There are a select few things in life you and I all have which, above everything else, we live and die for. The things we are all most passionate about. I don’t know exactly how many of these things I have. Manchester United is one. Gran Turismo is another. Touhou has probably gotten there as well, if I’m honest. But longer lasting than all these is my passion for Pokemon, the game that got me into gaming.
Of course, Pokemon extends far and beyond simply the games which it started off as. Sure enough, the anime is one of the first things I remember watching and the thing that promptly got me into the whole damn thing. But more importantly, I wasn’t the only one into it. Pokemon was always the big thing in my primary school. It was always the game everyone had to play with. The trading card game was one of the big trends we had at some point, among other stuff like Yu-Gi-Oh. And I was always at the center of its love. This being around 2004 to 2008 (when I was 7 to 11), bearing in mind, when I cherished and embraced it most of all.
It’s fundamentally quite hard to get to the core of what makes Pokemon appeal so greatly, since there is just so much to it all. But I suppose on the face of it, the fact you have the ability to make just about any team of 6 you want from a selection of what is now 721 Pokemon and counting, and go through a game with them in any way you really want. And there are many, many cool things to do in a Pokemon games, things you can one day say to your mates “I did that, now you try and do it too.”
Nowadays I also spend a great deal of time watching Pokemon being played as well, and this is another strength – there’s almost no wrong way to watch it be played. Watching it the same way as I play a game, which is to say ‘normally’, is plenty of fun with the best of video-makers. But the way I’ve found most enjoyable nowadays is speedrunning, courtesy of a considerable community. There’s nothing like watching the games being done in one quick blast. TASes can also be included in this. However, one way I prefer to play is in one of Pokemon’s biggest gaming aspects, the competitive multiplayer. Even given how much I know about Pokemon, I’m not the greatest at facing against others, but I still enjoy building up the perfect team of six and finding one that can ultimately do a good job against many an opponent. When I was playing Pokemon Showdown, this happened most with me in the current Ubers metagame, to be honest. Competitive battling is something I’ll take on just as much as a normal playthrough. I wouldn’t strive to build a team on an actual game, though. That seems like a drag.
I had the luxury to play through a Gen 1 game for the first time ever recently, thanks to the original games, Red, Blue and Yellow, being released on 3DS Virtual Console in celebration of Pokemon’s 20th anniversary this year. Obviously I have great respect for Red and Blue (although their inherent glitchiness never ceases to amaze – sometimes you look at them and wonder how the franchise ever survived) but they are a little rough nowadays, so I went with Yellow. I think it’s smoother and has more cool things, plus proper colours. Also, I prefer Pikachu to the three starters. (Although I used all the starters in my Yellow team anyway.) I’d watched Gen 1 a lot over time, whether the normal games, hacks or the now legendary Twitch Plays Pokemon, but I can safely say playing through it properly was an absolute joy.
I made it as tough on myself as I always do (I beat the Elite Four with Pokemon in the low to mid 40s for levels), I found one seemingly constant saving grace on my team (I did the Mew glitch), and I found one surprise Pokemon which ended up tagging along till the end (a Dugtrio this time). I also set myself a little challenge to keep me occupied: I attempted to catch each ‘1%’ Pokemon in the wild – that is, a Pokemon in an area where it only had a 1% chance of appearing. Some were more painful than others to find, even though I know how encounters work in Gen 1, but in the end I got the lot. And the legendary birds to boot…and Mewtwo, and, as aforementioned, Mew. All in all, it took 24 hours of playing to do that. Everybody should play Red, Blue or Yellow before they die. No question.
Gen 2 is an gen I quite like, with it being much like Gen 1 but just plain better. However, Pokemon Gold, which I do actually have – I got it from a boot sale at my school, naturally – has never been a game I’ve completed. I can’t even remember how far I got in my only real play-through of it, probably because I was still young and too irresponsible to try and level up much more than my starter Typhlosion. If memory serves, it came with a save that had already beaten Falkner, actually. So I just went from there. But I never even beat all the gyms. I still have my old SP to play it on though…so when I have free time, maybe I’ll give it a go.
Gen 3 was what I grew up with. Indeed, Pokemon Sapphire was my first game, and I still have it today. However, at first I never managed to beat it at all. The first time I properly got the hang of it (I didn’t work out Route 102 was a thing when I first played…) I levelled up my Sceptile too highly and Kyogre was the only thing I could really use otherwise, when I caught it. I never even beat Wallace after that, I don’t think. The puzzle was too annoying and before I ever came back to it, someone overwrote my save when playing with it on holiday.
But that was OK because I’d gotten the first Pokemon game I really learnt the ropes with, Pokemon Leaf Green. In many ways, I probably couldn’t have started off anywhere better. Because, after it all, it was the first Pokemon game, reborn. And I got to play it first. However, despite building up a team that actually wasn’t all that bad (Venusaur, Moltres, Pidgeot, Gyarados…erm…I’m sure there were others somewhere…), I never beat that either and still haven’t. However, one day I got myself an Action Replay and somehow, without knowing what I’d hit, the game treated itself as beaten, it seemed. So I got to play through the Sevii Islands eventually anyway.
By that point I’d also given that a shot with Pokemon Emerald – a game I bought as soon as I saw it on the shelf at HMV, if I remember. I didn’t think much of it at first when I saw it was the same as Sapphire, to my mind. Again, I never actually beat Emerald properly. But I distinctly remember activating the free EXP trigger, where you just hold R as you have experience and your level just keeps going and going and going…I did that on my Sceptile there to as maximum an effect as I dared. It still didn’t work. Not even getting Rayquaza from Sky Pillar could help.
But why did I resort to something as dirty as an Action Replay in the first place?! Well, because I thought it was cool to have and use when I was 10. But the real reason I got it in the first place was because I’d finally beaten Pokemon Sapphire in that time…and I just couldn’t catch the goddamn roaming Latias. I wanted her that badly. So I gave myself 99 Master Balls and ended the misery. But there’s one good reason I wanted Latias. She was now my favourite Pokemon. She still is. She’s the reason my nickname is EonLeader. Now you know.
It took me a while, but Sapphire became the first Pokemon game I beat. See, that mate of me overwrote my old save, so when I decided to come back to it, I just went with it. My team was hardly the most inspiring – the only Pokemon I can remember from playing through it now are the starter, Swampert, Kyogre and that Latias. But the time when I was playing through Sapphire, properly, and winning, finally, was just so perfect in my young mind. If I didn’t already love Pokemon before, I most certainly did now.
And then Gen 4 came about. Pokemon Diamond was a game I spent a staggering amount of my life on – I wanted the thing so badly I actually got it gifted to me from my mum’s cousin in America before it came out in Europe. I can’t actually remember if I was the coolest in school in that time, or indeed if anyone cared. But that was how much I’d devoted myself by now. It was an absolutely terrific game to play through and experience, and I still have many fond memories from it. But, yet again, it’s another game I have just never beaten myself. Even though I went through with a strong Infernape, Dialga, Uxie, Azelf and Mesprit (catching that trio, including the first two twice over, still lives long in the memory today for me) as well as a Staraptor in my team, I have a lot of memories where stuff conspired against me, and ultimately I never got to the end of it. Instead, what I did to extend my time with the game was worked to see everything in the Sinnoh Dex. Eventually I got to the point where I was missing one single Pokemon – Cynthia’s Milotic. But since I didn’t have the nous to get to her and battle it, I got my best mate – certainly my best Pokemon mate – to trade his over. After that, I enjoyed all the luxuries of the National Dex without actually having beaten the game.
Pokemon Platinum, the third game follow-up, is one I also remember fondly, chiefly because it came out on my birthday and I got it on it as a result. It was also the first time I actually went and built a team properly. Although actually, all I did was mimic what the rival’s team was. Come to think of that, this was no mean feat, because that mean I somehow found a Munchlax at one point…and I suppose finding Heracross was an accomplishment as well. That was one of the first complete teams I made which I properly loved. But, yet again, I never beat the game with them. Yet again, I came within the Elite Four of doing it, but never succeeded. Shame that.
It was also a shame that by this point I was having a lot more in life to handle by 2009 and consequently Pokemon fell by the wayside a little bit. Which is why I didn’t buy Heart Gold or Soul Silver. They’re also magnificent games, but it’s not like I was very attached to my copy of Gold. That wasn’t like Leaf Green where I was still basically new to Pokemon games and only went and got it because I knew Kanto’s Pokemon that well. There were other games that helped me learn much more, but I’ll get to those after the ‘core series’ I’m discussing here first.
I was still keeping my eye on developments for Gen 5, which looked highly promising. Right until I noticed one thing that rather killed me wanting it…I found that no old Pokemon would be in the main game. That would have made me all uncertain, as I hadn’t been following the new Pokemon that were coming in that closely. As it happened, there were a whole load of them. It was one big factor that had turned me off the game. It hasn’t been the last to do such, now, but don’t worry, Pokemon came back to me in good time…and hopefully it can continue to do that sort of thing. Also, I found out how much different the endgame was, and I didn’t like it at first either. Anyway, I left Pokemon Black and White alone. And indeed left Pokemon itself alone, for the time being.
Mercifully, Pokemon Black and White 2 did have some old Pokemon to catch in Unova, so I paid attention to the sequel, and finally had a launchpad for me to jump into Gen 5 at last. It still took me a while to ever play the game, though. In fact, by this point I wasn’t even buying the game – I found myself downloading it to play on a DS emulator instead. And even then, it took me even longer to start a proper playthrough of it. But before I did, I finally went and looked up some of the Gen 5 Pokes I didn’t know about. I’m glad I did because, four years since I last did a proper playthrough of a Pokemon game, I rekindled my love for the franchise. It was the best Pokemon game I had yet touched. It still is, actually. Even above the games that came before it. It also started all my current trends for Pokemon playthroughs – I was so underlevelled I actually had to catch and use Cobalion in my team to stop the blows, and had to ultimately sacrifice one Pokemon that was, I understand, doomed to fail in my team. I had none of the team members I wanted to until Castelia City, and that let one surprise team member in who had managed to pull out the win against Roxy – a Lillipup back them which eventually became a Stoutland. After that, I ended up with a magical team. I had an Espeon, Whimisicott (now my second favourite Pokemon), Crobat, Swoobat, Stoutland and Cobalion in the end, and they were all magnificent. I beat the game and took the entire post-game out as well with it. Just superb.
And playing through Black 2 gave me the confidence to finally try and properly look at the games before it, and I could appreciate them a lot more now I knew the Pokemon. Pokemon Black 2 is the pinnacle of the series for me.
And it sprung me on to pay attention to Gen 6. However, while I enjoyed playing through Pokemon Y for the most part, and made another cracking team, consisting of Delphox, Blastoise, Leafeon, Dragalge, Avalugg and the almighty Aegislash, I’m not sure the game was very good. I’d already clocked Black 2 was dumbing down the dialogue a little but Y’s plot was just very weak. Also, it felt like a greatest hits Pokemon game which just so happened to be in a new region. Whereas Gen 5 made too many new Pokemon, Gen 6 had nowhere near enough and Y was loaded with old Pokemon instead. And there were a lot of references to the past too. Really, the game didn’t feel special enough. Although I doubt my outlook of it wasn’t helped by the fact the aforementioned team is lost on my now missing cart of Pokemon Y. I lost it just before going on a holiday, and have never found it again…
So the main game of Gen 6 had disappointed – but then came something to shock everyone’s core, especially mine. Pokemon Ruby and Sapphire were getting their remakes…my first game was getting its remake! I got Alpha Sapphire at the first possible instance and it was just magic in every single way. It was a proper Pokemon game as I knew it, no frills, no spills. Simple, honest-to-god Pokemon. My team of Sceptile, Latias, Wailord, Cosplay Pikachu, Delcatty and Pinsir was filled with monsters and misfits alike, but they were massive fun to play through Sapphire with again. And now, I have them all sitting around at Level 100…plus a Whimsicott as well at that level. There might be a Latios coming at that level some time soon as well…anyone fancy a battle? I beat Alpha Sapphire on my third day of playing it, and then on that same day, for good measure, I caught every single post-game legendary I could possibly have caught at that point. Simply perfect.
While we obviously know the future of Pokemon as we know it, I’ll pause on the core series at this point because there have obviously been a massive range of games outside it now, as the Pokemon franchise has swelled up to the second largest video game series ever made.
I’ve already talked about how much Leaf Green and Sapphire both contributed to my Pokemon love, but a game that helped out just as much was Colosseum. That packed a whole host of Gen 2 and 3 Pokemon I got to learn about there and then. I didn’t play through the story mode so much at first, but the free battle mode really helped me a lot. I did eventually get into that story mode though, and it was plenty of fun going through that as well. As you might have guessed, I never beat it. But Colosseum was joyous as well. I believe that same American gave an American copy of it to me. I had to use FreeLoader and everything just to make it work. I never had its effective sequel, XD, but I’ve seen playthroughs of its story and I think it looks superb as well.
Pokemon has had its fair share of unusual games as well. I got one of them in my early Pokemon days too, Pokemon Channel. Here you live with a couch potato of a Pikachu who mostly just watches TV. Basically the only real use for it nowadays is to play it for five days and get Jirachi, although nowadays I would say some of Pikachu’s reactions to stuff is hilarious. And the Pichu Bros. are cool I guess. And hilarious when you see a Twitch Plays chat react to it, which is what I did when I last saw the game in action. Actually, come to think of it, I learnt a lot of Gen 3 Pokemon from that game as well. Other games of this ilk were Pokemon Dash, which was a launch game for the Nintendo DS, and also a kind of odd twist on most racing games. Certainly most racing games I knew of, anyway.
I also had a go on the first instalments of two big Pokemon sub-games, Pokemon Mystery Dungeon and Pokemon Ranger. I never came that close to beating the former, but I completed the latter game 100%, including the Manaphy mission, a crucial one for me as an avid Diamond player at the time. Around the time there was also Battle Revolution, a game that never interested me and just makes me wish they’d do something like Colosseum again, and My Pokemon Ranch, which I bought as well mostly for the added factor of seeing all my Diamond Pokes around the place.
Since then I’ve barely touched any other side games with Pokemon. The only games to bear any relation with the series would be all four of the Smash games, which have had Pikachu, Jigglypuff etc. in them. Except of course, I have now, because of one new game which has brought the entire series back to the forefront of the video gaming world…actually, the entire world, for that matter. I’m talking, of course, about Pokemon GO.
I actually tried its spiritual predecessor, Ingress, a couple of times. It seemed rather cool, but unfortunately my phone was so rubbish it couldn’t even play the thing properly. And I didn’t get the game that much, probably because I neglected to ever read the tutorial. And I only mostly played it while riding on buses in London, which isn’t really the point. Pokemon GO, which I’m playing on a proper phone, seems like the sort of thing I could get maddeningly into. I’ve loved Pokemon for 13 years now, I love travelling all over the place and all the stories I’d heard from it before it came here were absolutely mad. Alas, it hasn’t really worked that way. Work means I don’t get much time on it normally, and when I was on holiday I couldn’t play it there either (the bill would have been massive). But there’d be time for me to play it elsewhere, especially given some of my mates are also into it now as well. That hasn’t happened either, to be honest. Because I’ve been busy doing other things indoors. Such as writing on this blog, for instance. So instead I’m just sitting at Level 6 with not a Pokemon who could possibly beat one of the gyms around. And I only play it, again, when I’m on a train or a bus or in a car. Shame that, because the game isn’t fooled by that when it comes to eggs. Which is annoying because the first Pokestop I found had a 10km egg. It still hasn’t hatched. And it won’t do for the foreseeable future either because as of writing this my phone is lost somewhere and I’ll probably need a new one. What a shame. The game itself isn’t as spectacular as it could be either, but when everyone in the world is playing it, who cares? That didn’t stop me going for all those high scores on Flappy Bird.
Now of course the future of Pokemon is lying with Gen 7, for Pokemon Sun and Moon. I touched upon Pokemon Black and White turning me off with the ‘no new Pokes’ factor. Pokemon Sun and Moon has all sorts of factors that are not adhering to me either. It doesn’t feel like a Pokemon game as I know it, and everything they announce seems to make it all worse. The only good thing I’ve seen come out of it so far is the cute Grass starter. Otherwise, I cannot see myself getting either S or M any time soon. But the one factor that irked me most of all came as soon as Sun and Moon was announced…why are we suddenly moving to Gen 7? Surely Gen 6 still has some life in it yet…I mean, what happened to Pokemon Z? Hopefully Pokemon can recover from looks like being a step too far away from the franchise’s roots. I suppose it might end up looking like Eva 3.0. A completely different thing that just happens to have Pokemon in it. Indeed, maybe Pokemon GO has decided the future beyond Sun and Moon…
So now I’ve talked so, so much about the games, some smaller things. Characters have always been a fairly decent strength for Pokemon in that it can make some very memorable individuals. The games have never been the greatest stories ever told, but particularly around Diamond I think, with something like Team Galactic, they just hit a perfect chord with making characters. That’s why I’ve always seen them as my favourite bad guys. And there’s countless examples everywhere else, and you’re sure to find someone to love throughout all the games. And that’s just the humans. The Pokemon are always going to be center stage, and I’ve found that, of all the 721 Pokemon, there are very few I dislike. I hear people say they don’t dislike any Touhou characters, which I’ve always found odd because there are a few of those I do dislike, but really. There are very few Pokemon I would say I genuinely don’t like at all. Umbreon has always looked bad to me next to Espeon and Leafeon, two of my very favourite Pokemon. And if there’s one line of Pokemon I don’t like at all, it’s probably the Gligar line. But everything else is alright in my book. And of course over time I’ve established my many favourites. I’ve touched on Latias and Whimsicott as well as Espeon and Leafeon, but my favourites list has grown past them as well. Pokes like Aegislash, Pinsir, Pikachu, Bisharp are just a few of the Pokemon I really, genuinely like.
And as for Pokemon’s music, well, blimey. There’s so much of it that’s so good I can hardly pick favourites from any of it. There is almost never a weak battle theme in the games, ever, and there have been countless memorable songs from cities, routes, caves, forests and more. With a franchise like this, you have to nail the best, most important songs, and Pokemon’s composers do it. Every single time.
I suppose this isn’t even where Pokemon stops. There’s stuff like hacks I now enjoy, my favourite of all being Pokemon Brown. And, in keeping with this being predominantly Touhou, yes, I have played and completed the entirety of Touhou Puppet Play Enhanced, a hack of Fire Red where everything is replaced by Touhous…oh, and Johto is in as well. There I had Reisen, Cirno, Yorihime, TYukari, TSuika and ASunny on my team of six. I know you’re not supposed to stick with six for that game, nor try and beat the game when they’re all only just in the 80s for levels, but I did that anyway… It also enjoys a brilliant soundtrack full of Touhou remixes, most done in FR/LG’s soundfont, a few imported directly into the game. (Thanks Spotty Len for uploading it all!) And there’s also the not-Pokemon-at-all game, Touhou Puppet Dance Performance, which I have to hand, but which I have barely played and barely gotten through any of the game. I will do so eventually. I might even report on it here.
And there’s so much more besides to Pokemon, but I think the message is really all clear. The whole damn franchise is just so great. Hopefully it can keep going on with massive success for a long time, and I hope its entire history lives very, very long in the memory. It’ll live in my mind forever and ever.
My favourite Pokemon music
- FRLG Champion
- GSC Gym Leader
- GSC Team Rocket
- HGSS Lugia
- ORAS Wild Pokemon
- RSE Magma/Aqua Leader
- FRLG Deoxys
- DPPt Wild Pokemon
- DPPt Galactic Commander
- DPPt Uxie/Azelf/Mesprit
- Platinum Frontier Brain
- BW Battle Subway
- BW Team Plasma
- BW Elite Four
- XY Team Flare
- FRLG Cerulean City
- Sandgem Town (Day)
- Castelia City
- Driftveil City
- Village Bridge
- Cyllage City
- FRLG Route 11
- GSC Route 42
- Sevii Islands
- GSC Route 26
- RSE Dive
- Driftveil Drawbridge
- BW2 Route 22
- XY Route 15
- GSC Route 2
- FRLG Pokemon Mansion
- GSC Dark Cave
- GSC Game Corner
- ORAS Mt. Chimney
- RSE Abandoned Ship
- RSE Magma/Aqua Hideout
- Chargestone Cave
- Kalos Power Plant
- Colosseum Miror B (also Mirakle B)
- Colosseum/XD Battle 3
- XD Cipher Peon
- XD Miror B
- Shadow Lugia
- Pyrite Town