This is what real strategy looks like: skewed and archaic.
Some Quick Background
Pocket Monsters was developed by Game Freak in 199—naw, naw, just kidding, we’re not going that far. I was developed by my mother in 1997, and strictly speaking, I did not grow up with Pokemon Red and Blue. Those were released around here a year after I was born. I don’t even remember ever seeing my older sibling’s ancient copy of Pokemon Blue anywhere around the house. Therefore, my primordial memories of the series start with the second-generation games.
So “going back to Gen 1” doesn’t mean “entering a delightful sea of nostalgia” as you might have assumed. It means going into a nightmarish time warp, a rusty-hinged dungeon my species was not meant to enter.
Speaking of archaisms, I got my current copy of Pokemon Red as a digital purchase through the Nintendo 3DS eShop’s Virtual Console, just because it was about to close and I figured, “Well, I kinda like the idea of having stuff to play on the 3DS. What if I want it later!?!?” This despite the fact that the 3DS is infinitely moddable and this game is hella old—AND the official 3DS port has no save states. Save states come default with every other 3DS Virtual Console game I have ever heard of.
It’s absurd. It’s archaic.
It has been theorized that the type of your chosen starter Pokemon determines your difficulty level. Grass is easy (it’s strong against the first two gyms), Water is medium (it’s strong against the first), and Fire is hard (Rock and Water stomp all over it). I don’t quite believe this because this shit is easy, but whatever, I’m 26 now so my whole approach to strategizing is different now than it was at, um, age 2, when it didn’t exist.
Let’s just walk through my approach and see what you think. After naming my player character (CHAZZ) and rival (ENIGMA), I knew I wanted Charmander because throughout many generations, I think the only Fire starter I ever chose was…Torchic, in Sapphire. And variety is the spice of life. And also because I wanted to spit in the face of this difficulty theory. (Note: please don’t take my boasts too seriously. It’s just playful banter. We’re not gonna literally reinvent the wheel…we’ll just have fun pretending we will.)
Route 1 is filled with Pidgeys and Rattatas. I wanted both, so with the help of my Charmander (Bastian) I caught first a rat (Rattyrat) and then a bird (Duster). Now, I knew Rattyrat was gonna be my early-game mainstay. Another sort of Pokemon I had never given a fair shake was Normal-types, and it is also reported that contrary to popular belief, the most broken type in the first generation was not Psychic, but the most normalest average of all average types. Normal typing can’t cover any weaknesses! Who would choose that shit?
But what it does have is raw power. It is the poster child of Hyper Beam, after all. Rattata gets cool-sounding moves like Super Fang and Hyper Fang—and make no mistake, I would soon run into some Trainers packing serious Raticates that almost took me out.
So I needed a Rattata, and I sadly, begrudgingly also needed a Pidgey. Pidgey has Sand-Attack, and I was already cooking up my cheesy strategy against the first gym: just lower the accuracy of Brock’s team into the negatives, then spam every damage-dealing move I’ve got. As sand in the face makes clear, when no attack my team has can exploit a weakness, eyeballs are the weakness.
Sadly, I had never used Pidgey because I have long known that Fearow is better because it gets Drill Peck. Generally I think Flying is kind of a loser type anyway, outside of that very useful move it is the poster child for (Fly).
So with these three musketeers, I grinded around Viridian City, lost to my rival ENIGMA (and bitterly restarted so I could win this time), and prepared for the forest ahead.
Viridian Forest and Pewter City Gym, AKA THE MARATHON
“They say old games are hard, so I’m going to treat this upcoming gauntlet with the respect it deserves,” I said to myself. I bought Antidotes, knowing that rampant Weedles and vicious trainers would be armed with Poison Sting. And I prepared to grind even more, knowing that when it came to the first gym, even Sand-Attack might not be enough.
Five minutes later, I had found everything in Viridian Forest and learned that most of the tall grass was optional.
…Um, without further ado (and with four-fifths of my Antidote supply still intact), I went to Brock, and for this first test run I didn’t even fight the other two Trainers. I could just get their experience points later. Duster kicked up sand and Brock tacitly endorsed my cheaty strategy with a prize.
In this game, you can’t get the gym Trainers’ experience points later.
At this point, I realized I was being overdramatic about the early-game difficulty. And/or I had absorbed too much data by osmosis through random Pokemon YouTube videos over the years. Picking Charmander didn’t make things difficult, it just made them…janky. This victory felt wrong.
Mt. Moon and the Quest for the Greatest Normal-Type
I had fun fighting Trainers in the next route whilst running back and forth to the Pokemon Center, again very cheesily. However, I noticed some disconcerting things.
Duster’s Gust attack was Normal-type, not Flying-type, meaning Duster had zero advantage against Bug-types or Grass-types. Or any type whatsoever.
And the Normal-type of my dreams, Rattyrat, had such low stats it was almost dead weight.
Quickly I raced to get a Jigglypuff. However, this led me to notice even more disconcerting things. First, that you can quickly get Sleep-locked by a Pokemon that literally only knows Sing…second, that though Jigglypuff is “rare” I swore I encountered three of the demons in a row…and third, that Jigglypuff’s only valuable stat, really, is HP. Still I named my new pal (Firmware) and invested it with new hopes and dreams.
Then I entered Mt. Moon, and I had my first real brain-bending moment. Now, I’ve been around the Pokemon block enough to know what types of moves do and don’t get TMs. You might give Hyper Beam or Swift a TM, but you wouldn’t give Tackle a TM. You’d give Bubblebeam a TM. But not Water Gun.
Is there a Water Gun TM in Mt. Moon? Of course there is.
Once I found it, I started to reframe my Mt. Moon strategy. You see, I had intended to catch a Geodude on the first floor specifically so that I could use Rock Throw on all the Zubats I’d inevitably find and feel like a supergenius. But way before I found a Geodude, I caught a Clefairy (Earring), and I figured I might as well teach it this crappy little Water Gun.
It turned out that lack of STAB (that’s Same-Type Attack Bonus) didn’t mean a thing. Earring could still one- or two-hit KO not only Zubats, but also—enemy Geodudes!
Okay, I did catch one (and name it Goodshow). But…silly me. Geodude doesn’t learn Rock Throw until level 16 in this game.
Still, it was a nice idea.
Bastian the Charmander evolved, and likewise, Duster, Earring, and Goodshow were all leveling at a steady clip. After securing a Dome Fossil, I fled the caverns and approached…
Cerulean City, Land of the Nugget, Home of the Mistake
The heading of this section is referring to the time Earring leveled up and wanted to learn Double Slap. I replaced Pound, mistakenly keeping Growl, of all things. In the next Nugget Bridge fight, I used Double Slap, missed, used it again, did horribly low damage. In infinite frustration, I replaced Double Slap with the TM Mega Punch and have never looked back.
I have never, ever settled for lower-accuracy moves in the past. Not even Fire Blast. Not even Hyper Beam. But now, with Pokemon Red, I find myself getting a little bit cocksure…I begin to like the idea of risking it all. Mega Punch’s accuracy never cut the mustard when I found it in FireRed, but in this playthrough, it was…startlingly good.
Mega Punch helped me beat the bridge, collect an Oddish (Strangish), and march over to Cerulean City’s gym, there to beat/cheat Misty. Surprisingly, it wasn’t as much of a clean sweep as I had hoped…probably because of the infamous Special stat.
Generation 1 predates the split between Special Attack and Special Defense. That’s why Fighting-types and Rock-types are such infinite losers: in later games they might have been given higher Special Defense and lower Special Attack, or vice-versa, but here, nah. They just get neither. So a dual Rock/Ground-type like Geodude, which is already weak to half the types reliant on the Special stat for damage, can’t endure even one single pathetic Absorb, and dies like paper in juice. Meanwhile, a Pokemon like Hitmonchan that is supposed to have great coverage with Ice Punch, Fire Punch and Thunder Punch…does like 5 damage with each. It’s truly sad. Hitmonchan also can’t take a hit from Fire-types, Ice-types, Electric-types, Water-types, Grass-types, Psychic-types, and Psychic-types.
Oh, and this game also predates the physical/special split, meaning that all Grass-type moves use the Special stat to determine damage rather than the Attack stat, no exceptions. There is no physical Grass-type move that can get around what is often a Water-type’s greatest asset: its Special stat.
Still, Absorb-borne blunt force trauma eventually defeated Misty and made her surrender the badge. Onward!
Self-Imposed Challenge on S. S. Anne
After dropping Firmware the Jigglypuff off at the Daycare Center just to see what would happen, I scooted on down to Vermillion with the following party, presented roughly in terms of affection: Earring, Bastian, Goodshow, Strangish, Duster.
I was surprised by how much I was digging this Clefairy, but more than that I was shocked by my love for this Geodude. With Lt. Surge coming up, it had inevitably become the golden boy. With my profound knowledge of physical/special split shenanigans, I knew that against the Dig move I had recently taught Goodshow, Lt. Surge’s Electric-types were going to just crumple hilariously. Electric-types typically have a higher Special than Defense, and Ground is a physical type—ergo the worst type-disadvantage tale of all time.
My unfortunate weakest link was Duster the Pidgey. I was hoping that it might evolve and get Wing Attack soon, but I could wait, since luckily that wouldn’t matter until I actually got to Erika. And even though not having Erika’s badge meant that only Pokemon up to level 30 would obey me for a while, 30 levels was probably enough.
For now, I just crossed my fingers about it and hopped onto S. S. Anne. This time, I was determined not to be quite so cheesy. Instead of racing back and forth to the Pokemon Center, surely I had enough teammates by now that I could actually stay onboard and last. So, armed with some Potions, I got on the ship and had fun fighting a bunch of battles.
I challenged myself by using Potions as sparingly as possible, frequently rotating party members based on who seemed to have a type disadvantage against whatever Trainer type I assumed was next, and saving the grand Ether for when I really really needed a move to have its PP back. Enigma was a total pushover, but man those other Trainers can do a number on you after a while.
And speaking of pushovers, I defeated Lt. Surge and his servants handily. Since Dig only has 10 PP, the sweep wasn’t so clean, but it was nonetheless thorough and it shamed the entirety of America.
Deliriously Spinning Into Rock Tunnel
When I exited Diglett’s Cave, I thought, “WoOoOah, dude…where AM I?” Then I walked around a little and thought, “Oh, hey, there I am. I knew that. Just wanted to make sure.”
Diglett’s Cave loops back to Viridian City, allowing the player to Cut some previously un-Cut trees and collect some stuff before moving ahead. I had done this before in Pokemon FireRed, so yes, I already knew, but there’s something about a black-and-white screen with less pixels per square inch that makes it hit different. The discovery is gradual and a little disorienting.
And disoriented I would be once more as I explored the route beside Vermillion, then circled back to Cerulean for Rock Tunnel. The maps are getting vaster and weirder, with more paths, and more OPTIONAL paths, and I can’t keep my eyeballs on as much real estate as I would be able to see in other generations. Backtracking is a little more troublesome and/or adventurous.
And while I kind of had already been in a cave (Mt. Moon), and caves are quite infamous for that in any game, I didn’t foresee any problems with Rock Tunnel. After arming my dear Firmware with Flash (gained 8 levels at the Daycare Center! still stinks in battle), that was where I set my sights. Seeing my Jigglypuff turn out to be such a blazing failure was the encouragement I needed to give a Moon Stone to Earring, evolving it into a Clefable. Now to head in.
I guess the things about Rock Tunnel that are supposed to excite you are the Onixes and Machops. Sadly, Onix is bad, and was always bad, and even makes a poor showing on Brock’s team, on which it is the star. At least Geodude has an actual Attack stat. Onix does not. Nobody even wants an Onix.
Did you know that Onix learns Harden at level 43?
That’s incredibly sad.
Anyway, I was just excited for the chance to grind until the cows came home. Grinding is an infamous concept, but I feel I should make a distinction here. I’ll separate grinding done freely from grinding undertaken purely because the game has an arbitrary difficulty spike. Sometimes the two categories may intersect (ex. when I was training needlessly before Brock’s match, feeling I would need to), but let’s treat them as separate.
In Rock Tunnel, I knew I didn’t have to give a damn about training to beat Erika, let alone any old Trainer I might come across. But to me, fighting random Pokemon and Trainers is fun because even though it offers little moment-to-moment strategy or thrill, every move reminds me that I have mastered something (or…comparatively mastered) and that I am better than some random NPC. I know I sound sarcastic, but it’s deadly true. Steamrolling computer opponents is just a pleasurable act.
I shuffled my five main squeezes around, trying not to get any of them past level 30, past which no Pokemon would obey me: the point of no return. Things got frantic. I needed Bastian in peak condition! I couldn’t keep sending it out against these sad Bellsprouts, even if it could murder them singlehandedly! When Earring got up to level 30, I knew things were bad. I needed that one!
Little did I know I was approaching a wholly different point of no return.
I walked four steps. I found a Zubat. I defeated it. I walked two more steps. I found a Zubat. I defeated it. I walked four more steps. I found a Zubat. I defeated it.
I had a strong hunch that I was on the final floor but I just could not find the exit because the map was too big and there were too many bats in the way!
I used Dig to escape. I zoomed back to Cerulean City, bought a heap of twenty Repels, and zoomed back. Then I pumped Repel after Repel and biked back through the entire cave. When I found the exit, I learned that yes, yes I had been extremely close to the exit. This whole Repel exercise had not been important at all.
Except to my psychological well-being.
Speeding Over to Erika Because I Didn’t Want My Team to Become Disobedient Tyrant Freeloaders
I heard from somewhere that the only Pokemon that ever disobey you in this generation are Pokemon you receive by trade…so…what every Gym Leader says, in that case, is basically a lie, and I have been terribly misled, and it hampered my enjoyment of this part of the game something fierce.
Okay, so anyway, I fucking ran past Lavender Town and into Celadon, then healed and booked it to Erika’s gym, because I wanted to keep playing the game. I did not want to keep barring myself from the ur-experience that is Acceptance of the Grind.
And the whole time I was fighting Erika’s minions, I swapped out deliriously, sweatily, strategically, always tracking EXP.
Also, I was so angry at Duster the Pidgeotto. Pidgeotto learns Wing Attack at level 31.
Perfect. Just perfect.
Plus, Bastian the Charmeleon was underperforming. Its only attack worth a damn was Ember, which was ONLY worth a damn because of the Fire typing. At level 30, we’re supposed to be doing a little better than 40 base power—or at least to have a high-enough Special stat to compensate. Even Strangish, as a Gloom, had been doing numbers with the 20-base-power Absorb. Gloom’s Special was surprisingly monstrous, and doubly so now that I had evolved it recently into a Vileplume. Vileplume’s base Special stat is 100. Heck, Oddish’s Special is 75. Charmeleon’s base Special is 65. 65.
Maybe that’s not ludicrously bad, but it felt that bad as I waded through the high-Special Pokemon of Erika’s long, long gym. Thanks to the good ol’ physical/special split, and Special-stat shenanigans, Fire isn’t Grass’s greatest weakness…it’s Flying. Meanwhile, Fire’s greatest weakness isn’t Water—it’s Ground. And since Water has no physical weakness, Water is the greatest type of all. (Um…except Psychic. Wait, wasn’t Normal the best type?)
Normal- and Fighting-Type Confessions
After that gym battle, I sighed in deep relief, hit he Pokemon Center, and actually did some exploring around town. I got my Graveler Goodshow Rock Slide and my Clefable Earring the more reliable Normal-type move Tri-Attack…though I kind of regretted replacing Mega Punch with a move that had half its PP. Hey, at least Earring still had Water Gun, and could learn Ice Beam too, if I ever decided I really wanted to take the plunge.
A Normal-type is a jack of all trades, master of none, I guess. Clefable, having a decently high Special stat of 85, becomes a Swiss army knife, using whatever kinds of elemental moves you happen to have on CD-ROM. If I hadn’t decided to use the TM on a Jolteon (Ludo), mine could have learned Thunderbolt—but there’s always Psychic, Solar Beam, and Thunder.
Normal’s great weakness is Fighting, but throughout the first half of the game, Fighting has been such a sad type.
I first encountered it north of Cerulean City. A hiker had a Machop, and the Machop knew Karate Chop. Karate Chop hit my Clefairy and did average damage. Karate Chop, in this generation, is a Normal-type move. Machop got no STAB.
Looking closely, Machop actually doesn’t have bad base Attack at all. It just has no moves better than Karate Chop until level 20, at which point it learns Low Kick, which is an actual Fighting move for a Fighting-type fighter. And if you look at Mankey, it learns NO Fighting-type moves besides Seismic Toss—which is a set damage move, always dealing damage equal to the opponent’s level.
You’re supposed to teach these Pokemon the stronger move Submission via TM. Submission does one-fourth of its damage to the attacker, as recoil. That’s unfortunate. I never want to use that in my life. I’m still a little risk-averse.
Still, don’t ignore the main problem here. Why is a move called Karate Chop not Fighting-type!?
In general, Pokemon Red, Blue, and Yellow have a different philosophy about Pokemon types than later generations. Moreso than those later games, Normal-type Pokemon and Normal-type moves are truly…normal. Everyone knows their moves and they’re basically all several Pokemon have until unimaginably late levels. Pidgeotto doesn’t get any fun moves until level 31…but back then, Normal-type Gust was the fun move. Scyther has no Bug-type moves. SCYTHER HAS NO BUG-TYPE MOVES.
But I guess the developers came to realize that players just had more fun using elemental moves, and moves with types suited to their Pokemons’ actual builds. So things were changed, and the movesets of today’s Pokemon are “cheap” by pre-modern standards. But it’s just cooler to have your Charmander learn Metal Claw than to wait until eternity for it to get past little baby Ember, which it’s been using for the past 20 levels.
But this is also the reason Normal-types were so great. Everyone had the Normal moves, but few could unlock their true potential.
Anyway, I went to the Fighting Dojo in Saffron City right afterward to test my mettle against this supposed worst of all types…well, maybe not worst, because nothing can be that in a world where RBY Bug and RBY Poison exist, but y’know. It just stings to have the Fighting homeworld be right next to the Psychic-types that can crush them, isn’t it?
I went inside and had some surprisingly interesting battles. I was no longer overleveled, and again I was cockier than maybe I should have been. As in, maybe I shouldn’t have thrown my Graveler against the leader saying “let’s see how long you can last!”
Answer: Graveler can survive the first hit, but with literally 1 HP. Phew. Good thing Fighting isn’t nearly as good a counter against Rock/Ground dual types as Water. Or Grass. Or Ice. Or even Psychic.
Okay, but that last fight was actually somewhat difficult for me. I had no clue what to expect from Hitmonlee and Hitmonchan’s movesets because despite my better judgment, I had still been kind of expecting everyone in here to have nothing going on beyond Low Kick. But Hitmonlee had this weird shit called Rolling Kick and Meditate, and Hitmonchan’s Comet Punch did a surprising amount of damage.
Afterward, I was given the ultimate choice: choose only one of these true stunning, unique, overlooked, powerful Pokemon. I stared at the screen for like five minutes trying to decide. They both seemed so good!
Actually, the only good one was Hitmonlee—I guess I had been too terrified by Round 1 against it to realize that Round 2’s Hitmonchan was pretty underwhelming. Comet Punch didn’t even have STAB! It was just Double Slap, again, but mildly better!
Fortunately, I made the only valid choice, and now I hope to at some point find a way to jam Hitmonlee (Pins) into my team. Which team member will be the one to go? We’ll never know…unless I make a second post about my Pokemon Red playthrough.
I haven’t picked the game back up since I beat that dojo, but it’s likely I will. Maybe I’ll complete the saga!?!?
Thank you for reading, and Patrons, thank you for Patreonning.
You may also like my exposé on 4Kids TV (verdict: at least the theme songs were good…yeah, even that one), my thoughts on that trope stories keep using where the world “can’t know” about supernatural beings (verdict: kind of annoying), and my quest to write a LitRPG (verdict: hee hee, games are fun).