The first time I recall hearing about Pokémon was around December of 1997 when the television show caused seizures among children in Japan. I had no idea what it was at the time other than an anime series for children. I imagined this incident would certainly mean a ban on such a show coming to the United States, but I would be very wrong. Somewhere around six to eight months later, I started seeing advertisements for the show coming to one of my regularly viewed networks. I was shocked. Not Pokémon Shocked, but regularly shocked.
A guaranteed way to accidentally hype your television show is to have it send over 600 children to the hospital simultaneously for watching a particular scene with flashing lights. Back in those days, I was already deeply set into my golden age of being an otaku (anime geek) so it was guaranteed that I would be watching the debut of Pokémon. On September 7th, they showed a sneak peek episode, "Battle Aboard the St. Anne" which I thought was cute, but since it was shown out of order made little sense to me. The following day I watched the beginning of Ash Ketchum's journey and from that moment I was hooked.
I don't recall when I first learned the Pokémon TV show was tied to a video game series for Nintendo's Gameboy, but after watching two weeks of the TV show one thing was very clear: I would own that game. I knew next to nothing about it. It could have been a fighting game, or a side-scrolling adventure game. It didn't matter to me. The thought of starting my own Pokémon journey even loosely connected to the anime show was all the information I needed to make the decision. Pokémon Red and Blue were released on September 30th. I got paid on October 2nd.
Things are about to get weird for a moment. October 2nd happens to be musician Sting's birthday. I know this because my high school friends and I used this occasion as an excuse to go out and celebrate. Why, you may ask. I don't really have an answer. When I was 17, as I was in 1998, I was a senior in high school and held my first job at a small, locally owned pizza parlor. Working there with the radio on all day, I began to develop my eventual taste in music. Though there were several early, embarrassing hiccups in my music taste, one thing I learned almost immediately was a love for Queen and The Police. Also in 1998 the internet was beginning to blossom into the wealth of useless information that it is today. Sting's birthday had been discovered in some unknown dredges of the early internet (Geocities, I'm looking at you) and from that moment forth it was an excuse for us to have a good time. Life was weird, yet also surprisingly simple back then.
So there we were, October 2nd, 1998. I felt like king of the world because I had my first job and no expenses to speak of (yet). I took all my friends interested in Sting's birthday bash out to dinner. The name I put on the wait list for a table was "Sting" so when they announced us they said "Party for Sting!" which I still admire the cleverness of to this day. Of course before dinner my girlfriend and I had popped over to the game store and picked up a copy of Pokémon Blue and Red respectively. Our friends at the dinner made fun of us for being interested in such a "kiddie" concept like Pokémon. If only they could see me now in my thirties wishing every day that October wasn't so far away (Pokemon X & Y release, not Sting's birthday).
|This is an actual picture taken of me, my girlfriend and my brother circa 1998.|
There was an important moment, shortly after speaking with Professor Oak, that I realized this game is an RPG! We should all know by now that is my favorite genre of video games. Remember, I had no idea prior to turning on the game I'd be treated to a new RPG adventure, so this was a true surprise and delight.
I got to the moment where I needed to choose my Pokémon partner and like all life changing decisions (in video games) I deliberated for a long time. Squirtle was my favorite Pokémon in the TV series so far (though that title would later be challenged by Charizard, incidentally) but my girlfriend playing Pokémon Blue claimed him. The Pokémon on the cover of my copy's box was Charizard so I simply chose Charmander. My girlfriend and her Squirtle promptly beat me in every match up we ever had. Seriously. How embarrassing, right? She was my very first Pokémon rival and she beat me every time. I was such an Ash in those days.
|This is as good a reason as any to choose a Starting Pokémon|
A precedent was set that day. When I semi-arbitrarily chose Charmander as my starting Pokémon, I set into motion a tradition of choosing the "Fire" Pokémon in every subsequent Pokémon generation. In my quest to be the very best, I knew it was my destiny. I'm nothing if not a sucker for symbolism and tradition when it comes to my video game franchises.
Tune in tomorrow as I explore my life in 2000 with the release of Pokémon Gold & Silver.
PS: I treat you to a side story that "Fire Starting" has reminded me of. The first time I ever played Mortal Kombat (Joe's Arcade, Salisbury Beach, 1993) I chose Liu Kang because he reminded me of Bruce Lee. I knew next to nothing about Bruce Lee as a 12 year old, but I did know he looked like him. Because of this I chose Liu Kang in every single subsequent sequel and re-release of the Mortal Kombat franchise. I can't tell you how delighted I was when the character I chose arbitrarily based on his appearance became the Grand Champion of the tournament (Mortal Kombat) three times in a row. Man, can I pick them or what?
|Interesting Trivia: Liu Kang is the "Fire Starter" of Mortal Kombat|
Anyway, in Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance, Liu Kang is killed in the opening cut scene thus rendering him unplayable (and assuring the victory of the villains, presumably). I was beside myself. I didn't know what to do because I was so set on always playing Liu Kang first in every game. We're talking a tradition that has spanned 4 games by now (6 if we count Ultimate MK3 and MK Trilogy, which I did, in fact, play Liu Kang first, so I will in fact count them) and ten years! I almost turned the game off. If I couldn't choose Liu Kang as my first character, I wasn't sure I could play. I spent a grueling amount of time staring at the character select screen weighing my options. Should I pick someone who has been in the game since the original Mortal Kombat such as Raiden or Sub-Zero? Who would I choose and how would I decide? It was too much for me.
Eventually, I chose Kung Lao.