This is a series I’ve been wanting to talk about for a long time. I’ve recently rekindled my love with this franchise with the releases of Pokémon Black and White. I really feel the need to write about Pokémon, because I honestly wouldn’t be into gaming today if it wasn’t for this series. These are without a doubt my favourite videogames ever. Now writing this won’t be a 100% documentary with all the right facts. This is meant more to be a journal of my life as a young Pokémon trainer all the way to now. These will be based entirely on memories of all my greatest and most cherished moments with these little pocket monsters. I’m not here to give you a history lesson, although undoubtedly, there will be some of that featured. Pokémon has a tarnished name with some gamers. It will always be associated with kids, something that in my opinion is tremendously unfair. I was a indeed a child when I started playing, but it’s a series that while very enjoyable to children, is even more captivating as an adult. I know that many of you will probably never give this series its fair chance, and some of you already have and might share similar feelings. It is my hope that these articles will hunger some of the more stubborn haters to give Pokémon a try. After-all, you’re missing out on one of the best gaming franchises ever made.
The Start of an Adventure
My experience with Pokémon didn’t start out like most. I had absolutely no idea what “Pocket Monsters” were. Nor did I know anything about the cartoons. All I knew was this commercial… “Gotta Catch Em All” was the tagline. I thought this was a “100 games in 1 cartridge” kind of title. Looking back I have no clue why I imagined that. My mom at the time was at a skating competition that my sister was attending out of town. She called me and asked me if I wanted anything. I told her I’d like to have a Game Boy Pocket along with this “Pokémon” game. Turns out she had bought one for me and was planning on surprising me with it on Christmas or some other gift-related event we young kids love so much. However, when she came back home, I immediately bugged her so much about it she finally succumbed and gave me my presents right away. What I found was a brand new silver Game Boy Pocket along with a copy of Pokémon Blue. The rest is history.
I quickly found out that Pokémon was not a series of different videogames, but rather a monster catching role-playing game. I was hooked right from the start. I remember debating for quite some time which Pokémon to choose as my starter. Since the beginning, the Pokémon games have always let you start the game with a fire, water or grass Pokémon. Once you made your choice, you couldn’t get the other two anywhere else in the game unless you traded with a friend. Of course, this wasn’t knowledge I had at the time, but it’s just to give noobs an understanding of how this series works. I chose the lovely Charmander, the fire dude as my very fist Pokémon. I (like many I would later realize) appropriately nicknamed him “First”. You were then tasked to go out and defeat eight gym leaders, train and capture more Pokémon along your way to the elite four. A little side note here, the initial Pokémon you chose affected the difficulty of the game, at least the first dozen or so hours. Charmander was “hard” mode, because the first two gym leaders had Pokémon who were at an advantage against fire Pokémon. The first cave also took hours to navigate and explore and featured tons of ground and rock type Pokémon, which also didn’t help. Choosing Squirtle, the water-type Pokémon, meant gamers would play on “normal” mode, since the first gym was a piece of cake with this particular monster. Bulbasaur on the other hand would destroy the first two gyms giving you ample time to train and prepare for the challenges ahead. This in my opinion could be referred as “easy” mode.
Now what makes this series so addicting is that there are unlimited possibilities. From the get-go, you head out and you play the game the way you want to. Which Pokémon you choose to catch and raise will greatly differ depending on your personality. The Internet wasn’t a huge factor in those early days. I myself would soon be blessed with “dial up” in the coming years. The only way to know which moves a Pokémon would learn and what that move would do was to raise it yourself and try them. Each Pokémon could only hold four different moves at a time. But each one of them could potentially learn hundreds of moves. No single trainer would have the same team or the same move-sets. I was also surprised when my little Caterpie evolved into a Metapod at level 7. Most Pokémon can evolve, some twice and all that plays a major role.
The biggest gameplay mechanic was the big “rock paper scissors” factor. Basically, there were 15 elemental types of Pokémon and they all had strengths and weaknesses. Pokémon were not necessarily limited to one type but could have a maximum of two. All these factors made for a rich RPG experience that was made ten million times better when I realized the community aspects of the series. Although they make for awesome single player adventures, these games were made to be shared. Trading and battling with others is why I still play this series to this very day.
The Pokémon Community
I remember my very first battle with a friend. Although it was close, I lost in the end. Fun fact, he also named his Charmander “First” (now a Charizard), which would come in handy in my second fight against another friend, Marc-Andre. We would have many battles over the years, still have some today, but my first battle against him also ended in defeat. I noticed that he also had a Charizard named “First” and would later find out that he had “borrowed” some Pokémon from my earlier buddy. This series also solidified our friendship, which peaked when he later married my sister years later. Would this have ever happened without Pokémon? It could have, but I like to think Pokémon played a big role in it.
There is one type of Pokémon that was hugely overpowered in the original games and that is the psychic type. You see it was supposed to have two weaknesses, against ghost and bug types. Due to a programming error, ghost attacks actually turned out to be ineffective against psychics. Because of that, only bug moves were “technically” good against Pokémon like Alakazam or Drowzie. Problem is, the original games featured only four bug-type moves in the entire game. All of which are extremely weak. To add insult to injury, most bug-types were also half poison, an elemental type weak to psychic attacks. Also, even without the ghost programming error, the only ghost Pokémon featured in the game (Ghastly, which would evolve into Haunter and Gengar) were also half-poison. Again, there were also very few ghost type moves (three to be exact) and were not very threatening to begin with.
Because of this, my battles with Marc-Andre would always result in a match fight between our Mewtos. Mewto was by the far the hardest Pokémon to catch in the entire game, but also the best one featured in the original “trilogy”. Whoever won that dual would win the battle. This is actually interesting because as you’ll see in my next article, I took a mental note of this and would prepare myself specifically for these types of scenarios in the future. Although Marc-Andre would be declared the winner in many of our generation one battles, he would not reclaim that glory in the Game Boy Color sequels.
(Marc-Andre’s thoughts on the subject)
I must have played at least 150 hours of the first gen games. I remember that first battle! I had indeed mischievously borrowed powerful pokémon from a friend as I had not enough lvl 100′s! I have a good excuse tough. I must have started playing that series a good year later than all my friends because my parents didn’t let me play video games. I had to gather up the money and secretly buy a gameboy, the game and play while my parents were away. :/ They caught me one time, I had to lie and tell them it wasn’t mine so as to not let them take it away he he. Steven is right that without pokémon, the game that brought us closer as friends, I probably wouldn’t be married to the most awesome woman in the world! His sister ;).
I’ve recently went back and dug through my old collection to find my Pokémon games. I wanted to know how much time I invested in this series, and thought it would be fun to keep a journal of this in these articles. I was also pleasantly surprised to my find my GBA SP still fully charged after all these years and that the batteries in these games were still functional. I remember having completed Pokémon Blue three times, but since you can only hold one save file per cartridge, the clock currently says 32 hours and 32 minutes of gameplay in that version. It also doesn’t hold any of my level 100 Pokémon, which are now all in my Pokémon Stadium cart, which I’ll talk more about later. With a rough estimate, each play through taking around 40 to 60 hours, I’d say I have well over 120 hours invested in that cart. My copy of Pokémon Red has only been completed once, but it was my main game of choice when it came to grinding and collecting. That version currently shows 111 hours and 50 minutes of gameplay plus a complete Pokédex of 151. Pokémon Yellow: Special Pikachu Edition was a game I also restarted after completing, making sure to keep all my original Pokémon by trading them to previous versions. That game has a clock of merely 11 hours and 27 minutes. This gives a pretty good idea of how much time I actually invested in what was, for the most part three identical games, with only Yellow offering some changes.
Speaking of Yellow, this was my first experience with the now obligatory “third pillar” that every new Pokémon game has received since. I was so excited at first to play something new that I had downloaded the japanese ROM. I ended up playing an extremely text-heavy game all in japanese on my computer months before the game would see release overseas. It was extremely hard to play since I didn’t know what the actual attacks were until I tried them. I also didn’t know what attacks my Pikachu was trying to learn and whether I should switch it for another move or not. I had to use memory and hope that the moves Pikachu learned in Yellow, were the same as in Blue/Red. Defeating Brock, the first gym leader, was extremely hard also since (unlike the tv series), winning that badge with Pikachu was not an option. I was also pleasantly surprised to meet Jessie and James not long after that which were the main villains from the popular cartoon. Pokémon Yellow is the only game in the series to this day that was actually inspired by the cartoon series. Although I would enjoy my time with the North American release later, Yellow was still pretty much the same game as Red/Blue with a few changes thrown here and there. I was now ready for a brand new adventure.
The Hunt for Mew
There were many glitches in the original Pokémon games, the ability to catch “Missingno” being one of them. As a kid however, there were many rumors going around that there was a way to obtain “Mew”, the rarest and last Pokémon in the Pokédex. It was widely believed that completing your Pokédex would grant you a Mew, or that you could catch one through a similar method as the “Missingno” glitch. However, all of this turned out to be false. Pokémon remains one of the worst rewarding series out there when it comes to completing a task. Even worse then Ocarina of Time’s “reward” for getting all the gold Skulltullas, completing your Pokédex would (and still does) grant you a poster for you to hang in your virtual room. Talk about a letdown. So while I always dreamed of discovering a way to catch Mew, the only way to do so was via a special Nintendo event. Living in a small town in the North Pole, that opportunity never presented itself and a cheating device such as a GameShark was the only solution to my predicament. Incredibly, years and years later, a legit method for capturing Mew would be discovered!
That’s it guys. This is the end of the first part. I plan on doing a series of articles based on each generation, as well as one talking about the different spin-offs and the cartoon series. The following articles should be much shorter so I apologized for the length. Hope you all enjoyed this and please leave a comment so we can get some kind of discussion brewing.