Home Strategy Pokemon starter guide: first among equals

There’s a strange allure to Pokemon I can never put my fingers on. I don’t know if it’s the cuteness of the creatures, the simplicity (or stupidity) of the world, or the consistency of the gameplay. Whatever the reason, the series remains as popular as it ever was. Which means there are always new players!

I thought I’d impart some of my experience here, starting with the starter pokemon players receive at the beginning of each game.


Your choice matters

Most games have different difficulty settings, changeable on the fly as the situation demands. In Pokemon, your choice of starters determines the difficulty. By game’s end, you’ll have a team that can take on anyone anywhere, but for those first three or four gym battles, what starter you pick will be the difference between a cakewalk and a grind.

Gym leaders in Pokemon games are like roadblocks, as many story elements don’t occur until after you’ve defeated them. In the games prior to Black and White, you also needed badges to use Hidden Machines. Because each leader focuses on a specific type, having a super effective type advantage makes the battles easy. Early on, though, when your pick of wild Pokemon is slim, your resources limited, and your team small, your starter should be your ace in the hole. In each game, there are three to choose from, and the first gym usually is counter-typed against one of the starters. Black 2 and White 2 are no exception, and though the first gym is Normal type focused, the second is Bug based, making Grass a tricky proposition.

Some of you who cut your teeth on Blue and Red/Green found out the hard way that the right type makes all the difference. Before there was Whitney’s Miltank, there was Misty’s Starmie and the dreaded Bubblebeam, or Brock’s Geodude and constant Rock Throw spam.


Do your homework

The easy-mode choice isn’t clear if you’re completely new to the series. Before jumping in, take a look at sites sites like Bulbapedia, Serebii.net, and PokemonDB. These sites contain all the information of the vast Pokemon community, cataloguing everything from wild Pokemon locations, walkthroughs, evolution and egg guides, and more. I refer to them myself when playing and when writing guides like this one, if only as a reference.


Grass types grow (in power)

Bulbasaur, Squirtle, Charmander. Those were your choices at the beginning Blue and Red/Green. For those who came later to the party, FireRed and LeafGreen. The decision for new players seems obvious if you have any experience with Pokemon: pick Bulbasaur. Do it over and over again.


Gym Breakdown

The reasoning is simple. The first two gyms are Ground and Water based, in that order. Grass is counter typed to both. There were few Rock type Pokemon in Kanto that were not dual typed with Ground.

Brock: Bulbasaur’s special attacks do four times damage to Brock’s Pokemon. Make short work of him.

Misty: By the time you get to Misty, you’ll likely have an Ivysaur, and if you’re like me, a Pikachu from Viridian Forest. Both take Water types to task, so long as you can get through Starmie’s Recover.

Lt. Surge: The third gym is Electric focused, and while there aren’t any type advantages, Grass types are resistant to Electric, and you can let your Geodude/Graveler go to work.

Erika: It isn’t until the fourth gym, Grass type, that Bulbasaur’s genetic advantage wears off. By that point, you should either have a Kadabra to attack the Poison subtype, or a Fire/Flying type to take on Erika and her Vileplume.

Koga: Here, Bulbasaur doesn’t shine, nor does he fail. Being part Poison himself, none of Koga’s team can do much, but Poison is resistant to Grass attacks, so you need to bring out an alternative for super effective hits.

Sabrina: Probably the hardest leader, and the hardest trainer besides Lance and maybe Gary [expletive] Oak, Sabrina will destroy your Bulbasaur with one blast from Alakazam. In the early games, there was no counter to Psychic, not even Dragon. It’s brute force alone that will win the sixth badge in this case.

Blaine: Yes, he is a Fire type trainer, and yes Fire beats Grass every time, but Water types are so plentiful and powerful in Kanto, he shouldn’t be an issue.

Giovanni: Ground type focus. Basically the same strategy as Brock, just at a higher level and on a larger scale.


Pokemon League Breakdown

Lorelei: As an Ice type trainer, Bulbasaur is at a disadvantage. Most Ice types are dual-typed with Water, and Ice offers no innate resistance to Grass. Still, Lapras has a ton of HP, so it’s best to take them out with Pokemon other than your starter.

Bruno: Fighting type, with two Onix in his party. Be aware of one hit K.O. techniques from the Machop evolutions, but a few Psychic/Flying attacks and you’ll mop the floor with Bruno.

Agatha: No Ghost types in Kanto were not dual-typed with Poison, making Bulbasaur’s attacks difficult. Dream Eater is a tough attack, being Psychic. However, your own Ghost or Psychic type attacks will bring the Gengar horde down.

Lance: Dragon types are a bitch. Thankfully, in neither the original Blue and Red/Green or the reboots do any of Lance’s Pokemon have counter-type attacks. Grass won’t do much damage to his Dragons, but so long as your prepared for his attacks, and smart with your healing in battle, you should be able to beat him.

Gary/Blue: Balance is Gary’s unspoken motto, but so long as you play your counter types correctly, you’ll win. Use Bulbasaur for his Rhydon and Gyarados, and keep him in reserve for Exeggutor and possibly Pigeot. The Alakazam and Charizard should fall under another’s jurisdiction.


Water, water everywhere, even from the start

Choosing Squirtle as your starter is a solid decision. Water is useful against most types in the game, and has relatively few weaknesses. The Squirtle line possesses consistent, above average stats and remains dependable the whole game through. The Gyms become an issue earlier, however. The most pressing issue, however, is the volume of Water types available in the Kanto region, some with better stats or type advantages. Don’t be discouraged from taking a little turtle as your buddy, just know that he might be upstaged later on.


Gym Breakdown

Brock: Essentially the same as with Bulbasaur. If you Squirtle knows Water Gun, you’re golden.

Misty: This battle can be something of a grind, as neither your or Misty’s Pokemon can really hurt each other. A Pikachu or Bellsprout/Oddish would come in handy, and Wartortle learns Bite on evolution. It might take a while, but Misty shouldn’t be the real test.

Lt. Surge: The first real struggle for Squirtle is this third Gym. Electric is useless against ground, but if your Geodude isn’t up to snuff and goes down during the battle, expect for a rough fight. Surge’s Raichu is powerful, and can take out everything save Ground types in a couple shots. Be careful.

Erika: Grass is also your bane with Squirtle, and you’ll want to pick up a Vulpix or Growlithe for Erika’s fight. Don’t evolve them too fast, as they learn their best moves late. Your Pidgey/Spearow will be useful here as well, and I’d suggest using Squirtle as a delay tactic at best.

Koga: Without Bulbasaur’s immunity to poison, Koga’s attacks can be debilitating, but the ball’s in your court again. Psychic is your best bet, as is Ground, but Squirtle (now Blastoise) should be almost as effective in combat.

Sabrina: Against Squirtle, Psychic is no less powerful in principle, but without a super effective bonus, the attacks are easier to take. Use Squirtle’s physical attacks and, if playing on the newer games, Dark to take Sabrina down a notch.

Blaine: The Fire gym should be easy. Spam [Water attack name here] and win.

Giovanni: The same strategy as for Brock and Blaine applies to Giovanni.


Pokemon League Breakdown

Lorelei: Much like the fight with Misty, beating Lorelei is less a test of skill than it is patience. Electric types should speed things up, and if Blastoise has anything to take on the Ice half of her team, use that. Otherwise, grind it out.

Bruno: I might sound like a broken record at this point, but none of Bruno’s team has significant enough Special Defense to warrant anything else than Water attack spam. Psychic makes this fight a breeze too.

Agatha: Blastoise can tank most of Agatha’s attacks, and Psychic can destroy her Golbat and Arbok. The Gengars’ speed can be an issue, so take them out in a single shot.

Lance: Dragons resist water damage, so you’ll want attacks of another type. Squirtle’s evolutions learn a few, and whack them with a few Psychic attacks if things get dicey. If you taught Blastoise Ice Beam, I don’t know why you’re reading this guide. You know this sh*t.

Gary/Blue: The only real threats Gary/Blue has on hand are Exeggutor and Venosaur. Pigeot, Rhydon, Gyarados and Arcanine are all easy pickings for Blastoise, provided you’ve given him something to attack Flying Pokemon. if not, just whip out an Electric type and his super-Magikarp won’t give you any trouble. A Ninetails or Arcanine of your own will make short work of his Venosaur. Champion, here they come.


Fire burns, and that hurts

If you’re keeping score at home (which scares me), then you know the only starter left is Charmander. The thing about Fire types is their relative rarity in the wild. The first three generations of Pokemon only have a handful of worthwhile ones. This is even more apparent in Blue and Red/Green, where there are only six species of Fire Pokemon (not including evolutionary forms). While equal to Grass types in number, the quality of the Fire types is higher stat wise. Hell, there’s even a fire Legendary, if you’re into that sort of thing. So why pick Charmander? The simplest answer is don’t. He makes the first two gyms, a good six or seven hours of gameplay, painful. There are so many Water types in the game it’s not funny, and Charizard takes four times damage from Rock attacks.

Of course, if you like the challenge and are comfortable in your ability to take on the best, by all means take Charmander as your starter, you masochist.


Gym Breakdown

Brock: Even more than Misty’s fight, Brock will test whether you are really ready to use Charmander as your starter. The best advice I have is grind levels in Viridian Forest and in the grass south of Pewter City until you have a Charmeleon. Get a Butterfree too, since they’re not that slow and learn Confusion on evolution. It’ll probably die quickly, but that might give you the edge to win.

Misty: Charmander doesn’t have the best Special Defense, and Starmie is a powerhouse of Special Attack. Pikachu and Bellsprout/Oddish are essential unless you can get a lucky critical or you’ve taken your Charmeleon almost to the level-obey limit. You might have to challenge Misty a couple times before you win, but thankfully the Nugget Bridge and the surrounding environs are pretty good for grinding. Pick up an Abra while you’re there too.

Lt. Surge: Electric isn’t a problem unless you’ve got a Charizard, and if you do he probably isn’t listening to you much. Again, focus on Ground attacks here and you’ll do fine.

Erika: It’s taken forever, but now Charmander seems like a good choice. Where Erika was either an annoyance or a barrier before, now she’s prey for your fire-breathing lizard monster.

Koga: If you picked up that Abra and evolved him, Psychic wins the day again. Charmeleon/Charizard are still good choices too, and from here on, you can pretty much ride Fire towards the sunset. A couple bumps along the way, though.

Sabrina: Take advantage of Charizard’s powerful Attack stat to whittle away at Sabrina’s Psychic lightweights. Use Flamethrower for effect

Blaine: Like I mentioned, there are plenty of useful Water types in the Kanto region, the most common being Gyarados via Magikarp. So long as you have a Pokemon that knows Surf, and you do if you made it to Cinnibar, this gym is cake.

Giovanni: Technically a Ground type gym, most Ground types in Kanto are part Rock, making Fire a less than optimal attack plan. Still, by this point you should have a team of six that can take on all types, and if necessary use Charizard as another delay tactic. If he’s powerful enough, though, he can do the work regardless of type differences.


Pokemon League Breakdown

Lorelei: Like I’ve said, most Ice types are dual-Water, but they take normal damage from Fire attacks. If Charizard knows Rock Slide, use that. if not, this first battle will be a little hard, but not impossible.

Bruno: The two Onix are a minor annoyance, and beware of Machamp’s Rock Slide. Otherwise, kick Bruno in the tush like you’ve done every other time.

Agatha: Gengar doesn’t have very good special defense, so pound them with Fire and Psychic attacks. Rock can help with Golbat and Arbok is something of a placeholder. Make short work of Agatha.

Lance: Since none of Lance’s Pokemon have Electric or Water type attacks, Charizard alone is enough to take down most of his team. Aerodactyl is the only ringer, but a Water type of any sufficient level will make quick work of it, as would a strong Electric type. Ice would be best at a four times damage multiplier, but it’s a minor improvement.

Gary/Blue: Take out the Rhydon quickly, as while it’s Defenses aren’t great, one Horn Drill or Rock attack will end Charizard. Arcanine’s ExtremeSpeed is annoying, but a strong Water type is good here. Exeggutor should be a one hit faint, Pigeot a two or three hit K.O. Be sure to knock out Alakazam before it can put up Reflect. That might make finishing off Blastoise a little tougher. But just a little.


Next time we’ll be covering Gold and Silver’s starters. Spoiler alert, I like fire rodents.

12 replies to this post
  1. In fire red, leaf green or yellow you can get a Mankey by going down route 22. It makes Brock a lot easier.

  2. I feel like you can get good water and grass Pokemon throughout the game. However, can you really get a fire Pokemon as good as charzard? Ponytail, ninetails, and arcanine are just land mammals charzard eats as he dominates the lands from the sky.

  3. You note that fire types are pretty rare, and that’s why I always picked that one in every game I had. Sure, the early gyms were hard but in the long run, having a fire type was good to round out your party, let alone a good Charzard wasn’t too shabby either.

    • Charizard is a monster (intended), and I love that he can learn Fly. Plus, both Arcanine and Ninetails learn nothing after evolving. So the end reward of early challenge pays off.

      That said, unless you know what you’re getting into, it’s easier to go with Grass or Water, and Fire isn’t really necessary until later in the game.

  4. I started with a squirtle andi picked up a male nidoran which ended up being a nidoking when I got up to the third badge. Electric immunity + double kick = domination

    • I never went for the Nidoran group myself. Poison’s never really worked for me, but that might just be a personal bias.

      Surge’s Steel Magneton and weak Defense Raichu probably couldn’t handle. King’s giant feet. Good play there.

    • True. Rock throw will still do major damage. But if you’ve leveled your Charmander enough to evolve by the first gym, you know what you’re getting into.

      And it is Metal Claw. Iron Tail’s the other main move. Steel is a neat type.

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