Time for another super fresh take on a game that’s nearly 20 years old! Let’s take a look at Generation II of Pokemon!
Pokemon Gold / Silver / Crystal (Game Boy Color [reviewed], 3DS)
Released Dec 2000 | Developed: Game Freak | Published: Nintendo
Genre: JRPG | HLTB: 30 hours
Like Red / Blue / Yellow before it, Gold / Silver / Crystal is relatively light on plot. As was quickly becoming a standard for Pokemon games, it boils briefly down to “catch all the Pokemon, beat all the Gyms”, and there’s obviously a team of mean-spirited baddies to beat as well. What helps make Gold / Silver / Crystal a great sequel are the little ways it expands on it and crafts a unique world-feel that sets it apart from its predecessor, as well as tying the games together in clear, defined ways. For example, we’re told through incidental NPC speech that this game is set 3 years after Red / Blue / Yellow, and Team Rocket has started to re-establish a presence again after disbanding previously. Additionally, names and faces familiar to experienced players show up, but it’s done with a light touch so as not to alienate any new players. It all helps to make it perfectly easy to jump in at this game – given the improvements, this is probably the earliest Pokemon game I would recommend to people in fact.
A new generation brought with it a whole slew of brand new monsters, as well as the rise of the dreaded Genwunner, those poor people who decry new releases for nothing having monsters on the level of Grimer (a pile of sludge), Exeggcute (eggs) or Voltorb (literally just a ball). Personally, I’m a big fan of the new Pokemon, though it is unfortunate that you only encounter a scant few per area, mixed in alongside returning monsters. Still, a mix of old and new Pokemon probably made sense, so as not to alienate returning fans.
Visually, Gold / Silver / Crystal is clearly based on same basic tileset as Red / Blue / Yellow but with vast improvements. In addition to being presented in full colour thanks to the more powerful hardware of the Game Boy Colour, which makes the game looks gorgeous and lively, there are also a few new additional tile designs to help make Johto look more varied and realistic than Kanto. I love the old shrines that pop up in Violet and Ecruteak City, which really help sell the impression that Johto is a more traditional part of the Pokemon world, with some villages still clearly stuck in the past.
Additionally, the in-battle sprites and animations are hugely improved; no longer are there monsters which look like garbled messes as you send them out from the glitch dimension, but instead your team now actually looks like the artwork. Crystal even adds in cute little animations as Pokemon are sent out against you, which is charming.
The soundtrack is once again bloody awesome. As it’s a Game Boy soundtrack whether or not you enjoy it does naturally depend on your tolerance for chiptunes, but speaking as a great lover of old-school bleepy bloops, I find it fantastic. Right from that upbeat Title Theme, Masuda’s melodies set out exactly what we’re in for. Pokemon games have always had a knack for crafting a perfect accompanying atmosphere for adventure, and in that respect Gold / Silver / Crystal does not disappoint.
It might only be short, but I love the bouncy bass and drums of Mom’s Theme, and the expanded version in the revamped Come Along pushes all the right buttons for me – the staccato piano hits that punctuate the rhythm behind the melody is so tightly done! Similarly, the high-octane Game Corner theme is just excitement distilled into a tune. The absolutely filthy bass in Dark Cave is up there as among my favourite pieces of Pokemon music ever. The rest of the song is great, with the tinny leads all but echoing, lost along against the powerful bassline, but it is that low-end that seals the song for me. Gold / Silver / Crystal also has one of the best Gym Leader battle themes as it manages to be both triumphant, yet nerve-wracking. It also has what might be the single best Champion battle theme in the series.
In keeping with the older feel of certain places in Johto, some of the music reflects it. Sprout Tower, for example, recalls traditional Japanese modal music in order to help define that sense of a town lost in timeless, ancient traditions. Ecruteak City manages to create that same feel of an aged place, but in a slightly different way, through the use of a mild, laidback rhythm in which a tinkling bell melody complements the lead bass parts beautifully, leaving a huge space between the instruments for the listener to sink into.
Gold / Silver / Crystal is all about big changes. It introduced two new types – Steel and Dark. These change up the elemental typing dynamics significantly. Some moves have changed types, and some new moves belong to these new types; additionally, some previously known Pokemon also have their types changed, such as Magnemite gaining the Steel type. On top of it all, some old Pokemon have gained new evolutions, giving them new reason to be used. It’s hard to overstate how huge this was as a change; suddenly every previous type now has two more to interact with.
These games also saw the introduction of the breeding mechanic to Pokemon. It’s remarkably in-depth; two Pokemon can be left with an old couple who will sometimes report back about an egg showing up. Carrying this around in your party will eventually result in it hatching. These newborn Pokemon can inherit moves from their parents, and certain species have pre-evolutions that can only be found by hatching eggs.
Yellow had a way of tracking how friendly the game’s signature Pikachu was towards you, but that was merely a proof of concept for the system on display here. Every Pokemon now has a hidden friendship value that is augmented by how long they spend in your party, whether they get dumped in storage often, how often they faint in battle, and how much you heal them, among other things. Some Pokemon species even have special evolutions dependent on how friendly they are, including Eevee who in addition to the 3 previous potential final forms it has, can now evolve into 2 new ones.
And that’s not all! Gold / Silver / Crystal also introduces a real-time day / night cycle – not only can it affect certain evolutions which only occur at specific times of the day, but it also changes what Pokemon appear. For example, in the opening area Pidgey can attack during the day but the new owl-themed Pokemon Hoothoot crops up in the evening. On top of that, the game tracks the days of the week, with some in-game events only happening on set days; the National Park’s Bug Catching Contest only happens on Tuesdays and Saturdays for example. This does bring some problems with it – the game cartridge’s battery can run out and ruin your save, meaning the best way to play it these days is probably the 3DS Virtual Console release.
Gold / Silver / Crystal also saw the introduction of a tonne of post-game content. Red / Blue / Yellow had one dungeon available only after defeating the Elite Four, but these games add in so much more after the end credits roll for the first time. Despite being nearly two decades old at this point, I’m still loathe to spoil exactly what that content was – I can remember at the time the sheer shock and disbelief at it when I first saw it, and perhaps someone somewhere might still find it worth preserving that. Suffice it to say it’s substantial, particularly given the fact that this is a Game Boy Colour game, and between it and the glut of work needed to catch all the new Pokemon, it should keep players going for a good long while.
Allow me to leave you with a bit of reminiscing, that it might explain why I continue to love this game. Like Red before it and like Ruby after, Gold occupied a special place in my childhood. I carry with me such vivid memories of it, and none more cosy than those nights spent curled beneath bed covers, playing by the light of a lamp that was swiftly flicked off as I heard approaching parental footsteps by the door lest they find me up so late. When I struggle with life it is these memories into which I can retreat just by firing up a new playthrough, and let myself forget the world for a short while longer.
7/7 – TOP TIER. As close to perfect as it gets, a game that surpasses any faults it might have and comes with the highest of recommendations. A must-play.