Pokemon Crystal

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I am having trouble playing Pokemon Crystal. 

For a long time this was true because I had lost the carttride. For ten years it hid out in my childhood closet, wearing down it’s batteries and eluding my attempts at nostalgic replays. Then it emerged and I only checked up on my childhood Pokemon. I visited with my beloved starter now a fearsome Typholseon. I scampered around with an Espeon I’d named Happy in hopes that would encourage it to evolve through the power of friendship. Perhaps I chased after some pokemon swarms. 

Then I set the game down and let it return to it’s slumber. By the time I wanted to play again it’s battery was dead. Happy was gone. I couldn’t save a new game. 

I got it into my head to play it again after watching youtube retrospectives. I’d been complaining about the new games. Why not play all the old ones following me from apartment to apartment and never getting played. 

The guy I’m with knows how to sodder. I bought a little kit with batteries and screw drivers meant to get into old games that other people love. He took about it’s glittery plastic case. The battery didn’t want to work. He put it in upside down. It took a few tries.  It saved my game, and I played a bit for novelty on his bright yellow childhood Gameboy. 

I took it home intending to play. 

My gameboy felt so clunky in my hands now. The control pad felt sticky. The graphics seemed so dark without a backlight screen, and I was stuck huddling under lamps or waiting till daytime. I hated the feel of the control pad. I hated knowing I’d need to worry about when to change the batteries.

I wanted to play it with the Pokemon Stadium games anyways, so I threw it up on my TV with a transfer pack stuffed into my extra N64 controller. Such odd things, with their three prongs and clear plastic purple cases. Childhood relics. Fossils of 1998. Not quite fit for human hands.

Pokemon Crystal looked so strange on my modern TV. So huge and towering. The pixels seemed strangely huge.

Since my apartment isn’t set up for wired controllers, I had to sit on the floor below the TV. The Pokemon felt like strange towering idols. You could see every detail of their simple designs. They were meant to be on a tiny screen. Stretching them out like this seemed to telegraph every flaw. It made the overworld seem alien and odd.

I played for awhile but ended up reluctant to go back.

Pokemon Crystal to me marks the moment I passed from Childhood into something murkier and more complicated. It’s the game i was given after my mom miscarried. We got back from Vacation no longer pregnant and nobody in my little family knew what to do with our emotions.

so I got to pick out one toy. I only wanted Crystal. We bought it from the Toys R Us by our house, in what was even then a dying retail center.

“You don’t get another toy from this.” My mom warned as I put the cardboard box on the checkout belt. I had done a courtesy look at the other toys, but I knew what I wanted. Pokemon Crystal had a girl character for the first time. It was in full color. It was the perfect compliment for my newish Pikachu Gameboy Color. So I just nodded and put it on the belt.

“She got exactly what she wanted.” snapped my dad. I suspect they fought when I was asleep. I could tell he thought I should get a smaller toy. Games were normally reserved for birthdays and Christmas. Still, conflicted, I got the game.

I dove into the adventure hard. Blocked it all out. Pretended it was me chosen by Suicune.The little screen was a portal to something. During the day I’d pretend I was my character, Jo Anna, frolcing across fields and striking down bad guys with her glorious Suicune.

Sometimes I would even roleplay on the Neopets message boards, other kids joining my lonely game. When the other kids are deciding on dull 05 rules and you’ve just experienced your first real loss, it gets hard to make friends. These kids find each other on Neopets. This was the rule of the early internet.

Pokemon Crystal felt like the pinnacle of technology and game design, finally showing the true glory of a region I had loved since I first read magazine articles preveiwing the games before they came out in North America.

I still call Ledya by it’s japanese name since I spent so long staring at it’s image in that article. It’s Redya to me and there is no going back.

So, to go back to Pokemon Crystal is intimidating. Like anything you held dear as a kid, to go back is to risk the illusion you had. Learning as an adult that your favorite cartoon was actually just cliches and toy ads changes the memory.

So perhaps I just want Crystal to keep it’s fidelity in my memory. To have the same magic it did when I was younger and technology was different. When pixel art wasn’t a throwback and social media let you hide your identity behind unlockable avatars and cute pets.

I ended up playing the virtual copy I have on my 3ds for awhile. I decided it was the best way to play. Not just because I think 11 year old me would understand wanting to play on my newest system instead of the old gameboy. Because the Pixel perfect mode looked gorgeous. The colors are bright. The 3d effect to make it look sunken like an old Gamboy is mesmerizing. Its the best looking way to play by a mile.

At first I didn’t know pixel perfect mode exsisted however. You have to hold down select while the game boots, and nothing tells you that. In it’s default settings the game looks washed out and streatched. Like a tiny version of playing on my widescreen.

Changing the setting made it look like I remember it looking when I first played it. Which is all I wanted I suppose. The sprites felt at home on a handheld, settled in between my hands again, as bright and shining as I remembered.

In memoir writing you are trying to capture the emotional truth above all. Above what literally, factually happened. Above the details and noise of past and memory. To bring forth the way the past felt. Such is, I think, what we want with video game preservation. The emotional truth, not the reality. The way a gameboy felt in 1998 when it was cutting edge tech. Not the neck craning reality. 

At first I played excitedly. Such cute little sprites. Such a fun world.

Then the baggage I brought to it started to take over. I’ve changed so much. Video games, as a medium, have changed. I’ve gone from adoring these games as a child to having a problem with modern Game Freak. I have more games now. Better looking ones. Cuter ones.

It was Breath of the Wild that got me through quarantine blues after all, not Pokemon Shield. It’s adventure was grander, it’s art was more immersive. It had a theme of living after a huge disaster came to pass that spoke to me.

I find myself drawn away from the Pokemon Games. I put Cystal aside for the lovely 3ds remake of Ocarina of Time, a game I’ve never played before. It has been preserved with obvious love. It’s world pulled me in gently, with humor and cute giant Gorons. It feels better.

I play Yokai Watch and for all it’s irritating aesthetics I wish their team would get the Pokemon Games. I play shovel knight and remember my highschool love of my old NES. It is hard to play the old games and not be disappointed in where they are now. That such passion lead only to Pokemon Shield.

Perhaps I should leave the past alone, buried forever in my childhood closet.

I am having trouble playing Pokemon Crystal.

One thought on “Pokemon Crystal

  1. I’m glad I stumbled across this post. It hit me right in the feels — how our memories and emotions get woven into childhood experiences and video games resonated so deeply with me. I want to thank you for sharing this so well.

    I opened my post about Crystal lamenting the existential crisis of Adulthood and how it was so much easier to find meaning and fulfilment when I was younger. I never played Crystal, only Red/Blue, and it immediately transported me back to another time. It was like a false memory – it was fresh and new but it was being filled away under childhood memories due to conjuring up all those previous experiences I hadn’t thought of since 5th grade.

    I’ll always remember Crystal fondly. For the moments I played, it took me back to a time when life was less complicated, however briefly.


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