The Evolution of Johto’s Starters
The three Starter lines for Pokémon Gold and Silver changed greatly during development – two were completely different and then scrapped! We explore what we know about their development.
Pokémon Gold and Silver have recently had a second wave of leaks occur on beta or demo versions. This has taught us a great many things about the Pokémon themselves, including designs that had only made it partly through development before being scrapped. Admittedly, a lot about the early designs for the Starters – ultimately the Chikorita, Cyndaquil, and Totodile lines – were known from the first leak occurrence, from the demo showcased at Spaceworld 1997. But there’s still some interesting aspects to add to the pile now, and a good deal to review.
Here we’ll go through each of the Starter lines and show what could have been, starting with the least changed line – Grass.
Grass – the oddity in the middle
Chikorita and Meganium seemed fairly developed by Spaceworld 1997, and they did not get changed too much. There are minor changes between them – minor shading differences for Chikorita, while Meganium had a different flower around its neck from official art – only changed in sprites after Gold and Silver released.
But what happened with Bayleef? We have what can only be described as an alien form. There are antennae which Meganium does have, it has a flower, and the green colour used for the three matches, but otherwise we see something very unusual and not like the others. It certainly appears like it was intended to be the middle stage. It looks like a separate creature standing atop a flower, with a circle on its body. How this links to the other two stages with an obvious dinosaur motif to it beyond the antennae is hard to say at first glance.
These three Pokémon’s original names had a common trend – Happa (leaf), Hanamogura (flower + mole), and Hanaryuu (flower + dragon). These differ from their final Japanese names (Chikorita and Meganiumu – the literal Japanese spelling for Meganium). This rules out the chance that Hanamogura was not meant to link to the other two. The name of Hanamogura doesn’t appear to be based on the mole animal, but there’s another type of ‘mole’ – a spy. ‘Mogura’ has been used to describe spies, and that gives a big clue towards a possible explanation for its radically different appearance. Does this make Hanamogura a sort of parasite, or was Chikorita disguising itself before it transforms into a larger Meganium, flower incorporated into its neck, and forced to go metamorphosis as this alien-like creature between those steps? That’s a heck of a design choice there, and frankly a very interesting one.
For better or worse though, this was ditched. I feel this was the correct choice. After all, given the Starter lines have a higher amount of marketing, something that is as strange as that might not quite fill that role well. It suggests at a somewhat disorganised design process – the idea is neat but really trying to make it work like that was somewhat odd. A lot of other designs for Pokémon had been culled too, but it’s rare to see such a radically different form get redesigned, while the rest of the species is practically unchanged.
Interestingly, we can see the baby step towards the Bayleef we know in the .CBB files (essentially testing files for sprite artists to see how they appear before placing the sprite in a ROM). At some point, Bayleef was just ‘Chikorita with a bite taken from its head leaf’ – someone had thought that a good idea, but not yet come up with, or implemented, the rest.
Fire – there’s a bear in there
The Fire-type Starter line for Johto was quite different, although we’ll see some similarities between it and the final result. We had a bear theme here, with some fairly impressive hair going on. These three are Honooguma, Borubeaa, and Dainabea. The latter parts of the name derive from bear (kuma and bea), while the former comes from fire, volcano, and dynamite respectively.
These names somewhat transfer to the Cyndaquil line; there is Quilava, whose Japanese name of Magmarashi is a combination of magma with porcupine. Typhlosion combined blast (bakufu) with typhoon to give Bakphoon, and was classified along with Quilava as ‘Volcano Pokémon’. We also know Typhlosion was (in generation 4) granted the move literally called Eruption! Meanwhile, like the Cyndaquil line, these were also pure Fire types.
Sadly the fire bears were replaced, sometime between the betas found in 1998 and the Spaceworld 1999 demo, almost never to be seen again. Honooguma may not be entirely scrapped, however. There is evidence of it in a different line altogether! Prototype Teddiursa from the Spaceworld 1999 demo looks rather based on it, and different from the final form (more rounded, browner colour, and the crescent moon design added on.) Notice too that Teddiursa in Japanese is called Himeguma – certainly another similarity to add to the pile.
Adding to this, Honooguma also appears in one of the .CBB files for Teddiursa.
So when did Cyndaquil come into the picture? It showed up alongside Quilava and Typhlosion without any changes between then and release in the Spaceworld 1999 demo, bar an additional unused alternative sprite for Quilava. However, it was sighted before this demo, spikes and all. Well, a different sort of spikes…
By then (May 1998), Honooguma and friends were still present, but Cyndaquil was about as well, without sign of its evolutions yet. It only got the Japanese name of Hinoarashi, a possible combination of fire and porcupine (hi, yama-arashi), at a later date with its final design, so it may not have even been decided to be a Fire type at this stage (it had no states or moves either in this appearance). All we have is its sprite. One could argue the solid spikes, which somewhat resemble those of Alolan Sandslash, were a placeholder in its sprite, but this seems off to me personally given the body is pretty accurate, and this is out of place of other placeholder designs, like that found for Larvitar.
By 1999 Honooguma’s line was removed, and Cyndaquil’s was present as we know it to be now. It was an interesting transition, and one can only speculate when Quilava and Typhlosion had been designed, and when the decision came to swap them into the new Starter role. The .CBB file for Pokémon Gold confusingly include both versions of Cyndaquil, Honooguma’s sprite, and a pair of sprites for a different axed Pokémon altogether, Rinrin.
Water – flippers rather than scales
Totodile and its evolutions didn’t exist in any of the thus far unearthed files until the year of release. Instead, we had Karusu, Akua, and Akueria – ‘Cruz/Cruise’, Aqua, and Aquarius respectively. These were also pure Water types, with the final stage obtained by evolving at level 32.
There’s not much else to go on here, although they do look cute if a little plain. It doesn’t appear that any part of their design got absorbed by another Pokémon, and they remained in the files until 1999.
Totodile, Croconaw, and Feraligatr meanwhile only appeared in the final year to our knowledge. In Spaceworld 1999 and other files around then, all their sprites were found. That said, there is a little more to the story – there is a beta Totodile design floating around. In the .CBB files, the file for Feraligatr includes a different version of Akueria (its head is bent more)… and an early version of Totodile!
Here we see a similar pattern for the stomach to Feraligatr, as well as a different head pattern. Perhaps they altered it to make it more distinct, and also opted to highlight its jaw more.
There were slight modifications to the rest of the line as well. For these .CBB files for Pokémon Silver, the final sprite is in the top left corner in each case. With Totodile and Feraligatr’s files, the Spaceworld 1999 demo sprite is also given, while for Croconaw, we see the sprite used in Pokémon Gold, and a bonus alternative of that sprite below it.
Lastly, one final correction was made to Feraligatr between country versions. In Japan, it had an additional white portion on its underbelly, which was altered for Western countries.
That sums up what we know about the generation two Starters. What were your impressions of the beta Starters? Would you want to see them return in future titles, if at all possible?
Edited by Aldo, ddrox13, Jake, Me, and Sheep.