My First Pokemon Game: Pokemon Crystal – A Retrospective
Article by Emily Carney
The year is 2001. The month is November. Pokemon Gold and Silver had been released earlier that year here in the UK back in April and had been instant hits, providing Pokemon fans across the country with a brand new region to explore and a plethora of new Pokemon to catch. But I personally was yet to embark on a Pokemon journey of my own, as despite being a huge Pokemon fan since 1999 (the year I started primary school) and being obsessed with the anime, films, toys and trading cards, I had yet to actually experience from a first-hand perspective the medium which had kick-started the whole franchise back in 1996, the Pokemon video games. However all that was to change that winter, when I ecstatically received a yellow Pikachu & Pichu Gameboy colour and a copy of Pokemon Crystal.
Despite having played briefly on Gameboys owned by family members and friends, my only proper experience of video games at this point was the first Sony Playstation, which I have great memories of and still enjoy playing games such as Crash Bandicoot, Tomb Raider and Tekken to this day. Upon receiving the Gameboy and Pokemon Crystal however, I was extremely happy that I could now take my game anywhere with me, and could finally join in on trading and battling Pokemon with my friends.
One of the most vivid memories I have before actually playing the game was looking through the Pokemon Crystal booklet that came with the game and seeing how beautiful Ken Sugimori’s watercolor illustrations were (though unfortunately it appears to be very hard to find any pictures of the inner instruction manual pages). Even today Sugimori’s Pokemon artwork are some of my favorite pieces of art ever and I would love to see the franchise return to this style at some point, even just as a homage as I think the charm of these illustrations far surpasses the digital artwork that is commonplace in most forms of official Pokemon-related media today.
Pokemon Crystal is notable for being the first Pokemon game to give the player a choice between playing as a boy or a girl and as being both a first-time Pokemon player and a 7 year-old girl at the time, I was happy about this, although while I was growing up Pokemon as a franchise always seemed to be enjoyed equally by both boys and girls regardless of the gender of the protagonist we were watching or playing as, so while I was pleased to have the choice to play as a girl I do think even if I hadn’t had this choice I would have still had a great time playing the game.
The design of the female protagonist (known as Kris, although as with all main series Pokemon games the player is able to input their own name) is excellent in my opinion and is one of my favourite trainer designs in the series, as it strikes just the right balance between the classic 90’s aesthetic of the early games and anime alongside the sporty, adventurous look that would be applied to other protagonists in future Pokemon games.
Beginning to play the game itself was a fantastic experience. As this was late 2001/early 2002, here in the UK we had just become acquainted with the second generation of Pokemon and although Pokemon Gold/Silver/Crystal have had some criticism from fans who find the inclusion of new Pokemon to be rather lacking until the later stages of the games, as a first-time player I was just excited to be able to catch any of the Pokemon I’d hurried home from school to see in the anime. My first starter Pokemon was a Totodile I nicknamed “Snappy” and he stayed with me throughout the majority of my journey, evolving from Totodile to Croconaw and finally to Feraligatr, though I did eventually trade him (which I must admit I still feel quite guilty about) for a friend’s Venusaur, a Venasaur which for some reason was rather confusingly nicknamed “Zapdos”. Snappy, if you’re out there on a game cartridge at the bottom of someone’s drawer or cupboard somewhere, please know I still think about you and thank you for being my first Pokemon.
Maybe it’s a combination of a great game and a child’s imagination but I still vividly remember travelling through the different areas of the Johto region for the first time as if they were real-life locations that I’d travelled to. I think part of this is down to the wonderful soundtrack of the second generation games, which vary from the whimsical to the atmospheric and everything in between.
I still listen to the tunes from the soundtrack often today (particularly the themes from Ecruteak City and Cianwood City, which I would definitely consider to be my favorites) and it really is a testament to the talent of composer Junichi Masuda that he could capture the personalities of these individual locations and take listeners back to these places years later with these melodies.
Many players have praised the Pokemon main series games in recent years for its emphasis on literacy and reading being key to fully enjoying the games, and this is something I would very much agree with. Though the story wasn’t as complex as that of future Pokemon games, I still found it to be engaging and was very enthused to defeat Team Rocket and beat the Elite Four. One of my favorite aspects of the game however (and indeed one of my favorite aspects of the Pokemon franchise in general) was how much it encouraged playing with others, whether that involved battles and trades via the Gameboy Link Cable or working together to try and get past a particularly difficult part of the game.
At my primary school we had a period during the last half an hour of school on a Friday afternoon called “Golden Time”, where we were allowed to bring in toys and games or do fun activities and this was when my friends and myself would bring in our Gameboys and play the Pokemon games together or trade our Pokemon cards. I remember those Friday afternoons very fondly, I particularly recall being both baffled and enthralled when a friend showed me how to do the Generation II cloning glitch (which involved placing a Pokemon in a box in the PC and then changing box/turning off the console at the right moment while the data was saving in order to duplicate the Pokemon placed in the box, but as there is the possibility of this glitch corrupting save data I probably wouldn’t recommend it nowadays), though instead of using the glitch for something useful like duplicating Masterballs I instead just made copy upon copy of my favourite Pokemon, and ended up with about 6 charizards and 12 Umbreons, amongst others.
Another of my favourite aspects of the second generation games is the ability to travel to Kanto after defeating the Elite Four and take on the gym leaders from the original Red/Blue/Green/Yellow games.
Although some players have criticized the post game content for not being as engaging as the initial journey, I genuinely felt like I’d stumbled across some amazing secret when I first realized I could go to Pallet Town and all the other Kanto locations, as this was my first time experiencing this part of the Pokemon world in-game and I personally thought that being given the opportunity to explore Lavender Town, Viridian Forest, Mt Moon and all the areas I’d seen in the Indigo League anime was quite a treat. After exploring Kanto, the culmination of the journey in battling Red at Mt Silver was an excellent way to draw the game to a close and I must admit it took a lot of perseverance (and several of my cloned Charizards) to beat him, but I felt immensely accomplished after doing so.
Overall, I really don’t think I could have asked for a better introduction to the in-game Pokemon world, and I have since enjoyed several other titles in the main series of Pokemon games, although none of them have quite topped Pokemon Crystal for me. Unfortunately I did lose my original copy (though did manage to recover my old Pikachu/Pichu edition Gameboy last year, which I was ecstatic about) but I would very much like to acquire another copy at some point in the future (although this may end up being quite an investment as boxed complete copies of the game are currently going for around £200 to £400, with some being priced even higher) and experience the fun and adventure of Pokemon Crystal all over again.
Written by Emily Carney, 2021
Sources and Further Reading:
Pokemon Crystal Bulbapedia –
Serebi.Net – Pokemon Crystal – https://www.serebii.net/crystal/
Pokemon.Fandom – Pokemon Crystal – https://pokemon.fandom.com/wiki/Pok%C3%A9mon_Crystal_Version
Gameboy Colour Special Editions – https://bulbapedia.bulbagarden.net/wiki/Game_Boy_Color
Candy Evie- All Version Differences In Pokemon Gold, Silver & Crystal:
Syy – 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Pokemon Crystal – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oVLQZkif2Mw