I love Bulbasaur, but Squirtle is my guy. I’ve been breeding beastly and belligerent Blastoise since I was four years old, so I can’t just go and change who my Gen 1 starter is now – that would be sacrilege. Still, I feel bad for poor little Charmander, who was always the one ‘mon left in its PokeBall in my version of Pokemon Blue. I’m sorry Charmander, you did nothing wrong – if I’d been allowed to take you too, you’d better believe I would have.
Every time I’ve ever booted up a new game of Red, Blue, Yellow, LeafGreen, or FireRed, I’ve chosen Squirtle. When this happens, my rival – who isn’t Gary Oak, because I play as Gary Oak – chooses the starter that’s super-effective against mine. In this case, that’s Bulbasaur. We have a little scrap in front of Professor Oak – my grandad, not my rival’s – and set off on our respective journeys, all while Charmander is forced to listen in on the action from inside its PokeBall. It’s tragic, really – next time you’re picking a starter, remember that by doing so you’re becoming that one person in PE who stops picking players after they reckon they’ve got the last good one. You’re a big meanie and you should really pay more heed to what it means to leave one of these Pokemon behind.
Anyway, I’ve always held a soft spot for Charmander in situations where I’m not forced to pick Squirtle over it. Ultimately, I prefer Bulbasaur, but in Pokemon Go and Pokemon Let’s Go – where starters are available to catch in the wild – I regularly catch way more little fire lizards than plant-based minisaurus rexes, and it’s absolutely due to guilt. I also used to rock both Mega Charizard X and Mega Charizard Y on different competitive teams – yes, Mega Charizard Y is decent too, if you know how to use it. In all situations except for when I was forced to pick it, I’ve been brilliant to Charmander, which just makes me even more sorry that I’ll never, ever, not in a million years, not if the future of the universe depended on it, choose it over Squirtle. I wouldn’t even ditch my aviator-wearing turtle lad for unlimited access to Bezos’ bank account. Well, maybe I would, but just once and not for long.
It’s the same with future generations, right up until Game Freak stepped in and nipped the leftover starter trope in the bud. In Gen 2 I chose Cyndaquil, so Chikorita was left to grow old with Professor Elm – even Silver, Pokemon’s best rival, didn’t want it. I’m a Mudkip man in Gen 3, meaning that Torchic never gets to explore Hoenn with anyone. Gen 4 is Chimchar-only, for me, so Turtwig gets left for dust – yes, Dawn or Lucas has Turtwig if you choose Chimchar, but it’s not the same one that was in Rowan’s satchel. Gen 5 gave you two rivals right from the get-go, meaning all three starters are matched with a trainer – but that was 14 years after Red & Blue. 14 years of starters being left behind, alone and trainerless, thinking about the day when a ten-year-old came in, looked at them, and said, “Nah, not that one.”
Since then, Pokemon games have taken pains to make sure no starter gets left behind, but I can’t help feeling bad for all of the previous ones. I actually thought that Sword & Shield handled this fantastically – Leon, the Champion of Galar, takes the Pokemon that neither you nor Hop chose and uses its final form against you in your battle with him at the end of the game. While I wasn’t impressed with a variety of things in Sword & Shield – like how they don’t have a Magikarp guy – I was very appreciative of this decision.
So yeah, sorry to burst your bubble, but Pokemon is the most popular entertainment franchise in the world. This means we’ve left potentially millions of starters to live out their lives in a PokeBall on a professor’s desk across the first 14 years’ worth of Pokemon games. Yeah, they’re just blocks of code at the end of the day, but still – what did Chikorita ever do other than being less cool than Cyndaquil? It’s not Chikorita’s fault that Meganium is rubbish.
Anyway, it’s something to bear in mind if you’re planning to play Pokemon Brilliant Diamond & Shining Pearl later this year. Yes, your rival will pick the Pokemon that’s strong against you, and yes, either Dawn or Lucas will have the remaining starter – but again, it’s not the exact same one. It’s just the same species, isn’t it? I’m already feeling sorry for the Turtwig in Rowan’s satchel. Let’s just hope that Game Freak adds in someone else to take the third ‘mon from Professor Rowan – I personally reckon Pokemon Platinum’s Looker would make an excellent companion for poor little Turtwig.
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Cian Maher is the Lead Features Editor at TheGamer. He’s also had work published in The Guardian, The Washington Post, The Verge, Vice, Wired, and more. You can find him on Twitter @cianmaher0.
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