RETRO REVIEW: Pokémon Red Version

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2016

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Pokémon Red | Box art
Title Pokémon Red Version
Developer Game Freak
Publisher Nintendo
Release Date Game Boy – September 28, 1998
Nintendo 3DS – February 27, 2016
Genre RPG
Platform Game Boy, Nintendo 3DS Virtual Console
Age Rating ESRB – Everyone

I’ve been into Pokémon for as long as I can remember. The first games came out in North America just a few years after I was born, meaning that the first huge Pokémon craze happened when I was the perfect age to be swept up in it. However, I never really had the chance to beat the original games, since I was at a better age to get really into the games around when Ruby and Sapphire came out – I was much more into the anime series and other merchandise.

So, with Pokémon Red and Blue coming out on 3DS, I saw no better opportunity to play these games, since I no longer have easy access to my brother’s old Game Boy Color and hard copies of the games. I have played Red, but I’ve never gotten all the way through it before.

Pokémon Red | Route 1

I’m on the road to Viridian City.

The Pokémon game I’d played most recently before going into Red was Omega Ruby, so going from playing a very advanced, modern Pokémon game to playing a very old one was jarring, to say the least. There’s a lot that I take for granted in the newer games that just doesn’t exist in the older ones, a lot that I’ll be covering throughout this review.

Ordinarily this is the part where I talk about and critique the story, but it’s all pretty loose: you’re a kid, catch Pokémon, beat gym leaders, beat the Elite 4, be the best at what you do, that kind of thing. If you’ve ever played one of these games, you know the score here. There’s a lot less to the plot than in the newer games, with Team Rocket just being a group of woefully inept Pokémon traffickers, rather than sharing Team Plasma’s pseudo-ethical basis, Team Flare’s general psychopathic nature, or Team Galactic’s insane sense of ambition. Team Rocket just wants to steal and sell other people’s Pokémon, all the while being bafflingly self-aware about how evil they are. Clearly, every member of Team Rocket knows that what they’re doing is bad, and that they themselves are villains, and even seem to revel in that fact, rather than having even some shred of righteousness behind their actions. Some of them openly acknowledge that they’re evil when you talk to them, and do everything seemingly for no other reason beyond profit. That would be fine – if they weren’t all so self-aware. Ordinarily, even if it turns a profit, if one knows that what one is doing is wrong, one either stops doing it, or comes up with some justification for one’s actions so the money doesn’t come heavy with a sense of guilt. It makes it seem like Team Rocket is composed entirely of cartoon-supervillain-level crazy people, who realize that there is no justification for what they’re doing, and either don’t care or outright advertise that fact.

Pokémon Red | Pokémon names

My naming system is somewhat strange, to say the least.

I just realized I’m criticizing the writing in a Pokémon game; writing is something that has never been one of the Pokémon series’ strong points, and when you’ve got one of the later games which actually have some kind of overarching story and somewhat competently written villains, it’s more of an added bonus than anything else.

Pokémon is now and clearly always have been about gameplay more than anything else. They’re about exploring the open world, discovering new Pokémon, and building your own personalized team from the now over 700 options available. There really is nothing quite like walking into an unfamiliar Pokémon game, encountering species you’ve never seen before and exploring a new region.

Pokémon Red | Level 27 Magikarp

Why anyone would use a level 27 Magikarp is a mystery to me.

Pokémon Red, naturally, had none of that for me. To say that I’m familiar with Kanto and the original 151 species that inhabit it is an understatement, but there’s still something to be said for going back and re-experiencing it, since I’ve only seen it through merchandise and the remakes. I tried out a team that I wouldn’t have used otherwise, and explored the ways that the series has expanded and built upon itself by going back to the very beginning. And I have to say, I’m glad some changes have been made.

Next I’ll go over some things in Pokémon Red that really give away the fact that this is part of the first generation.

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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