There is no journey more important than the road to Pokémon Master. One must have a resolve unlike any other to take on the demanding trials and tribulations of the wilderness, creatures and people that populate such a crazy monstrous world of wonder. Some of these come from the outside but, in my case, there were complications within that I had to overcome. This is my personal tale from zero to hero and, just like all great stories, it begins with a little brat whining for his parents to let him buy a Game Boy Advance Game. But before that, let’s quickly talk late 90’s children’s television.
Just like everyone my age, I first came in contact with Pokémon on Kids’ WB (along with Animaniacs, Jackie Chan Adventures, Batman Beyond, etc). I remember sitting down with my siblings for countless hours watching the adventures of Ash, Pikachu, Misty and Brock as they traversed an awe-inspired world filled to the brim with these imaginative locations and cool creatures that anyone could own. We all laughed when we saw Team Rocket blast off (again), we cried when Ash said goodbye to friends old and new, and we all got angry when he kept on losing in the freaking Pokémon Championships (I mean, come on, let the guy win just once!). But, just like every kid in the late 90’s/early 2000’s, I wanted to go on my own Pokemon journey. I dreamed of making friends and overcoming my own obstacles as it all culminated with my victory over the Elite Four. A crazy idea, yes, but there had to be a way to do it that didn’t involve running away from home with the pet cat shoved in my backpack. Cue the brat (me) whining to be taken to the video game store when he heard about the new Pokémon game, Ruby, coming out.
After what felt like forever, I finally bought my very own copy of Pokémon Ruby. I remember being unable to wait until I got home to open the package and looking at the poster with all of the new Pokémon a hundred times over while trying on new shoes (much to my mom’s dismay). When I got home, I sunk the glossy rose tinted cartridge into the back of my Game Boy Advance as the elegant music began to emanate from the plastic speakers. After being greeted by the local Pokémon Professor, I was thrust into the unfamiliar world with nothing but the clothes on my back and my first Pokémon: Mudkip. You have to understand that, before this point, I literally had no idea what the game was like. All the twists and turns weren’t spoiled by someone tweeting gameplay or hacking emails. Whatever came next, I dealt with fresh eyes and no clear indicator of how to get to the end.
Playing Pokémon Ruby will always be one of my favorite video game (or life) experiences. After coming home from school (and finishing homework, of course), I would continue this seemingly perilous journey that granted me endless joys. There was nothing like going to the treehouse village of Fortree City or bathing in the spas of Lavaridge Town while waiting for an Egg to come out at the Daycare. I spent hours performing in Pokémon Contests with my Beautifly until I was finally able to win first place consistently. I remember how good I felt when I not only helped a new trainer named Wally get a Pokémon of his own but also seeing him grow into a trainer in his own right was touching. And I remember the fear I felt when I finally fought through Team Magma to face the legendary Pokémon, Groundon. These types of adventures were challenging, but they were nothing compared to the final trial I had to conquer: The Elite Four.
These were the best trainers in the entire game that scoffed at any challenger that came their way, but I was ready. My Mudkip, now Swampert, and the rest of my team (Linoone, Ninjask, Beautifly, Swellow, Pelipper) had faced countless obstacles before but had come out stronger in the end. I was admittedly nervous but ready to show these so called “elite” what I’ve been through. Entering the gate,I knew that all I had to do was push through a problem with no strategy like I usually did and I would be the reigning champion. My story would end up having a perfect ending to line up with the emotional journey I had gone through for the past few months. And after what felt like lifetimes of trying countless different teams of Pokémon with different items I finally pushed through aaaaaaaaaannnnnd I gave up.
Looking back at my old save file, I now realize that my team was not strong or diverse enough to deal with the Elite Four. As a kid,however, I didn’t know that and thought that I just sucked. I was heartbroken that I couldn’t find closure to my journey. I was by no means obsessed with my inability to win the game, but there was always that sad feeling that arose when I looked back at the cartridge of my shelf and knew that, just like many other things I did when I was a kid (ask my parents about guitar lessons when you get a chance), that I gave up. But life goes on and I soon traded in my Game Boy Advance for a DS, then a PS Vita and Playstation 3 which later became a Wii U and 3DS. I made more memories with those systems, but those were more teenage memories as opposed to childhood ones that I made during my Pokémon Ruby playthrough. After getting a DS (before the 3DS), I made another attempt with Pokemon Diamond, but it wasn’t the same and I gave up on that too. Maybe I just had to get used to the idea that I would never have any type of closure. But that all changed in 2013 with the introduction of a new Pokémon generation: X and Y.
Pokémon X and Y were touted as the next step in the Pokémon gaming evolution. This game was not only 3-D, but it also consisted of a ton of new features such as Mega Evolution (no, this isn’t Digimon), customizable avatars, Fairy Types, 6 vs 6 battles and so on. I hadn’t really sunk my teeth into a Pokémon game since Ruby, so I thought I mind as well give it a shot. And after a week of experiencing the excitement of the Paris inspired region of Kalos, I beat it no sweat. It was exhilarating to finally accomplish this goal that had been bugging me since I was seven, and for it to be with a game as amazing as Y, I couldn’t complain. But I admit there was still that small hole in me that couldn’t be full until I beat Ruby itself. Thankfully, I would get a chance when the geniuses at Game Freak remade the game as Pokémon Omega Ruby. Not only was it an opportunity to go back to a place where I had so many happy memories, but I could also experience the extra joys that were shoved in since there was more room for tiny awesome details (like sitting in chairs! Finally!)
As I started the game up on my 3DS, the similar feelings returned as the Pokémon Professor greeted me and asked me what gender I was (Male, I’m pretty sure). I was back in Littleroot and noticed the slight changes in story and presentation, but it was still like the original game, quirks and all. Not only did I get Mudkip again for my starter, but I got my original team back. I knew that if I were going to beat this game, it would be with my original crew. As I went through the same trials and tribulations (this time with a jacked Swampert) , the countless hours that I poured into the original game came back to me. I felt like a kid again as I went through the same motions I did almost 15 years ago. And, just like before, I ended up in the same spot: The Elite Four vs Me.
Admittedly, I lost the first two times. And, sadly, I started picking up the game less and less after that. I did my best to use the new resource, the EXP share, to bump up my party ten more levels to better face the threat. But no matter how much I prepared, my mind never felt ready to face the Elite Four again after the initial loses. I felt like I was seven and back to a part in my life where I could never win. I was kind of scared to go against these people that, I thought, were unbeatable. That is until, on a whim one Sunday afternoon, I beat the entirety of the Elite Four in a single go.
I’m not going to sit here and say that I sobbed all the way through the credits. I did, however, feel a sense of closure seeing this long journey come to an end. I will always hold Pokémon Y in a special place, but Omega Ruby and Ruby take top billing for me as my favorite Pokémon games. They represent not only the journey from trainer to master, but they also represent how I’ve grown as a person. In many ways, the Elite Four also represented the seemingly unbeatable challenge that held me down due to my fear to try. By beating them, I realized how I went from being constantly upset at losing a battle to girding my loins and facing a challenge like a true champion of the Hoenn region. I will always, ALWAYS cherish the time I spent on these games and the joy that they gave me because it showed me what being the best really meant: Facing a challenge, no matter how tough it is, even when you knew you would fail. In the end, standing up when it seems impossible can be more important than winning.
I would just like to say this to all of the people who have worked in the Pokemon property in any capacity: Thank you. You have not only touched me, but millions of people across the world. You gave us the idea that not only could we best the best, but we could do it like no one else. The journeys you created will never die, nor will the love for the property.
Happy 20th Anniversary Pokémon! Here’s to another 20 years full of new trials and adventures for all who dare to take on the task. And as the tagline says: Train on.
If you have any personal Pokémon stories, feel free to share them below!