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Pokémon Fire Red & Leaf Green Package Art
 GENRE
  RPG
 DEVELOPER
  Gamefreak
 PUBLISHER
  Nintendo
 NUMBER OF PLAYERS
  1-4
 CONNECTIVITY
  Yes
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Pokémon Fire Red & Leaf Green

Where have all the Pokémon gone? This was the question on everyone's mind when they played last year’s Ruby & Sapphire. Nintendo’s answer? "They’re dead but we’ll revive ‘em". Enter Pokémon Leaf Green & Fire Red (LG & FR), remakes of the 1998 Game Boy games, Red and Blue. For just one moment, forget the cartoons, forget the collectible cards, forget the toys, and forget the rest of the franchise garbage. Why have the Pokémon games alone managed to garner so much attention on their own merits? Why do these simplistic, cutesy, kiddy games cause such a stir within the entertainment community? Why is it warranted that Nintendo ports a six year-old game onto a modern system? Well, as any fan (with their head screwed on properly) will tell you, beneath the deceptive exterior is a deep, addictive, fun, and long-lasting experience. One potential problem exists -- is it anymore worth while than it was six years ago?

visuals

The games are obviously running off the same engine as R & S. However, there have been a number of subtle upgrades, mainly in terms of presentation and art style. The games' quality of presentation is better than that of any of the previous games, mainly because the changes give a more “hands-on” feel. An example of this is, when you use a potion on your Pokémon, a short sequence will follow. This is a step forward from previous games and there are quite a few more upgrades like these throughout the experience. The game also feels different due to the alternate art style. The developers have obviously realized this and acted in the proper manner. That is, they have built the visuals around this style.

In-battle animations remain virtually the same, as do the majority of environmental features. However, the environments do have more subtle features included in them. Again they give a more immersive feel; for example, streams trickle on cave walls.

Apart from the fact that the games still haven’t returned to the animated in-battle sprites (i.e. crystal version) and that there haven’t been any vast or substantial upgrades, Fire Red & Leaf Green is quite simply the best looking of all of the Pokémon games (RPG) so far. Note: Both games have identical art files.

audio

Again, the sound is running of the R & S engine. However, most of the sounds are remade tunes from the original. This is not necessarily a bad thing because they weren’t all that bad. The Pokémon sounds, however, still lag in technological purgatory. They haven’t advanced nearly as far as they should have in six years.

gameplay

If there is any place where Pokémon does a “make or break”, it lies deep within the heart of the gameplay. While on the top it is kiddy and simplistic, once you’ve seen below the surface, you’ll realize how shallow this perception is. Where Pokémon leaves its competition for dead is the deep, addictive and fun subtleties within the overall gameplay experience.

While never the one for huge steps forward in innovation and a follower of the stubborn dictum “don’t fix what’s not broken”, the series has always been able to take sufficient steps forward (even if there were some backward steps along the way). Speaking of this, the latest addition to the series is held under an unfortunate perception.

This game can hardly be classified as a remake. It’s more of an enhanced, slightly updated port. Apart from the visuals and presentation, the game is about 90% identical to the original Game Boy releases. While those games were fantastic, this causes quite a dilemma. This is mainly because a lot of the outside-of-battle additions that helped with the previous titles haven’t made it back into this game. Things like the contests have been forsaken and there is NO internal clock/time that previously added an unprecedented amount of variety. It is backward steps like these that hold the game back.

Anyway, for those who don’t know the deal with the Pokémon RPG’s, the basic purpose is for you to lead your character through the world and become the Pokémon Master. To do this you need to catch and train Pokémon, in order to battle and beat the various trainers throughout the game. Once your Pokémon are strong enough, take them up against gym leaders, a higher form of trainer to win badges. These badges are a symbol of your strength and when all of them have been won, you head to the Pokémon league, the final hurdle in your journey to become a Pokémon Master.

Battling with your Pokémon, while it hasn’t evolved much over the last few years, still gets the job done. The way it works is similar to a giant game of rock/paper/scissors. That is, each Pokémon is assigned an elemental type (eg. water, grass, fire). It is up to the player to make use and take advantage of the Pokémon’s type, as water beats fire, fire beats grass, and grass beats water. It works similar for all 17 elemental types available throughout the game. Outside of this, the rest of the RPG elements are very standard. That is, each Pokémon has its own set of stats (attack, defense, special attack and defense, speed) and all the moves in the game have their own unique powers and effects. You’ll generally find that there’s something here for everyone and the variety of these features alone have mset the platform for the games awesome success.

Outside of the battles, there is a sort of quest that your character follows. It is virtually identical to the one that most of us played through in 1998. The problem with this is that anyone who has spent hundreds of hours with the originals will be able to replay this game purely based on memory. When I mean identical, I'm saying that the gyms layout, trainers and leaders are the same; the puzzles in the caves are the same; the roads and the trainers along the road are the same; the original and the best safari zone is still the same; the items that Oak’s assistant gives you are still the same; the team rocket invasions are still the same, and locations of gift Pokémon like Eevee and Lapras and still the same. The largest change here is the replacement of original items with different ones, though their locations are pretty much -- you guessed it -- the same.

Still, there are some new additions. One of the big ones was in the game help and tutorial systems. Press the L or R button at anytime to view an in-game FAQ on basic functions of the game. Unfortunately, it is useless to any veterans. Early on in the game you’ll receive a portable TV that has a few visual tutorials, such as how to battle effectively and how to catch Pokémon. Again, it is virtually useless, unless you are completely new to Pokémon. A major facelift has been given to the Pokédex. It is now more comprehensive than ever but the radical change takes time to get used to. Two-on-two battles are nowhere near as common as in R & S but exist sporadically.

One of the largest (and probably the best) of additions are the new areas within the game. Even though they appear late in the game, they hold a nice bunch of new sub-quests and surprises. I don’t want to go into too much detail, but their purpose goes a lot deeper than just being superficial tack-ons.

One gaping issue that I touched upon in the preview was the games apparent difficulty. Well, having played through the game, my perception has not changed. Those who have invested several hundred hours into the originals and the succeeding sequels will most likely find that this game is extremely easy. Other than the obvious skill and knowledge of the player, there are two things that compound this problem. The first is the questionable AI and the second is the games excellent structure. Excellent structure? It’s kind of a double-edge sword. It was found in R & S that you were unnecessarily required to do a lot of your training against Pokémon that give piddle-all experience. The structure of these games allows you to avoid these time-consuming and frustrating activities. The problem is that it makes for an overly easy game.

While we’re making comparisons to R & S, there are a number of positive factors that have been carried forward from six years ago. While R & S had a bizarre balance of Pokémon types, LG & FR have inherited the "type" balance from their predecessors. To add to this, the Pokémon have been updated in terms of the moves they learn. To add to the majority of the old moves, they have been bolstered with updated attacks that they learn more regularly than in R & S. The game does contain some new moves, but they are mainly Pokémon exclusive moves that weren’t in R & S.

In the end the game exists primarily for one purpose; that is for players of R & S to complete their Pokédex. So those with R & S, Pokémon Colosseum (GC) and LG & FR are now able to do so. And even though it may take a while before you can get to the stage where you can actually do that, the game fulfills its purpose with flying colours. Despite the fact that the game is essentially a port, it retains a lot of what makes the series so successful. On the flip side, it also contains a number of issues that hamper the experience for the hardened and aged audience.

multiplayer

This is where not only the Pokémon series takes a huge step forward, but Nintendo as well. Pokémon Leaf Green & Fire Red will be the first to exploit the technology of wireless multiplayer for the GBA. Using Nintendo’s Wireless Adaptor, a player will be able the battle or trade with a friend from 30 meters away. But this is not the only up side to getting rid of the wire; if you have 39 friends and all of them have a copy of LG or FR, you can gather them all into a hot-spot. That is, with LG & FR, you can set a network that can fit up to 40 players into an area in the game called the union room. Other than battle and trade, you can do things like chat and leave messages on a notice board.

The problem with the chat and message features is that they are primitive and not particularly practical. Another issue is lag. It seems that the game's wireless capabilities are not fully evolved yet, and the lag is much more noticeable in wireless battles than they were with the old link cable. Battle and trading with friends makes up a huge part of the Pokémon experience and an advance like this is much welcome. It shows that Nintendo are embracing wireless technologies, and it can only get better. Plus, you get an adaptor free with each purchase of LG or FR. The only problem is that you aren’t able to play your Pokébuddy from the next town. Well not yet anyway...

overall

Pokémon Leaf Green and Fire Red are better games than Ruby and Sapphire. Their balance, style, and structure were the original benchmark and they remain that way. They have also retained what has made the games so successful. That is, the addictive, fun and simple (yet deep) gameplay. There are even additions to the games of six years ago, both major and subtle that are sure to satisfy. However, there are so many good things that have been left behind, time based events, night and day, and contests just to name a few. Another thing is that the game is simply too easy, despite the fact that is has a better structure. It’s unfortunate that the fabled hard mode never reached the light of day. For someone who has stayed with the series so long, it is extremely disappointing to see the franchise remain stagnant, and that Nintendo is simply willing to put sales ahead of genuine effort.

Anyway, if you're one of the three people yet to play Pokémon, than there is no better time to start. If your journeys started with R & S, than I can guarantee a much more coherent experience with these games. For the rest of us, is it really worth completing this nostalgic journey AGAIN? Do we really want to complete the Pokédex? Hah! Go ahead, I know you want to.

final score 7.0/10





WRITER INFORMATION
Staff Avatar Jeremy Jastrzab
Staff Profile | Email
"I refuse to answer that question on the grounds that I don't know the answer."


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