Review by Jerrynsteph4eva
"151 Pokemon to catch, two versions. Which will you choose? Red or Blue?"
Never before have I seen a game take off so fast as Pokemon. It was the only game I ever remember that captivated nearly every student at my old school as well as intriguing even non-gamers. Literally everyone knew about Pokemon, even our school security guards, teachers and principal (who often mispronounced it Pok-ay-man), something I truly can't say about any other game I've ever known. My friend Paul even used his game as a bargaining chip to get you to do things he wanted with most people accepting! (Hey, I'll let you borrow Red for a week if you do my homework tonight!). It was a system seller, causing Game Boy sales to rocket through the roof (as well as the little used Link Cable that allowed multiplayer between Game Boy games) as well as selling merchandise galore. Even if you weren't a gamer, there was little chance that you didn't know what Pokemon was.
I still remember my first encounter with Pokemon. I had bought a Game Boy, but hardly ever used it (as well as a clearanced out Link Cable I had never used) as I only had a few games and nothing else truly captured my interest. Unfortunately, I had broken the screen after playing it during a power outage, but was not too concerned with replacing it. However, my friend had pointed me towards his brand new game: Pokemon. I was hooked almost immediately and after grasping the basic concepts, we would take turns playing the game on the way home from school as well as after school hang outs. When he would leave, I would read walkthroughs on GameFAQs just to tide myself over until the next hang out when I could play the game. Finally, I saved up enough and purchased a Game Boy Pocket from Funcoland and a brand new copy of Pokemon Blue from Target. I don't think I've ever spent more time playing a game than I did Pokemon Blue (aside from its two sequels). It was the sole reason my parents bought me a Gameboy AC adaptor (so I wouldn't keep eating through batteries). The topic of conversation between our friends almost never changed from Pokemon (from our recent catches to trading to battling). I even had a friend who would tell you he studied it religiously, studying tips, tricks and move sets from every Pokemon site he could find. We bought Pokemon books that contained information we already knew just to re-read them and get an official Pokemon trainer license. There was even one time we held up the principal of our school for half an hour because my friend and I were in the middle of trading and battling each other. But how does it hold up today? Read on.
At first glance, Pokemon seems to be your stereotypical JRPG from its turn based battles to its level system. Walking around entices random battles that you can choose to grind your party with or run away and hope you can get to the next city to heal. However, there's a huge catch that makes this game addicting and truly unique: everything you randomly battle can be caught and added to your party. This is truly an awesome feature that will forever define Pokemon.
You see, Pokemon is about the little Pocket Monsters, aka Pokemon, that roam the world. Your goal? To capture them all and become the greatest Pokemon trainer in the land. After Professor Oak (a man who has devoted his life to studying Pokemon and lives in the same town as you) gives you your first pokemon (from a choice of three), you set off to capture these wild animals and defeat the eight gym leaders, each specializing in a certain type of pokemon, who give you a gym badge to show you've beaten them. Afterwards, you use these 8 badges to face the Elite 4 in battle and eventually the champion. Along the way, you're harassed by your Rival (your childhood friend who also wants to be the champion) and the villainous Team Rocket (who wants to steal Pokemon to use for world domination). Every time you catch a pokemon, you unlock a section about it in your Pokedex, which gives a mini bio about it as well as its stats (as though it were an encyclopedia). While the storyline isn't an epic novel, it's simple enough to draw you in and keep you there.
One of the biggest components of the game is the battle system. There are 151 different pokemon available to capture and use on your team, each one with different unique stats, movesets and types. No two pokemon are the same and each has their own strengths and weaknesses. There are 15 types that Pokemon and moves can be in this generation (Pokemon can be a mix of two types while moves are always one). Each type has certain types it would be advantageous against and some that would be advantageous against it, which is supposed to balance out the system so no Pokemon are dominant over another, but falls short (more on that later). Pokemon can learn a whole set of moves, but can only keep four at a time, allowing you to erase any move it knows for the one it's attempting to learn. Each move has different effects and can do anything from simply damaging the opponent to inflicting a status impairment upon it (freezing them, making them sleep, poisioning them, etc) to bumping up/down the stats of the involved Pokemon. This system is set up so that you won't be facing the same Pokemon over and over and for the most part works and encourages you to experiment with both move sets and pokemon until you find a system that works best for you.
As stated earlier, any wild Pokemon can be caught and added to your party. You do so by battling the Pokemon until it is weakened and using a Poke Ball at it (which you must buy at the mart prior to battle). There are times that it will fail, mostly if you're using lower level balls against strong opponents or you haven't weakened it enough. Poke balls come in five different variations (three that you can purchase) that each have a degree of sucess of capturing Pokemon. Afterwards, it is added to your party. You are allowed to carry up to six different Pokemon with you in your party and can freely switch between them during battle (at the cost of one turn). Any pokemon that surplus this six are sent to a PC storage box for you to pick up later at a Pokecenter (which offers your Pokemon free healing so make sure to use them as often as possible). Every time you change areas, the pokemon you encounter change as well, so it's always fun to reach new towns to see what you can find and capture.
Another major part of Pokemon is evolution. Although the method varies (especially in the sequels), most Pokemon are able to evolve into stronger Pokemon, either by reaching a certain level or using a certain evolution stone on them. This can be helpful both to your party and to your Pokedex (which logs which Pokemon you've seen and captured) and causes an increase in stats and stat gain when leveling up as opposed to keeping them unevolved. However, the drawback is that most evolved Pokemon learn moves later than they would had they not evolved (if they even learn them at all). While it's generally a good rule of thumb to evolve given the chance, there can be instances where you want to keep your Pokemon as it is.
One thing that's unfortunate if you're not playing this game with a friend (or if you don't have two carts and two game boys) is that you can't 100% the game by yourself. There are several pokemon exclusive to Pokemon Red (Ekans, Arbok, Oddish, Gloom, Vileplume, Mankey, Primeape, Growlithe, Arcanine, Scyther and Electabuzz) and several exclusive to Pokemon Blue (Sandshrew, Sandslash, Vulpix, Ninetales, Meowth, Persian, Bellsprout, Weepinbell, Victreebel, Magmar, Pinsir) that you must trade to the opposite version in order to complete your Pokedex. There are also several pokemon that you have to trade for, as you only get to choose one out of two (or three) different pokemon and miss out on the others (Bulbasaur, Charmander, Squirtle, Jolteon, Vaporeon, Flareon, Hitmonlee, Hitmonchan, Omanyte, Kabuto) There are also several pokemon that will not evolve until they're traded (Kadabra, Graveler, Haunter, Machoke). While it's not a huge deal (especially to those of us with with Gamesharks), it may mean more to purchase if you're a completionist who can't find a friend to play this game with. Another thing that kind of sucks is that most of the Pokemon you must trade for are unique and you can only get one of them, so you have to be prepared to either lose yours for theirs or give up something really good in compensation. You also cannot de-evolve, so if your friend has chosen Bulbasaur and you need him to complete your Pokedex but he's already evolved it to Venusaur, you're unfortunately out of luck (unless you have a copy of Gold/Silver, but that's a different story). Fortunately, you can trade any pokemon you want, so if you're looking for a Persian and have an extra Geodude laying around (and they accept it), you can offer that up (though you can only trade one pokemon for one pokemon). Trading is a huge part of this game and makes for a fun experience when you've got a couple of friends playing with you.
Trading also offers up several advantages/disadvantages. Each trainer is given a unique Trainer ID number, which is applied with their name to every pokemon caught by them. Any Pokemon whose ID doesn't match the player's (99% of the time a traded pokemon) is seen as a traded pokemon and gains boosted EXP during battles. While this helps when you're grinding for levels or trying to get an evolution, there is a drawback: without the proper gym badges, traded pokemon will not obey you! They'll loaf around, use moves different than the ones you told them to use and sometimes even fall asleep! Unless you're really desperate for a certain Pokemon to use in your party, it's best to keep traded Pokemon in the PC box until you have the appropriate badge. Also, traded Pokemon cannot be nicknamed or have their name changed unless traded back.
This game also sports a Dragon Warrior feature that makes it much more enjoyable and makes you more willing to explore: when you die, you don't get a game over, rather you lose half of your money and wake up at the nearest Pokecenter. It helps if you're underleveled or just plain losing and don't want to start over from the last save.
For the more advanced player, this game features many internal variables that make sure no two Pokemon are alike, even though they look exact (such as two level 3 Pidgeys). Each pokemon has a DV (determinant value) that ranges from 1 to 15 and affects how each stat grows upon leveling up as well as an EV (effort value) that does the same, but grows as you fight pokemon in the wild or fight trainers. While only the most serious Pokemon players will do anything with these values, the strategist can use these stats to sculpt the perfect Pokemon for the role they have envisioned (for more information on these, be sure to check out the wonderful Strategy Guide by RJones).
This game does have its downfalls though. Being a first effort by Game Freak, Pokemon Red/Blue is loaded with glitches, a lot of which are serious and should be avoided at all costs. This game is famous for them after all. From the Missingno glitch (which duplicates your sixth item and allows you to catch high level pokemon but corrupts your Hall of Fame and potentially ruins your cartridge) to Glitch City to the famous Mew trick, the game is loaded with them. Even some of the moves are glitched and don't work as intended (such as Haze removing the foe's status inflictions and Counter only working for two types of moves). Fortunately, most of them you don't encounter unless you're intentionally looking for them, but sometimes the curious gamer may find his save file becomes corrupted because of these glitches.
Second is the utter dominance of Psychic types in RBY. Though corrected in the sequels, Psychic types are extremely powerful in this game due to their only weakness being Bug, a type which has no useful moves or Pokemon as well as being strong against Poison and Fighting, which makes up a good chunk of potential Pokemon (including Bulbasaur and it's evolutions). It also doesn't help that Special Attack and Special Defense are one stat in Pokemon Red/Blue (simply called Special), of which Psychic moves are a part of, causing extremely powerful Pokemon that become powerhouses with high defenses. The single Pokemon that pretty much breaks the entire no Pokemon better than the other system is Mewtwo, a Pokemon that can be captured post game that has abnormally high stats (especially in special) and can dominate any Pokemon in the game (unless you truly know what you're doing). What this means is you're going to fight Mewtwo in 9/10 player battles you face (and the one battle will either be a newbie or someone who knows what they're doing). In fact, one could theoretically put together a team of Mewtwos and dominate, since the developers didn't really program anything that can counter it this generation. What this truly means is that unique, diverse team you put together that dominated the Elite 4 will be crushed most of the time because of Psychic's superiority.
The game also heavily emphasizes that you should Collect em All!, but only offers you the opportunity to obtain 124 of the possible 151 without trading whatsoever. Most of the pokemon you have to trade away for are one per game as well, which means you've gotta trade away your only copy of a Pokemon just to get another (or find someone who's willing to give you theirs) as well as hope they haven't evolved it at all (though a quick trade to Gold/Silver/Crystal will allow you to breed another of them to send back). There are also two Pokemon you cannot catch legitimately at all, requiring you to trade with NPCs to obtain them (Licktung, Mr. Mime) and of which they've given silly, unchangeable nicknames. However, the biggest kick in the pants is Mew, an extremely useful Psychic pokemon that can learn any TM/HM in the game that is only available to those who are willing to go to Pokemon events (which are long since over). For the completionists, this means that you cannot legitimately obtain this Pokemon at all. Yep, unless you take advantage of the Mew glitch, trade with someone lucky enough to still have a legitimate Mew or use a Gameshark, you will never truly complete your Pokedex. For a game that pushes onto you that you Gotta catch em All, this is totally ludicrous and simply a marketing technique.
The games themselves also haven't aged well, especially compared to Gold/Silver/Crystal. The graphics are black and white and the Pokemon look very little like the Pokemon of today. The game is unbalanced and many of the types are superfluous due to Psychic's dominance (you could go as far as saying that normal Attack types are superfluous due to the universal Special stat). Items are haphazardly throw into a universal list, which leads to clunky, unorganized inventories. You can't even tell which Pokemon you've obtained without pulling open your Pokedex and checking before battle (which leads to duplicates and wasted poke balls). While the game is still amazing, players who pick this up after playing the later games may cast it off as outdated.
All in all, this game has something for everyone. For the completionist, there are 151 different Pokemon to catch and call your own (it's also the easiest game to complete the Pokedex, requiring you to trade with just one other version). For the typical RPG fan, there's stats to build and lots of opportunity to grind while pursuing a semi interesting story. For the socialite, this game allows you to battle against your friends and see who comes out the victor. For the strategist, there's plenty of moves to choose from and DV/EV stats to compare against others. For the people who love details, each Pokemon has their own Pokedex entry and stats. There truly is a reason this game took off and though it's got a few rough edges, it's absolutely worth it. If you're checking this game out after playing a later gen, you may not like this game as much as later ones, but if you give it a shot you'll find it's pretty enjoyable. All in all, there's no reason why anyone with a Game Boy should not own one of these games. If you find a working copy, buy it. You won't regret it.
Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 04/30/12
Game Release: Pokemon Red Version (US, 09/30/98)
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