The original Pokemon titles had already taken the world by storm and cemented the Game Boy back as the number one handheld for a second generation when the sequel arrived in 2000. As sequels go this is one of the most ambitious follow-up RPGs ever devised. Doubling the content of the original and improving upon its predecessor in every conceivable way.
As with the original generation of Pokemon titles, the focus on Crystal allows us to also examine the Gold and Silver editions that make up the second generation through the lens of its most polished rendition. Crystal adds a few additional features to an already packed title, including the ability to choose the sex of your avatar for the first time, limited combat animations and sub-quests involving the Unknown and special edition legendary monster Suicune. This came at the loss of backward compatibility to the original Game Boy, with the focus on the Colour edition of that platform, though Gold and Silver both functioned across both.
Graphically the game re-uses a lot of the world assets from the original titles such as environments and objects, although it does throw in additional NPCs to populate the world with a greater array of characters and adds more out-of-battle Pokemon to encounter. In combat the artwork is now significantly improved and far better drawn, with a focus on colouring or shading the monsters appropriately to match their advertising material. Opening animations are of a very high quality and the game retains the same world-setting that fuses multiple elements of different periods into a single very fresh feeling setting. Menus have been slightly re-worked for a better look and some additional animations have snuck into the character sets to add more diversity. It’s a noble effort, especially when the size of the world and additional data going into the game must have caused a great deal of space issues for such a small cartridge.
Sound and music fare the worst, with little to no changes throughout and only a handful of new tracks added to the second generation titles. This must have been either a time or space saving issue, as although they continue to make the game feel like a natural extension of the original it seems like every other aspect has received a significant overhaul. Subsequently sound for this title feels like it missed out.
After the player avatar successfully completed the Pokedex and found all 150 monsters in the original title and defeated the elite four to become the most powerful trainer around it made sense to start the second adventure in the shoes of a new avatar. This allows Game Freak to continue to put the focus of the story on a coming of age tale, giving us once again a young man (or woman) setting out with their choice of starting Pokemon from three of the Grass, Fire and Water types. Straight off the mark the game makes headway in showing you that there’s a whole lot more on offer this time around, with your rival taking the form of a somewhat nasty thief who breaks in and steals a Pokemon which he doesn’t treat with respect in the same way your original rival did, as well as shifting the focus to a new region of the world with its own selection of monsters native to them to catch. Some original monsters return however, fleshing out a much enhanced rosta. Along the way you’ll encounter the remains of Team Rocket, trying to make a comeback in light of their defeat by the player in the original game, and have to take on a new Elite Four to prove your worth.
Gameplay took a major overhaul for the second generation whilst seemingly remaining the same game on the outside. Combat and exploration work in exactly the same manner that they always did, making the game instantly accessible for returning players and easy to pick up and learn fresh, however new features quickly start to make their way into the title. For starters a night and day cycle is now in play using an in-game clock that shifts the game world’s time as you travel around and the game employs this feature to have some events take place in game time (such as crafting rare nuts into balls) as well as splitting the games monsters across the night/day cycle to encourage experimentation when exploring. Trees bear fruit which can be picked and will grow back over time, this can be used in various ways including as part of the new feature that allows Pokemon to hold items. Initially a cheap way to boost a statistic or have a heal item automatically used when needed, it later comes into play when breeding or trading monsters to gain new evolutions. Monsters can now be bred and hatch from eggs which need to be carried around in order to hatch, leading to additional monsters that are younger versions of those previously seen. In fact the game adds a whopping 100 new monsters to the original list (split again across multiple releases to encourage trading and sell more games) and pushes the Game Boys storage capacity to its limit. If that weren’t enough of an attraction, completing the game opens up the whole original world map from the first generation for exploration – effectively throwing in a second game for the price of one and doubling the play time. This cumulates with a battle against the first games hero that is quite thrilling and a genuine challenge. Additional features such as a telephone to chat to NPCs you’ve met and multi-pocketed satchel for easy use also seamlessly work themselves into the game. Trading and fighting compatibility with the original title is also included for those who want to import the Pokemon they’ve already trained across to the new title.
Overall this is perhaps the stand-put title of the whole Pokemon series. It’s been graphically bettered and re-made as Soul Silver and Heart Gold on the DS since, but nothing has topped the sheer ambition and scope that this sequel brings to the table. As sequels go within the scope of RPGs this is perhaps the best made and most enjoyable direct follow-ups in history. Today it’s fairly easy to grab a second hand copy of Silver, Gold or Crystal, and I recommend that anybody who wants to try the series out start here.