A fond look back at two classics in the Pokémon franchise.
There was something oddly invigorating about beginning a game of Pokémon Gold or Silver at night when the screen was dimmed and new monsters, or the owl-inspired Hoothoot at least, swooped down on you in tall grasses of Route 29.
The games, released in North America in 2000 and in Europe the following and remade for Nintendo DS as HeartGold and SoulSilver in 2009 with a 2010 Western launch remain an endearing and important chapter in the chronicles of the Pokémon franchise.
Game Freak afforded players a rival more dastardly than the pernicious Blue; a nemesis who stole a Pokémon from from Professor Elm; an act which, in the world of the games, transformed that rival into a foe no better than Team Rocket.
Indeed, the developers did little to endear players to your rival as they did with N in Pokémon While & Black and the two characters could hardly be more distinguished. While N sought to free Pokémon whom he saw as enslaved innocents, and somewhat justifiably at that, your rival in Gold and Silver was interested solely in the most powerful of Pokémon and with the path to becoming the powerful trainer through their use, and misuse.
And it was the quest to stop him, and in turn the resurgent Team Rocket, which created the backdrop for what remains the most, if not exactly spiritual, than certainly mythical of Pokémon games to date. The Johto region is submersed in its past through the Sprout Tower of Violet City and the nearby Ruins of Alph but the prominence of dragons and the red gyarados later in the game cement a kind of mystical element absent in the original games and which it can be argued Game Freak has never quite managed to recapture.
Virtually the only allusion to the past in Blue and Red was the Pokémon cemetery in Lavender Town and fossil discovery of Cinnabar Island but Johto felt like a region rooted and ancient, with legendary Pokémon who had a far greater bearing on the world about them than their counterparts in Kanto.
Being the second generation of titles in the series there was a feeling of freshness as well despite the trappings of Johto’s history; this was an entirely new region to explore with new gyms leaders to battle and new routes to traverse. There were new Pokémon as well and the appearance of some of these only at night yielded cause to return again and in so doing extended the life of those games.
Yet it was the revelation upon supposedly ‘finishing’ Gold and Silver that the game world was twice as large as players had been led to believe which truly demonstrated the scale of what Game Freak had created by allowing gamers to fully explore the original games’ Kanto region as well. Most impressively, this was all done on the GameBoy Color.
In the end, Game Freak delivered one of the defining moments of gaming when you climbed Mount Silver and confronted Red upon the summit. A Pokémon battle which reverberates still and has rarely been eclipsed in the series since.
Perhaps the time since has clouded the games’ faults yet Pokémon Gold and Silver remain the most compelling entries in the series, at least until X and Y; for that alone, they deserve to be remembered fondly for their contributions to the franchise.