Memory Pak: Taking My First Starter Pokémon All The Way To The Elite Four – Nintendo Life

Game Freak

My first Pokémon was a Chikorita named Chicky, and I loved that tiny green horse-thing with all my heart. I came to Pokémon a little later than many of my friends and peers, having missed out on Pokémon Red and Blue by not owning a Game Boy, but I spent many hours watching others wander around Lavender Town’s creepy little graveyard, or showing off Pikachu’s smiling face in Pokémon Yellow.

I knew I wanted to be a part of this craze, so by the time I finally got my hands on a Game Boy Color, I made sure to tell my parents to get me Pokémon Gold. My little brother got Pokémon Silver, and we shared ownership of a Link Cable. It was a magical time.

Back then, I didn’t know much about type advantages – and I didn’t really care, either. Pokémon, to most kids, is a game where you get a pet and make it fight other people’s pets, and although a rudimentary understanding of the basic rock-paper-scissors triangle of “Fire beats Grass, Water beats Fire, Grass beats Water” will get you pretty far, it gets a bit more complex when you try to come up with reasonings for Bug Type beating Psychic Type, or Fighting Type beating Normal Type. It’s best to just ignore all those things, and make sure to have a lot of moves that hit hard.

My dear Chicky was quickly joined by a host of other Pokémon that I mostly kept because they were cute. The Togepi that you get gifted early in the game was one of my favourites, named “Eggy” because children are terrible at coming up with creative names. He had Metronome, a move that randomly pulled from every available move, and although Metronome is not a good tactical Pokémon move, it made my battles unexpected and surprising each time.

I had a Mareep too, named – points for guessing correctly – “Sheepy”, and a Golduck, “Ducky”, in an attempt to stuff my party with a little more power. My favourite of them all was – and still is – Swinub, the sort of pig-slime that, let’s be real, I probably named “Piggy”. I was incredibly disappointed when he turned into a big ugly Piloswine, but at least that meant we could be slightly fiercer in battle.

By the time I reached the seemingly endless maze of tunnels that formed the Victory Road towards the final step of the Pokémon League, I had a level 70 Meganium (Chicky), plus the Ho-Oh I’d just caught, and my brother’s Lugia which I made him trade me because I’m a terrible sister. My first time tackling the Elite Four – well, it probably won’t surprise you to hear that my team, made of Pokémon chosen for their cuteness, did not get very far.

Back to Victory Road to punch some Onixes, and a few hours later – still no joy. I spent all my money on Revives and Hyper Potions, but I barely had time to use them in between the Elite Four’s elite, one-hit-kill moves. It wasn’t looking great for my team – we were getting wiped out, over and over again, and I couldn’t help but imagine each one of the Elite Four seeing this idiot kid enter their room over and over again and feel a bit sorry for me. But I wasn’t about to give up. This was an era before “play something else” was an option. This was my game, and I was going to beat it, even if it took forever.

Time to get serious, then. Cue montage music.

Subscribe to Nintendo Life on YouTube

Back then, the only way to find out information on a game was to beg my parents for half an hour on the internet, and because we were using the dial-up modem that used the phone lines, it took a lot of convincing. It was pricey, and it meant we couldn’t receive or make phone calls, so it was inconvenient, too. In that half an hour, I would try to find all the information I could on Ask Jeeves, the pre-Google search engine designed around a butler, and print it off in huge sheaves of paper (also expensive, also inconvenient).

Armed with my newfound knowledge, a ton of supplies, and my brother’s level 70 Feraligatr (for which I traded him a Magikarp – sorry), I was finally ready to run up those steps like Rocky.

Finally, painfully, I made it past Champion Lance, only to be greeted by Professor Oak. Hey! I know that guy from TV! The Pokémon anime was super popular at the time, so the thrill of being greeted by a genuine celebrity in the Hall of Fame was almost more exciting than actually making it there. It’s a shame screenshots didn’t exist back then, because I wish I had evidence of my dear, sweet Chicky being celebrated as a Champion.

But that wasn’t the last surprise that Pokémon Gold had for me. The incredible thing about playing games before the internet took over all our lives is that we had no idea what was in store. Spoilers were a rarity, and most were communicated through untrue playground rumours, like being able to obtain the Triforce in Ocarina of Time, or that there’s a mysterious pyramid in the Gerudo Desert. So, when Pokémon Gold ended, only to reveal… an entire new world to explore, it was one of the greatest moments of my young life.

I had missed out on Pokémon Red and Blue, but Kanto had just opened up to me like a blooming flower, letting me experience a scaled-down version of the original game, gym badges and all.

The amazing post-game secret of a whole second world, I would later find out, was thanks to Satoru Iwata, the former President of Nintendo whose legacy has impacted my life in more ways than I can ever know. His unexpected death came just a few short months after the closure of Official Nintendo Magazine – my first job in games journalism – and the world seemed worse off for it. He was a creative visionary and genius programmer whose efforts in teaching Game Freak how to compress Pokémon Gold and Silver left enough room on the cartridge for Kanto, an addition that basically saved the Pokémon series.

There are few people in this world that I mourn the loss of, despite never knowing them. Steve Irwin is one of them. Satoru Iwata is another. I miss his irreverent Nintendo Direct appearances, and finding out that he was often the person behind some of Nintendo’s best business decisions. Iwata didn’t work for Game Freak, or even Nintendo, when he helped out on Pokémon Gold and Silver – he was at HAL Laboratory, working on Kirby and Earthbound – but it’s because of him that the games came to the West, and Kanto was added to the map, both figuratively and literally.

I began Pokémon Gold as a kid who just wanted to get in on a video game craze, but I ended it a Pokémon fan for life. I could never have predicted that the game would give me so much beyond what I expected, nor that it would still be sending ripples throughout my life. I wasn’t even expecting to finish this piece with a tribute to Iwata, but almost six years on from his loss, his story lives on in my fond memories of his work.

I often reminisce about my time with Chicky, the plant horse. No Pokémon game since has quite managed to replicate the feeling of bonding with my very first Starter. I’ve since gone on to beat almost every Elite Four, Pokémon League, and Champion, usually with a similar party made up of my Starter, the first bird Pokémon I caught, the game’s Legendary, and a selection of strong-ish backups. But that amazing feeling of discovering that the world was twice as large as you realised… that’s a once-in-a-lifetime feeling. Pokémon Gold was the start of my journey through the world of Pokémon, but it let me experience what I’d missed, too. What a fantastic game.