Retro Review: Pokémon Crystal

Introduction

Pokémon Gold and Pokémon Silver, were the sequels to the breakout success Pokémon Red and Blue versions. The games released just at the peak of the “Pokémania” phenomenon of the late 90s with a 1999 release in Japan, 2000 in the US and AU, and in 2001 in the EU. The sequels sought to expand upon the world of Pokémon created in Red and Blue adding a new region to explore filled with new characters and 100 new Pokémon. Pokémon Crystal Version released in 2001 and built even more upon the Johto Region with more quality-of-life upgrades, tweaks to the story and additions of new features like the ability to choose your sex and Battle Tower. After completing a recent replay of Pokémon Crystal Version it’s time to dive in with a retro review. How do these lauded sequels hold up? Read more to find out!

Story

This game is set 2 years after the events in Pokémon Red and Blue versions and has the player taking on role of a new 10 year-old trainer that is starting their journey. Johto is a region that is to the west of the Kanto region, where Red and Blue took place. New trainers start out by visiting Professor Elm and choosing a starter from among Chikorita, Cyndaquil and Totodile a Grass, Fire, and Water type respectively. The rival in this game is an edgy kid that steals a Pokémon from the Elm lab after you receive yours. He also seems to have a connection to the villainous Team Rocket who has returned in this game and are looking for their leader Giovanni as they carry out evil schemes. The player must take on the 8 Johto Gym Leaders and challenge the Pokémon League while stopping Team Rocket along the way.

The Johto region sports many environments and locations a decent mix of familiar and unfamiliar. Some Locations really show off a uniqueness that establishes Johto as different place, while others will feel right at home in the previous titles. The story in the game makes frequent callbacks to the previous games establishing the connection between the stories and making the world feel more alive via the connection to the previous regions.

Game Play

The game play builds upon what was established in Red and Blue. The isometric over-world exploration and thrilling turn-based battles remain intact from the originals with several refinements. The biggest change will be the addition of two new Pokémon types: the Dark-Type and the Steel-Type. These types were introduced to balance the type chart which had previously left the Psychic-type too strong in Red and Blue with little counter-play. Another new feature was the introduction of Pokémon Breeding, a process that allowed players even further customization of their Pokémon via breeding moves that Pokémon can’t normally learn onto the offspring. The games also introduced an internal clock so that the game tracks whether it is day or nighttime and the over-world visuals and appearance rate of Pokémon change. The HM system returns with a bunch of new additions and with them new environmental obstacles such as waterfalls whirlpools.

Sound

One again the sound team pushes the limits of the Game Boy hardware with an amazing soundtrack. The jaunty town and route themes create an atmosphere that feels familiar yet very different from the soundtrack in Red Blue and Yellow. This game notably has a few more tunes that have a melancholy feel to them making some songs feel nostalgic even upon hearing them for the first time. Several tunes from Pokémon Red Blue Green and Yellow return as remixes that capture the feel of the originals while giving the sense of time passed. The cries for the new Pokémon carry the same unique qualities that make them feel right at home among the existing cries. The sound effects feature a mix of staple sound effects from the previous games and brand new sounds for a mix that lets the player know they are playing Pokémon but a new game in a new setting.

Graphics and Visuals

GameFreak has further refined their understanding of the Game Boy hardware and created a graphical presentation far superior to that of Red/Green/Blue/Yellow. The Pokémon sprites are clearer and more detailed. The spites are colorful and the poses are full of life. If you play the Crystal Version the Pokémon sprites will move when you first send them out into battle this touch makes the Pokémon feel even more alive. The in-game trainers have all had upgrades to their sprites and new designs making the visual experience feel fresh and new even. This game starts the series staple of the NPC trainers having new designs in every new generation. All of the major characters have iconic designs that players will instantly fall in love with. The animations for Pokémon attacks have also been given an upgrade to make them more visually impressive, as you play you can see and feel the power of each move as the attacks flash across the screen and impact the opponents.

The upgrade to the over-world visuals are not as intense as the Pokémon and trainer visuals, but they are still impressive and in some areas shine in an outstanding display. The environments range from towns themed after ancient Japanese villages to sprawling modern cityscapes, to caves covered in ice. Exploring the visual world is an experience like no other on the Game Boy.

Other

The inclusion of the Kanto quest in the game effectively results in the main quest for the game being spit between the two regions. This results in the Johto region being somewhat shorter than the main quest in Red and Blue, in fact the Johto quest is the shortest main game quest in the franchise. This splitting also affects the Pokémon distribution with several Johto (The Murkrow, Houndour, Larvitar, and Slugma lines) Pokémon only being found in the Kanto region making them unwatchable during the main quest. This limitation combined with the high percentage of Kanto Pokémon present in the Johto region rob the main quest of some of it’s unique feel as players encounter many Pokémon they have seen before.

The expansion of the HM system pushes the number of HMs up to 7 which is a significant number. This often results in players being forced to replace useful moves to have HMs needed to navigate the over-world or face having to backtrack to a Pokémon Center when they encounter an obstacle.

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The addition of more chances to re-battle certain NPC trainers and the addition of breeding to further customize your favorite Pokémon adds a level of replayable to the game that is better than what was in Red/Blue, however, the games still suffer from a lack of post-game content.

In the Crystal Version the Battle Tower is introduced, it is a tower where players can ascend by widding battles against NPC trainers with very strong AI making them difficult battles. This feature is great for players looking for a deeper challenge after conquering the game world but aren’t ready for competitive play against other humans.

Final Verdict

Pokémon Gold/Silver/Crystal stands as a great sequel. It’s said that lightning doesn’t strike twice, but these games proved that saying wrong and set the stage for Pokémon to continue on to become the mega-series that it is today. The games pick up where Red/Blue/Yellow left off and do a solid job of expanding the game world in a way that feels both new and familiar. The game shows the growing pains of a new series breaching out and and finding its feet in it’s first sequel but the cons of the game are far outweighed by the pros. If you enjoyed Red/Blue/Yellow you will love this game. If you are a fan that missed out on playing these games it is worth it to come back and experience the debut of Johto and first steps into the larger world of Pokémon.

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