It goes without saying that everyone has their own hobby growing up. For many kids nowadays that hobby is usually playing video games provided they have the funds for it. While certain childhood hobbies end up fading away over time, most usually stay with people in some capacity. Some successful individuals have even turned their hobbies into lifelong and fulfilling careers like any major league sports person or movie director. In the case of Satoshi Tajiri, his hobby was insect collecting. Not exactly something people would peg as being profitable right? While Tajiri didn’t make his career off insect collecting per se, he used it as inspiration to create his own video game series. Who would’ve thought that the moment a young Tajiri picked up his first bug and became fascinated with the entire species, he was laying the groundwork for a multi-billion dollar franchise that is all about “catching them all.” This franchise is the medium spanning juggernaut Pokémon and on October 12th the newest installments titled Pokémon X and Pokémon Y will be available world wide. These two games have already received rave reviews, proving that not even 17 years can slow this series down. Today, I’d like to take a moment to dive into this nearly two decade long history and look at what has made Pokémon such an enormous hit for people across the globe.
The Pokémon franchise started on the original Game Boy with Pocket Monsters: Red & Green in Japan on February 27th, 1996. Tajiri preferred the Game Boy over the other home consoles at the time due to its ability to communicate with other Game Boys and its portability. Both of these features would become staples of the franchise, especially with cross console communication being necessary to catch every Pokémon. Red & Green were massive hits in Japan which lead to the creation of an enhanced Blue version and the release of Pokémon Red and Blue overseas in 1998. Green wouldn’t come to foreign shores officially until 2004. The main objectives of these original three games and any future titles were to both catch every Pokémon currently available and to become the Pokémon master by beating Gym Leaders and the reigning champion. You can easily become the new champion with one game, but it if you truly want to “catch them all” you’ll need a friend with the other version as certain Pokémon only exist in one game. Therefore if you want all 151 species of Pokémon in Pokémon Blue, you’ll need a friend with Pokémon Red. Every future title retained this duel game release, except now there are currently over 650 species of Pokémon.
At its core, Pokémon is a role-playing game (RPG) that is all about getting stronger to accomplish your goals. You can only have six Pokémon on your team at any given time so getting a well-balanced team is absolutely necessary. As you progress through each game your opponents get stronger and stronger with the Gym Leaders being the peak of strength in a particular town. Each Gym Leader has their own main type so setting up the proper team for victory is important. The culmination of the main story comes with your victory against the current reigning champion though each game starting with Pokémon Gold and Silver have extra story following your big win. The setting with each game changes with the original games Red, Blue, Green, and Yellow being set in the Kanto region (based on Japan’s Kantō region) and future titles being set in Johto (Gold, Silver, Crystal), Hoenn (Ruby, Sapphire, Emerald), Sinnoh (Diamond, Pearl, Platinum), and Unova (Black, White, Black 2, White 2). The newest games X and Y are set in the Kalos region which is based on France, making in the second game to be inspired by a non-Japanese area (the first being Unova which used New York as a guide).
A significant part of Pokémon’s success extends beyond the games into every other form of media, specifically with the wildly successful Trading Card Game and Anime series. The Trading Card Game first started in 1996 and is still connected to the main games. It’s also the only living model of Nintendo’s earlier career focus, trading cards. At its peak, the trading cards could be found in any grocery store or boardwalk arcade game. As for the Anime, that’s in an entire league of its own. Since day one the heroes of the series has been Ash Ketchum and his pal Pikachu, two characters that have become franchise icons since 1997. With over 800 episodes and 16 full length movies, the Anime series has lived in tandem with the games since the very beginning. With two games coming out and more obviously on the horizon, you can expect the Anime to continue on for quite some time.
I was only 8 years old when Pokémon first came to North American shores and its popularity was evident from day one. In the blink of an eye, everyone at my school had either Red or Blue and was already amassing impressively large decks of cards. Every Pokémon became household names for us. Pokémon cards even became amazing goodie bag gifts for birthday parties. Like millions of kids my age I was sucked into the series at that time. I watched the Anime, paid for the movies, lost my mind in excitement when I got the board game for my birthday, and even bought the original movie soundtrack. My brothers and I each had our own original generation games too with two of my brothers having Red and Blue respectfully and I got Yellow when it came out in 1999. To date I have yet to beat Yellow as the game just got way too difficult for my young mind, but I have plans to tackle it again. Truth be told, I tried to break away from the franchise as I got older believing it wasn’t for my age group anymore, but when a friend offered to sell his Pokémon Diamond I couldn’t pass it up. It’s definitely a franchise that transcends age groups and is truly a good time for anyone who has some time to kill on commutes or at home.
There is an entire library of spin-off titles that I haven’t even touched upon here and won’t for the sake of space, but all of those games are absolutely fantastic as well. So many people my age and above like to decry any current titles claiming that it should have never gone beyond the original 151 Pokémon, but like all great franchises there needed to be expansion and growth. Sure some Pokémon are completely ridiculous (one is literally a walking pile of garbage), but to me that just adds to the appeal. The main Pokémon games have all become smash hits too making them reliable purchases for any new Nintendo hand held console. I know when the day comes that I inevitably by a Nintendo 3DS, Pokémon X or Y will be one of my first purchases. Millions of people my age have literally grown up with this series and I cannot wait to see what bigger and better things come out of the Pokémon universe. It will never become the highest selling video-game franchise, Mario has that permanently set in stone, but being number two is pretty damn impressive.