Pokémon has become a worldwide phenomenon. The franchise has merchandise such as trading cards, clothing, plushies, mobile apps, anime, manga, and food (yes, even food). These adorable pocket monsters are clearly here to stay, as they sit atop 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, proving that Pokémon is, indeed, iconic. What is now considered a pop culture mainstay, however, was not always the case.
To commemorate the 25th anniversary of Pocket Monsters: Red & Green, 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. So, in honor of their 25th anniversary, we're going back to the 1990s—the beginning of our Pokémon adventure—to recount the history of Pocket Monsters: Red and Green, and how it all started just 25 years ago.
The year 1996 marked the beginning of the revolution—the Pokémon revolution, that is. The procedure, however, was not initially broadcast on television. Pocket Monsters: Red and Green were finally released in Japan on February 27th, 1996, on a console that was already out of date. As a result, the game received little to no press; the media simply wasn't interested in covering a game that was only available on an old console. Nintendo had low expectations for this small game after noticing blood in the water. They planned to take whatever small amount of money they could from the recently released project and then move on.
"Neither a magazine nor a television show was interested." "They thought GameBoy was finished," Masakazu Kubo, executive producer of Shogakukan Inc.'s publishing division, explained. 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 didn't appear to have room for a time-traveling RPG called Pocket Monsters. But that's where they went wrong.
When it came to Pokémon, corporate executives overlooked one segment of Japan's population: the youth. When Pocket Monsters: Red and Green first appeared on store shelves, they drew the attention of young boys and girls in Japan. Game Boy technology and games were significantly less expensive than CD-ROMs and the computers required to play them. Shogakukan Inc. saw the apparent spell that Pokémon cast on children and decided to continue supporting the product. Pocket Monsters: Red and Green took off after clearing that last hurdle.
Across Japan, the game was slowly but steadily selling out. That's when Nintendo realized Tajiri and Game Freak had a clear vision for what they wanted to create. They'd finally made it. "That's why it was originally conceived as a game designed for this new hardware," 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 competition.
People's attitudes toward the game changed as it began to creep up the list of best-selling games. 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 the 151st Pokémon, Mew, who would also play a significant role in the first Pokémon film. Morimoto created Mew for the sole purpose of entertaining the other members of Game Freak near the end of development. As a result, the only people who knew about the existence of the mythical Pokémon were, well, Game Freak. However, players were eventually able to exploit a glitch in Red and Green to encounter the legendary Pokémon. To capitalize on the hype, Tajiri decided to make an official announcement for Pokémon.
Pocket Monsters: Red and Green had emerged as Japan's dominant force. But Game Freak didn't stop there, eventually deciding on a global release, with America serving as the first stop on their global dominance tour. And the rest, as they say, is history. Pocket Monsters: Red and Green, as well as the eventual third version, Blue, sold an astounding 10.23 million copies in Japan, launching the world's 25-year obsession with Pokémon.