Pokémon Blue shattered my faith.
Since videogames first made the scene, there was an implicit trust between the player and game: this is a game, and, thus, it can be won. This, of course, goes further back even beyond the invention of the monitor, as, ultimately, all games throughout history had some kind of “win” (or at least “best”) condition. Cone with a ball on a string might not have had a proper ending, but you could beat your last high score, and the same could be done with Tetris centuries later. All videogames have rules; if you follow those rules, and excel at the mechanics, you too can “beat the game”.
Now, in many cases, the game itself determined what the win condition might be. There’s a scoreboard in Super Mario Bros., but it’s irrelevant if you can’t save that all important princess (what was her name, again?). Dr. Wily is going to be back another six or ten times, but what’s the point in being powered on if you can’t beat all his robots and his stupid little saucer this time? And, while you might be able to tack “low level” or “no equipment” challenges onto the typical Final Fantasy, your goal is still to save the world and knock all the villains down. Personal challenges are still a part of any game whether it’s digital or not, but what’s important to most gamers is the game’s narrative, and how you, player, are going to accomplish your digital avatar’s goals.
But… why doesn’t the game just lie?
I say “the game” here, but what I really mean is “the developers”. When I was in first grade, my best friend had a theory on game design. “Why don’t they just make the first level the hardest?” he queried. “That way, no one could beat the game unless they were really good.” Even at seven, I knew the answer was, “Because then no one would play the game at all. Duh.” And, in a way, that’s the rule all videogames, from Deadly Towers to Super Mario Galaxy, follow. Start easy, get the player used to everything, and then ramp it up to more difficult challenges. There are some outliers, but, by and large, that’s the rhythm you can expect from a videogame. It’s easier to beat Level 1 than Level 8, but you can beat Level 8 if you practice and try and maybe sacrifice a goat to the Nintendo Powers that Be. Ultimately, the developers want you to win, because then you’ll be happy, and you’ll tell others (‘ wallets) of your joy. It’s no coincidence that some of the most popular Final Fantasy games are incidentally easy and Marsh Cave-less.
But developers do have other aims, and sometimes it’s hard to ignore the baser instincts of man. Let’s face it: we all know “how people work”, and, aside from the circle of friends within our own monkeyspheres, it’s pretty common to assume everyone else is “out to get you”. Alright, yes, that sounds paranoid, but it is reality in many situations. End of the day, I know that I would rather have a buck in my pocket than yours, and you likely feel the same way. It’s human nature to look out for your own and hoard that which you think is going to help you survive, so it’s also natural to assume that game developers want as much as your hard earned gil as possible. This translates poorly into our modern era of DLC and other add-on content. I used to pay $40 and get a full game, now I pay $60 and have to pay another $20 for a season pass? These game companies are trying to cheat me! … Never mind that you’re likely getting more game than ever before (I would have killed for more Mega Man “DLC” when I was seven), what’s important is that you’re opening that wallet again for some greedy developer, and your precious hobby has become an avarice-fueled tug o’war. I want my GP to stay in my pocket!
Actually, semi-relevant to the subject matter, let’s take Pokémon Go as an example. Pokémon Go, at its core, is a completely free game that encourages you to walk around your neighborhood. You absolutely do not need to spend a dime in this game. Even if there is only one pokéstop in your vicinity, you can hit that same spot repeatedly, and fill up on consumables you need to play the game. Even the most remote locations seem to be stocked with rats and birds, and that earlier mentioned pokéstop may net you eggs that you can hatch with your free, unlimited incubator. It may take weeks, but you’ll see a gyrados in your stable before they release the next generation.
It’s hard not to see the gears that keep this machine rolling. Pokéballs may be purchased, so it’s in the developer’s best interest to make Pokémon difficult to catch. Lucky Eggs double experience points and may be purchased, so it’s in the developer’s best interest to make the goals for that next level up more and more astronomical. Incubators break after a set number of eggs and may be purchased, so it’s in the developer’s best interest to provide more rapidly hatched eggs than valuable, slow eggs. In short, there are a number of different “random” occurrences in Pokémon Go that, with just a few tweaks, could net the producers of the game millions. A fun walking companion becomes a slot machine so gradually…
However, what’s important is that Pokémon Go doesn’t feel like it’s fleecing its customers. I have personally captured over 80% of the pokédex on random walks by the ocean, and only spent a Jackson on some egg hatching. Granted, I know damn well that I’m in a poképrevalent area (why hello there, my fourth jynx), but with random bouts of insomnia and some decent sneakers, I’ve found that, for all the ways the developers could steal my change, I’m making out okay. It might be an illusion, but I feel like I might be able to capture all those digital critters.
Which is more than I could say for Pokémon Blue.
The motto of Pokémon, as ever, is “Gotta Catch ‘em All”. Naturally, being a young (teenage), impressionable (cynical) child (teenager) when Pokémon first came to power, I believed that that was the ultimate goal of any Pokémon game. Being a gigantic nerd, I mapped out my pokéjourney beforehand, finding any online resources I could (and Nintendo Power issues), and finally settling on Pokémon Blue (because it had Meowth). I knew the legendary birds and Mewtwo were one-time events, and I readied my savescumming skills with King’s Quest. I was equipped to catch ‘em all, dammit!
And I didn’t, because Pokémon Blue is a jerk.
I knew I needed to trade to get all the Pokémon. That’s baked into the experience, and I was certain to “assist” a greasy-haired friend of mine in his purchase of Pokémon Red. I traded for my growlithe and other “exclusive” Pokémon. I caught Mewtwo and the birds, and even combed the Safari Zone for every last ‘mon (Dratini, my sweet little worm creature…). I evolved Pikachu, Bulbasaur, and Jigglypuff.
And then… the wall.
I’m pretty sure I can name the “issues” off the top of my head. There are three moon stones in the entire game, and four Pokémon that require the rocks to evolve. One eevee, three choices. Hitmonlee or Hitmonchan? Two different fossil Pokémon, and each one evolves. And, the worst of the worst, there are three starters, but you can only ever have one. Like the fossil issue, this is terrible, because it’s inevitable that your buddy is going to evolve his starting Pokémon as quickly as possible, and then, whoops, no chance to ever get Charmander in your pokédex. I think God every day that I chose Bulbasaur as the starter, else the fact that my pokédex didn’t start at #001 would have killed me.
In short, unless you had another copy of the game that was a slave to a “real” copy (and was willing to be completely reset around Eevee acquisition), it was utterly impossible to “catch ‘em all”. Good try, sport, but the unevolved form of Kabutops is forever out of reach. Maybe you’ll find someone right at the right point in the game, but for now, guess you’ll just have to dream.
And that… just about broke me.
Well, I mean, I survived. I didn’t have to be committed thanks to a severe case of pokéOCD, but it pretty much dashed my dreams for game completion. The Mew event came and went, and who cares? It’s just one more Pokémon out of fifteen that I’ll never see. There was a period of about two years where I didn’t give a damn about “the latest thing” in videogames, and I don’t think it was a coincidence that it was right after Pokémon Blue/Red was released. If videogames were impossible, what was the point?
Eventually, I got over it, and…
No. That’s a lie. Let’s try this again.
Eventually, Pokémon Silver/Gold was released. The newest Pokémon title allowed for “breeding”, which meant one could fish out those unevolved Pokémon. And there were free moonstones every Monday! So, years after its release, I caught every last Pokémon, and filled up the Kanto pokédex. Some dude from Gamefreak gave me a certificate, and I went on my merry way.
I guess, eventually, faith may be found again.
FGC #186 Pokémon Blue/Red
- System: Gameboy, but better on the Super Gameboy. Gameboy Color, too? Why not.
- Number of players: Two. Thanks, Link Cable!
- Favorite Pokémon (Gen Red/Blue/Yellow): Hypno. I know psychic type ‘mons are overpowered in Red/Blue, but I’ll take the lil’ dream eater over any spoon bender or mutant any day. NOW SLEEEEEEEP!
- What about the battle side of Pokémon? Bah! I got a team of psychic Pokémon, who needs to worry about that “meta game”? Everything will fall before Psychic!
- Forgotten Pokémon Memories: I’ve lost the save file on my Pokémon Blue cartridge twice: once thanks to a N64 communication error over Pokémon Stadium, and once in the last decade thanks to a save battery failure. I’m not planning on hitting the game again, so I’ll just have to remember what it feels like to complete the first pokédex.
- Other Pokémon Memories: I was the first of my friends to beat the Elite Four. It was, somehow, a spectator event, and everyone in attendance had no idea how to defeat the previously unseen dragon type. I finally remembered that ice was their weakness, and slaughtered the lot with a Slowbro. And then we were all surprised to see Gary as the real final opponent. I know, in reality, this occurred on a school bus with a borrowed Gameboy, but in my memory, I’m pretty sure it was in a stadium on an enormo-screen. There may have been cheering.
- Did you know? Wrap sucks.
- Would I play again: I mentioned this before, but Pokémon completely denies any and all reason to replay old versions. I know there are some people that enjoy the classics, but I absolutely cannot go back to manual box switching and moonstone hording. I only have so many years before the grave!
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Chiki Chiki Boys for the Sega Genesis! Oh boy! I bet we’re going to have a mega time! Please look forward to it!