Game Plot Analysis – The Johto Games

In an earlier article, we started a series where we analyse the plots of the main Pokémon games and began with the Kanto games. Today we pick up where we left off and continue with the set of games that occur within the nearby Johto region. We’ll consider how the attempted revival of Team Rocket went, and what improvements were made in the sequels with characterisation.

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Rainbow phoenix, or angry psychic bird?

Recap

Here we consider the plot of the original Johto games – Gold and Silver. As before, we’ll examine Crystal and the HeartGold/SoulSilver remakes later in the article.

You begin your adventure with an errand. The local Pokémon Professor (Elm) gets a request to check something discovered by a colleague (‘Mr. Pokémon’). He gives you a starter Pokémon to use for getting to Mr. Pokémon’s house. You meet Professor Oak who gives you a Pokédex, and Mr. Pokémon gives you a Pokémon egg. Upon returning to Elm’s lab, you encounter your rival who also has a starter Pokémon, and is later revealed to have stolen it from Elm’s lab.

After taking the Pokémon Egg, Elm then suggests you take on the Gym challenge, and so your adventure begins. Later on you get the Egg back in order to hatch it during your travels. You encounter your rival at various points, where he begins to wonder why his Pokémon are unable to beat yours. Furthermore, you also encounter Team Rocket members who are trying to resurrect their group. This plot ramps up when you find their secret hideout, from which they emitted radio waves to force Pokémon to evolve (showcased with the Red Gyarados). Shortly after they take over the Radio Tower, but you defeat them in time to stop any plan to bring back Giovanni and affect the region’s Pokémon.

The adventure does not end after beating the eight Johto Gyms and the Elite Four and Champion. Afterwards you are free to explore the Kanto region and beat its Gym Leaders, and afterward explore Mt. Silver and have a battle with Red, aka the protagonist character of RBY.

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Like peas in a pod.

Analysis

The RBY plot was deemed to be fairly simplistic, and GSC’s follows a similar vein. Once again, you have the standard good versus evil and Pokémon being friends rather than tools being the main themes at play. Team Rocket are again well established as the ‘bad’ side – you see them cutting the tails off Pokémon (Slowpoke) early on in the game, so even though there’s a big gap between their next appearance the player already has a motivation to stop them. And after them charging you for using a gatehouse (free to pass through in every other part of every Pokémon region), and the current Champion asking you to help stop them, you’ll probably find yourself eagerly infiltrating their base.

The threat is enhanced for those who played the Kanto games beforehand. Players would have remembered the likes of Giovanni. The fact that TR members hijack a broadcasting station to call for his return underlines the danger of TR coming back in force. Even without the experience of RBY however, they are well established as an evil group that should be stopped.

That said, their initial sighting in cutting off Slowpoke tails is odd, in that there’s no apparent link between this and their ultimate scheme. While in the Kanto games they all did bad stuff for the heck of it, along with power and money, generating profits does not appear to be a current aim of theirs – not as much anyway as simply gaining back power and taking over the region. The Slowpoke tail plan was rather reminiscent of the old money-making Team Rocket, but afterward it’s all about gaining power through their revival effort. On the flip side, the appearance of a sole TR member – later joined by a second member – outside the Goldenrod Radio Tower which the team takes over when you first enter Goldenrod is a nice touch of foreshadowing of Team Rocket’s plan.

TR makes an appearance in Kanto through a sole Engrish-speaking character who steals a part from the Power Plant for reasons unknown. He apparently didn’t get the memo, and only amounts to a small insignificant sidequest. Kanto has no real plot to it – the whole region is simply there for you to explore. Some may fault this decision to have no real ‘purpose’, while others may just embrace the freedom to explore at will. What is certain is that there is no major plot to speak of within the Kanto region. The story starts in Johto and practically ends there as well, or leastways in Indigo Plateau. Kanto serves more as a throwback to the previous games, and serves as a way to enhance the fact that the Johto games are sequels. Getting to see how the region and its characters have changed a few years on is neat, and even downsized areas like the closed-down Safari Zone and Cinnabar island can strike a chord (‘What do you mean there was a volcano? It erupted?!’).

The beginning of the game – the quest with the Pokemon Egg – also feels unfinished once you hatch the Pokemon. It also seems odd that the professor on Pokemon breeding did not know that Pokemon hatches from eggs…

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And he has a child…

The Rival Factor

It may be fair to say that the second set of Game Freak Pokémon games gave us the second best rival – that is, if you didn’t put him below Blue. While Blue was the guy you liked to beat because of his arrogance and ego, Silver went a few steps further and was an outright thief, and especially in the case of the HGSS remakes even undergoes some character development.

And wanting to beat him was an easy thing to do. Your first possible interaction with the guy involves him kicking or punching you away from his spot next to Elm’s lab. Later on your learn that he went and stole one of the starter Pokémon, and of course as if to spite you it’s the one with the type advantage against yours. And that’s not all – he didn’t stop at one, no – he outright stole another Pokémon (a Sneasel) from an NPC, who is so frightened by the event that he asks you to mind his Pokémon for you. (You’re free to steal it as well, actually, but we digress). He doesn’t express any desire to help the sick Ampharos in the Lighthouse, nor is seen helping out anybody else. This is a guy who clearly isn’t good.

And yet… he’s not one-dimensional. When you encounter him in the Team Rocket hideouts, he expresses his dislike for the group, which comes as a surprise. He also expresses his frustration at not growing to be a stronger trainer when you beat him time and time again, and when even Lance teaches him an (off-screen) lesson. While he focuses on you for constantly beating him, you’re not the only part of his life.

HGSS expands on him as well by giving him a couple more scenes. Besides the one where he berates you for trying to sneak in with a TR uniform, there’s a post-game battle with you battling with him against Lance and Clair. Another addition has him return to Elm’s lab where he offers to give back the Pokémon he stole, which is a nice way to show that he has improved his ways. Elm decides that he’s earned the trust of his Pokémon and deserves to keep it now. And then there’s the event-only scene activated by a Celebi (if your country got that Celebi event, that is…). You see him talking to Giovanni after he has lost to the RBY protagonist, confirming he is Giovanni’s child, and explaining his mistrust of Team Rocket during the game. It was a nice bonus considering that this was hinted at within FRLG.

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Nice reference.

There’s also a small touch where you see his Pokemon out of its Poke Ball in Dragon’s Den. But even without these additions in the remakes there are other aspects that indicate he has grown as a character in the original GSC games. His battles against you at the door to the Elite Four, and at Mt. Moon not to annoy you but to test his progress, after which he decides to train his Pokemon in Dragon’s Den. As for a more minor detail, only in those rematch battles does he have a fully evolved Crobat on his team – a Pokémon that requires a strong friendship with their trainer to evolve (a mechanic first introduced in the GSC games). That’s a nice level of depth.

The Other Characters

Team Rocket in Gold and Silver introduces a few characters in the higher ranks of the organisation, but they otherwise lack any personality that better distinguishes them than their sprites and superior Pokémon from their underlings. There’s not much that makes them distinct. You’re more likely to remember this grunt over some of the others, in fact, or the sole Team Rocket member in Kanto.

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I remember you too!

A few Gym Leaders are more memorable than those in the original Kanto games, but it’s not exactly saying much, because most of the Johto ones still remain cooped up inside their Gyms. The first exception in Johto is Jasmine, who stays in the Lighthouse to help care for a sick Pokémon, the first real hint in a Pokémon game that Gym Leaders have some sort of responsibility outside of handing over badges. The second is Clair who cannot believe that you beat her and sends you on a side-quest in the Dragon’s Den in order to get her badge. Whitney deserves mention, not because she was hard to beat for many players, but because of her tantrum after you beat her. It isn’t exactly an endearing trait… Jasmine was better off there.

It does not get better for the old Kanto crew. Misty appears on a date outdoors only to be interrupted by you, and… that’s it. Giovanni of course is nowhere to be seen in GSC, and his replacement in Blue does show up outside the Gym, but otherwise everyone remains in their Gym. Blaine is in a makeshift ‘Gym’ in Seaform Islands, and just stays there without doing a thing before or after battling you. Lance does however move out of the Elite Four hangout to help you beat up Team Rocket, which was actually pretty awesome, especially if you played the original games. You’d recall the character, and to be requested to help out the Champion, and shortly afterward see him getting his Pokémon to Hyper Beam a Team Rocket member sets up the whole part.

There’s a good amount of memorable NPCs, from Earl the Engrish-speaking spinning teacher to the RAGECANDYBAR seller. A key aspect of the GSC games in the PokéGear helps make some that you battle memorable by allowing you to rebattle and call certain NPCs. Suddenly you could refight a whole slew of characters, see how their team grows, and hear about their own adventures in Pokémon. It may not have been very expansive in the original games with what they told you, but it did wonders to make the world seem fuller.

It helped with a few other key characters too. You could have Bill call you up when you needed to change your boxes, and also could hear the odd message from your in-game Mum about how she spent your money on a useful item or neat doll. (Sadly she bought you mostly unused Berries all too frequently in the HGSS remakes, and dolls were removed.)

Red deserves mention, even if he only …’s at you. He serves as an additional end-game reminder that the Johto games are sequels. His team is filled with throwbacks in all versions of the games. Pikachu and all three starter Pokemon refers to Yellow, Snorlax was the lovable obese roadblock, and Lapras in the HGSS team was a key Pokemon obtained from Silph Co. during Team Rocket’s final major event (ignoring the Sevii Islands). Even the Espeon is a throwback to the free Eevee you could get from Celedon City in the Kanto games.

The legendary Pokémon were not a factor in Gold or Silver either – they were entirely optional. You did have a small feature introducing you to the Johto legendary beasts (Entei, Suicune and Raikou), and get some neat world-building when you are told about the Burnt Tower and their involvement, but you didn’t have to catch them and could in fact go through the game having never encountered them in the wild. Ho-oh wasn’t too hard to get because you knew where to go, but Lugia was another matter, because you had to find the right path from four different islands. They had no impact on the main plot – in the originals, anyway…

Third Version/Remake Factor

Crystal changed that up a bit however. Suicune got importance!

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It also got its butt shown in the opening scene. Why is… Unown.

Crystal introduced Eusine, a Suicune fanatic who chases after the Pokémon. Ecruteak Town benefits from this, and Morty, the Gym Leader of the town, even shows up outside of his Gym! You chase Suicune around Johto before finally getting to battle it in the Tin Tower. There’s also some expansion to the Unown sidequests, but they do not connect to the main story in any way.

Outside of this the plot does not change noticeably. You still do the same things against Team Rocket, and there’s no relation between the two. Crystal did expand on the PokéGear aspect, allowing NPCs to give you items now, and a couple more NPCs showed up (such as in the Goldenrod Radio Tower), but there’s no real difference. Crystal was the first ever Pokémon game to allow the player to pick a female protagonist, while HGSS decided to ditch her for Lyra.

HGSS is where things are notably changed up. The PokéGear now can be used to gather the phone numbers of every Gym Leader postgame, and you can find them outside of their Gyms. You can get neat little facts about their lives, and see them interact with each other (and maybe more importantly challenge them to a rematch). All the NPCs gain their own quirks and behaviours as well, and while some people may have been annoyed at Youngster Joey, you have to appreciate that they made actual characters out of these NPCs to a good extent. They don’t directly contribute to the plot, but they do contribute to the world-building.

The Eusine and Suicune show returns as well, albeit with some changes. Instead of concluding in Johto, Suicune keeps on running off into the Kanto region, and you only finally get to catch it when you arrive at Bill’s house in Kanto. Meanwhile, the game’s cover legends in Lugia or Ho-oh have a bigger deal made out of them. The Kimono girls, previously throwaway forgettable characters, show up several times in your adventure (including your fights against Team Rocket), and following your success in obtaining the eight Johto badges test you with a fairly challenging chain of battles before deciding that you are true of heart and worthy of facing off against the legendary Pokémon. This complements the main plot of the original games, and gives it more depth without centralising the main plot on said legendary Pokémon, like other games in the series have done. It serves to underline that beating TR is the right thing to do, and that you can manage to do shows how awesome you are. It also manages to tie into the Pokemon Egg plot at the beginning of the game!

And lastly, even Team Rocket benefited from HGSS. While their plan went in the same manner as before, their Admins had some more personality, from the master-of-disguises Petrel, to the easily annoyed Proton. Meanwhile, the events carry more weight. All the citizens of Goldenrod comment on TR’s takeover of the city, and even their dialogue changes if you talk to them while in disguise as a TR member yourself. It’s these coats of paint that make HGSS a far better expansion on the story of its original games than the likes of FRLG.

The Kanto games stayed on the simplistic side with their plot even in their remakes, and the Johto games followed suit for the most part at the base in GS. It’s in the third version and especially the remakes that they really expand which still maintaining the basic structure. While some characters like Gym Leaders remain under-developed, there’s steps forward in making characters out of them, and the story does well as a sequel to the Kanto plot. The rival is on par with the likes of Blue, but also gains more in the way of character development. Overall, the Johto games are just more rounded out with its characters and execution, and the team who worked on HGSS deserve some credit in how they executed their changes.

Written by bobandbill
Edited by Bay Alexison and Dramatic Melody

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