(Pokespective Part 1 can be found here)
For the longest time, I considered the second generation games my favorite. While this opinion has shifted considerably over the about 15 years since Pokemon Gold and Silver’s 2000 release, it still shows a marked improvement from the first generation games.
The followup to Pokemon Red and Blue had a momentous task ahead of it. Red and Blue made Pokemon a hit and Yellow only fed the monster that was the media empire of Pokemon. How were Nintendo and Game Freak going to do it? How were they going to make a sequel to Pokemon that adds to the series and makes us want to catch them all again?
Pokemon games all follow a basic premise. You, a rookie trainer, have been given a Pokemon and you’ve set out to become the greatest trainer in the region and along the way, you fight off a criminal organization hell bent on doing something in this region.
In many ways, Gold and Silver are retreads of Red and Blue, but less out of being lazy and more for the sake of venerating Red’s journey through the Kanto region. To this day, this game is part of the reason Gen I’s protagonist is seen by fans as the ultimate champion and one of the greatest trainers ever. This is an entire game dedicated to talking about how awesome the last game was. And it works.
Set three years after Red and Blue in Johto, the region just to the west of Gen I’s Kanto, the game opens with local scientist Professor Elm loaning you a Pokemon (choices are Cyndaquil, a fire type, Chikorita, a grass type and Totodile, a water type) and sending you on an errand to retrieve a Pokemon egg from his acquaintance.
From there, you run into Professor Oak, who gives you a Pokedex and you find out that someone has stolen one of the Pokemon that you didn’t choose (naturally the one strong against your choice). At this point, the plot moves into the expected Pokemon plot. You travel around Johto, collect badges and fight Team Rocket again.
Why this works is the respect for continuity it shows. The story is less a retread of the first game and more about exploring the aftermath of the first game. Yes, Gold travels his home region to fight the gym leaders, but that’s because that’s the path that all trainers trying to conquer the Pokemon League take. Yes, Gold fights Team Rocket, but they’re clearly not at full strength and trying to rebuild after Red defeated them three years prior.
There are, basically, three storylines going on in Gold and Silver. The first is the aforementioned quest for the eight badges to the Pokemon League. Here, the main antagonist is Silver, who stole one of the starter Pokemon.
Silver acts as the primary antagonist for the game. He’s your rival and is the only recurring enemy that you face through your entire adventure. His plot is largely the same as Blue’s was in the last game. He’s a jerk who only cares about strength, but spends the vast majority of the game trying to figure out why a “weakling” like Gold is able to constantly win against him.
The second storyline has two aspects to it, the fight against Team Rocket and seeing the aftermath of Red’s journey.
The reason I count those things together is that the game makes it clear that Team Rocket is not at full strength, having only recently reformed after Red defeated Giovanni three years prior. As such, Team Rocket’s entire motivation is that they want to prove themselves to Giovanni so he’ll return from wherever he drifted off to and lead them once more.
Throughout the adventure, every where you go, Gold hears about and is compared to Red. It makes it very clear that Red defeated Team Rocket. It talks about how Red was a prodigal trainer that took the Indigo League by storm. The game treats Red as, not just the great trainer he was in Gen I, but the greatest trainer.
In lesser hands, this kind of writing would be detrimental and just make the player wonder, if Red is so great, why aren’t they playing the last game. Here, however, it works because they still remembered to give Gold his own successes that put him on the same level as Red.
The biggest way Game Freak managed this is by integrating the new Legendary Pokemon into the story. Later games would make this the A plot, but here its much more low key and a side story to the other plots. In fact, there are only a few moments where the Legendary Pokemon play any role.
The first is when Gold first arrives at Ecruteak City, the player has the option to visit one of the Johto region’s major landmarks, the Burnt Tower, which had been burned down long before the game started. When the player makes it into the basement of the remnants of the tower, there are three beast statues. These awaken into the Legendary Beasts, Entei, Raikou and Suicune. They then run outside of the tower and can be encountered at random in the wild for the remainder of the game until they’re caught.
To this day, the only one of the beasts I’ve caught encountering them in the wild was Raikou… and even then, it wasn’t until I was playing Heartgold in 2011, hatching a Cyndaquil for a friend.
The other set of Legendary Pokemon are actually on the covers of Gold and Silver. They’re Ho-Oh and Lugia, respectively. Still one of my favorite sets of Legendary Pokemon… though that might be nostalgia talking.
Ho-Oh or Lugia, depending on whether you’re playing Gold or Silver, is the subject of the third plotline in Gen II. The mythology of the Johto region is explored as you adventure through it. Much is made of the Burnt Tower (originally called the Brass Tower) and it’s sister building, the Tin Tower, and how they were the homes of these two Legendary Pokemon. After the Brass Tower burnt to the ground, they vanished.
At some point in the game, Gold will be given a feather from each bird. He’ll get one of them early on (Rainbow Wing in Gold, Silver Wing in Silver), at about the halfway point of the game, while the opposite Wing is given to him near the end. These feathers are used to summon their respective bird.
Now, in fairness, the Legendary Pokemon have about the same level of impact to the gameplay as the Legendary Pokemon in Gen I did. They’re mostly bonus bosses and the only big difference is that Gold and Silver actually point them out to the player, while Red, Blue and Yellow expected them to stumble on Articuno and Moltres while wandering through their home dungeons while going through the story, Zapdos by just randomly stumbling on its home dungeon and Mewtwo while exploring the bonus post-game dungeon. In fact, the only time the game makes a serious effort to tell the player about the Legendary Pokemon is in the abandoned mansion on Cinnabar Island that talks about how Mewtwo was cloned from Mew, a Pokemon that wasn’t even originally meant to be in the game.
Still, I actually really enjoy how Gold and Silver handle the Legendary Pokemon in terms of the story. I just wish that there were a couple more of them. You get one shown to you in the storyline at level 45 to possibly use in your party, one as a bonus super boss at the end of the game at level 70 and three that are found in a competely new and unexpected way, even if catching them as they roamed around Johto was usually little more than an exercise in annoyance.
However, other than that, the gameplay is, as a whole, improved. It’s still a simple JRPG with rock-paper scissors combat, the visuals are in color, but are otherwise very similar, using many of the same sprites. Like with the story, they didn’t fix what wasn’t broken in favor of simply adding to it.
The first major addition was splitting the Special stat into two, a Special Defense and a Special Attack. This was done for two reasons. The first was because it makes sense. Having one stat for both defensive and attacking purposes did far more harm than good and is one of the reasons the Psychic type was overpowered in Gen I. Incidentally, the Psychic type’s problems was the second reason the split was done.
Likewise, the second major addition was also done to balance the Psychic type. This came in the form of two new types: The Dark type and the Steel type. The Dark type is still the go-to anti-Psychic type. While Steel does resist Psychic, Dark not only does double damage to Psychic type Pokemon, it can’t be hurt by Psychic type attacks.
These changes were game changers. Psychic remained quite powerful and its poster child, Alakazam, remains one of the best Special Attackers in the game to this day, but there’s actually a counter to it now.
Adding these types also added some identity to a few mundane Pokemon and moves. Bite and Crunch became Dark type moves and go-to anti-Psychic attacks, while Magnemite and Magneton gaining Steel as a secondary type gave it a few options for a party and actually gave players a reason to consider Magneton over, say, Raichu or Electrode. At the end of the day, these new types were a fantastic addition.
Of course, we didn’t just get new types, we got new Pokemon. 100 of them, in fact. Overall, it’s a solid set of new Pokemon. I don’t like to rate new sets of new Pokemon in comparison to others, but I do have my favorites from each. More importantly, however, is that several new Pokemon evolve from Gen I Pokemon and, like giving Magneton a second type, add a lot of purpose to them and give players reason to choose them.
Some of these include Espeon and Umbreon, which both evolve from Eevee, bringing the total number of evolution options for Eevee to five. Like the other options, Espeon and Umbreon are there to demonstrate an evolution mechanic; in this case, its evolving through friendship.
In 16 years, six generations and 10 sets of games, I have never and probably will never find any enjoyment out of evolving Pokemon through friendship. It is an extremely frustrating mechanic because it’s unpredictable, impossible to track accurately (there are NPCs that give you a general idea of where you are in the process, at least), often locks the player out of extremely useful moves and it is painfully easy to be set back on it simply by the Pokemon you’re trying to evolve being knocked out in battle or stored away to make room for a Pokemon you need more at the moment.
At the very least, despite being the generation to introduce the largest number of them, only three Pokemon were truly negatively affected by Friendship evolution; Eevee, Golbat and Chansey. We’ll get to the other Pokemon that evolve through friendship later.
While Friendship is actually the only new mechanic added to the game, it isn’t the only way to evolve old Pokemon. Gen II also added forked evolution trees for Pokemon like Gloom and Poliwhirl, as well as new evolutions for Seadra, Onix and Scyther.
For most of the new evolutions, the Pokemon must be traded while holding an item. For Poliwhirl, Scyther and Slowpoke, this simply added options. Politoed and Slowking are statted differently and have different roles than Poliwrath and Slowbro, while Scyther is actually just as viable an option as Scizor, with it having the same stat total, only distributed differently, as well as Scizor is Bug and Steel types, as opposed to Scyther’s Bug and Flying types.
Scyther versus Scizor is actually an interesting dilema. If the player chooses to evolve Scyther, the Bug/Steel typing is easily supperior, having several more resistances and only being weak to fire and its Defense and Attack stats get a small boost, but it’s Speed drops considerably. Even more interestingly is that I don’t think there is any other Pokemon with this dilema. Sure, there are plenty of forked evolutions, but no other Pokemon gives the player a legitimate reason to not evolve a Pokemon (that is, without also needing a Light Orb to push Pikachu’s Special Attack to be higher than Raichu’s).
But evolution wasn’t the only thing changed to be able to obtain new Pokemon. Game Freak actually had the idea to put a real-time clock into the game. While years later this ultimately resulted in most copies of the games to have drained save batteries only about five years later, which ended up deleting my level 89 Charizard (the highest level I have ever achieved without using Missingno. to infinitely spawn Rare Candies), it was a brilliant move. This added a night and day mechanic that changed what Pokemon appeared and how often appeared, allowed for daily events and even a few trainers encountered could only be fought at night.
There are things that can only be done on certain days or only once a day and this not only was a great way to add content to the game, it was an even better way to add longevity. With a Bug catching contest that can only be done on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, TMs only given out on Sundays and several more daily events, the game gives players incentive to just keep playing.
This is the area I think Gen II most improves from Gen I. The only thing Red, Blue and Yellow gives the player after finishing the story was the Unknown Dungeon, which only had Mewtwo as incentive to explore. After catching Mewtwo, the only thing to do was wander around and catch the Pokemon missed during the story. While this isn’t all that different in Gen II, the daily events add variety and incentive to go to certain places at certain times. How great this system works really shows why it was so frustrating that it was missing in Gen III, but we’ll talk about that later.
There is one more thing that I haven’t talked about yet that only Gen II and its Gen IV remakes did: the game actually takes the player to Kanto, where Gen I takes place.
There is not a single hint at this during the story. Kanto is mentioned since it’s the setting of the last game, but the first hint that Kanto can be explored comes only when Gold actually arrives in Kanto after collecting the badges and making his way towards the Indigo Plateau. The same Indigo Plateau that the Kanto badges lead to.
After beating the Elite Four, Gold is given a ticket to board a ship bound for Vermilion City, where he begins a second quest for the eight gym badges, this time in Kanto.
Traveling through Kanto is considerably shorter than traveling through Johto, but it still makes up about the last third of the game. What makes it interesting, however, is that it isn’t just a retread of Red’s journey, after all, Lt. Surge was the third Gym Leader Red fought. He’s the first Kanto Gym Leader Gold fought. Kanto is extremely open-ended. The player can take on the gyms in pretty much any order they want. The exception is that the eighth gym must be taken on last.
There isn’t a whole lot of story in Kanto, likely due to being open-ended. Team Rocket has been dealt with, the Legendary Pokemon that matters has been caught and both regions share an Elite Four, so the game presents exploring Kanto as a bonus. In fact, unless you count clearing out the occasional roadblock, the story only picks back up once Gold reaches Cinnabar Island, where he encounters Blue, who is now the Gym Leader of the Viridian City gym.
There isn’t much story left at this point. Gold fights and beats Blue, then makes his way back to the Pokemon League, but instead of going back to the Indigo Plateau, he goes back into Johto towards Mt. Silver. At the top of Mt. Silver and after a long, difficult climb to the top, Gold encounters his ultimate challenge: Red himself, ready to face the trainer strong enough to find him.
Red’s Pokemon were the strongest NPC held Pokemon (a level 81 Pikachu) in the series until Barry was given a level 85 starter in Platinum. Red regained his status in HeartGold and SoulSilver, where his Pikachu is level 88. It is an intense fight and the player feels absolutely triumphant when they win. It is a long, long journey and it is awesome to see it come full circle in this way.
Narratively, Gold and Silver evolved the series in many ways that still have not been repeated and, mechanically, it balanced and improved on things to make it a far better game than its predecessor. However, there is still a third version that evolved things in other ways.
Like with Yellow, Crystal didn’t add so much that its worth going back and playing through again, but it is still a marked improvement. It shuffled the story a bit, it added a few characters and a few new features that do serve to make it a better game, but not so much that it feels like a new game. This isn’t a bad thing.
Crystal has three big changes to go along with several minor additions. The first major change is that Suicune is the Pokemon that is sought out during the story. Not only does this give Suicune the role that Ho-Oh and Lugia played in Gold and Silver, respectively, it gives Ho-Oh a new role and it gave Game Freak a chance to add extra depth to the story.
They accomplished this by adding Eusine, a new character who is encountered from time to time during the story to exposit about Suicune and add some grandeur to chasing the beast. This does change Suicune from a roamer to a story boss, but it’s all for the better. Three roaming Pokemon is a bit much and it came at the cost of being able to hunt the Legendary Pokemon as rewards for going to through optional dungeons.
This means that, while Suicune is likely caught during the story and Lugia plays the same role it did in Silver, Ho-Oh becomes a bonus boss that can be challenged as a reward for somehow managing to chase and catch Raikou and Entei in addition to Suicune. This change to Suicune was such an obvious improvement that Game Freak actually implemented the Suicune version of the story into the Gen IV remakes.
In a smaller addition, Crystal is the first time in the series a female protagonist can be chosen. Kris, as she is known, is only differentiated from Gold by aesthetics. Her presence is a welcome addition, even if it otherwise changes nothing about the game.
The third major addition to Crystal is the Battle Tower. This is a facility that was added for players who wanted a new, multiplayer-like challenge. The battles at the Tower are basically multiplayer battles in a singleplayer form. It’s not an addition I ever really enjoyed, not being a big fan of multiplayer Pokemon, but it’s still a welcome addition and I’m sure it was greatly appreciated by mutliplayer fans.
Unlike Yellow, Crystal didn’t really remix the game, so much as it was meant to be a general improvement. And improvement is easily one of Gen II’s goals. It set out to take what Gen I did and make it better. Does it succeed? Oh, hell yes it does.
In the first part of this series, I stated that I don’t think Gen I holds up, especially in light of the Gen III remakes of Red and Green. At the end of the day while Gen II isn’t perfect and the Gen IV remakes are, like FireRed and LeafGreen before them, the same game only improved and with more content, Gen II otherwise holds up perfectly.
It isn’t a perfect game, but the complaints I have beyond the disappointing state of Legendary Pokemon are so minor that they’re barely worth noting. There’s a reason Gen II has been a fan favorite since 1999. It was the only direct sequel in the series until Black 2 and White 2 and that gives it a level of uniqueness that no other game in the series has. It was and still is a fantastic game and I’d even recommend it to younger fans who got into the series in later generations.
If Gen I was about friendship and working together, Gen II is about passing the torch and respecting a legacy. It is worthy successor to the first game and was strong enough to continue to propel Pokemon’s success for several more years, even if Ruby and Sapphire was in many ways a step back from it.