The first time that the Virtual Console release of Pokémon Silver Version let me attempt to catch a wild Pokémon, I instinctively held down the A button at the moment the capture happened. At first, I hadn’t really noticed I had done it, it was still a muscle memory. A fitting realization of the theme of Gold and Silver Version.
If you haven’t played the classic games for whatever reason, a long standing schoolyard myth was that you could increase the success of catching a wild Pokémon by making some sort of input on the buttons at a precise moment. Where I grew up, it was pressing the A button as soon as the Poké Ball opened. There were variations on this and would even evolve as Nintendo’s hardware would. But, of course, it doesn’t work. All of this is just an urban myth, created by a shared experience.
Being direct sequels to Red and Blue, Gold and Silver had the monumental task of expanding on everything introduced in the original games. What’s more, the titles had to also avoid deflating the massive success seen in the popular culture thanks to the anime. Thanks to all that pressure, the development of Gold and Silver simultaneously looks both forward and backward simultaneously. Doing so created both a previous mythology to build out the franchise’s world while also improving the game’s design overall in an attempt to evolve the audience’s own personal journey with the franchise.
This deepening happens from the very beginning of the games. Johto, as a region, is meant to have a far more worn and aged feel. You can see that in the early side areas such as the Sprout Tower or the mysterious Ruins of Alph. Countering that is the research of the region’s resident professor that sends the player the character on their journey. Through that task, we discover that Pokémon (at least some) are born through eggs; something left to mystery in the original games. This is confirmed as the player is tasked with hatching a new Pokémon, the infamous Togepi. In the continuity of the games, the Togepi the player receives is the first one ever recorded. Throughout the games, the player encounters long established foundations of Johto while facing off against younger trainers and the occasional older traditional enemy. They encounter an attempt to revive the villains of the previous games and fight off a rival obsessed with making sure that doesn’t happen. There are new colors and evolution of old creatures, and the available pool nearly doubles. Even completing the game simply unlock’s the original game’s map, with massive changes to areas and characters. Constantly; the idea of looking back while moving forward is reinforced as the player character charts their own legacy.
And then there’s Red.
Red is the canonical name of the player character in Red, Blue, and Yellow Versions. In other words, Red is also the player. Throughout the game, Red’s deeds are detailed by NPC’s: the defeat of Team Rocket, conquering the Elite Four, unseating his own rival. When they’re talked about in the game, they’re mostly call backs-those were our deeds. There’s even a function in the game that let players trade from the old games into the new ones, it wasn’t that anyone had forgotten. Only at the game’s final point does it all click into place. When all 16 available gyms are conquered, the player is given access to a mountain that straddles the game’s two regions. Climbing it is a bit of a challenge for the game’s time period, but the mountain is devoid of NPC players, a stark difference from most Pokémon dungeons. But at the top lies one opponent who serves as the game’s final boss: yourself, from another time.
Going up to Red, he says nothing, because Pokémon generally uses silent protaganists. His character artwork is unchanged, unlike any other returning character or Pokémon. His team consists of some of the earliest popular creatures: Pikachu, Charizard, Blastoise, an evolution of Eevee, Snorlax, and Lapras. All but the Eevee evolution, Espeon, had previously appeared in the anime; though Eevee itself had. Facing Red is literally facing the both the pop culture boom of the franchise and one’s own personal memories of the original games at once. Red’s appearance isn’t much of a spoiler these days, and he’s appeared since (most recently in Pokémon Sun and Moon, the games released in the franchise’s 20th year and serving effectively the same purpose) but as a child encountering that-it was mindblowing.
Very few franchises are able to juggle its past and future as well as Pokémon did on its second go. If anything, too well. For over a decade, fans have wished to return to a previous region like in Gold and Silver in spite of the games themselves getting larger in scale and the inclusion of Kanto was only accomplished by the intervention of the late great Satoru Iwata; who coded the region into the game and made fit on the cartridge himself. The games even saw a remake in 2010 for the Nintendo DS that used the newer tech to enhance the experience further and fill in some plot gaps that couldn’t fit before. Many consider those to be the best the franchise has ever been; used copies of the remakes sell at retail for more than the price of a brand new 3DS game. Special attention should be paid to the enhanced version of the Game Boy titles, Crystal Version, which pushed the graphical performance further and made the important addition of giving the player a choice of gender. As Pokémon came into existance in the early days of game publishers focusing on a narrow group of customers (read: 20-something white men with disposable income), it is impressive for the game draw a line in the sand and say that the games could and should be for girls too.
While the 3DS might be starting its twilight years, what’s been dropped into its Virtual Console is easily one of the biggest juggernauts of the Nintendo canon. Pokémon Gold and Silver proved without a doubt that the late 90’s fad had far more to say and do than what had hit the world at first, and left an unforgettable mark on a generation looking to create its own mythology. Speaking of, I did catch that first Pokémon in my playthrough. Tell me pressing A doesn’t work.