With Pokémon celebrating it's 20th anniversary this year, and the digital releases of Pokémon Red/Blue/Yellow, I decided to revisit the games that started a global phenomenon. Each step of the way, I took careful notes on what I encountered, particularly keeping an eye for brilliant or interesting game design choices. I wanted to better know what made these first games so good—and they are quite good.
I caught SNORLAX on the path outside of CELADON CITY! My PARASECT's SPORE made that pretty easy. I travel down CYCLING ROAD (ROUTE 16), heading toward FUCHSIA CITY for my next badge. My DODUO evolved into DODRIO and BLAZE (my CHARMELEON) evolved into CHARIZARD! It is a good day. I finally make it to FUCHSIA CITY.
I revisit ROUTE 16 to battle a few trainers I had passed on my first ride down to FUCHSIA. I then explore the town and try my luck in the SAFARI ZONE. My first time in I catch a RHYHORN, a PINSIR, and a VENONAT. I encounter CHANSEY on three occasions but do not manage to catch one. A man in town gives me a GOOD ROD which I promptly try out and catch a GOLDEEN and a POLIWAG.
I bring PINSIR and RHYHORN into my team, replacing PARASECT and MAROWAK. These two are lower level so I spend time training them just west of FUCHSIA CITY.
I enter FUCHSIA's gym today. The first Pokémon I fight is a level 38 HYPNO which my RHYHORN doesn't stand a chance against. I decide to go back to training against the FEAROW and RATICATE. While wandering about I met another of PROF OAK's aides and receive and EXP. SHARE for having caught 50 Pokémon. For now, I put this new item away.
Today I challenge KOGA and the FUCHSIA CITY gym and win. RHYHORN handled most of the Pokémon with ease. KOGA's final WEEZING used SELFDESTRUCT on BLAZE, though, so no one got experience for that victory. Now that LAPRAS can SURF outside of battle I return to the SAFARI ZONE to pick up a few more items. I finally catch a KANGASKHAN and a CHANSEY while there. I met a TAUROS but it ran away. I return the GOLD TEETH to the warden and receive HM04 STRENGTH.
I take PINSIR out of my team and add KANGASKHAN. I also teach KANGASKHAN STRENGTH which it uses quite well in battle. I follow ROUTE 15 and 14 north, back up toward LAVENDAR TOWN. I bring FARFETCH'D with me in order to access CUT. For this trek, I decide to bring the EXP. SHARE with me. (I make this decision partly because my item storage is getting full.) I catch a second SNORLAX and arrive in LAVENDAR TOWN once again.
My item storage is now filled to capacity, so I decide to use some of the vitamins and TMs I have collected. I teach LAPRAS THUNDERBOLT and RHYHORN BIDE, too. I then return to SAFFRON CITY to battle at the FIGHTING DOJO—I choose HITMONCHAN as my reward—and SABRINA in the SAFFRON CITY gym. I beat SABRINA pretty easily. DODRIO and BLAZE do most of the work, thanks to their high Speed and high Attack. I then go back to CELADON CITY and cash in my coins for a PORYGON. From there, I take CYCLING ROAD once again back to FUCHSIA and enter the SAFARI ZONE one last time to us my SUPER ROD for a DRATINI—which I catch with only one SAFARI BALL to spare!
I make preparations to SURF across the water to SEAFOAM ISLANDS, and eventually to CINNABAR. I swap DODRIO out for PIDGEOTTO and teach it FLY so that I won't be stranded in the ocean. (Safety first.) I also teach my DRATINI BUBBLEBEAM to give it something more to fight with than WRAP. Off we go, across the water! It's not long before we reach SEAFOAM ISLANDS. Deep below I find ARTICUNO at level 50! I try to catch it but don't succeed—all of my ULTRA BALL attempts miss! So I continue to CINNABAR, determined to return again later. A laboratory on CINNABAR ISLAND revives an OMANYTE from my HELIX FOSSIL. I also find a lot of new Pokémon in the abandoned house. There are lots of diaries about MEWTWO here as well.
I finish my exploring of the abandoned house and then take on BLAINE in the CINNABAR gym. LAPRAS is the MVP for all of the trainer battles but BLAZE secured the victory against BLAINE. That's seven badges! I teach FIRE BLAST—my prize—to BLAZE.
Day 33 It is a short trip back to PALLET TOWN then VIRIDIAN CITY where the final gym awaits. It turns out GIOVANNI is the gym leader here. I prepare my team and dive into battle, and win handily. LAPRAS is again the MVP, taking out most of the Pokémon with SURF or ICE BEAM. That's all eight badges! I have some training to do before I head toward the Pokémon League though, and some other errands to run. I make a quick trip to PEWTER CITY and pick up the OLD AMBER from the museum. The laboratory back at CINNABAR ISLAND is able to revive AERODACTYL from it. I then return to ROCK TUNNEL to train my DRATINI.
I spend the day training DRATINI. At level 30, it evolves into DRAGONAIR. I relocate to the path west of FUCHSIA to continue training. When I finish here, I believe I will go after ARTICUNO again.
I return to SEAFOAM ISLANDS and catch that ARTICUNO!
This first pair of Pokémon games has a much smaller move pool than subsequent games. As consequence, Pokémon learn new attacks, or new moves, with much less frequency than they do in their current iterations. For example, at level 28 Parasect only knows three moves: Scratch, Stun Spore, and Leech Life—not exactly an intimidating set. By the time Charmeleon evolves into Charizard its only Fire-type attack is still Ember. Rhyhorn and Rhydon only learn Normal-type attacks; there's not a single Rock- or Ground-type move they learn by naturally. In fact, most Pokémon only learn a lot of Normal-type moves, which gives Normal-type Pokémon a certain advantage. Dodrio, Kangaskhan, and Tauros are all very viable combatants, thanks in part to their Speed and Attack stats but also helped along by the fact they get STAB (Same-Type Attack Bonus) on every move they learn, and on Hyper Beam, the game's highest power attack. (Er, besides Explosion.) This is even more accented by Pokémon that evolve through evolution stones, such as Nidoking or Raichu. Once evolved in this manner, the Pokémon do not learn any more moves by leveling up. (Jolteon, Vaporeon, and Flareon are the only exceptions to this apparent rule.) Nidoking and Nidoqueen are quite powerful but will never have a competitive moveset without the use of TMs.
The primary result of this is a much greater focus on TM usage. If you want your Rhydon to know a Rock- or Ground-type move, you have to use a TM (Earthquake and Rock Slide are good candidates.) And this focus isn't just for competitive battling. The single-player game greatly encourages making frequent use of TMs. For instance, at the entrance of Mt. Moon, where players will encounter high Defense Geodude, TM12 is available to give one of your low-level Pokémon Water Gun (perhaps Nidoran ♀ or even Rattata). That's a pretty low-power attack but is quite useful for this particular dungeon. Additionally, the game doesn't even provide enough item storage to simply collect all of the TMs and not use them. (Which is a little tough for a hoarder like myself.)
Another side effect of this is that the player will make mistakes. Not all TMs will be used in their most effective manner, and a lot of TMs are only available once. I would never take a Dragonite into a competitive battle with Bubblebeam, but it was certainly useful for training inside of Rock Tunnel and Victory Road. The same can be said of Water Gun taught to a Nidoran ♀. Either players will use a guide book or a fair amount of guesswork will be involved.
Difficulty & Type Availability
The stretch between Celadon City and Seafoam Islands sees very little difficulty growth, namely among the gym leaders. At this juncture, the player is left to his or her own whims when it comes to determining how to progress. Koga and Sabrina have the same level Pokémon and nearly equal difficulty; Sabrina's Psychic-types are a bit harder for Venusaur-trainers, whom don't have an easy walk against Koga's Poison-types either. Both gym leaders are on par with the player's rival and Giovanni in Silph Co. as well. This is a great opportunity for players to catch new Pokémon, switch around their teams, and begin to find their groove, without feeling like they have to keep up with an ever-increasing difficulty. (This coincides excellently with the Safari Zone and Super Rod opening up lots of new viable Pokémon.) The next noteworthy increase is going to be against Giovanni for the eighth badge. By then players have been handed so many Water- and Grass-type Pokémon (or a level 50 Articuno) that winning isn't a challenge.
Poison-type Pokémon have almost bypassed Normal-types for most commonly found now and the latter half of the game sees a very large influx of Water-types. All fifteen types have a representative now, making it easy for players to round out their teams before the receiving their final badge and heading towards the Elite Four. Surprisingly, Fighting-type Pokémon are harder to come by than Ice-type Pokémon—unless you're playing Red Version, in which you've had a few more opportunities to catch Mankey. If you're playing Pokémon Blue, your only options are Machop and Hitmonlee/Hitmonchan. The three rarest types are Ghost-types (one opportunity to obtain), Dragon-types (two opportunities to obtain), and Fighting-types (three/five opportunities to obtain).
Tune in next week to continue the adventure!
Pokémon Blue was developed by Game Freak and Creatures Inc. and published by Nintendo. For this analysis, I played Virtual Console release on Nintendo 3DS.