Part 1: Welcome to the World of Pokémon!
Before I go any farther, there are some basic things that should be addressed. Even if you are a Pokémon fan, or were a long time ago, there’s still a chance that someone reading this site remembers that it existed, but not much beyond that.
The Pokémon world is a fictitious setting based on various real-world locations (mostly regions of Japan.) In this universe, there are a large number of animals of near-human, human, and above-human intelligence called Pocket Monsters, or Pokémon for short. Each Pokémon belongs to a specific type, and has supernatural attacks based around that type that they can use in battles with each other. The capturing and battling of these creatures is a national pastime, and anyone over the age of either ten (by the anime’s continuity) or twelve (by Red, Blue, and Yellow’s continuity) is legally allowed to go out into the world and befriend Pokéon for use in this sport.
If this were my deviantART page, I’d probably spend the next few sentences joking about how the world’s economy runs on legalized cockfighting, or question the logic of sending children out to see the world, but this isn’t a piece lampshading every aspect of the series (although now you know that I am aware of the overall silliness of one of my favorite meta-series.)
Basically, the point of the games is to build a Pokémon team by capturing and training a number of Pokémon, defeating thirteen key opponents (the 8 Gym Leaders, the Elite Four, and the Indigo League Champion,) and eventually catching one of each of the [insert number here] species of Pokémon. It seems like a concept that could never work on paper, but it managed to sell. In fact, this actually works in the series’ favor- by setting these particular opponents, the game encourages the expansion of a trainer’s team, and furthers the goal of catching them all. Once you start seriously trying to accomplish this, however, the game throws you a curve ball- each version of Pokémon has a small number omitted from various areas of the game. For example, you can find the Pokémon Electabuzz in Red version. However, he is not found in Blue. How are you able to complete your Pokémon quest, then? By using the Game Boy Link cable to trade Pokémon with your friend who has Red. While you’re at it, why not trade him a Magmar, which can’t be found in Red, but can in Blue?
This opens up another neat little trick of the series- Pokémon is one of the strangest multiplayer games out there. Your progress in the single-player campaign directly affects your performance in Multiplayer. If you go into Multiplayer mode using a team that has only made it halfway through the game, and you play against someone who’s beaten the game, it doesn’t matter how much practice you have, or how gifted you are with the system- you are going to lose. The other guy has trained his Pokémon longer than you have, so the difference in levels is enough to end the match almost prematurely.
So, that’s it in a nutshell.
Part 2: The Path to the Pokémon League
So, the easiest way to review a game is to start at the beginning, and play it through to the end, so let’s pull out the cartridge, and start this thing…
Hah, no. I just finished a few months ago, and have Bulbapedia should my memory fail (not likely- I’ve been playing this game for years.) I’ll do a basic plot summary for this part, and conclude it with a review of the story.
Pokémon starts off like a typical RPG- with a character naming screen. Basically, you name your character (whose canonical name, and the name used to refer to him hereafter, is Red,) as well as your rival (same as above, and his name is
Douche Blue.) Your character is then dropped into Pallet Town, which is your basic JRPG starting town. In other words, nothing vital past the 20-minute mark. There’s really nothing to do around here, but Blue tells you that his grandfather, the great Professor Oak, is looking for you. There’s exactly one exit to the town at this point in the game, so naturally, you head north.
And guess who just happens to pop up a small way behind you as you do so?
Basically, Oak explains that you can’t walk 15 feet away from your house, because the only exit to the town is full of tall grass, and wild Pokémon (random encounters) will attack you if you set foot inside of it. What happens next varies based on your version- in Red and Blue, he simply brings you back to his lab for the next plot development. In Yellow, the game actually demonstrates that Oak knows what he’s talking about by kicking off a random encounter with what seems like the only Pikachu (that electric rodent mentioned above) on the entire continent. Oak appears on the battle screen, and captures it using a Pokéball, a capsule-like device used to carry Pokémon around in a convenient way (basically, you can walk down Main Street with your giant rock snake in your pocket, rather than causing chaos as you leave a path of destruction in your wake.) He then drags you back to his lab.
Once in the lab, the plot splits again. In Red and Blue, there are three Poké Balls on a nearby table. Oak tells you and Blue that you’re each allowed to pick one of the following- Charmander, a lizard-like Pokémon of the fire element; Squirtle, a turtle-like Pokémon of the water element; or Bulbasaur, a… toad? Dinosaur? Clove of garlic?
…reptillian Pokémon of the grass element. This is actually a very subtle way of teaching the player one of the core gameplay elements of the game- remember how each Pokémon has an elemental type? Turns out that some are strong against certain elements, while others are weak against them. In this case, we have an elemental rock-paper-scissors in play- Fire is strong against Grass, Grass is strong against Water, and Water is strong against Fire. It won’t matter much at this stage, but it will after the first two routes, and will continue mattering for the rest of the game.
Beginners (and if I’m anything to go by, a number of veterans) will generally pick whichever one appeals to them the most, and then you start to get a feel for what Blue’s personality is going to be like. Throughout all your conversations with him so far, he’s been rude, but here, he makes sure that you know what a jerk ass he is by immediately picking the Pokémon that beats yours in the elemental roshambo. For example, if you went with Charmander, he picks Squirtle. Then, while you’re still smarting from the psychological blow, he challenges you to a battle, right then and there. That’s the thing about Pokémon battles- you are unable to turn down a challenge from a human character. Random encounters you can run from, but never a battle.
So, your first battle starts off, and you’re presented with four options (really three- the Run command is always sitting in the bottom-right hand corner of the window, mocking you.) Fight is the best-sounding option, as the other two don’t offer you anything interesting (Pack shows an empty inventory screen, unless you found a hidden healing Potion at the beginning of the game, and PKMN just shows a screen with your Pokémon’s Hit Points, something that’s on the main battle screen anyway.) You’ll have two moves- a damaging attack, and a stat-affecting move. To win this, it’s generally best to just spam your damage attack until the battle ends.
From there, Blue immediately decides that he’s picked the wrong Pokémon if he loses, and taunts you if he wins. What a nice guy.
In Yellow, the entire scene above plays out very differently. The first thing that you see in the lab is a single Poké Ball sitting on Oak’s table. Oak tells you to take it, but Blue physically knocks you out of the way, grabs it, and refuses to hand it over. What probably makes this scene worse is that Oak hears Blue refuse to give it up, and caves immediately. According to the manual and in-game dialogue, Blue is Oak’s grandson, but my grandparents wouldn’t put up with such a display of assholery from me at any age.
With no Pokémon on the table, that means that you’re out of luck, right? Not so fast! Oak still has that Pikachu! He gives it to you, and sends you on your way- or he tries to. Blue isn’t quite done screwing you over just yet, so he drags you into a battle. Afterwards, the scene plays out much the same as in Red and Blue, with the additional detail that your Pikachu breaks out of its Ball, and starts following you around. Turns out that he doesn’t like Poké Balls- and at first, he doesn’t like you either. The more you travel with him, the more at ease with you he gets. This serves little gameplay purpose, but it’s a fun feature nevertheless.
All three games continue similarly from this point onward. You head North to Viridian City, but you’re blocked from two directions- to the north, there’s some bastard lying on the ground, screaming at passers-by about the path you’re on being his private property. Apparently, he hasn’t had his coffee yet. That’s not a joke- that’s literally the very slim justification that the game provides for this man’s behavior. According to what I’ve read on the internet, the Japanese version has him hung over, but that’s not much of a justification either.
The other roadblock is to the west- a massive building past some tall grass. You can enter it, but you don’t get past the lobby without an item called the Boulderbadge- Pokémon League certification that you’ve beaten the first Gym Leader.
So, in Viridian City, you’re left twiddling your thumbs, looking for something to do. You experimentally poke your head into a few of the buildings, and start to learn their various functions. The Pokémon Center is where you heal your Pokémon. The random houses are where you go for pointers, gossip, and sometimes plot developments. The Poké Marts- actually, you don’t find out what they do on the first run through, as you immediately get dragged over to the counter, handed a package for Professor Oak. You don’t get much more than a “Go complete this fetch quest!” from the clerk, so it’s time to backtrack back to Pallet Town.
Once you give the Prof his parcel, Blue shows up, and Oak gives the two of you each a tool called a Pokédex. Basically, you capture a Pokémon (or evolve an existing one,) and the Pokédex updates with some very, very basic information about the species, and records it as caught. This is the start of the catch-em-all subplot mentioned above. Blue acts like an ass on his way out, back to the plot.
Once back in Viridian, the guy in the road is up and mobile. In Red and Blue, he gives you the option of a Pokémon capture tutorial. In Yellow, this man screamed at you, refused to let you pass, and in the end, has the gall to force you to watch him fail to capture a Weedle. Anyway, once that finishes, you head over to the building marked “Gym,” eager for a battle to get the story in gear. Oh, wait, the Gym Leader’s out. You can’t find any way to bring him back, so you head North, into the area called the Viridian Forest. Or, as many fans recognize it, Grinding Zone #1.
As a side note, you can instead head over to the west again to have an optional battle with Blue. Assuming your starter’s at a high enough level (~10 or so,) you can thrash him with little issue. In Yellow, this and the first battle are actually used to determine something much later in the game, so this time, the battle actually counts towards something. If you haven’t gone back into the Mart by now to purchase some Poké Balls, you can head back to Pallet Town, and Oak will just give you some Poké Balls. This generally isn’t worth it, however, as it forces you to go with just your starter until after a fairly difficult battle with your rival.
Now, we’ve hit somewhere between the 30 and 45-minute mark. Hasn’t it been riveting?
One of the things that a large number of fans have rightfully complained about in regards to Pokémon is the excuse plot for the main series games. In the first hour to an hour and a half, nothing of note happens. It isn’t until after the first gym that anything interesting happens, plot-wise. That’s around the time that the player runs into Team Rocket, the villains of the game. There is, however, one massive problem with Team Rocket in these games.
What kind of problem? Well, in 2nd Gen, every time you encounter Team Rocket, they’re involved in some act of wrongdoing. 3rd Gen, same with Teams Aqua and Magma. Same in 4th for Team Galactic. Same in 5th for Plasma.
1st Gen Team Rocket are the villains, and for half of the game, that’s all the justification you’re given for fighting them. I’m dead serious about that. At Mt Moon, they claim to be after fossils to steal, but the way the game plays out, it seems more likely that if you find a fossil, it’s yours. In Celadon City, their only crime was having a base under a casino. Lavender Town, they begin to become menacing, kidnapping an innocent man to… do what, exactly? They do kill a Pokémon, though. A Pokémon known for combat efficiency. Look, they’re evil, all right?
The last time you encounter them, they’re actually involved in an act of villainy- they seize the head office of the Silph company building. Who are Silph? Basically, they’re responsible for just about every item you use in the game. So, that’s actually a half-decent act of wrongdoing. The last time you encounter one of them, it’s their boss, Giovanni (no, really, Don Giovanni,) who turns out to be the final Gym Leader. A fight that, once again, you instigate.
The other plot of the game basically boils down to “move forward until your way is blocked, then find the person or item that can unblock it, and then repeat.” There is very little of substance after that, minus some flavor-related stuff that is not only optional, but you have to go out of your way to find it (such as Mewtwo’s origin.) Post-credits, the only thing that happens is the opening of Cerulean Cave, and the continuation of the catch-em-all quest.
In terms of story, this is a very dull game.
However, if you want a strong story, what are you doing on a Game Boy?
What you played the Game Boy and others of its kind for was the game- the story came second. So, how does the gameplay stack up?