Love is the strongest force in the universe. We say it to attract ourselves to it because we fear what we are without it. When you command magical animals to fight each other, it’s on one condition: you must love them.
If every generation of the Pokemon games embodies one of the series’ principles, this is that of the second generation. It introduced the “Friendship” stat, made it necessary to evolve certain Pokemon, and introduced services like massages and haircuts to boost it.
It doesn’t beat you over the head with it. Just battling Pokemon like normal will increase the stat, so those evolutions are practically a level up. The move Frustration was created, giving us the option of making our Pokemon faint until they could deal the most damage.
But it’s there; in both the story and the introduced mechanics.
Pokemon rivals have been half-hearted since Gen III. In the first generation, your rival was your world. Every gym you attended had his name on it. You fought him a whopping eight times. The climax of the game was defeating him for the last time, and what was the takeaway? That you loved your Pokemon more than he did.
Silver is in Blue’s boat – a self-assured trainer who talks always of being the best and spares less of a thought for love and connection, be it with Pokemon or people. But unlike Blue, he’s not aiming for the same thing you are. He doesn’t fight gyms, he doesn’t await you at the Elite 4. He’s just an angry kid exploring the world, getting the strongest Pokemon he can, even stealing them if he must.
Unlike Blue’s fall from grace, Silver’s life is a mess from the beginning. So unlike Blue, a somewhat arbitrarily mean guy who gets a somewhat sad ending, we see Silver get up. He redeems himself and comes to seek friendship. And he gets a reward out of it. His Golbat, a Pokemon that evolves through friendship, finally evolves when he battles you to show how far he’s come.
Generation II does mark the rival’s transition from the center of your experience to a peripheral aspect to it, but he’s not the only person to get this treatment. In Red and Blue, you had an additional nemesis: Giovanni. In GSC, Team Rocket is decentralized, searching for a leader who will never come. While future games would once again outfit you with an evil team leader or two for a main antagonist, the rival has yet to be put in the center like this again. It’s a simple storyline, but the fact that Gamefreak chose it for the successor to the most important character in Gen I makes it a major choice.
(this point kind of disappears in HGSS, where the new leaders of Team Rocket are more distinct and Giovanni actually does want to return)
Essentially, there is no Big Bad in Generation II. The fiercest battles you’ll face are with your closest ally and your former self. The point is not who you defeat, but how much fun you can have with your Pokemon.
Pick berries and feed them to your Pokemon, or use them to help sick Pokemon you find. Place your Pokemon into a daycare center, then walk into the backyard of that daycare center and talk to their sprites. Watch your Pokemon’s sky blue experience bar progress as the upbeat Gameboy soundtrack plays. Borrow a bike and then get a call saying you can keep it. The game is full of positivity and love.
And then it punches you. Possibly the best decision in Pokemon is that after you defeat Lance, you get to go to the previous region and see how things have changed over time. A lot of it’s fun, but a lot of it is sad. Various locations from the first generation are closed down. An entire town has been destroyed.
Blue is still bitter over his loss to Red, and Red is nowhere to be seen. His mother has heard nothing, not in the possession of a nifty PokeGear like the one that keeps you in touch with your mom.
Generation II tells you to treasure the time that you spend with your loved ones; not just by giving you so many things to do and reasons to care, but by demonstrating that the time you have together is limited.