Kanto is a magical place in Pokemon. It’s also a real place in Japan, but we’re particularly interested in the Pokemon version here. I have always held Kanto near to me as a setting, even if I prefer the Johto-based titles and have played dozens of games with more obviously developed settings, I have found myself returning, time and time again, to Kanto. That’s why I set off on my journey to explore Kanto as a tourist, wandering the region at a glacial place, writing about one step of the journey each week.
The point of this, rather than to see Kanto as a staging ground for Pokemon battles, was to try to see it as a real place. To see the sights and to drink in the stories. Some often-overlooked places have proved to be unexpectedly deep, while some of the classic locations have been surprisingly shallow. This page is the base of operations – if my weekly columns are postcards from the edge, this is the scrapbook they are pasted into. Whatever time you joined me on my journey, you’ll be able to find everything you missed right here.
The first step on the journey was not a step at all. I suppose you might think of it as a collection of thoughts I had on the plane over to Kanto, a metaphor that almost works before you remember this is the story of a ten year old boy leaving home for the first time. Plus, Kanto has no airport. Basically, before setting off, I took a week to collect my thoughts and write about why this journey meant something to me, and why it was worth undertaking.
My actual first step on the journey came a week later, when I finally set foot outside of my house – but not out of my hometown yet. Pallet Town feels like the perfect start to my Pokemon journey, and its rich, cozy feel sets the tone for how the early exchanges go perfectly.
In Viridian City, my biggest takeaway is how impressive Giovanni’s gym is. It’s such a perfect hiding place for the villainous Team Rocket, and breaks through the idyllic facade of the town perfectly. Also, while I haven’t been dwelling on the battles, the rival battle in Viridian City remains one of the game’s best. You pass through Viridian City so many times across the game, but this first time presents an often overlooked mystery for us.
I hate Viridian Forest. I had hoped my new way of playing the game might rehabilitate the place, might help me see the wood for the trees, but instead it only made me more irritated by the forest. So far this is my least favourite stop on the journey, and I don’t expect that to change. Can’t win ‘em all.
Hot on the heels of Viridian Forest, Pewter City is the first major surprise of this revisitation. Often overlooked and ignored, I instead found it to be a little slice of Pokemon paradise. Though Brock’s gym isn’t up to much, there’s an adorable flower garden at the centre, and a museum of huge importance to Pokemon’s overall worldbuilding.
Another pleasant surprise. Once the Annoying Cave Of A Thousand Zubats, Mt. Moon is much larger, narratively and literally, than I had once thought of it as. Though it mainly exists to introduce Team Rocket, give you a fossil (a fossil you steal, you thief), and act as a roadblock on your procession of gyms. But in practice, you’ll find a lot of story here if you’re looking for it.
Two good weeks in a row, and Cerulean looked destined to make it a third. Unfortunately, with this week focusing on the city itself (the surrounding area comes the week after), I found it to be deeply empty and entirely soulless. Once one of my favourite places in Pokemon, I discovered there was nothing in the city itself, only the pathways around it. Another reminder that for all the times I’ve played through Kanto, I still don’t know all of its secrets.
The Area Around Cerulean City
I wish I had a better name for this region, because it’s one of the most interesting places so far. Though Cerulean itself has very little to offer, the Nugget Bridge and Bill’s House are both emblematic of the sort of stories that dragged me back to Pokemon in the first place. Team Rocket is slowly but surely making a bigger impression on my playthrough, and I’m beginning to meet some of the game’s more fascinating characters, so I’m eager to see where this leads me next.
Vermilion City is the most picturesque town I have explored yet, and the first time I have felt the disappointment at the Game Boy Color’s technological limitations, meaning the town cannot bloom into full life the way it ought to. It feels like a city full of joy, from the innocently naive trade on offer to the Pokemon Fan Club, and it futher highlights that the player character is a bit of a brat, making everyone’s life worse as he seeks to gain an advantage when it comes to making his pets fight for money and glory. Also that dude with the Machop never gets any less strange.
After Vermilion City, we hopped on the S.S. Anne and went… nowhere. Isn’t it sort of weird that we have a ticket for a cruise ship, but as soon as the ship is ready to sail, we have to get off? And all because we’ve figured out how to cut down a small tree we could likely squeeze past? The S.S. Anne, despite it’s grandeur, is a very dull part of the game, made up of empty corridors, identical rooms, and forgettable battles. Even with the technical limitations of the Game Boy, it’s disappointing to see what could have been such a beautiful setting be phoned in. At least we get to see a bucket full of vomit though!
Diglett’s Cave And Routes 11, 9, And 10
I know this chapter sounds like filler, but it gave me a great opportunity to talk (and to listen) to all the trainers in the game that I have mostly been ignoring in my quest to explore the place itself. Every place is made up of people though, and my time in Kanto should be no different. In some ways, it’s the most awkward leg of my journey yet, but if I had rushed through it I would have missed some pretty funn exchanges with the trainers, so all in all I’m happy with my chill week ahead of the descent into the Rock Tunnel.
The Rock Tunnel is a classic tunnel in the Pokemon canon. Not particularly tricky, but challenging in its scope, and in that Pokemon Red & Blue refuses to hold your hand through it. It’s not too interesting in and of itself, but in Pokemon’s history, it’s fascinating to see that Pokemon games keep making caves easier for first time players, but in the game where we were all first time players, they were such grand settings.
Celadon City is one of my favourite cities across all of Pokemon, and replaying it with fresh eyes did not disappoint. It still feels as grand as it did all those years ago, even with the obvious technical limitations working against it. I loved how it feels like a city, how cosmopolitan and different it is compared to the more rural landscape of the rest of the game. I only wish I could revisit it at night.
Team Rocket’s Hideout
One of the most memorable parts of Celadon City is the hideout in the Game Corner, which is interesting enough to earn its own entry. There, I was struck by the charmingly down-to-earth design of the cafeteria tables and vending machines. Just evil dudes being evil dudes. This is juxtaposed by not one, but two floor mazes, which smacks of Giovanni’s desire to be seen as an eccentric and charmismatic leader. It’s probably a right pain to have to do your job around, as the grunts do. Then you face Giovanni and he’s an absolute pushover. I remember him being tougher, so I look forward to us matching wits again. But for now, he doesn’t deserve a hangout as cool as this one.
After Celadon, it’s back to Lavender Town we go. I felt like the central sombreness of the city was a little wasted on us when the Marowake story isn’t particularly well told without the structure of the anime versions and fan art, but the town as a whole had an impossible grip on me and I see why it has stuck so long in so many peoples’ hearts. Not my favourite town in the game but one well worth soaking up the beauty of.
Is this the most underrated part of Kanto as a whole? Silence Bridge is beautifully serene and full of the salty sea air that constantly drifts through your lungs as you linger on the edges of Kanto. It’s a perfect escape from the game at large, which is what this column is all about, and brings you to a sense of peace. Thanks to the slumbering Snorlax, it’s also where you get to feel the might of wild Pokemon, possibly for the first time in the story so far.
I was looking forward to heading to Fuchisa City, but it all feels very stale. Aside from the Safari Zone, which I’ll head to next week, Fuchsia City seems empty. It’s a dead end town built around a single tourist attraction. It all feels a little pathetic and left behind. Strangely, for a town right in the middle of our Pokemon journey, it feels like a dead end. Thankfully it’s not, so onward and upward to the next part of our story!
This is the aforementioned tourist attraction that Fuchsia City is built around, but it too feels a little meh. As part of the wider game it holds some appeal, but being limited by footsteps and with a bland and lifeless recreation of wilderness, there’s a sense of poetry to its false freedom, but not much excitement. The Safari Zone is a crucial part of Pokemon history, but the original just doesn’t quite hold up to scrutiny.
Saffron City is trapped inside its own potential. The tentpole city for the game, too often its just a succession of buildings full of unpleasant people, which I suppose suits its position as business central. The most interesting thing is the Fighting Dojo, which resists the gentrification of the town and still sticks up for the little guy.
Inside Saffron City, we head to Silph Co., a strangely enchanting building, mostly charming in how utterly charmless it is. After an impressive water fountain in the reception, the building is just floor after floor of very dull rooms. It has magical transportation pads to let you jump from place to place, but they’re mostly used (when the building isn’t under attack from Team Rocket) to fix the fax machine. What a oddly boring use for what is, essentially, magic. How dull capitalism is.
Next we head to the Cycling Road, as our journey around Kanto becomes a little tangled in knots, traipsing back to Fuchsia, then up the road to Celadon, then using our newltt acquired Fly HM to reach Fuchsia again and then out to sea. The Cycling Road is the opposite of the Silence Bridge in so many ways, trading peace for noise, tranqulity for chaos, and the life of the sea for the life in the air. I can’t quite bring myself to like it, but it feels like a core part of how creative and weird Pokemon’s world building could get,
More entries to come as the journey continues!