The original versions of these games were released in 1996, and two years later were released in 1998 in the US. Pokemon quickly became a success and is one of the biggest selling video game franchises, starting off a gigantic fanbase, and a myriad of spinoff games and an anime series.
Red (or whatever you decide to name your character), is now 10 years old and is old enough to finally become a Pokemon trainer. You and your neighbor/rival Blue are given your first Pokemon by Blue’s grandfather Professor Oak. Professor Oak’s only mission for you is to fulfill his dream of filling out the Pokedex by collecting every Pokemon in the region. While you journey through the land of Kanto, you visit the various towns and cities to become stronger and challenge the various gym leaders to become the Pokemon master.
Pokemon shares many similarities to other top-down JRPG’s, things like leveling up, random encounters, status effects, and even going to towns and collecting information and healing. The main aspect everyone knows from Pokemon is the aspect of capturing and leveling up the titular creatures.
The player character never participates in the actual battle, and it is all conducted through the Pokemon. The battles are all done one on one, and you can switch out the current Pokemon with one in your reserves, as each one has different stats and abilities that can abuse the weaknesses in your opponent. Random encounters mostly happen when you step into the grass, but when you enter a cave or similar environment, it becomes the typical random encounters seen in Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest.
The aspect of the individual Pokemon you capture is what made the series a success. While there is a set pool of moves in the game, each Pokemon can learn different ones, while many within, say water type, learn similar moves. You battle the Pokemon to gain EXP and level them up to learn stronger moves. Some of them can also evolve into stronger Pokemon by hitting a certain level. There are other evolution styles, like collecting items, or even via trading with friends.
The biggest reason why each main Pokemon installment always releases in two games, is that the game emphasizes you to trade with your friends. You are unable to fill the Pokedex with only one game, you must cooperate with a friend (or if you just buy both). Along with linking two Gameboys for trading, you can also pit your Pokemon into a battle against your friends.
Another aspect of the game is that to progress to the different towns, one must defeat the gym leader of the town you visit. If you don’t defeat them, your progress is either hindered by someone stopping you from going through the exit to the next town, or the gym leader allows you to use a field move that allows you to traverse different obstacles. Gym leaders serve as the bosses in the game, and also increases the level cap of your Pokemon. If you pass the level cap, the Pokemon will not listen to you.
While rather crude compared to later games in the franchise, and the fact that they were released on the black and white Gameboys, the graphics and character sprites are pretty good for the timeframe. You can tell all the Pokemon apart, and even the moves are nicely animated. The only gripe is that the Pokemon on your team in battle have blown up pixels, so they look horrible compared to the enemy Pokemon. While there are some crude aspects to this, there’s a certain timeless charm to the visuals.
The music is a large highlight in RPG’s, and especially in this game. Many of the tunes in the game are considered classics, and fans fondly remember the soundtrack and can remember the tunes very easily. Each town has its own individual tune and gives you a characteristic of the town.
While not as polished as the later games in the franchise, and can feel archaic at times, they’re still solid games. They’re still fun to play to this day, and have this charm to them that never seem to go away. Even almost two decades later, there are many fans of these games. If you were introduced to the later games first, this is definitely a game for curiosities sakes, as some of the elements have more polished aspects, but if you’re there for the adventure, it’s still there to enjoy.