The Great Regional FRIENDLY Debate: Kanto vs. Johto

By anto, Codraroll, DHR-107, Rhythms, and skylight. Art by Bummer and Cretacerus.
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Introduction

We've explored six generations of Pokémon, and we're now entering a seventh. We've made the monocolor journey through Kanto, fought with legendary dogs in Johto, surfed the many seas of Hoenn, become distorted in Sinnoh, almost froze to death in Unova, and walked the same road as a king in Kalos.

To celebrate the six regions, I've put together a bunch of panelists to discuss the most similar regions. Kanto and Johto, Hoenn and Kalos, and Sinnoh and Unova will all be compared in a friendly debate.

This week we've got Kanto and Johto. Please welcome anto, Rhythms, skylight, DHR-107, and Codraroll.

Who had the most interesting... plot and why?

anto

anto

Honestly, nothing will ever beat Kanto regarding the storyline. I've played that game at least ten times before and it never gets old... I can't put my finger on it, but it has a special charm that no other game can beat. And I'm not even talking about the FRLG remakes, but the original games in black and white with the chibi-like characters and the ridiculously strange mechanics.

Perhaps it's the fact that it was the first Pokémon game ever, or perhaps it's because it was my first Pokémon game ever. Or the fact that everyone spent hours of their lives in the Safari Zone trying to catch that stupidly sneaky Chansey. Maybe it was the adrenaline you got while trying to use the right number of steps so you could get those goddamn Golden Teeth. OR! Maybe it was Marowak and her baby Cubone—let's say it is the perfect combination of nostalgia, excitement, and emotional moments that make the original 151 take this trophy home.

But if we talk about which game was more interesting, I'll have to go with Johto. Seriously Game Freak, can't we get another game where we can beat the past Gym Leaders without the storyline ending? And let's not forget about the cute little Pokémon following everywhere in HGSS.

Screw Whitney's Miltank, though...

Who had the most interesting... characters and why?

anto

anto

Of all games, these two barely had any characters; yet, I don't think the unnamed redhead will ever beat your first encounter with Team Rocket. The famous Professor Oak?!?! Sorry Professor Elm, the Togepi is much appreciated, but you just aren't as cool. Besides, the antagonists in Johto barely had any input in what happened on the games. They... just... were there, y'know? However, in the RBY games, Team Rocket influenced the story line since moment zero, and with Pikachu in Pokémon Yellow, everything was just perfect.

There's something about Silver that just doesn't get to me. I do appreciate that he was there with me in every step I took. While Blue... well... reading the statue at the very beginning of the Gym, just so you could know that goddamn Blue has been there already was pretty annoying. But it also made me want to beat him, I wanted to be the very best!

Despite that, it's just natural nostalgia that pulls me closer to Kanto.

Who had the most interesting... Pokémon and why?

anto

anto

No, Mega Stones are nowhere to be seen, and despite that, and the low number of introduced Pokémon, I must admit that Johto wins this time. I swear I'm not biased due to the fact that Umbreon is one of my favorite Pokémon. No, no, no. Or maybe yes...?

The point is that, even though the original 151 will always have a good number of my favorite Pokémon, Johto introduced two new unique types—and I'm sure Dark type-Pokémon are a lot of people's favorite. And one of those types made our dreams come true. The Magnemite line was actually made of steel! I also fancy most of the designs introduced in Johto. They ranged from astoundingly adorable to badass. It just took the original Pokémon one step further.

Its particular set of legendaries that went from the three beasts, to the two birds, down to the pixie made it even better. Shall we not forget about the best group of starters: the perfect combination of cuteness and death (except you, Chikorita).

Who had the most interesting... plot and why?

Codraroll

Codraroll

This question is a little like asking which act of a play you liked the best. Team Rocket is central to the plot of both games, and the plots really complement each other. In Kanto, the player overthrows the powerful organization, and in Johto you battle an uprising, preventing the fallen admins from resurrecting it. The games tell a different story than their successors, in that Team Rocket doesn't bother with taking over or destroying the world, nor do they include legendary Pokémon in their plans. They aren't the omnicidal maniacs that have filled the villain role since the days of RSE, they are simply Pokémon mafia, in it only for the money, which makes them a lot more believable and threatening than any of the other villainous teams. A Team Plasma grunt comes across as a brainwashed idiot. A Team Rocket grunt would happily break your kneecaps, steal your wallet, and brag about how the police is powerless to stop them.

That being said, they act and behave a little differently between the two (six?) games. Kanto has you prying open Team Rocket's grip on the region. From burglaries in Cerulean and graverobbing in Lavender to money laundering in Celadon, Team Rocket is comfortably settled in the region at the outset of the game. Town by town, city by city you drive them back and foil their plans, until you finally confront their leader and convince him to disband the organization. You're actively shifting the power in the region, ending the era of crime and bringing the mighty Team Rocket down. In broad terms, it's a more intriguing story than Johto's, where you simply quash the scattered remains of the once-great mafia.

Then again, Johto certainly has more memorable plot moments. While your struggle against Team Rocket isn't as grandiose as in Kanto, it certainly brings you into more interesting situations. In their attempts to resurrect Team Rocket, the cells in Johto turn to desperate measures, such as selling Slowpoke tails, stirring up the Lake of Rage or taking over the Radio Tower. The latter is an interesting counterpart to the Silph Co. takeover, and in my eyes a much more effective plot device since you visit the Radio Tower before the takeover and see the daily routine before it is taken hostage. Silph Co. is only seen during the takeover, so you never get to know its inhabitants as anything but terrified hostages. In Johto, you see familiar characters such as Buena or DJ Mary cower in fear, and the familiarity gives the situation a much bigger impact.

Conclusion: I'd say it's a draw. Kanto's grand tale is more engaging, but Johto has better scenes.

Who had the most interesting... characters and why?

Codraroll

Codraroll

It's natural to start with the rivals here. These were the days before rivals in Pokémon were your best friends. Blue is an asshole (and often ended up named exactly that), and Silver is a thug.

I'd say Blue is a more fleshed-out character than Silver, though. Silver's one personality trait is that he "hates weakness", and he trails around the region trying to be the world's greatest trainer. He's whiny and bitter, and the realization that he needs to take care of his Pokémon is the only development he gets. I like the subtlety of his Golbat evolving at the end of the game, though. It shows that he finally managed to bond with his Pokémon, without stating it outright.

Blue, on the other hand, is always ahead of you. Whenever you get to a Gym, he has beaten it already. You enter a route, he has cleared it. He shows up at the least appropriate moments to show you how great he is doing, brag about how many Pokémon he has captured, and still gives the impression he's got everything under control whenever he loses. Losing to you is just amusing to him, he still knows he's better than you, and he becomes the Pokémon Champion before you do. No matter how well you play the game, Blue AKA Gary Oak is always better than you. He even outdoes every player character ever and gets his own Gym. Plus, "Smell ya later!" is a much better catchphrase than "Humph!".

Beyond your rival, though, there are a handful of interesting NPCs in both regions. Kanto has its share of colorful inhabitants such as Bill, Copycat, the Fishing Guru, and Mr. Fuji. In Johto, memorable characters include Mary on the radio, Kurt with his Apricorn Balls, the Kimono Girls, Eusine chasing Suicune, Earl at the Pokémon Academy, and that shifty guy in the Goldenrod Tunnel who sold Nuggets under the table. The Gym Leaders of Johto are also a little more fleshed out than those of Kanto; although I like Blaine's riddles and Giovanni leading a Gym, most of Kanto's gym leaders only showed personality through indirect quotes by other people or other media. As an example: if not for the anime, neither Brock nor Misty would be memorable in any way. In Johto, you met Jasmine nursing an Ampharos in the lighthouse, Claire refused to give up her badge, and Whitney started bawling after you beat her. As a final note, with the exception of Lance, the Elite Four is a rather bland group of people in both games.

So, overall: sorry, Blue, you might be one of the most memorable characters in all of Pokémon, but Kanto doesn't have very much else to offer.

Conclusion: Johto.

Who had the most interesting... Pokémon and why?

Codraroll

Codraroll

I tend to agree with the people who say that the Gen II games are like an expansion pack to the Gen I games. The Pokémon selection of Johto has a hefty mix of Kanto Pokémon in it, and I dare say there aren't enough Johto Pokémon to make an interesting roster by themselves. The Johto Pokémon do complement and expand Kanto's Pokémon selection quite well, but on their own, they don't stand out particularly well in my book. The starters are good enough, but they haven't aged very well, and their quality has been exceeded in every subsequent generation (with the possible exception of Gen V). The early bugs, birds, and rodents rank among the most forgettable Pokémon ever made. While there certainly are unique, interesting, and powerful Johto Pokémon out there, there are also the likes of Stantler, Sunflora, Girafarig, Qwilfish, and Magcargo. Pokémon that might be somewhat interesting design-wise but don't stand out in any other way. I'd say Johto's best Pokémon are those with evolutionary relatives from other generations; again keeping with the "expansion pack" theme, Johto managed to expand several Gen I Pokémon families quite well, and Gen IV managed to breathe new life into many otherwise forgettable Gen II designs. Without Johto, there would be no Scizor, no Umbreon, no Gliscor, and no Weavile. And of course, Johto's legendary Pokémon selection deserves standing ovations. Few enough legendaries that we remember them all, perhaps the best legendary trio out there, and solid cover legendaries in Lugia and Ho-Oh.

Regarding the Kanto Pokémon, I... am not sure whether I can say anything with objectivity. I must admit I regard them all with quite heavily rose-tinted glasses of my childhood, and it's hard for me to judge them accurately. Gen I introduced a lot of classic designs—that can be said for certain. It's the generation that brought us Charizard, Pikachu, and Mewtwo. Kanto Pokémon keep getting attention for every new generation, a steady stream of new additions and homages to keep them in fresh memory, and I think Game Freak does a good job maintaining that heritage (although other generations could probably have deserved this level of attention too). Some negatives could be noted, though: there are bad apples among the Kanto designs, I can't remember the last time I heard anything about Seaking, Venomoth, Persian, or Dewgong, never mind anything positive. Also, very many Kanto designs also share the same body shape, the vaguely dinosaur-like monster with small legs and a tail (see: Charmander, Nidoking, Rhydon, Kangaskhan, Sandshrew, Dragonite...). But overall, Kanto Pokémon have had a very notable impact on every aspect of the Pokémon franchise and probably will continue to do so for a very long time.

All in all, I can conclude that Johto had its ups and downs, perhaps more of the latter, and its Pokémon need to be seen in context with the other generations, but I feel I'm too biased to say anything about Kanto with objectivity. In my personal opinion, the Kanto designs are more memorable than most of the Johto ones, but I'm not sure if my personal opinion can be trusted. Of course, it also complicates the matter that many Johto Pokémon were designed before the Gen I games were published but not implemented in those games. Had some choices of Game Freak swung the other way, many of the Pokémon we now regard as Gen II Pokémon would have been in Gen I and vice versa.

Conclusion: No conclusion. At least no conclusion I'd put in boldface.

Who had the most interesting... plot and why?

DHR-107

DHR-107

Johto had a far superior plot. It's not like Pokémon games are known for their particularly compelling plot (beat eight gyms, fight off evil team at their core), but the story of Johto is much more in depth than the story of Kanto. In HGSS they even embellished a bunch of the Crystal storyline to really hit home how good Johto's story was. Silver is a far "worse" person than Blue ever was; he steals his first Pokémon and then battles you when you confront him. How he manages to get away with it for so long when you give a fairly good description is beyond me, however... They do both end up having heel face turns and becoming better trainers for it. Blue realizes his mistakes, and you take him on in Johto and he has a new mindset about the world and battling. Silver realizes he has to connect with his Pokémon and that allows them to unlock power they didn't know they had.

Team Rocket are woven deeply into the story of both Kanto and Johto. The former has them rising to power as Red fights to bring them down, quite successfully in the end. However, three years later they have reformed and are looking for Giovanni to rebuild and "take over the world". This time, though, Gold is there to save the day and beat the admins back. Team Rocket take another step up in cruelty in Johto, whereas they are fairly tame in Kanto. Stealing Pokémon to use for nefarious deeds (and trying to solicit children) is not quite as bad as slicing off Slowpoke tails and selling them or agitating Magikarp to make them evolve into rampaging Gyarados. I always felt that Team Rocket attacking the Goldenrod Radio Tower was a bigger "set piece" than them taking over Silph Co. In the end, Goldenrod is where you stop Team Rocket entirely, whereas Gen 1 throws the curveball of Giovanni being the eighth Gym leader at you. It's a nice twist that helps cement Giovanni as a fan favourite. Adding in the additions that HGSS added to the top of the original games, weaving in the Crystal story and delving a bit more into the history of Johto helps me to feel a lot more for the place than I ever did for Kanto. Kanto drops hints about a dark past that is never really brought up, and Surge telling you "about the war" and the distinct lack of middle-aged male characters all point to something dark. Johto delves in and gives you the backstory to the Towers in Ecruteak, and the tower in Violet City, the lighthouse, and the Lake of Rage. It just feels more like a real place to me over Kanto.

Who had the most interesting... characters and why?

DHR-107

DHR-107

This one is, again, fairly swayed towards Johto. Blue and Silver are both interesting, as stated above. Their rivalry with the player helps drive the story, always popping up an inopportune moments just to spoil your progress. However, I always felt more for Silver than I did for Blue. I don't know if its the additional context of the extra information HGSS gives you (or rather, heavily implies), but Silver always felt a bit more visceral and real than Blue's far more jerky/self-centeredness.

Johto brought a lot of background to its Gym Leaders. Morty is a historian, Jasmine helps out at the Lighthouse, Chuck's wife hates how much he trains. They even gave additional backgrounds to characters like Koga, by giving him a daughter, and Lance, by giving the new Champion his own little story with Clair. Kanto's Gym Leaders are fairly... boring in comparison. Surge has a bit of a dark background, as does Blaine if the stories are meant to be believed. Johto also has a lot more "named" characters than Kanto. Earl, Mary, Eusine, Kurt, and a few others (Youngster Joey and his "Top percentage Rattata"), which gives a lot more depth to Johto. Outside of Gym Leaders, Kanto can only really sport Bill and Mr. Fuji (and maybe the CopyCat Kid). No one else massively stands out against the normal other people you encounter, who have no names or personalities.

Who had the most interesting... Pokémon and why?

DHR-107

DHR-107

For me, this has to go to Johto as well. I understand that a lot people love and remember the original 151 far more than any other generation of Pokémon, but Johto had some outright stunning designs. While Kanto gave us Scyther and Onix, Johto improved on both by giving them Steel-typed evolutions in the mighty forms of Scizor and Steelix. Johto also gave us more "cute" Pokémon by introducing babies for several well known and popular Kanto Pokémon. Other "cute" new Pokémon included Marill and Teddiursa, both of which turn into powerhouses. Johto gave us some new counterparts too. While Noctowl is nowhere near as cool as Pidgeot or Fearow, I always found Miltank to be a lot cooler than Tauros.

That's not saying Johto didn't have its dud Pokémon. Ledian's design is good, but its battle prowess is nonexistent. Unown is a cool gimmick, and collecting them to be able to print messages was a nice touch, but other than that they are not that interesting. Dunsparce, Sunflora, and Aipom join the not exactly well-designed nor strong queue. I think overall that the quality of Johto Pokémon is better than that of Kanto's. There are no amorphous blobs or stationary objects in those designs. Also, Johto has Shuckle within its number, so I am kinda biased here!

Who had the most interesting... plot and why?

Rhythms

Rhythms

In my opinion, Johto had the better plot. I don't know what it is, I just love the idea of completing one storyline, the main one, which includes training up all of your Pokémon and beating the Elite Four, and then being able to go into a second region right after! Not to mention that in the remakes, you can have customized Safari Zones, AND you can carry around Pokémon with you in real life!

I love the complexity of HGSS's plot. It reminds me of when I was younger (about 7 or 8) and I would always go on adventures with my friends, but at the end of the day, I would always return home. In this, the adventure is going to traveling throughout Johto, the friend is your Pokémon, and the home is your town. Not to mention how fun it was to go into another region after you beat the Champion! This always reminds me of when I go on vacation to different places, but I always end up sticking to my true roots. Last but not least, I love how you can get three different starter Pokémon, ranging from Johto, to Kanto, to Hoenn. This reminds me of when I meet new people while I'm on vacation, still keeping in touch with them, and how the things they give me are little mementos of where they're from.

...Not to mention that my Pokémon follows me all the time...

Who had the most interesting... characters and why?

Rhythms

Rhythms

I personally believe that Johto has better characters. I mean yeah, Kanto has Gary "Smell ya later" Oak and the original Team Rocket, but I don't think that Gary will ever be able to beat that one creep looking in on Prof. Elm's window, also commonly known as Silver, that ends up being your rival! You also get to fight alongside your rival in the postgame, something I never got to do with Gary; Silver is a nicer rival. I mean, yeah sure Prof. Oak is cool and all, but Prof. Elm gives you a Togepi Egg AND a starter! Kanto's Team Rocket is also very fun to beat, but I just don't see that big of a buildup for them; however, while there might not be a Giovanni, there are four new executives that I LOVE to fight! Archer, Ariana, Petrel, and Proton all gave me that "kick" from Team Rocket that I just didn't get from Kanto.

Who had the most interesting... Pokémon and why?

Rhythms

Rhythms

To be honest, I'm torn. Both generations have some of my favorite Pokémon, so I can't even base my opinion off of bias. I mean, if I have to choose one generation though, obviously biased, I'll probably choose Johto. It contains Porygon2, Kingdra, and Azumarill, all of which I am extremely in love with. On the other hand, though, Kanto has the Dratini line, Nidoking and Nidoqueen, Cloyster, and Porygon, which I am also extremely in love with.

On a non-biased choice, though, I have to say Johto. Yeah, it added fewer Pokémon, but it also introduced two new types. I mean, yeah Kanto is cool with Mewtwo and all, but Johto has Umbreon and Scizor! Johto also has one of, if not the most colorful legendaries, Ho-Oh, on its side, and a little Houndour puppy dog!

Who had the most interesting... plot and why?

skylight

skylight

I didn't find there to be a real central plot in Kanto. You sort of encountered Team Rocket at different times, but it didn't feel essential to a story, just another Team Rocket attempt to get more money. On the other hand, in Johto you actually felt like you were destroying an evil organisation. Yeah sure, in Kanto they had hostages in Saffron City, but in Johto a radio tower was taken over; that kind of media control could have been deadly. In Johto you were literally stopping a team of people that tortured Slowpoke and brainwashed Pokemon to evolve, compared to in Kanto, where all you did was stop some team from making money when all you wanted to do was defeat your rival. Sorry Kanto, but Johto's got you beat.

In regards to any other sort of plot in Johto not involving Team Rocket... there was nothing. You just found your way through the region with no real urgency. Sure you could catch Ho-Oh or Lugia if you really wanted, but they really missed an opportunity to create an interesting plot. Ho-Oh and Lugia could have been let loose by Team Rocket and could have taken over the region. But nah, instead we'll wait three more generations until we finally get a proper plot.

Who had the most interesting... characters and why?

skylight

skylight

You know what's cool? Despite only just playing through Red, I can't remember any characters except the Safari Warden. He only made an impact on me because I spent so damn long in the Safari. Even when I was younger he was cool to me. I don't know if it was the fact that his Gold Teeth were hidden in this weird but amazing part of the game or that if it wasn't for him I wouldn't have known about Surf (due to searching relentlessly for teeth). I suppose Giovanni counts but he doesn't seem like the evil genius that appears in the anime and that saddens me. Oh, and Copycat is memorable (if only through my playthrough of Gold as a child) and actually a really interesting concept for a character.

Johto, on the other hand... it's hard to forget characters. Keep in mind that I haven't played this game for at least five years. Nostalgia aside, there's a long list of characters that stand out without even doing anything special. Joey, the fat guy that gives you a sleep TM, the Spearow dude, Falkner (to a young girl he was the coolest guy in the universe other than Ash...), Slowpoketail dude, crying Whitney, the Apricorn guy... the list goes on. Johto easily wins.

Who had the most interesting... Pokémon and why?

skylight

skylight

It's really hard for nostalgia not to interfere in this one. In terms of creativity, Kanto had it easier. A blank canvas, to freely design anything within. Johto on the other hand was restricted. Can't really do any rodents, birds are covered, etc. Introducing evolutions to older Pokémon was a good step—it enhanced already established Pokémon and made them even cooler. There's no real winner here. Johto worked with what it could and made Kanto's Pokémon even better.

...but in terms of personal favorites? Johto easily wins. Some of my favorites originated in Kanto; Staryu, Lapras, and Psyduck. Johto, however, brought Togepi to life, the starters, the legendary dogs, Ho-Oh, Lugia, Celebi, and so on. There's no way to avoid it, I'm team Johto (Pokémon-wise) for life.


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Conclusion

Join us soon for Hoenn vs. Kalos!

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