Estimated reading time: 5 minute(s)

I am a long-time veteran of the Pokémon series, having acquired a copy of Pokémon Red for Christmas in 1998, three months after it was first released in the United States. On April 1, I recounted my first-hand memory of Nintendo Power magazine’s infamous 1999 April Fools prank, wherein it tried to deceive innocent children into believing that they could evolve a Dragonite into a Yoshi by undertaking a convoluted series of steps. I did not mention, however, that the entire reason I had obtained a Nintendo Power subscription in the first place was because the magazine was offering a Pokémon Red and Blue strategy guide as a bonus gift for new subscribers. I thought of that strategy guide when I came across an interesting article about how Japanese Pokémon players had received a far more aesthetic strategy guide in 1996 that never made it to the United States.

In this article, I will discuss the Pokémon Red and Blue strategy guide that I remember best and the new article about unearthing the 1996 Japan-exclusive Pokémon Red and Green strategy guide, which depicted beautiful watercolor versions of the in-game environments.

Pokémon Official Nintendo Player’s Guide

In 1998, Nintendo’s official U.S. magazine, Nintendo Power, published an official strategy guide for Pokémon Red and Blue. At some point, Nintendo Power had a deal wherein it offered the strategy guide as a free gift for new subscribers. I wanted the strategy guide, so I asked my mom for a subscription and received the subscription. If I recall correctly, the strategy guide came after I received my first issue or two of Nintendo Power.

Cover of the Nintendo Power Pokémon Official Player's Guide for Pokémon Red and Blue, published in 1998.
The cover of the strategy guide – Source: Bulbagarden (Fair Use)

A Unique Strategy Guide in My Class

Several students in my small nine-person class had and played Pokémon Red or Blue. I was the only person to have the Nintendo Power strategy guide because I was the only one who read game magazines. I think that some of my classmates had the Prima Games strategy guide which did not require a magazine subscription (I also had the Prima Games guide, although I do not remember it well).

Contents of the Strategy Guide

I remembered four things about the Nintendo Power Pokémon Red and Blue strategy guide without looking it up.

  1. The cover had a white background and prominently featured Pikachu. It had a slip cover over the main cover.
  2. The guide included watercolor depictions of the original 150 Pokémon.
  3. It effectively spoiled that the boss of Team Rocket, Giovanni, was the eighth and final gym leader, despite ostensibly not doing so.
  4. The guide contained stickers for all 150 Pokémon along with places to put them in order for the player to keep track of his or her Pokédex.

The stickers were the most unusual feature included with the strategy guide. Most strategy guides do not include stickers. I remember that the stickers were very small and difficult to get off the page, especially when none had been removed. I did use some, but I needed help from a classmate to unstick them.

Discovering the Strategy Guide Anew

I looked up the strategy guide to find a reference link and instead found that someone had uploaded the entire book to the Internet Archive. (This is probably technically some level of copyright violation, but in this case, it is not as if this strategy guide, which was effectively a 1998 magazine promotion, will ever be circulated again.)

I took advantage to skim the contents and refresh my memory of its contents.

Strategy Guide Overview

The strategy guide was as pretty as I remembered, featuring the original watercolor Pokémon and trainer artwork. It also had clear pictures of in-game maps with clear notes for landmarks and items. The maps especially made the strategy guide potentially useful for children who were not proficient readers.

Pokémon is not a complicated game. While it takes knowledge and an understanding of statistics and strategy to be skilled in the multiplayer context, the base game is designed to be intelligible to small children. For that reason, a Pokémon strategy guide does not need to provide detailed information about which Pokémon to use so much as how to work through the game and what the attributes of different Pokémon are. On page 12, it offers recommended starting and advanced Pokémon teams. The advanced team actually includes three Pokémon (Blastoise, Raichu, and Flareon) that I used on my first run-through. A couple of the recommendations are peculiar (Flareon and Machamp for the advanced team), but nothing too odd.

After the main-game walkthrough, the strategy guide included information about the types and stats of every Pokémon, along with their learned move lists. One shortcoming to note is that while the guide listed every Pokémon move in the game, it did not note the base power of the moves.

In an example of inadvertently leading children astray, the guide noted that ghost moves were strong against psychic types. This was supposed to be the case, but for whatever reason, ghost moves have no effect on psychic types in the generation one games. It was just as well, for there were only three ghost Pokémon and two ghost moves.

Lava Cut Content: “Kanto in Watercolor (Official 1996 Artwork)”

Dr. Lava. May 15, 2021.

Full Article.

A gentleman who goes by the pseudonym of “Dr. Lava” has a website devoted to translating Japanese content about Pokémon and restoring cut content. He does terrific work, and I would mark him down as one of the only interesting things I have discovered as a consequence of making a New Leaf Journal Twitter account. I logged on briefly the other day to share a link to our new newsletter and saw Dr. Lava’s newest project in my newsfeed.

The original Pokémon games – Red and Green – were released in Japan in February 1996, two-and-one-half years before Pokémon Red and Blue, which were based off the Japanese Pokémon Blue, made it to the United States. By the time Pokémon Red and Blue made it stateside, the Game Boy Color was already out, allowing American players to play the games with limited color. In 1996, Game Boy Color had not been released. Thus, as Dr. Lava notes in his post, Japanese players were limited to experiencing the adventure in black and white unless they had the Super Game Boy attachment for the Super Nintendo.

Dr. Lava’s post is about a 1996 strategy guide for the original Pokémon Red and Green. What makes the strategy guide unique – and uniquely aesthetic – is that it included 26 hand-painted watercolor renditions of the black and white in-game maps. The maps are painted to scale and are gorgeous, with bold colors.

I encourage you to see his article and the beautiful paintings for yourself.

A Pokémon Red and Blue Remake Idea?

About half-way through the post, Dr. Lava wrote:

At this point, you might be thinking, ‘Wow, imagine a Gen 1 remake in this art style. All of Kanto in watercolor!’

Indeed I am. He read my mind. Sadly, I agree with Dr. Lava that there will never be an official watercolor remake of Pokémon Red and Blue. We never even received the beautiful maps from the 1996 strategy guide. However, more games, including future Pokémon games, should have a watercolor art style. It is quite aesthetic.

Catching All My Final Thoughts

I had no idea that there was a Pokémon strategy guide depicting the in-game map of the original Pokémon games in full watercolor. The clear, colorful, and drawn-to-scale maps exceeded the expectations I had when I saw the headline. I tip my hat to Dr. Lava for a job well done and for doing the hard work to carefully scan all the maps and make them available for a wide audience. Moreover, reading about this unique Pokémon strategy guide reminded me of my own Pokémon strategy guide memories.