Opinions and Stories

Through the Looking Glass: A Journey Back to Crystal

One Trainer’s journey through Johto and Kanto, nearly twenty years ago.

A vast majority of stories like this start on an elementary school playground many years ago, so bear with me that this little escapade begins in much the same way. Also similar to those other tales, I wasn’t the most popular kid in class back then (or ever, honestly). Sure, I definitely had my share of good friends, but I usually spent lunchtime eating in a small group, and during recess I’d almost always keep to myself on the swings.

This particular day was a bit different, however. Today, one of my friends—who had fewer friends than me—brought a GameBoy Color to school. Being one of his only friends, it was me he shared this with. We huddled together in the play-garden pagoda to see. I admittedly don’t remember all the details, as one normally doesn’t regarding things that happened nearly twenty years ago. Had he just started the game, or did he start over his file so I could play from the beginning? I don’t even remember if we were using the boy or the girl player character, or what their name was. What I do remember is naming our rival: my friend took the liberty of pressing the START button on the naming screen for me.

“Just press START. It will name him SILVER.”

It’s funny how we can remember such small, insignificant details like that, but absolutely none of the context around it. It’s also rather funny how by arbitrarily remembering those pointless details they become nostalgic to you, and even influence your choices and feelings in the future. Whenever a Pokémon game asks me to name my rival, I always name them by how I think they “look;” for instance, to me, Blue “looks like” a “Kaz,” or Hugh “looks like” a “Ralph.” But the Johto-based rival? That’s “Silver.” No “???” memes, no “looking like,” he’s just “Silver.” He always has been, and he always will be, even in the remakes nearly ten years later.

My friend who showed me this game and named my rival for me told me to borrow it, system and all. So I did. I didn’t really have a choice: I never played any sort of video game before, so I didn’t have a system of my own. And I was enamored with what little I had experienced. I had to keep playing more.

My parents didn’t like this. I still to this day don’t know why, but they abhorred when I borrowed things. I mean, yes, people have stolen things from me that I let them borrow, but I myself always returned what I took. Still, my dad demanded that I gave back the game the next day. I couldn’t really hide the fact that I had this new device from my parents, so I went ahead and returned it.

And it surprisingly worked out in my favor, because after school, my dad took me to the nearby toy store to get the game and system. Why? I really don’t know.

Here’s another thing I remember clearly: picking out my first game console. It was a special edition GameBoy Color with Pikachu’s cheek aligned with the power light. The body of the system shone from gold to silver. It was the prettiest system they had; I loved it. When asked which of the games I wanted, it had to be the one my friend showed me: Crystal Version. I had seen a commercial for it earlier; it said you could play as a girl, and I wanted it to feel like it was me on this grand adventure. It also said there was a new puzzle feature in some ruins I had yet to see—might as well get the newest game with the most content. I also loved the Pokémon that was on the box. The other two, the birds, were cool, too, but the blue dog-like creature was perfect. Beautiful and imposing. The best of both worlds.

I started playing right away. It was after dinner, so the in-game world was cloaked in night. Although my friend was willing to bring his game to school, I was much more fearful—and we didn’t even have a link cable to play together with anyways. This created another arbitrary detail for me to remember for the rest of my days: to me, due to the times I got to play, Johto is prettiest at night. Some locations I remember exclusively in darkness, especially Violet City and Blackthorn. Although, back then, portable gaming screens weren’t backlit, so it wasn’t always easy to make out what was going on while playing at night.

My most notable memory about getting my first Master Ball is just how little I remember it actually happening: I was playing at night, in the car (I don’t even remember where we were coming from or going to), with only occasional street lamps to help me see—my parents were (and still are) very anti-light-inside-the-car people. I knew Professor Elm was telling me something but I could barely make out what. But hey, I still got the Master Ball.

What happened next was just me playing the game. Although my friends got to go back and experience the originals, I wasn’t allowed to pick up the “gen one” games; I already had the newest one, after all.

As I kept playing, I beat the Champion. I beat Red. I finished as much of the Pokédex as I could without trading. But there was a problem: I couldn’t catch Ho-oh because I didn’t have all of the legendary beasts. In all honesty, it was probably Suicune—instead of catching the Pokémon I was so enamored with, I had defeated it! My only option was to start over my game. But what about my precious Pokémon? My starter, CUTEY, the (female!) Meganium, was Level 100, and my Espeon, HAPPY, was really close. I didn’t want to lose them, so I used the transfer feature to store them all into my copy of Pokémon Stadium 2 I had received from my parents earlier. I restarted Crystal, but in all honesty I never got far—there were new Pokémon games to play now.

So where is everything now? In high school, I let the guy I had a crush on borrow my copy of both Stadium and Stadium 2. And as you can probably see coming from a couple miles away: he “let his cousin ‘borrow'” both of my games. Of course I never got them back. Where are CUTEY and HAPPY now? Honestly, all that I know is they’re in my heart.

Remember kids: even if you have a crush on them, don’t let anyone borrow your stuff. People will betray you. Pokémon won’t.

The toy store I got my copy of Crystal and GameBoy Color from closed down years, years ago. Probably when I was in middle school. It’s a small supermarket now.

The play-pagoda is still there on that school playground. Some days I teach in that school. I bring my water in a Pokémon World Championship 2016 bottle; the kids are always surprised and excited to find out there are adults who like or even know what Pokémon is.

My friend who introduced me to Crystal—I still remember his name, but he must have moved because he didn’t return to that school the next year.

And my system—I keep them all. My 3DS of nearly eight years breathed its last not long ago, and I still kept it. I have a GameBoy Advance and a GameBoy Advance SP. My Nintendo 64 chills out beside my GameCube—all these systems I got because of one game that introduced me to the world of Pokémon. A world that part of me has never left.

And I absolutely can’t wait to go back.

Edited by bobandbill and gimmepie.