Can we catch ‘em all?: Generation IV

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Versions, remakes, and media archaeology
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  • Tuesday, December 30, 2014

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This column has been written by ArchivistGeek. It expresses the views of the columnist, not necessarily those of Bulbagarden networks.
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“The past is brought to the present and the present to the past; both inform and explain each other, raising questions and pointing to futures that may or may not be.” – Erkki Huhtamo and Jussi Parikka, Media Archaeology: Approaches, Applications, and Implications [1]

Unlike its predecessor, the Game Boy Advance, the Nintendo DS was a technical revolution. Released in 2004, it was the first portable console to employ dual-screens as well as the first to incorporate a touchscreen. For purposes of backwards compatibility, earlier models included a Game Boy Advance cartridge slot (a feature discontinued with the system’s third iteration, Nintendo DSi). With wireless communication and battery life double of its competitor, Sony’s PSP, the Nintendo DS would eventually become the second most successful videogame system after the PlayStation 2. [2]

It is no surprise, then, that Generation IV was not marketed as yet another Pokémon core series generation. Development of Pocket Monsters Diamond and Pearl, the first paired set of games for the generation, was announced near the end of 2004. Junichi Masuda at Game Freak stated his determination was to create “the ultimate [Pokémon] version.” [3] More importantly, the company focused on utilizing new features introduced with the Nintendo DS to revitalize the series, a focus that is critical from a media archaeological perspective. First, however, considering the official description of versions forms an important base for discussion.

Generation IV, began with the Japanese release of Pocket Monsters Diamond and Pearl in 2006.[4] Renamed Pokémon Diamond and Pearl, the games were released in 2007 first to the United States[5] followed by Australia[6] and Europe.[7] For the first time since Generation II, South Korean localizations titled Pocket Monsters Diamond and Pearl were also released in 2008.[8]

In Generation III, the original paired releases were followed by paired remakes and finally a third version. This pattern was not retained here, which followed the first set of paired releases with a third title. Pocket Monsters: Platinum, debuted in Japan in 2008.[9] Several narrative alterations were included, but Distortion World was the most significant alteration from its predecessors. Retitled Pokémon Platinum, it was released in 2009 first in the United States[10] followed by Australia[11] and Europe.[12] South Korea received its own localization of Pocket Monsters: Platinum later that year, marking Generation IV as the first core series generation fully released in that country.[13]

As early as May 2009, the same year as localizations of Pokémon Platinum appeared worldwide, Nintendo announced that Generation II remakes were on their way titled Pocket Monsters: HeartGold and SoulSilver. Ten years had passed since Generation II and players had become accustomed to the Nintendo DS rather than the older, more limited Game Boy. The challenge, then, was to create games at once nostalgic but also modern and appealing. Shigeki Morimoto directed the games and addressed those concerns repeatedly. In interviews, Morimoto stated that while he wished to “respect the feelings of those people who’s played Gold and Silver ten years before,” he also needed to appeal to players accustomed to newer Pokémon titles. [14]

Pocket Monsters: HeartGold and SoulSilver quickly followed on the heels of Pocket Monsters: Platinum, releasing to Japanese audiences in 2009.[15] These titles were packaged with a Pokéwalker, a small, Pokéball-shaped pedometer that holds a Pokémon and increases its experience and friendship as the player walks. Retitled Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilver, localizations were released with the Pokéwalker throughout 2010 in the United States,[16] Australia,[17] and Europe.[18] As before, South Korean localizations retained the Japanese titles for their 2010 release.[19]

Generation IV Official Version Tree

Official discussions of Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilver focus on the player’s perspective of the versions rather than a prescribed corporate stance. According to Satoru Iwata, the titles were marketed as remakes of Generation II and the popular titles Pokémon Gold and Silver, a way for fans to “be able to enjoy it all over again.” [14] In contrast, players could approach the remakes as “entirely new Pokémon titles.” [14] This language suggests it is the player and their experiences that shape how Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilver are defined.

Therefore, from the perspective of a long-time fan of the Pokémon franchise, Nintendo’s published descriptions of versions are relatively straightforward.

Media archaeology’s focus on media specificity can take on a number of factors, but in the case of Generation IV the most critical factor to examine is that of platforms. Previously, in the Game Boy line of systems, new handhelds replaced or usurped the position of previous platforms. [2] This was not the case for the Nintendo DS, which was marketed as a companion system to the older Game Boy Advance. As such, the platform was built to use Game Boy Advance cartridges as an extension of its capabilities through the dual-slot mode.

Nintendo DS Dual Slot in Action

Pokémon core series franchise games have always used technology to promote a sense of communication. Satoshi Tajiri explicitly stated that the Game Boy’s Link Cable inspired Pocket Monsters: Red and Green.[20] For Generation I, then, core series games held the promise of personal one-on-one communication through the platform’s abilities. This continued through Generation II. In Japan, Generation III was the start of a shift from limited, personal communication to global communication through the technical addition of wireless networks. Therefore, Generation III can be see as the first indication that widening technical abilities influenced how the series’ core themes were interpreted.

Generation IV continued to push forward this evolution of theme as a response to technology, but in this case the alteration is far more significant. Rather than focus on the platform’s abilities to connect game content, the games themselves become the technical objects that allow communication through the platform’s capabilities. Dual slot mode is a technical ability native to the Nintendo DS platform, but it is also a physical manifestation of the promise of communication inherent in this generation of core series games. What’s more, a player with prior knowledge through communication with older Pokémon core series franchise games gains a privileged position over newer players, as they alone have access to the tools needed to fully take advantage of these technical communication abilities.

To expand on this point, a good place to start is an examination of how dual-slot mode functions. The player inserts any of the five Generation III cartridges into the Game Boy Advance slot of their Nintendo DS and a Generation IV title into the Nintendo DS slot. Once this is complete, a player is able to access Pokémon otherwise unavailable in the individual Generation IV games. In many cases the available Pokémon are version-exclusive to the Generation III cartridge inserted at the time. What is fascinating about this process is the conversion of Generation III games from content into object. These are no longer video games to be cherished for their content but instead a dongle system of acquisition, a technological extension of the platform.

Dual-slot mode is also a factor in inter-generational trading, which is a process aided by a media archaeological perspective on the data structures of Pokémon. In Generation III, Pokémon were split into four twelve-byte blocks of data.[21] Generation IV increases the total byte structure to one hundred twenty eight, divided into four thirty two-byte blocks.[22] This is a significant increase of twenty bytes per block. In addition to the size increase, locations for data within these blocks are heavily altered. The DNA of Pokémon in Generation III, when compared to Generation IV, is largely incomprehensible. These are not the same Pokémon; they are distant cousins, at best.

Such alterations between data structures of Pokémon place increased challenges on the ability to trade between generations. Dual-slot mode was utilized for this inter-generational trading process through the inclusion of an area known as Pal Park. This in-game area gives players an option to trade their own Generation III Pokémon to Generation IV. However, this trade is one-directional for Pokémon Diamond and Pearl as well as Platinum. In this case, Pal Park is a media archaeological manifestation of communication within a player’s own experiences. Moving from Generation III to IV is a one-way experience much as a player always moves towards the future, to the newest core series franchise game. The remakes, in contrast, exist in a limbo between generations, and as such allow communication backwards and forward from past to present.

Communication across time is a significant concept in considerations of Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilver and it is one that is also aided through a media archaeological perspective. Unlike Generation III, where Pokémon Emerald followed the remakes Pokémon FireRed and LeafGreen Versions, these remakes are the end of the line for Generation IV core series titles. Examining the code of the two titles brings up unused data from Pokémon Diamond and Pearl, as is expected, but also Pokémon Platinum. In fact, nearly two thousand text strings relating to a debug mode appear and contain references to Distortion World.[23] As this in-game area was found only in Pokémon Platinum, it stands to reason that the basis of these two Generation IV remakes is the third title in the generation. But why utilize this release schedule? Why place Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilver at the end of Generation IV?

By 2006, Nintendo was already beginning development of a third Nintendo DS model that would later be called the Nintendo DSi.[24] Removing Game Boy Advance compatibility was planned from almost the start of this process as a way to build a lighter handheld. To ensure fans would not be angry at the removal of dual slot mode, Nintendo agreed to support the Nintendo DS Lite as long as a consumer demand existed for it.[25] It could be argued that these facts gave Nintendo quite a bit of incentive to remove a desire for backwards compatibility. Unfortunately, the universal popularity of the Pokémon franchise and inter-generational trading could be a significant block to ending support for a backwards-compatible model.

Three years passed between the start of development for the Nintendo DSi and the release of Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilver. If media archaeology asks us to examine the technical reasons behind choices in cultural content, an argument can be made for using these remakes as a way to modernize older Pokémon core series franchise games and distance the franchise from its older technological roots. Once again, older titles must work both as video games as well as media objects. In this case, a quote by Satoru Iwata supports this dual existence as object and content: “I think it would be incredibly exciting to see Pokémon HeartGold and Pokémon SoulSilver acting as methods of communication between the new generation of Pokémon players and those who played Pokémon Gold and Pokémon Silver ten years ago…I’ve got the feeling that, for the first time in a long time, this is a game that can bridge that generation gap.”[14]

Examining content alterations from Pokémon Gold and Silver to Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilver expands upon this theme of bridging the gap. After all, bridges rarely go one way, and teaching is not always one-directional. For example, audiovisual content is always improved in core series franchise remakes. What makes these remakes interesting is the inclusion of a key item that gives players the option to switch from the original soundtrack to the new, enhanced soundtrack. New events are included immediately prior to encountering a version mascot, which is a feature first introduced in Generation III but absent from Generation II. Animated battle sprites and battle introductions, a feature first introduced in Pokémon Platinum, also makes an appearance. Even small aspects such as fonts from Generation III are included. Starter and legendary Pokémon previously not found in Generation II were also included in these remakes, negating any reliance on Generation III cartridges. The cumulative effect is a shifting of these remakes into hybrid objects that contain a multitude of audiovisual influences from prior core series franchise games yet remove dependency on those titles.[26]

Media archaeology can show us the technological reasons behind choices in content. It is a method of approaching media in such a way that creative decisions are understood within their social, technological, and cultural context. That being said, media archaeology cannot fully account for the symbolism found within the media it examines. For such an understanding, one must examine the games at a more textual level, one that considers the franchise as a whole rather than Generation IV as a stand-alone set of games and versions. Generation IV is a midpoint to the Pokémon core series franchise as it currently exists. More precisely, the exact center point can be found in the selection of final Pokémon Champions in Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilver. To face all the Pokémon Champions from all previous paired versions (Blue from Generation I, Lance from Generation II, Steven Stone from Generation III) is to face Pokémon as it was. With the inclusion of Cynthia from Generation IV, the player faces Pokémon as it is. This Hall of Fame perfectly encapsulates the metaphor of the series remakes: here is the past and the present of where Pokémon stands. Now it is time to move towards the future.

Here we are. Here we were. Now, here we go.

Can we catch ‘em all?
By ArchivistGeek

Generation IGeneration II

Generation IIIGeneration IV

Generation VGeneration VI


  1. Erkki Huhtamo and Jussi Parikka, Introduction to Media Archaeology: Approaches, Applications, and Implications, edited by Erkki Huhtamo and Jussi Parikka (Berkley: University of California Press, 2011).
  2. 2.0 2.1 Winnie Forster, Games Machines 1972-2012: The Encyclopedia of Consoles, Handhelds & Home Computers (Utting, Germany: Gameplan, 2011).
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 14.3 Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "" defined multiple times with different content
  20. Anne Allison, Millennial Monsters: Japanese Toys and the Global Imagination (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006).
  26. In a previous version of the article, I incorrectly stated that remakes allowed trade both to and from Generation III titles. This was based on incorrect information from an alternate online source. Special thanks for Sidnoea's noting this point so that I was able to alter the article to correctly reflect the one-directional nature of trade between Generation III and IV.