This is a series of features that focuses on games that we keep playing again and again, either over an unhealthy number of hours or those that keep getting return visits long after they first graced our systems. In this entry Arjun talks about his favourite Pokémon games.
There's no doubt that the Pokémon brand has had a monumental impact in the world of video-games, touching thousands, if not millions of kids and adults across the globe with its revolutionary (you're going to hear that word a lot) gameplay. Talk about the understatement of the year. The emergence of Pokémon within the industry - in the form of Pokémon Red, Green, Blue, and Yellow (RGBY) for the Game Boy - was something video game fanatics hadn't seen before. Being able to catch, raise, train, and battle over 100 monsters was something unheard of, and the game and its franchise soon became one of the most popular entities of the 90s. However, as perfect as many "genwunners" (a term we're using for those who only appreciate the first generation of video games and tend to bash the sequel titles and monsters in the franchise) claim these opening entries to be, I personally believe that the games only got better - specifically in Generation II in the form of Pokémon Gold, Silver, and Crystal (GSC).
The immediately obvious
As the sub-header says, I believe that the second-generation Pokémon games are the most revolutionary and introduced the first of many things to the series. To begin with, it was the first time we saw new Pokémon - a hundred of them to be exact - and the hype and speculation surrounding these new monsters was something I'll personally never forget. It was at a perfect time where the internet was a scarce wasteland, and all we could really rely on were magazine leaks, fan-made theories and, most of all, hoaxes. There were hardly any spoilers, and it was awesome. I remember owning an unofficial Pokémon magazine containing Japanese names for the new Pokémon, and already deciding on my starter. In case you're wondering, it was "Waninoko" - or should I say Totodile! Sticking with the subject at hand, the amount of monsters to catch and train (251) is high enough to keep you entertained, even if you're used to seeing a whopping 700+ of them in today's X and Y instalments. Let's not forget the new moves these games brought to the series, thickening the catalogue of Pokémon attacks as well as heightening the depth to battle strategies.
Moving on, this set of games marked the first time we saw our favourite critters in colour via the Game Boy Color - something that definitely made the game come to life. It's still beautiful to feast my eyes upon, for towns and cities aren't just painted one fluorescent colour like the previous games, and the Pokémon attacks' visual buffs really enhances the impact of moves dealt and received. Who remembers seeing a Hyper Beam or a Confuse Ray for the first time? Boy, was that the HD I was looking for back then, and even now some of the moves are graphically impressive and effective! To this day, the brightly-coloured retro look and feel holds well compared to most 3D games of the era. Upon revisiting the latter, these games don't look nearly as great as I remembered them to be, whereas there are video game developers today who purposely adopt retro art-styles identical to Pokémon GSC's for an aesthetic appeal.
Pokémon Crystal (the third instalment to the initial Gold and Silver games) went a step further and brought both the option to play as a female for the first time, as well as animated sprites to the series. I can remember receiving Pokémon Crystal for my birthday and getting super excited to find an excuse to replay a game of Gold and Silver's calibre again. Upon starting the game and receiving my Cyndaquil, my jaw dropped as I saw its flames flare on and off. Pokémon Crystal adds even more life to an already vibrant game with this feature, making the encounters of every Pokémon for the first time incredibly fun. I'm sure I'd experience the same joy if I were to pick up these games today.
Aesthetics aside, it's easy to forget that these were the first Pokémon games to introduce new types, that being Dark and Steel. Only until the most recent generation has this happened again (Generation VI's Fairy Type), and it was definitely exciting to explore what these types were strong and weak against, as well as what current and new Pokémon took on these new types. I vividly remember trying to Slash a Steelix with my Feraligatr, only to be dumbfounded as to why it read "It's not very effective...". This sense of discovery is another factor of what made these games so great, as it took the formula that players grew to learn from the previous set of games, shook them up a bit, and then delivered them back to the player via an unexpected Double Slap to their Pokémon's face. The formula was great then, and still is now.
Another important factor that significantly improved the experience for a Poké-fanatic such as myself were the game's core mechanics. As you're probably aware, Generation I has its flaws. These include certain moves not working as they should do (we're looking at you, Focus Energy), Ghost-type Pokémon being practically useless, and having the Special Attack and Special Defence stat equate to one stat called Special (making Psychic-type Pokémon gods of the game). The Generation II games fixes a lot of these issues, making the game a lot more stable and balanced, and actually gives the player a decent choice of selecting Pokémon for their squad of six. In fact, I believe this is one of the top reasons as to why Pokémon GSC has much more replay value than Pokémon RGBY. RGBY provides the core framework and hits the nostalgia chords, yes, but GSC improves on this framework, plucks the nostalgia chords even harder, and then some. We still want to play a game that makes sense and not so glitch-heavy!
Pokémon Gold, Silver, and Crystal also introduced a number of revolutionary concepts. To begin with, the Pokégear that you obtain during the early stages of the game is a mechanical device that would then become a staple in the forms of similar devices in future Pokémon games to come. It contains a map (meh), a phone (what?!), a radio (come again?), and the time (no way!). Yes, a game as old as this has an in-built clock that you can set at the beginning of the game. Different Pokémon and events could emerge on different days and at different times, keeping the player engaged 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I can fondly remember turning down an after-school event one Friday, just to come home and catch a Lapras as the Pokémon can only be seen in the Union Cave area on this day. If I missed my chance, I'd have had to wait until the next Friday - and there's only one per week! Let me ask you, did you ever play a game in the 90s/early 2000s that ruled/determined your week due to in-game clock-based events? Yes, admittedly I was a young boy and my responsibilities were somewhat of a stark contrast to what they are today, but still, that mechanic kept my Pokémon Silver cart warm for a very, very long time. Mechanics such as these are what keeps the video games of yesteryear timeless, while heightening their replay value all the same.
The mobile phone is also a cool quirk, as it allows you talk to other characters and learn information from them, such as when and where rare Pokémon appear. Trainers you meet and exchange numbers with can also call you to request a rematch, where they will be stronger compared to the initial battle you had with them. This is great for training up newly-caught Pokémon that you want to add to your party. Before you say it, yes; those familiar with Pokémon GSC will know that you do indeed receive extremely pointless calls too, such as Youngster Joey informing you of how him and his one Rattata are doing every minute of the day. Sigh.
Breeding, genders, held items, and shiny Pokémon are further revolutionary concepts introduced to Pokémon via GSC, and have become staples in the entire series since. However, I believe the concepts of breeding and shinies are implemented to near-perfection in these games particularly, as they can be enjoyed by both casual and veteran players. These mechanics are enough to add to the games' depth, without overwhelming players and driving them away from exploring how these mechanics work altogether. Don't get me wrong - I'm not a casual Pokémon player and I fully comprehend and appreciate the complex methods of breeding Pokémon and hunting for shinies, however I still find these mechanics in the latest games to be a little overboard and time-consuming. For me, it's all about balance and enjoyment, which I think Pokémon GSC executes to a fine degree.
Personally, this is one of the key unique selling points for Pokémon GSC. The Johto region is often considered amongst many as the region of tradition and exploration with an eastern vibe. In my eyes, that alone sets these games apart from all other Pokémon games, for it constantly reminds you about the beauty of natural environments and does not simply rely on concrete jungles and/or futuristic elements to populate areas. On the topic of tradition, you're informed throughout your journey about legendary tales regarding certain areas and Pokémon, which motivates you to play on and discover for yourself. It makes the world feel real, historic and full of mystery - not so congested, polluted, and overly-urbanised. Sure, Kalos' vast towns and cities are nice and vibrant in Pokemon X and Y - bursting with NPCs to interact with - but to me it just feels all too crowded. While I'm not against it, I'd rather not see familiar landmarks within Pokémon games such as Lumiose City's Gym taking form of the Eiffel Tower. I can't really put my finger on it, but I guess I just like to explore unfamiliar territories and lands of the unknown. Gold, Silver, and Crystal does this well, and really sets the tone for an adventure consisting of nothing but yourself, your Pokémon, and a vast land of discovery. Personally, that's the Pokémon I grew up to know and love.
Revisiting the subject of story and mystery, Pokémon GSC's story of the three legendary beasts (Raikou, Entei, and Suicune) is an excellent addition to the games. Once you come face to face with all three for the first time, it is then up to you to find and catch each one as an extra challenge. Believe me, this is a cruel and difficult task, yet a highly addictive one that I'd still enjoy undertaking once again. The process of opening and closing your map over and over again to track down the beasts, encountering them, and then trying to put them to sleep before they flee, is an intense one. Even if you get to perform your move before each of the beasts' lightning-quick speeds AND put them to sleep successfully, catching them is a nightmare. You'll either run out of Poké Balls, Great Balls, or Ultra Balls, KO them accidentally, or they'll wake up only to flee. Nevertheless, it is an extra awesome bit of content to the games that still proves to be one - or should I say three - tough challenges even to today's difficulty standards. In addition, Pokémon Crystal's Suicune side-story is another captivating and memorable piece of content, as witnessing the beast roam the land of Johto on several occassions is an exciting watch - even if it does look like a blue and pixelated mess flying across the screen. Again, it just adds to the games' overall sense of legendary mystery.
Accompanied by your adventure is some of the best on-route music you'll ever hear while playing Pokémon, in my opinion. The music in these games also helps set the tone described above. Have a YouTube of Route 42 (the HeartGold/SoulSilver remake is also great) and tell me you don't hear anything but pure adventure. At least that's what I think anyway! For a momentary split-second from time to time, I truly felt immersed in the game as if it was just my Pokémon and I, travelling through the world of Johto together against the challenges that lay ahead. That's what a large proportion of the soundtrack of these games makes me feel.
Here's one for you "genwunners". Pokémon GSC allows you to revisit the world of Kanto (the region from Pokémon Red, Green, Blue, and Yellow)! Sure, some may argue that this rendition of Kanto is somewhat sparse compared to its RGBY counterparts, but you can still collect all eight gym badges from there too - making a total of 16 gym badges to collect. You can even face Red (the protagonist of the original Pokémon games) as a final challenge, but I won't say anything more for those who haven't experienced this truly epic encounter. The soundtrack for this region is also reworked, and the areas are familiar yet dissimilar to the games' predecessors, allowing veteran players to experience a feeling of nostalgia and exploration all at the same time. What other Pokémon game has ever let you explore a previous region? It's certainly an ingenious method of extending the adventure without overwhelming fans of the series, at least in my opinion.
For me, the fact that these near-perfect Pokémon games does not have any online functionality adds to how special these games are. You're probably shaking your head right now, but hear me out! With the last three generations of Pokémon game entries, I always felt somewhat 'rushed' to get through the adventure so I could jump online. It's probably just me, but knowing that there's a world of veteran players out there to compete against and trade with, discretely dictated the choices I made throughout my adventures - which I wish I could shake off! Why would I want to waste time to raise a Pokémon that I'm fond of but sucks statistically - and will therefore not be a favourable choice in competitive play - when I could essentially kill two birds with one stone and raise a Pokémon with high stats and 'genetics' for use in my adventure as well as the meta-game? Why would I want to find a Pokémon the hard way when I could simply trade with somebody online to speed-up the process?
There was no fun in having to choose a Pokémon just because it was superior, or have the work done for you by somebody else - and for me that was all because of the temptations of online services. It's probably a stupid mental setback of mine, but for me, the lack of an online mode in a Pokémon game enhances the overall experience and adds a certain magic to the game. The feeling of finding and catching Pokémon yourself, trading with people in person, as well as being able to focus on nothing but the adventure (and being successful with your favourites) is something I miss. In summary, these games would have been very different had they had any online functionality, which is probably the reason why I didn't enjoy the remakes (Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilver) as much as I thought I would.
In terms of the actual game's meta-game though, admittedly there isn't much in Pokémon Gold and Silver apart from completing your Pokédex. However, Pokémon Crystal introduced the Battle Tower, consisting of areas set up specifically for Pokémon battles under special rules. Prizes can be won by winning seven battles in a row, which are by no means easy feats due to rival trainers possessing both random and tough Pokémon. The Battle Tower has since become a permanent fixture in Pokémon games, adding to the list of features that Pokémon GSC brought to the series.
Overall, Pokémon Gold, Silver, and Crystal are games that will forever stay dear to my heart due to the amount of revolutionary concepts they threw at me as a child. These are the set of games that introduced an array of staple features in the Pokémon universe that we still see to this day, and this coupled with a compelling storyline, soundtrack, and lengthy adventure makes them some of my favourite games of all time. To top it all off, the inclusion of the Kanto region really makes this set of games a unique experience. I'd happily find an excuse to find the time to revisit these classics again - Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilver was that excuse in 2010 but I felt that it just lacked a certain magic that the originals have. Whether you're a Pokémon fan who hasn't played these games, or someone who wants to get into the Pokémon universe but doesn't know where to start, I whole-heartedly believe that Pokémon Gold, Silver, and Crystal really sets the bar for a complete Pokémon experience - they truly fire on all cylinders.
Did you enjoy the second-generation Pokémon games? What were your favourite set of Pokémon games? Sound-off below!