Originally released in Japan in 1999, Pokémon Gold and Silver were direct sequels to the original Pokémon Red and Blue released 3 years earlier and thus a lot from the first games was taken as the foundation for the new games. Unlike later entries this pairing allowed players to capture everything available the first time around on top of 100 new creatures, and even sent us back to the first region to attain more badges than ever before. Yet does this make Gold and Silver better than any other Pokémon game?
When the games were first released there certainly was much to rejoice considering how much the horribly unbalanced gameplay of the original games had been sorted. Psychic types were no longer the unstoppable bulldozers they were in the first games thanks to the introduction of the Dark and Steel types and a much needed boost to Ghost type offensives. Also the Special stat was first split into Special Attack and Special Defence here and many other broken features like Sleep and Badly Poisoned were made far less crippling than previously. Players could no longer abuse these flaws meaning Gold and Silver set the series battle mechanics up for several years to come.
In retrospect though what else is there to appreciate besides these touch ups? Most of the Pokémon and Trainers along the journey use so many of the original 151 Pokémon that the second generation seem to take a back seat in their own games which now seems bizarre considering how much attention the new Pokémon receive in later releases. Thankfully the Johto region is interesting enough to make us overlook this fact. Its focus on a more traditional Japanese aesthetic cements the region as one of the most interesting the series has to offer which is only amplified by the gorgeous touch-up it received in Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilver. Furthermore the games expanded the mythology of the new Legendary Pokémon which while never becoming mandatory to the storyline (apart from the battle with Ho-oh and Lugia in the remakes) made these powerful creatures feel more than just a reward for getting to the end of a certain cave. Ultimately the games swung between reliance on the old Pokémon and welcoming a new era and in some respect it can make the games seem a little disappointing. These days we’ve seen so many Geodude and Zubat its now grown worthy when they show up so frequently and sadly here they show up more than ever.
However what the game does better than any other in the series is make the player feel like a Pokémon Master. This is largely thanks to the post-game experience which has us travel back to the Kanto region to take on the super powerful Gym Leaders there. No longer push-overs (except for Brock… he will always be a pushover) this quest really tested the skills of the player as by the end of this second venture every type in the game had been featured in a major battle. This meant that we really had to ensure our team was prepped for everything the Pokémon World could throw at us (Sabrina’s Psychic types still hit back with a vengeance after a light appearance from the type in Johto). While again there is a reliance on the previous set of Pokémon games, the Kanto region’s layout is still interesting and the developers have shaken things up in the 2 year time difference enough to make another trip around the region worthwhile. It is the fact that no other game in the series allows for two regions to be explored or
2 sets of badges to be obtained that really set these entries apart from any other. It is the final battle against Red atop Mt. Silver that really puts the icing on the cake. The ultimate trainer (essentially us from two years ago) is a real treat to battle and really gives the post-game that final challenge unlike any other. These games truly make us feel we’ve faced everything possible in this fully realised Pokémon world and its disappointing that no other entry since has tried to deliver an adventure to us on this type of scale. If we ever look for a reason why Gold and Silver should be so beloved than this here is the one.
We should also take a quick look at the remakes here because unlike Pokémon FireRed and LeafGreen, Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilver provide more than just a faithful face lift with a few extra quests tagged onto the end. For starters these remakes are perhaps the most gorgeous looking games in the franchise, at least from the sprite based adventures the series grew up with. Secondly the Pokéathlon remains without a doubt the best distraction the series has ever envisioned and I always find myself becoming a master athlete long before becoming the Pokémon
Champion. Finally there is the Pokéwalker which came packaged with every single copy of the games. This little peripheral took the games outside the home in a totally different way and encouraged activity in order to capture rare Pokémon and attain interesting items. It wasn’t necessary for the overall experience but it certainly gave us a boost if we invested in it. It acted as a nice gesture from Game Freak as if to say that “these are games we love just as much as you”. The only issue ultimately with the remakes is that once we arrive in Kanto with the National Pokédex in hand there isn’t much opportunity to capture anything outside of the Johto Pokédex. We have to wait for swarms or a certain channel on the radio or rely on the Pokéwalker to have any hope of capturing Hoenn or Sinnoh Pokémon. It’s like giving us a bag of sweets wrapped in stainless steel; it’s so difficult to reap the benefits from that bag. Sure there’s that hi-tech Safari Zone but that ends up being one of the less memorable additions to the remakes.
All in all while Pokémon Gold and Silver may have more reliance on their predecessors than perhaps any other game in the series to date, they make up for that by giving us the most fully realised adventure as a whole. Challenging two regions and the character we played as before give us that sense of really becoming a Pokémon Master that no other game really dives wholly into. The remakes only improve this by adding a number of distractions that are fun and engaging and we have the recipe for some of the best titles in the series. If you can get past that Red and Blue feel then Gold and Silver remain a great Pokémon adventure to play today.