Review: Pokemon Fire Red/Leaf Green (Game Boy Advance)

Ah Kanto, land of my youth. Where I was first forced to make a decision between Bulbasaur, Charmander, and Squirtle (Charmander, duh). When my first Pokemon team consisted of Charizard, Marowak, Raichu, Articuno, Gyardos, and Butterfree. When I didn’t care about type advantage or trainer vs trainer battles or anything hardcore in the realm of Pokemon addiction. I just chose the Pokemon that seemed really cute or cool looking and that could actually, you know, win a battle (Sorry Jigglypuff, you’re worthless).When it was about exploring this amazing video game where you take strange monsters and force them to do battle in an RPG type setting that I had only seen anything even remotely like it in my beloved Shin Megami Tensei series.

150 (151 if you count when I finally got a Mew) Pokemon later, I was hooked. Not just “Wow. That was a fun game.” Hooked as in I own two copies of Blue, 2 copies of red, 1 copy of yellow and 1 copy of green hooked. Hooked as in I own 2 copies each of silver, gold, and Crystal and 2 ruby and 1 sapphire. Hooked as in I’m known as one of the biggest Adult Pokemaniacs on the planet. Hooked as in look at the reviews I’ve done for 411/Inside Pulse:

Pokemon Ruby
Pokemon Pinball
Pokemon Channel
Pokemon Coliseum
Pokemon RGBY
Pokemon G/S/C

That’s a lot of talking about Pokemon, huh? I love it. I really truly love it. And that’s why when I was told over a year ago we’d be returning to Kanto. A total remake of the original game for the bulky battery eating Game Boy, I had mixed feelings. Why a remake? Just so Nintendo could make a few bucks off not having all the Pokemon in Ruby/Sapphire? A cheap plot to get kids to buy 5 games just to truly ‘catch them all?’ I was skeptical for the first time in my life towards this franchise I have adored since the day it came out on the shores of Japan. Especially after how lackluster I found Ruby and Sapphire to be.

At the same time I was going to get to go back to Kanto. To see all of the original Pokemon in colour. And they promised all sorts of new things. And after the less then great game that R/S was, I knew that even if it WAS a cheap ploy to make money, it would still be a game I knew I would love. Just a port with a graphical update. Nothing more, nothing less.

And then I heard everything else. Free wireless adapter! It would be compatible with Pokemon Box and R/S and PokeCol. It was the missing link to everything. They added the orange islands from the cartoon to the game. It was an addition akin to finding both Johto and Kanto were in Pokemon Gold/Silver/Crystal. I was starting to get my hopes up.

But I was divided. Would this be a horrible mockery of one of the best games ever made like River City Ransom EX was, or would it be as amazing as the original just in a different way, like Shining Force GBA.

Let’s Review

1. Story

It may simple, but this nearly decade old story set forth a level of merchandising and spin offs and fanatical frenzy that made Transformers fans look on in awe. It dwarfed anything that came before it. Cabbage Patch Kids, GI Joe, Transformers, you name it, NONE OF IT had an 8 year long spree at the top and that even when their popularity was ‘dwindling’ they were still constantly in the top 5 purchasable products in various industries. Look at R/S. The worst games in the Pokemon franchise ever, but 2 of the 5 best selling games last year. And this year.

This is the story of Ash/Red/whoever you want him to be. A young boy with the dream to be the greatest Pokemon master in the world. Along with his arch rival, Gary/Blue/whoever you want him to be, you set out with Professor’s Oaks newest invention: The Pokedex. Your adventures to catalog all of Kanto’s Pokemon leads you to skirmishes with you rival, into the thick of the machinations of Team Rocket, into battle with the eight gym leaders of the region such as Brock, Misty, and Sabrina. To the Elite 4 and finally to battle the champion of all of Pokemon himself.

And even then there is more. Such as a strange Pokemon, considered to be far and away the most powerful of them all…

It’s a simple story and yet a great one. Not all stories have to be filled with angsty drama or the destruction of the world. This is a coming of age saga. A tale about growing up and finding yourself. About the importance of friends and the triumph of good over evil.

Yes it’s simple. Yes the characterization of many of the characters isn’t there per say, what with your Pokemon having a personality and stats and moves, but I mean, Pikachu lacks any personality. Same with the other Pokemon. But this isn’t the adorable cartoon. This is where Pokemon are basically pets you cock fight with.

The plot won’t win any awards, but it is an all ages plot. And like I said earlier, sometimes simple is good. Sometimes simple is sweet. And sometimes simple stands out above all the dark anti-hero filled games that have flooded the RPG market since it became mainstream.

Pokemon is what’s still right about the genre. And that’s why it is still so endearing after all these years.

Story Rating: 7/10

2. Graphics

Well, it’s an amazing game. They took the Ruby/Sapphire engine and tweaked it graphically. The opening movie is cartoon worthy. I marked out big time when I watched it. Just so amazed at Gengar and Nidorino fighting in fully animated and brilliantly colored glory shot for shot as it was on the old B&W game boy game. It was the best thing I have ever seen on the GBA graphics wise.

There are also little cinema shots that are terrific as well. When you first enter Viridian Forest for example. Nice. Really nice artwork.

But after things like that, the graphics just don’t hold up to the level of say, Ham-Ham Games, which is easily the best looking game on the system. The colors are vibrant and beautifully rendered. The Pokemon look better than they ever did before. But the main part of the game, the walking world, still feels like it is the same all those years ago but with well, color. There are some improvements obviously, as the water ripples, the trees are lush, and there really is a lot of graphical improvements from say, Crystal. But world traveling in any RPG has never been something to push the envelop of a console’s graphical ability. Even FF7 was nothing great to look at when walking around the world map.

I am pissed the Pokemon don’t move. Hopping up and down with animation doesn’t count. If all Pokemon could move in Crystal, they damn sure should in these next gen games.

FR/LG shows off how amazing the GBA can be graphics wise. After all, you should be able to run PS1 and Saturn games on there considering it’s a 32 bit system. And FR/LG shows that to certainly be the case. Although half the game is just like any other GBA game, the Pokemon themselves and the cut scenes are a slap in the face to just how far graphics have come on a portable system in the last few years.

Graphics Rating: 7/10

3. Sound

Wonderful. Simply wonderful. It’s the classic Pokemon tracks remixed and updated. They’re still as wonderful and catchy-addictive as they ever were. Five to ten second of a song and I’m humming them all day. Pokemon started out with some of the catchiest MIDI files ever, and now with modern systems and development advances and a more powerful console, guess what? They’re still pretty much the same songs they always were. Sometimes you can’t improve on something. Sometimes you get it right the first time. And that they did here. The music from Pokemon can go toe to toe with any of the high budget symphonic records for next gen console games any day.

The only problem, and I harp on this in every game, is the Pokemon still have squarks and annoying digitized warblings for the noises they make. If Pokemon Yellow could have half a dozen Pikachu sounds recorded by the voice actress, surely a game on the GBA could have Charmander well…sound like Charmander. And so on. This royally ticked me off about Pokemon Coliseum. And it could easily have been done here instead of the noises they are still using.

Incredible music, horrific noises of the damned coming out of the Pokemon.

Thanks goodness the music far overshadows the caterwauling.

Music Rating: 8/10

4. Control

Heh. It’s a turn based RPG. No real worry here. A button to input commands, B to cancel them, D pad to move. Start to bring up the menu screen, and so on. The controls are simple and infalliable.

…Except for one really irritating feature. If you so much as touch the shoulder buttons, they freak out and bring you to an FAQ screen. And considering where they are on the SP, this will happen a lot when you first get the game. Even now, It pisses me off when I’m in the middle of a battle and I get jostled or move in the slightest and pull up these menus. I realize they are meant to help younger gamers or those new to Pokemon, but this really should have been a feature incorporated into the menu system or like the Newbie TV Tuner you get right away in the game,

However aside from this massive annoyance, Pokemon Leaf Green and Fire Red is simple and easy to play. That’s the great thing about turn based RPG’s. No lag, no slow down or glitches. It’s just as simple as it was back in the days of 8 bit gaming. Just watch the shoulder buttons.

Control Rating: 8/10

5. Replayability

Pokemon never ends. It really doesn’t. There are always new battles to face, human friends and strangers to play against, new Pokemon to raise from eggs and breed into the best Pokemon you can make.

Even if you ignore the open ended parts of the game, there’s still a lot to do after you beat the Elite 4 and the Pokemon Champion. You have the Islands to visit, more Pokemon to catch, the R/S machine to repair, and of course Mewtwo, Lugia and the triad of Raikou, Suicune, and Entei to chase after and catch.

Pokemon is like Morrowind for the Game Boy, except of course, Pokemon came long before Old Elder Scrolls 3. The game truly ends only when you put it down for something else and choose not to go back to it. If you really wanted it to be, it could be the only game you ever need for the Game Boy Advance.

Note, there is no replay value in terms of ever starting a new game as you won’t want to lose all the Pokemon you have collected from the various trades you have had to made. It’d be insane and worthy of a blow to the genitals for someone crazy enough to through away a game that takes over 100 hours to truly “catch ’em all.”

When you buy a Pokemon Cart, you’re buying something most games can’t offer: Unlimited replayability. You can play this years later and will still find something new to do or hatch or edit a moveset of. Wonderful. Simply wonderful.

Replayability Rating: 10/10

6. Balance

Pokemon is an amazingly balanced game. It’s ultra linear nature helps with that. You will always fight enemies around your power level (Unless you munchkin up) and there is always a challenge even after you beat the game to test your team of juggernauts. If you try to speed through the game you will end up getting beaten mercilessly. If you go too slow, then boo on you. You miss out on the fun and the challenge. Get your Pokemon to level 100 AFTER you beat the game, not before.

Pokemon is also the only game where Random battles aren’t annoying as shit. They’re needed if you want a full Pokedex or to find the shiny Pokemon or to hunt down elusive rares like Lugia. The battles don’t serve to make a game seem longer than it is by making sure you have a battle every five in game steps to make up for the lack of any real plot or any other bit of substance like a LOT of RPG’s out there. And bless them for turning one of the most aggravating thing about RPG’s into something enjoyable.

Balance Rating: 10/10

7. Originality

It’s a remake/port of a classic game to the GB Advance. It’s got nearly line for line dialogue intact. It’s got Pokemon in the same place at the same level as they always have been. At first glance it’s just a graphical remake for a quick buck.

But oh no my friends, that’s far from the truth. TONS of new Pokemon have been added. The Orange Islands are finally in a video game (And no Fat Ass Tracy, thank god). There’s the R/S machine. An even harder quest to get Mewtwo and so much more. It’s like take a great piece of the past and fleshing it out. Making it bigger, brighter, and better than before.

But still, one has to accept this is yet another game with the same engine Pokemon has been based on for a decade. Nothing truly original except some extra content. PokeCol was the right step to go in. I understand the remake of the original game, but let’s see what we all want to on the GBA: Moving Pokemon, the ability to travel all over the world, not just a region, a detailed storyline, Pokemon with personalities and so much more. Game Freak needs to keep improving the core game series. They are AMAZING with all the spin offs from Snap to Puzzle Challenge to Pinball. But they’re going to need to make some big changes soon to keep up with the times instead of being like YET another Final Fantasy game or YET another Army Men game. Castlevania is an example of a series constantly updating themselves in a way that is familiar but yet wholly original at the same time.

Originality Rating: 5/10

8. Addictiveness

Oh my, will Pokemon take your soul and run away with it if you even remotely give it the chance. And you won’t care because you will be too engrossed with the cuteness and wonder that is Pokemon. Sure, you can be party of that vocal minority that hates Pokemon just because it sells better than damn near every other game series out there. Sure you can claim the game is for kids when really you know you don’t want your Cloud Strife/Sephiroth slash fan fiction writing ass getting beaten at an RPG by a 9 year old who took the time to figure out how Hidden Power works.

I honestly can’t think of a game I find as addicting as Pokemon that has the staying power of that addiction for years and years after you play it, save for Guardian Heroes. If you ignore the would be hardcore gamers you know are just overweight people with little to no social skills who feel games should be about blood and sex, then you will find one of the best games ever made camouflaged with electric lagomorphs and fire-breathing lizards and so many other memorable characters.

There’s not a gamer alive that should get into Pokemon and be able to enjoy it and become absorbed with it, unless you’re hating for the sheer sake of hating alone.

Addictiveness rating: 10/10

9. Appeal Factor

You can deny it. You can be a closet fan. You can hide your copy when your friends come over to play GTA. But the numbers don’t lie. More than likely you or someone you know owns this game. More people own Pokemon that Tomb Raider. Than Final Fantasy. Than Halo. Than whatever big name AAA GOTY contendor you want to jiz about on your online forums or in emails. Pokemon sells better than damn near every game ever made. Because it’s that catchy and that good. It, even more than FFVII, introduced the RPG genre to casual gamers and especially the US audience. They both came out around the same time and whereas people have come to accept FF7 = amazing graphics and little else, the old graphically inferior Pokemon has managed to hold up to the test of time.

Everytime a new Pokemon game comes out, people come out in droves for it. It has easily become one of the big 4 series for RPG’s, standing equally with Dragon Quest, Final Fantasy and Megaten.

I’ve seen so many people doubt how good Pokemon is, then try it and become a huge fan of the series. Kliq members Yeager and Liquidcross are proof of that.

I know the IP Games team has a very deserved rep of being made up of Pokemon fanatics. But that’s because we like good games and when we find those rare nuggets of awesomeness, we don’t let up.

Appeal Factor Rating: 8/10

10. Miscellaneous

The free wireless adapter alone makes this sky rocket. A $20 purchase if you were to buy it separately. It’s free with Pokemon! No more annoying cables so that only you and up to three other friends can play. No no no. This allows you over a dozen crazy Pokemon playing gamers. It makes it easier and simpler for everyone. And wireless anything rules.

There’s also the addition of the orange islands, the ability to interact with R/S, PokeCol, and Pokemon Box (SURFING PICHU!!!) and Pokemon you were once able to have in Kanto is wonderful beyond words. As much as a letdown that R/S was, Leaf Green and Fire Red more than make up for it.

It’s still not as great as Crystal, which is by far and away the best Pokemon game there has ever been, but this real does manage to surpass the original black and white version of the games. Any skepticism that Nintendo and Game freak were looking to make a quick buck has been dispersed.

There’s so much to enjoy in this game, it really does feel fresh and original. But with a massive dose of Deja Vu.

Miscellaneous rating: 10/10

Short Attention Span Summary
The original is back and better than ever. This + Shining Force proves that remakes and graphical updates can be amazing games in their own right able to break through Nostalgia and help new gamers to become fans of a classic series while keeping the old fans die hard fanatics. Pokemon Fire Red and Leaf Green does nearly everything right, and with These games, SF, Astro Boy, and hopefully Advance Guardian Heros as well, 2004 is proving to be the year of the GBA, not the consoles. Rock on little portable for keeping the best games of all time alive! More importantly, rock on Game Freak for continuing Pokemon’s streak of nothing less than amazing games that appeal to gamers no matter their age or experience.

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