2. Johto, Generation 2 – Gold, Silver, Crystal (and, in remakes, HeartGold and SoulSilver)
I’m a bit biased here, because I loved Generation 2 for a long time. Not only was Pokemon Crystal my favorite game in the series for years and years, but I still have a functioning copy of it to this day. I don’t own a Gameboy, but I’ve got an N64 with an adapter! Woo!
Johto may not have the BEST Gameplay, but i give it a LOT of credit for what it did: improve on so many of the flaws from Generation 1. The basic gameplay glitches I mentioned last entry regarding from the Kanto Generation (The annoyances of waking up and binding move mechanics, etc.) were all removed. What’s more, Johto introduced so many new mechanics that would go on to become mainstays of the series! Two new Types of Pokemon and moves were introduced (Dark and Steel) to help bring balance to the game; genders were added to [most] Pokemon, and breeding became a new way to get the Pokemon you wanted; shiny Pokemon were introduced (wooo!); friendship with your pokeys became a thing. Oh hey… breeding; can we talk about how awesome that is? You drop off a female and a male Pokemon at the Daycare (A DAYCARE!), and x-amount-of-time later, you come back and the daycare worker tells you that your Pokemon had an egg, but THEY DON’T KNOW HOW IT GOT THERE. This is the least responsible daycare system in the world! Can you imagine if you dropped off your kids at a daycare, and when you came back the employee was all “Hey, your kids had a baby while you were gone. We don’t know where it came from, but here it is. Do you want it?” Keep a better eye on my friends, Pokemon Daycare! Where was I? Oh yeah, Johto introduced a lot of fun stuff.
Wait, I’m not done. The best thing Johto did that no game since has replicated? You actually got to visit other regions and battle there! After you beat Johto, you got to travel back to Kanto and wreck their shit, too. How great was that? Why can’t any other games do that? I want to go smack up other regions, games! Make it so.
Also… heh. Remember the PokeGear? And the ability to call and be called by NPCs? Which only lead to one of the best Pokemon memes ever…
OVERALL: 5/6 (Scoring reminder: 5/6 means that Johto has the second best score out of all regions… the best region–to be revealed later–will be the one that scored 6/6)
Here’s an odd fact about Johto and its starters: they are the only trio of starters that all maintain a single monotype through each of their evolutions. So it’s the only gen where the starters are all purely Fire/Water/Grass. Interesting!
But, eh… not that interesting. While Johto’s series of starters isn’t bad, they aren’t outstanding, either. Aesthetically, they are middle-of-the-road; Feraligator is a vicious monster fully-evolved (and it went into regular rotation of my competitive team when its Hidden Ability was released), but Meganium (Brontosaurus/flower amalgam) and Typhlosion (fire hedgehog? What even is this thing?) are just kind of “okay”. Typhlosion is also decent enough a Pokemon competitively (especially in multi-battles, but more on those in later chapters!), but the other two are just average. OVERALL: 3/6
Johto has the unfortunate distinction of being the region that introduced the second-fewest total of new Pokemon in any generation, at just 100 new pokeys created in generation 2 (some of whom were just holdovers that were left out of generation 1). Johto instantly loses a touch of credibility for the low number of new options (even though Sinnoh barely outpaces it at 107), but the fact that so many of the newly-introduced Pokemon were just pre-evolutions of existing ones (Pichu, Magby, Cleffa, etc) while others were just valueless (Sunkern/Sunflora, Unown, Delibird) doesn’t help. There were some gems in the rough (Sneasel, Gligar, and Piloswine aren’t great, but were helped by evolutions in later games), but overall, this really just wasn’t a great generation for new pokeys.
Johto suffered a bit from the same problem that Kanto suffered from, in that its legends didn’t have a great storyline. The Johto legends had a bit more going for them than Kanto’s legendary birds (in that, they were at least more than “There just because”), but they didn’t have any stories as intriguing as Mewtwo’s, either. The legendary beasts were Pokemon who died in a fire, but were returned to life by Ho-oh (easily the worst named of all Pokemon, right? Majestic flying fire bird, named after a delicious Hostess treat?), and one of those beasts was being stalked by a… magician? I am not really sure what Eusine’s deal was supposed to ever be. Ah well. Oh, and in the remakes, Lugia and Ho-Oh became a bit more relevant because you had to become worthy of one of them to advance the game. So that’s something, I guess. OVERALL: 2/6
Aw, Johto has the distinction of being the worst region for thwarting villainy, because the evil group threatening the region is just… leftover jobbers from Team Rocket, desperately trying to get their old boss, Giovanni, to come back and lead them. This is SUCH a bad region for bad guys, that until the HeartGold and SoulSilver remakes in generation four, NONE of the Rockets you faced even had NAMES. The leaders you had to vanquish were just ROCKET EXECUTIVE. You don’t even bother to get their names in generation two! And about halfway through the game, you’re completely done with them (You stop their plans well before you get to the Indigo Plateau, and by the time you’re off to Kanto, they’re a distant memory). Gen 2 really mailed in the evil factor.
So maybe Johto had villain dysfunction, but they did manage to make up for it in the rival department. Johto ends up being the only region where your rival is not your friend–he’s actually a criminal youth who gets his first Pokemon by stealing it from Professor Elm after the protagonist leaves town on his adventure. Silver is a brute of a young man who views his Pokemon as tools of battle and cares only about crushing the weak (He even out-Blues Blue in how he tells you about how awful and weak you are every time you beat him). Of course, over the course of the game, he comes to understand his views are wrong and comes to care for his companions (a change you can note when his Golbat has finally evolved to a Crobat late in the game, which is nice, subtle storytelling from a friggin’ Pokemon game [if you don’t understand why, look up how Golbat evolves]). Also of note, it’s never mentioned in-game (well, I suppose it is in the remakes if you got a special event Celebi), but he’s actually Giovanni’s abandoned kid. PLOT TWIST LIKE WHOA or something.
OVERALL: 5/6 (Okay, I’m cheating here. Silver is actually, story-wise and competition-wise, the best of all rivals. But I have a personal preference for a later one that I’ll get to).
On one hand, the Champion of Gold/Silver/Crystal is almost a let-down. It’s Lance, the dragon master, who is in generation one as the last of the Elite Four, and the guy you beat before you battle Blue for the Championship. On the other hand, Lance is used well-enough in the game that I forgive it. He is the most pro-active of all league champions, and he shows up in-game to assist you with taking out Team Rocket. You actually full-on infiltrate a Rocket lair with him! And his team is decidedly tough. He is a dragon-master, but his team has decent diversity just because through Generation 2, there was really only one dragon-type, and that was Dragonite (which he has THREE of, the bastard!). Past those three, he’s got an Aerodactyl, a Charizard, and a Gyarados, so it’s a good team, even if one dependable Rock type (and maybe an electric type for Gyarados) really makes him sad.
So I guess Johto didn’t score as highly as I might have anticipated, which is kind of sad. I will preface that I think Johto’s plusses (getting to battle across two regions, a more open-ended map that lets you have options instead of being guided along linearly, and introducing so many important gameplay mechanics going forward) strongly away the negatives (shitty villains and legends). As I mentioned, I really loved Crystal for quite a while, and the games the eventually replaced it as my favorite in the series? The remakes of Gold/Silver. It’s not my FAVORITE region, but it might be the most enduring.