BFTP: Pokémon Gold/Silver
Due to the current influx of free time in my life, I recently replaced the dead battery in my vintage Pokémon Silver cartridge. Though my original save file featuring dozens of hours of playtime and a crack team of monsters died along with the disc-shaped power cell, swapping in a fresh CR2025 meant that I now had a damn good reason to play this Game Boy Color classic all over again.
The original Pokémon Red/Blue/Yellow provided the basis for all mainline Pokémon games to come, delivering a unique competitive RPG that centred around catching and battling an array of charming (and highly marketable) creatures. Gold/Silver picked up where the original left off, smartly expanding and improving on these core values in almost every way imaginable.
The most obvious improvement in the sequel is its visuals, no longer confined to monochrome thanks to the Game Boy Color’s hardware. The art style is also much more refined compared to the occasionally odd and inconsistent one of the original, while the inclusion of 100 new pocket monsters and a brand new setting called the Johto region were also huge back-of-the-box bullet points.
A more subtle but equally important addition was the real-time aspect made possible through the use of a clock built-in to the cartridge. This allowed for a night and day cycle which determined which collectable beasts would be roaming the wilds. Also, characters would appear and events occur on certain days of the week, adding further variety and incentive for players to keep coming back to the game. All in all, this added another dimension to the Pokémon experience whilst making the world feel a little more real. A very similar system would later become a core element to Nintendo’s Animal Crossing series.
Gold/Silver also introduced Pokémon breeding which took monster rearing to a whole new level. This allowing players to find new creatures that were only available through breeding, allow monsters to inherit moves from their parents that they wouldn’t otherwise learn and breed many of the one-off creatures from Red/Blue/Green - all of which added greater dimension to ‘catching ‘em all’ and trading with friends. Dark and Steel types were also added, further increasing the diversity and rebalancing the rock-paper-scissors underpinnings central to the Pokémon experience.
With a new game came a new land to explore and conquer. Johto boasted the majority of the 100 new beasts to tame plus a whole bunch of things to see and do. However, upon beating the Elite Four (the typical final boss gauntlet of the series) players travel to Kanto, the setting from the first Pokémon. Not only was this a nice surprise but it was also a real treat for returning fans, enabling them to rediscover Kanto in colour, capture many of the classic 151 monsters, battle the eight original Gym Leaders (essentially the core bosses in a Pokémon game) and find out what’s happened in the land during the three years between games.
The only bummer is that the level progression in Kanto is all over the place. Areas maintain the same level ranges as they did in Red/Blue/Yellow, topping out at around the 50 mark. This isn’t much use in terms of the player’s progress, as they’ll likely have a team of level 50 Pokémon after beating the Elite Four. Kanto’s Pokémon trainers are incrementally higher than post-Elite Four levels but there simply aren’t enough of them to build up a decent chunk of experience. While some will occasionally call you on your in-game mobile phone for rematches this doesn’t occur that often and, again, simply doesn’t offer a great deal of experience in the short term.
Making matters is worse is the fact that many areas from the original region are conspicuously absent this time around. A lot of the dungeon-like areas are either closed off, greatly condensed or simply don’t exist any more. Even an entire town is gone, destroyed by a volcanic eruption that occurred sometime in the last three years. The resulting Kanto is not the lengthy, expansive one that players knew and loved.
Beating all eight Gym Leaders there does grant players access to one final new area called Mount Silver. While this does allow you to challenge the mysterious protagonist from the original game and his high level team, the area itself is short and doesn’t house any Pokémon above level 60.
In short, Gold/Silver (like the original) is seriously lacking in endgame content. If you intend to reach to level cap of 100 in order to battle friends or link up with Nintendo 64 companion game Pokémon Stadium 2 it’s going to be a long, hard grind. Later games in the series would rectify this issue (most notably in the HeartGold and SoulSilver remakes on the Nintendo DS) by adding more substantial post-game content, better progression and faster levelling but these older titles – as much as I love and respect them – now feel like a chore beyond that level 60 region.
A much more minor complaint I have with the game is that the music isn’t as good as the first’s. It often plays it a little too safe and sticks closely to the vibe of its predecessor with its new tracks often sounding like alternate versions of those that have come before. It also doesn’t help that a large portion of its soundtrack has to be dedicated to (albeit slightly remixed) compositions of those Kanto themes, so the gulf in quality is shown in stark contrast.
Looking back now, if you’re the type who likes to max out your Pokémon, the lack of endgame content is certainly a problem. But aside from that and a slightly disappointing soundtrack everything Gold/Silver did was for the better, bringing so many meaningful additions to the table that have remained throughout the series. It might be grindy towards the end for hardcore players but it definitely deserves its status as one of the most beloved RPGs and sequels.
If you’re interested in playing the game for the first time but don’t have the nostalgia for the Game Boy titles, I’d suggest picking up the DS remake HeartGold/SoulSilver instead as it features numerous modern upgrades and is somewhat compatible with the current games. For me, picking up the original after the best part of fifteen years had me hooked all over again. Well, at least until I had beaten Mount Silver.