Pokémon Crystal has stepped into the spotlight again, thanks to its appearance on the Virtual Console. This provides people an interesting opportunity. After all, this game was quite a first. It was the third game in the series’ second generation and the first half step. It took the advancements made in Pokémon Gold and Silver and slightly adjusted and improved them, leading the way to even more improvements in Pokémon Ruby, Sapphire and Emerald.
One of the biggest deals with Pokémon Crystal was the ability to choose your avatar’s gender. It has no impact on the story. All it does is change the look of your character sprite. Still, this was a big deal. We were always relegated to a specific role, even though it could have easily been a gender neutral one. To have the opportunity to customize our character was the first step on the road to development choices that would eventually lead to the fully customizable characters we see in installments like Pokémon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon.
This was not the only change to help personalize things. The generic in-game trainers began to develop more personality, thanks to Pokémon Crystal’s design decisions. In Pokémon Gold and Silver, we received a phone and were able to register numbers and talk to other NPCs we had battled. Except, their messages were all generic. Now, most people have something unique to say. They may want a rematch. They could want to talk about other things, like seeing a rare Pokémon or saying they grabbed an item for you. More trainers appear. You can even hear about sales at the department store’s roof if you have made friends with an NPC who is big on shopping.
Even the Pokémon received special touches that helped make them pop. Pokémon Crystal is when the critters gained pre-battle animations. Whenever a fight would start, you would see the character perform a brief action before the match began. This movement also appeared when looking one up. It helped showcase a bit of their personality, something that would likely be appreciated due to most of the sprites remaining the same from Pokémon Gold and Silver.
Pokémon Crystal set the stage for special events and storylines being a key element to these incremental updates, perhaps to help call attention to certain Pokémon. After all, each updated release tended to influence which creatures you may or may not see in it. With this entry, the Ruins of Alph and Unown were made more important. If you went through the puzzles in this entry, you would be able to visit the different chambers, trigger different puzzles and then read messages left behind about the ruins and Pokémon.
The Celebi event is another element that shows how this first half-step could make a big difference. Legendaries have always been a big deal in Pokémon games, but this particular Celebi was unique in that it was the first event Pokémon that had a special in-game event trigger after you were able to get the GS Ball to acquire it. Mew, the very first event Pokémon, was given away through trades. The original special event would allow people to get a GS Ball, take it to Azalea Town’s Kurt to investigate, then use it on the Ilex Forest Shrine to capture a level 30 Celebi. The Virtual Console version allows everyone to access this, something that was impossible without cheat devices in the original version since it was part of a Japan-exclusive event.
Pokémon Crystal set a trend that would continue in multiple generations. Being the first game to appear between new iterations, it established a tradition. It showed how it would take what was familiar, then add enough new features and events to make what was old seem new again, but not merit a full new release. It showed how this half-step could make some quality of life changes that would help shape the series and prepare for future installments.
Pokémon Crystal is now available on the Nintendo 3DS Virtual Console.