Pokemon Emerald - Review  

The Remake that Almost Wasn't
by Michael "CactuarJoe" Beckett

Easy to Hard
35+ Hrs.


Rating definitions 

   Pokemon, the Series That Wouldn't Die, seems destined to hold the world championship title for most remakes ever. Pokemon Emerald, a remake of Pokemon Ruby and Pokemon Sapphire so subtle it could almost be considered a re-release, continues this trend by adding in a handful of new features and battle areas. As with most Pokemon games, people who don't like the series will find little or nothing to change their minds, whereas those who do will most certainly not want to miss it. Perhaps the people who benefit most from Pokemon Emerald, however, are the die-hard of the die-hard Pokemon gamers - the ones who not only know what EVs and IVs are, but have those respective values of their Pokemon party memorized.

   Nintendo, it seems, has finally decided on a bit of transparency where the deepest mechanics of this franchise is concerned. Everyone already knows the basics of a Pokemon game - pull together a party of six wild critters from a nearly limitless selection, teach 'em to fight and run around beating the brains out of various Gym Leaders, all in a bid to claim the title of League Champion for yourself. What most people don't know is that in addition to the six stats the game actually shows you, the Pokemon games have a selection of numbers associated with those stats that determine their actual values - EVs, which are gained by fighting other Pokemon, and IVs, which are determined when you receive the critter. In the past, these two values have remained hidden, to the point where Nintendo wouldn't even acknowledge they existed until their discovery by cheat device-using trainers. In Emerald, Nintendo not only hints at their existence, but provides ways of determining and manipulating these invisible stats, albeit in a way that would make absolutely no sense if you didn't already know what you were doing. This, in addition to an easier to manage method of teaching some of the rarer moves in Pokemon-dom, should have advanced trainers drooling in anticipation.

   Alongside these improvements in gameplay comes a slight improvement in interfacing. The PC system used to store Pokemon not currently in your party can now also quickly and easily handle their equipped items. The font of Ruby and Sapphire, widely acknowledged as The Font That Ate Chicago, is now a much more manageable size. Other than that, though, the game shows remarkably little difference from R/S.

   Audio has long been a sticking point with Pokemon, particularly sound effects. Even in Pokemon Colosseum for the GameCube, the creatures sound blatantly electronic. Dragons and worms alike sound more like trucks or static than actual living creatures. The music, while hardly a delight for the ears, is reasonably well done.

The new animations don't really add much to the game. The new animations don't really add much to the game.

   Being a remake is never good for the originality, and this is where Pokemon Emerald really suffers. Not only are there no new creatures and very little in the way of new plot, but for the first 75% of the game, there's very little in the way of new game, period. The fact is that until the player gets past the Elite Four - where most normal gamers would stop - Pokemon Emerald is as close to being the same game as Pokemon Ruby and Sapphire as makes no difference. There are a few differences in plot stemming from the fact that the player now has to deal with both Team Aqua and Team Magma at the same time. There is only one new dungeon, however, and while there is a new pseudo-cinema near the end, the path the player takes through the game is largely unchanged. In the end, while the changes do help the plot some, it's too little too late. Its attempt at explaining moral ambiguity to a young crowd falls largely on its face, and beyond that rather lackluster and unambitious goal, the story has no point.

Visually, Pokemon Emerald is a bit better than Ruby and Sapphire, but not by much. The font change does help with some readability issues R/S had, but one of the biggest selling points of Emerald around pre-release time was the inclusion of animations for each of the three hundred fifty-odd creatures in the game. Unfortunately, these amount to little more than two frames of animation per creature and perhaps a little sprite rotation. The overall design of the Pokemon themselves remains quite good, bright and colorful with some interesting use of line and shapes; However, Emerald does little to distinguish itself from the other games in the series, visually.

Emerald increases the frequency of 2v2 battles. Emerald increases the frequency of 2v2 battles.

   Being produced as it is for a fairly young crowd, Pokemon Emerald is not what you'd call fiendishly difficult. At least for the first part of the game. One of the other major additions to Pokemon Emerald is a large optional section called the Battle Frontier. Sort of like a new series of Gyms, the Frontier offers a wide variety of challenges akin to an entire new region to battle in. The challenges range from the normal, such as the Battle Dome, in which three-member parties fight elimination tournament style, to the weird, like the Battle Factory, where your Pokemon will fight without benefit of a trainer to command them. Some of these challenges, such as the aforementioned Factory, are based almost entirely on luck, making them potentially insanely frustrating. Others practically require you to breed Pokemon specifically to defeat them, a time-consuming and tedious affair. Add to this a Frontier Brain - basically a Gym Leader with insanely powerful Pokemon at his command - and you have a recipe for deranged levels of challenge. As with nearly all Pokemon games, the time required to finish the game depends entirely upon what you mean by "finished".

   Pokemon has a lot going for it. A deceptively complex battle system, a wide variety of potential parties leading to a great focus on individual customization, and a broad and fanatical community of gamers, for a start. However, it's also got a lot working against it; it's been going on for a while, and it's beginning to show its age. As the series grows, it seems to lose more and more of its originality, which is never a good sign. Though it is highly unlikely that Nintendo would consider canceling the series - they might as well point a Howitzer at their foot - they need to do something to reinvigorate it. While Pokemon Emerald may make the die-hard fans happy, it's going to take a bit more to keep everyone else interested.

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