By Jack Snell
Every journey has a beginning. A point of reference one can use when measuring how far the hero has come during the course of their adventure. For Sir Arthur, his beginning was pulling a sword from a stone. For Link it was heeding the call for help of a young princess Zelda. For Ash … it was choosing a Poke Ball
Everyone Remembers Their First Love
For me it was choosing Charmander in Pokemon Red <3 Still my favourite starter of all time. To the untrained eye, Bulbasaur, Squirtle and Charmander from the original games were just blobs of pixels accompanied by an indecipherable MIDI screech. But to me, and countless others, they were so much more.3
To me, this little, orange/red lizard was my very first (but definitely not last) Pokemon friend. The first monster I would ever train, travel with, bond with, and watch evolve before my eyes. He was my constant companion during my introduction to the world of Pokemon and, more importantly, during my perilous and probably-best-forgotten middle school days. While I would go on to have new starters that I also cared for in future installments, nothing would ever quite measure up to my first Pokemon love.
Charizard, I choose you!
The Ties That Bind
For myself and any other gamer who set out from Mom’s house to become the Pokemon League Champion, our starter was an integral part of the experience. This is because, in Pokemon, your starter is your constant companion. It’s the only monster in your party who is with you from the moment you first leave your small town and step out into the wild grass where untold mystery and adventure awaits. It’s the one who you watch grow from barely being able to take down a Pidgey or Bidoof to completely destroying anyone foolish enough to stand in your way.
The only way to punish a pesky Bidoof is by making it your HM slave
Also, in the beginning of the games, you literally rely on your starter of choice for survival, at least until you catch more Pokemon. But even after more Pokemon are available and a starter can theoretically be put out to pasture, your starter is the one you’ve learned to count on and trust, so most trainers choose to keep it as the most powerful member of their team throughout the course of the game, even when other Pokemon with better stats become available.
A starter is also significant in that it’s the one who you chose. The one you looked at and decided was the best pick for you, whether it was because it was cute or badass looking, or you just adore fire types, like myself. Whatever the reason, you chose that one, and that alone makes it special. And whether one of the original trio was your first or one of the newer ones was, the bond between a serious Pokemon trainer and their first starter is an indelible one.
More Than A Feeling
Of course, the importance of a starter goes way beyond just the emotional bond a Pokemon trainer shares with it. Starters play an important role during the game itself as well. Starters serve to teach you about the care and keeping of Pokemon, as well as help you get a feel for the different and eventually much more complex battle strategies one can employ. This is why every starter in every version always comes equipped with one attack move and one stat-affecting move. This setup is the perfect mini-playground for players to learn how to balance between dealing damage and altering stats, and how each kind of move has its strengths and weaknesses and which situations call for which.
Your starter is also your crash course on types, as you are always given the choice of a Fire-type, a Water-type, or a Grass-type Pokemon – the perfect rock, paper, scissors setup to teach newcomers about type strengths and weaknesses and what effect this has on Pokemon battles and team selection. The lesson is further expanded by the fact that your rival in the game always chooses the Pokemon that has a type advantage over yours (for example, if you choose a Water-type, they will always choose a Grass-type).
The only exception to this rule is in Pokemon Yellow, where you start with a Pikachu and your rival starts with an Eevee that evolves based on whether you win or lose against him during your encounters. But even this setup is a lesson in how to take an electric mouse that refuses to evolve all the way to the Elite Four by sheer force of will and rigorous training.
Your starter is also the head of your party, and usually the one you can count on to take down any enemy at any time (type and level notwithstanding, of course). It’s the rock of your Poke party, your whipping boy for training up weaker Pokemon, and your go-to from the first gym battle to the final showdown against the Elite Four. Your connection to your starter even somewhat informs your immersion into whatever region you’re traversing, as your bond with your starter teaches you to trust your Pokemon and even care for them, and in that way it is your ticket to bonding with the other Pokemon in the game, as well as the world itself.
For lovers of the Pokemon series, your first starter is something you’ll always remember. For the droves of us who’ve been throwing Poke Balls since the originals, every starter we ever meet in subsequent generations will inevitably be compared to the three monsters that started it all. In fact, they’re really the ones to blame for us being so suspicious of pretty much any new starter we see.
In short, for Pokemon fans, starters are serious business. This is why we get a bit nervous when we see a new generation’s starters, because if we don’t like them it puts a damper on our experience of the game.
It’s a tough situation that each new generation must face, as, most likely, no starter will ever live up to our first. The starters from the upcoming games, Pokemon Black and Pokemon White, are a great example of this. When I first saw them I was uber disappointed. I was absolutely outraged by these terrible designs and vowed to trade over a Charmander, Chichar or Treecko rather than play with these creatures. However the little buggers have grown on me, particularly Tepig which is adorable and turns into the brutal Emboar.
No matter what forms the starters from this generation have taken, or what forms they’ll take in the games to come, one thing will always remain certain: starters always matter a great deal to the people who love this series, and will continue to claim a spot in our hearts (as well as in our teams) for years to come.
What do you think of this new generation of starters? Which starter is your favorite? What does a starter mean to you? Please feel free to comment on this article
Thank you for reading, Jack Snell