History in the Industry: Pokemon Crystal

Hi everyone, Matt here!

I think almost everyone has that one game that’s connected to a flood of fond memories. It’s that game that never grows old, no matter how many times you replay it. It’s that game you know everything about; you could play it with your eyes closed. You could hum all the tunes by heart, and you could explain what to do, how to do it and where to go to a new player, all off the cuff. I’m sure you each know what I’m talking about; you’re probably thinking of “That Game” right now, aren’t you?

For me, that game is Pokemon Crystal. And, whoa, where do I even start?

If I take a trip nearly 15 years back in time, I find myself at my earliest memories of gaming. My earliest console memories consist of spending countless hours roaming the world of Spyro: Year of the Dragon and blowing enemies to bits in Twisted Metal 2. But memories far fonder than those stem from my earliest handheld experience with Pokemon Crystal.

Pokemon Crystal released in the U.S. on July 29, 2001. I was only 3 years old at the time, and I didn’t get around to playing it until I was about 5 or so. By that time, Nintendo had moved onto its Game Boy Advance era. I didn’t have the money for the GBA Pokemon games, and to be quite honest, I don’t even know how I even ended up with Crystal to begin with. Nevertheless, around the time my friends were raving about Ruby and Sapphire (which I, admittedly, still haven’t played to this day), I was sinking my time into Crystal.

It’s impossible to pinpoint one exact reason why the game means so much to me, but to this day it’s one of my top ten favorite games. Part of it, I think, is that the game was, aside from Spyro, the most complex game I had played to that point. To my young mind, Pokemon was huge. It featured a big map with lots to do, over a hundred creatures to collect, and dozens of hours of gameplay. I spent about 25 hours just beating the first eight gyms and the Elite Four. For years, I had no idea the game included an entire other region to explore, and my mind was blown when I found out, like I had a completely new game to discover. Even now, there has never been a mobile or handheld game I’ve invested more time into than Pokemon Crystal.

The game itself was full of opportunities to take the adventure any way I wanted it. Aside from the necessary TM/HM slaves, I could form a dream team of any Pokemon I wanted. The game introduced some of the Pokemon that are still my favorites; there aren’t many Pokemon cooler than Typhlosion and Suicune, in my opinion. And I had total freedom to teach them the moves I thought would be useful and to develop strategies for taking down even the most troublesome gym leaders.

pokemon crystal screen

Then there was the music. Even now, I still find tunes from the game running through my head from time to time. Each city’s song set the tone for what the place would be like, and the compositions were stellar. Whether it was a battle theme meant to hype me up or an eerie tune for a creepy building, I found that the music had a huge effect on the way I experienced the game. Pokemon Crystal is the reason I pay close attention to soundtracks in games and appreciate the ones that complement the gameplay well.

The exploration aspect had my younger self feeling like a true adventurer. Whether it was participating in events that would only occur on certain dates, catching Pokemon that would only appear after a certain sequence had been completed, or going to places I had never discovered, Pokemon Crystal had me constantly uncovering new mysteries to solve. Every task felt meaningful; each new discovery made would lead to some new Pokemon or item to aid in my journey, and it was so gratifying to me.

Really, Pokemon Crystal is the first game that made me hungry for more. When I look back, it’s one of the few games that really cemented gaming as an important part of my life. Other games I had were fun, but they never hooked me into wanting more. But Pokemon Crystal opened up a door for me to collect the trading cards, watch the television show, and of course, play even more of the series’ games.

Even 16 years after Crystal launched here in the U.S., Pokemon is one of my all-time favorite series, and it’s never disappointed me yet. 2016’s Sun and Moon set a new bar for the games, and I enjoyed the duo the most of any entry since Crystal. I’m sure there’s an entire generation of kids that will look back at Sun and Moon over a decade later the same exact way I look back at my early experiences with Pokemon Crystal.

To the Pokemon series as a whole, I credit it with being one of the most timeless. The core formula of the series hasn’t changed in over 20 years, and it still works beautifully, drawing old fans and new into the mix every time. As for Pokemon Crystal specifically, I hold it in high regard, above almost any other game. It was the one to make my younger self curious as to what other adventures were out there waiting to be discovered. It’s the game that really made me want to dive into gaming as more than just something to fill up some time here and there. Pokemon Crystal planted the seed within me that made me a gamer.

It’s no exaggeration to say that it started a snowball effect that quite literally changed my life, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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