If you spend any amount of time in the Pokemon fandom you will quickly become familiar with the term “Genwunner,” a derisive label for those that believe the first generation of Pocket Monsters has never been surpassed. That group of fans will tell you that the original 151 were all brilliant and inspired, while the new designs are all lazy and derivative. Of course, as I’ve discussed before, this is ridiculous; every gen has its fair share of both great and terrible mons. However, there is one aspect of the original duology that I would argue has yet to be surpassed by any sequel: the music.
The classic chiptune opening lets you know it means business right from the very beginning. Even on a system as rudimentary as the Game Boy, you can tell that you are in for an exciting adventure. Plenty of modern Pokemon intros are epic in their own way, but none have cut so quickly and precisely to the heart of the matter. That tune still gets me pumped some 15 years later.
This boundless energy is actually a hallmark of Junichi Masuda’s work. Masuda is more or less solely responsible for the soundtrack for Pokémon Red, Green, and Blue, including sound effects such as the distinctive “cries” of the titluar monsters. The best of his fast-paced work is found in the multiple battle themes included throughout the games, including unique pieces for random encounters, trainer battles, gym leaders, and the final showdown against your rival. All of those are built around the same melody, but they each go in their own memorable direction.
However, no overview of the Kanto region’s soundscape would be complete without a mention of “Lavender Town’s Theme.” The haunting BGM for the city that is home to the seven-floor graveyard known as the Pokemon Tower has inspired all types of rumors and myths. According to the legend of “Lavender Town Syndrome,” the strange high frequencies of the song caused a surge in suicide among Japanese children that played the game. That is almost certainly nonsense, but it is worth noting that the North American releases of Red Version and Blue Version apparently slightly altered the track to a level that doesn’t make some of it inaudible to adults.
In fact, it would be fair to say that English speakers never got the original Pokemon games. The Red and Blue versions we know are not 1:1 to translations of the Red and Green titles Japan received. Our introduction to the franchise was actually based on their Blue Version, an updated remake with a different engine, new sprites, fewer bugs, and improved sound quality. It’s all a lot simpler than it sounds, I promise.
Nostalgia is an illogical, overwhelming force. How else can we justify giving Mr. Mime, Jynx, Exeggcute, and the other Gen 1 duds a free pass? Don’t even bother trying to explain it. Just sit back and enjoy the simple, evocative music that created a million PokéManiacs. The timeless tunes of Pocket Monsters: Red and Pocket Monsters: Green are even still available as Game Boy: Entire Pokémon Sounds Collection CD. It is only(?) $45.00 new on Amazon, so keep that in mind if anyone wants to get me a birthday present come December.
Music Mondays is a weekly column by Austin Yorski and Robert Heck dedicated to discussing the most interesting audio experiences in electronic interactive media. Tune in every week for more original game soundtracks that you need to hear. Feel free to disagree with, add to, or question everything. I welcome your feedback.