Review by comicfire

Reviewed: 02/06/18

Seventeen Years Later, How Does The Definitive Generation 2 Experience Hold Up?

I absolutely love Pokemon. It's my favorite video game series and has been ever since I got my first video game, Pokemon Gold. Throughout the years, I've constantly gone back to Pokemon Gold since hey, it was my first Pokemon game, I've got to stick with it. But when Pokemon Crystal was announced for the 3DS Virtual Console, I had to see how Gen 2's third version held up. And my conclusion? It doesn't just hold up, it's one of the best RPGs on the GameBoy!

Crystal's plot is largely unchanged from Gold and Silver. You're a new trainer, you've got a Pokemon, you experience Johto, you stop Team Rocket, you become the Champ, explore Kanto and defeat Red atop Mt. Silver. Bang, boom, done, what's new? Crystal's story additions are entirely optional, but well worth the effort of experiencing, especially if you're like me and have been replaying Gold or Silver for the last few years. Crystal adds a hefty chunk of lore to Johto, specifically, the Legendary Pokemon within it. Suicune, being the mascot Pokemon for the game, gets the bulk of it, but every Johto Legend gets further insight put into them. A Mysteryman named Eusine is tailing Suicune as well, and your paths cross a couple times as a result of you running into Suicune. After this subplot wraps up, which can be done before the 8th Gym, there's not much more storywise. It's definitely a refreshing addition, but it's not the reason to buy Pokemon Crystal. There is a very good reason to do so though!

Crystal brings a significant amount of quality of life updates that Gold and Silver desperately needed. It ranges from minor things, like the Phone Calling system having personalized text for each person who calls rather than randomizing a pool of lines, to having those same trainers giving you Evolutionary Stones! Given the honestly stupid rarity of those stones in Gold and Silver and how it made certain Pokemon useless, this is a fantastic touch. In addition, some Pokemon had their availability altered. For example, Sneasel in Gold and Silver could not be encountered until Mt. Silver, which was the absolute final area of the game, making it feel like Pokedex filler more than anything else. However, Sneasel in Crystal can be encountered on Ice Path, an entire NINE Gym Badges earlier! However, a few Pokemon were cut entirely from Gold and Silver, being the Mankey line, the Vulpix line, the Mareep line, the Remoraid line and Girafarig. Game Freak's plan was clearly to keep Gold and Silver somewhat relevant saleswise, so if you've already bought either game, you'll be golden. Kinda sucks otherwise.

The 3DS Virtual Console release adds something COMPLETELY new as well. After beating the Pokemon League, going to the Pokemon Center in Goldenrod City gets you the GS Ball! The GS Ball allows you to catch the Mythical Pokemon Celebi, and it was never distributed in the West. Having an update to a seventeen year old game is honestly super cool, especially one as major as this. Given that Red, Blue, Green and Yellow didn't get this treatment for Mew when they were put on the Virtual Console, it's an unprecedented move and I'm excited to see if a potential future Switch Virtual Console release of FireRed/LeafGreen/Emerald would get the same love.

So those are the positives, let's talk about Gen 2's biggest issue: leveling.

Gold, Silver and Crystal have an absolutely terrible level curve. As in, you'll still be fighting level 23 Pokemon in the route after you get your 8th gym badge, and the Champion's highest leveled Pokemon is level 50. However, 50 is more than enough to beat you down because training a whole team of six with the experience yields the game has is a nightmare and almost not worth it. It's far better to focus on three or four Pokemon than try to equally level a full team of six, and that's not fun. For a game whose slogan at the time was "Gotta Catch 'Em All!," the generation two games did a poor job of making you actually want to catch them all. Crystal doesn't do much to rectify this situation, so if Gold and Silver felt like a slog to get through, you might not want to try it again. However, when a Pokemon is traded over, it gets higher amounts of experience. With a full team of traded Pokemon, you'll be at just the right levels to handle anything, and I think it's the ideal way to play any generation two Pokemon game at this point. Again, it defeats the purpose of Catching 'Em All, but unless you like painfully slow grinding, it's the smoothest way to make it through the game.

The movepools and learnsets of Pokemon were pretty bad in Gold and Silver. Crystal does make slight changes to the learnsets of some Pokemon, but it's unfortunately nothing major. For example, Natu only learns four attacking moves, Peck, Night Shade, Future Sight and Psychic. Psychic alone would make it fine, but it doesn't learn it til level 50. If you let it evolve to Xatu at level 25, it pushes that back to level 65. Even with a full team of traded Pokemon fighting every trainer from Johto to Kanto, even my highest leveled Pokemon was only level 56. And Natu is not the only example of learnset issues like this. Crystal does not lower the level requirements, often just swapping out or adding moves. However, on Wednesdays and Saturdays, the Move Tutor will show up in Goldenrod City and can teach certain Pokemon Ice Beam, Thunderbolt and Flamethrower for 4000 Game Corner Coins. This makes a lot of Pokemon immediately viable, like Jolteon probably being enough to sweep through most of Johto as soon as you get it. The Move Tutor feels like slapping a bandage on an amputated arm, but it does make the horrendous movepool issues less terrible. Unless none of your team can learn those moves, than nothing changes.

Back to the good, Crystal's graphics and music are the finest the GameBoy has to offer. With some areas getting entirely new tilesets and the couple new music tracks they added that I completely forgot about before playing, it really feels like a breath of fresh air and makes Johto feel more alive than the constant gray caves that Gold and Silver offered. Don't get me wrong, there are still plenty of gray caves. But what's new is worth the price of admission, especially since it's only $10 compared to the $35 I think it was back when it launched.

So, how does Pokemon Crystal hold up seventeen years later? It still carries a lot of its old sins, but they feel like byproducts of it being a portable game. "Of course there's grinding, you're supposed to be playing this on the bus or train!" It's much better in bursts as a result if you're not going to trade a full team over. However, I think the game truly does shine when you do, as the higher exp yields fix a lot of the sudden difficulty spikes and allow you to really experience the game without having to stop and grind. For someone whose beaten Pokemon Gold front to back probably dozens of times over the last decade, Pokemon Crystal feels like such a breath of fresh air. It's like if Gold and Silver finally learned to stop smoking, started jogging and met someone nice, it's a cleaner, richer experience that I think still holds up to this day. If you have a 3DS and $10, this new, definitive version of Crystal is well worth your money.

Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Product Release: Pokemon Crystal Version (US, 01/26/18)

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