The Right Way to Play Pokemon Red and Blue

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This is one guide that’s overdue. By something like two decades.

If you were alive in the late nineties, there’s a strong chance you’ve played Pokemon Red and Blue. You may have even been one of the few to have played the Green version, which was exclusively available in Japan.

You may have been playing it, but have you been playing it right?

This is a guide on how to make the most effective team for a speedy playthrough of Pokemon Red, Blue, and even Green. This guide also makes the assumption that you’ll be attempting to play through the game without exploiting glitches.

If you were to exploit glitches, you’d be able to beat the game pretty fast. In fact, it’s possible to exploit a glitch to beat the game in under a minute. But even if you weren’t to go that route, you could easily get a Mew early in the game. Also, it would be possible to exploit an experience underflow glitch to get a level 100 pokemon at the beginning of the game. Then there’s the obvious Missingno. glitch. The list goes on.

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But when it comes down to it, what’s a glitch? If a glitch is something that the developers didn’t intend, then exploiting a glitch is similar to using a pokemon that’s strong because the developers didn’t properly balance the game. But hold on, we’ve actually been using the word “glitch” wrong. A technical definition of a glitch is a brief voltage spike that can cause a program to operate in a manner that was unintended. Yet, it’s come to be the term used for unintended behavior due to improper coding.

In any case, when a game glitches out (however you may define a glitch), the game is still obeying the laws of physics, and the programming is still being executed by the hardware in a manner consistent with natural laws. And in the case of Pokemon Red, Blue, and Green, the programming is a relatively simple assembly language. It just so happens that players have found ways to manipulate the addresses through the course of gameplay that result in outcomes that the original programmers didn’t intend.

But, I digress. This guide is about the most practical teambuilding choices for Pokemon Red, Blue, and Green. Thankfully, version exclusive pokemon don’t break the game, making it easy to group the three games together into one guide.

Many teambuilding guides for playthroughs I’ve seen tend to focus on choosing a team of six pokemon. While the players do succeed in making diverse teams of effective pokemon, the main flaw with these guides is that in the earlier games the experience points aren’t distributed to all party members in the same way that some of the newer games do. By late in the game, there’d be a need to power-level to make up for the fact that experience points gained from the typical playthrough don’t spread very well among a bigger team. It’s better for there to be a team of just a few core battlers that are higher-leveled and can take on what the game throws at them. What’s more, this enables the player to free up space on their team for dedicated HM users to grant the player mobility, while leaving move slots available for offensive battlers.

Also, if you’re looking to have an efficient playthrough, it’s best to come to the realization that it may be better to box a pokemon that’s no longer pulling it’s weight in favor of a more effective one. You’re treating pokemon like data in a game, because in this case, that’s just what they are.

So then, on to the teambuilding choices:

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Bulbasaur is my favorite generation one starter. However, while it gains a strong move in Razor Leaf and has lots of HP recovery options, Bulbasaur doesn’t have a diverse set of offensive moves for much of the game, and the HP recovery moves don’t lend Bulbasaur to being ideal for an efficient playthrough. What’s more, Bulbasaur’s defensive typing is terrible.

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The playground wars over which Kanto starter reigns supreme continues to this day. But as far as this guide goes, Squirtle is the clear winner.

Squirtle retains its effectiveness throughout the whole game. Squirtle beats Brock, easily. It’ll likely evolve to Wartortle soon afterwards, and it’s capable of going blow-for-blow with Misty, if it comes to that. It doesn’t do well against the next two gyms, but you’ll have other choices to help you with them. For most in-game opponents, it does very well, especially against the many hikers you’ll see that use Rock/Ground pokemon, and because it’s strong against those, it’ll be easy to pick up a few levels with a few stray wild pokemon you’ll find in caves. The final form, Blastoise, is great against the last two gyms. If Squirtle is your starter, it easily maintains its usefulness throughout the entire game.

Because Surf is one of Blastoise’s best moves, it’s a natural candidate for it. Blastoise can also learn Ice Beam and Blizzard, which gives it a punch against the many Flying types you’ll encounter in this game, and the Grass types that would usually give it trouble. The catch is, it’s dependent on TMs for Ice Beam and Blizzard.

Don’t despair Charmander, because once mega evolution becomes a thing, you’re going to make a serious comeback.

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Which Nidoran is easier to find depends on the version you’re playing, but the boy is easier to find in the US Red version, while the girl is easier to find in the US Blue version. Both are great for similar reasons, and neither one suffers much in terms of difference in stat totals. The male one becomes a Nidoking, which benefits from higher Attack and Speed stats, but the female one becomes Nidoqueen, which learns Body Slam by level, which is considered superior to Nidoking’s Thrash. If the one you prefer is harder to find and you have some spare time, then you can catch one at the outset on Route 22 just west of Viridian City.

It’s okay to start with, but here’s the selling point: they evolve to their next stage up at level 16, which is about the time that you reach Mt. Moon. They evolve to their final stage using a Moon Stone, which you can obtain in Mt. Moon. See what I’m saying? You can have a fully-evolved, super-strong pokemon shortly after having obtained your first badge. And at level 23, they learn strong moves.

One thing to keep in mind is that they’ll pick up the Ground type, so they won’t necessarily do well against Misty’s Water types. However, you’ll have other pokemon on your team by the time you face her.

So, Gary is coming at you with a Bulbasaur? Go at him with your massive, spiky super-mouse. Ekans may be a natural predator, but you’re going to be the terror of Nugget Bridge. If you struggle at this point in the game with a Nidoqueen or Nidoking on your team, you’re doing something wrong.

When it comes time to leave Cerulean City, you’ll have the TM to teach your Nido Dig, so it’ll have a strong move that matches its type. This will make it very useful in the next gym.

It’s kind of hard to say, but the Nido will be replaced with a different Ground type before long in the game. Another pokemon will prove to be a better long-term choice. Don’t allow that to discourage you from enjoying the power trip while it lasts. Besides, the Nido can learn Strength, so there would still be a use for it on the team.

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You find Abra on Routes 24 and 25, north of Cerulean City. It’s annoying to find because it’s kind-of rare, and really annoying to catch, because it only knows Teleport, which has it escape from battle. When you encounter one in the wild, your best bet for catching it might be to just throw a ball at it and hope it works with it at full HP. Which isn’t unrealistic.

But it’s very much worth the trouble. Abra Evolves to Kadabra in just a few levels. At level 16, it becomes a powerful Kadabra, and learns the move Confusion. At that point, it’ll be all set to sweep most trainers that you’ll meet. Poison types are very common opponents in this game, used by many of the Team Rocket grunts that you’ll meet, and many of the Grass types you meet that can give your other teammates trouble will also be Poison type, so Kadabra supports your team very well.

One thing to know about Kadabra is that its Defense isn’t great. But its Speed and Special stats are so high, that most opponents might not be able to get a hit in before they get straight-up KOed! If opponents are KOed before they can take a shot at Kadabra, then it’s low Defense don’t be that much of a liability.

You can evolve Kadabra into Alakazam by trading it, but that’s not even necessary, because even Kadabra is strong enough to be a mainstay on your team throughout the rest of the game. The only thing that would threaten it with obsolescence would be Mewtwo, but that guy is available in the postgame, so that would have no effect on a playthrough. But hey, Mewtwo in gen one makes everything else obsolete, anyway.

Kadabra usually has some room for non-offensive moves, and it can learn Flash, so it’s a great choice to teach it the move when you obtain it.

There are a couple gym leaders that might give Kadabra trouble. One is Misty, because her Starmie is also a Psychic type, so it would resist Kadabra’s own Psychic-type moves, while dishing out the Water type Bubblebeam. Sabrina also uses Psychic types, including Alakazam. Overcoming her Alakazam might be challenging, but you can cheese yourself a victory with a little strategy:

First, have Kadabra use Flash on Alakazam to lower its accuracy. Use healing items as necessary. Once you’ve used the move a few times, the odds that Alakazam’s attacks will connect will be very low. At that point, just switch to some attackers that can hit hard and let them have at it. The idea is that even though Alakazam’s Special attacks are very strong, with decreased Accuracy, it might not get a hit in, so it might not make a difference. Keep in mind that even if you lower its Accuracy by a lot, there is still a small chance that Alakazam’s attacks can still connect.

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You can catch a Spearow quickly just to the east of Vermilion City. Don’t get too attached to it, because you’ll be trading it away pretty quick. If you’re playing the Japanese version of Pokemon Blue, go north of Vermilion city to Route 6 and catch a Pidgey, instead.

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There’s a trainer in Vermilion City who is willing to trade his Farfetch’d away. The pokemon he wants for it? A Spearow. Or a Pidgey, if you’re playing the Japanese version of Pokemon Blue. Give him what he wants, and you’ll get a Farfetch’d in return.

Why Farfetch’d? For mobility. It can learn Cut, which you’ll soon have a use for, and Fly, which helps immensely with mobility later on.

It’s mainly on the team for those HMs, but there are some players that like it in spite of it’s somewhat sub-par stats for the fact that it gets an EXP boost by virtue of being a traded pokemon, and it learns Swords Dance. Sounds cool, and if you want to try that, go ahead. Just keep in mind that it might not obey you if you overlevel it before obtaining certain gym badges.

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Poor ol’ Lt. Surge. He started up an Electric gym, but the pokemon that can beat them with little problem can be obtained with ease just outside of town. Even better yet, there’s a chance you might find the evolved form, a high-level Dugtrio, instead.

Diglett (Dugtrio) will replace Nidoking/Nidoqueen as the Ground type for your team. You might be hesitant, but hear me out. Diglett and Dugtrio learn excellent moves on their own without the use of TMs, which the Nido would be heavily dependent on. Dugtrio has slightly lower Attack, but it more than makes up for it in Speed. Also, the Nido’s Poison typing will later prove to be a great liability, especially against Sabrina and Giovanni, when you’d likely want something really fast, anyway.

So yeah, Dugtrio is the better long-term choice than Nidoking/Nidoqueen. It’s really tough being a Poison type in this game, just ask Bulbasaur and many other gen one Grass types.

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There’s an Eevee for you to pick up in Celadon City, and it’s yours for the taking. Eevee is one of the rare pokemon that can still learn moves by level after you use a stone to evolve it. And it so happens that you can obtain all three of the stones that you could use on it right there in Celadon City. The choice that fits this team the best would be the Thunder Stone, which can get you a Jolteon.

Remember the TM for Thunderbolt that you got from Lt. Surge? Jolteon is a prime choice to teach it to. It’s really a shame that you only get one in a non-glitched game, since it’s a great move. With Thunderbolt, Jolteon can power through the many Bird Keepers and Swimmers that are easy to find, giving Jolteon opportunity for plenty of levels. What’s more, Jolteon beats Gary’s Gyarados, which can otherwise be pretty challenging. It takes a while for Jolteon to learn Pin Missile, but it’s one of the few decent offensive options that actually gets super-effective hits against Psychic types in gen one.

You might consider eventually replacing Jolteon with Zapdos later on, but a word of caution: Zapdos is weak to Lorelei’s Ice-type moves, while Jolteon is not.

So, there you go. With that, you should have an effective team of core battlers and HM users. Here is how the team should look by the end of the game, with HMs indicated:

  1. Blastoise (Surf)
  2. Kadabra (Flash)
  3. Diglett
  4. Jolteon
  5. Farfetch’d (Cut, Fly)
  6. Nidoking/Nidoqueen (Strength)

“But what about…”

There are a few other choices you may have preferred that didn’t make the team. They’re not bad pokemon, and if you want to use them instead, it’s up to you. Here’s a few that have been considered, but didn’t quite make this team:

Gyarados
Gyarados has high stats all around, especially its Attack stat. The catch is that it must be leveled up from Magikarp, which is really inconvenient to do in these games, even if you can get early on. But there’s actually another catch: it doesn’t learn any power moves of its own type except for Water moves, which come off it’s Special stat, rather than its phenomenal Attack stat.

Doduo
If you haven’t tried using a Doduo, you’re missing out. You can obtain one right by Celadon City, and it has an easy time against that town’s gym. It’s evolved form, Dodrio, is a pretty strong Normal/Flying type, and can take down the numerous Grass types you see, easily. However, because Kadabra can do a better job against many of those same opponents, it was difficult to justify including it. Especially if you want to try using Farfetch’d to battle.

Articuno
Articuno comes at a high level, and comes with the super-useful Ice Beam. A Blizzard coming from Articuno does catastrophic damage, and it learns the move just one level after catching it. But its catch rate is low, which may necessitate soft-resetting multiple times while attempting to catch it. What’s more, it’s located at a very inconvenient place, at the bottom of Seafoam Islands. Seafoam Islands is a pain to go through, but thankfully, it’s an optional area, as the player can access Cinnabar Island by Surfing south of Pallet Town.

Zapdos
Like Jolteon, it’s dependent on the Thunderbolt TM to be effective. But the nod goes to Jolteon because it’s available earlier on, and is safer to use against Lorelei because it’s not weak to her Ice-type moves. But if you want to give Zapdos a try, it’s not nearly as inconvenient to get to as Articuno, and there’s something appealing about having an Electric type that’s immune to the Ground-type attacks that usually give them trouble.

Dratini
Comes too late in the game and at a low level for that point. It’s difficult enough to level it up to the point that it catches up to your teammates, but even then, it has to evolve to Dragonite (at level 55!) to really be worthwhile. But worse yet, Dragonite in gen one is highly overrated, save for a slow, cheesy strategy that’s better in multiplayer matches than in a speedy playthrough.

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Pikachu
I know, I know. Pikachu has fans. And it’s great that it can be obtained early on. One could make the case that it would be strong against Misty, but it would largely depend on its Thundershock attack, because it can’t learn Thunderbolt by level in Red, Blue or Green. But if you can get it all the way to Celadon City, you can evolve it to Raichu, and that’s certainly appealing.

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Now you know the right way to play Pokemon Red and Blue, as well as the rare Japanese Green version. That’s how Pokemon was played, way back in the day, before they started coming along with lots of new stuff.

Like lots of new pokemon, some of which are pretty cool.

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And new human characters, some with surprisingly complex motivations.

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And new gameplay mechanics to shake things up.

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Some of which encourage community in ways that provide hours of fun outside the main game itself.

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Wow, Pokemon sure has come a long way. And when it comes down to it, that’s just how we wanted it. I know that many of us like to get all nostalgic and remember the times when Pokemon was simple. But the fact is, even then, we saw potential for the series to go much further. Back in the Red and Blue days, we wanted there to be new pokemon. Lots more.

We wanted it so badly, that we’d go to public libraries because that’s how most people in the nineties accessed the internet. Then, we’d scour some Geocities pages on the chance that some random guy with a web page somehow had insight into the future of Pokemon. That’s what the internet was like back then. I remember going to the school library with a couple friends and doing just that. It was a time of pagers and fax machines, which would soon give way to emails and text messages.

We have a tendency to look at the past through rose-colored glasses, and in so doing, we seem to forget that the struggles we faced are every bit as vivid as the ones we face now. This is enabled largely because, in hindsight, we know we lived through them to see today. Not only that, we remember with fondness the things that we enjoyed back then. For those of us who liked Pokemon, that was one of those things. When we’re honest about it, we wanted new Pokemon with new characters. That’s one of those things that worked out.

The Pokemon games have been around for decades. The first ones were enjoyable, and there have been many enjoyable games in the series, since. As great as this was, great times are still ahead. Pokemon taught us to be positive and enthusiastic about the future, not just because it comes about without our input, but because we can train for it. It’s not just about training our pokemon, it’s about training ourselves to be better than we were before. Think about the ways that you can become a better you.

You can think of life as a game if you want to, but if you do, think about the rules and how you can get better at playing it, and take the practical actions necessary to achieve conditions of victory. A college degree? A successful career? Or something else? Choose a goal, and think about what you need to do to attain it. Then maybe you can think of a few pointers for winning at the game of life.

Train on.

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