Monday, March 9, 2015

The Pokemon Retrospective: Gen II

Pokemania at its finest.

In 2000, Pokemon enveloped every child in the world. Every kid played either played the first games, watched the TV show, played the card game, or even played some of the side games like Pokemon Snap. So when it was announced that there would be a sequel to Pokemon Red/Blue, people were going nuts. 100 new Pokemon, a new region to explore, and a plethora of new advancements that had people flipping out. Those two games were Pokemon Gold and Pokemon Silver.

Fundamentally, the story of Gold/Silver remains the same as the first game, with you being a young kid that wants to become the greatest trainer in the world. You get a starter Pokemon, beat 8 gym leaders, then challenge the Elite Four. On the surface, Gold/Silver really doesn't do anything to advance the overall gameplay of the series. And to be fair, Gold/Silver is very much more of the same. However, what makes these two games truly stand out is how much they refine and polish the series.

The first thing that players will notice are the 100 new Pokemon included in the game. Not all of the new Pokemon are great, but they're solid Pokemon with an abundance of new moves and abilities. As a matter of fact, I'd argue the biggest advancement the game makes is that it introduces Dark and Steel type Pokemon. These two types were mainly used to balance out old problems from the first gen, like Psychic Pokemon being incredibly overpowered, and evens the playing field. Dark type Pokemon now can defeat Psychic Pokemon incredibly easily, but can be defeated easily by fighting Pokemon.

I'm puzzled as to what Steel Pokemon were created for though. I'm fine with them, and several of my favorite Pokemon just so happen to be Steel type, but I've always wondered why they were created. From the research I've done, they were used to balance out overpowered Normal and Psychic moves, but Dark serves as the primary response to Psychic Pokemon. Steel has a ton of defense to the point where it has the best defense in the series, but Rock Pokemon already had a major amount of defense and Dragons were resistant to nearly every type. I might not know why Steel Pokemon were created, but their inclusions make for much more interesting team dynamics.

Other advancements that Gen II made were small, but huge. First it included gender, which allowed for Pokemon breeding to take place. You had the separation of the previous Special stat to Special Attack and Special Defense, friendship mechanics, held items for Pokemon, a day/night mechanic, and most importantly, color. Color was finally added to Pokemon, which finally added a level of distinction and personality to the series. Each Pokemon now looked fully unique and not like a random jumbling of pixels that may or may not look like a turtle. Now, you knew what a Squirtle looked like, no questions asked.

Gold and Silver really added a lot of little features to the series that we still use today, but we probably don't fully acknowledge them for. In fact, Gen II is probably the most underrated generation in the whole franchise. Besides the main series games, there were only a handful of games released during Gen II, but the amount of love that fans have for these two games is incredible. Many fans love them just for being the best pure Pokemon game. No abundance of legendaries, no complicated story, no double battles; just pure, one on one Pokemon battles.

However, that's not to say that Gen II was perfect. Above all else, Gold/Silver were pathetically easy in comparison to all other Pokemon games. The strongest Pokemon in the Elite 4 were at level 50 in this game, whereas other games had Elite Four Pokemon hovering in the mid 50's or even mid 60's, and that's not even taking into consideration the Champion's Pokemon. Another one of the biggest selling points that Gold/Silver had was the ability to go back to Kanto and explore that region again. You can go back, fight all of the gym leaders again, then fight the protagonist from Pokemon Red, who is still the strongest fighter in any Pokemon game to date. However, besides fighting him, the other gym leaders are a joke and Kanto is completely barren. There's nothing to do there besides fight old enemies and maybe catch some new Pokemon not featured anywhere else.

Still, I can't complain too much above Gold/Silver. It was a sequel designed to iron out all of the problems the original games had, and they did a remarkable job at it. They made the game much easier and accessible to new players, while offering enough new mechanics to please veterans. Pokemania was in full swing and nothing could stop it after these games. That it, until the next generation finally hit...

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