Pokémon Blue review
This worldwide phenomenon sure has come a long way

The good:

Simple enough for kids to get into and for adults who just want to unwind and play an easier game. Very enjoyable for both, too. The music is fantastic, too.

The bad:

Not that much strategy necessary for battling - which isn't helped by poor AI, and the dungeons are pretty damn boring. You can't catch all the Pokemon without trading with someone who has the Red version of the game. The story barely exists. The graphics are fairly hit and miss.


Released in 1996 by Game Freak, Pokemon Blue (along with Pokemon Red) aided Final Fantasy VII in making JRPGs a dominant force back in the late 90s and early-mid 2000s before they fell prey to the rise of Bethesda's monolithic Elder Scrolls series (well, Morrowind and Oblivion anyway - I doubt anybody knew what Arena and Daggerfall were before Morrowind came out) and Bioware's Knights Of The Old Republic and Mass Effect games. But before the reign of WRPGs was the reign of JRPGs, and I'd say that Pokemon did a pretty good job of getting kids into JRPGs. It was a simple game with an easy to follow formula - that is, you catch monsters known as Pokemon in the wild and you use them to beat other peoples' Pokemon. It was streamlined enough for kids, but for adults, it was either simple fun or way too simple and "dammit I'd rather play Final Fantasy or... umm, THAT'S IT I'M GETTING A PS1/DUSTING OFF THE SUPER NINTENDO" would be the first thing they'd say. Me? I loved it back then, but over time, I've lost interest not just in this game, but the franchise in general. The anime is complete trash and the earlier games just feel like simpler alternatives to Final Fantasy. Still good games, there's no denying that, but it's not that great.

There isn't a lot in the way of story. You're a 10 year old boy who, at the request of Professor Oak, goes out on a journey to capture all of the Pokemon in the world and to get 8 badges to enter the Pokemon League. To keep things interesting, you'll encounter a team of bad guys known as Team Rocket, who do everything they can to steal Pokemon and take over the world. Now, as much as I feel like picking on fallacies like why a parent would let a 10 year old boy travel the world knowing that a Pokemon can come and kill him at any time, or the fact that Team Rocket doesn't just get out their guns and kill you, but then again, this was clearly meant for the kids, and if you wanted a better story, then... well, theoretically, you'd get a PS1 and get Final Fantasy VII, but that game's story honestly isn't much better, so you'd dust off your Super Nintendo and play Final Fantasy VI. It's not even worth scrutinizing as there's really nothing to it beyond the basic concept and "oh wow here comes Team Rocket". Some amusing dialogue is found, but overall, it's a pitiful story.

The gameplay is where it counts... which is odd for a turn based RPG, but let me explain. The basic formula is there - you run around an overworld to get from one town to the next in order to get to the next gym to get your next badge, and you can use Pokemon Centers to heal your Pokemon; Markets to buy items like Potions (to heal a Pokemon's health), various status healing items and Poke Balls; and various houses to either get items or to just talk to people. The towns work as you'd expect them to, though only a few of the townsfolk are actually helpful and/or funny while the rest of them just say stuff you don't care about. Perhaps I've been spoiled by Earthbound and its funny NPCs? I hope that's not the case. Dungeons aren't much better, as you just walk through a rather linear cave/forest and the only difficulties you'll find are fighting multiple trainers and wild Pokemon in a row without healing much. There are very few puzzles found throughout them and none of them are too well thought out - just generic block pushing puzzles, though you'll have your Pokemon do it for you. Yawn.

Alright, maybe not the best way to start things off, so let's move onto battling, which is what people play this for anyway. You can either fight, use items, switch Pokemon or run, though you can only run from wild Pokemon and they have to be slower than the Pokemon you have out... more on stats later. When you choose to switch Pokemon, the opponent can get a free attack on the one that comes out, so you should think twice before switching... like, is it worth it? There's a slight risk/reward thing going on there. But should you choose to go on the offensive, you have four attacks to choose from, and you'll need to select one to inflict damage. It operates on a sort of rock-paper-scissors system where each attack and Pokemon has a type (usually elemental, and sometimes two in the case of some Pokemon) and that type can be strong against certain other types (ie. Fire burns Grass, Water douses Fire, Fighting breaks Ice), while it does very little against others (ie. Grass attacks don't hurt Fire Pokemon that much), and sometimes, it doesn't even affect Pokemon of certain types (ie. Normal and Fighting type attacks don't even touch Ghost type Pokemon, while Ghost types can't even touch Normal types), giving battles some strategy. When it comes to trainer battles, it's a matter of beating them, but when it comes to catching Pokemon, you'll need to be careful because if you defeat it, you can't catch it until you run into it again, but to make capturing them easier (or possible in some cases), you'll need to weaken them. If I'm being perfectly honest, there's more strategy required in capturing Pokemon than there is in trainer battles because more often than not, all you'll need to do in a trainer battle is use the attack that the opponent is weak against or just use a strong attack that'll do neutral damage to them. With wild Pokemon though, you need to be careful that you don't kill them, meaning you'll need to use attacks that'll simply weaken them and maybe give them a status infliction (like paralysis or sleep). Not to mention that the trainers aren't exactly bright... I mean, who commands their Dewgong to use Rest while at full health? One of the Elite Four members, that's wh-- wait, what? Yeah, bad AI right there, guys.

Levelling Pokemon up is a matter of getting enough experience points from beating other Pokemon, and from there, they'll get some stats increased and maybe learn a new attack if they get to a certain level. Now, stats are basically what determines a Pokemon's power and how you ought to use said Pokemon. Some Pokemon excel in raw physical power or the ATK stat, while some can be physical walls with high DEF stats. Perhaps they're speedy little things, in which their SPD will be high. Maybe they're more... intellectual or spiritual, in which case, the SPC (or special) stat will be high. While this is the only game where SPC refers to Special Attack and Special Defence... yeah, you can see why they get split after this game because Pokemon who can resist Special Attacks the best are the ones that can also deliver the most damaging Special Attacks, which kind of breaks the game a bit, unless they happen to have bad physical defense (ie. Alakazam). Even though it's simple in nature, there's just the fact that you're mixing and matching different teams of Pokemon to see which one works that'll keep you playing. That, and the sheer fact that it's a pretty simple and easy game that you can just chill out and relax to, or recommend to your kids to try out. Grinding is only necessary right before the Elite Four, so you don't need to worry much about having to halt the game's progress to fight heaps of wild Pokemon (take that Final Fantasy VII!).

The graphics are hit and miss. Where it hits is in the overworld. The houses have simple designs, but they're pretty easy to recognize, especially if they have signs. The sprites are also easy to recognize, though the designs aren't anything special. They're aesthetically pleasing enough to not want to vomit on, but they aren't exactly something to sing your praises over. Where it misses is in battle. Oh sure, the trainer portraits look fine (for the most part anyway - some just look ridiculous), but then come the Pokemon, who don't really look like what you'd expect, and that's not a compliment. Some of them look odd, some of them look freaky, and others just... don't look like they're drawn too well. Then you have their back sprites, and... it doesn't even vaguely resemble the Pokemon. They just look like a mess...

However, one thing that cannot be denied is how great the sound design is. The sound effects work and end up becoming recognizable, but that's not what we're here for - we're here for the music, which is just fantastic! Each track is generally upbeat, but there is still a sense of variety in the tempos and rhythms. Whether you're calmly swimming on a Pokemon or frantically trying to beat the opponents' Pokemon, the music that plays suits that situation and the music is very, very catchy. Don't be surprised if you constantly humming every track well after playing this. To this day, I still can't get the majority of them out of my head, that's just how memorable they are.

Whether you want to consider it a fun little game or baby's first RPG is up to you, but at the end of the day, Pokemon Blue is a fun RPG to play through every now and again if you don't really feel like playing those bigger, more complicated games like Final Fantasy VII. The dungeons are pretty boring, the towns are fairly nondescript and the story feels like a huge afterthought, and while they're pretty easy, it never stops the battles from being fun, and that's the important thing to consider - fun. Perhaps there are turn based JRPGs that are more fun to play through like Earthbound or pretty much the other Pokemon games, but taking them aside, this is still a good game to play through every now and again. JRPGs over the years have been streamlined somewhat, but none of them really capture the magic that even this game has.

I did neglect to mention the link cable capabilities, but that's because... well, who still has a link cable? Better yet, who else would be willing to battle you in these games?

Gameplay - 7/10 - The dungeons are pretty boring, but the battling, simple as it is, is quite well done and somewhat addicting...
Controls - 5/5 - Moving and inputting commands is easily doable here. Nothing special.
Story - 2/5 - Besides some funny dialogue here and there, the story is just poor and doesn't even exist.
Graphics - 3/5 - It looks alright until you get into battle, where it just goes way down south.
Sound - 5/5 - The Pokemon cries are fine but it's the soundtrack that's awesome. Plenty of catchy tunes to be found here.

Overall - 7/10 - It's a fun little game with an original concept backed up by fantastic music. While I would certainly recommend the later games over this, there's no harm in trying this out either.

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