Pokémon: Battle against Red

The battle against Red is one of the most epic and important fights in the history of Pokémon. It’s the last battle, the last challenge of the second generation and also the hardest of them all.

But amongst the reasons this battle is so memorable, the most important of them all is its context.

The battle against Red is unique in that it does not form part of the main storyline. In fact, it’s not even possible to engage him without having defeated all the gym leaders, all members of the Elite Four and even Lance himself, the champion. It is possible, even likely, that Red is the very last trainer you face in the game.

Unlike all these trainers, it’s not mandatory to fight him. Once the Elite Four has been defeated and the champion bested, the game has been beaten. The player is, for all intent and purporses, a Pokémon champion and the long road that was before him at the beginning is over.

Fighting Red is only possible when you have nothing left to prove. The battle takes place, not in a huge stadium with cheering fans or an official Pokémon gym but in a secluded mountain top where nobody can see you. If you fight him, you do it for what it can mean for you, not for fame or recognition.

We cannot forget that this is one of the core themes of the game. The protagonist is a kid who grows and matures as he faces the wide world outside his natal village. With this battle, Satoshi Taijiri, the designer, reminds us that what matters most is not fame or Pokémon but our own personal growth and enrichment.

Because, who is Red? Red is not a normal trainer, but the protagonist of the first game in the series. It is but an avatar of the player, an older version of you with more experience. He is who you aspired to be when you started the game and you fight him to meet and exceed your own expectations.

His own team reflects this. His Pokémon, as expected of someone who played the first game for a long time, are of a higher level than any other trainer in the game and reflect the path he has travelled. He begins battle with a Pikachu, the franchise’s mascot, and follows up with Charizard, Blastoise and Venusaur, the final evolutions of the three starter Pokémon in the first generation.

To them he adds Snorlax, who was not just one of the most powerful Pokémon of its time but also a part of the core storyline. His large body blocked several key routes and the protagonist had to wake him up with a Pokéflute. And to finish his team (and depending on the version) he uses either an Espeon or a Lapras, as represetation of the Eevee line and the Pokémon most associated with Surf, respectively.

But reflecting the player’s experiences also means reflecting the experiences of the first player of them all: The game designer. The fact that Tajiri’s love for collecting bugs and his passion for videogames influenced Pokémon is well-known but there’s more to it than meets the eye.

Walking alone through the forest, exploring the city on a bike and learning about biology and insects were a large part of his childhood. Which means that the adventures of Red in the first game of the series are, on some level, Tajiri’s own. In fact, “Satoshi” is one of the default names in the Japanese version of the game and also the name of the protagonist in the anime.

But there’s also another important influence and that’s his professional experience as a game designer. When Tajiri started working on the game, Nintendo’s executives were doubtful of his team’s ability to create such a complex game and hence assigned him a veteran designer to coach him. This designer was no other than Shigeru Miyamoto, creator of Mario and Donkey Kong.

Working with Miyamoto made a lasting impression on him. He felt he was working with someone who had already made it, a true expert who had already succeeded in the industry. Feeling he was always two steps behind Miyamoto was one of the inspirations that led to the creation of Blue, your rival in the game. And like “Satoshi”, “Shigeru” is one of the default names for the antagonist in the Japanese version of the game and also the rival’s name in the anime.

The first game ends with Red defeating Blue, finally surpassing him and achieving his dream of being a Pokémon master. A dream that Satoshi fulfilled in real life when he created one of the most important games in Nintendo’s long history. The student beats the master, both in the game and outside it.

And when you face Red, you have that opportunity. You can beat him, like he did with others. It’s your own tale and your own final battle. It’s your chance.

3 Comments

  • Yeah it was quite cool. Part of me wished we had also taken a good look at Blue in that game. They do appear in sun and moon though, which kind of reduces the impact of what they ended up being

    • True. What I would have always loved to see is more of Agatha and Oak, which kind of ties into Blue’s ambitions. I know that might take away some of the mystery of it, but it would be cool to explore these characters more in-depth!

  • I was eight years old when the first Pokémon game was launched. I played the blue version, while my brother played the red version. Pokémon was one of the things that connected me with my first friend in school. Yeah, it took me until third grade before I made my first friend. Before that, I was always sick at home due to an immune deficiency.

    Pokémon is a popular game because it taps into a lot of ancient human interests. Our biology is shaped to reward us with pleasurable feelings for doing things that improved our ancestors’ chances of survival in the untamed nature. If you think about it, why does it feel good to collect things? Why does it feel good to mingle with animals? Why does it feel good to explore new places, to learn new things and improve yourself? It’s because people who didn’t feel pleasure from these activities are long extinct. The only people who survived to move their genes to the next generation were the ones who enjoyed activities that kept them alive.

    Competent game developers understand this, for their survival in the business depends on their ability to understand and empathize with their customers.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *