It’s officially 20 years since Satoshi Tajiri and Game Freak’s Pokémon Red and Green were first released in Japan. Can you believe it? Right from the moment I first chose Charmander, it was an experience that I can honestly say changed my life. What’s more, from the story, to the gameplay, to emotional ties you’ll gain with your Pokémon, it still holds up as one of the deepest and most satisfying gaming experiences you can ever hope to have.
Pokémon’s story begins with you taking control of a care-free kid, one who is preparing to receive his first starter Pokémon from Professor Oak. Here you’ll not only meet your very first Pokémon, but also your rival, Professor Oak’s grandson. All before setting off from the safety of Pallet Town to become the greatest trainer the land has ever seen.
Achieving this is no mean feat though, and you’ll face a number of challenges along the way. The primary challenge comes in the form of defeating Kanto’s eight Gym Leaders, all in order to gain entry to the Pokémon League and challenge the champion. However, throughout the game’s lengthy story you’ll also find yourself tasked with helping people, and with stopping the villainous criminal gang that is Team Rocket. All in all, this sets up one hell of campaign, and in true RPG style you can expect to spend at least 24 hours on the story alone.
Nevertheless, in order to complete the game, you’re going to need to dedicate quite a portion of your time to your Pokémon. Not just in terms of training, but also catching them. This is where Pokémon really takes on a life of it’s own, with each and every person’s experience truly becoming unique.
All in all there are 151 Pokémon to catch, with some common, some rare, and some even legendary. You’ll be able to catch as many as you want, but players are only allowed six in their team at any one time. As such, you’ll want to pick your team wisely, and train them to be the best they can be. You’ll also need to balance your team as the game progresses in order to fully explore all of the areas Kanto has to offer.
Collecting and training Pokémon is an element of the game that will stay with the player long after the story is completed. In fact, some Pokémon, such as the legendary Mewtwo, remain inaccessible until after you have been crowned champion. What’s more, with 151 Pokémon to get your hands on, everyone will have their favourites. This being just another of this game’s many charms. For example, my favourites include Gengar, Pidgeot and Poliwhirl.
This does however bring us to one of the only flaws in the title. You see, thanks to the split between Red and Blue, it’s actually impossible to catch all 151 without trading between the two versions. What’s more, training your Pokémon from the level you catch them up to a competitive level, is something that takes considerable time.
This training is something that takes place through battles, with trainer battles yielding more experience that defeating wild Pokémon. Furthermore, each Pokémon will also grow stronger by learning new moves at pre-determined levels, and of course by famously evolving into stronger forms. Yes, this does at times require a degree of experience grinding, but the portable nature of the game certainly makes this task far more bearable than it would be on the big screen.
What’s more, the turn-based system is one which adds a heavy amount of tactical strategy into the gameplay, and constantly keeps players on their toes. This comes thanks to the Game Freak’s use of 15 different types, which range from Water and Fire Pokémon like Blastoise and Charizard, to Ghost and Psychic Pokémon like Gengar and Alakazam. You see, each of these types has their own strengths and weaknesses, meaning that battling is not just a simple case of selecting a move and attacking in turns.
Aside from the battling, Kanto brings with it a massive region to explore. Inspired by a merging of traditional and modern Japan, Kanto offers cities, villages, seas, forests, caves, and even a Safari. What’s more, you’ll have to traverse this land not only as part of the game’s progression, but also in order to discover and catch all of the game’s different Pokémon. With some of the rarest hiding within the darkest corners of the region.
In terms of presentation, the game may utilise the Game Boy’s monochrome black and white display, but this certainly doesn’t impact on its charm or appeal. This is evidenced through not only the charmingly designed top down 8-bit sprite display that immerses you in the world, but also thanks to each and every one of Ken Sugimori’s Pokémon designs. Designs that bring the world to life right in front of your eyes, so much so that you’ll forget the lack of colour.
On top of the graphics, the soundtrack is also just as memorable. In fact, from the battle theme that plays every time you meet eyes with a stranger, all the way to the heart pounding adrenaline pumping themes that are found on fighting the Champion or a legendary Pokémon, it’s hard to pick a stand out. There’s even a range of sound effects, alongside each Pokémon having their own battle cries.
All in all, this is easily one of the most addictive and enjoyable games ever made, and one that is packed to breaking point with content. In fact, despite being housed on Nintendo’s humble 8-bit Game Boy, this game has more going on than most modern console titles. The game’s long lasting appeal is also helped by the emphasis on the post-game experience, and by the emotional attachment that you as the player create with your misfit band of Pokémon. So much so, that you’ll unable to let go of your Pokémon, and the experiences you shared, long after you’ve finished playing the game.
Today Pokémon is a global name, and a powerhouse franchise of not only the gaming world, but the multimedia world. However, it all started here, with a game that was not only a revelation back in 1996, but one that is still a revelation to this day. Quite simply, every gamer owes it to themselves to experience the joy and addictiveness of Pokémon. The original games in the Pokémon franchise may be 20 years old, but there’s never been a better time to go back to where it all began.