Pokemon Retrospective: Gen. 2 – Johto Journey

In many people’s opinions (myself included), this is the best generation of Pokemon that we have ever gotten.

The Sequel

In many people’s opinions (myself included), this is the best generation of Pokemon that we have ever gotten.

How do you follow up on a game that took the world by storm? What kind of fear and trepidation is involved with simultaneously improving on a winning formula while also delivering more of the same comfort food that people have come to expect? Will fans eat it up all over again or will the critics tear you down and push you into obscurity and irrelevance?

I suspect that these are questions that Game Freak and The Pokemon Company have to wrestle with before releasing a new generation. After all, regardless of how some fans feel about changes between generations, there is no question as to whether or not there will be new innovations. The main question is: will these innovations sell the games?

Directly after the outstanding success of the first generation of Pokemon games, the decision to make a sequel was obvious. I mean, who doesn’t like money? What business in their right mind would turn down the opportunity to continue making profits hand-over-fist?

Amazingly, seemingly against all odds and logic, not only did Pokemon Gold and Pokemon Silver perform superbly, but they have also cemented themselves as a shining example of what a sequel should look like. In many people’s opinions (myself included), this is the best generation of Pokemon that we have ever gotten.

It’s A Whole New World We Live In

My friends and I poured over that list during lunch time, trying to make sense of the names and picture what kind of Pokemon were waiting for us in this mystical land of Johto.

In the months leading up to the US release of these games, I was beginning to become internet-savvy. I had been following the news of the Japanese release of these games very closely. I couldn’t believe a sequel was actually coming out! How in the world could they possibly make these dream games even better?

I remember finding a list of the Pokemon names on some dark corner of the web. The Japanese names were listed first along with a rough translation of what the name could mean (which probably wasn’t accurate in the slightest). I felt like I found the holy grail. None of my friends were talking about it, so I proceeded to print out the entire list in size 6 font so I could fit it all on one or two pages. My friends and I poured over that list during lunch time, trying to make sense of the names and picture what kind of Pokemon were waiting for us in this mystical land of Johto.

The games were released when I was leaving to go on a family trip. This was the most perfect, beautiful thing that could have happened because I was sitting in the backseat of a car with nothing to do most of the days as we traveled around the West Coast. Nothing to do, that is, except play video games. With the money I had saved, I had my dad get up early before we left to go to Wal-Mart and hope beyond hope that I would be able to pick up a copy. The copies hadn’t been put out yet for display (which almost made me cry), but I noticed that the boxes were lined up at the bottom of the display case ready to be put out later. I summoned all the courage I had and nervously asked if I could purchase the copy of Pokemon Silver that I saw. The expression of happiness and gratitude on my face when the worker pulled it out, scanned it, and handed it to me after I paid for it was probably beatific. At last, Pokemon Silver was all mine.

It’s a Whole New Place with a Brand-New Attitude

Familiar yet foreign could really be an accurate description of the entire game, from map layouts to villain confrontations to battle mechanics.

Everything about Johto is familiar yet foreign. The graphics looked significantly upgraded from its predecessor, and if you were one of the lucky people with a GameBoy Color or a Super GameBoy, the color palette was quite pleasing to behold. The music felt almost multi-layered with many of its compositions, which is a testament to how wonderful that little sound chip really was. As soon as you open up to New Bark Town and hear that town’s melody, you feel like you are at home. Appropriately reminiscent of Pallet Town’s theme, yet entirely new and worthy in its own right.

Familiar yet foreign could really be an accurate description of the entire game, from map layouts to villain confrontations to battle mechanics. Battles played out almost identically to its predecessor with a few notable exceptions. One that most will notice right off are the inclusion of held items. This added an entirely new layer to the battles because it was completely unknown as to what your opponent might have given a seemingly innocuous Pokemon that will make them deadly and dangerous. Are they holding a power-up move? A berry that will heal their health? Will my super-effective attack hurt them as much? This is where I really started embracing the idea of competitive battling because it didn’t entirely depend on who has the “stronger” Pokemon, but rather, who knew how to properly raise and equip them.

Team Rocket was back, but there was a bit of a twist this team. Directly following the events of Red and Blue, the members and grunts of Team Rocket are trying to reach out to their former leader, Giovanni. He has vanished and they are looking for him, even going so far as to travel to Johto to try and mind-control Pokemon as well as establish a take-over of a town to use their radio station to broadcast their search for him. It feels like it takes the stakes and notches them up a bit from their Pokemon theft and collection from the first generation.

One cannot talk about the second generation of games, though, without describing one of the most interesting inclusions they made. Somehow, using some kind of mystical programming magic, the developers and programmers were able to cram not just the vast Johto region onto a single GameBoy cartridge, but they were also able to magically fit the entirety of the Kanto region from Red and Blue as a separate region you could visit! This was truly a jaw-dropping moment for me when I finished my copy of Silver because of how much time I had spent playing the first generation of games. Sure, there were areas that were more truncated and not as fleshed out as in the previous games, but they fit such an incredible amount of detail that one could easily forgive that. And being able to go back and take on all of the eight original gyms again, winning an additional eight badges as a result? Truly a genius move to bring back fans of the previous games while also introducing new players to what they missed from the first generation.

But You Still Gotta Catch ‘Em All

Underneath all of these developments and innovations, though, the core gameplay stayed the same. You are still expected to battle the eight gyms, then the Elite Four, all the while collecting as many of the pocket monsters that you can along the way. The amount was increased by 100, so there were certainly more new and intriguing encounters with different wild Pokemon, but the core conceit stayed the same. Game Freak even realized that it could be difficult to catch all of the various types with the normal set of PokeBalls you had available to you, so the inclusion of the Apricorns and the specialized PokeBalls that would help you catch certain species and types was certainly helpful in that regard.

In fact, many of the core elements of the previous games were not only brought over to the second generation, but also solidified the gameplay loop that would persist for the next several generations. A villainous team, eight gyms to battle, certain areas being blocked off until you have the right technique, and so on and so forth. While some of these gameplay elements certainly got stale over time, there was no doubt that the familiarity helped keep people engaged because they knew what to expect. Game Freak would add and remove features from generation to generation (for better or worse), but the core gameplay would remain the same for many years to come.

To Be the Best That You Can Be

The second generation of Pokemon games will remain my favorite in the entire franchise. Without the developments and additions to this particular set of games, I might have never continued on with the series or became as big of a fan as I am. There was a special spark with these games, almost as if Game Freak had perfected a recipe and wanted us to have the best gaming meal as they could possibly cook up. Many people agree that the second generation is truly special in this way, that Pokemon was perfected in every aspect, and that the best way the series could go would be to return to what made those games truly amazing.

Would Game Freak be able to do it again? What could possibly follow-up on such a perfect sequel? And is there indeed such a thing as “too much water?” These are questions that we will attempt to answer next time, when we cover the Hoenn region and the controversial third generation of Pokemon games.

One thought on “Pokemon Retrospective: Gen. 2 – Johto Journey

  1. There were so many things that I loved about these games! I remember not knowing that the original Pokémon games took place in the region of Kanto, until Gen 2 was coming out and they had to explain that the player is now someone from Johto, and that the previous region was named Kanto. Thanks again for a walk down memory lane!


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