RETRO REVIEW: Pokémon Red Version

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2016

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First of all, one thing that I was unaware of going in was that the first generation has limited inventory space. While newer games have unlimited space within each of the inventory categories, the first generation only allows you to carry up to 99 of 20 different items, which aren’t sorted until you go in and do it yourself. It’s the only time that I’ve ever used item storage, because it’s a completely unnecessary feature in the modern games. A game having severely limited inventory space is something of a pet peeve of mine, and I definitely am fine with it having been removed in the newer generations.

Pokémon Red | Space shuttle Columbia

It shows its age in other ways, too.

There have also been some much-needed tweaks to balance over the years. Most notably the addition of some new types, with Dark and Steel added in Gen II and Fairy added in Gen VI, but here you’re only got the original 15 types. Type matchups have also been changed over the years. The most notable difference is the interaction between Psychic and Ghost types; although Psychic deals normal damage against Ghost, all three Ghost-types from the original 151 (the Gastly evolutionary line) are also Poison-type, which is weak to Psychic type. Not only that, but Psychic Pokémon are completely immune to Ghost-type attacks.

Yes, completely immune. Ghost-type, which was meant to be the counter to the overpowered Psychic type, is completely useless against Psychic Pokémon. On top of that, all Ghost-type Pokémon in Gen I are weak to Psychic attacks. This is in the same game that outright tells you that Ghost-type is good against Psychic, which makes the ineffectiveness seem like a mistake that was rectified in later generations. It means that the only type that is super-effective against Psychic-type is Bug. The only Bug-type attacks are String Shot (which lowers the opponent’s Speed), Leech Life (which has absolutely pathetic damage), Twineedle and Pin Missile. Both of the latter two are multi-hit attacks, with very low damage per hit. Twineedle is only learned by Beedrill, which is also Poison-type and thus weak to Psychic-type. Pin Missile is learned by Beedrill as well as Jolteon, which would not get the same-type attack bonus, but at least isn’t also weak to Psychic-type. It makes me very grateful that Dark type was added as a balancing measure, as well as the issues with Ghost types being fixed.

Pokémon Red | Ghost vs. Psychic

…Wait, what?

The champion has an Alakazam, a Psychic-type. Also known as one of the most overpowered Pokémon in the game, because of its high Speed, high Special stat making it take less damage from any special types as well as giving its Psychic-type attacks a serious punch, and the move Reflect, which significantly boosts its physical defense. It also knows two powerful Psychic-type attacks as well as Recover.

So, bring a Jolteon, leveled up until it knows Pin Missile. Or do what I did, and use the item duplication glitch to get 129 Max Revives and Full Restores.

Yes, the infamous item duplication/MissingNo. glitch is alive and well in the Virtual Console version, as is the Mew glitch, both of which I absolutely abused during my playthrough. There’s not much to say about it, just that it’s there, and that virtually nothing has been changed here.

Pokémon Red | MissingNo. glitch

Yes, it works. Yes, I did it. No, I’m not sorry.

There are also some battle interactions in Pokémon Red that have been changed in later generations – namely, anything that completely prevents you from taking action, such as Sleep and Wrap, take up a full turn for a Pokémon to break out of, meaning that on the turn that you wake up you can do nothing else that turn. Any attack that keeps the target from taking action without using a status effect, such as Wrap, Fire Spin or Bind, works the same way. This effect makes it incredibly easy to completely shut down an opponent if your Pokémon is faster, since if you repeatedly use one of these attacks, or the Sleep or Freeze effects, you can prevent the opponent from fighting back at all. It’s also worth noting that with any attack that deals multiple instances of attack damage, such as a Wrap-style attack or a Fury Attack-style one, only the first hit can be a critical hit, but if it is then every hit will be as well. And speaking of critical hits, the stated effect of Focus Energy in both this generation and in the later games is increasing the critical hit rate; instead, in this generation, it reduces the user’s critical rate by 75%. That makes it not only completely worthless, but actively a negative effect on your Pokémon. The addition of the EXP meter in Gen II to let you know immediately how close a Pokémon is to leveling up is also very welcome.

Pokémon Red | French

That’s not how French people talk…

The main thing to take away from all this is that Pokémon RedBlue and Yellow are kind of rough around the edges, with several different relatively minor problems that have been sorted out in the newer generations of games. They are minor irritations at most, all things that can be dealt with once you get used to them. They definitely don’t keep the game from being enjoyable, as long as you realize that as the beginning of the series there will be issues associated with it. The graphics and sound may also be a turn-off for newer players; you can see it in the screenshots I’ve posted, but the graphics are monochrome due to the limitations of the original Game Boy. The music has a sort of simplistic charm, again due to the limitations of the native system. The sound chip for the Game Boy has a very limited number of channels, which are used for both music and sound effects, so making selections interrupts parts of the music. It’s also all simple chiptune, and the lack of channels lends a kind of thin sound to some of the music, like there aren’t quite as many tracks as the song should probably have.

Pokémon Red | Koffing design

Some Pokémon designs have changed slightly since the first games.

I beat Pokémon Red in about 20 and a half hours, but I played through it quite quickly, ending up underleveled for the Elite Four and completely ignoring certain areas of the map. It can easily take much longer if you get invested in it, and thoroughly explore the Kanto region in search of all of the Pokémon you can find in the version you get. The species available are the only real differences between Red and Blue, with some pairs (such as Ekans and Sandshrew or Oddish and Bellsprout) split between the two games, with one only appearing in Red and the other in Blue.

Pokémon Red (or either of the other first-generation games on Virtual Console) is a game that I think all Pokémon fans should have the experience of playing. If you’re a relative newcomer to the series, playing the originals can provide some good perspective on how far Pokémon games have come in 20 years. If you’re turned off by the assorted issues with these early games, that is also valid, since the first generation is definitely not perfect, and at least from a technical and stability standpoint there have been a lot of improvements over the years. If you have played the games before, there’s almost nothing new here, aside from Pokémon Bank integration and the replacement of the link cable with the 3DS wireless communication. Other than that, the games are completely preserved, even with the glitches and errors. You’ve seen it all before, and if you want to play it all again for nostalgia, or maybe to import your old Pokémon to the upcoming Sun and Moon, go right ahead. It has some frustrating problems, but that core Pokémon experience is still as enjoyable as it’s always been.

Pokémon Red | End screen

The look of a true champion.

Review Score

Review copy purchased by author

About Chris Melchin

Chris is a computer science student who has been gaming ever since he knew what to do with a Super Nintendo controller. He's a fighting game player, with a focus on BlazBlue and Under Night In-Birth games. His favourite games include Xenoblade Chronicles 2, Persona 5, and Little Busters. He started watching anime in high school, and his favourite series is Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood. He also writes Vocaloid music for his personal YouTube channel, and has a (slight) obsession with Megurine Luka.

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