Most 12-year-olds in 1998 were playing Pokémon — but not until that fall, when the Game Boy games arrived in North America. Not true of “Wingleader,” a budding fan of the monster-collecting franchise, who discovered Pokémon Red and Blue through an emulator earlier that year. So much did he love the games that he wrote what he calls the earliest English-language guide for them on the internet, an archive of which he recently shared to Reddit.
“At the time, there were no guides for the game on GameFAQs, so I wrote one, based on my experience with an untranslated ROM of the Japanese version,” he wrote in a post to the Pokémon forum. “It was godawful, but it was the only guide on the site for a while before being taken down and replaced with way better guides.”
The Wayback Machine preserves Wingleader’s work, and it provides a much different view of the games that the rest of us grew up with in English. The basic details are all there, like fighting other trainers and collecting eight badges to become the very best. Others, however, sound more obscure.
His retelling of the game’s early plot is especially excellent in hindsight:
You begin in a house. Exit through the stairs. Find the welcome mat, then go out the door. Go up and go through the tall grass. Dr. Orchid will rescue you and take you to the lab. He will give you a choice of three pokemon [sic]. I highly suggest getting Liz. Rocky really sucks and Turtle is just okay. Dr. Orchid's grandson will pick Turtle, and you can whoop him with Liz. Go through the tall grass again, and if you run into a monster, fight him. See the man walking by the wall? He'll give you a free medic.
Presumably, “Dr. Orchid” is what the ROM called Professor Oak; Liz is Charmander, while Turtle is obviously Squirtle. As for Rocky, that seems to have somehow become the name of Bulbasaur, a creature we still can’t really define 20 years later.
Wingleader was just 12 back in June 1998, which accounts for some of the guide’s more peculiar turns of phrase (we like when he calls us readers “all of you unscrupulous people”), but he has a sense of humor about himself and his work today. What this old FAQ best serves as, however, is a reminder of how differently information is disseminated these days, which the author himself touches on in a follow-up post.
“This guide really was birthed from missing like 80 percent of the context of the game but wanting to be a part of its history,” he wrote. “I knew Pokémon was going to be something big even before it came out here, from reading about it on message boards, spending sooo much time downloading low-res scans of Japanese magazine pages, catching glimpses in the occasional on-the-ball English game mag. I literally thought to myself ‘I can't believe this game doesn't have any GameFAQs yet ... but hell, I'll just make one myself!’”
If you’re old enough to have memories of scouring the deepest parts of the web for morsels of information on your favorite games, this guide will resonate with you. If you were unlucky enough to happen upon it and learn some extremely incorrect Pokémon “tips,” well, sorry for the reminder.