Every core series Pokémon game begins with the region’s professor (or in the case of Galar, Chairman Rose) speaking about people and Pokémon living and working together. According to Professor Birch, “We humans live alongside Pokémon, at times as friendly playmates, and at times as cooperative workmates. And sometimes we band together and battle others like us.” It is not a surprise that Pokémon give humans a good company, no matter what kind of task they are up against and that humans can always depend upon them without hesitation. Friendship has different facets in the Pokémon franchise and the friendship spoken about here refers to the bond that characters share. The other one is the game mechanic that helps certain species of Pokémon evolve.
What’s in the anime?
Great moments! We can’t speak about companionship in Pokémon without mentioning the anime. Friendship has been its theme since the very beginning.
In the anime series Fairy Tail, One Piece, Naruto and Beyblade, characters share a strong bond with their allies and become several times stronger in an emergency because they have to win a battle for a greater cause, be it saving the world or the locality. These characters’ friends believe in them and this motivates them to “do it”, which (of course) causes them to summon a huge amount of strength out of nowhere! Most of the time, this is not the case for the Pokémon anime. One of the best, if not the best representation of friendship in the Pokémon anime is obviously the Ash and Pikachu combo. Consider this scene in the first episode of the anime: Ash and Pikachu encounter the angry Spearow flock they disturbed (unintentionally). It was this incident that truly got Ash and Pikachu’s bond to an electrifying start. Ash intended to take the attack of the Spearow to protect Pikachu but in turn, is saved by him. Watching Ash risk himself for its sake, Pikachu accepted Ash as his trainer and jumped in with a Thundershock that sends both of them to the Pokémon Center, and the Spearow packing.
There’s no power-up here, despite it being an emergency, but yes, there is the anime style last-moment friendship save! Numerous similar incidents can be mentioned, but this episode played a key role in bringing the Pokémon anime an audience. It was the first episode, afterall!
Pokémon has its share of emergency friendship power-ups too. Initially, Ash-Greninja was the result of a high-stress situation, but over time, its power became more controllable. It has got nothing to do with Friendship in the games, but speaking lore-wise, it is the result of the strong connection between Ash and his Greninja. When both of them are in synchronicity (or in simple words, sync), Greninja undergoes a phenomenon similar to mega evolution, giving it a boost in power and change in appearance, followed by the popular theme, of course. This is represented by the Battle Bond ability in the games, which does not require Friendship.
Yet, it can’t be ignored that some trainers did not at all care for their Pokémon and showed interest only in strength. They evolved to become humble to their partners later on. Paul is one of the best examples of this. He completely disregarded his Pokémon’s feelings and went to the extent of releasing his Chimchar. Chimchar is then adopted by Ash, evolves into Monferno and then Infernape. After Infernape defeats Electivire (its rival since Chimchar days), Paul understands the value of being good to Pokémon and what they gave to him.
Another good example is from Pokémon the Movie: I Choose You! Cross abandoned his Charmander because, just like Paul, he valued strength over everything else. He was unable to digest the fact that it was Ash who got the Rainbow Wing. He stole the Rainbow Wing from Ash and corrupted it because he did not have a good intention. When Marshadow took the wing, it came under its influence and caused other Pokémon to be influenced, too. One of these was Cross’ Lycanroc, which he brings to sanity by reminding it of their early days, which brings it back to normal. After this incident, it is obvious that Cross learns the value of friendship and love.
In the Games
What do we have in the games? Enough lore to highlight the relation between people and Pokémon, and then there’s the Friendship mechanic!
Friendship in the lore
In Pokémon Platinum, while in the distortion world, Cynthia says, “The places we are born. The time we spend living… The languages we speak… We are all different. But the presence of Pokémon unites us. We share our lives with our Pokémon and our happiness grows as we all become greater than we were alone. ” This sums up how important Pokémon are to the people of the Pokémon universe, and it comes from a champion!
Such strong trainers encourage the formation of strong bonds, but then how are people like Cyrus and the Johto rival Silver able to become strong too? These characters showed no interest in their Pokémon’s feelings! But it is not to be ignored that both of them had a Crobat, a Pokémon that required a good friendship with its trainer to evolve. Possibly, these characters’ Pokémon could be touched by their trainers’ dedication to their goals. It could also be that they were unable to not befriend their Pokémon, as they spent too much time with each other, training. But this strength is not everything, and this comes from Silver himself. After being defeated at the Pokémon League, he accepts that despite a lot of training, he could not become as strong as the protagonist did because he did not “believe” in his Pokémon. He accepts that he needs to change his methods. But from this incident, it is clear that he became a better person by spending time with his friends, and this is the games’ version of character growth, similar to Paul and Cross.
Unova has something in store too. The origins of Zekrom and Reshiram are told in legends, that they were once a single powerful Dragon Pokémon used by two brothers to create what is now known as Unova. But the brothers each sought something different in life, one who sought truth and the other, ideals. Discord arose between them and then a fight began. The dragon, in response, split into Zekrom, representing ideals, Reshiram, representing truth and Kyurem, an empty shell waiting to be filled with either truth or ideals. There are many such instances from the lore which stress on how important and natural a human-Pokémon bond is, and if you want to dig into some weird aspects of it, like Pokémon marrying people, the Canalave library awaits you!
Friendship (and Affection) as a mechanic
It would not befit the games if they lacked any interaction between humans and Pokémon outside battling! The anime is gold when it comes to representing friendship, but this is where we find the actual “power of friendship” because there are benefits of sharing good relations with Pokémon. Here’s a brief look at how it played out in the games.
The core series
If you didn’t know this, well, here’s a fact: games include “Friendship” as an invisible stat. If you already knew that (or know it now), here’s something more to avoid confusion: Friendship is also referred to as Happiness, Friendliness, Loyalty across different games and is different from another stat called “Affection”. Affection was introduced in generation six, with Pokémon X and Pokémon Y. An affectionate Pokémon can avoid moves even with 100% accuracy, land more critical hits, earn more Exp. and cure their status problems. Sylveon is the only Pokémon known to be obtainable as a high-affection evolution.
A friendly Pokémon, on the other hand, may only boost the power of Return and decrease the power of frustration. There are many Pokémon that evolve with high friendship, like Golbat, Togepi and Riolu.
The base for the friendship mechanic was laid by the first two generations for the newer games to build upon. Friendship was expanded to cover all Pokémon in generation two, unlike Pokémon Yellow of generation one, where it was limited only to Pikachu(which would give different reactions depending upon its friendship level). Each Pokémon was given a base friendship value, ranging from 0 to 255.
The normal base friendship value has been 70 since these games and when a Pokémon is caught in a Friend Ball, it starts with a base friendship value of 200, while a Pokémon hatched from an egg begins with 120. In Pokémon Crystal, a Pokémon would get twice the boost for friendship as usual if it is levelled up at its defined ‘met’ location. This makes it seem like nostalgia affects Pokémon too! The ‘met’ location boost was removed in the fourth generation but was resumed again from the fifth. Now that it’s known that friendship is a stat, it is obvious for anyone to want to boost it! There is a whole variety of ways to boost friendship, but the best and most commonly used methods till generation seven included massages (only one per day), using the subject Pokémon in battle, winning and levelling them up by giving them the favourite item: Soothe Bell.
Coming to generation six, seven and eight, we have Pokémon Amie, Pokémon Refresh and Pokémon Camp, respectively. These are features that allow trainers to spend time with their Pokémon and most fans must be knowing these by now. Pokemon ‘Amie’ and ‘Refresh‘ help increase a Pokémon‘s Affection towards their trainers. Amie involves minigames in which the player’s Pokémon could participate, while Refresh actually involves refreshing Pokémon right after a battle, like curing their status problems, grooming and cleaning them. Here, Pokémon are fed Poké Beans obtained from Isle Abeens in the Poké Pelago. Trainers late to Alola wanting to avoid being One-hit-KO’ed by Ultra Necrozma, befriend your Pokémon and let the power of affection guide you to victory!
Now with the entry of Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield, we have Pokémon Camp. Just like Amie and Refresh, it lets trainers pet and feed their Pokémon, but in a slightly different fashion. Pokémon can cook curry with trainers and play with them. When it comes to cooking, different ingredients are used. A good result is awarded the Charizard class (Gold), a slightly less tasty one is Copperajah class (Silver), and anything good, but below Copperajah class is given Milcery class (Bronze).
There is also a Koffing and Wobbuffet rank for bad and not-so-good curries, respectively. Different curries give different results. Depending on the curry’s taste rating, a Pokémon will gain friendship boosts, Exp. points, Status problem cures and even HP and PP restorations. This also means there is no requirement to train Pokémon after interacting with them in the camp! This might be slightly tedious with the ‘A’ button mashing but is way faster than the old methods for Pokémon that evolve with friendship.
Outside the Core Series
Pokémon Colosseum and Pokémon XD had something that can be called the power fo hate. They featured Shadow Pokémon, which were Pokémon that had the doors to their hearts closed artificially. They were made by a process that removed the Pokémon’s emotions, turning them into soulless fighting machines. These Pokémon could be purified by making them battle, walking with them, giving them cologne massages and calling them out during Hyper and Reverse modes. But this is only to reduce the Heart Gauge, the meter that shows how far a Pokémon is from being purified. Completion of this process requires the performing of the Purification ceremony. Each purified Pokémon would then learn a special move.
Let’s Go, Pikachu! And Let’s Go, Eevee! combine friendship and affection. Walking with a Pokémon outside its Poké Ball boosts its friendship level, so walk’em all to befriend ’em all!
In Pokémon Ranger: Shadows of Almia, the partner gauge fills up quickly if Friendship is high. High Friendship is identified when there are black musical notes over the partner Pokémon‘s head.
Oh, and if anyone’s concerned about the pinball game Pokémon Pinball: Ruby & Sapphire, do understand that friendship hearts help Golbat, Pichu, Azurill and Igglybuff evolve.
Let’s take back a few things!
The addition of Pokémon Amie brought the feel of virtual pets to Pokémon. Remember Nintendogs? It is no more, but Amie and the others in generations seven and eight are like the Pokémon versions of it. Petting the creatures that you dearly train and journey with is indeed fun. Continuing this differently, Pokémon Camp has made the benefits of Affection and Friendship more accessible and convenient. It would be interesting to see what the future games hold for these features and whether they will continue. The way these have expanded, it could be possible that features like Amie will stay. After all, they have become such a part of the gameplay that can be ignored, but no one does, just like TMs.
Something else: This is not necessarily unique to Pokémon but is accentuated on multiple occasions by trainers like Paul and Silver. We have an obvious inference here, that is to respect our partners. This one’s from the villains’ Crobat: Our companions support and trust us, and we might not know that they may respect us more than we respect them, and ask nothing but our time in return. Apart from this, we can be thankful for the company we have; we never know when we might lose them!
Edited by Aldo and bobandbill.