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Pokemon Never Looked as Good.
When you say the word Pokemon in the RPG community it tends to divide people into two camps: the ones who avidly enjoy it, and those who scoff at it. Despite what you personally think about this franchise one thing is truly undeniable: Pokemon is one of Nintendo’s biggest cash cows of all time. The series deserves attention because when it comes to sheer volumes of units sold, along with the awe inspiring empire Pokemon has created, Pokemon stands alone in many different markets. When the GBA came out, obviously the question on the minds of many fans was what Pokemon would look like on this new upgraded handheld device. Well now, a year plus after the release of Pokemon Ruby and Sapphire, I will review these games (better late and all that jazz.).
First off, Nintendo and Game Freak stayed true to the battle system that Pokemon gamers have known in the previous incarnations of the games. You catch Pokemon and build a team of six. Each Pokemon is allowed four attacks and some attacks have advantages over certain Pokemon due to type advantages. Indeed, the days where the type of your Pokemon was the only thing that mattered have past. Now, with such a vast array of moves, it is the moves that matter first, and the Pokemon-type second. You fight, for the most part, with one Pokemon at a time, being allowed to switch Pokemon at a whim. Here we find the first innovation Pokemon Ru/Sp brings to the table: two-on-two battling. Certain trainers will send out two Pokemon at once, and in turn so will you. Unfortunately this is a rare occurrence in Ru/Sp which makes you wonder why they included it if it would be used so sparsely. Pokemon can still hold items that can boost their stats or attacks, and with the addition of berries this feature has lent itself to the creation of even more in-depth battling strategies than before. For those people who condemn Pokemon as simple button pushing until a Pokemon faints, then I would suggest they really play the game. Pokemon is very well crafted façade. On the exterior it shows us what sells: cute creatures with a theme of collecting that snags the kids, and their parents money. However once you actually play the games you realize the battle system, team building, and the strategies employed take a greater sophistication than a child would be capable off.
Now, any fan of Pokemon who purchased these games got a real surprise. Gone are nearly all of the creatures you remember. Instead this game only allows you to capture 201 of the 386 known Pokemon, introducing nearly 150 new Pokemon into the universe the games in the series have created. Getting off track for just a moment, it never fails to amaze me how Pokemon is perhaps the biggest money making scheme I know of. If you want to have all 386 Pokemon logged then you will have to buy Pokemon Coliseum, a link cable for the GBA’s, a Gamecube-GBA cable connector, both Ruby and Sapphire, and the soon to be released Fire Red and Leaf Green. While that sounds crazy (and it really is), ask a true Pokemon fanatic and you will soon realize that there more then enough people out there who will actually do this. I did, and I could never, ever give a good reason for it, other than I have an addiction to these games. But I digress. The point is that, if you are expecting your old favorites you probably won’t find them here. However, you will find a new impressive cast that provides you with the same gaming experience that the previous games have given you.
Visually, Pokemon Ru/Sp impresses on all levels. The Pokemon themselves are all finely crafted, with a huge amount of detail put into every one of them. The colors are bright and it brings these characters to life in a whole new way on the GBA. The world of Hoenn is also impressive. With such details as seeing your reflection in lakes, and leaving footprints in the sand, it’s hard to not be impressed with the amount of effort that went into making these games a batch of great visual eye candy. The opposing trainers in the battles have gotten the same treatment, looking very much like the style of characters you would find on the anime show for Pokemon. Overall, these games are just stellar in the visual department.
Where Pokemon has always faltered in RPGers minds is the story. The story in Ruby/Sapphire remains the same from previous installments. The villains of changed (Team Rocket to Team Magma/Aqua) but the point of stopping them does not. The overall goal of becoming a Pokemon Master/Champion is still the desired end result of these games. Honestly though, no one buys Pokemon for the story. Pokemon is about battling, collecting, etc., and when you keep that in mind the non-existent story or plot within the game does not seem that important anymore. However, it should be noted that if you are on the fence about Pokemon on a whole because of the lack of story, I would recommend Pokemon Coliseum to you since it actually has a true RPG mode with a story.
Musically it’s hard to not like Pokemon Ru/Sp. You’ll try to not enjoy it, and fail. The music you find fits the feel of the towns you are in, the battles, and so on. The battle theme does get a bit repetitive, but that is a common occurrence in almost any RPG you come across. The sound effects in the game are equally nice. Each Pokemon has their own distinct roar, and each attack has a corresponding sound that goes along with it. It may not be the same as voice acting, or what not, but for a GBA game it does the trick, and makes the gaming experience all that much better.
There is only one aspect in which Pokemon Ru/Sp suffers in my humble opinion: originality. First off while the visuals have been upgrades, it doesn’t change the fact that these games are just like the previous generations of Pokemon games that have come before it. What truly bothers me though is the amount of things that were taken out of these games that were in Pokemon Gold/Silver/Crystal. Gone are the day/night time periods, and the events that only happened on certain days of the week. Gone is the opportunity to explore the older regions of Johto and Kanto. Replacing these aspects is Pokemon Contests, which are interesting, but unfortunately have no impact on the game at all. You still have the very fun and strategic Pokemon breeding system in place, and the battle tower from Crystal makes a return as well. And you still have the ability to battle and trade with friends. Still, when you look at Gold, Silver, and Crystal and everything those games had on the Gameboy Color, it is a huge disappointment to many that Ru/Sp had less content on a cartridge and system that is obviously capable of much more then that.
In conclusion, Pokemon Ru/Sp is a game that provides different degrees of difficultly. If you simply want to beat it, then very little strategy is needed. However if you want to battle competitively, then the challenge level goes up dramatically. Training for different natures, and Effort Points becomes hugely important. Breeding now becomes a necessity as you want the greatest base stats possible. Pokemon’s replayability, ultimately, is endless no matter what generation you are playing, and that is where the true appeal to these games lies. No other game out there will give you this many hours, and despite the cash cow/scheme Pokemon has become it still manages to do what matters most: keep things fun and interesting.
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