In these uncertain times, I’ve been thinking about sequels, storytelling, special people, and, specifically, this old man:
That GIF is a capture from Pokémon Red (or Blue, if you’re nasty), and it features an old man that lives in Vermilion City, a beautiful town by the sea. He’s using his pokémon to help build a home overlooking the nearby port, and, assuming Lt. Surge doesn’t expand his gym to conquer the entire seaside, it should provide a lovely view for the man’s future. He’ll build his house by the ocean, and retire to enjoy his autumn years in a rocking chair overlooking gorgeous waves of magikarp capering across the beach. Maybe he’ll relax on the S.S. Anne when he needs a vacation, but he’ll always have a charming home to come back to.
Except when you return to visit the old man in Pokémon Gold/Silver, a game that takes place three years later, you find this sorry sight.
The poor old man is still out working in the fields because he is literally poor. His dreams are denied, and, apparently as some manner of karmic punishment for his hubris, he is forced to stand out in this empty field with Pokémon 24 hours a day, seven days a week. He is there during the day. He is there in the dead of night. The new clock feature of Pokémon Gold/Silver reveals a man eternally caught between a rock and a hard place, and his machamp is never going to smash that rock.
And his sorry, never-ending fate is all thanks to one man.
Let us skip ahead a bit to Pokémon Ultra Sun/Moon. Like many (all?) Pokémon games, PUS/M contains an area where the game’s developers hang out within the game. Your avatar can wander around these faux Game Freak offices, and speak to NPCs that are based on the real creators of the real game you’re playing right now. Neat! And, since the PUS/M generation of Pokémon games was the first to allow transferring pokémon from Pokémon Gold/Silver, you can potentially have poképals in your Generation 7 team that originated from Generation 2. If you do, one of the Game Freak developers will offer this special bit of dialogue regarding the older game:
“When we were having trouble fitting all the data in for Gold and Silver, and we were really in a pinch, this amazing guy came along and made a program for us that solved all our problems. He went on to become the amazing president of a real big company soon after that, too.”
That “amazing guy” was Satoru Iwata, a man responsible for more than a few amazing videogames, and the eventual “amazing president” of a “real big company”, Nintendo. For a more detailed explanation of what happened, according to interviews from around the release of Pokémon Heart Gold/Soul Silver, Iwata was working at HAL at the time, but somehow became a liaison between Nintendo and Game Freak, despite technically working for neither. And, since Iwata was an expert programmer, he used his knowledge from converting the battle system of Pokémon Red/Blue to Pokémon Stadium and his general familiarity with the Gameboy to create a graphic-compression tool that allowed the programmers of Pokémon Gold/Silver to cram more Pokémon content into a Gameboy cart than ever before. Pokémon S/G was initially far too large for a Gameboy title, but now the programmers had so much room to breathe, they could practically fit two Pokémon games on there!
So they did. Want to revisit the world of Pokémon Red/Blue in Pokémon Gold/Silver? You absolutely can!
Back in 1999, Pokémon Gold/Silver had some huge shoes to fill, as Pokémon Red/Blue (maybe even Green) was one of the most successful Gameboy games of all time. It launched a franchise that is still
ridiculously profitable popular to this day! And, while there had been a number of auxiliary Pokémon games capitalizing on the original 151 Pokémon, this was the first “new generation” ever for this already beloved series. Whether the concept was Iwata’s demand or simply something Game Freak decided “might be cool” (accounts on this matter differ), Iwata’s graphics compression utility allowed for the inclusion of not only Pokémon from the supremely popular initial Pokemon title, but also roughly 90% of its entire world. It was the perfect move at the perfect time for the series, as it married the new to the notable, and those familiar gym leaders and locales could stand shoulder to shoulder with the future of the franchise. Discovering a whole, well-known world over at the right edge of the map was simultaneously a reward for the player, and a reassuring statement that the Pokémon world wasn’t going to forget its past. It was everything a Pokémon fan could ask for.
Unfortunately, while this was the best possible outcome for a sequel, it was not all rainbows and rhydons for the population of Kanto. Claiming that Pokémon Gold/Silver contained the entirety of Pokémon Red/Blue’s home region is a bit of a stretch, as much of PR/B had to be truncated and reduced to fit the world and pacing of its sequel. Viridian Forest, the humble pikachu’s ancestral home, was reduced to a scant few rows of trees. Pokémon Tower, a place for deceased Pokémon to enjoy their eternal slumber, was overtaken by capitalism and converted into a gaudy Radio Tower. Cinnabar Island became “the ravaged town of the past” when a volcano erupted and permanently destroyed the entire city. In short, in service of a sequel, it appears major ecological disasters rocked Kanto and its citizenry, eternally marring their home.
And, yes, in this damaged world, a man is without a home, and has been standing alone in a field for three years. And it’s all thanks to one man using his expert programming knowledge to expand one Gameboy game. The Old Man of Vermilion could have lived in the quantum uncertainty of most JRPG NPCs, but, no, a genius had to step in, revolutionize Gameboy programming, and damn this helpless fellow to an eternal existence alone, unloved, and exposed to the elements. No other Pokémon game revisited Kanto at a later date, so Iwata’s expansion on the sequel was this Old Man’s final curtain call.
Even the Pokémon Gold/Silver remakes left him out in the cold.
And this is the cruel nature of sequels. Even though we always want more content from our favorite worlds, they often must abolish happy endings for the sake of revisiting drama. Every new season of a television series must reset its characters to prevent them from remembering previous lessons, and every adventure series has to revive an ancient evil or two to keep the swords swinging. Every videogame that revisits old areas must constrain these previous worlds to smaller digital footprints, and lives have to be ruined to keep the franchise flowing. Do you think Brock wanted to forever be a gym leader in some podunk town? Of course not! But he’s got to return for that cameo, so here he is. Buffy the Vampire Slayer must live, die, and live again, Harry Potter has to revisit a fresh hell every single year, and Pokémon’s own Red has to spend the rest of his days huddled in a cave with his Pikachu. It is the curse of sequels, and we inflict it on our heroes because we can’t live without knowing what happens next.
But there is still hope.
In 2017, ShockSlayer released Pokémon Crystal Clear. It is an extensive romhack of Pokémon Crystal, the official Nintendo upgrade to Pokémon Gold/Silver. It features a number of graphical upgrades (all the Pokémon “map sprites” now actually look like their assigned Pokémon), significant quality of life changes (you no longer need to know CUT to travel greater than fifteen yards), and you can select a starter from a variety of Pokémon that range from charmander to porygon to ditto. Most significantly, however, it adds the ability to travel the world of Pokémon Gold/Silver as easily as choosing the FLY command, and offers the opportunity to start your quest in either Johto or Kanto. In other words, it takes the basic gameplay of Pokémon G/S/C, and transforms it into an expansive, open-world adventure where you are no longer inhibited by Team Rocket blockades or an inability to surf. You can fight the signature gyms in nearly any order, and they all scale to your experience level (or at least badge count). It is an amazing way to experience a decades old game, and adds a breath of fresh air to the whole Pokémon experience. It is a damn shame that Nintendo has forced Pokémon Crystal Clear to scamper off to hide in the darker corners of the internet, as this is a “hack” that deserves to be spread across the light of day.
But, more importantly, it makes one more change to the canon of Pokémon.
He still doesn’t have a home, but he has hope. Hope! What more can an eternally homeless old man ask for?
A story continuing might make its stars more miserable, but there’s always a chance someone else will pick up the torch and make things better. There might not ever truly be happy endings, but there’s always fresh hope for ongoing happiness.
FGC #511 Pokémon Gold / Silver / Crystal
- System: Nintendo Gameboy / Gameboy Color, and then available virtually for the Nintendo 3DS. Whatever the system, your save battery has expired by now.
- Number of players: You’ll never catch ‘em all without trading, so two.
- So, which version: Can I just say Crystal Clear now and forever? This is not the first time Gogglebob.com recognizes a fan creation as the definitive version of a game, but the existence of Crystal Clear does provide an actual reason to play an older Pokémon game, as the “free-form” gameplay found here isn’t simply overwritten with the upgrades of the later games. Crystal Clear is a new experience that isn’t going to be moot when we see Let’s Go Eevee’s Silver Soul or whatever.
- Favorite Gym Leader (this generation): Whitney is just like, “screw it, you have to fight my cow”. And then her cow completely wrecks your %$&#. Kick ass and roll out, Whitney, you deserve it.
- Favorite Gen 2 Pokémon: Mareep/Ampharos. Ampharos was my original MVP in Pokémon Gold, as surfing across vast seas and thunderpunching tentacools into the stratosphere caused my Amphy’s (named Asimov) levels to similarly skyrocket. Then, quite a few years later, I wound up asking out my now fiancée on Mareep Community Day. So, yeah, that Pokémon definitely gets a spot of honor.
- The King is Dead: Seemingly exclusively to counter the dominance of Psychic type Pokémon in R/B, this generation introduced the defensive Steel type, and the offensive Dark type. This means that Tyranitar made the scene, and now the legions of psychic legendaries have to worry about a godzilla that is perfectly willing to eat a mountain on its way to stomping a Mewtwo.
- What time is it: This was the first Pokémon game with an internal clock. I’m simply noting this because it explains why I still think you can only catch Lapras on Fridays.
- Goggle Bob Fact: In high school, another student and I may or may not have intimidated a freshman into choosing a particular starter so it could be traded and bred to match our lack of said starter. This is what a nerd bully does, apparently.
- Did you know? Pokémon Crystal was the first mainline Pokémon title with animated Pokémon. We really take it for granted nowadays when a Pikachu can turn its head, but back then, this required the noble loss of approximately 10,000 good pixels. Their sacrifices will not be forgotten.
- Would I play again: I really enjoyed playing through Pokémon Crystal Clear… but it’s still Gen 2 Pokémon. Going to go ahead and mosey over to some of the more modern releases when I don’t feel like juggling my monsters in Bill’s PC.
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Crystal Castles for the Atari 2600! I know it’s an old game, everyone, but please bear with me. Please look forward to it!