Are the older Pokémon games as good as we remember?

bdt2002

Pokémon Ranger: Guardian Signs superfan
is a Pre-Contributor
The other day I found myself thinking about the question I have designated as the title of this new discussion thread. It’s no secret that in the modern age, there are absolutely some core series Pokémon titles, as well as a number of spinoffs and side series titles, that are… well, significantly more popular amongst longtime Pokémon fans. This in and of itself is nothing new. After all, every video game fandom is going to have games they liked and games they didn’t like.

Pokémon is a bit of a different beast compared to most franchides, though. Whereas these other franchises all have one or two games that are near-unanimously considered the best in their series, the general consensus among Pokémon fans seems to lean more in a the direction of a specific era of games that is better than the eras before and after it. This has already been infamously observed by most older Pokémon games being sold online for obscenely high prices compared to newer installments because they’re just that popular amongst casual fans and collectors alike.

That got me thinking recently about if the prices and the reception of these games was truly earned. Online scalpers will unfortunately continue to do online scalper things, but realistically speaking, just how much better are these games compared to games we’ve seen on more recent hardware such as the 3DS, Switch, and mobile devices? Personally, I consider the transition between the DS/Wii and 3DS/Wii U eras to be the cutoff line for what I’d consider to be an “older” Pokémon game at this point, but for the purpose of this discussion I understand if your own cutoff line may be placed somewhere else.

I know where my opinions currently stand on this question, and I’m very interested in what you guys have to say as well as your potential reasoning behind your posts. I’ll likely follow this OP up later, but for the time being, I’ll say this much- not only do I think older Pokémon games are starting to show their flaws more and more over time, but as far as content and accessibility are concerned, I don’t even think a handful of the most popular core series installments are even that good or enjoyable. Or at least, not nearly as much as they used to be.
 

Coronis

Impressively round
is a Battle Simulator Moderator Alumnus
Personally, I consider the transition between the DS/Wii and 3DS/Wii U eras to be the cutoff line for what I’d consider to be an “older” Pokémon game at this point, but for the purpose of this discussion I understand if your own cutoff line may be placed somewhere else.
Oh, my sweet summer child.
 

bdt2002

Pokémon Ranger: Guardian Signs superfan
is a Pre-Contributor
Oh, my sweet summer child.
I apologize if that made you feel old (or anything else) upon reading it. From what I can tell, a person's age may have something to do with the location of the Old/New Cutoff Line depending on the fan(s) in question.
 
I've been replaying the games in order for my site research project. Well really I got through RBY and am halfway through Gold. But what I'm doing is fighting every trainer and speaking to every NPC and picking up every item for the purposes of documentation, so I'm really trying to engage with the game from a "completeness" standpoint. In GSC I keep biking back to Azalea for Apricorn balls and fighting people who call me for rematches for shits n giggles too.

Answer so far: yes, they are still good. Of course there are a lot of quality of life things we take for granted like bag size, various certain menu inputs, Pokemon that don't have ass for movepools, etc. But I think for what they are they work just fine. The games didn't take themselves seriously back then, and it actually shows a lot in some of the humorous aspects that play on the RPG adventure, like the drunk old man blocking your progress, the secret switch message ("Press it? Who wouldn't?"), and others. It just reads like a sly nod to RPG tropes while using its own twist on them. Later - I don't know when, but I'd say somewhere around gens 4-6 - it started taking itself at face value due to its popularity and I think that's where it starts to fall apart. But if you take the early gens for what they are I think you'll find exceptionally well-designed games (yes, in spite of the glitches and balance problems) that really reveal a very novel concept being treated about as good as it could have been. (They had to design features for 150 monsters!) I used to derisively say of Gen 1 that "Pokemon getting popular was a fluke, it never should have taken off", but when I go back and engage with the game at face value, it actually winds up much more entertaining than I expected.

And yes bdt you are young sorry
 
I think that, objectively, there are some elements that some of the older games do better, regarldess of where on the GB to 3DS spectrum.
In some cases that might be as simple as "hey an interesting post game with many things to do". In other cases that could be "remember when the games ran at a stable framerate".
Gen 6 is, somehow, despite the odds, and all logic against it the best implementation of online in the series. It's not even close


Others are probably more subjective. Aesthetics come to mind; personally I find the Gen 6 thick outlines very charming, more so than the "realistic" look of SV. And others are jsut never rever going to find anything redeemable about 3D.

And I think subjective stuff is always going to weight more on people than not, since that's what makes up so much of a given game. I do not care at all about the Battle Frontier, but to some people it is The Thing missing, as an example.


Personally, having seen a lot of various older titles on youtube recently and been actively playing others for my dumb quest to fill in the Home move & ability logs (a quest DESTINED FOR FAILURE) mannnnnnnn I think that while the old titles are by no means bad I think there actually has been throughline of quality of life that has stuck through where even SWSH feels better to play, but at the same time SV feels leagues better to play than SWSH.

Boy sure would be nice if gamefreak would have a broader discussion on what cutscenes people are talking about that hey'd like to skip, and perhaps think about how they structure cutscenes, though.
 
I'm in my 30s, and I think it's important to say this not because of "if im older i must be correct", but instead because it helps to contextualize how things were back then. And in this regard, I do think having experienced this through life makes a big difference when compared to, idk, having played the games recently through emulators.

We all know what buggy mess Pokémon Red and Blue are today, but the truth is, back then, everyone was able to finish them without noticing any bug. This may seem impressive for someone who nowadays reads bulbapedia and sees the inmeasurable list of detailled bugs there is, but in a practical sense, none of those were aparent during a normal playthrough unless you knew what you were doing (spoiler: no one knew what they were doing). For portable games that were released in the mid 90s (96 in Japan) and later 90s in USA and Europe, they were superb. You have to contextualize things. 1996 was the era of games like the first Kingsfield or Terranigma. Red and Blue were late to the party because this is SNES era, but they are more akin to the games you may find in a 8 bit console like the NES. You have to also keep in mind that the Game Boy was the only relevant portable console in existance at that point in time, so there was no competition and no references whatsoever (and you can't and shouldn't compare a Game Boy with a SNES or Megadrive/Genesis). If you take games like Donkey Kong Land, Return of Samus, Super Mario Land 6 Golden Coins, Parodius (i recommend everybody to play the snes parodius is a fkn great game lol) or Kirby's Dream Land, to name a bunch of them, you may find that Red and Blue were actually peak GB games all things considered. Duration, replayability, connectivity (being one of the few games on the genre, heck, this is true even for today standards) that allowed both trade and combat systems, and a somewhat basic, yet workable and efficient turn based combat system, alongside a great, great OST that quickly became memorable.

What I mean by this is: Sword and Shield and Scarlet Violet may or may not be great games. Personally, I think they have decayed a lot, but there's something we can definitely agree on and there's that they feel like minor games compared to the great titles of their own generation. I don't think anyone wants to compare Scarlet and Violet to the likes of Xenoblade, Breath of the Wild or... literally anything you can think of as a AAA on the Nintendo Switch. But you can't inmediatly find something that is clearly superior to Red and Blue in the Game Boy. There's no game, or to be more precise, there are no bunch of games with a technical superiority so aparent that made you think "omg, Red and Blue are behind".

And this trend (the trend of Pokémon games actually being very well made in terms of spriting, colouring, ost, etcetera) kept repeating itself during GB/GBC with Gold and Silver -in fact, these games were massive for the Game Boy Color standards), then again with RSEFRLG, then again with DPPt HGSS, then again with BW...

I'll not say that past games were better because, for example, they have introduced basically everything that makes Pokémon what it is now. From abilities, to natures, to held items, to breeding, to... Because it is clear, for obvious reasons, that Gold and Silver, Ruby and Sapphire or Diamond and Pearl had more ground to work with. The franchise as a whole was in need of a substantial number of addons and so those generations took the responsibility of adding them. I don't demand something as impactful as natures or physical special split in modern Pokémon games because, as I see it, one of the things Pokémon has remarkably done through generations is, in fact, it's combat system. And it's in a pretty comfortable zone right now in which they should stay. But I'll say that past generations, specially generations from 1 to 5 and maybe, just maybe, 6 in a minor grade, were more ambitious. Not only regarding new and needed mechanics, but raw content and detail. I feel like modern Pokémon is too centered around finishing the game as if it was a tutorial and then going online to rank and fight, and there's little to do (in Scarlet and Violet, we don't even have a Battle Tower, not even Frontier, just the tower...) after you've finished the game or even during the game, because since Sword and Shield, they've decided that the core of the progression depends entirely on how much time you want to expend in the wild area doing raids a la Pokémon Go. I hope for more tradicional Pokémon with things like secrets or underground bases, contests, pokéwood, pokéathlon, actual dungeons with inner puzles, battle facilities, great safari zones like the HG SS one and in definitive, great variety content. I've seen just a glimpse of this in Pokémon Legends Arceus, in that game I felt like they were enjoying what they were doing and striving for something different and meaningful. Modern Pokémon games, specially the last 2 generations, while enjoyable, felt so empty to me.
 

Karxrida

Eventide (art by @kzhjp)
is a Community Contributor Alumnus
So I'm not going to say Gold and Silver were bad. Cause they aren't. Especially when you consider how many QoL changes were made as a sequel.

But man do they have a ton of problems.
  • Johto Pokémon are often rare, bad even by the standards of the time, or some combination thereof. Like you have Yanma with its subpar stats and awful typing and movepool being a 1% encounter rate (outside of swarms I guess) on a single route because reasons. Or you have something like Houndour, which has good stats and typing but is locked behind Kanto at a super low level and thus ending up unusable. This causes in-game teams to be very samey and skew very heavily towards Kanto veterans, which kind of kills variety and replay value.
  • Chikorita is one of the worst starters ever due to a combination of factors and screws up the dynamic difficult thing Red and Blue kind of had going for it with its starter balance.
  • Hey you know the Dark-type? One of the two cool new types they added here? Yeah they're all postgame except for Umbreon, which hits like a dry paper towel and you have to grind for. Or you can find a Sneasel in Crystal I guess.
  • Half of the Johto Gym Leaders very randomly don't have Pokémon from their own region on their teams. The last Sage in Sprout Tower is a better Flying-type rep than Falkner purely because he has a Hoothoot and Falkner doesn't! He has freaking Pidgey and Pidgeotto. Bugsy fields Metapod, Kakuna and Scyther even though Pineco and Heracross are literally a short walk away from his house. Morty has nothing but the Gastly line in spite of the existence of Misdreavus. Chuck rocks a Primeape and Poliwhirl when he could have shown off Hitmontop or also thrown Heracross into the ring. Combined with lacking Johto Pokémon availability to the player, this leads to the games feeling very old hat.
  • The level curve is shit. We all know this. Since Game Freak decided you can do Gyms 5-7 in any order the opponents are stuck in early- to mid-30s for a long time. At some point you have to stop and do a grinding session to finish the game. It's awful.
  • For some stupid reason the standard Evolution Stones have been made basically impossible to get on your own or annoying to obtain depending on your version, which makes it really difficult to get some decent Pokémon for no reason. And it's a really odd game design decision because the point of Stone evolutions is that you can get a powerful Pokémon quicker at the cost of them losing the ability to learn moves from level-up.
  • Kanto is a cool novelty, but it's incredibly barren and provides a nonexistent challenge due to the aforementioned level curve. Janine is weaker than Clair, which is cute from a lore perspective since she's new at her job but awful when considering this is supposed to be a functional game. Funnily enough the Kanto Gym Leaders are way better at representing Johto than their neighbors, as five out of eight of them have Johto Pokémon (and some have two!).
There's probably some other BS I'm missing. Thankfully, HeartGold and SoulSilver fixed a few of these issues (mostly making some Johto Pokémon better purely due to the Physical/Special split and a greatly overhauled Kanto), but many of them still remain in the remakes.
 
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My first experiences of gen 1 proper were after the split listed (3DS VC), and I remember not being disappointed. So I'd say they held up decently.

Because there's an increasing shift in gameplay starting around the split point, it doesn't feel as likely for an older game to be entirely supplanted by a newer game. I instead expect there to be a perception of 'the best traditional-style game' and 'the best modern-style game' to diverge out from a single best total. An example from another series (though one with clearer divisions between styles) would be how both OoT and ALttP are considered the best Zelda at what they do.
 
The older Pokémon games may not be as crisp and smooth compared to the games today, but those games were EXCEPTIONAL during its time. The Gen 1 games were capable of putting the Pokémon brand to mainstream popularity when the other games couldn't do to theirs. Gen 2 gave us Pokémon in full color, which was actually a big deal at the time. The success of the first two generations pretty much secured the future of the franchise for the next 20 years.

One thing to take note about the older games is that it was less about battling and more about collecting (Gotta catch 'em all!). This is why people weren't really vocal about how overpowered some types are (Psychic), and how weak others are (Bug). People in general were more invested on catching and trading, rather than being the best competitive player. If people wanted to win battles then they would just use Mewtwo.

On a similar note, you can actually compare it to Star Wars original trilogy. Sure, its special effects may feel outdated and some of its storyline plot holes are now more glaring, but back in the day, they were the best. Its success was good enough to launch the prequel trilogy, and then be attractive enough for Disney to buy it, which keeps the brand's relevance until today.
 
The older Pokémon games may not be as crisp and smooth compared to the games today, but those games were EXCEPTIONAL during its time. The Gen 1 games were capable of putting the Pokémon brand to mainstream popularity when the other games couldn't do to theirs. Gen 2 gave us Pokémon in full color, which was actually a big deal at the time. The success of the first two generations pretty much secured the future of the franchise for the next 20 years.

One thing to take note about the older games is that it was less about battling and more about collecting (Gotta catch 'em all!). This is why people weren't really vocal about how overpowered some types are (Psychic), and how weak others are (Bug). People in general were more invested on catching and trading, rather than being the best competitive player. If people wanted to win battles then they would just use Mewtwo.

On a similar note, you can actually compare it to Star Wars original trilogy. Sure, its special effects may feel outdated and some of its storyline plot holes are now more glaring, but back in the day, they were the best. Its success was good enough to launch the prequel trilogy, and then be attractive enough for Disney to buy it, which keeps the brand's relevance until today.
I'm dead serious that I was confused on first reading how the Disney buyout relates to Star Wars' continued relevance. Pretty much everything that currently has me engaged with SW either predates Disney making decisions (including a tabletop game that currently seems to be suffering from reorganizations done to consolidate with the company working on the Marvel tabletop game) or are the reinstatment of elements that did (Thrawn has been the face of the expanded universe since before the prequels).
 

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