Pokemon Heart Gold & Soul Silver
Developer: Game Freak
Genre: Turn Based RPG
Release Date: 09/12/2009 (Japan)
As most of our readers here at Diehard GameFAN know, I’ve had copies of Pokemon Heart Gold and Soul Silver for a quite some time before the Japanese release date. I was the first to break the announcement of its release, and by the Japanese launch day I had FAQ’s and Strategy Guides for both sets of Gym Leaders and the Elite Four written up which have since been copied and pasted across the Internet. For those new to the site, I pull in two different Pokemon related paychecks. It’s these personal and professional ties that have allowed me to be an official “leak” for Pokemon information as well as letting me tease my staff here with games months before they’re even announced to the Japanese audience. At the same time though, it means you’re about to read a review of a game that the author in question makes money off of. Although I’ve certainly reviewed Pokemon games in the past and given them less than flattering scores (Emerald, Trozei, Dash), people new to me (or DHGF in general) are definitely welcome to take this review with a grain of salt.
That being said, it’s time to see what a return trip to Johto holds for you. The second generation of Pokemon RPG’s are universally considered the best in the history of the franchise. With the remakes adding a ton of new content, do they manage to surpass the originals?
Pokemon HGSS takes place three years after the events of Pokemon RGBY (Red/Green/Blue/Yellow). Red became the Kanto Pokemon Champion and then quickly disappears. Team Rocket has disbanded and a new day has dawned. To the west of Kanto (the location of Pokemon RGBY) is a land known as Johto. Here you take the part of a tweener about to set out on their own Pokemon journey. You have a choice of three starts: Totodile, Cyndaquil or Chikorita. After you’ve chosen your Pokemon, it’s time to cover the Johto circuit and take down their eight gym leaders. Along the way you’ll discover Apricorns, the return of Team Rocket, Baby Pokemon, the Elite Four and so much more. After you defeat the Johto Pokemon Champion, you get the surprise of a lifetime (unless you’ve played the original): you can travel to Kanto and encounter the eight gym leaders there. After getting all 16 badges, you can encounter Red in a battle of champions.
Besides all of that, there’s also things like the Johto Bug Catching contest and several brand new things added that weren’t in the originals. These include the new Pokethlon that takes the place of Pokemon contests, Gym Leader rematches, radio stations that attract Pokemon from either Hoehn or Sinnoh, the return of Giovanni, a Battle Frontier area, over half a dozen new areas, a Safari Zone, the ability to take commemorative photos of your team, a special new Arceus event, a special new notched-eared Pichu event, the revelation of who your Rival’s father is, and so much more.
Best of all is the fact that the HG and SS remakes contains the Suicune storyline originally only found in Pokemon Crystal. It’s a lot of fun in many ways, HG&SS are more remakes of the Crystal GBC cart than the original GB games. I’m still shocked that neither the Ruby/Sapphire or Diamond/Pearl games offered you the ability to return to the previous game’s region. In this regard, and many other, the little old GBC carts of Pokemon Gold and Silver were far ahead of the GBA and DS games and these remakes make that more apparent than ever.
As the 24/7 function of the original games have almost certainly killed the battery in those original carts, this DS upgrade is well worth it. You’re getting to return to the best generation of Pokemon games, now with even more stuff thrown in and more depth given to the adventure. I’m still ecstatic the game contains the Crystal storyline and this truly makes HG & SS head and shoulders above not only the original versions of these games, but every Pokemon game EVER.
Whether this is your first time playing a Pokemon game, or you’ve done all four regions, the upgrades AND the Fire Red & Leaf Green remakes, you’ll quickly see why Heart Gold and Soul Silver‘s storyline is not only a portable gaming classic, but remembered so fondly by Pokemon fans the world over.
Story Rating: Unparalleled
You know. I was impressed with the visuals in Pokemon Diamond, Pearl & Platinum, but Game Freak turned it up just a notch. Remember in Pokemon Yellow Pikachu would follow your Trainer around and you could even talk to it to see how it was doing or what it was feeling. Well that aspect is back after three generations of being gone and repeatedly asked for. This time whoever is your lead Pokemon will be following on the field and if you talk to your Pokemon in the right spot, they just might have something for you. This means this new visual effect has an actual in-game application. Nice!
Other than that, the visuals are the same quality as the generation IV games. Pokemon and Trainers are animated when they first show up, but are static for the rest of the battles. Graphics are crisp and clear. I especially love the water in the game. Johto backgrounds and Pokemon have never looked better, but then, is that really hard to believe consider we’ve been through the Game Boy Colour, Game Boy Advance and Nintendo DS since the original games came out for the old black & white Game Boy.
You should know what to expect by now. The games look great and the graphics are amongst the best for the DS (RPG-wise) due to the sheer variety of what’s stored on that tiny little cart. In this age of console games being filled with little colour and mottled hues, it’s nice to see something this vibrant and detailed on theDS.
Graphics Rating: Classic
Pokemon’s always had a strong record for music, regardless of whether it’s the main RPG series or in one of the many spin-offs. A lot of these tracks are catchy and get stuck in your head for days (or in my case YEARS) after you play it. I’m happy to say that the game features a lot of remixed tunes from both the Johto and Kanto eras, but also some new MIDI’s for the new areas or the mini-games.
There’s still no voice acting, and the Pokemon are still giving out their “classic” sqwarks and shrill little noises meant to be animal noises. I’m still of the frame of mind that it would not be hard to take samples from the anime so that Pikachu actually goes, “Chuuuuuuuuu!” when it faints or “Pika Pika!” when he pops out of the Pokeball. Hell, they did it in Pokemon Yellow, Hey You, Pikachu!, Pokemon Puzzle League and others, so why not do it for your flagship series?
The music is memorable and although it doesn’t rank up there with the original Super Mario Bros. or The Legend of Zelda themes, some of them do come close. The Pokemon noises bring the quality of this category down, but at the end of the day, they are kind of timeless is a “so bad, it’s good” sort of way.
Sound Rating: Good
4. Control and Gameplay
For the past decade or so, the Pokemon series has been considered to have one of the best made (and deepest) engines for portable role-playing games. Although each generation appears to have the same engine due to surface similarities, each one has actually been wildly different. For example the Generation IV engine as all new ways of calculating what your Pokemon’s stats will be upon leveling up and which moves use the Attack statistics and which use the Special Attack statistic. This won’t matter to anyone but long time Pokemon fans, but after Pokemon Diamond and Pearl and Pokemon Platinum, they’ll be used to it.
The core of Pokemon is basically a more intense version of Rock, Paper, Scissors but with sixteen different possibilities than can be mixed and matched like a Frankenstein’s Monster. For example Pikachu is an Electric Pokemon, which is weak to Marowak, which is a Ground Pokemon. Marowak in turn, is weak to Water Pokemon like Totodile, which goes full circle in being weak to Electric Pokemon like Pikachu. See, Rock, Paper Scissors. However, just because a Pokemon is of one type, doesn’t mean it can’t learn moves outside its type. Using the Pokemon we’ve already covered, a few rare Pikachu can learn Surf, which is a Water move. This means Pikachu has a move that is strong against Ground type Marowak while still being weak to Marowak’s type and attacks. Each Pokemon can learn four moves or less, so it’s matter of maximizing your Pokemon’s potential with power and statistics.
Like all basic turn based RPG’s, Pokemon has you pick your moves from a menu. Whoever has the highest Speed stat goes first and gets to do their move. Then the slower Pokemon gets to go. Of course there are exceptions to who goes first, but this is basic explanation and not a primer. Find a 13 year old or younger child in your vicinity and ask for more detail. They’ll be happy to help you out.
Besides battling, you’ll be travelling throughout Johto trying to complete a Pokedex, which is a zoological guide to Pokemon. You’ll be able to get more entries by catching Pokemon, which occurs through battling wild, randomly occurring Pokemon. Once you have them, you can either store them, let them go, or add them to your active team of six Pokemon that you carry with you. You’ll also be battling Gym Leaders for their badges and competing in contests like the Pokethlon or the Bug-Catching Contest.
The controls are solid and the menus are easy to navigate through. Even if this is your first video game ever, you’ll get the hang of it in no time. You won’t even need to read the manual, but I suggest holding on to it for the chart showing what is strong/weak against what.
Again, Pokemon offers and engine and gameplay that even the youngest of gamers can understand and become skilled with, but also one deep enough that it takes years to truly master. The game is wonderfully designed that any team can beat any other on any given day. Okay, not a team of Magikarps against Mewtwo, Arceus, Palkia, Dialga, Ho-Oh and Lugia, but most teams offer a decent amount of challenge if we’re talking Player Vs. Player battles.
I simply can’t think of a RPG series that has had different engines with each generation yet made them close enough that it feels like you’re playing the same old thing until you really get into the heart of the beast. It’s one of the reasons I adore this series so.
Control and Gameplay Rating: Unparalleled
Like all Pokemon games, there is only one save file, which means you have to stick with the same game forever, or decide to start over, losing your hundreds of Pokemon and an equal amount of over to the void. I don’t know anyone that starts over. They generally just have two or three carts and use all of those.
Once you have your game though, you’ll find the game has limitless replay value. There is always a new Pokemon to catch, train or breed. There’s always a rematch battle to have. There’s always the Battle Frontier to try. There’s always the new Pokethlons. Most importantly, there’s the interaction with other gamers.
Long before we had this “online gaming” thing we all take for granted, Pokemon was designed to help gamers meet people outside their usual friend circle. You were encouraged to trade with or battle complete strangers with the hope that by the time you finished, you’d have turned that new acquaintance into a friend.
With the new (well, new to the Johto era) online features like the Pokemon GTS, one Pokemon cart can last you a year and still have things left to do. After all, you’ll always need another cart or some friends to catch ’em all.
Replayability Rating: Unparalleled
One of the nice things about Pokemon is that there is no unbeatable team. There is always a move or type or ability than can counter some other Pokemon, and there is always a counter to the counter. The only real way to assure yourself of an easy win is to run around in the early stages of the game and level up massively so that you can cakewalk against the Computer. However, upon doing this you’ll learn about a little failsafe built into the game. If all you do is fight low level characters. Your Pokemon’s max potential will be limited as well. Meaning if you have a level 50 Pokemon you used munchkin tactics to plow your way through the game (meaning fighting nothing but Pidgeys around, say, New Bark Town), it will be notably weaker than another level 50 Pokemon on the same type that was raised by going through the game and fighting harder challenges and Pokemon with better Effort Value Points. This is perfection in terms of making a balanced game. It all depends on if you’re playing just to beat the main story of the game, or to make some powerful Pokemon to use competitively.
However, that really only matters if you care about PvP. If you’re just looking to get through the story mode of the game, you’ll find that the Johto era is much easier to beat than the other three regions of Pokemon. The Gym Leaders and the Elite Four are lower level than in other games, but once you’ve beaten the game you’ll find that Johto actually offers some pretty strong challenges in the post-game like the Kanto Gyms, Red and Giovanni. In this regard, HG&SS actually gives you a longer experience with less grinding for the sake of getting your Pokemon up a few levels between gym battles. I’d definitely say Heart Gold and Soul Silver are the most balanced Pokemon games in terms of the story mode.
Whether you play competitively or just to beat the Elite Four, Pokemon Heart Gold & Soul Silver will definitely give you a challenge, but not so much of one that you’ll be ripping your hair out in frustration like fighting Nightmare Geese.
Balance Rating: Unparalleled
…and here’s the down side. Not only is this game a remake, but the Pokemon turn based RPG are a bit played out. It’s been four generations/a decade and a half of the same basic plot of “Kid fights eight gym leaders, the Elite Four, the Pokemon Champion and stops an evil ruthless terrorist organization determined to rule the world.” The game has added some bits that are new to Johto (Like your lead Pokemon following you and the Battle Frontier) and new to Pokemon as a whole (Pokethlon, some new triggered events and areas), but those are only a fraction of the game. For the most part, this is the same game you played back in 2000-2001.
If this game wasn’t being remade because a) the fans clamored for it, b), the batteries in 99.99% of the original carts are long since dead and c) it’s been ten years since the original came out in Japan, I’d want to call this a cash grab ala Sega’s, “How many times can a company re-release Sonic the Hedgehog?/.
Sure it’s a remake, but at least Game Freak’s taken the time to update the game with the new engine, new graphics, all the new Pokemon that have come out since then and give gamers a remake they requested rather than it being about money first. Of course, it’ll make a gazillion dollars anyway but hey, it’s Johto!
HG&SS may be lacking a lot of innovation or originality, but it’s exactly what Pokemon fans asked for and wanted, and that’s what really matters.
Originality Rating: Bad
Pokemon Crystal is pretty much considered the epitome of Pokemon RPG’s, Gold and Silver are only a half step behind them due to the games being so similar. With these remakes containing the best pieces of all three variants, it’s hard to think of anything that anyone could complain about!
I remember back in 2001, I ended up owning two carts of Silver, one of Gold and two of Crystal and I played through every one of them. I loved them. The different Pokemon, the characters, the designing movesets. Everything about the second generation of Pokemon was electronic crack for me. I’m happy to say I felt the same way about these two carts. I ended up playing them in tandem, seeing which team would be the best and I even picked up a second Heart Gold cart out of pocket to use for a interactive column I’ll be doing on the site, where you, the readers, will select my Pokemon and decide for me where to go.
With all the added new pieces, sidequests, mini-games and special events, Heart Gold & Soul Silver feels like the timeless classic Pokemon fans remember it as, in addition to having a visual face lift and feeling brand new in certain areas. Sure, you can basically get through the game with an old Prima strategy guide from a decade ago, but would you really want to track one down?
It’s hard to think of a better Pokemon game than these remakes. It’s simply a reminder of why I feel in love with the franchise, and gaming in general.
Addictiveness Rating: Unparalleled
9. Appeal Factor
Hmmm. Let’s see. Pokemon is the most successful RPG series in history. It actually surpassed the Mario franchise years ago as the most lucrative Nintendo franchise and its most popular. It’s the most successful gaming franchise in terms of mainstream population penetration and it sells like gangbusters even if a game backslides and offers less than the generation before it (I’m looking at YOU Ruby & Sapphire!). When you factor in, the Johto Era of Pokemon was the peak of Pokemon across the board and the one longtime Pokemon fans have the happiest memories of, Heart Gold and Soul Silver are bound to stay in the Japanese top seller category for months to come.
If you got out of Pokemon years ago, this is the came to come back to. If you’ve never played a Pokemon game and are curious, this is the game to start with. Even if you don’t like Pokemon because it’s cute looking and you automatically dismiss it as “for kids,” this game will change your mind if you look at the sheer depth of the engine and all that is tucked away in that little cart. I honestly can’t think of anything else I’d want this cart to contain, save for Pokemon voice acting.
I wouldn’t advise importing this due to the need to be nearly fluent in Japanese to play it, but come April 2010, this is a game that shows off exactly why hundreds of millions of Pokemon games have been sold worldwide.
Appeal Factor: Unparalleled
Generally I use this space in my Pokemon Reviews to give away little tips and tricks to my readers. As I’ve already done FAQs for the Johto Gym Leaders, Kanto Gym Leaders, and The Elite Four , I’ll give you something else instead. Two actually…
|Lapras – Level 80 (Ice-Water)|
|Snorlax – Level 82 (Normal)|
|Charizard – Level 84 (Flying-Fire)|
|Blastoise – Level 84 (Water))|
|Venusaur – Level 84 (Grass-Poison)|
|Pikachu – Level 88 (Electric)|
|Kangaskahn – Level 40 (Normal)|
|Nidoking – Level 42 (Poison-Ground)|
|Honchkrow – Level 43 (Dark-Flying)|
|Nidoqueen – Level 46 (Poison-Ground)|
In short, for your eventual $34.99, you’re getting a game that will give you well over 100 hours of play time, a great way to interact with friends, new downloadable quests and Pokemon, and a chance to see the best the world of Pokemon has to offer. Pokemon Heart Gold and Soul Silver are easily the best Pokemon games ever made. You’re getting an amazing amount of content for your dollar and it’ll be hard to find a better deal for your DS.
Miscellaneous Rating: Unparalleled
Control and Gameplay: Unparalleled
Appeal Factor: Unparalleled
FINAL SCORE: CLASSIC GAME!
Short Attention Span Summary
Here’s the bottom line: the original Pokemon Gold, Silver, and Crystal games were amongst not only the best Pokemon games ever made, but some of the best RPG’s regardless of system. With Pokemon Heart Gold and Soul Silver, you’re getting the Crystal storyline, the classic Johto characters, music and environment, and a surprising amount of new content which makes the largest Pokemon games of all time even bigger and deeper than the originals. I honestly can’t think of a handheld RPG I’ve been happier with or more impressed by since the original. Sure it’s no Eternal Punishment, Valkyrie Profile or Sakura Taisen but it’s definitely up there. At the end of the day, even if you can’t get behind the Pokemon visuals or you jump to the erroneous conclusion that Pokemon is “only for kids,” if you love gaming, or RPG’s in particular, you’ll pretty much have to force yourself to hate Pokemon Heart Gold and Soul Silver.