Last year, I reviewed Pokémon Silver when it was re-released on 3DS. While I did feel that the game has dated in some areas, I also believed that the Generation II games were when the Pokémon series cemented itself as a mechanically solid series that was here to stay. That being said, Pokémon Crystal was surprisingly absent from the initial Generation II lineup on the 3DS’ Virtual Console. Nintendo didn’t forget about the title though and released it on 3DS in January.
While Pokémon Crystal is quite similar to Pokémon Gold and Silver, I still consider it equally important in helping set up and cementing many of the Pokémon series’ standards. It set the standard of how the “third game” of a Pokémon Generation would work, introduced playable female characters, and a story reworked around the mystical legendary Pokémon Suicune. This Nintendo 3DS port even includes some of its own perks, so it is definitely worth checking out on 3DS if you somehow haven’t already.
I won’t spend too much time on the base mechanics and premise of the game, as I went over them in my Pokémon Silver review and I’m sure most of you already know them. The general gist of things is that you are on a journey throughout the Johto region, which neighbors Kanto. As you go on the journey, you encounter and capture new Pokémon, face the nefarious Team Rocket who are trying to make a resurgence, and ultimately face off against a legendary Pokémon in an epic showdown.
As I mentioned before, this game shifts its focus from Ho-Oh or Lugia to Suicune, one of the three legendary dogs of this Generation that seems to take a liking to the player character. Pokémon Crystal would establish this staple of following “third entries” each Generation, as they shift their focus to their own unique legendary Pokémon, changing up the plot slightly.
Pokémon Crystal also introduces the eccentric Eusine, who has dedicated his life to tracking down Suicune. His role ultimately doesn’t amount to too much (Pokémon Crystal has a pretty run of the mill plot) and the writing isn’t anything particularly good in general, however it’s somewhat excusable as plot was not a major focus for the series at this time.
That being said, Johto’s open-ended nature works just as well in Pokémon Crystal as it did in Pokémon Gold and Silver, while it may cause the levels of wild Pokémon to plateau, after you receive your fourth gym badge, the game opens up immensely, allowing you to get the three next gym badges in any order that you’d like. Unfortunately, Pokémon games have only gotten more linear as the series has evolved, so venturing through Johto once again was a nice breath of fresh air after the more linear Pokémon Sun and Moon.
Let’s not forget the variety of other enhancements Pokémon Crystal brings to the table. Outside of the story and character changes I mentioned before, Pokémon Crystal allows people to chose a female player character for the first time in the series.
This became a staple of every following mainline Pokémon game and is an important inclusion as lets players represent themselves more accurately in-game and thus get more immersed in the game’s world. It also helps that Kris’ design is really nice looking and original; unfortunately, she was replaced by a new character named Lyra when it became time for the Generation II Pokémon games to be remade.
Outside of that, some areas like the Ice Path and Burned Tower were redesigned to look more accurate to look more fitting or have more Pokémon within them. There are other important aesthetic advancements made in Pokémon Crystal too — battle entrance animations for Pokémon and location names popping up when you enter a new area both started here. When all is said and done, Pokémon Crystal was the best game in the Pokémon series at the time of its release. While it still shared some issues with Pokémon Gold and Silver, it made enough improvements and introduced enough new things to really set itself apart from all previous entries.
The Nintendo 3DS version of Pokémon Crystal also has some of its own enhancements that make it worth picking up even if you’ve played the title previously. First off, it has compatibility with Pokémon Bank, meaning Pokémon from the Virtual Console version of Crystal can make their way to Pokémon Ultra Sun and Moon. This now means that in one way or another, Pokémon from all 29 mainline series entries can make their way to Generation VII in one way or another. As a longtime Pokémon fan, I can’t help but smile at that.
Pokémon Crystal on 3DS also lets players activate the event to get Celebi after they complete the game. This was previously locked behind a long-expired timed event, making Celebi a hard Pokémon to get ahold of, until now. This is the most feature-full of the Generation II Pokémon games on Virtual Console, so it is the definitive one to pick up on the system if you have not yet done so.
Nintendo 3DS enhancements aside, Pokémon Crystal still manages to hold up even today and sets multiple precedents for the future of the series. From new features like the aforementioned female playable character to smaller things like animated Pokémon and locations, much of what is present in Pokémon Crystal returned in future entries of the series, with many definitive versions from each Generation taking after it
Titles like Pokémon Emerald, Pokémon Platinum, and Pokémon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon have more in common with Pokémon Crystal than Pokémon Yellow, and that’s a good thing. If Pokémon Gold and Silver are when the series hit its stride, Pokémon Crystal is when the series’ features became completely standard. The number of precedents set up in the Generation II games are plentiful, and they are definitely part of the reason the Pokémon series is still just as strong, almost twenty years later.