Select Your Starter: One More Time in Johto

Pokemon HeartGold and SoulSilver were released in September 2009. Do you know what else happened in September 2009? I started my freshman year of high school. 

When I think about school years that collectively sucked for me, freshman year ranks pretty high. You enter a new building filled with people you passed in the hallway for most of your life, but they were in different wings, in different classes, because they were older than you. Now, they hold some unspoken authority over you, because they endured the same social stratification when they entered high school. 

It wasn’t anything like Dazed and Confused. Seniors weren’t chasing freshmen down with wooden paddles. The grunt work in sports was in your hands and the occasional senior lunch tray was passed to you. But now certain classes were open to anyone in the school, and all of a sudden you were 14 or 15, making cakes in home economics with people three grades higher than you that were technically legal adults.

And then there were things unique to me. Like, asking someone to be my girlfriend over text and her doing the same when breaking up with me 2-3 days later then being devastated about it for a year; or sprinting away from an upperclassman who asked me to homecoming because I didn’t know how to process it or handle it like an adult; or being so bad at drumline that I didn’t even make B band. I was in the newly-created C band.

But what didn’t suck my freshman year was having one of my favorite games reworked from the ground up and re-released. 

I don’t know if there’s a metric to determine if or when something should be revisited. In television and movies, it’s a fine line and the number of properties that are being remade today feels overwhelming. Continuations of beloved series feel just as risky when the heavy hands of corporate interest are more determined to push out a product with just enough cameos from aging actors to appease a fan base. Every movie remake or sequel can’t be Mad Max: Fury Road

Video games are an exception to the rule. Remakes can take the vision of the original and make it clearer. The skeleton is there—beef up the graphics and maybe add or redo voice acting.

Games that might have had too grand a scope for their original hardware can shine brighter with more computing power. I think that Pokemon Gold is still great. I’d honestly play the original over the remake, but that’s not to disparage HeartGold.

There’s not a whole lot that can be said about new expectations from Pokemon remakes. If they stray too far from the path of the original, then it’s going to upset the majority of nostalgists buying the game. 

Maybe my favorite feature of HeartGold/SoulSilver is that a single Pokemon in your party can follow you outside of battle. And that’s any Pokemon in the game. You can have Arceus, creator of the world, float behind you, or a Magikarp flop around. 

I’m sure it was no small feat modeling every single Pokemon available in the game to follow the player character, but a decision like that can make someone feel a greater connection to the creatures in their party. Save for Pikachu walking behind you in Pokemon Yellow, this was the first time an all encompassing overworld companion Pokemon was introduced. You could turn around at any time and talk to whoever was following you. 

That tagging-along feature extended outside of the game as well. HeartGold and SoulSilver had a pack-in peripheral—a pedometer shaped like a Pokeball. You could load a Pokemon from your game into the device and your steps in real life counted toward experience points. You could find items or encounter Pokemon that couldn’t be obtained in-game otherwise, like a Pichu that for some reason knew the move “Fly.” 

I’d put the pedometer into my backpack and rack up steps walking to and from school. I kept it in my locker during the day, because I wasn’t about to embarrass myself in front of my peers, upperclassmen, or girls, for that matter. Because, I mean, who would openly admit to something like playing Pokemon in as trying a time in our lives as high school? 

Well, more folks than I expected. 

I didn’t expect people to be so nonchalant about their hobbies in high school. It wasn’t as unabashed as college, where if you had a hobby, there was likely a passionate group of people with a club dedicated specifically to it.

But I was still surprised when I’d pass the corner of the computer lab where the teacher wasn’t looking and see upperclassmen athletes playing Pokemon on an emulator. Or sitting on the bench during the game and talking to everyone about Lord of the Rings or God of War or Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. You could log on at any time of day on Xbox or Playstation and find someone online and party up.

There were always going to be the people turning their nose up at something (I’m guilty of that when it came to Dungeons & Dragons, and now, as a 26-year-old, I’m in love with the game). Individuals from every social circle had some hobby someone else could consider dorky. This was a time where relationships with new and old friends were strengthened by playing video games. If you weren’t trying to find a party every weekend, we didn’t have much else to do in rural Ohio other than hang out together and play video games. 

My thoughts on Pokemon Gold, Silver and Crystal are pretty clear. HeartGold and SoulSilver are worthy remakes of one of the best generations in the Pokemon series. Like I’d said before, you’re basically getting two games in one; the first half of your story taking place in Johto, with after game content that leads you to Generation I’s setting, Kanto. And I will never complain about seeing the video game worlds I love in a fresh coat of paint. 

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