Alex Phillimore: (alex.phillimore-deleteme[at]-deleteme-direman [dot] com) 2013-05-01 17:40:15
Returning to Kanto
One of the best experiences on the Gameboy Color was playing Pokemon Gold/Silver. In particular, I'm sure plenty of players will remember the feeling of sheer joy when stepping back upon the shores of Kanto after clearing the Johto portion of the game. As a kid, before the days where you'd sit on the internet 24/7 to get your gaming information, I still to this day remember how surprised I was to find out that the game was twice as long as I thought it was...and considering how long it took for me to clear Johto, that's no small feat.
The Gameboy Color was home to some incredibly ambitious games (The Legend of Zelda: The Oracle of Ages/Seasons come to mind) but few were as packed to the teeth with things to do as Pokemon Gold/Silver. It was a game that introduced us to spray bottles and Bellsprout Towers; to Slowpoke Wells and to the Ruins of Alph. It had a detailed night and day mechanic that was never truly matched by Pokemon games again until Pokemon SoulSilver and HeartGold, remakes of the original titles, and tuning into the in-game radio was absolutely mind-blowing back in the day.
But it was the boat to Kanto, the S.S Aqua, that really made the package complete. Having had the game before many of my friends, and being too young to have any method of talking to people about it over long distances, I had no idea that after finishing Johto the ship would take the player to a fully-explorable Kanto. When I went there for the first time, even then I was sceptical; I kept imagining that I would only be allowed to walk around for a few minutes, or that there would be invisible walls preventing me from going back to the old locations of the original games, Red and Blue.
But there are no walls, and you quickly find out that the Kanto in Gold and Silver is every bit as interesting as it ever was in Red and Blue. The feeling of familiarity is very much akin to seeing an old friend again after a long period of absence. It's a shame that subsequent Pokemon games, bar the remakes, have failed to feature the same breadth of scope. You don't get to explore two regions in a single Pokemon game in any title other than Gold and Silver (and their remakes), and, as a result, the later games, at least to me, have felt as if they're lacking.
Sure Hoenn, Sinnoh and Unova are interesting enough areas, but once you've felt the joy of clearing one area and having another sprung upon you, when it doesn't happen in games like Ruby and Sapphire, Diamond and Pearl and Black and White, you can't help but feel as if they fail to compare. While these games introduced all sorts of extra features into the Pokemon mix, the selfish and, perhaps, childish side of me can't help but feel disappointed after the Elite Four credits roll and no new regions open up. Some of the later games have featured extra post-game content, but they never compare to the feeling of heading back to an old region made new again.
I don't honestly believe that Pokemon will feature two regions again any time soon. The games tend to be packed with all sorts of things to do, and so you could never accuse a modern Pokemon game of being short by any means. With all the hundreds of Pokemon there are to catch now, the games are bigger in a different sort of way - catching them all takes longer now than it ever did before, resulting in games that are ultimately longer experiences. But catching more Pokemon doesn't equate, at least in this player's mind, to having a second region to explore, and one that was so unexpected at that.
That feeling will probably never happen again - spoilers are so prevalent online nowadays that you can guarantee information of a second region in future games would leak before you've even chosen your starter. But Pokemon Gold and Pokemon Silver remain a constant reminder of a time when secrets in games were more secretive, and where a game could genuinely surprise you with something as drastic as being twice as long as you initially expected. I don't think I'll ever enjoy a Pokemon game quite as much as I enjoyed navigating Johto and Kanto in one adventure. Those first footsteps back in Kanto, the region where you first discovered Pokemon, remain a pivotal moment in gaming.