Why Pokémon Gen 2 is the heart and soul of the franchise

By Spencer Furniss

What’s your favorite game series?

Within that series, is there a specific game that you think is the absolute best of them? And if there is, is it the most recent, or one of the games in between?

I have played every single generation of Pokémon up until the Sword and Shield, and I love getting into conversations about which generation is the best. Is it Red/Blue/Yellow for introducing us to the world of Pokémon? Is it Ruby/Sapphire/Emerald for bringing us into a world more animated than ever? Or is it one of the 3DS generations, taking us into a fully 3D, traditional Pokémon game for the first time?

It’s always up for debate, and I don’t think there is a true answer to the question. But I will argue that Pokémon’s future would not have been as bright without Gen 2s arrival with Gold, Silver and Crystal. Crystal was actually the first game that allowed you to pick a female player character!

Since they were released in 1999 (Japan) and 2000(US), these three games have shaped the franchise in more ways than I think we recognize sometimes. If you have any love for Pokémon, take a trip with me and let’s pay tribute to the games that truly built some of the best features in the series.

Why can't I hold all these Poké Balls?

Let’s start off with something that anyone who has played Pokémon is familiar with – trying to catch them all! 

In the original generation of Pokémon , you had the most basic set of Poké Balls, with the regular Poké Ball, Great Ball, Ultra Ball, and Master Ball. The one addition to those is an area specific ball, the Safari Ball. Like I said, pretty basic, especially when you compare it to the most recent generation, Sword and Shield, which have 23 different Poké Balls.

That’s quite a difference, even with the 24-year gap between the sets of games. But did you know that Gen 2 introduced the highest number of Poké Balls, and that every ball introduced (minus the Park Ball which was area specific) is still in the most current games? Out of the 18 non basic Poké Balls, Gen 2 is responsible for 7 of them, leaving only 11 others to stick around over 5 generations. 

The way these games introduced these is also something that has stuck around, “farming” items in the world. Throughout the game, you’ll run across fruit bearing trees where you can find Berries (more on that later), and acorns. You can take any acorns you have to an NPC in one of the early areas of the game, and after some time has passed, you can return to him to pick up a Poké Ball that’s determined by the type of acorn you gave him!

Catch ‘em, breed ‘em, put ‘em into balls!

So we’ve established that Gen 2 introduced the most new ways to catch Pokémon , but what about the Pokémon themselves? What’s changed?

Well, other than 100 new Pokémon , there is now an incredibly rare chance that any Pokémon you see will be “Shiny.” Shiny Pokémon are, for all intents and purposes, the same as any other Pokémon , but have different coloration which makes them a collector’s dream. While the chances of finding one of these in the wild is a staggering 1/8192, you can significantly increase these odds by breeding Pokémon with certain stats! Wait, did I just say breeding?

Yes I did! A series staple, species having the ability to breed with Pokémon of the same group (or the androgynous Ditto) started in Gen 2 as well. If you take Pokémon to the Day Care Center, the caretaker can give you a hint as to whether your Pokémon are compatible or not. 

If they are, and if you leave them there long enough, the caretaker might surprise you with a Pokémon Egg. Carry these around with you long enough, and you’ll have a baby Pokémon . (Imagining Poké-hook-ups is a form of nightmare fuel if you think about it.)

Speaking of baby Pokémon , those started here too. Eight different Pokémon species had pre-evolution forms that started in Gen 2, like Pichu and Igglybuff! While they aren’t necessarily important for battling, they are incredibly cute and a fun part of filling out your Pokédex.

Beyond breeding, babies, and shiny Pokémon, there are also time-specific Pokémon. Gen 2 introduced a day and night cycle to Pokémon. Depending on the time of day different Pokemon will appear. This could mean finding more bug-type Pokémon in the morning, and nocturnal Pokémon like Hoothoot at night. Some Pokémon will also “swarm” certain areas on specific days of the week, like the absolutely worthless Dunsparce.

Before moving on, let’s look at the Legendary Pokémon. While Lugia and Ho-Oh can both be caught in game in all three versions, there are three legendary beast Pokémon who will run to different portions of the world after you first encounter them – Entei, Raikou, and Suicune.

This means you have to find them out in the world and track them with your Pokédex, whittling them down every time you see them in the hopes of capturing them, as they’ll flee every time you encounter them. These beasts introduced a roaming mechanic that we’ve seen in Pokémon like Latios and Latias.

Brutal battle mechanics

Now that we’ve gone over the new ways to fill up your Pokédex, what did Gen 2 bring to battles?

Remember when I brought up berries earlier? Gen 2 introduced a Pokémon’s ability to hold items, which is something that has become key to every game that came after. From berries found on trees that can heal or cure paralysis in battle, to items that boost the damage of certain attack types, held items can make or break the usefulness of some Pokémon and strategies. And if you ever run out of berries, go check out some trash cans for “Leftovers,” which will heal the Pokémon holding it a little bit every turn.

You’re going to need these held items as you reach the end game, as this generation of Pokémon games introduced us to the Battle Tower. This building operates almost as an end-game challenge dungeon, where you work your way through battle after battle with your chosen three Pokémon under specific rule sets. This would go on to be a staple in some form or another for the rest of the series, giving the trainer something to work on when all other trainers have been beaten into nothing but Rattata fodder.

Going into the specifics of battling, two new types of Pokémon were introduced: steel and dark. Dark was a direct response to how strong Psychic was in Gen 1. In addition to adding new types, Gen 2 split the special stat into special attack and special defense, giving the player more direct information about the strengths and weaknesses of the Pokémon they’re using. They also introduced NPCs who can delete or tutor moves to your Pokémon , so you can experiment and really figure out what works best for each one.

A feature that I think most of us have forgotten about is the Trainer House in Viridian City, which allows you to battle a copy of the last person you used the Mystery Gift function with. I can’t state enough how often I used this, especially when I moved away from all of my friends for months. Thanks to this feature, I had a copy of three of my best friends with me that I felt like I could see every time I walked into this building. 

And for the people who love animation, Crystal was the first main series game that had Pokémon animating before a battle starts!

A vast world

I think the greatest thing about Gen 2 is something that no other game in the series has let you do since – go back to the world of the games that came before it. 

After you complete the first set of gym leaders and the Elite Four for the first time, you are given the ability to hop aboard a train and enter the Kanto region (Gen 1’s map). 

Not only are you allowed free reign within this familiar territory, but there are now eight more gym leaders to face, more of the original 151 Pokémon to catch, and familiar faces to catch up with. 

You can go track down the original legendary birds, discover that the volcano on Cinnabar Island has blown up, and make your way back to the Elite Four for a second, more difficult run.

With all of that done and then some, you would think the game would just be over. Instead, one last path is opened up to you, and you begin an ascent to battle the player character from Gen 1, complete with every grade schooler’s dream team. Personally, no other battle in the entire series matches up to the weight of this one.

But this is just...like...my opinion, man

I’m not going to lie, Pokémon Silver is my favorite of the entire series. Hell, it’s in my top 3 games of all time. Yellow might have been my first, but Silver was the game where I fell head over heels for this series, and it’s the game I’ve gone back to the most.

Other games in the series are obviously more technical, the battles in Gen 2 are more grindy by nature, and there have definitely been advancements in story and graphics over the last 20 years. What makes this game so special to me, and everyone else who cherishes these games, is its character. 

There is something magical about exploring the Unown cave for the first time, figuring out its puzzles, and finding the mysterious radio station on your Pokégear that gave me the chills when I listened to it. Johto is a region based on traditional Japanese architecture, and it shines through even on such limited hardware.

Being able to visit Kanto and see everything you once loved with a beautiful, new polish was like going back to an old home and seeing that it is in better shape than you remembered. There is just something so wonderful about the adventure and mystery of what’s to come that this game presents.

A story given, a story shared

When I was 8 years old, my grandpa gave my cousin and I both Gold and Silver, so we wouldn’t feel like the other had something we wanted. He wanted us to be on equal footing with every gift, and I never thanked him enough for improving our fun with gestures like that. In addition to both games, he gave us Gameboy Light accessory packs, as well as brand new sleeping bags. 

On Christmas night of 2000, I remember sitting under the tree. I had Cartoon Network on, playing an endless stream of crappy-but-charming Christmas specials, and I stayed in that sleeping bag playing Silver until I couldn’t keep my eyes open anymore. 

This memory is important to me. It’s something I think of often, especially when Christmas is approaching. Every December, I download an emulator and jump back into Johto to try and relive a taste of what that was like. 

Gen 2 gave me a love and passion for video games that I am always trying to reach again, whether it’s actually possible or not. Luckily, writing about how special this game is and sharing what it means to me has brought something back. I want to chase that feeling again, and I think it’s possible for any of us looking to feel that level of love and excitement we once felt. 

At the end of the day, my love for Pokémon Gold, Silver, and Crystal comes from sharing that love, having a mutual love and discussion about why it means something. I think that’s the greatest aspect of Pokémon and gaming in general; it’s meant to be a shared experience. Even on set journeys, we have our own stories and our own perspectives. 

So please, if you have a memory that means a lot to you, that you’ve always held on to with these games, or any Pokémon game, or any game in general, reach out to me in the comments. Let’s share our stories and remind each other why video games are such incredible media that live on just as much as books or film.

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Readers Comments (2)

  1. I loved all the Pokémon games! And I love your memory about your grandpa around Christmas 🙂 I loved catching Ho-Oh and my shiny gyrados!

  2. I also loved being able to get calls from trainers I’d battled before. Youngster Joey is iconic haha!

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