The name’s Green.”
So, if that’s a nickname, it’s best to hint at that by using a different term than “name”, like “You can call me…” or something.
[He spoke while taking a confident stance, a hand on his hip. There was a certain spark to his eye, expectant of something, of what I did not know, but it intrigued me.]
A little further on you say he’s five at this point. It’s past tense, so it could be a much older him narrating, but it’s still rather unmooring to have first-person narration not match up at all with the character we’re seeing.
[I shook my head in a negative response. “No…”]
Like this. It’s repeating the first half of the sentence but with more syllables. And “negative response” is actually more vague than “shook his head”, so it doesn’t even add some information. If you want the main character to be wordy to fit with him being the contemplative, observant type, I’d suggest trying to populate this with more precise detail – Satoshi is hanging out outside and Green’s going to suggest going to the lab instead, so for example, does Green have dirt under his fingernails or clean, well-scrubbed hands? That could imply if the lab is heavily hands-on or if the kids can only look at the pokemon Oak has from a distance.
[“Weak”, he scoffed,]
[just because one looks stronger than the other.”, I countered.]
You should never have punctuation coming right after the quotation mark and it should only be a period if the words coming next are a brand-new sentence and not a description of how the dialogue was said.
[I was also ecstatic, eager to expand my small world by learning more about these interesting and intelligent creatures, who apparently live alongside and communicate with people, forming bonds with one another.]
This also doesn’t line up with him running all over the forest. I get the idea you’re trying to present this like in the opening scroll of the games where the player learns all this at once, but for someone in this world to be hearing this with the same awe, you can’t have them encountering pokemon all the time beforehand. If Satoshi has to stay in town all the time and almost never sees actual pokemon, then being amazed that wow, there are lots of them and they’re smart and you can be friends with them??? would make more sense.
[I have been discussing it together with Green, who told me that we would need to turn eleven before we would be allowed to do so.]
A set age to get a pokemon is an anime thing while the game presents it as Oak having the idea when the player happens to be an age. And while Green would probably be impatient regardless, steadily badgering to get a pokemon and be trainers for years is going to make you a lot more impatient than knowing there’s a set date you’re certainly getting pokemon on. It also adds a bit more agency if this is something they’ve been attempting to pursue that not everybody does rather than an established thing that just happens.
“They call them Pokemon Trainers.”
Also, your capitalization starts getting inconsistent around here with this and “professor”, where sometimes it’s capitalized, sometimes not, and sometimes only one part of it. “I’m going to be Pokemon Trainer Satoshi!!!” specifically might work if people will use it as a title, but the general term would never be. Similarly, it’s only Professor when it’s getting used in front of or in place of his name, so any time you’ve got a/the/etc in front it isn’t. Conversely, when there isn’t one of those a/the/etc things in front of it, always it’s got to be capitalized. And the same rule applies to his mom or any other word that’s sometimes used as a person’s name.
[My mother stared at the professor who stood his ground in a firm belief that I could not grasp the concept of yet. His expression was soft, however, hers was stern.
I waited for something to happen, but the woman held back from speaking any else. ]
Okay, so I mentioned earlier that the narration doesn’t seem to fit very well with the character at the time, but here I don’t think it fits well with the character at any time or place or situation. No one ever thinks of their mom as “the woman”.
And this is his only parent. And she’s getting obviously upset at another adult, in fact what seems like the only other adult in his life. The narration sounds like this is some outside observer noting that hey, these two entities he feels no connection to are aware of things he does not.
[The strange words and concepts I heard in their conversation at the time seemed so foreign to me.
Yet I was an observant person, and still remember those words till today, having uncovered their meaning and realizing that I have been living amongst its inescapable essence all along.]
I really like the way the dialogue dips in and out, but it seems contrived to say he actually not only did hear the rest of the words but perfectly remembers them. Especially since, if he’s seven, it’s four years before he even leaves to be a trainer and even longer before he’ll be in any place to figure out what they meant. You don’t have to be so precise for things to still be understandable. From “inescapable essence” it sounds like everything they’re talking about is a big enough deal that when he does find out what it is, he’ll be able to work out that yeah, this big deal must be the big deal his mom was concerned about, because there’s really only room for so many big deals that you run into as a result of being a trainer.
[I found that we had differing views on pokémons’ roles in interacting with humans. He thought pokémon were there to enrich his life and make him look better. I, on the other hand, thought of them as equals and wanted to communicate with them while treating them as such.]
“Equals” is really loaded language for a kid, especially one who still doesn’t even have any pokemon of his own. I think the friendship language we get is more fitting here – Green dreams about what his pokemon will be able to do for him, while Satoshi is just excited at the chance to be friends with them.
[Green, who was some months older than me and was refused his first pokémon until I became of age, needless to say, got pissed off]
This is a pretty good note. A lot of fic relies just on the idea Green became more of a jerk as he got older, but the animosity we see works much better if there’s also some specific issue.
[Green suggested we should come up with a name for ourselves – “In case we get famous, you wouldn’t want to be called such a lame name as Satoshi, would you now? Not that you’ll become any better than me, anyway.”]
Hm. While I think this is a cool idea as well, and does a good job of bridging the two names, it’s really undermined by him already going by Green from his introduction. Plus it sounds like the only other people they interact with are adults, which makes it hard to get a nickname off the ground. Why not have this be the reason behind both their nicknames? It’d also take the contrived canon element of them both using colors for names and turn it into connection where their nicknames are similar because they were doing it together.
[“Satoshi, and, ah, was it Green again? My age seems to be failing me… Anyway, I’ve been waiting for you. Good morning!” I mentally sighed at that statement. How sad for him to have forgotten Green’s original name altogether, and even worse, the latter for not correcting him.]
That’s not how I’d read it – stumbling over a kid’s nickname sounds more like he’s struggling not to use the original name and remember the new thing his grandson wants to be called, and especially when he’s not stumbling over Satoshi’s name. Plus, if he’s actually getting senile, new information is the first to go, and if he can’t even retain old information, there’s no way he’s functional enough to live on his own. If you’re trying to indicate he’s that far gone, you probably want to repeat something similar to the whole game opening of him not recognizing Satoshi at all and stumbling on his grandson’s name because he knows the kid wants to be called something other than Shigeru but can’t remember that.
So overall, and to address the specific questions you asked:
I think this was clear enough and not confusing, but that your narration is really remote, which is jarring at best with a first person narrator. More grounding detail would also help. Also, I think developing Pallet in general would be a good idea – if not everyone is a trainer, then having older kids and adults around in the background not being trainers would better get across that worldbuilding element than just saying that nobody else is a trainer. Alternatively, given this didn’t even reach them getting their first pokemon and you say all of chapter two will also be setup before the plot you’re aiming at kicks in, maybe try stripping it down further. There’s a lot of redundancy in this and you could probably focus in on the key elements – for example, you don’t really need to have meeting Green, hanging out at the professor’s, and his mom getting upset to hear he wants to be a trainer to happen at different times. Green could meet him for the first time, they go to the lab, he runs home and tells his mom he’s going to be a pokemon trainer!!!
Foreshadowing is a hard thing to answer because the nature of it is it’s not fully evident until whatever-it-is come to pass. In terms of where I think the fic is going in the next chapters based on the current one, the impression I get is that this is going to be leaning hard into the lone heroic trainer child vs the world side of the plot and not the pokedex side, and also the League itself is going to be a more active entity. Given how against being a trainer his mom is, and how she seems to just give up and stop caring years in advance of him actually leaving, pokemon training’s a pretty deadly affair either by nature or due to the established human powers, and given Oak seems to have fond memories, I’d guess the problem is mostly centered around recently established human powers more than the pokemon themselves.
I don’t have much idea of what shape exactly the very serious M-rated level stuff is going to be, though, or what the plot itself is, and that’s a problem. The very start of a story shouldn’t be getting the pieces ready for the story proper but giving the reader a taste of what that story is so they know if they’re interested in continuing. I can’t give precise suggestions on what should be here since the problem is I don’t know, but maybe having other characters talk about the world outside Pallet early on. Like I said, I like the way the dialogue between his mother and Oak is broken up and missing pieces for the reader, and I think not naming the actual players yet works fine, but maybe add events being mentioned in passing by other people – “such and such happened at some other place” kind of thing. Right now I don’t even know if this is an “everything looks fine on the surface but rocking the boat gets you pulled down by sharks” kind of dystopia or a “streets run red with blood from open warfare outside of this one backwater” kind.