Autumn, 1999. I am a freshman in high school. I’ve had Pokémon Red for a year and it’s one of my favorite games of all time. Home internet access is still relatively new, and I have to visit the library to access the world wide web. I happily do so for more Pokémon information. “Togepi” and “Pikablu” are teased in the anime, but we only see blurry screenshots. Although the sequel to Pokémon had been announced, I only vaguely know anything about it for a while. As the months go by, more and more information comes out. Electronic Gaming Monthly runs a feature about it, and suddenly I know what true hype is: Pokémon Gold and Silver are finally real. It’s a great time to be a Pokémon fan.
While it would be about a year before the games came out in the United States and other regions (October 2000 in the US and Australia and April 2001 in Europe), Pokémon Gold and Silver were officially unleashed upon the world on November 21, 1999 in Japan. As the second generation of Pokémon games, they had a lot to live up to. Many companies had a huge stake in the series being a success, from video games to toys to trading card games to TV shows and movies. Perhaps that’s why Game Freak went absolutely bonkers with the amount of content in Gold and Silver.
The second generation
Many video game franchises are defined by their second installment. For series such as Super Mario and The Legend of Zelda, their sophomore outings proved that the source material could be easily adapted to different experiences. In the case of series like Mega Man and Pokémon, number two was much more integral in setting the formula for years to come. Gold and Silver introduced many new features to the series, but more importantly, they cemented what a Pokémon game is. Three starters (always grass, fire, and water), eight gyms, the Elite Four and Champion, a team of criminals to take down, a rival to test your skills. These are the hallmarks of playing a Pokémon game, as codified by Gold and Silver.
It would be wrong to ignore the new features, however. Here are some of the more enduring ones:
Pokémon Red and Blue released with a total of 15 elemental types. Gold and Silver added two more and did it with panache. Dark and steel were added to balance the competitive scene, but they made a spectacle of it, with posters, artwork, and, of course, trading cards. The TCG heavily featured the two new types in the Neo Genesis expansion, with all cards of the new type in the rare slot. Dark and steel Pokémon were special.
It would be another 14 years before we saw a new type.
It might seem like a small addition, but the ability to have a Pokémon hold an item changed the competitive scene completely. If a monster holding a berry took too much damage or suffered a status ailment, it could heal itself with a free action. While later games would expand what held items could do in battle, this is where it started.
Another major addition to the Pokémon formula was the ability to breed monsters. Every competitive player is familiar with spending hours on collecting eggs, hatching them, checking stats, and doing it all over again. In fact, there’s an area in each game that allows players to mindlessly move in a long straight line, back and forth, simply to make the process of hatching eggs easier. We also got adorable baby versions of fan favorites.
Trading to and from the first game
The team at Game Freak wanted to reward fans of the original game. They made it possible to trade directly between the first and second generations. Of course, new Pokémon could not be traded to older games, but you were able to bring your old favorites into Johto to join in on your new adventure. And oh boy did you need them in…
By now, any Pokémon fan worth their salt knows that Gold and Silver actually allowed players to explore the original region from Red and Blue once they were done with the Johto League. At the time, however, this was an incredible surprise. Everyone in Kanto had had a couple years to train. You learned about the things that had transpired in the time since your last visit. You got to battle your former rival as a gym leader, the original Elite Four, a retired and disgraced Giovanni, and even your own self from the previous game. No other game in the series has done anything this massive, and I wonder if we’ll ever see something like it again.
Autumn, 2000. I buy Pokémon Silver at the mall. I am still as hyped for this as I ever was and play with friends new and old. Over the last year, I’ve actually learned a little Japanese from constant exposure to screenshots. The Trading Card Game, the anime, and the community are as excellent as ever. I join an online group that creates Pokémon cards and learn to use Photoshop. It’s a great time to be a Pokémon fan.
Spring, 2010. The remakes of Pokémon Gold and Silver come out on the Nintendo DS. Despite my weariness with the Pokémon series in general, I love the remakes. The included Pokéwalker turns out to be the most accurate step counter on the market. SoulSilver is an incredible remake. It’s a great time to be a Pokémon fan.
Autumn, 2019. The new generation of Pokémon games releases for the Nintendo Switch, the first mainline games in the series on home consoles. Many of the monsters we met in Johto aren’t present in Galar (yet), but the legacy lives on. More options for competitive players, designs that look and feel like classic Pokémon, and a sense that the team is trying to outdo itself yet again. It’s a great time to be a Pokémon fan.