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Welcome Back, Trainer – Part 1: A Gold And Silver Age

I know you. You had one of those original Game Boys – the one that looked like a brick. You received Pokemon Red (or Blue) for Christmas when the initial wave of hype was cresting and you were overjoyed. All of your friends were talking about these games, and now you would have the chance to enjoy them as well. For the next eight months, you lived and breathed Pokemon. You watched the anime, bought and traded the cards, trained up six level 100 monsters – or just exploited the Missingno glitch for infinite Rare Candies.

But eventually the shine wore off. Children are mercurial, and you were no different. You slid your Pokemon cards into a binder, changed the channel from the anime, and saved your game for the last time – popping out the cartridge in favour of something new.

Let’s jump forward to now. You’re in your mid-late twenties. You’ve become a responsible, independent adult – and you are acutely aware of how difficult it is to be such a thing. Awash in a sea of bills and obligation, you find yourself salivating over tidbits of nostalgia – drawn by the siren’s song of simpler times.

This summer, your inner child received an early Christmas gift. Pokemon Go seemed like the exact thing you were after. It was a way to incorporate the halcyon sheen of yesteryear into your banal routine. You could spend your lunch break and your commute catching Pidgeys and Rattatas with your coworkers. Reliving the lunch hours and recesses spent trading and battling Pokemon with classmates. But as fun as the game was in the beginning, it soon lost its lustre. You can only play in a shallow pool for so long – and Pokemon Go is a very shallow pool.

It was fun while it lasted, but you once again put aside your dream of being a Pokemon master. And then you went to the movies. During the obnoxious pre-show commercials, you saw an add for new Pokemon games. While the announcers for the ad were annoying, the snippets of these new games – Sun and Moon – looked awesome. They’re in 3D! You can ride a Charizard! Is that an owl with a bowtie!?

A year ago, you probably would have cocked your head, said “huh” and moved on; but Pokemon Go rekindled a hunger. So you headed to your local GameStop and made a preorder. You were ready for a new Pokemon adventure.

Trainer’s Guide

I’m a little different than you. When I put Pokemon aside after the first generation, I didn’t put it far out of reach. I returned to the franchise in 10th grade, with the games Ruby and Sapphire, and I have been keeping up with the series ever since. In fact, the Pokemon games are really the only video games I bother with anymore.

Because I have been with the series for so long, I often catch myself thinking of the games as “simple” – but Pokemon just celebrated 20 years of content generation this year. Seven generations of games doing their best to innovate, improve, and expand makes for a rather convoluted world.

To someone returning to the series after six generations of hiatus, the changes can be overwhelming. Turning to the internet can also be difficult, as a lot of discussion ostensibly aimed at newbies will still get laden down with jargon and opinion.

Which is why I wanted to write this. I think more people should be playing – and enjoying – Pokemon, so I want to make things easier for you, the returning trainer.

This is going to be the first in a multi-part series about the advancements that have been made in the Pokemon games since the first generation. I want to aim this specifically at people returning to the franchise as adults. Sun and Moon are far-and-away the most popular Pokemon titles since the original games – spurred on largely by Pokemon Go reigniting interest in the series.

My plan is to tackle each generation in chronological order so that this series can also double as a history lesson. By the conclusion, I want all of you returning trainers to be able to hold your own in your new copies of Sun and Moon, but also in the internet forums and hubs that are now inextricably linked to participation in Pokemon.

Without further ado, let’s head to Johto.

Gold and Silver

gold-silver

The second generation of Pokemon games consists of Gold, Silver, and Crystal. Gold and Silver were the initial releases for this wave of the franchise, and they broke over the shores of North America in the year 2000 – roughly two years after the release of Red and Blue.

While Gold and Silver are certainly new, full games in their own right, they have a distinctly “expansion pack” feel to them. There are a couple of reasons for this:

  1. The games incorporate the locations and characters from the first games – even carrying over the conflict of Red and Blue.
  2. Many of the new features introduced in generation 2 seem like “bug fixes” from the first generation.

While the second generation games do pull heavily from their predecessors, they are some of the least polarizing games in the Pokemon canon. The vast majority of the fan community considers them to be excellent games and unambiguous improvements over what came before.

A Quick Aside

The Pokemon games are big. Each generation adds new critters and new ways to explore the world. To talk about each generation exhaustively would be a years-long project that would produce multiple essays. I am not here to write a dissertation.

My focus for these articles will be the changes in each generation that were carried forward; the fundamental shifts that changed the way Pokemon is played. I will leave the unique idiosyncrasies of each game mostly alone, their discovery can serve as incentive for you to explore the weird and wonderful worlds of Pokemon.

Now without further ado, let’s talk about what Gold and Silver brought to the table:

100 New Pokemon 

Ever since Gold and Silver, each Pokemon paradigm shift has been signaled by the reveal of dozens of new monsters. This constant emergence of new content can make getting back into Pokemon a dizzying task; the sneering of first generation purists at new Pokemon designs has become a meme among the online community.

Even if you’re not a fan of every new design, you can’t deny that consistently adding new creatures helps to create dynamic gameplay and prevents mechanical stagnation within the series. Gold and Silver shook things up even further by adding:

Two New Pokemon Types

It’s no secret that the Psychic type was overpowered in the first generation of Pokemon. It’s two weaknesses – Ghost and Bug – were not up to the task of keeping it under control. Bug-type attacks were notably laking in power, while the only Ghost-type pokemon in the first generation also possessed the Poison type – which is vulnerable to Psychic.

To help balance the elemental typing system, the second generation added Steel and Dark. Steel is a defence-focused type that possesses a staggering number of resistances – balanced by its few weaknesses being very exploitable. Dark type, on the other hand, boasted an immunity to Psychic-type attacks while interacting with most other types in a neutral way.

In hindsight, it may be that only the Dark type was introduced as a patch for Psychic. While the Steel type has added a lot to the gameplay of Pokemon, it has also allowed the designers of the games to branch of into new aesthetic territory when designing creatures. It may be that Steel’s introduction was facilitated primarily by artistic concerns, rather than mechanical ones.

As for the Dark type, not only did it help balance the gameplay, it also helped market another of the second generation’s big changes:

Night and Day 

The original Pokemon games were a pretty ambitious project. Not only from a marketing standpoint, but from a technological standpoint. I remember playing Game Boy as a kid – none of the other games offered for the handheld brick had even a fraction of Pokemon’s depth.

Once the creators of the franchise realized that the basic idea of the series was doable, they used the second generation to play with what they could do. With Gold and Silver there is a noticeable effort to not only add depth and balance to the battle mechanics, but to add verisimilitude to the world of Pokemon.

There are countless little touches added to the game to make it seem more like a living, breathing world, rather than just a sandbox in which to smash adorable creatures into each other. The second generation added differences between night and day into the games, with certain Pokemon becoming nocturnal. Additionally, certain events and side characters would only be accessible during certain times of day.

But creating a fictional ecology is more than just making sure that some pokemon only come out at night:

Shiny Pokemon

shiny

We have albino animals in the real world, in the Pokemon world, they have shiny Pokemon. “Shiny” refers to an alternate colour scheme available for each species of Pokemon. All Pokemon have a shiny version of themselves. For some, the colour change is barely noticeable, for others the contrast is drastic.

Shiny Pokemon are rare. Very rare. There are people who have been playing the games for years and never encountered one. It’s their rarity that makes them sought after. Collectors and competitors both seek shiny versions of their favourites, as it is a simple way to set their Pokemon apart from the crowd. To make them their own.

While I have framed the introduction of shiny pokemon as a way for the series to introduce the idea of biodiversity into the games, the truth of the feature is more closely tied to the next change I want to talk about:

Breeding 

ditto

In the first generation, your Pokemon were sexless. You had to make up in your head if you were calling upon a male Charizard or a female Charizard to assist you in battle. Starting with the second generation, there was no ambiguity about your Pokemon’s sex, they were explicitly displayed as male or female. With the splitting of the sexes, Pokemon breeding became a game mechanic.

Breeding allows you to hatch your own “custom” Pokemon from eggs. The resulting hatchling has the chance to inherit characteristics from its parents – including shininess. Breeding has grown from humble beginnings as a curiosity into one of the most convoluted and complex aspects of Pokemon. But the basics are: leave two compatible Pokemon at the in-game daycare, check back periodically to grab the egg, slot it into your party, and walk around until it hatches.

Some pokemon are always sexless, others can breed with anything and everything (Ditto), and two pokemon don’t necessarily have to be the same species to get it on – just in the same “egg group”; which usually boils down to: “how alike do these two Pokemon look?”

So far these gameplay changes have segued nicely into one another, but the next jump is just gonna be a hard left turn:

Hold Items and Berries

Items were a very two-dimensional mechanic in Red and Blue. They could be boiled down into four categories:

  1. Items to evolve your Pokemon
  2. Items to heal your Pokemon
  3. Items to improve your Pokemon’s stats.
  4. Key pieces of gear required for your quest.

The second generation of games introduced the idea of hold items. These are items that your Pokemon can hold in order to provide them with certain benefits. These benefits range from increasing the rate at which the Pokemon becomes fond of you (I’ll get to why this matters in a moment) to improving the power of certain elemental attacks.

Berries are a subcategory of hold item that are worth mentioning. They differ from other hold items because they can be cultivated in-game. When held by a Pokemon, a berry is automatically used when a certain in-game condition is met. In the second generation, most berries were used to cure one of the generic status conditions or to recover HP.

I mentioned earlier that certain items could influence your Pokemon’s attachment to you. This was important because along with hold items, Gold and Silver introduced:

Friendship Evolution

In the first generation of Pokemon games, there was a trio of ways to evolve your Pokemon: levelling them up, trading them to another player, or giving them an elemental stone which helped them develop. Starting with the second generation, a new twist was added.

This twist involves the game tracking how affectionate your Pokemon are feeling towards you. To increase their affection, you can do things like teach them moves, carry them with you throughout your adventure, and use them to defeat significant foes.

Friendship tracking has been incorporated into evolution as a new sort of levelling up. At a certain point of happiness, the Pokemon – while levelling up – evolves. While the addition affection tracking and friendship evolution encourages the player to think about their Pokemon as companions rather than just fighting dogs, it also adds an element of frustration. I, for one, have spent way too much time hanging out with Golbats in the hope that they will take a shine to me and evolve into Crobat.

I wanted my discussion of Gold and Silver to be a sandwich. I would start with a dense mechanical topic (the introduction of Dark and Steel), move onto more flavourful fare (breeding, shiny pokemon, friendship evolution), and close things off with more thick mechanics. We have reached the point of closing our sandwich, so it’s time to discuss:

Special Defence

In the original game, each Pokemon possessed 5 stats: HP, Attack, Defence, Special, and Speed.

Each of those are pretty self-explanatory, with the exception of Special. Special determined the power of certain types of attack. A good indication of if an attack would be Special would be if it was of an “elemental” type; attacks of types like grass, water, fire, and electric were all made using the Special stat. Since there was only one stat dealing with Special moves, Special attacks were also made against that same stat.

This was a clumsy way to handle half of the attacks being used in the game. The issue became especially clear when dealing with Pokemon like Alakazam. Alakazam was obviously meant to be a glass cannon: top-of-the-line Special and Speed stats, bottom-of-the-barrel HP and Defence. However, since a vast number of the attacks being made in Red and Blue were coming off of Special stats and hitting Alakazam’s Special stat, it proved to be far more durable than game balance should have allowed.

Luckily, the second generation went a long way to correcting the balance issues created by the Special stat. Gold and Silver split Special into Special Attack and Special Defence, treating Special moves like regular attacks. While this seems like a pretty simple change, it allowed individual Pokemon to embrace more complex roles, while weakening some game breakers to reasonable levels.

For instance, Alakazam was allowed to keep a very high Special Attack stat, but its Special Defence was set at a much lower number. While it still took special attacks better than physical ones, it was generally considered to be wet paper when faced with something it couldn’t remove with one attack.

On the other hand, we have Hitmonlee and Hitmonchan. Both of these Pokemon were the iconic fighting-type from Red and Blue. While they were fan favourites, they were hampered in-game by their inability to function on the Special axis; they couldn’t dish out special moves, which meant they couldn’t take them either.

Enter Gold and Silver. The designers of the games never wanted the Hitmons to be able to dish out special attacks, but with the split between Special Attack and Special Defence, both of Hitmonlee and Hitmonchan were granted above-average Special Defence stats, which meant they could see much greater use in combat.

Pokemon Crystal

crystal

I’m not sure how long most of you stuck with the first generation of games, but I’m sure that most of you are familiar with Pokemon: Yellow Version. The cynical among you probably don’t remember it as a sequel to the original two games, but rather a cash-grab by Game Freak to capitalize on the popularity of the anime. However, cynical profiteering or no, it was the trend setter for sequels within generations.

In the second generation – just as Yellow followed Red and Blue – Pokemon: Crystal Version followed Gold and Silver. Crystal expanded a little bit on the story of Gold and Silver – focusing on a different set of legendary Pokemon than the original two games of the generation.

Crystal also introduced some features that are worthy of note in the series as a whole:

A Female Protagonist

Crystal was the first time that the player could choose a female avatar. The trend has continued with every main series game since.

Move Tutor/Deleter/Battle “______”

During the ascension of the second generation, it was becoming obvious that the competitive side of the Pokemon series was growing. People wanted the ability to take their Pokemon battles seriously and seek greater challenges beyond the confines of what the game offered.

Game Freak listened to this desire and made it much easier for players to customize their perfect teams within the game. They introduced the Move Deleter – a character capable of removing the obnoxious, previously permanent, HM moves. With the Move Deleter, the Move Tutor was also introduced – capable of teaching the powerful moves Flamethrower, Ice Beam, and Thunderbolt.

Lastly, the Battle Tower made its debut. An arena in which players could challenge a succession of powerful trainers for the chance to receive items that could permanently improve the stats of their Pokemon.

Ever since the creation of the Battle Tower, the idea of a practice arena in which players could get themselves ready for the challenges of real life trainer battles has stuck. While not every main series game has had such an area, the sequels in each generation have kept up with the tradition. Each iteration has become more detailed and comprehensive, allowing for a greater degree of customization for the player’s Pokemon.

Let’s Give Your Pokemon a Rest

That concludes our first walk through the much-changed world of Pokemon. If the first generation was a splash pad, the second generation was a wading pool. It deepened the games and added whole new dimensions to explore.

Next time, we’re going watch as Game Freak really decides to work on Pokemon’s deep end. Grab your swim trunks, we’re heading to Hoenn.

Jackson is a content writer for AYBOnline, and is also REALLY into Pokemon. His opinions are his own.

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