Pokemon 20th Reviews: Pokemon Crystal

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Pokemon Crystal is everything I imagine people remember Red and Blue being. It retains the 8-bit aesthetic and the simpler Pokemon and map designs of yore, but is such a staggeringly better game that I can’t imagine why anyone would prefer to play the earlier games in favour of this. Even if you prefer the Pokemon designs of the original trio, they’re all still in there, but I find it hard to imagine anyone not falling in love with the new starters or any of the great new Pokemon designs on offer. If you love Kanto that much more than Johto, Kanto returns in a bit of post-game that delivers more after story content than any Pokemon game before or after it (with the exception of the remakes of the game I’m reviewing). Having said that, Johto is a better region than Kanto ever was. For one thing, it had a more defined aesthetic style – the Japanese influence carries itself throughout the entire game providing a nice coherent theme to the region that Kanto only had because the limited graphics and colour palette of the original Game boy forced a uniformity to the buildings and towns. Johto also brings with it the day/night cycle, which could have just been an addition that would serve only to make the world feel more alive, but it also adds a new dynamic to filling the Pokedex, with certain Pokemon only coming out at night. Pokemon themselves look amazing in this game, the sprite artists have nailed the design of each creature, new and old, and the little animations in Crystal are such a welcome addition it’s a wonder they left them out of Ruby and Sapphire. While on the subject of presentation, the music is better than it ever has been – while some of the music may not be as laced with nostalgia as with some of the tracks from Red and Blue, it’s no denying that the music here is a highlight (a particular favourite is Dark Cave, one of the few really memorable non-battle themes in the series).

As for gameplay, Gold, Silver and Crystal don’t have the huge advances in the battle system that something like the abilities bought, but the refinements made were all positive; held items in battle added an extra layer of strategy, the fact you could see experience points in battle just made it easier to train Pokemon, the new types introduced balanced the type system well enough that no new types had to be introduced until X and Y, and the vague ‘special’ stat was split into special attack and defense, which was a change that makes things slightly more complex, but in the best way – it makes Pokemon feel more unique and specialized. Breeding, shiny Pokemon and Pokerus just served to give collectors and Pokedex fillers more to do and collect, and the thrill of running across a shiny Pokemon in the wild is unlike no other.

Really, I’m finding it very hard to find anything negative to say about the second generation of Pokemon games. I could dish out the regular criticisms of the simplistic story and similarity to the previous games, but to do that would be missing the point. Pokemon Crystal (and G/S) are the best kind of sequel – refinements and new features that allow you to experience the amazing concept thought up in Red and Blue in a easier, better way. These games are the first truly brilliant Pokemon games, and they should really be remembered as such.

Next time is Pokemon Emerald, a game I’ve played so many times I could write the review without replaying it. I said I’d have more content before this point, but things have gotten in the way that I didn’t account for. I’m in the middle of planning a long Star Fox Zero review, and I would also like to look at the Ace Attorney anime a bit before it finishes. Until then, thanks for reading.

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