The catchphrase "Gotta Catch 'Em All!" has been drilled into our heads since "Pokémon" first hit North America in the '90s. But while the franchise has continued on, not everyone actually plays the games for that reason anymore. Some play to evoke nostalgia from when they played the first time as kids, some do it to defeat everybody else's Pokémon, and some just do it because Pokémon are flippin' adorable.
But what if you ARE a gaming completionist and you DO want to catch every single Pokémon in existence? Strap in for a long journey, friend -- nowadays there are over 700 different Pokémon and more than 20 different handheld games (although if you've only got a 3DS to fall back on, you're not TOO screwed -- more on that later), so you have a lot of work ahead of you.
So, bad news first: if you're playing a single handheld game and not interacting with any other players, it's completely impossible to catch all the Pokémon. Here's what's standing in your way:
Everyone knows that when you start a "Pokémon" game, you're invited to choose between three different Pokémon to start your journey with -- which means you don't get to keep the other two, no matter what you do. "X" and "Y," the two 3DS games that revitalized the franchise a few years back, flip the script a little by giving you a second choice of starter Pokémon a little later. But even then, you're still going to be missing out.
"Pokémon" games are almost always released in sets of two -- "Red" and "Blue," "Black" and "White," etc. -- and some Pokémon only appear in one of the two versions.
Nintendo and GameFreak sometimes offer special Pokémon over Wi-Fi or in giveaways, to tie in with game releases, movie releases, and other Pokémon-specific events. And sorry, sometimes these events are ONLY available in Japan, where the games are made. Womp womp.
There are some Pokémon that are impossible to actually catch within a particular game, even though you can play with them if you do get one through other means (we'll get to that!). For example, you know Rattata, that purple rat Ash owned in the original anime series? They were pretty easy to find early on in "Red" and "Blue," but you can't actually find them on your own in "X" or "Y" at all. Sadface.
But! Here is the good news: Pokémon is a more connected community than it's ever been before, and even though you might not be able to catch all the Pokémon in existence while playing just "Pokémon X" in your spare time, there are plenty of ways to make up for it and fill up your Pokédex with the help of your fellow fans:
There's actually a good reason why it's literally impossible to collect all the world's Pokémon in a single game -- the gamemakers did it on purpose, to force you into some form of human interaction by making you trade with your real life friends.
Back in the day you had to do this by linking your Game Boys together with a dorky little cable. But NOW the Internet has changed all of that, and you can trade your little pocket monsters online using the Pokémon Global Link, a website that connects you and your saved data to thousands of other players around the world. If you have the Friend Code of a fellow 3DS user, you can also set up a single trade with them over Wi-Fi.
So how do you convince people to give you their ultra-rare Pokémon? By breeding better ones to trade with them, of course...
Breeding has become an incredibly important part of the "Pokémon" world since it was first introduced in "Pokémon Silver" and "Gold." To do it, you need either a male and female Pokémon of the same species, OR any Pokémon and a Ditto. In the end, you'll end up with eggs that'll hatch into new Pokémon. Sometimes they'll have better stats than their parents, and on some rare occasions they'll be "shiny," which means they're a different color than usual. The upshot is that you'll have plenty of new Pokémon to trade with others who want them.
Of course, if you are a rampant "Pokémon" fan and have a lot of of games full of creatures at your disposal, you can also transfer Pokémon from some of your earlier games. It's a super annoying process because you can only really trade from one Generation to the next in sequential order, and you can't send Pokémon back to the games they're originally from.
Things are a little easier if you have a Pokémon Bank account, an app for the 3DS which allows you to store Pokémon from across several different generations remotely over the Internet -- except you need to buy an annual pass to actually use the service. So either way, it's a commitment.
Luckily, now you don't have to have an entire collection of games to get all the Pokémon you need. Since "OmegaRed" and "AlphaSapphire" were released in November last year, it's now possible to catch all the Pokémon on the National Pokédex with only the 3DS-compatible games. Which doesn't mean ALL the Pokémon, mind you -- there are still a few exclusive event Pokémon that you can only obtain through trading, and which technically don't count towards your Pokédex numbers.
So using all of these tools, just how long is it going to take you to get all of these Pokémon? Last summer, Polygon's Matthew Sullivan spent over 100 hours breeding Pokémon to trade with other players to accomplish the task -- and that's not counting the hundreds of hours he'd already played in previous games over years of being a fan.
The good news is, while it might take you a long time, you're not alone -- there are plenty of awesome resources to help you find the Pokémon you need, like Pokébay, or the subreddit r/Pokemontrades. You just have to be willing to get out into the Pokémon world and talk to people that weren't programmed into your game. But if you really do want to "Catch 'Em All," it'll be well worth it!