Why the Designs of Generation 1 Were Superior

Axle the Beast

This is the first article to be published on Pokemon Dungeon, and what I’d like to talk about is the actual creature designs from the various Pokemon generations. As I’m sure you can glean from the title, I believe that Generation 1 (or Gen 1) is the best of all of them. Now surely if you’ve been on Pokemon sites or been in Pokemon discussions enough you’ll hear people praise the original 151 Pokemon the most, with opinions on the later generations being far more split.

This article isn’t strictly intended to convince people who feel differently, but also to lay out some objective reasoning as to why Gen 1 is the favorite, for the benefit of those who don’t understand that. Ideally, this article will be just as beneficial to those that prefer Gen 1 as to those who dislike it in explaining why it is the favorite.

I don’t think it’s something that can be explained away as nostalgia. It’s not a case of people simply liking the old generation because it’s the old generation and disliking what was added to it. The problem lies in specific design concepts that are pretty strictly applied to all of the Gen 1 Pokemon, and these concepts are gone from the later generations.

If you look over the list of all the Pokemon in Gen 1, you’ll see that there are a lot of very different Pokemon, all of which look different from one another. But if you look closely you’ll notice a core design theme consistent throughout nearly all of them: Most of them take after real biology.

In Gen 1 just about every Pokemon is actually based on a specific animal or combination of animals, with a degree of realism applied to the design. Take for example the Bulbasaur family, which resemble dinosaurs and toads (not to mention plants), or Caterpie, which legitimately looks like a caterpillar. Even the sometimes unusual Fighting-type Pokemon take after humans and other primates, and the same is true of many Rock types. The Pokemon that don’t take after real-world animals take after other things instead, like rocks or plants. This made all the designs more grounded and realistic, and in a way more humble. You weren’t dealing with totally whacky, insane creatures. You’re actually dealing with believable fictional creations.

Because this happens in natureOf course there are a handful of exceptions, of which Jigglypuff, Diglett and Tangela are excellent examples, but while these deviate from the real-world creature style, they do still possess familiar sharps and curves and design sensibilities as the rest of the Pokemon in Gen 1. With this at least in common, it was fine that a few deviated from the design style of the rest; some variety is good.

Later generations, starting with Gen 2 but continuing all the way up until Gen 5 (currently the most extreme example), have shunned this realism and gone for designs you’d see in some crazy anime. Strange creatures that are highly original, with wild and whacky traits. Not the humble designs of Gen 1.

It of course has to be acknowledged that this realistic approach isn’t necessarily a better approach. Certainly, it takes more skill to match realistic anatomy, but that doesn’t automatically mean the creature itself is better. Realistic and fantastic designs are two distinct styles that have their own advantages. I’ll even admit that I myself prefer Pokemon out of the later generations. I am a fan of fantastic styles and I enjoy some of the more interesting and unique designs, Gen 3 sporting most of my favorites.

But another thing here is the issue of consistency. Within Gen 5 there are so many Pokemon that don’t look like they even come from the same game as the Gen 1 designs. It’s a wild departure.

Hey look, Nintendo made a new collectible- oh, wait, that’s still Pokemon? Seriously?

It’s common practice within long-running series, and especially those with lots and lots of creatures, to have different artists design different creatures and/or characters. This can be both a good thing and a bad thing. At its best, it means that within the story you have appropriate diversity; lots of characters and creatures that show fitting difference from each other that reflects the real world’s diversity. At its worst you end up with clashing design sensibilities. This problem crops up the worst within the American comic book industry, where you have different writers come in and retcon the storyline many times over until all consistency and sanity is lost.

Obviously that’s primarily a writing issue, but the same problem applies to drawn art as well, because even with a beneficial diversity within your fictional world, you need to have a consistent running style. Unless you’re simply composing unaffiliated pieces of artwork, the product you make is a whole made out of many parts, and the key to good artwork is to make sure all the elements work smoothly in concert.

Why this has happened with Pokemon is unknown. Do the people designing Pokemon just not realize the consistent theme they had going and why the new Pokemon clash? Are they running out of ideas? Regardless, this is a real issue in the Pokemon franchise, and one that seems to be getting worse.

Of course some may prefer the new designs, and for them this direction that Nintendo’s taking is a happy one. But that issue of consistency will always be there, especially since there are always exceptions, even within Gen 5; Pokemon that do fit in with the original 151 from Gen 1.

Gen 2 and 3 have plenty of great PokemonThat’s a good thing too, though. Even within the new generations, there are Pokemon that still match up with the ones from Gen 1. Even in Gen 5. Hopefully Nintendo will catch wind of the problem. In Gen 3, I felt they returned back more to the realistic biology approach with most of their designs. There were more silly ones than in Gen 1, yeah, but they overall handled things better in my eyes than Gen 2 or any of the later generations. Gen 3 applied realism and fantasy in an appropriate balance, I felt, one that departed from Gen 1 somewhat but not enough to prevent things from not fitting. This is probably why Gen 3 contains many of my personal favorite Pokemon; they are a little wilder, but they have a realistic element to them and fit in better with Gen 1 for that reason. Though I will admit, Gen 2 comes closer to this than any post-Gen 3 Pokemon, and some of my preference to Gen 3 may be entirely personal and not objective. You’ll have to be the judge of it yourself.

Of course one thing you’re probably thinking as I keep talking about consistency is what about things staying the same in a bad way? No new ideas, the same thing over and over again? Well obviously when I say to keep a consistent design style I’m not suggesting to recycle the exact same designs. Even within a single style there are billions of possibilities. And even aside from that, Nintendo could have always implemented some fresher Pokemon, like it did as early as Gen 1 with the few stranger Pokemon it had, or like Gen 3 where the Pokemon were all a little wilder but most of the time kept the biology realistic. There are better ways they could have handled it no matter how you look at it.

Now of course, none of this is to say that Pokemon is bad. The game series is still fun and as I said, many of my personal favorites do actually come out of the later generations. I know I’m not alone in that, and I’m sure many of you are okay with the direction of the series. Still, these would be the primary reasons why, in my eyes, Generation 1 is regarded as the best generation. Not so much because it had outright superior designs, but because it established a style that it consistently followed, but that most of the rest of the series did not. This has given the other games the feeling of being broken off from Gen 1’s style, and whether or not that’s a bad thing, it does create that inconsistency and it does potentially reflect design flaws within the series. Generation 1 isn’t superior purely on its own, but became the superior example within the Pokemon franchise when the rest did not try to keep up a consistent feel.

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171 Responses to “Why the Designs of Generation 1 Were Superior”

  1. WrethedShiro says:

    Wait, I’m so not understanding. You seem biased. First of all you claim Gen V is the most extreme for wacky designs yet it’s much more true to real things than Gen IV or III. The comparison picture you have there, you can clearly see there is a pig, a humanoid creature and a crocodile. From Gen I in that picture there is a weird plant lizard, a humanoid creature, and some strange muddy aardvark. Overall, a good article but you can tell you have a slightly bitter test for later generations.

    • Anonymous says:

      Um, there is a significant difference between that pig, humanoid, crocodile, and the real-life counterparts of all three. The point I was raising was not that Gen 1 somehow based itself directly off real life with real creatures, whereas the rest just made stuff up. There’s a difference between basing something off real life and using the rules given by real life. Gen 1 constructed its Pokemon with more believable designs and more realistic anatomy. Gen 5 on the other hand is pretty much blatantly cartoony most of the time.

      Either way, of course I’m biased. This is an opinion article written about a piece of entertainment. Whether my opinions are objective or not, they are still opinions, and opinions are biased. I actually am not that bitter about the later generations; I said within the article that I prefer Pokemon out of them. My beef is from a consistency and design standpoint.

    • Epic Ninfia says:

      its a tapir and its based ona yokai

  2. A_LINK_IN_TIME says:

    I agree, Axle.  Gen I forever! 

    • Isaiah Rude says:

      It’s funny how his favorite gen is 3. So, no. GEN 3 FOREVER! Plus, gen 3 had firered and leafgreen. Which are Gen 1 remakes. THE SAME THING BUT BETTER.

  3. Darkvaati99 says:

    My fav Gen is 4. Mainly because my first Real pokemon game was Platinum and my favorite pokemon is Infernape

  4. Darkvaati99 says:

    But Kanto is my favorite region

  5. awsomeMrlink says:

    Me and my friend think Gen 3 is the best, but of course gen