Nigel has been playing video games ever since he first picked up a Master System controller in his diapers. Nintendo fanboy.
The first generation of Pokémon games carry a lot of great memories and nostalgia for many people, myself included. I was always a bit of a nerd and loved JRPGs and anime, so in 1998 when Pokémon Red and Blue were released in North America it didn't take me long to become hooked. In fact, these games—along with Pokémon Yellow—have such a devoted fan base that fans who prefer these first games even have their own word to describe them, "genwunners."
Now, I'll always appreciate the creativity of the first generation and that it introduced me to a franchise I absolutely love, but that doesn't mean I don't hate them! I kid of course, but I know fans of these games are going to drag me over burning coals in the comments no matter what I say, so I might as well go all-in on the gimmick.
Let's take an overly-critical look at the only games in the franchise to crack the top ten best selling games of all time—when you combine all four games including the Japan-exclusive Green Version.
1. Really Bad Game Balance
Let's get the obvious out of the way first: these games are broken with a capital "B." Let's take a look at the two most obvious examples, being the Dragon type and the Psychic type.
The Dragon type only has two weaknesses: Ice type, and itself. Now I could turn this into a rant about the metagame, but I won't get there yet. The fact is I don't believe Game Freak intended for Pokémon to be such the competitive game it is now. Multiplayer battles were somewhat of an afterthought added in at the last minute to give players something to do with their friends besides trade. The problems with both Dragons and Psychics indeed is tied to the metagame, but I want to take a look at how it impacts the single-player game. These are things that impact your journey.
Now, this doesn't impact your journey until late game of course, because unless you catch a Dragon type—which can only be done by fishing in the Safari Zone—you won't encounter any until you reach Lance the Dragon Master, the final-ish fourth member of the Elite four. Now, not only does Lance cheat—he uses a Dragonite with moveset that's impossible for it to learn in any way—but Dragon types were designed to be overpowered. Junichi Masuda even mentioned it in an interview with the late Nintendo President Satoru Iwata. It makes sense in a way because Lance is kind of the penultimate boss battle in the game, but that doesn't mean they weren't broken!
I know it's often been pointed out already that there's only one Dragon type move in Gen 1, Dragon Rage. Dragon Rage deals an automatic 40HP of damage, so it ignores all weaknesses and defenses. Ice type moves, on the other hand, are still effective. However, there are still two problems with the Ice type. First, by the time you get an Ice type Pokémon in your party, it's normally late enough in the game that you've already got your decided party set, and secondly, they don't learn any Ice type moves until about level 50.
The problem with Psychics though can be summed up in one word: Sabrina. Some gyms can be done out of order, but for most players, Sabrina is the fifth gym. First problem is limited primarily to Yellow Version, where all her Pokémon are level 50— a level most players haven't even reached before the Elite Four without additional grinding. At least Red and Blue Versions have her team at a more respectable 37–43, though with other difficulties her level 43 Alakazam is still pretty high. Those difficulties? Let's get into them.
Psychic in this generation has only two weaknesses: Bug type and Ghost type. Wait, no, my mistake. Because of a programming error Psychic only has one weakness: Bug type. And the two most powerful Bug type Pokémon in the game don't even learn any Bug type moves. Not all hope is lost though! There's still . . . Twineedle, learned by Beedrill. For an attack power of 25. At least Alakazam has a low defence. But with the special stat being for both Attack and Defence? Alakazam has the highest special stat of any non-legendary in the game, at 130, making its attacks not just extremely powerful, but making attacks from other special attacks near useless. It's why Alakazam was a must-have on every competitive team, and a clear sign that Game Freak hadn't put any thought into the competitive scene.
Fair enough, since I'm pretty sure they weren't expecting there to be a competitive scene, but when a lack of competitive balance affects progression in the single-player campaign? That's a problem.
2. Glitches and Bugs Galore
Now, this might seem unfair because every game has glitches and Pokémon had no way of installing patches, though some problems—such as the "Old Man Glitch" were fixed for Yellow.
Most famous is the "MissingNo" glitch, where once triggered makes a glitch Pokémon called MissingNo appear. MissingNo is a failsafe name that pops up when a wild encounter is triggered but tries to call in a Pokémon via a number that the game hasn't stored any creature data for. This glitch was wildly popular because a side effect is that it would take the sixth item in your inventory and multiply it. Oh, and we'll get to the inventory, don't you worry. This glitch was great if you wanted extra master balls, nuggets, or rare candies. Not so handy if the item you multiplied was a bicycle. I mean, if the game would let you sell bikes than you'd cripple Kanto's entire economy at those prices.
Another glitch is the "Mew Glitch," where after completing a certain set of tasks in a specific order you can manipulate your next wild encounter. Now, you can manipulate it to almost any Pokémon, but most players spawned a Mew, a Pokémon that could only be obtained at an in-person Nintendo event. So if you didn't live near one of these events then Mew was impossible to obtain.
It should be noted that these glitches still work on the 3DS re-release, however, because of inconsistencies in their code, it is impossible to transfer Pokémon obtained this way into Pokémon Bank so there's that. Most of these glitches sometimes caused graphical errors that could be resolved by turning your system off and reloading your file. Nothing game-breaking here, but you know what is game-breaking?
3. It's Easy to Soft Lock, Sort Of . . .
Soft locking is the process of getting stuck in a game in a manner that makes progression—thus completion—impossible.
Not "Impossible" as in hard. "Impossible" as in the only thing you can do is start your game from the beginning.
Now, granted, it's extremely unlikely you're doing this by accident. Most of the ways you'd find yourself getting stuck would require you to take intentional, deliberate actions. You see, Game Freak knew people would try to softlock their games. That's actually the whole reason why HMs are not forgettable, and could be used an infinite amount of times. It's still fairly easy though because of two factors: Limits to inventory storage (I told you we'd get here) and that while a Pokémon can't forget moves like Fly or Surf, there's nothing stopping you from releasing Pokémon that know those moves.
Now, soft locking was a problem in many generations, but subsequent generations at least addressed some of the inventory issues. Gen 2 introduced pockets, including a pocket specifically for key items—items required to complete specific tasks, usually tied to game progression—and a pocket specifically for TMs and HMs. But in Generation 1? You could carry 20 different items with you—including key items and HMs. You could store another 50 items at a Pokémon center. That's it. So basically, if you have the machine to learn Surf or Fly in your PC storage where you can't access it, travel to an island, release any Pokémon who know those moves, boom! You're stuck!
So, consider the lack of inventory space to be reason 3b why these games are the worst.
Another problem: Surf is a move necessary for completing the game, since one of the gym battles is on Cinnabar island. However, the HM for teaching a Pokémon Surf is in the Safari Zone—as well as a key item you trade to receive the HM for Strength—and the Safari Zone costs 500 Poké-yen to enter, if you have no items to sell, no more trainers to battle, and less than that much money in your wallet, you cannot enter the Safari Zone. Ever.
This was fixed in the Generation 3 remakes by having security allow you through if you found yourself in this situation.
In fact, there's a category of speedruns devoted to soft locking, and while it's mainly a programming error, you can softlock the game as early as the starting town, Pallet Town! You can use an NPC to block Professor Oak if the NPC is standing where Professor Oak would normally first appear, though at least you don't lose tens of hours of gameplay if you have to restart.
What makes the soft lock problems even worse is the handheld nature of the game. Because there's always a possibility of your batteries dying, by its very nature, players are going to save more often. If you save before soft locking, then it's a simple turn off and restart from your last save. If you're a first time player who doesn't realize you've been soft locked and you save, you can kiss all the time you spent on your adventure goodbye.
This is why we have playtesters.
4. The Pokémon Designs Are Overrated
Ah, yes. Here is where the comment section will grab their torches and pitchforks. Now it's not that these designs are actually all that bad. But it's that they aren't actually any better than designs in future generations that fans seem to give hate towards. You hate the literal garbage bag from Unova? Have a pile of sentient toxic sludge.
Think Game Freak is out of ideas because they made an inanimate object like a keyring a Pokémon design? Yeah, they didn't do that at all when they literally made a floating ball bearing with an eyeball a creature. And when it evolves it becomes . . . three ball bearings!
But those ice cream cones in Generation V were dumb, weren't they? I mean that's just food! May I interest you in six eggs and a tree of coconuts? And yes, I know they're seeds, not eggs. But they're intentionally designed to look like eggs!
Other subpar designs that are still good Pokémon include:
- Pink slime
- Two humans (Mr. Mime and Jynx)
- A Kirby knockoff
- A normal cat
- An even more ordinary rat
Every generation has its ups and downs for Pokémon design. Generation 1 was no exception. I will die on this hill if I have to. Besides, every Pokémon is special in every generation, regardless of how aesthetically appealing it might be. Play with your favorites, even if that favorite is an acorn or pinecone or a flaming horse or arctic fox.
Have Your Say!
As hard as I am on these games, they were still part of my childhood. They're why I play Pokémon 22 years later. But nostalgia does not make something good. So I would encourage fans of the series who've never played these first games to pick it up on the 3DS eShop, and to really appreciate the games you have now.
These were just some of the reasons why Pokémon Red and Blue were and are actually horrible. Am I horrible for thinking such and you really need to tell me what an idiot I am? Or are you telling yourself "Finally! Someone had the courage to say it!"
Or maybe there are reasons I missed? Or you have counterarguments to my reasons? Or maybe you need to tell me I'm an idiot (for a second time)? Sound off in the comments below!