(Author’s Note: I feel I must preface this review by clearly stating how vital this game was to both myself and my peers as a whole while first delving into the electronic entertainment medium. You’ll note I’ll actually use personal pronouns to emphasize the fact that this review has bias. All that being said, I implore those who never got the chance growing up to partake in this exceptional franchise to take a few hours away from being an adult and introduce yourself to a land of complex collection and near-perfect world crafting that caused an RPG renaissance, known world-wide as Pokémon. This is the first of three posts to follow, so stay tuned right here!)
Game: Pokémon Red and Blue
Developer: Game Freak
Original Release: September 1998
There’s literally dozens if not hundreds of points throughout a writer’s life where the inspiration fades, drudgery sets in, and the 9 to 5 grind of putting pen to paper loses its purpose. Times like these writers return to their roots, the epicenter of why they’ve chosen their vocation and the wellspring of their inner fire. For some it’s their first book, others a film that wholly and unabashedly changed their lives for other. For gamers, well, we were given something even better: Pokémon.
There’s no need for plot synopsis in this review, the overarching plot of the game was never its focus, nor even a concern. Instead developer Game Freak one-uped the fledgling industry by making the game about the visceral emotions that have long inspired human beings to create, relate, compete, and acquire knowledge, and for that reason, along with its exceptional use – and expansion of – traditional role-playing elements, Pokemon Red and Blue remain one of the greatest games in the history of the medium.
Pokémon, in my eyes, appeals to two camps. Those that are the admitted completionist, the antiquated equivalent of someone who aims for the full 1,000 GS on the latest 360 title (or platting for my PS3 folk) and those that choose to wander not because they’re lost, but because of the pure explorative urge they get to see everything the world has to offer. Proving even as early as ’96, Nintendo had its finger on the pulse of what components made games great.
For the completionist, this is their virtual playground. Between catching, collecting, and learning the minute details of 151 detailed creatures, analyzing the game’s inherently deep battling system, and exploring every nook and cranny of the extensive Kanto region the game never pigeon-holes the player into any one style of play. Coupled with the ability to converse and trade with anyone else into the scene, the game delivered in spades for those of us whose lives revolve around lists.
Honestly the team at Game Freak could’ve stopped there and commercially, the game would’ve succeeded. Fourth quarter sales would’ve been big, in a post-2001 world Blue and Red would’ve scored an above-average score on metacritic, and the corporate big-wigs would’ve accumulated barrels more money to roll around in at night. But what makes this game truly outstanding is the developer didn’t stop at “good enough.”
Then the exploration kicks in, there’s an entire world full of NPCs and a cast of characters just as varied as the monsters themselves. The inept professor too old to fill a device that he spent years developing, the rival who apparently never learned the proper way to part ways (“Smell ya.” Really, Game Freak?) and a score of gym leaders infatuated with beating up children daily, each one brought another talking point, and though separately irrelevant, together ground the game in reality. Surprisingly, at least in accordance to today’s gaming landscape, there’s no filler. No fetch quests, no “defeat 10 Digletts, then return to see me,” and especially no escort quests. The game thrived on giving players the keys to their own experience. If they chose they could’ve waltzed through the game with an empty pokedex, one mega-powered monster and an empty inventory, never leaving the confines of the first town. There’s an unparalleled amount of freedom in the game, and for that Pokémon deserves to be commended.
Up until now (and thanks for bearing with me) this review has been about the mechanics and faux-philosophical reasons this game has had the longevity as a series and continues to succeed both commercially and critically. Let’s change this a bit.
As an RPG the game’s plot successfully led the core of the experience, generating a series of obstacles that became ever-more possible through leveling and building a team. Pacing is outstanding the whole way through and though road bumps arise (I’m looking in your direction Victory Road) the game never actually grinds to a halt as much as it does a controlled crawl. But more important than pacing and plot was the core battling system that incorporated the long-standing random encounters of JRPG past and shaped them to fit the form that Pokémon was attempting to fill. Elemental strengths and weaknesses collided with stat-based number crunching and tactical tom-foolery, giving clear advantage to players who knew the ins and outs of the game. Move sets, evolution requirements, and the faux-rock, paper, scissors of the experience melded together in the mind of the practiced player, encouraging more than a brief one night stay in the land of pokeballs and safari zones, but instead making available to players a home to return to when the droll offerings of the latest titles seem to offer little refuge.
The Bottom Line:
Accessible to all ages and skill levels the game becomes all-inclusive, a whole-hearted attempt in a half-hearted industry, and a living memory for all those who enjoyed it ages ago. The game isn’t without subtle flaw, however. Take away the game’s collecting aspect, those visceral feelings, and you’ll quickly find the great Pokemon balloon deflated. There’s little substance here besides what’s been presented to the player, little emotional or intellectual intrigue beyond the scope of what’s offered and while the game is one of the best examples of what electronic entertainment can offer in terms of a distraction does little to further the human condition – something I, as a games journalist, value above all else when reviewing an entry into the digital art form. But for me to have to complain about the game on a philosophical level, lacking no concrete mistakes, well, that’s a masterpiece.
Pros: Visceral entertainment from start to finish, exemplary role-playing elements, nostalgic part of American pop-culture.
Cons: Perhaps not as intellectually satisfying as other entries in the medium.
Final Verdict: 9.9 out of 10
Original post can be found on my blog: http://peendaddy.wordpress.com/