Nigel has been playing video games ever since he first picked up a Master System controller in his diapers. Nintendo fanboy.
The Pokémon mixed-media empire is among the most profitable media franchises of all time, encompassing movies, books, manga and graphic novels, over twenty seasons of anime, more than twenty movies, and of course several video games and spin-offs. I was in high school in 2000 when the second generation of games came out, and the series hadn't yet reached franchise fatigue, so it was still cool to play in high school.
I loved these games, and having already whet my palette with the movie Pokémon 2000—which is the best movie in the franchise don't @ me—I blazed through the main game in a matter of days. To this day, the second generation of games is my favorite generation, but they are by no means perfect. After looking at some of the flaws in the first games, its time I think to take a look at the reasons why Pokémon Gold and Silver were actually horrible.
It's not on the list because I wanted to focus on some issues that are all tied together, so let's make an honorable mention for the issue that the Mythical Pokémon Celebi was never released outside of Japan until 2006, during the Fire Red and Leaf Green Tour Across America. Europe had X and Y Versions.
1. Lackluster Villains
Let's be honest. The villainous Team Rocket in this game is a mere shadow of its former self. They are weak, don't come across as a frequent threat, are barely featured, and their motivations are flimsy. Canonically, it would make sense as they've been without their figurehead for two years in this sequel, but that does not make them any more compelling of a villain team. The admins didn't even have names! The self-described temporary boss was just "Team Rocket Admin."
It just feels like they were an afterthought in the overall story. Team Rocket was peppered throughout all sorts of places in the first generation of games, but they hardly come up in this generation. There's only three places they actually show up in during the main story, and while the final attempt to thwart Team Rocket is a bit lengthy it feels like they were hardly part of the game at all. Your rival is a better and more competent villain than this leaderless and toothless team.
2. The One Flaw With the Post-Game
Gold and Silver had one of the most expansive and satisfying post-games in the franchise—save possibly Crystal which added a Battle Frontier—but had one thing wrong: it felt rather empty. Now this is going to be a matter of opinion, but travelling a whole region should have more content. Pokémon has never really been known for its quality post-games but I found that the Gen 2 games had about the same amount of content as any other game, but spread it across the entire Kanto region.
Okay, I know that actually sounds good, but what it means is that for much of your adventures in Kanto there really isn't all that much to do. There's the mini-quests to get the power plant running, getting the badges, the rainbow or silver feather and the final battle against Red on Mount Silver. There's a handful of Pokémon that are only available in the post-game and honestly, that's something I expect anyways, at least when the post-game takes place in an area previously unavailable.
In fact, you know how you can tell this region is empty? If you battle every trainer in the game and postgame, and do a bit above average levels of wild battle grinding, you're still going to be about ten levels below Red's lowest Pokémon, assuming a full team and balanced rotation.
This is one of the best post-games in the series and I know it took some programming magic to fit a whole region on the game cart. I just wish they could have put a region's worth of content in there with it. Users will always praise the decision to go back to Kanto, and constantly beg to return to a previous region every time a new game comes out, and I want that too, but I also want that region to be filled with things to do and objectives to complete, and that's why Kanto in Gen 2 was lacking.
3. Gym Leaders Who Hated Their Job
Oh boy. Who's supposed to be the regulating body over the Pokémon League? I mean, it should be the League itself right? That's literally the definition of a league. Does it have a commissioner? Isn't that the job of the Champion and the Elite Four?
Now, I don't know about you, but when I watch a sporting event, I expect a win to be a win, and a loss to be a loss. Doesn't matter whether you won by pure skill or by fluke. But two of the Johto Gym Leaders didn't seem to get that memo. I mean Whitney does give it to you eventually, after she finishes her little temper tantrum. Claire however, refuses to acknowledge your victory. I didn't realize that was an option, and I watch professional wrestling!
Claire—the League Champion/Commissioner's sister—can just decide that your win was a fluke and doesn't count. That kind of seems a bit corrupt if you ask me. It doesn't even make sense in universe. The so-called challenge Claire asks you to complete to prove yourself isn't difficult, at least in Gold and Silver. You have to retrieve an item from a cavern. This item is practically by the entrance. They do actually improve it to make sense somewhat in Crystal, where you go deeper into the cavern and have to answer a test of knowledge. The fact that a mafia leader even knew his duty was to give the ten year old his badge in Red and Blue versions but the sister of the leader of the whole Pokémon League couldn't smacks of either corruption, incompetence, or lazy writing, and for reasons I'll address later, it seems like the latter.
4. More Glitches and Bugs, and the Problem With Stats
Good news! There's no more "old man glitch!" Now you can duplicate Pokémon and items with ease instead, turn the first Pokémon in your party into any Pokémon, with any stats you want, you can even make it shiny if you want!
Most people used the item duplication and Pokémon cloning glitch. They're really the same glitch, only difference being whether the Pokémon you're cloning is holding an item. Fun Fact: If you transfer a box of thirty cloned Ho-ohs into Pokémon Bank from the Virtual Console versions of Gold and Silver, it will recognize them all as different Pokémon and assign them different ID numbers and stat assignments, making all of them perfectly legal to use.
As I said, most people are familiar with cloning and duplication, but there's also what's become known as the "coin case bug." Basically, you can utilize the names of your PC Boxes in the game to inject arbitrary code. If you have a coin case, a certain Pokémon, and know what to put into the PC Box titles for a desired effect, it's like having an Action Replay built right into the game! You can edit your inventory, or even change the species or stats of your Pokémon! And because gender and whether your Pokémon is shiny or not is linked to stats, you can also make your Pokémon shiny!
I'm not going to get into the specific details of how to perform this bug as it can be game-breaking if you don't know what you're doing. Plus I don't like to encourage cheating. The best part? If you know what you're doing well enough—which works best of you, say, stick to just making shiny monsters—these Pokémon are then also perfectly legal!
This ties into problem 4b with this generation of games: Stats. Everything about your Pokémon is controlled by its stats. Its gender is determined by its stats, its shininess is determined by its stats, if there's multiple forms—like Unown—that's also determined by its stats. That means it's impossible to get certain Pokémon with certain stat combinations, usually tied to gender or shininess. Like a female starter Pokémon. It's impossible to get female shiny starters. In fact, any Pokémon with a gender ratio that isn't 50/50, it will be impossible to get a shiny of the less frequent gender. This also means that the only Unown that can be shiny are I and V shaped Unown.
Other bugs in the game include:
- Fast ball is designed to work on Pokémon that run away in battle, but actually only works on three of the thirteen Pokémon programmed to run away that can be encountered in the wild.
- Love ball was also programmed to be 8x effective on Pokémon of the same gender and species, instead of just the opposite gender.
- The held item Dragon Fang does nothing.
- A wild Pokémon using transform as a non-Ditto Pokémon turns them into a Ditto upon capture. This is particularly a problem if you're trying to catch a Smeargle, so don't try to catch a Smeargle if you're using a Ditto.
5. The Games Feel Rushed
All of the four problems here combine to create on larger problem. Gen 2 feels rushed. It's not like it didn't have a long enough development cycle. But when you look at the game demo from the 1997 Space World event, a trade show hosted by Nintendo of Japan, you can tell that a lot was left on the cutting room floor. So much, in fact, it's reasonable to believe that at some point they scrapped almost everything and started anew.
The writing felt lazy in many parts, including some gym leaders and the whole Team Rocket side story. The fact that they gave us a huge post-game area that still felt almost empty. The fact that many of the games bugs could have been fixed with a little bit of extra editing—especially the bugs surrounding pokéballs and held items.
Now, I don't think they were actually lazy, but instead I think they were rushed. The development crunch was well documented and HAL President and programmer savant even stepped in to help, programming special tools from scratch for the team to use, including a custom compression software to fit in the whole of the Kanto region for the postgame.
The reason why the game was likely rushed was because Game Freak didn't think the franchise was going to last as long as it has. There was a genuine belief that Pokémon was going to be just a fad, and they needed to release this game while the franchise still had momentum. If they knew then what they know now, I think they would have taken their time with the game a bit more. The fact that Crystal Version actually fixed a lot of these issues shows that they just needed time. There were fewer bugs, increased post-game content with the Battle Frontier, new story elements, and more. In all fairness, Crystal was also designed for the Game Boy Color and utilized the better hardware of the system and it's cartridges.
These games are my absolute favorite games in the franchise, including what I would consider the very best Pokémon designs, gyms, features, and that final battle against Red on Mt. Silver. I shiver to think what could have been if they waited just a little longer, perhaps make it a Game Boy Color exclusive. The franchise is still going strong, and not just because of the success of the first games, but how strong these games were as sequels. Pokémon owes almost as much of its success to these games as it does the original Red and Blue Versions, but I still believe that all it would have taken to be even stronger was a little more time.