Pokémon Gold & Pokémon HeartGold — A Musical Comparison

Pokémon Gold Version was the first video game I ever really got into, back in 2nd grade almost 20 years ago. It’s been a really fun experience to go through the remake of my first game, meeting new characters that were added, seeing the insane upgrade of graphics, and listening to the remixes of all the music. In today’s article, I’m going to be sharing some of my thoughts about said remixes, and talking about the differences that I observed between Pokémon Gold and Pokémon HeartGold.

Let’s start with the most obvious of categories: music tracks whose upgrades were FANTASTIC! Generation II was still in the Game Boy Color days, so the music was still entirely played in its 16-bit glory. We see the most dramatic of upgrades between Gens II and III—16-bit sounds to MIDI—so the leap from Gen II to Gen IV is even more impressive.

To start out, the “Encounter! Youngster” theme’s upgrade struck me immediately, mostly in terms of mad orchestral buffing! The original was good—nothing too memorable, serving the purpose of a high-energy “Encounter!” theme, with its crescendo at the beginning and staccato notes.

When I encountered Joey, the first Youngster, in HeartGold, I stopped playing the game for a bit to just have the music run. The HeartGold Version now has a very special place in my heart, with its blaring horns, xylophone runs, and frantic strings.

I always really enjoyed Professor Elm’s Lab theme—it’s so upbeat and happy, with a light and catchy melody, accompanied by off-beat hi-hat accents.

I absolutely love the upgrade in HeartGold—the key/melody and tempo remain intact, and xylophone tremolos and glockenspiel tinkerings are added in to give this new version a slightly more playful feel. I especially like the whimsical percussion at 0:38 before the track loops.

The best upgrade is without a doubt the National Park theme. While I liked the original National Park theme in Gold Version, with its minor iv chords and cute vibratos, the HeartGold upgrade opens so dramatically with an utterly glorious rubato (played without a strict tempo) piano solo, then adds in more creeping strings and eventual percussion in the B section. When I first heard the upgrade I nearly cried…

Here’s the original National Park theme from Gold Version:

And here’s the heart-wrenchingly beautiful upgrade in HeartGold Version:

What I love most about the National Park theme is that B section. A lot of loopable video game music tracks generally have just one section that repeats over and over, but the National Park has an A section that plays twice, then it goes into the percussion-filled B section, which starts from 0:56 – 1:16 in Gold Version, and 1:20 – 1:48 in HeartGold Version.

Now, the Lighthouse theme never really stood out to me when I played Gold Version. The loop is just over 30 seconds long, and while it does sound intense and dramatic, it never really stuck with me.

The upgraded Lighthouse theme in HeartGold seemed to leave a larger impact on me though. I’ve always been a huge fan of that slap-bass since its introduction in Gen III, and I appreciated all of the triplet notes, as well as the extended ending in the HeartGold Version of this theme.

I was initially really upset that I couldn’t fight the Kimono girls immediately in Ecruteak City, but I quickly caught onto the creators’ attempt at intertwining those lovely ladies with the plot of the game. In doing so, the Kimono Girls’ theme came up at various unexpected times during HeartGold Version, and I grew very attached to their mysterious little theme.

In Gold Version, this theme played inside their Dance Theater:

This track is a lot more developed and interesting, with added percussion, along with the high-pitched flute-like instrument and an instrument that sounds like a pipa (which is Chinese, not Japanese).

While I’m on the subject of pipas, I found a useful informational video about the wonderful instrument. Although it is not Japanese, I believe it works well in the context of the kimono girls, as the timbre of the instrument is unlike traditional Western instruments. One could argue that they should have used an instrument that is actually Japanese, rather than Chinese, but I still like it 🙂

While there were many, many tracks in Pokémon HeartGold Version that I truly loved, there were just as many that I did not love so much. There are two main categories that these unloved tracks fall into: 1) WHERE IS MY BASS!?, and 2) WHAT ARE THESE EXTRA RESTS!?

First, “WHERE IS MY BASS!?” There were only two tracks that really caught my attention in this way, for the atrocious LACK of bass that had been so potent and juicy in the original. These two tracks are the Cave music, and Gym music.

I love, love, LOVED the original cave music—it sounds really intense and adds on separate layers that work so wonderfully together. From the get-go, I am always entirely enthralled with this theme. It begins with that low, syncopated bass line, accompanied by steady pounding percussion. The bass line continues as mid-register voices come in, in glorious harmony. A slightly higher-pitched arpeggiating ostinato (continuously repeating pattern) comes in, and is soon followed by an even higher-pitched melody line. The development of this track is so satisfying. I would stay in Dark Cave forever just to listen to the music.

I can see what they were trying to do in HeartGold Version with this theme. To create a colder, icier atmosphere, the bass was left out entirely, although the main melody and harmonies are still left intact. I just can’t get into it without that hooking bass line in the beginning. I also found the auxiliary percussion, and chromatic passages (highlighted especially at 0:40 and 0:57) to just be… Annoying…

The other epic bass-less theme in HeartGold Version was the Gym theme. Incidentally, the Gym theme also fits into my next not-so-loved category, but let’s start with the lack of epic bass.

Those of you who have read my Across the Generations: Pokémon Gym Theme will know that Gen II’s gym music is my absolute favorite. Without too much variation throughout the generations, Gen II has without a doubt THE. MOST. EPIC. introduction of any gym theme there is.

On its own, perhaps the HeartGold Version gym theme would have been okay… The percussion and leading brass are pretty nice, and the string takeover in the B section are also a nice touch… But… I miss that dramatic leap at the very beginning SO. SO. MUCH. AGH. JUST LISTEN TO IT AND MOVE ON TO THE NEXT SECTION. JUST LET ME CRY AND I’LL GIVE YOU YOUR GYM BADGE LATER.

Now onto “WHAT ARE THESE EXTRA RESTS!?” If you go back and listen to the opening of the HeartGold gym theme, you’ll notice at the beginning that there’s a great big dramatic PAUSE. I did not like the pause in the Gym music, and I did not like the pause in any other track either! For some reason whoever designed the music of this game thought that dramatic pauses would be a nice addition to a lot of the tracks, but I found them to be incredibly irritating!

Melodramatic pauses were included in the wild Pokémon encounter theme, Trainer battle, Gym, Route 29, and Surf theme. I won’t even include those in here because I just didn’t like them. The overall themes themselves weren’t that bad overall, but the awkward rests were just… Awkward. I don’t understand why they were added in!! The extra rests did absolutely nothing for me, and with that, let’s move on to the last part of the article…

Perhaps my favorite part musically about this game was demonstrated very beautifully during a confusing moment for me. I went through the game up to Cianwood City, to jump off of my Slowking and listen to the music and wonder why it sounded so familiar… I looked up the music to HeartGold Cianwood City, and saw that unlike some towns that have the same music as other towns, this one didn’t…

Then, it came to me! The music in the original Gold Version was the same in Ecruteak City as well as Cianwood City, but in HeartGold, while those two towns had the same melody, the arrangement and instrumentation was different. I found this incredibly clever and refreshing, not to mention the track itself is beautiful in all of its forms…

In Ecruteak City, the instruments used are noticeably more “Asian”-sounding, with twangy strings, and those rapidly played pipa notes. It makes sense that Ecruteak City would have the Japanese/Chinese instruments, as it is supposed to be a city full of history and culture, also tying back to the Kimono girls’ theme.

Cianwood City’s theme has the same melody, but has significantly less percussion, sounding a bit more laid back, emulating the island feel that this city has. It is incredibly delicate and mellow.

Overall, it was a beautiful experience to play through HeartGold Version, reliving different memories from Gold Version, and (mostly) enjoying the upgrades to the music. Which tracks were your favorite from HeartGold? Which tracks did you not like so much? Let me know in the comments below!

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