Enslaving pets and pitting them in a rock-paper-scissors turn-based duel doesn’t sound like kid-friendly material. Did I mention rock-paper-scissors? Pokémon captured our hearts either way.
Over five years after the original Pokémon Red and Blue set the world abuzz with its serving of pocket monsters, 2004's Pokémon FireRed and LeafGreen retold the same tale in full color. With novel additions and clever modifications to a nigh-perfect canvas, the games went on to sell over 12 million copies. For millions, LeafGreen was a walk down memory lane. For millions more, LeafGreen was just the beginning.
I was fortunate to be among the latter.
Pokémon has changed little in 25 years. Some may argue that the series has gone stale and are pleased with Pokémon Legends: Arceus’ bold new direction. Either way, the franchise isn’t going to abandon its action and RPG cocktail anytime soon. Underneath the cutesy carnage and pet collecting, I found some of the most compelling game mechanics in video game history. The simple premise of combing gym after gym and bush after bush in a bid to “catch them all” hid a spectrum of charming personas and quirky tales.
Blades of LeafGreen
The feeling that reeled Red and Blue players to LeafGreen is the same sentiment that powers me now: an inescapable sense of déjà vu. A mere glance at the original 151 Pokémon reminds me of friends, rivals, and those who played both roles. I remember training my little creatures until they towered over the trees. Pokémon pushed me to become a better friend and an even better mentor. For what is altruism if not marveling at the growth of those around you?
Every new Pokémon was a new family member, a part of the flock. And as a nervous shepherd setting foot into pastures of all colors, I soon grew to love my vibrant accomplices. I grew alongside my Pokémon as they went from strength to strength, learning new moves and evolving into new forms. As a child who had just begun learning English, I used to call potions “potons.” My fourth-grade friends didn’t seem to mind as we hooked our Game Boys up with a Link Cable to trade. We were all little trainers who had yet to explore Kanto and by that same token, our own world. Little did I know that I’d end up writing about Pokémon over a decade later.
Echoes of the game’s enchanting soundtrack stir my soul despite a decade of aging. The battle themes were absolutely glorious and the 8-bit tracks of the patches of wilderness between towns were rightly mysterious. The winding hunt for Legendary Pokémon makes today’s loot boxes look loony. And rushing towards a Pokémon Center while holding my heart and my fainted Pokémon is an emotion that will never fade away. I can still hear the heartwarming chimes that would greet me as my friends were brought back to life. The next Pokémon game I played was just as evocative.
Pokémon Emerald was effectively a director’s cut of 2003’s excellent Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire. The Hoenn region adventure built on LeafGreen’s success. It didn’t mess with the time-honored tradition of Pokémon duking it out or that of filling one’s Pokédex (an in-game Pokémon wiki device). New locales, Pokémon, and activities greeted both newcomers and veterans. Who knew Pokémon beauty pageants could be so alluring?
A tighter plot with legendary Pokémon thrown into the mix meant that I got to fall in love with the Pokémon behind an impending ecological disaster. Ah, Rayquaza. Glee robs me of my senses just at the very thought of witnessing the Sky Pillar once more. The endgame content got a boost too with the addition of the Battle Frontier. It flipped the standard formula by letting you rent Pokémon from a limited selection or leave your team to fight it out on their own, relying on your Pokémons’ battle senses. These additions ensured that Emerald was just as riveting as the titles before it.
A ceremonious YouTube OST pit stop for a trip down Mt. Moon and the Sky Pillar is one I wouldn’t trade for anything else. Pokémon’s kid-friendly aesthetic didn’t hold it back from becoming one of the most engaging franchises of our times. Nintendo, thank you.
Cue the 8-bit Pokémon evolution music.
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