I’ve decided to look back at the Pokemon games that I used to play in my childhood. Boy has it been a ride for me. Compared to modern games, the retro Pokemon might not have the best story, music, and especially graphics, yet I am still drawn to it. I had no problems reliving this old simplistic game. I wondered if there was some sort of formula as to why the Pokemon games did so well. Why is it still so interesting? So let’s start at the beginning of it all, as we explore the origins of the world of Pokemon.
Probably one of the weirdest plots in the history of gaming, the first gen of Pokemon games puts you into the shoes of an aspiring Pokemon trainer. You start the game in your hometown of Palet Town, where upon walking through some tall grass, Professor Oak stops you and takes you to his laboratory. There, you meet your long time rival (his name is Asshat), and you both choose your respective Pokemon from Bulbasaur, Charmander, and Squirtle. That’s a good set up, but the game from here on out, that part always made me confused.
From a story point of view, this game is a mess. Think of it like this, a story generally has one main journey that the main character takes. They develop and grow, and one day they accomplish their goal. They bring an end to that main journey. In this game however, we have three journeys. The first one is to become the Pokemon Champion of the Kanto region and beat your rival. The second is to stop a terrorist organization known as Team Rocket. The last one is to collect all 151 Pokemon for Professor Oak’s research. In this game, we aren’t told which of the three goals is the main plot. It becomes a bit of a mess.
Some say that becoming the Pokemon Champion is the end goal, as the game ends there. Imagine that after becoming the Pokemon Champion, you set off to find and end Team Rocket once and for all. If the credits were to roll after their defeat, it still doesn’t make defeating Team Rocket the main plot. The fact remains that we aren’t given clarity here at all. But ultimately, there is a good reason for this. The reason this works is you, not just as a player, but as a character.
It is evident from a few facts: you get to choose the characters name, there is no dialogue for them, and for that matter no personality shown in the game. In Pokemon, you are the main character. It is about what you want to accomplish. In the end, this game is about you, on your journey in the Kanto Region. And that, despite its flawed storytelling, is what makes this games story so surprisingly timeless.
Pokemon always had interesting gameplay. It was no exception for the first generation either. With 151 Pokemon in the first generation games, you have 151 battle buddies that you can choose from, with six being the maximum you can have with you at one time. Each Pokemon has a type, e.g fire, grass, water. Different types are weak or strong against others, so it becomes more or less a glorified rock paper scissors game. So much so that it can get repetitive and boring at times.
Each Pokemon also has their own set of attacks or moves that they can use in battle, which they learn through leveling up, or being taught through TMs (technical machine) and HMs (hidden machine). Each Pokemon is unique with its own evolutions. There is a vast selection, which means you can make many teams. This is one of the major highlights of this game. The satisfaction of your Pokemon evolving through your journey is engaging to the player. You can shape your team to your personal interest and ideals, complementing how the story makes you the protagonist.
Another thing going for the gameplay is the potential exploration. You travel through the large region of Kanto, and experience the journey yourself. The amount of towns, routes, and just the plain layout of the world are vast and plentiful.
Graphics and Music
Considering graphics and music, Pokemon was probably one of the most amazing games to come out in its generation. The graphics are probably not what most people look for now, and the music isn’t in a good spot for either. But when you consider the fact that this came out in 1998 on a hand held console of all things, you got to give a game credit where it’s due. The music is simple and not as clear as today’s games, but it fits the game like a glove. The simple electronic music is used amazingly well to situated what is going on in the game. Each town has their own music to signify the mood, and by god does it do that well. A good example is Saffron City, with its sinister ambiance. Despite its bland electronic sounds, the game does have a good atmosphere built with its digital melodies alone.
The first generation of Pokemon has by far been outdated and surpassed for ages, but it is still timeless and enjoyable. Though the graphics can be considered laughable in today’s society, the game fits together like a perfect puzzle. The story entices you into the world as the protagonist, the gameplay is very individualized and is made for you to explore and journey. The ambient music, while simple, gives a decent atmosphere. Of course, it has it has its limitations and downsides. From a story perspective it makes no sense, and the gameplay can be repetitive at times. However, the individualization that the game provides is enough to encourage me to complete my journey. Pokemon has come a long way, developing new ideas and expanding the world. After playing the first gen, you come to appreciate the journey that this franchise has traveled.
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