Nostalgia can be one Hell of a thing. It blinds everyone. Games from our childhood seem so much better than they actually are because we played them back then and still like them to this day, even if, in hindsight, they weren’t very good. On the flip side, those of us without nostalgia for these don’t see quite so clearly either, at least in general. We grow up hearing how good something is, or you know a mass amount of the population love something, so maybe you hate it a lot more than you really should.
Today, I decided that, since my next Matter of Experience is taking me so long to write, I’d make a hopefully much shorter new segment called Broken Glasses (named after the idea of having rosy red glasses towards something nostalgic and then me breaking them). I don’t know how many times I’ll use this segment, but I do want to tell you now; while this article is about me hating something everyone else loves, that will not always be the case. Trust me, there are many, MANY games that I love that people without nostalgia blinding them rightfully hate. The reason I decided to make this article is that my hatred for Pokemon HeartGold & SoulSilver (from now on referred to as HGSS) has come up a lot recently on Twitter, and I can’t exactly explain my feelings in 140 characters, or even 280, so hopefully this will help me coherently explain why I hate HGSS. It isn’t to change anyone’s mind, I’m not here to take away your precious childhood, and if you love these games, more power to you. This is just so I can reference this when talking about my feelings on these games.
Before we begin, I want to talk about the original generation 2; Pokemon Gold, Silver and Crystal (GSC from now on). I don’t hate these games as much as HGSS. I still feel they are very flawed, but they have a lot of charm to them being one of the original games, and while it has some design quirks, they’re more forgivable due to the era they came out in and the fact that this was only their second attempt at making a game. The reason I despise HGSS so much is they took all the design problems of the original games, added in some new ones, and fixed next to nothing, in my opinion. I also want to get out of the way that, technically speaking, Pokemon Gold was the first Pokemon game I’ve ever played; however, my brother owned it, so I rarely got to play it. As a result, the first Pokemon game I ever owned was Pokemon Diamond, which, may I remind you, is the same generation as HGSS. Generation 4 is likely my favorite generation in Pokemon, so my hatred has nothing to do with the generation these games came out in. Last warning; I will be going into spoilers. HGSS is an old game and I’m assuming you’re a veteran of this game if you’re reading this article. If you don’t want to have the game spoiled, I’d recommend not reading further.
The last thing I want to clarify before we start is there are some things about HGSS that I think were really good, or at least decent additions, ones I would like to see in future Pokemon games. There are three to be exact, and I think it’s only fair to start positive before ripping something to shreds. First is the ever popular mechanic of having your Pokemon walk behind you. To me, this mechanic is fairly pointless; it doesn’t add much besides just having a sprite walk behind you and letting you talk to it. While it doesn’t add much, however, it doesn’t take anything away, and it’s clearly beloved by fans. I think it would only be a benefit to bring it back. The second point is that in HGSS they let you control pretty much everything with the touch screen, most notably being you could toggle your ability to run to be always on or always off. This was a God send for someone like me who likes to multitask but wants to run in games like this. Now, rather than needing to hold down a button to run, I could just toggle it and I’d get everywhere much faster. PLEASE bring this back. Finally, the boss fight with Red at the end of the game. It’s a climactic moment, a tough battle, and a truly good way to end a game. Obviously you can’t do something like this every game because it’d get predictable, but it’s a fantastic example to follow, and I hope more games start doing this kind of challenge.
Now, onto my hatred points, beginning with the first one you see in-game (technically), the rival. Now, I can somewhat understand why people would like Silver (the antagonist’s name) as a rival. He presents fairly tough challenges throughout the adventure if you’re not prepared. Thinking like that, however, completely ruins the game. The rival isn’t just there to present a challenge. The rival is an obstacle AND a character who drives the plot. They need to be interesting, they need to actually do something of use in the story, and they need to be challenging. It’s in this way that rivals like Gary in gen 1 or Barry in gen 4 are the best rivals. Gary has a character personality that isn’t the best, but it’s more defined than Silver’s and, in the end, he’s the final boss, meaning the fight is much more important. While Barry isn’t as much of a challenge as Gary or Silver, he can still present a decent enough challenge, and on top of that, he matters to the story, jumping in to help you, challenging you to move onward, progressing the story less like an obstacle to jump over but more like a rival who goes on the same adventure as you and challenges you the whole time to do better.
Silver, on the other hand, does none of this. He pops up at seemingly random times throughout the story to yell at you, call you a weakling, then he either fights you or walks away. People seem to forget that half the time, rather than fighting you, he walks away because his Pokemon fainted, but he still insults you the whole way because he’s too proud to admit it. The only time Silver advances the plot is when you’re trying to sneak into Goldenrod Radio Tower, where he then pulls off your disguise and gets you caught, meaning he actively damaged your story advancements. He’s little more than a sliver to the plot (see what I did there?), and saying he’s excused from that because he presents a challenge would be the same as saying Whitney is an excusable gym leader because she’s a challenge.
On that note, on to the second reason I hate this generation; the gyms. They’re the weakest in the entire series, though the majority of them aren’t terrible. Namely, the first, third, fifth and eighth gyms are terrible. The first gym is Flying type, which is a horrible first typing to face. There’s a reason more than half the games in the series have a Rock type first gym; there are a lot of counters, they’re fairly easy to defeat, and two of the three starter types are strong against them. With the Flying type, none of the starters are strong against it, and one of them is weak to it with no real way of countering. The two types that are strong against Flying are either difficult to get beforehand or are way too slow/don’t get the moves they need in time for the gym, and if you don’t want to use a Rock or Electric type Pokemon on your team, you’re either out of luck or have to use them for now.
The third gym is Whitney. I hopefully shouldn’t have to explain why she’s terrible. Cheap tactics, cocky attitude, and in the end when you finally beat her, she cries and doesn’t give you the badge you’ve rightfully earned. When a character is this rude and obnoxious, they NEED to have a redeeming moment in the story; either they learn the errors of their ways and make up for it, or they’re punished for it. I don’t know of any way she could’ve learned the errors of her ways and shown it, but to punish her, she should’ve been a much easier fight, someone you could completely and utterly destroy. Schadenfreude exists for a reason, and without it, you just leave your players with pent up rage towards a character that they grow to resent her for.
The fifth gym isn’t bad. It’s easy, it’s on the path, it’s quick. That’s my problem with it; after the first three gyms being super challenging, the rest of them just aren’t. The fifth gym in particular; it’s bland, quick, boring, and I honestly believe it just shouldn’t exist. The whole thing feels like filler, from coming to the island to fighting that gym just to be able to get Fly, to leaving all over again. If it wasn’t for the Safari Zone (remember, I’m talking about HGSS) and the Suicune encounter, this entire segment of the game would be forgotten in a heart(gold)beat. Also, doing this “quest” unlocks the 6th gym, which involves no trainers in it due to the lighthouse (I get why, but I still think it’s stupid), and the gym leader uses the Steel type, which is hands down my least favorite type in the Pokemon series. That’s another negative of gen 2, adding two of the worst types into the series, but that’s a rant for another day, we needed more types and I would’ve preferred having two horrible ones over none at all.
Finally, the eighth gym against the Dragon user, Claire. She pulls a Whitney and can’t accept her own defeat, saying you need to prove yourself because she thinks you’re lazy. I know a lot of people have pointed out the problems with this; we won so she’s obligated to give us the badge, she’s rude and should be punished (she never is), this is just arbitrary filler. All of these are valid complaints, but there’s one specific one I want to bring up. How the Hell can she call us lazy? Does she not realize that, in order to get to her, we had to beat 7 other gyms, climb up multiple mountains, cross seas, go through giant forests, take down a criminal syndicate, fight some red-haired dickhead the entire way, work alongside an Elite 4 member to infiltrate a base, catch a legendary red Gyarados, build up a team to damn near level 50, save a town from extortioners, chase legendaries across the region and outright catch a legendary Pokemon at the top of a tower or at the bottom of the ocean? After coming all this way, someone at GAME FREAK decided the best course of action would to have a ridiculously easy challenge because some random gym leader is too proud of herself to admit we won, and then have the gall to call us lazy. If it’s so lazy to make it that far through your game, why should we even play it? Claire infuriates me more than Whitney does. When Whitney denies your badge, it’s an insult from her; when Claire denies your badge, it’s an insult from the game.
Anyway, on to the next problem I have with the game, the Pokemon. Don’t get me wrong, the majority of Pokemon in Johto aren’t bad. In fact, my second favorite Pokemon is in Johto, even though it’s actually a pretty bad Pokemon; Spinarak was the first interestingly-designed Pokemon I ever saw in-game, so I remember it fondly because of that. My problem is that a large majority of the Pokemon in the game are forgettable and bland, so much so that for years I couldn’t tell what Pokemon came from gen 1 or gen 2, even though I knew it for every other generation afterwards. I hate Hoothoot with a passion (for some reason I just don’t like owls), Wobbufett is a weird Pokemon, Hell, I made this argument to a friend of mine. We listed Pokemon to prove our points, I brought up Chinchou, and he had outright forgotten what Chinchou even was. I know there are a lot of Pokemon, but when you make one with as interesting a type as Water/Electric forgettable, you’ve made a grave mistake.
The Pokemon I want to talk about the most is perhaps the most divisive one in the gen 2 roster; Chikorita. Believe it or not, I don’t hate Chikorita. Generally speaking, I like the Grass starters more than the others, but Chikorita isn’t my favorite here (that honor goes to Totodile. Cyndaquil is cute, but I think its evolutions are boring and bland). People say Chikorita sucks, and in HGSS it does, but that’s not Chikorita’s fault, it’s the developers. Look at all the gym types in Johto. Flying, Bug, Normal, Ghost/Poison, Fighting, Steel, Ice, Dragon. Notice anything about those types? Flying, Bug, Ghost/Poison and Ice are all Super Effective against Grass. Flying, Bug, Ghost/Poison, Steel and Dragon all resist Grass. Normal and Fighting take normal damage and give normal damage to Grass. That means that because the game designers decided to have Johto and Kanto have a gym for every type but Dark (and Fairy, obviously) across their two games, Chikorita got screwed because it isn’t strong against any of the types presented. Hell, even your rival and the criminal gang use mostly Poison types. It’s like they were out to ruin Chikorita from the start.
Leveling & Evolution
Next I want to talk about how ridiculous it is to get evolution stones when so many Pokemon evolve through stone. The only surefire way to get an evolution stone is to play the PokeAthalon dome, which is boring, tedious and a cheap replacement of Contests, except you’re forced to play through it unless you don’t have any Pokemon that evolve through trade item or stone or if you have good luck. That’s right, for some reason, there are no evolution stones available in the first 2/3rds of Johto (in other words, when you’d want to evolve a Pokemon for) unless you get lucky and get an annoying call from the person who gives it to you (I hate that phone mechanic, but I’m pretty sure everyone does, so I won’t rant about it) or grind in the PokeAthalon Dome for a specific day of the week. Not to mention how many items are locked behind you playing for weeks upon weeks at a time. Even getting TMs, some of which are locked behind Voltorb Flip, a game that would’ve been a good replacement for the slots if there wasn’t just as much luck involved in Voltorb Flip, making it nearly impossible to get the hundreds of thousands of coins needed to get everything without, yet again, spending weeks of time on this game. It’s like the game was designed to just waste your time.
It’s that waste of time feeling that makes me hate HGSS the most, and it brings me around to my final and biggest problem with the game, a term I like to use called the “EXP tables”. In a game like Pokemon, this is ideally how the difficulty and levels should ramp up; you level up equally throughout the game by fighting every trainer around you, some of the trainers offering multiple weak Pokemon to fight, some offering one more challenging Pokemon to fight, all to help prepare you for the gyms, who are equal leveled to you or slightly higher leveled, all depending on how many trainers you fought beforehand, only needing to grind for extremely difficult challenges like the Elite 4. In other words, the games should provide you enough EXP from fighting the obstacles they put in your path that you don’t need to grind to be equally leveled. You beat an obstacle, you get rewarded.
That isn’t how HGSS works, and even if you love this game to death, you have to agree with me, because it’s blatant. Some gyms are lower leveled than the ones before it, you beat the Elite 4 and suddenly all of the trainers afterwards can have Pokemon from level 20 to level 40, which is substantially lower than the Elite 4, which you’ve already proven you can handle. If you want to be on-par for the gyms, you’re practically forced to grind, which I now know you don’t need to do because you can still take down gyms from lower levels, but as a kid you’re not going to know that. When I played this game for the first time as a teenager, I thought I had to be on-par because it makes sense; a level 45 will have trouble fighting a level 50 because 50 is a higher number. Pokemon is a game made for kids, so you have to think like a kid; kids don’t want to spend hours grinding just to be the same level as their challenges.
I think there are two reasons why the game is designed like this. The first is that back in the second generation, these games were new, not established. It was hard to know how to balance EXP and how to keep everything fairly level across the board. That’s why, even though I hate this flaw, I can’t hate the original gen 2 games for this glaring flaw. HGSS, however, are remakes. They’re supposed to fix these flaws. Instead, they bring the flaws back, making them more glaring than ever.
The second reason is one that might not be true, but it makes a lot of sense to me. Remember when I listed the three good things HGSS does for the franchise? I will guarantee you at least one of you reading this read those and thought “Wait, why isn’t the second region part of this list?” Having access to Kanto is the only, or at least biggest reason people like generation 2, and I must admit that before I really thought about it, I liked that idea too, and wanted it implemented into future games. Once I thought about it, however, I realized that it was a lot like why they won’t add in Pokemon walking behind you; it takes too much to code. They effectively doubled the size of the game by adding in Kanto, giving a much longer post-game than any other game in the series. On top of that, Kanto already had an established lore, an established challenge level, and established Pokemon. Sure, for Johto it came after the Elite 4, but if you went in there and fought level 70s across the board when in the first game they had level 5s, wouldn’t that be just the littlest bit weird? Plus, you had free roam of Kanto once you got in, meaning that if they wanted to make it a consistent challenge, they’d either have to make everyone the same level or force you down a specific path.
What I’m saying is, Kanto is one of the biggest, if not THE reason that the enemy levels and the EXP tables don’t fairly level up your Pokemon or provide a consistent challenge. GAME FREAK didn’t know how to implement such a huge addition fairly and while providing a consistent challenge. If they prepared you for a large challenge in Johto, you’d be too overpowered for the Elite 4. If they ramped up all the levels in Johto, you’d reach level 100 too easily and there’d be less challenge. If they leveled up Kanto accordingly, you’d either have the chance to fight them out of order, you’d need to be set down a specific path, or you’d just feel weird fighting people who were so much higher leveled than the first playthrough of Kanto (even though I think it would’ve made sense). In short, Kanto is the cause of the reason I hate generation 2 the most.
Those are all the reasons I hate HGSS. I want to point out that while a lot of these problems are facts (Silver does next to nothing in the story, the gym leaders are either too hard or too low leveled, the levels are done poorly, materials are too rare, the game tries to make you play it too long and overstays its welcome, Chikorita got screwed, etc.), the fact that they make me angry is my opinion. If you love this game and these problems don’t bother you, more power to you. There’s definitely a charm to this game that, if I had played it sooner than I did, I might have fallen for. However, the first time I had played through this game was in high school, where I was taking AP English classes that taught me how to analyze art. In other words, the first time I played this, I was learning how to pick things apart and see through charm to see bad design. Effectively, this game came at the worst time; the time where I was learning how to see through nostalgia.
I doubt I broke anyone’s rose tinted glasses, but I’m okay with that. All I want out of this article is to have a reference for my opinion, and to hopefully have a smart, reasonable, respectful, mature debate. If you disagree with me or see something another way, please leave a comment. Feel free to point out good things about this game that I was too angry to see; I may have called people who like this game “nostalgia blinded”, but I can guarantee I don’t see the whole picture either. Thank you for reading through this new segment, and next time, I promise I’ll have more of a structure to this kind of article, and I’ll be talking about one of two games that I’m nostalgia blinded for, but are objectively terrible, where I’ll be given the task of defending a bad game I love. I’ll see you guys then.