“Modern” (relative term) Pokémon games and I have a bit of a rocky history. Raised and conscious in the era of Pokémania, I’ve been raised into an expectation of what a Pokémon game is and how it should play. Scrumptious RPG elements combined with catching and raising a variety of creatures used for battle and, eventually, other activities.
In the years since I became a teenager and eventually an adult, Pokémon has constantly evolved (ha) into something more and more aimed at accessibility than anything else, which I’m not totally fond of. Such disdain spurs me to continuously replay older games to suit my preferences, lonely and tedious as that has become.
Recently, I’ve begun replaying various Pokémon games in order to ascertain their quality given my current mindset, which is more tolerant of the inevitability of change. Of late, I’ve found that Pokémon Platinum is pretty great (still need to finish it to be sure) and Pokémons FireRed/LeafGreen are not as great as I once believed them to be. The latest of my revisit tour comes in the form of Pokémon SoulSilver/HeartGold, which many consider the definitive version of Pokémon‘s second generation. Do I agree? Well, the article title gives a hint, but first, some history:
History (of Pain)
Roughly a year ago, I attempted to play Pokémon SoulSilver on an emulator, unaware that DS games tend to be buggy on emulators. After putting about two hours into it, I exited a Pokémon Center only to have the screen be completely black, the audio still playing; I accidentally save stated in a panic and thus blocked myself from any further progress. Giving up immediately afterwards, I was left with the inner desire to continue the game and finish it, remembering how well I liked it the first time around.
Fast forward to mid-January of this year, I decided to take the plunge and bought a refurbished copy of the game off of eBay. Several weeks later (to my dismay), it finally arrives the afternoon of February 8th, enclosed in a lovely—and incredibly difficult to open—plastic cartridge case. Upon the end of my work shift, I dove in immediately.
And I struggled to get it to work. That should’ve been a red flag.
16 hours was the mark I reached before the game eerily faced a similar fate as that of the emulated version—every time I attempted to continue the game, it would only show a black screen, with the audio still playing. I could still theoretically start a new game, as it allowed me to do so, but after establishing my team and spending 16 hours going through the journey, I was left too discouraged to start over again.
This is why this post is marked with “16 Hours” and not the entirety of the game, similar to how I marked my unfinished playthrough of Pokémon Uranium (I should go back to that). Thus, my thoughts on this are due to be fractured somewhat, given I only made it up to the sixth gym leader. Should that bother you, you’re free to leave, but otherwise I will continue to speak my mind.
I Am Old and Love Old Garbage
The effects of nostalgia are certainly not lost on me. My own disdain of nostalgia used for corporate purposes is in some part a projection of my own failure to be unaffected by it. Seeing all of these retro action movie stars appearing in the new Mortal Kombat title makes me squint, but if I saw Nightmare from Soulcalibur II appear as a DLC character in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate? I would 100% cry tears of sweet, unfiltered enthusiasm. That’s the kind of hypocrisy I strive for.
Bringing this up is important because, as I’ve addressed on my blog before, Pokémon Silver was the first mainline Pokémon game I ever played. The nostalgia I have for that game rivals that of other games from my childhood that I hold on a giant, silver pedestal. The sounds, sights, and overall feel of the game is so ingrained into my soul that I oftentimes replay it just for the hell of it. To this day, it is still my most replayed Pokémon game, and it’s kind of not even close.
So for me, who loves this game and has long considered it my favorite Pokémon game ever, hearing SoulSilver being referred to as the “better version” left something of an odd taste in my mouth. To some extent I agreed, since I have played it before and did consider it very fun at the time. Yet for whatever reason, the original version continued to sink its nostalgic claws into my heart and fed upon bloodstream, growing its influence upon me with ease. Without coming to a conclusion until recently, I was almost compelled to call SoulSilver overrated.
Now that I have an adequate amount of recent playtime with SoulSilver in my memory banks, I can definitively state that it just makes me want to go back to Silver. Shocking, right? Couldn’t have gotten that from the title or anything. 840 words into this article and I’ve just now gotten to the point that my title has already established. Really, why are you still even reading this? As for why I feel this way, it could once again be nostalgia rearing its beautiful, wicked head.
One of the things that I don’t care for in “modern” Pokémon games is how it intentionally halts the pace of the game to have a scripted event play out and show you something akin to a benign tutorial section. SoulSilver did this with semi-regular frequency, mostly through the “friend” character and other random passersby. This will eventually give birth to numerous “accessibility” (hand-holding) devices and mechanics present in games that follow. While I will reiterate that this was not a frequent occurrence, there were definitely times throughout the adventure where I went, “You’re just gonna paint a giant red arrow towards the goal, huh?”
What does the previous paragraph have to do with nostalgia? Well, it might be that my preference for adventure is soaked in the experiences I had in my youth, communicated through what I love about the original Silver. It let you be free. It let you discover things at your own pace. It let you make mistakes and get lost. As I’ve made apparent before on my blog, I vastly prefer when a game doesn’t control too much of your pace and allows you to just explore. Silver does a great job of rewarding inquisitive players with information and progression through their curiosity and experimentation. If you’re stuck, go talk to people. The population of the game has a good balance between realism and advice boxes.
Why is it that people adore Breath of the Wild so much? My theory is that it’s a lot of the same thing. It gives the player an introductory section to get acclimated to the controls and rules of the game, and then lets them loose to fend for themselves. Oh whoops, you encountered a black Hinox. You have the starting armor equipped and your strongest weapon is a woodcutter’s axe. What do you do—fight, and most likely die, or run? The proverbial barriers have been raised, and next to nothing in the world is off-limits. You can go and kill yourself trying if you want to. Silver has that same sense of unrestrained adventure to me.
Maybe this is also why I loved the Wild Area so much in Sword and Shield. Really, this post is just an excuse to advertise my older work.
What SoulSilver Did Right
In an effort to be cordial to the game, I also wanted to list a number of attributes I liked that Game Freak added to make the experience more comfortable, even if I believe they went too far with it:
- Modern (for the time) conveniences: A variety of gameplay mechanics become available that the original game hadn’t implemented by that point. Most notably, the physical/special split that makes various pokémon more viable in battle even if their main typing doesn’t suit their overall statistics. For example, a Kingler’s signature move, Crabhammer, is no longer a special move by default, thus underutilized due to Kingler’s great physical attack stat. Also helps that movesets for most pokémon were reworked to include a large number of new and more capable moves.
- Safari Zone: A bit of a callback to Gen 1 and a means of expanding the world a bit more, SoulSilver/HeartGold includes a Safari Zone that’s accessible once you learn Surf and reach Cianwood City (it’s more of a beach-y resort). Along with a little bit more to the region to explore, it fleshes out the pokédex more by adding pokémon to catch in a little designated spot. One thing about Silver that is definitely outdated is the variety of pokémon one can catch prior to traveling to Kanto, so this is a nice way to further diversify a party.
- Pokéathalon: I have no idea if this is an unpopular opinion, but I actually thought these were a fun distraction. The different events one can play, which utilize the touchpad in almost a WarioWare-esque way, ended up being way more fun than I would’ve anticipated. I also remember enjoying them as a teenager, so perhaps this was an inevitable reinvestment. I suppose it makes up for the fact that the Game Corner replaced the slot machines with this terrible coin flip game or whatever the hell it is. I didn’t even bother to check; I was too disgusted seeing the inside of the building.
Despite the pacing issues and slightly heavier restrictive aura, it still brought a consistently good product in terms of what Pokémon does best. RPG action, collecting, and grinding are the name of the game, and it does not tire here (nor does it ever, usually). While the content up to this point may have gave the impression that I didn’t care for this, it’s still a pretty solid game when my nostalgia isn’t telling me that it’s not as good as the original.
All Right, We Get It. Just End It
Gladly. All things taken into account, I believe my casual disinterest with SoulSilver was an outcome based on two things: my nostalgic preferences wanting it to be harder and how little it did differently from a story standpoint (through 16 hours) that I didn’t already know from my tens of playthroughs with Silver. Great, I’m redoing all the things I’ve already done only with newer graphics, fine-tuned gameplay mechanics, and a bunch of people stopping me to ask for my phone number. Sometimes overfamiliarity hurts.
Hopefully that didn’t end up being way too much build-up for an anticlimactic, trivial answer. My unending desire to figure out my own brain may prove more interesting to myself than others, but should you find some insight or entertainment through this elongated ramble, know that I appreciate you making it this far.
What about you, reader? Do you think SoulSilver is better than Silver? Why or why not?
For more articles like this, check out the associated archive.
(All images, aside from the Sword and Shield one, were taken from Nintendo Utopia.)
As always, thank you for your time. Have a great day.