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The Story Behind The Origins Of Pokemon

Pokémon is a worldwide phenomenon. The franchise is virtually everywhere, with merchandise such as trading cards, clothing, plushies, mobile apps, anime, manga, and food (yes, even food). It's clear that these cute pocket monsters are here to stay, as they sit comfortably at the top of the list of highest-grossing media franchises of all time and second (behind Mario, of course) on the list of best-selling video games of all time. Pikachu's ears and cheeks have become as iconic as Mickey Mouse's ears, so yeah—Pokémon is that iconic. However, what has now been considered a pop culture mainstay was not always the case.

Game Freak and Nintendo have released New Pokémon Snap and Pokémon Brilliant Diamond/Shining Pearl (a remake of 2006's Pokémon Diamond and Pearl) for the Nintendo Switch to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Pocket Monsters: Red & Green. So, to commemorate their anniversary, we're going back to the 1990s—the start of our Pokémon adventure—to recount the history of Pocket Monsters: Red and Green, and how it all began just 25 years ago.

1996 marked the start of the revolution—the Pokémon revolution, that is. However, the process was not initially broadcast on television. Pocket Monsters: Red and Green were finally released in Japan on February 27th, 1996, on an already outdated console. As a result, the game received little to no press; the media simply wasn't interested in covering a game that was exclusive to an antiquated console. Nintendo noticed the blood in the water and had low expectations for this small game. They intended to take whatever small sum of money they could from the newly released project and then move on.

“No magazine or TV show was interested. "They thought GameBoy was done," said Masakazu Kubo, executive producer of Shogakukan Inc.'s publishing division. "No toymakers were either interested in Pokémon or not." The game's final straw came when Japan's biggest tech companies began to transition to CD-ROMs, which provided cleaner graphics and smoother fidelity. Corporate Japan was looking to the future of gaming, a future that appeared to have no room for a time-displaced RPG called Pocket Monsters. Except that's where they were mistaken.

When it came to Pokémon, the corporate suits forgot about one segment of Japan's population: the youth. Pocket Monsters: Red and Green drew the attention of young boys and girls in Japan when they first appeared on store shelves. Unlike CD-ROMs and the computers required to play them, Game Boy technology and games were significantly less expensive. Shogakukan Inc. saw the spell that Pokémon appeared to have cast on children and decided that they would still support the product. With that last hurdle cleared, Pocket Monsters: Red and Green took off.

The game was slowly but steadily selling out across Japan. That's when Nintendo realized Tajiri and Game Freak had a vision for what they were trying to create. They'd finally succeeded. "That's why it was originally conceived as a game designed for this new hardware." Then there were significant delays in finishing the title," Ishihara explained in an interview with Satoru Iwata for Iwata Asks. "However, as the producer, my personal feeling was that of all the titles I had experience with, that I had played or worked on as a producer, Pocket Monsters: Red and Green was of the very highest caliber." That is to say, I was confident that this was streets ahead of the crowd in terms of sheer enjoyment.”

As the game crept up the list of best-selling games, people's attitudes toward it shifted. Pocket Monsters had avoided failure due to word of mouth and children's curiosity, and the hype was just getting started. Final Fantasy was the most popular game at the time, but that all changed when players discovered the mysterious feature snuck into Red and Green by Tajiri and Shigeki Morimoto. Officially, 150 Pokémon were thought to be in the game's Pokédex.

But, unknown to Nintendo and the general public, Tajiri and Morimoto had sneaked in a creature named Mew, the 151st Pokémon, who would also play a significant role in the first Pokémon film. Mew was a Pokémon created by Morimoto for the sole purpose of amusing the other members of Game Freak near the end of development. As a result, the only people who knew about the mythical Pokémon's existence were, well, Game Freak. However, over time, players were able to exploit a glitch in Red and Green and encounter the legendary Pokémon. Tajiri decided to make an official announcement for Pokémon in order to capitalize on the hype.

Pocket Monsters: Red and Green had established themselves as Japan's dominant force. But Game Freak didn't stop there, eventually deciding on a global release, with America as the first stop on their tour of world dominance. And, as they say, the rest is history. Pocket Monsters: Red and Green, as well as the eventual third version, Blue, sold a staggering 10.23 million copies in Japan, kicking off the world's 25-year obsession with Pokémon.


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