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New Title, Not So New Game
By: Anna Marie Whitehead
Pokémon: A word that's known in most households in North America, and many other places around the world too. Even non-RPGamers recognize the cute and not-so-cute creatures that began as Pocket Monsters in Japan. While we are likely past the height of the Pokémon fever, the demand and excitement that surround these games doesn't seemed to have diminished much. Thus, when much of the original roster of 151 was missing from Ruby/Sapphire, people wondered where they were. So, it wasn't a surprise to many when another game was brough forth, with a twist: Pokémon Fire Red / Leaf Green is a remake of the original Red and Blue games.
When it's time to battle...get out of the way and launch a pokéball to begin. As usual, it's one versus one, and on rare occasions, two versus two. Each pokémon has a choice of up to four moves, and each has a limited amount of uses. Most important in the battle system is type-matching: each pokémon has one or two types, of which each have their own strengths and weaknesses, most of which are obvious - Water easily extinguishes Fire, but is weak to Lightning and Grass. A well-rounded team of 6 (the maximum any trainer can have) will consist of many different types, though which are chosen will differ between different trainers, both NPCs and players alike. The biggest downfall in the battle system are the scarcity of two on two battles, which require more thought and strategy. This is especially disappointing after seeing the feature in Pokémon Colosseum. All in all the two on two system is sadly underutilized, leaving the vast majority of the game the exact same gameplay previously seen throughout the series. Perhaps some new types or this sort of shake-up in the battle system could breath some new life into a battle system that is more than half a dozen years old and spans as many games.
The graphics have improved over the original, but with six years' worth of tweaks and upgrades under the pokémon belt, it's unsurprising that there is improvement. The graphics are nearly identical to Ruby / Sapphire, as are the usual recycled sound effects and music. If anything could have been improved (aside from the obvious storyline), it is definitely this area. Little seems to have really changed, and much like much like most aspects of the game simply comes across as slightly less than average. With such a huge fanbase, the lack of change in the game compared to its predecessor isn't surprising, but is disappointing.
Pokémon being mostly aimed at a younger audience, it's not surprising the game is easy. The hardest part is at the beginning when the available types are limited; by the third or possibly fourth gym most trainers can put together a team that will stomp most anything in sight simply with judicious type-matching. Because of this ease, there isn't much to say for replay value; the same pokémon are caught at the same places every playthrough, leading to variations mostly in moves and preference of the trainer. It won't take long to tuck this chapter under a pokémon collector's belt, even considering the usual task of getting 'em all, though with trading to the opposite game required as usual, play time may get as high as 65 or 70 hours.
The new duo unsurprisingly does what all the other pokémon games have done: kept what worked relatively well and didn't change much about it. Menus and shortcuts have stayed mostly the same since the beginning. Fire Red / Leaf Green does, however, take a page from the Ruby/Sapphire book, the new titles including the same graphical interface for their pokemon storage system. This makes switching out party members and tracking a growing number of critters infinitely easier. The translation follows the same path, and adds a decent chunk of new dialogue due to new NPCs and old ones being redone on occasion, but for the most part it appears that the original text was kept from Blue and Red. It wasn't broken, but it lacks any real flair to it.
Pokémon games change little from title to title, and Fire Red / Leaf Green share the same crippling trait of a lack of any real storyline besides the tired "be the best in the world". Even as a remake, more could have been added to the plot, but nothing seems to have changed beyond minor details. The only thing truly original in the game is the random NPCs spread throughout the region that now give out moves - only once to one lucky pokémon. This doesn't really aid much, though, and the game does eventually get bogged down by sheer monotony.
For a remake, it's certainly not a bad attempt; there are remakes that have come out far worse for the effort. It isn't that it's really a bad game; it's simply not a spectacularly good game. The same experience could be obtained by simply playing Ruby / Sapphire. However, as time goes by and there are more and more proliferations in the Pokémon family of titles, there is plenty of room for growth and innovation is desperately needed. It doesn't take much to shake up the tried-and-true formula, but now it has to be done. The one point that the game does have going for it is that it is an excellent tool to bring new players into the fold - but for the veterans out there looking for something a little more fresh and upcoming, they will have to satisfy themselves with Pokémon Colosseum and simply wait and hope to see if there will be any positive changes to the handheld line.
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