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Second Opinion: Pokemon’s First Gen Is Also Its Worst

There’s A Snake Whose Name Is Just “Snake” Backwards

This is not a series about games you haven’t heard of.  This is a series about games EVERYONE has heard of.  Games that everyone has an opinion on, regardless of whether they’ve played them or not.  Games whose actual qualities have been buried in a narrative, whether good or bad.  Games that everyone always makes the exact same comments about.  Games that are in desperate need of…a Second Opinion.

I want to begin this week by saying thank you to HeyPoorPlayer’s own Anthony Spivey, who wrote this week’s episode of Second Opinion.  Anthony’s a good friend, an excellent writer, a regular on the HeyPoorPodcast (which you should totally be listening to), and he knows a lot more about Pokemon than I do, which is why he kindly stepped in when I told him I’d be too busy to write a feature this week.  And most importantly of all, it means I’m not liable for anything I say on the show, so now you all have to go and harass him for having different opinions.

Twenty years ago, a small team at GameFreak created one of the biggest franchises in the video game industry. A simple portable RPG obsessed a generation of children with digital monsters, even as parents and authority figures worried that their children were playing a game designed by the devil. While those thoughts would eventually go away (for the most part), it doesn’t change the fact that Pokemon Red, Blue and Yellow sold so many copies that it was impossible to ignore no matter where you went. Heck, even now the games sell well in the millions and consistently get more immersive as the series go along. It’s too bad then, that Pokemon Red, Blue and Yellow are the worst games in the series’ twenty-year history.

Before you all brand us traitors and burn us at the stake, we’re not saying the Pokemon Generation One are bad games. They are still great for their time (Anthony even reviewed them on the site and gave them a perfect score.) However, once you look away from the nostalgia, there’s a lot of reasons these games pale in comparison to every other generation of Pokemon.

Let’s start with the fact that many of the game’s mechanics are seriously flawed. If a Pokemon is Psychic type, it is almost a guarantee that it will dominate every other creature in the game, a problem which later games in the series eventually solved. Pokemon and their types are a delicate balance that make the games fun and entertaining, but with Red, Blue, and Yellow Psychic Pokemon were easily leaning on one side of the scale, and everything else on the other half. While Ghost and Bug types are technically stronger than Psychic Pokemon, the moves that will actually hit those Psychics are incredibly weak in comparison to other moves. With Bug moves, the only one that could reliably do damage is Twin Needle, a move that could only be used by Beedrill (who is also weak to Psychic) and does the same amount as Tackle, one of the weakest and earliest moves a Pokemon can learn. Ghost types are in the same boat, as the three Ghost Pokemon are weak to Psychic, slower than Psychics, and are limited to the pathetic damage output of Lick, their only effective move. It doesn’t help that the Psychic Pokemon in the first generation all have high Special stat. While GameFreak later decided (smartly) to separate the Special stat into two different stats, the good ol’ first generation games had them as one, meaning that non-physical moves do jack squat in damage against psychic types while their own hit like a semi truck.

Also, in Gen One the move Bind can wipe out an entire team if you’re not specifically planning for it. You see, while Bind does poor damage, it prevents you from attacking while it slowly drains health away for two-to five turns. If the AI was feeling particularly evil, it could use this same move over and over again until your Pokemon were completely wiped out.  Then there’s the Freeze status. If you get afflicted with Freeze, you’d better start saying your prayers, ’cause unless you have an item that can cure it there is no way to get rid of the condition in battle. Thanks to some poor decision by Game Freak, the status is permanent unless you miraculously get hit by a Fire type move, and that doesn’t happen nearly as often as it should in this situation.

These are just a few examples of the wide variety of terrible quirks that plague these first three games. Like the fact that in order to catch Legendary Pokemon, you have to inflict a Status condition yourself, a fact that isn’t mentioned anywhere in the game. Who could forget the fun and excitement of throwing Pokeball after Pokeball, only to discover that you didn’t have a way to paralyze the flaming bird that you had looked so hard to find, forcing you to either knock it out and never catch the Pokemon again or reset to your last save point.

And did you know that Pokemon Red, Blue, and Yellow are among the first games to feature locked-on-disk (or cartridge in this case) DLC? Well it’s true, as the Pokemon Mew is technically available on the cartridge itself but could only be unlocked through a real life event that you had to go to. While a few lucky children did have the means to go to these special occasions, many more were either forced to hack Mew into their game or suffer without a naked Psychic cat of their very own. This gave rise to hundreds of false rumors that circulated in the early days of the Internet and more than a few schoolyard fights.

Of course, now we all remember this as a storied part of the series’ history. And that’s the problem – poorly-thought-out mechanics and not being able to access one of the game’s best characters were unique and memorable parts of the game, but that sure doesn’t mean they were good. It’s like the Missingno glitch, which to this day is talked about like it’s a great secret and not a bunch of broken leftover code.

And now to make a statement that will probably get me murdered: The first generation of Pokemon, design-wise, is not  the best. Every time a new game comes out, someone complains that the newer Pokemon look terrible in comparison to the ones from their beloved Red, Blue, and Yellow. On and on, these people complain the ice cream and the garbage Pokemon, these lazy designs that only ruin the amazing designs of Generation One, and maybe Generation Two if they are feeling generous. What these people fail to understand is that some of the Pokemon in the original games are just as, if not more so-called “lazy” as in later games. Look at Voltorb for crying out loud. It’s literally just a red-and-white ball that evolves into a white-and-red ball. All it does is flip colors! There’s no other changes! “Great” design choice from the “best looking” Pokemon games, huh?

And that’s not all. How about Magnemite and Diglett’s evolutions, AKA copying and pasting the existing model three times and sticking them together. Or Grimer and Muk – small sludge and big sludge. Or Exeggcute, which is a bunch of broken eggs laying on the floor.  This isn’t to say that every Pokemon in Gen One is bad (though some of their sprite work is atrocious to look at) but even the biggest fans need to realize that every generation has some poor designs alongside the cooler ones. Just remember that for every fire breathing Charizard, there is a Rattata just lazing around.

Again, (Anthony writes) this isn’t me saying that the original games are terrible. In fact, without the Pokemon franchise, I probably wouldn’t be into video games as a whole. Pokemon Red, Blue, and Yellow brought millions of children joy and I wouldn’t want to take that away from them. However, it is important to note that the original generation of Po kemon games do not hold up as well as your memory serves. In a number of areas, you have to have particular Hidden Moves in order to advance that take up a move slot. Except for Surf, these moves are worthless to use in battle, and because you remember it as part of your childhood they had to be brought back in every other game until the release of Sun and Moon.

There are a number of spots in Red, Blue, and Yellow that require grinding in order to proceed, and fighting the Elite Four in the last stage of the game is an absolute drag to slog through while you try to gain enough experience to wipe out the opposing team. No matter how engrossing a game is, having to spend hours beating up considerably weaker enemies to grind levels is a waste of time and energy. The Psychic gym is particularly annoying, as it includes the aforementioned overpowered types alongside teleportation pads that are the worst to get through if you don’t have a guide. And the story of the original games is extremely barebones, with not much happening the entire 20-30 hour playthrough, and while that’s not necessarily a terrible thing, it really highlights how much the series has evolved, not just in story, but in every aspect of gameplay.

While nostalgia for the games of your youth isn’t a bad thing, you shouldn’t let it take over your mind and prevent you from trying out the other games in the franchise. Pokemon has only gotten better as the years go on, not worse, with the latest release of Pokemon Sun and Moon being among the best in the series. All I have to say to end this is: give the newer games a try, and don’t be stuck so far in your own head that it prevents you from playing the other amazing games in the franchise.

I. Coleman
I Coleman believes that videogames are the most important, most fascinating, and most potentially world-changing entertainment medium today. When not saying dorky, embarrassing crap like that, I is a game designer, science fiction author, and former reviews editor for the now-defunct GamerSyndrome.com with years of experience writing for and about games.
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