We all know the truth about the Pokémon series that the formula was born nigh on perfect and while several bells and whistles have been added over the last couple of decades, the core gameplay has remained the same since the start. Nonetheless every game is a different experience, sporting new regions, specific sets of creatures, new characters to overcome and different extra-curricular activities to undergo. It is in these areas that the Pokémon games manage to stand out from one another. So how do the original titles shape up?
The thing is that, even when we take the remakes Pokémon FireRed and LeafGreen into account, on paper these should be the worst games in the series. The type match-ups are so unbalanced that the Psychic type takes total dominance over everything else. Poison types are aplenty and there are no reliable Bug or Ghost types to challenge them at all. Furthermore a lot of Pokémon can only rely on Normal type offensive moves meaning that Rock types actually come out rather well here too. Having a team with an Alakazam and a Rhydon on practically guaranteed a swift defeat over everything. The Sleep status was ridiculously overpowered and certain other tricks such as stacking up damage with Toxic and Leech Seed combined meant there were plenty of ways to ensure total control over each battle.
Furthermore there’s the issue of lacking any post-game material aside from completing the Pokédex, a task that features in every game. The remakes attempt to resolve this issue by adding the Sevii Islands, an after plot involving Team Rocket and a powered-up rematch for the Elite Four. However there are no Battle Facilities or anything like Contests to do aside from a couple of rather obscure mini games. Then completing the Pokédex falls short of satisfying too because catching 151 Pokémon doesn’t really take too long to do and collecting anymore will leave us with huge holes where certain creatures just aren’t available in either FireRed or LeafGreen. Indeed on paper things do not look good.
So what is it that draws so many people back to the old 8-bit games? Why do gamers who grew up with Pokémon feel the need to declare there will only ever be 151 Pokémon and look down on the games’ successors despite how much better they’ve become? It only takes a little while to play through them before we remember why.
Pokémon Red and Blue capture our imaginations more so than any other games in the series to date. All its tropes have become standard in later releases; we’re a young boy sent out into a world of dreams and adventure with a rival to best, gym leaders to challenge and a villainous team to thwart. However what’s so refreshing about the original games is that none of these aspects are being crammed down our throats. Our trainer is left entirely to his own devices to explore and develop as and when we choose. The games are far less linear than any others since (technically Koga is supposed to be battled before Sabrina) and there are no NPCs constantly running up to us along the way posing rhetorical questions and then telling us how amazing Pokémon are. This also transfers over to the
characters we meet along the way. The rival does whatever he wants and we love his arrogance for it and Team Rocket genuinely feel like a crime syndicate who are ever present in all aspects of city life (they kill a Marowak people, that’s pretty horrible stuff). They aren’t trying to force themselves on us which actually makes the game more engaging. This much more independent approach in future would not go amiss (so please no more chasing Furfrou or strange conversations about bones).
Furthermore the Pokémon have been implemented better within the Kanto region and part of this is helped by the imbalance at play. Still to this day I have not quite gotten used to the Psychic types fall from glory; it’s as if they should be more powerful than everything forever more. Mewtwo may still be a great Pokémon but he doesn’t nearly have the God-like status he used to (something that even the Creation Pokémon hasn’t been able to replicate). However there is more than that, exploring the Pokémon Mansion and reading the diary entries really makes this legendary Pokémon seem like something out of control and definitely worth the capture. The concept of legendary Pokémon seems to carry more weight in these first titles with real exploration being required to find them. And yet the rest of the cast need commending also, Ghost types genuinely feel like a type unknown when it require the Silph Scope to even see them, the cocoon Pokémon really could protect themselves from most of our attacks, Clefairy were these mythical creatures rarely found atop Mt. Moon, power plants, burnt out buildings and icy caverns all contained specific sets of wild Pokémon recognisable with the environment and the Unknown Dungeon (later renamed Cerulean Cave) truly had the most powerful and tricky Pokémon inside. The creatures were implemented well and once again this captured our imagination just as much as we enjoyed capturing the Pokémon.
Finally with their being so few Pokémon of certain types it meant that the Elite Four were actually quite a challenge because they used creatures we had very little prior knowledge on at all. This didn’t quite make them fair at times (I still pull my hair out battling Agatha’s Gengar and without a strong Ice type attack to use Lance’s Dragonite are just as tough) but it meant they were characters who knew more about this world and by overcoming would only strengthen our ability to understand the type match-ups and the mechanics of the game. Once we overcome them and face the Rival once more their truly is a sense of having become the most powerful trainer in the world because at the end of Pokémon Red and Blue it truly feels as if we have fought against everything and won and therefore becoming real Pokémon Masters.
Ultimately you’d think Pokémon Red and Blue should not be as celebrated still as they are today; the series has grown so much since it almost seems unfair to undermine this. But it’s their more reserved quality that makes them still perhaps the most imaginative and personal experiences in the entire series. Wherever the Pokémon series may tread in future, there is no doubt that players will always be able to spare some time to switch on their old Game Boy and give these revered classics another play through.