Generation 2 (Gold, Silver, Crystal)
- Quality of Life Improvements - It cannot be overstated just how much better to play the Gen 2 games are, mainly due to some major quality of life refinements. For example, players now get significantly more item slots, which are automatically arranged by item type (items, Poke Balls, TM/HMs, key items), and you can set a key item to a shortcut with the select button rather than having to open the pack every time you want to equip it. PC management is also much less of a hassle, as Bill will phone you when your PC box is full and boxes can be arranged and re-arranged much more conveniently than in the past. In addition, so many elements of the game are much more refined compared to the previous generation, such as the battle sprites and the map design (compare the flat, boring and tedious to navigate Mt. Moon and Rock Tunnel with Dark Cave or Ice Path, and the fact that this is only a couple years removed from Red and Blue is very remarkable).
- Significant and Game-Changing New Features - More-so than any subsequent entry in the franchise, Gen 2 introduced many new features which have not only gone on to be series staples, but have also deepened the battling system and have provided entire new ways to play the game. The result is that, while Gen 1 now feels archaic to play, Gen 2 is just as much of a joy to play today as it was on release. There are just so many new and important features that I have to break them down further below:
- The most obvious new feature is the morning/day/night cycle, which makes the game constantly replayable throughout the day. It can be a little annoying to have to wait for that perfect Pokemon you want that's only available at night time, but it is a cool enough addition that it shouldn't be a hassle.
- The Special stat of the previous generation was also split into Special Attack and Special Defence, making Special-based Pokemon much more balanced.
- Held Items are a huge new addition to the series, to the point where an otherwise-competitive team would probably be considered nearly worthless without held items.
- Shinies were introduced here and were incredibly rare to acquire, especially compared to subsequent generations. This twist made the simple act of catching significantly deeper and more challenging, if you wanted it to be. To this day, there isn't really a feeling I get that's quite matched by a shiny encounter.
- Breeding was introduced in this generation, and provided a bedrock for hardcore players to let their inner-eugenicist shine and breed a perfect team. It was certainly in its rough stages at this point in the series, but it is really cool and handy and can help you get ahold of strong and/or shiny Pokemon at higher odds.
- New Typings Perfect the Balance - The new Dark and Steel typings were great additions, being introduced in order to balance out the type imbalances of the previous generation. In fact, you could definitely argue that their introduction in Gen 2 finally perfected the series' typing balance.
- Endgame Content - Generation 2 is lauded for also including the Kanto region from Gen 1 in the game, providing a whole additional mini-campaign once you have beaten the main game. It provides hours of meaningful additional content and even gives you a battle against the main character from the previous game at the end.
- Best Rival - The game's rival character, canonically known as "Silver", is easily the best rival in the entire franchise. While he starts out as an abrasive and abusive asshole (which alone is enough to make you want to beat him), he eventually grows and matures as he learns what it means to be a good trainer. No other rival before or since has been nearly as compelling as Silver and it's always a joy to take him on.
- New Pokemon - The new Pokemon added in this generation are all rock solid, design-wise I would consider it the best single generation of them all.
- Doesn't Go Far Enough - While the Gen 2 games make huge improvements on the previous generation, it also unfortunately leaves some big legacy issues completely intact, which are just annoying and even baffling when you look back on these games. Most notably, the game still requires manual box switching whenever your PC boxes are filled up, which could potentially cost you a legendary or a shiny if you don't get back and change the box in time. The fact that physical and special attacks are still tied to typing is also an unfortunate reality of this generation, especially since this game adds 2 new Water-type HMs.
- Feels Like an Epilogue - Generation 2 has easily the weakest story in the entire series, in part because the whole setup feels like nothing more than an epilogue to the first generation, most notably regarding Team Rocket's return and search for Giovanni. Most things relate back to events in the first generation and the game doesn't really attempt to stand on its own.
- Roaming Legendaries - Of all the new features introduced in Gen 2 that would be carried on into the future, probably my least-favourite is roaming legendaries. While it can be exciting to just randomly encounter one of the three legendary beasts, that's part of the issue - simply encountering them. It's totally random where they will be at any given time and you can't track them until you have encountered them at least once, so capturing them can result in hours of frustration. Furthermore, their position changes based on the route you're on, so you can't even manipulate them into coming closer randomly. Even then, when you do find one, they will immediately run away, meaning that you need to either encounter them a dozen of times to have a chance of catching them, or you need to trap them in with Mean Look and then hope that they don't faint.
- Persistent Sloppiness and Bugs - While Gen 2 isn't nearly as bad as the previous generation when it comes to bugs, there are still some truly shocking examples of sloppiness which have made their way into the final product. One of the more notorious bugs was the duplication glitch, which happens if you turn off the power in the PC boxes at a certain time - while handy, the fact that it can be triggered so easily is certainly questionable. Worse, many of the new Apricorn-based Pokeballs just straight-up don't work as intended, such as the Love Ball. It's supposed to have a higher catch rate against Pokemon of the opposite gender, but it ends up only working against Pokemon of the same gender instead. Considering Nintendo's rather regressive stances on LGBTQ options in their franchises, this is pretty clearly an unintentional move.
- Weak Pokemon Selection in Main Game - This one is actually a multi-point issue which I will break down as follows:
- Most of the Pokemon you encounter prior to the post-game are not very competitive, especially if you don't take the time to find the rarer encounters early on (such as Phanpy or Heracross). I'm not even talking about the legendaries here, even relatively straightforward Pokemon like Houndoom, Misdreavus or Magcargo aren't even available until the post game, to say nothing of arguably the strongest obtainable Pokemon, Tyranitar. Furthermore, many of the new evolutions aren't available until the post-game (Steelix and Scizor) or through very rare item acquisitions (Kingdra), and even then require trading to receive. Hell, even old mainstays that could be useful like Arcanine or Ninetails are gimped because the only evolution stones you can find before you get to Kanto are Moon and Sun Stones. As a result, players will typically end up having to rely on their starter and a constantly-shifting team due to the weak selections available at any give time.
- Compounding the previous issue, many of the new Pokemon in this game are staggeringly uncompetitive, even for their era. Up until recently, Sunkern was straight-up the weakest Pokemon in the entire series (yes, even worse than Magikarp), and its evolution is not great either. Generation 2 brought us two Pokemon which are largely considered the worst in the entire game: Delibird and Unown, not to mention such laughable poor Pokemon as Dunsparce, Jumpluff and, at the time of their release, Azumarill and Quagsire (subsequent generations would buff them retroactively to make up for their useless stats). Furthermore, Gen 2 introduced the concept of baby Pokemon, which are basically useless competitively. They only really functioning for collecting purposes, because they're admittedly quite cute, but there's a reason this concept was phased out after the fourth generation. So, consider that most of the Pokemon you meet in the first half of the game are so awful, and you can see why viable team composition will be so limited. And furthermore...
- Chikorita gets screwed so hard by this game. Like, if you pick Chikorita as your starter, you're in for a rough time. First of all, in Gen 1 it takes quite a while to find any Pokemon with the same type as your starter, so no matter who you pick, they're going to give you something you can't get elsewhere. Poor Chikorita has to compete with Bellsprout and Hoppip immediately and, while it is better than both, it still makes you feel like you're on the backfoot from the start. The gym selection doesn't help either, as six of the eight gym leaders either are either super effective against grass (including the first two gyms), or resist grass attacks. The only time Chikorita is actually a decent pick is against the notoriously difficult Whitney, as it has relatively good bulk and can spread status attacks to her Miltank, and against arguably the easiest gym leader in the game, Chuck, since it's super effective against his Poliwrath. All that said, I have a major love-hate relationship with Chikorita because of this - it's like playing the second generation games on hard mode when you pick Chikorita, and the suffering we've shared has endeared me to the little, green dinosaur.
- Phone Calls - The phone in the game is actually pretty handy, but at least 50% of the time you get a call, it will be something totally useless which is just disrupting.
Shittiest Pokemon of Gen 2: Unown, Delibird (I like its design, but it's so frustrating to try to use)
Tune in soon for the next entry where I'll cover Generation 3.