As a kid, I’d always hated it when an NPC left the game world after finishing a certain task. It kind of felt like they’d gone on to some cool new corner of the world without me, and left me behind here in what could sometimes feel like a prison, what with all the invisible walls and boundaries around the place. There were few games back then that were bustling with characters to begin with either, likely as a result of a lack of hardware grunt, so when one left, the absence was usually pretty noticeable, and left the place feeling a little more lonely and less alive than before. One event in particular encapsulates this melancholy feeling quite well and that is the departure of the S.S. Anne.
When the player reaches Vermillion City, home to the S.S. Anne, they’ve seen quite a bit of Kanto already: Mt. Moon, a few cities, Viridian Forest, a museum – but nothing quite like the boat in the harbour, sitting there in all its 8-bit majesty. It might seem laughable now, but back in the day it genuinely was an exciting sight to see this diminutive little ship sitting in the bay. You could argue that the hyper-charged imagination of a child lent the absurdly tiny cruise ship an air of wonder and awe, but relative to everything else within the game the boat really is totally unique – a one of a kind encounter.
In order to progress to the next gym, you’re required to hop on board the boat and get the HM Cut off the captain. The boat’s interior is pretty sizeable, with plenty of guest rooms, a kitchen, an outdoor section on the bow of the ship, and the captain’s quarters, all spread across multiple floors. Naturally, almost everybody on board is a Pokémon trainer desperate to battle you, and reaching the captain on the top deck is no small feat, culminating in a battle with your dickish rival Blue’s team right outside the shipmaster’s quarters.
After kicking Blue’s ass up and down the corridor, you enter the final cabin to find the captain, who is suffering from seasickness, of all ailments. Interacting with him causes the player to spontaneously give him a back rub (without his consent or foreknowledge, I might add), curing him of his sickness and earning you the HM Cut. Nearby is a bin filled with the poor dude’s barf.
Getting off the ship causes it to sail away instantly, off on its tour of the world, never to be seen again, taking with it its distant, bittersweet music, its passengers and their cabins. I remember loading a save again and again, waiting on the boat a little longer each time to see if I could stay on it when it sailed off, or checking the port every now and then to see if it had returned from its year-long journey. Obviously, it never did, and because Pokémon only has a single save slot, when the ship left port you genuinely wouldn’t see it again, except maybe on a friend’s Gameboy, or on a whole new playthrough – which I’d never do, obviously, or else I’d lose my lvl. 70 Venusaur. Duh.
Its departure leaves the land of Kanto feeling a little less vibrant and a little more hollow than before. Bummer.