17 years ago, Pokemon Gold and Silver landed on retail shelves only. Now, Nintendo re-released the classic Generation 2 game digitally only on the 3DS Virtual Console. There have been five generations of Pokemon since the original release. This journal is about remembering the good times, discovering things missed as a child, and evaluating if the most influential generation of Pokemon holds up today in its original form.
Let’s see... It is... night. 8 o’clock. And... 37 minutes. I’m setting Pokemon Gold’s in-game clock and setting the time has never been more exciting. Pokemon Gold and Silver were the second generation of Pokemon games and Game Freak found a way to implement a day and night cycle; with an actual clock. In my go around on this digitally downloaded version 17 years later, entering the time felt just as exciting. Later generations could keep time on its own internally, or based on the handheld’s clock, but there’s something delightful about setting the time yourself. But this second generation brought more delightful changes that kept Pokemon moving forward for generations to come.
You could see a bunch of changes from Generation 1 in the first hour. The obvious? Color. An actual palette on the screen, not the wash of a single color that Pokemon Yellow brought. Take a look at the battle screen. What do you see? Genders. A small Poke Ball icon showing you’ve caught that Pokemon. An XP bar! Game Freak gut punched us with changes.
Look in your bag. Pockets! Pockets for general items, pockets for Poke Balls, pockets for TM’s and HM’s. There’s organization! No more scrolling for months trying to find that one item you needed. Oh, and what about trainers. They have names now. You don’t have to refer to a trainer as “That one Hiker on Route 33.” No, no. It’s Anthony. Which that small touched allowed me to invest myself into the world further. I still remember Lass Dana. She would have been called “That Lass trainer somewhere between Ecruteak and Olivine.” These changes paved the way for what we have even in Pokemon Sun and Moon. They still matter and they still make these old games just as easy to digest.
But let’s keep going. Remember when you found out special stats were split? Because who knew what “Special” actually entailed in Pokemon Red and Blue? You figured which moves were “Special.” Probably Psychic, maybe Ghost, Water, Fire, Electric, maybe Dragon. But was that “Special” accounting for offense of defense? Gold and Silver answered that question. Now, Generation 3 one-upped Gen 2 here. They added “physical” and “special” attributes to moves that were probably apparent in Gen 2 but that wasn’t especially clear. That is something I miss in my replay so far. I wonder to myself if a move like Flame Wheel is considered a Special Attack or if it is under the Attack stat. Something like that would help me define if I should could keep Ember or delete the move. But without the improvements from Gold and Silver, this line of information forward leading up to better move list understanding in future games would probably be late by a generatio
Two Pokemon, locked in battle. Neither have broached level 10. This battle comes down to a critical hit, stat-altering facial expressions, or body movements. One trainer chooses Leer, the defense lowering move giving attacks more damage. Two laser beams proceed from the Pokemon crashing into the opponent. Yes, you read that correctly. Laser beams.
I am spoiled by modern animations. Generation 2 animations lack the visual flair of its predecessors. I was dismayed when laser beams shot from my Pokemon into the opponent’s to represent Leer. Scary Face does the same thing but longer as the screen flashes. Other animations are appropriate. Rock Throw drops three rocks; Thundershock is a small ball rotating on its target as electricity jolts on the outside of it, but the Game Boy Color can’t render robust animations, so we’re stuck with animations like laser beams. It also takes so long for some of the animations to finish (Leech Life, Smog), I’ve just turned them off. Grinding is much less burdensome that way. I might turn them on during a match with relevance but I enjoy the speed when they are off.
I am not off put by the graphics in general, though. In fact, it’s charming now. The color palette is still small but Johto keeps its own character compared to modern games or even Kanto from Gen 1. With all the retro-themed indie games, Gold and Silver still maintain visual appeal.
The Johto researchers must overcome a strange challenge inherited from Game Freak’s lack of foresight. It is the big question: Where do Pokemon come from? In game, it’s a big discovery. Pikachu was not always just Pikachu. Pikachu is evolved. A discovery that was mind-blowing as a child, even though discovering the method of Pichu’s existence was not as astonishing; breeding.
But for Johto, eggs were that region’s signature discovery. It had to be. Because logic and the lack of context from Gen 1 dictated Professor Elm had to be the man who discovered how Pokemon continued to exist. It still did not answer how Professor Oak could study Pokemon for so long and still not understand how they continued to exist but it never needed to. We were kids. We barely understood breeding, anyway.
Depending how deep you want to go with this, it could demonstrate the ineptitude of Pokemon researchers. The concept of breeding has existed forever and Game Freak decides Pokemon have existed for hundreds of years and their continued existence has puzzled researchers? C’mon. But if you’re going to add breeding to the game, there must be an explanation to how Pokemon are born and that discovery had to be a point of research for the scientists. It’s just funny that it comes down to you carrying an egg, Togepi is birthed, and it’s like “Oh my gosh! A Pokemon came out of that egg!” Meanwhile, there’s a breeding day-care near Goldenrod City doing its thing.
A Gengar and a Nidorino face each other. Nidorino hops back and forth like a boxer. Gengar swings its ghostly claws at his opponent. Nidorino bounces around again, pauses, then lunges at the Gengar as the screen fades to white. That’s the Pokemon Red and Blue intro. Anyone who knows a lick of Pokemon understands how impossible that fight is for Nidorino. It’s an awful intro, but we remember it for its absurdity.
Compare that to the Gold and Silver intro. It begins with Shellders underwater and floats to Magikarp swimming by and Lapras floating along the surface of the water. Kanto Pokemon. We flash over to land. A Jigglypuff singing its heart out. Pikachu scampers over and tackles the Jigglypuff. Kanto Pokemon. The music transitions from playful to intense. Chikorita streaks on the screen, then Cyndaquil, then Totadile. Meanwhile, Charizard, a Kanto Pokemon, emerges from the bottom of the screen as the Johto Pokemon are featured for split seconds and unleashes a ferocious burning blaze? Charizard? And that’s how you bring in 150 new Pokemon?
Could it have been a showcase of the Game Boy Color’s ability to render color? Absolutely. Could it have been a way to keep the Johto Pokemon a surprise just as Gen 1 Pokemon were a surprise at first? Sure. But if you’re going to take those 30 seconds to feature the Johto starter Pokemon for a total of potentially 2.8 seconds, why do it at all?
I didn’t pay much attention to it as a kid but now I notice two games where the intros are simply bad. And frankly, Gen 2's intro is less memorable than Gen 1's.