The adage that time moves faster the older you get must mean that in your early life time moves unbearably slow.
I spent what felt like a lifetime pining to play Pokemon. The exaggerated reverence and nostalgia I have for the first entry in the mainline Pokemon RPGs occupies a huge swath of my general love for video games. I covered that pretty extensively in my first story.
So, for that reason, it hurts me somewhat to say that the second generation of Pokemon is superior to the first in every way.
In elementary school, I was subscribed to Beckett Pokemon Collector, an unofficial magazine covering all things Pokemon—the animated series, the games, the merchandise, and the trading card game. One issue had a series of pages detailing every new Pokemon planned for Gold and Silver. Mind you, since it was an unlicensed magazine, the artwork they had wasn’t official. Someone went through all 100 new Pokemon and re-drew them. Let’s just say some renditions were closer than others.
But my first real exposure to a genuine new Pokemon from the next region was Togepi in the Indigo Plateau arc of the animated series. Ash’s travel companion, Misty, the gym leader of Cerulean City, carried the egg Pokemon Togepi along on their journey. And I didn’t realize it at first, but they showed Ho-oh, one of two legendary birds from the second generation, in the first episode of the series.
Even with the colorized pallet Red, Blue, and Yellow brought to the Gameboy Color, it doesn’t hold a flame to the leap in graphical improvement the Johto Region experienced.
Game Freak made quality of life improvements that left the entire game feeling more engaging. Probably my favorite was the addition of an experience bar that tracked in real time during battle. It saved me from opening menus and checking how many XP points stood between now and the next level. And it is consistently visually and audibly satisfying to watch the bar grow and “pop” when reaching a new level.
Pokemon Crystal, which was for the Gameboy Color, was unlike Gold and Silver. It’s well reported that programming Pokemon Red, Blue, and Yellow packed the Gameboy cartridge to the gills, leaving little room for anything else. Having a larger slate to work on, Pokemon devs took Crystal and added features like short character animations in battle. The game came with a slightly different story, and additional areas, like a tower that gave players more challenging battles to take on, and, most importantly, Crystal introduced the option to play as a girl.
The motivators driving you to complete any Pokemon game tend to be the same. You come of age and decide to set out on your own in a beautiful, spanning setting, aiming to collect as many of the creatures inhabiting that land, trouncing trainers, and eventually making it to the position of champion.
There’s always an organized crime syndicate at work, some with motivations more dastardly than the next. And in the second generation of Pokemon games, that holds true. Team Rocket still has its hands in Johto, trying to return to its former glory after the previous game’s protagonist pretty much single-handedly disbanded them. However, one of the more compelling story beats in Gold, Silver, and Crystal is your rival. You first meet them snooping outside of Professor Elm’s lab, the region’s resident expert on Pokemon, who specializes in the study of eggs (but more on that later).
After you select your starting Pokemon and run an errand, you shortly find out that the person peeking in through the back window broke in, snatched a Pokemon (of course the one whose base type is strong against yours) and fled. Your rival hopefully posits motivations opposite of yours. They, like Team Rocket, want to use Pokemon for power. They see the creatures merely as tools.
In the first generation, your rival is Blue, Professor Oak’s grandson, whose greatest crime is being rude. Every time you meet him, he waxes superiority, even after you wipe the floor with him, and his farewell is always, “Smell ya later.”
With Silver, the second generation’s rival literally stole a Pokemon. Professor Elm spends the game hoping the Pokemon is alright, and, as is tradition, you encounter and battle your rival several times throughout the game.
Gold, Silver, and Crystal’s inclusion of this ne’er-do-well rival illustrates the effectiveness of the newly added feature Happiness. Let your Pokemon faint and sustain ailments like poison and burns, and their happiness falls. Ensure they stay conscious and heal them of these blights consistently, feed them other items like berries, and they prosper. In some cases, they can even evolve.
It mechanically strikes at the core of one of the series’ takeaways: love those around you in tangible, meaningful ways and you’ll succeed.
But you should probably still grind a little bit to get your party’s levels up.
One of the major features of Gold and Silver is breeding and the inclusion of Pokemon’s gender. Some remain gender-less, like Ditto, who is a blank slate for breeding other Pokemon. Breeding works when compatible Pokemon are paired with the opposite or gender free creature at the daycare. Compatibility is usually based on typing. Walk around enough, and it’s likely that you’ll return to find the Pokemon had an egg.
These hatched Pokemon can carry on different moves that would otherwise have to be taught by outside items or people. This would become a vehicle for competitive players to breed the ideal Pokemon with a powerful moveset and, eventually in later games, personalities.
Breeding led to the inclusion of baby evolutions for some iconic Pokemon from the first generation: Pikachu, Electabuzz, Magmar, Jigglypuff and more.
You can feel the presence of Kanto straight away in Gen II. You see some of the same Pokemon, Professor Oak appears in the first 15 minutes of the game, and you hear tell of the region and its champion throughout the game. And my earlier statement about the superiority of this game when compared to Red and Blue came to a head when I finished it for the first time.
After making my way through eight gym leaders, multiple encounters with Team Rocket, the Elite Four, and all the side quests Johto had to offer, I figured the game was over. Until it wasn’t.
A few steps away from your home in New Bark is a channel that leads east. You surf atop a Pokemon and scale a waterfall then you find yourself in a familiar setting. Turns out, Game Freak packed the entire Kanto Region into the second generation Pokemon games. The first story mode was a whole game unto itself, and instead of cutting it off there, they gave you so much more.
Finding this for the first time blew my adolescent mind. I’d been exhausted by in-world puzzles near the end game and struggled to prevail as the Johto champion, as if it wasn’t dense enough for me, and I had even more ahead of me.
It was still a welcome challenge, because I could revisit the place that sparked my love for Pokemon. But it was more than the remakes we’ve played. This was a fresh take on Kanto, with a new story but an old champion to defeat.
When I think about how much these games impacted my childhood, I can’t help but reflect on how many summer hours I spent between my Gameboy playing Pokemon or on my bike pretending I had my party in tow, making the rural Ohio landscape, wrought with cornfields, hills, and trees, into a personal Johto.