An odd creature resembling half-dozen peach-colored eggs appeared as my friend and I walked home from elementary school. We stood at the start of my lawn, shaded by the tree beside the curb, and gawked at the monster glaring back at us. I let loose my own monster, whatever it was, and the two traded blows. Did I capture the egg creature in a ball? I can’t remember. That Exeggcute is just one of 151 Pokémon included in the original Red and Blue versions, yet that encounter represents a mystery that later games no longer had.
At that time, walking home from school with my original transparent Game Boy in my hands, the internet was nonexistent. The only sense I had that the Kanto region contained more unknown creatures than the initial handful between Pallet Town and Pewter City was the game’s manual, which listed many of those early Pokémon. Eventually, those cartoon portraits vanished, but spaces remained. Many more. I knew that there were plenty more Pokémon just waiting to be discovered, many strange in ways that I couldn’t imagine.
That sense of the unknown spread throughout the whole game. The world and rules that dictate the game, even the main objectives that’s been repeated in every main Pokémon game since — beat eight gym leaders to gain their badges and take on the Elite Four, stopping just long enough to beat a criminal organization — was fresh and exciting. What else might I find around that pixelated corner?
Sadly, as it so happens with sequels, that mystery gave way to predictability. Gold and Silver followed the same template, followed by Ruby and Sapphire, Diamond and Pearl, Black and White, and X and Y. Of course, the remakes and third editions (like Yellow to Red/Blue) don’t break new ground. As excited as I am for them, the upcoming Sun and Moon versions will undoubtedly stick to the formula slavishly. That doesn’t mean these aren’t fun games, but that mystery vanished almost two decades ago for me.
With New Eyes
Listening to Easy Allies’ Brandon Plays Pokémon is like rediscovering those original games. If you missed the last External Mondays where I posted the first episode, Brandon Plays Pokémon is a discussion between Brandon Jones and Kyle Bosman about the original Pokémon games. This is Brandon’s first time jumping into the series, so these videos is basically Kyle probing Brandon for reactions to places, Pokémon, and events as a newcomer. And it’s really interesting.
As one of the many who obsessed over Pokémon Red and Blue as a child (I would’ve been 11 when they were released in North America), I’ve gone through the Kanto region multiple times across several versions. This isn’t a setting that holds any surprises, so the stranger aspects aren’t so strange to me anymore. Discovering a talking Pokémon that’s actually a human transformed during an experiment? Big deal. A cemetery where the trainers are possessed by dead Pokémon? Whatever.
Only by listening to Brandon describe his first-time journey through Pokémon that I’m reminded that a person accidentally transforming himself into a Pokémon is odd. Forget the trainers in the cemetery and talk about the cemetery itself. This is a series where these creatures faint upon losing their HP, and the criminal organizations are about as competent as your standard ’90s cartoon bad guys, yet them acknowledging that Pokémon die in the first games is daring. Let’s not forget that the main opponent in this cemetery is a Pokémon that Team Rocket killed.
Brandon’s choice of Pokémon mirrors my first playthrough. He dropped a Zubat for a Haunter by the fourth episode because he didn’t like Zubat’s evolution, something I can’t imagine doing without a substantial amount of forethought. On my first playthrough? Sure, I’ll swap in this new Pokémon, dropping one I’ve spent hours with. These days, I go into new Pokémon games with my final team already selected.
That’s something I started with the very next games, Gold and Silver. I imported the Japanese version of Gold sometime before its English releases because I found a strategy guide specifically for playing the Japanese version at Barnes and Noble. As I waited for my package to leave Japan and arrive at my door, I poured over that guide. What could I do with this guide while I waited? I planned my entire Pokémon team. Ampharos. Crobat. Houndoom. Those are three creatures I’m pretty sure I went with.
With the games released after Gold/Silver, the internet replaced that physical guide by granting a sneak peak into what Pokémon would be available to me. Deciding on my team has become a sort of meta-game, but unlike more hardcore fans who determine which Pokémon has the best stats, my primary goal is to determine which creatures I like and want to roll with for countless hours. HM moves and elemental types also played a role.
A Yearning For The Unknown
I’ve stuck with that approach through every sequel and remake, but listening to Brandon Plays Pokémon roused from slumber a desire to jump into a whole new world with only the knowledge of a handful of Pokémon that I would run into. Yet that conflicts with the part of me that enjoys paging through Bulbapedia for potential candidates to my future team. As I grow older and my available time shrinks, it’s hard to imagine running through one of these games without the knowledge of which Pokémon I want to capture and which I want to beat into the ground through battle.
That mystery is appealing, but it’s impossible to replicate the mystery that came with the original games. I can’t erase the formula from my mind, not to mention my familiarity with the many Pokémon I encountered from past games that appear in new games. I will never gape at that strange, egg-like Pokémon my friend and I discovered. Maybe I could stare open-mouthed at a new, equally strange monster, but so much of that mystery is long gone.
Maybe watching videos of people describing their first foray into Pokémon will be enough. Or maybe I could give franchises I never played before a try if I’m so intent on chasing that sensation of walking into the unknown. Of course, it’s cheaper to go with the former. Maybe I’ll go re-watch Brandon Plays Pokémon again.