From what I understand, Crystal is the most realized of the Pokemon games. It's Game Boy Color only, so the graphics are quite good. The colors in the environments are bright and vibrant, and during battles, the pokemon are well drawn and beautifully colored. Outside of battle everything looks very clean. Sure the sprites are simple, but they're not pixilated and look believable (relatively speaking). Your rival in this installment looks really badassed with the long flaming red hair. It's very easy on the eyes, which is a good thing considering the small screen. I've played for 3 hour stretches without it hurting my eyes.
The menu screens are very well organized and easy to navigate. Your backpack pretty much has different things in different pockets. There are independent sections for items, pokeballs, HM/TM moves, key items, etc. The Pokedex can be organized in one of three ways: traditional, alphabetical order, or by evolution. I pretty much used alphabetical, but the evolution order was quite useful as well.
The Pokegear is one of the coolest things you could have. In it is a town map, a cell phone to call Mom or other trainers with, and a radio to listen to various programs. I tuned in daily to Buena's Password program to collect nice prizes. I heard the menus were a nightmare in the Red/Blue/Yellow family.
Of course, since you can only carry six pokemon at a time, the rest go to Bill's storage facility. There are about 20 boxes with 20 spots for various pokemon. Sure, it's a pain switching pokemon from one box to another, but you can name each box so you know what's in what. Organize it how you like, maybe dedicate a few boxes to each type, and make sure the 'right' one is open when you're out hunting for pokemon. I would have liked a more streamlined way of switching pokemon from one box to another, but the ability to name boxes for easier retrieval is nice.
I love how the pokemon world is set up. There is no traditional overworld. Whether you enter or exit a town or dungeon, everything is in proper proportion to your character. This makes for a more believable and smoother flowing world than other RPGs where the overland and towns are more disjointed.
Along with the great graphics there are some other little things that make this game seem very complete. For starters, it's very cool that you can choose to be either a boy or girl Pokemon trainer. Of course, I chose the girl trainer since my "thing" is to always role-play as a girl if given a choice. It makes no difference in the story whether you choose a boy or girl, but it is a nice option since quite a few young girls are Pokemon Trainers as well.
There is also a bonus dungeon in Crystal called the Battle Tower which, to my understanding, is not in Gold or Silver. Doing this dungeon is completely optional, but is very challenging. If you thought the trainers in Johto were creampuffs, prepare for a rude awakening in the Tower.
Another really cool feature in the Gold/Silver/Crystal family of Pokemon games is the introduction of genders. There are male and female pokemon and they can be bred. It's interesting to breed pokemon to see what you come up with. Ever wanted to breed a Meowth and a Snubbull? You can here. All you need to do is leave two pokemon (of opposite genders) at the Day Care Center outside of Goldenrod City and you may get an egg when you return.
But with all these enhancements, the core gameplay is still the same old "pick-up-and-play," "easy to learn, hard to master" gameplay pokefans have grown to know and love. Pokemon have HP and a pool of moves that can be used a limited number of times. They learn moves as they level up, but can only have a repertoire of four. Pokemon can also evolve into stronger pokemon through level building and the use of element stones. Of course while evolving will strengthen a pokemon, they will not learn moves as quickly.
Simple turn-based combat is the name of the game, but there is a lot of strategy to consider. You need to take into account the level of your pokemon to those of the opposing pokemon and also take type into account. Types work in a large-scale rock-paper-scissor fashion. Some of the pokemon types include grass, water, fire, rock, poison, bug, dark, steel, flying, fighting and more. Many match-ups are common knowledge, such as water is stronger than fire, but you need to battle frequently to figure out how other types match up. Keep a pen and paper handy to jot this stuff down.
I should also mention the TM and HMs you obtain. Basically, these allow you to add moves to your pokemon's repertoire. HMs can be used an unlimited number of times, but TMs have limited use. So when you obtain one of these, use wisely because you can't recall them till late in the game.
Speaking of battles, I like how they're done in the game; if you want to find wild pokemon, walk in the high grasses to look for fights; if you just want to get from point A to B, then you can walk around the high grasses; and if you don't want to engage a trainer in a fight, stay out of their line of vision. In this way, you have control over how many random battles you want to engage in. Battling is a necessity in this game to strengthen your pokemon, but it's nice that if your party is weak, you can walk to the nearest town for healing without being subjected to tons of random encounters. I'd like more RPGs that use the random battle medium to adopt the 'selective random battle' medium that Crystal does.
And as icing on the cake, the music and sound effects are quite good as well. The musical tracks are quite catchy. I love all the different battle themes; there are separate ones for fighting wild pokemon, trainers in the field, gym leaders, and my personal favorite battle theme - the one that plays when you encounter your rival. The music also changes as you explore different regions of Johto and there are multiple town themes. My favorite is Goldenrod City's theme. Sure it's all simple MIDI since it's Game Boy Color, but it a nice soundtrack.
Sound effects are also well done. Each pokemon has its own distinct cry. Sure, many of them sound similar, but I'm impressed at how much the developers were able to wring out of the Game Boy Color's sound chip. Most attacks also have distinct sounds. Water attacks sound appropriately wet, fire attacks sound appropriately blazing, and all others sound proper.
So the pokemon storage system and the slow walking speed (which is helped once you get a bicycle) are my only niggles with the game. Of course, when I'm so immersed in being a Pokemon Trainer these don't matter one iota. And the ability to save anywhere and any time you want outside of battle is simply wonderful. After being spoiled by games like this and Persona 2, it's near impossible for me to go back to save points.
Of course, to many, Pokemon Crystal is nothing more than a mild upgrade of Gold/Silver, but if, like me, you've never played a Pokemon game and are curious as to what the fuss is about, I recommend you start with Crystal, as it is the best realized of all the Pokemon games thus far.
Well, I've said what I needed to say about this game, and I must now go back to Johto. I think there's an egg waiting for me at the Pokemon Day-Care center.