Akin to Pokémon Yellow's existence to Pokémon Red and Blue, Pokémon Crystal is the next critter-catching adventure to round-off a generation of main series, handheld Pokémon games – that being Pokémon Gold and Silver. But what could Crystal do to top what Yellow did so magnificently to stand out from a preceding duo of titles? Well, thanks to it following suit to its predecessors, Pokémon Crystal is now available to both explore and rediscover on Nintendo 3DS family of systems via the Virtual Console. Before we get started, those unfamiliar with what Gold and Silver brought to the table initially can read our review of them here, as naturally, this review will focus on how Crystal evolved its current generation of Pokémon games that much further.
Right off the bat, Crystal presents those familiar with Gold and Silver with a variety of new tweaks and features. For starters, you can choose whether they wish to be a male or female Pokémon Trainer for your journey – a first for the franchise back then. Also, every time you enter a town, city, or area of significance, a wooden board is presented at the bottom of the screen containing its name. It’s nothing to scream and shout about, but certainly an appreciated tweak from a UI standpoint compared to the title’s prequels. It’s easy to get lost in the large world that this generation of games has to offer.
Additionally – and arguably one of the best things Crystal has going for it – each Pokémon sprite possesses its own animation when encountered. This alone really makes filling up the Pokédex worthwhile, for witnessing the detail and character the developers have poured into each monster’s animation is a joyous payoff. Many Pokémon overworld sprites have been updated too, instead of the typical generic pixelated entity that categorises each Pokémon in groups (for example bipedal, bird, and fish). Retrospectively, features such as these may not seem so impressive due to what we’re used to now with modern Pokémon outings, but for an 8-bit adventure, these were certainly welcome additions to the respective era and still hold well today on Nintendo's latest family of handheld systems.
As for the game’s poster boy, Legendary Pokémon Suicune is the main star of the show with its own unique story. No, it doesn’t follow you around in the way that Pikachu does in Pokémon Yellow, but actually quite the opposite – you follow it (or accidentally finds it) throughout your adventure in various locations. Without getting into spoiler territory, once the three Legendary beasts have been encountered for the first time, Suicune doesn’t play ball with its four-legged brethren, Entei and Raikou, in roaming the world of Johto – a stark difference to Gold and Silver.
Instead, it takes its own path, and along the events of this story, you will meet with newcomer Eusine – an enthusiastic researcher and expert in the field of the Legendary beasts – who claims to have been chasing Suicune for 10 years. The story is an excellent contribution to what Pokémon Gold, Silver, and Crystal do so well; creating awe and wonder about the world of Pokémon and around the intriguing creatures that inhabit said world. Speaking of story, the Ruins Of Alph – a mysterious area that concerns itself with the Pokémon known as Unown – has a new subplot to that of Gold and Silver, enabling you to find out more about the alphabetically-shaped Pokémon's background. The area also contains more puzzles than it did in Gold and Silver.
Pokémon Crystal also contains a few neat changes that may go unnoticed, for example certain Legendary Pokémon only becoming available after specific criteria are met, more than one of each Elemental Stone being obtainable, updated Pokémon movesets via breeding and levelling up, new in-game trades, and Trainers who call your phone after battling now have distinct personalities. More notably, however, are the debuts of the Move Tutor and the Battle Tower – both of which have become staples of modern Pokémon games. The former is an invaluable asset when it comes to team building, and the latter is an excellent intra and postgame challenge.
When it comes to major platform differences, Pokémon Crystal benefits in the same way its Red, Blue, Yellow, Gold, and Silver 3DS Virtual Console counterparts do, with access to wireless communication features that allow for trading and battling, as well as compatibility with Pokémon Bank. You can also trade certain Pokémon between Generations I and II using the game’s Time Capsule function, available at Pokémon Centers. Moving on, those familiar with Gold, Silver, and Crystal will know that Mythical Pokémon Celebi (Generation II’s answer to Generation I’s Mew) was next to impossible to add to your Pokédex, for back then it could only be obtained using a special accessory or at a special event nowhere near your home. Thankfully, this re-release grants you the opportunity to catch your very own Celebi in an event after completing the main quest.
All in all, Pokémon Crystal is the perfect swan song to what many fans consider the best generation of Pokémon games. Nostalgia hat aside, the 3DS Virtual Console re-release is the perfect opportunity to both those who have yet to experience its timeless, era-defining magic, and those who are looking for an excuse to replay arguably one of the best Pokémon entries in the series’ illustrious history. With a plethora of welcomed new features, more things to do, improved graphics and UI, a slight notch in the challenge department, and the implementation of the 3DS' new capabilities that generally make Pokémon games that much more accessible and enjoyable, Pokémon Crystal takes what Pokémon Gold and Silver did so marvellously and proves that Johto is worth exploring once more – and Kanto for the umpteenth time for that matter! It truly proves that nostalgia is far from the sole factor that makes this game so great to pick up again on the Nintendo 3DS family of systems.