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In The Beginning…
In the late 1990’s there was a fever sweeping all over the globe. That fever was Pokemania. At first it spread over the land of the rising sun like a wildfire, one that just wouldn’t quit. As the rest of the world came to know the franchise this wildfire would erupt into an inferno of popularity, one that just wouldn’t quit. No franchise had ever even come close to rivaling the success of Pokémon at the time, save a few, which was unprecedented for a franchise so young. Its near overnight success had caught the world by surprise, encapsulating it in its own little Pokeball. No one had ever seen a phenomenon quiet like it. Its turn based gameplay, 151 catchable monsters, and endearing personality made it all the more unique in a landscape of platformers, shooters, and traditional RPGs. It’s story and characters had captivated the minds of children worldwide with schoolyard conversations filled to the brim with battles and trading. Bug catching and collectable monsters. No one would have thought such a combination would work as greatly as it did. The thoughts and dreams of the creators and their devoted supporters had made their creation a success. Now it was time to rock the world once again in more ways than one.
The Pokémon Company
Before the next Pokémon title even had a chance of even releasing there were still many things to come. Creature’s Inc., the company responsible for making Pokémon Red and Blue a reality, alongside Nintendo and Game Freak wanted to form a joint partnership with each other to help expand the Pokémon franchise’s horizons. This would result in the creation of The Pokémon Company International in 1998. Led by Creatures chairman Tsunekazu Ishihara, The Pokémon Company would be responsible for nearly everything related to franchise. Merchandise like toys and figurines, spin off games like Pokémon Stadium, Pokémon Snap, and Pokémon Pinball, and manga like Pokémon Adventures and The Electric Tale of Pikachu were all possible because of Ishihara’s work. While Game Freak focused solely on creating sequels to the one that started it all, The Pokémon Company sought to turn Pokémon into the global media empire that it so rightfully deserved to be by licensing out the series rights to talented developers and making the series look as appealing as it needed to be. These highly entertaining distractions helped to buffer the time between releases and boy did Game Freak need it as development of the sequel to their mega hit was turning into a tumultuous affair.
The Development Of Pokémon Gold and Silver
Starting development shortly after Pokémon Red and Green, Pokémon 2 as it was subtly subtitled was developed from the very beginning as the ultimate Pokémon experience. A hundred original catchable creatures, a robust breeding system, a new region, and a fully colored world only possible on the Game Boy Color were just some of the many innovations Game Freak wanted to include for the series. Much of the development staff also made it back for their second take on the franchise. Satoshi Tajiri still lead the team while Ken Sugimori continued to amaze as the series iconic character designer but even though Pokémon had become a massive success Pokémon 2 would only have 4 programmers, Tamada, Oota, Watanabe, and the creator of the elusive Mew Shigeki Morimoto; but there wasn’t much to worry about as they had already proved themselves with Pokémon Red and Green’s release. However, for this entry Tajiri wouldn’t be writing the scenario. Newcomers Toshinobu Matsumiya and Kenji Matsushima would have that job to contend with. The state of the music department was even more interested, however, as Junichi Masuda actually had some help from Go Ichinose and Morikazu Aoki. The three would form the trio that composed the series grand and iconic tracks for years to come. But Masuda was feeling ambitious an actually stepped as sub-director for the game, helping Tajiri forge their latest masterpiece. While all of this would lead to a fantastic end product there would still be some bumps on the road to release. Originally planned as another Gameboy title in 1997 with enhanced Super Game Boy visuals, the company raved about new editions such as a skateboard that could take you to unique places, a real-time clock, new evolutions for old Pokémon, and even backwards compatibility with Generation 1. But as they continued to rave about the sequels features at every event they showed the game at, the release date continued to be pushed back. First it was a few months. Then it was a year. Then two. The developers at Game Freak were finding out the hard way that developing a sequel… was quite an arduous process indeed. The had to improve on nearly every aspect of Red and Blue, spruce up the elements that had been lacking, and add in new ones that players weren’t expecting but could appreciate. They needed someone who could help them get their act together, they needed to call in the cavalry.
Throughout development of Pokémon Red and Green, Shigeru Miyamoto wasn’t the only person helping to guide the team, one Satoru Iwata was also along for the ride. As one of the people integral in getting Pokémon released worldwide, Iwata was an essential part of the franchise’s beginnings. A businessman yet a gamer at heart, Iwata had always been a part of many of the productions he was involved in whether it be business or design. After Pokémon’s release stateside his next problem would be Pokémon Stadium and its seemingly easy to understand battle system. The programmers just couldn’t figure out how to translate the series iconic battles from the 2nd to 3rd dimension. If they couldn’t do it then no one could. However, Iwata thought differently and instead decided to go in it alone and completely rework the combat system with no reference documents at hand since they just didn’t have the time at that point. So, Iwata got his hands dirty and went directly into the Game Boy’s source code, managing to rework it manually. What others couldn’t find in months, Iwata only took one week to create and fine tune. But this wouldn’t be the last of his miraculous exploits. His next would come with the brand-new Pokémon 2 or the newly renamed Pokémon Gold and Silver. Development was wrapping up between 1998 and 1999 and the games seemed all but complete. But Iwata thought something was missing from the experience. He didn’t want just one region but two, the brand new one and Kanto as well. Taking some free time between running Hal Laboratory and other Nintendo affairs he tried his best to squeeze the entirety of Kanto into the cartridge along with the sequel’s content. And somehow, against all the odds and using some heavy compression, he did it fitting nearly two games into a single Game Boy Color cartridge, a feat that no one had or could ever attain. Pokémon Gold and Silver would have been a fine game as it was but without Iwata’s support it would never have exceeded the previous entry.
Pokémon Gold and Silver
With this newfound addition to their latest creation all was set for them to make a masterpiece, and it was ready for release just on time Pokémon Gold and Silver, releasing on November 21, 1999 and just one year later worldwide, would follow up with many of the same elements from the original releases. Once again you played as yet another young boy named Gold this time in the Johto region. After being given a choice between three starters, Cyndaquil, Totodile, and Chikorita, its time to set out on a new journey to catch them all, all 251 of them. This journey would prove to be similar to that of the original. You had it all. There was, of course, your classic rival in Silver, a rash and abrasive boy who actually stole his own Pokémon to begin his quest. He isn’t the only one standing in your way. With a new region come 8 brand new gym leaders that have their own quirks and battle strategies to overcome with the infamous Elite Four waiting for you at the end of your journey. Along the way an evil team once again threatens the land in Team Rocket who have come to Johto for some nefarious purpose. On paper this seemed like the same old game that fans had enjoyed but now it was all just happening in a new place with some unique ideas thrown in.
Game Freak wanted the world to feel more natural then it did in Red and Green. They had tried their best to put Pokémon in places that made sense but it didn’t truly feel like an ecosystem; like a living breathing world they would actually exist in. Not so with Gold and Silver. Each Pokémon was intricately designed to fit in with this aesthetic alongside the more relaxed tone they were going for due to Johto’s real life inspiration, the Kansai region. The team also took player feedback into account when implementing these new critters. In Red and Green, the Psychic type had dominated the game with no real weaknesses or flaws allowing anyone who used the typing to essentially win by default. Game Freak wanted to rectify this mistake by adding in the Dark typing which completely nullified any Psychic attacks. Even a second Steel typing was in to flesh out older Pokémon that it made sense for and allow them to evolve into even deadlier forms. And that wasn’t all. New and old Pokémon gained unique moves allowing for more combinations than ever before. Differently colored variants of your favorite monsters, otherwise known as Shiny Pokémon, soon became hot commodities due to their rarity with a Red Gyarados being the most well-known. Evolution even took on different forms and shapes with happiness and day and night cycle based evolutions joining the ranks. What truly changed the game though was breeding. Before players were stuck with whichever Pokémon they caught out in the wild. If it paled in comparison to an opponent’s creature of choice you’d have to run out, try again, and hope you get the perfect Pokémon for you. Breeding changed this by allowing you to breed the perfect Pokémon for battle. This one small feature essentially created the metagame that dominates the series today. Still, this all wouldn’t have been possible without the games trademark backwards compatibility with past titles. You never had to worry about leaving your companions behind as long as you had a friend and Game Boy Link Cable. But this feature rich game wasn’t even done yet. Many of these new additions came attached to Gold and Silvers Pokegear, Pokémon’s equivalent of the cellphone, which had the ability to call NPC’s and even listen to a rudimentary radio. As a series first, inspired by the creation of Mew, special event type Pokémon would become a regular occurrence with Celebi being the first to be claimed, exclusively in Japan of course. But even with all these editions and tweaks at its very core Pokémon Gold and Silver was still the same game players had grown to love and a worthy successor to the mantle of the franchise. Years later, Pokémon Gold and Silver is still hailed as one of if not the greatest Pokémon titles ever created, a testament to the hard work and determination of the team at Game Freak. After its release, Gold and Silver would go on to sell well above expectations with 23.1 million copies sold worldwide and become yet another homerun for the franchise, solidifying it as the powerhouse franchise to beat. And Generation 2 wasn’t even over yet.
Continuing the tradition set by Pokémon Yellow before it, Pokémon Crystal was the series second shot at a third version. However, for the first, and last, time Satoshi Tajiri would step back from his role as director and hand it off to his friend and budding director in his own right, Junichi Masuda. Switching to a producer role, Satoshi Tajiri would now see his creation sprout from afar whilst leaving it in good hands. Crystal, like Yellow, changed some plot elements to suit its own needs. Instead of focusing on the legendary birds Ho-Oh and Lugia, Suicune would become one of the major focal points of the story whereas Team Rocket, Silver, and the journey to defeat the Elite Four were still the same as ever. New gameplay elements were also added into the mix to spice things up. The series classic sprites now came to life with a small animation whenever a Pokémon entered the battlefield. Another important feature, the Battle Tower allowed you to fight some of the most challenging opponents in the series and was the true test of a player’s skill. But that wasn’t the only way to test a player’s mettle. In Japan exclusively, players could connect with each other over a system called Mobile System GB, a rudimentary wireless service that could only be accessed through use of a mobile phone. Using this, one player could challenge another from anywhere in Japan for 10 minutes at a time. It was a crude way to do so but it paved the way for the future in more ways than one. But this wasn’t even the game’s best feature. Pokémon Crystal even added in the ability to choose your own gender at the start of your adventure with the character Kris, a series first that has stayed with the franchise ever since. Now everyone had a player character they could inhabit that felt just right. With all these editions and improvements, Crystal had soon become the definitive version of Pokémon Gold and Silver for all to see. Selling over 6 million copies in its lifetime run, it wasn’t a runaway success like Gold and Silver but it was never meant to be.
The Greatest Generation
The second generation of Pokémon had succeeded the first in nearly every regard. From an excess of amazing content to a more defined and enriched battle system and the plethora of creatures that either improved or matched the iconic status of their predecessors just enhanced the Pokémon experience to no end. It wasn’t groundbreaking, it didn’t change the very fabric of the franchise, and in many aspects, it was the exact same game as before. But it didn’t need to be any of those things. Fans of the Pokémon phenomenon were looking to see what Game Freak could do if they perfected their craft, and what they got, in turn, exceeded their expectations. Pokémon Gold and Silver wasn’t just a technical marvel but a master class in how to make a sequel that completely outclassed the original. Originally meant to be the series swansong as, at the time, it still wasn’t apparent to them how successful the franchise would be, their expectations had been blown out of the water. The Pokemania that had taken over the world was still alive and well after all this time. But the Game Boy was fading away and the next generation of handhelds was just over the horizon. As the children who first experienced the Pokémon series were growing into their teens and adulthood and moving onto greener pastures the trials and tribulations of the series were bound to increase. Was Pokémon a sensation or just a fad meant to fade away. Only a pair of gemstones could prove that to be the case.