Welcome to the first game in our self-appointed mission to save them all in Operation Last Bus Home (OLBH), the briefing for which you can read here

2004's Game Boy Advance games Pokémon Fire Red and Pokémon Leaf Green are an interesting pair of games in the series. Although in the series chronology they came out after Pokémon Ruby and Pokémon Sapphire, or to use the community taxonomy, the first mainline third generation pokémon games, I've decided to start OLBH here because there's much less to do in Fire Red, so I thought I'd give myself a bit of an easy start. Mark those words. 

Looking back at the series, I can understand complaints that those first three Pokémon generations were a little bit derivative. Pokemon Green, Red, Blue and Yellow were all slightly different versions of the same game set in the Kanto region which brought us the first 151 pocket monsters. Pokémon Gold, Silver and Crystal introduced 100 more pokemon to the world and the first half of those games was set in the Johto region, which *spoilers* was connected to the Kanto region which you had to traipse around again. Again. Albeit it with a time skip. Are you keeping a count of how many times we've been to Kanto? These games were compatible with Pokémon Stadium and Stadium 2 on the N64 which allowed you to battle in 3D, play your pokémon game on the big screen and had a whole bunch of fun minigames which you could use your in-game pokémon to play in. Then there's a sequence break in the series as the Game Boy, already long in the tooth by the time Gold and Silver came out was replaced with the Game Boy Advance. Unfortunately, for a range of reasons, this meant that there was no continuity between the Game Boy games and the Game Boy Advance games. In a genius/risky move, the makers of Pokémon made a new pair of games, Pokémon Sapphire, Ruby and the third game Pokémon Emerald set in the Hoenn region introducing 135 new pokémon and, here's the genius bit, engineering into those games future compatibility to be able to catch the first 251 again. That's where Fire Red, Leaf Green and Gamecube games Colosseum and XD come in. They were essentially vehicles to bring back the first 251 pokémon. If you're following this somewhat convoluted narrative, if you were playing Pokémon Sapphire in 2003 it would take you at least another two years and access to at least six games to, mythical pokémon aside, catch them all. Now That's What I Call DLC. 

Fire Red and Leaf Green were a little bit more than straight remakes of the first generation games taking us once again back to the Kanto region (for the third time in four games). In addition to being able to transfer the 'new' 235 pokémon into it, eventually (leading to this weird debacle for first generation pokémon that got second generation evolutions that were locked behind story progression) a new bunch of areas were added in the Sevii islands. A smattering of second generation pokémon were catchable and there were some new story elements, in particular featuring ice type specialist Elite Four Member Lorelei. Many pokémon games were vehicles for weird gimmicky one use hardware and Fire Red and Leaf Green's contribution was they came bundled with a wireless adapter allowing for cable free transfer between these games but bizarrely not Sapphire and Ruby which required a link cable or connectivity via the Gamecube games. There was also some really fun connectivity with some of the DS games taking advantage of the first generation Nintendo DS which had a DS cart and GBA cartridge slot. If you had Sapphire, Ruby, Fire Red or Leaf Green game in the GBA slot whilst playing pokémon Diamond, Pearl or Platinum you'd be able to find pokémon from those games in the wild. 

Anyway, enough of the history lesson, time to crack on with OLBH.

LOCATION: Kanto Region

SITREP: Pokedex: 384/386 (no Celebi or Deoxys). Playtime: 67 hours. Money: $500. Items: an amulet coin, sun stone, exp share, a lucky punch(?), five full restores and 6 ultra balls. In game team; a bare bones team of five pokemon including four HM slaves and a Marowak with false swipe for pokémon hunting, probably from the last time I swung through this game. 

OBJECTIVE 1: Five legendary pokémon catchable without special event distribution items. 

OBJECTIVE 2: A total of nine in game trades available. 

OBJECTIVE 3: A solitary hidden ribbon available, identical to the one that's more sensible to get in Sapphire for this run. 

So here's a problem I was fully anticipating. In my fervour to complete pokédexes and transfer pokémon up back in the day I'd completely strip mined Fire Red. All the useful items were (hopefully) transferred to Colosseum, Sapphire and XD and I'd blown through all the cash I'd had. This save file is in fact my second playthrough of Fire Red. I'd heavy heartedly restarted after transferring what I had out in order to get the third starter pokémon and at only 70 hours playtime I must have breezed through it again. 

A quick search under my Fire Red orginal trainer number in Pokémon HOME reveals that I'd already caught and transferred up Articuno, Zapdos, Moltres and Mewtwo saving myself some hassle in trying to cheese legendaries with low level pokémon and the handful of pokeballs I had in stock. Although it did leave the matter of the last legendary to catch, the legendary electric dog, Raikou. More on that below. 

It's probably worth explaining what in game trades are. Across the series there have been NPC characters which will ask you for a particular pokémon to trade with them. I guess it was added in to remind players that trading is a big part of the game and these pokémon will have a fixed nickname as well as an original trainer (OT) name and number. In the Game Boy games, in game trades were a way to get pokémon otherwise unavailable or hard to catch. In some games, as we will see, the trades are absolute bullshit, asking for extremely rare pokémon for something fairly common to find in the wild. Some games have a lottery system which checks the trainer identity numbers you have on your pokémon for a chance of a prize. Traded pokémon also receive boosted experience in battles and later games introduced unlocking pokedex entries in a range of languages, only achievable through trading with players with copies registed in other regions. 

Trading Places

Checking HOME, I'd already hoovered up some of the in-game trades Lickitung called MARC, a Jynx called Zynx and a Seel, imaginatively called SEELOR which left just six more to extract. A trainer called Reyley on route 2 was after an Abra for a Mr.Mime which was trivial to get as you can get an Abra by trading in Game Corner coins, one of the few in game resources I hadn't depleted on the last exodus. Next up was Nidoran(f) and Nidorina. If you don't know, the Nidoran line of pokémon are a weird line where male and female forms are distinct lines whereas later pokémon had quite different looking male and females but were treated as the same species. Nidoran(m) and Nidoran(f) aren't version exclusives in Fire Red and Green but one line is rarer than the other. I traded a Nidoran(m) for a Nidoran(f) called Ms.Nido with a trainer called Saige in the route 5 rest point and a Nidorino for a Nidorina called Nina with Turner on Route 11. You can't change the names of traded pokémon so that's what they'll be forever more. Another easy one was trading a very common and easily caught Spearow for walking ready meal, farfetch'd called CH'DING holding a stick for those critical hits. Finally there are a pair of trainers in the Cinnabar lab after some fairly easy to catch pokémon. First I traded a venonat for a Tangela called TANGENY holding a $$$$$ stardust adding some much needed funds to the bank. The last trade took the longest as an old man called Clifton wanted a Raichu for an Electrode. After a bit of bug swatting in Viridian Forest I caught a Pikachu, spent some of my stardust cash on a thunder stone at the Celadon Department Store and I am now proudly in possession of an Electrode called ESPHERE, which, to be honest is quite a good name for an Electrode. Better than Ms. Nido in any case. Now, a level 12-25 team of Mr.Mime, Tangela, Nidoran, Nidorina, Farfetch'd and an Electrode isn't quite the Avengers assembled but I'd have to drag this rag-tag crew through the entire rest of the series. I'm somewhat trepidatious that they'll be up to the task. But it's a team of six pokémon. There was just one more thing left to do...

About a Dog

Raikou. When I was compiling spreadsheets and cross referencing it with what I'd already moved up and stored on HOME, I was a little surprised I hadn't caught this legendary electric dog. At a certain point in Fire Red and Leaf Green you cause one of the three legendary dogs, the one that is super effective against your starter pokémon to roam about in the wild. In my case, this second save file I'd started with a Squirtle so it was Raikou running amok. Let me tell you now reader, the roaming pokemon mechanic, especially in these older games is pure BS. Basically, roaming pokemon as their, title suggests move about the world map and it's pure luck the first time you run into them. After that you can laboriously check their entry in the pokédex to see where they are but there's very little you can do to try to bump into them again. Fast travelling by flying makes them move. If you get into a battle, they move. If you go into a building they move and if you move from one route to another they move. Fortunately, in my previous playthrough of this game I'd already bumped into it, or possibly I'd transferred the Raikou from Pokémon Colosseum through, meaning I could easily check that it was still in this game and I hadn't caught it or otherwise traded it away but trying to engineer fighting it again is no small feat. If that didn't sound sucky enough when you do encounter the roaming dogs, they instantly run away and a bug in the game means that with Entei and my dog, Raikou, you can't take advantage of Pokémon abilities like arena trap which prevent the pokémon from getting away because if they do one of their four moves, roar, which ends the battle they glitch out and you can never catch them again without reverting to your last save file.  

Unlike other wild pokémon though their HP and status doesn't change in between encounters so it's *just* a case of lucking into them enough times, chipping bits of their life away and then throwing one ball at them per encounter until you finally catch them. You can tip the balance even more in your favour by using repel items and having a pokémon at level 48-49 in the lead of your party so in theory you'll only encounter the dog, IF you are magically on the same route together. The rub. Repels cost money. Repels diminish with every step you take. I don't have any money in this game. 

Cue a couple of hours of doing the following- flying to an area, opening the pokédex, choosing national pokédex, scrolling down to line 243, hitting A on the Raikou entry, hitting A again to see where it is on the map. If it isn't where you are. Repeat again. This whole process takes about 40 seconds each time and unlike future games, the game doesn't remember what you were looking at on the pokédex. So you have to select and scroll and check and cry. Select and scroll and check and cry. I'd almost prefer it if the whole thing was a blind process but after burning through the last of my stardust money on repels I was down to check and move. Check and move. 

After a while I thought I could anticipate Raikou's intentions. It would appear to be making circuits around certain areas of the map but by the time I'd laboriously moved counter-clockwise to encounter it, I do the check and it'd moved again. 

Three hours later, I'd seen it twice. Once I chanced it with an ultra ball and it instantly burst out.

The second time I managed a quick attack and took off an eighth of it's life. And by the way, I have to use quick attack because a) I don't want to risk KO'ing it and having to revert to a previous save because if you KO it, it's gone forever. b) Raikou is a really high speed pokémon and my low level skeleton crew can't otherwise out pace it. 

The sensible strategy of course is to spend a few hours grinding up my team to give me more options, earn some money to stock up on repels and just run the routes whilst watching TV. However, compared to the speed of which you can take a rough and ready pokémon from zero to hero with candy, vitamins and mints in Pokémon Shield, Pokemon Fire Red is a early 2000s JRPG. Levelling above 50 is an ordeal. 

I settle for a tactic of running in and out of the undeground path on Route 6 do a circuit of the long grass there then back in and out again. No checking. Doing it ten max repels at a time then grinding up some cash and doing it again. Whilst I'm doing this, my social media feed is full of people enjoying Pokémon Legends Arceus and I'm running in and out of a building in a 20 year old pokémon game. 

Far too late into the process I turn the sound off. I can now 'see' the door opening SFX and the first ten seconds of the tracks that play inside the underground hut and on the route. 

There are two picknickers and a bug hunter watching this entire thing. I wonder what they think of the girl who came and went and came and went.

Stupidly, I check how many Raikou I have in HOME already. I have six. Including a shiny one. Even if I caught this it wouldn't be in the top 15% of my Raikou. 

I start forgetting what I am doing, running down the repels unnecessarily or running around inside the underground tunnel hut instead of in the long grass. 

Every part of me wants to keep checking the pokédex. Why? What good would it do? I know the odds. Most times I'd check it it would just be disappointment. Back to inny outty. Inny, outty good. Inny. Outty.

What if my game is glitched? Is this the end of OLBH? 

I accidentally encounter a Pidgey running around in the grass without a repel up and knock it out levelling my Pidgeot up. It's speed is just higher than Raikou now.

Raikou. Ha. Does it exist? The legend.

I encounter it again and it takes every ounce of willpower not to chance an ultra ball. I could be free. What if I got lucky? I do chance a wing attack though and take it to yellow life. It, of course, runs away.

I encounter it twice again in quick succession. Does it respect me now? Know I'm on its trail? Is this the bond between hunter and hunted?


Okay, I can't believe I ever try to ball it before. What was I thinking? Naïve fool. After encountering Raikou a number more times, I mange to knock it down to pixel health thinking, nay, hoping this might significantly raise my chances of catching it, I was deluded. I was wrong. After more than twenty further encounters and as many unsuccessful ultra balls clattering to the ground, it was time to get serious. I wasn't going to cheese this. I had to show Raikou proper respect. It was time to tool up.

First thing I did, sick of living hand to mouth, was to earn some cash. Fortunately with an amulet coin and two pairs of trainers on One Island willing to be easily parted with their cash, I run up the $$$$$. Then, instead of trying to cheese it with my pre-existing ultra ball stocks, I pony up for repeat balls on Two Island. Far too late into this sidequest within a sidequest I spot that super repels are more cost efficient than max repels when it comes to $ per pokémon-repelling step so stock up on those too. Lastly, after seeking advice from a friend, I decide to go and catch a Dugtrio from diglett cave. Dugtrio has the ability arena trap which prevents pokémon from running away and with Dugtrio being a ground type, two of Raikou's four moves wouldn't do any damage. Hopefully this would give me more opportunities to try to lob a ball at Raikou per encounter, however, I had to remember not to save if it roared me out of the encounter thanks to the bug mentioned above which then removes it from the game forever. 

Tooled up, trained up and more determined than ever, I'm back on Route 6 running in and out of the underground tunnel. Every time I encounter it thanks to arena trap I now get a chance to throw multiple balls at it unless it knocks out Dugtrio (quick attack is Raikou's only move that can hit it) or does roar in which case I revert back to a previous save file. 

My confidence is quickly knocked as pixel health-Raikou takes multiple repeat balls to the face and the ball doesn't even rattle once before it busts out. Eventually roars. Reset.

Again. Repel, ball, ball, ball, roar. Reset.

Again. Repel, ball, roar, reset.

Again. Repel, ball, ball, ball, roar, reset. 

This now becomes my idle activity. Raikou hunting for a few minutes at breakfast. Raikou hunting in front of the TV. Raikou hunting in bed. Raikou hunting at breakfast.

At a playtime of 73 hours in, 6 hours after I arrived back in Fire Red to begin this quest the repeat ball shakes once. Shakes twice. Shakes three times. No pop. I've caught Raikou. Elation. Here's the moment captured on my phone. 

The game prompts me to give it a nickname and given the ordeal, given how this electric legend has reminded me of what the hunt used to be. Given how I'll never have to stereotype Route 6 ever again or, in fact, ever come back to Pokémon Fire Red (famous last words, reader) I figure, this Raikou deserves a nickname. I call it Corrs after the debut single of the Irish family band, Runaway, given this pokémon's predilection for running away. It's a lame nickname that I instantly regret but I save. I make sure the rag-tag team is ready for transfer and that's Pokémon Fire Red over and done with. 

Next time on OPERATION LAST BUS HOME, we have a date with a volcano in the Orre region in Pokémon Colosseum and Pokémon XD: Gale of Darkness


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