Review: Pokemon Emerald (Game Boy Advance)

Pokemon Emerald
Developer: Game Freak
Publisher: Nintendo
Genre: Turn Based RPG
Release Date: 05/01/05

Okay. I’m worried about the future of Pokemon. Game Freak appears to be hitting “Street Fighter 2” Mentality by releasing rehash after rehash with little to no improvements now. And Emerald has officially ticked me off.

This isn’t the first time Game Freak has remixed a Pokemon game. Pokemon Red & Blue came out in Feb 1996, a little over 9 years ago. Pokemon Yellow came out 2.5 years later. But there were major changes. You got Pikachu as your starter, and the original three starters were all obtainable in the game. They introduced the tameness concept. They completely redid the graphics of all 151 Pokemon. They added digitized speech. They made the game harder, they remixed who you would fight in battles and switched around Gym leader Pokemon, and the plot followed the cartoon more closely. Pokemon Yellow, for all intents and purposes was a very different game from Red and Blue (and Green if you were in Japan). And this was acceptable.

Pokemon Silver and Gold came out a year later in 1999. Although the plot was still basically “Small child conquers 8 gyms and becomes Pokemon master,” it was a vast improvement over the original games. You could breed Pokemon, they had genders, they introduced a phone system and rematches. They added dates and times, new pokemon, and after you beat the game, you could hit the land RGBY was set in and fight all those gym leaders too, and finally a battle with Ash (red) Ketchum himself. Very nicely done. Sure, they rehashed the plot, but the game was radically different thanks to all the improvements and additions.

Then came Crystal. Crystal was a GBC version of the G/S games. Crystal came out in at the very end of 2000/or July/August of 2001 in the States. Crystal is considered by Pokemon fanatics to be the best version of the game. Even though it’s a rehash? Why? Again we have improved graphics, the ability to play as a girl instead of a boy. They added a new level to the phone system to where you could get items and not just battles. The plot was drastically reworked to feature the Legendary Dogs/Cats (There’s debate here), Pokemon were finally ANIMATED, and it was nice to see the game focus on something other than “ten year old boy becomes Pokemon master,” which was still in the game.

Note this was now the FOURTH Pokemon game to focus on this plot.

Ruby and Sapphire hit in November 2002. My gal pal at the time ensured it would arrive on our UK doorstep (where I was living at the time) and I was excited because I was so pumped for a game that would be even better than Crystal.

What did I get? I got double battles. Well that was cool. I also got…Pokemon Beauty contests? Okay? I guess that’s different and interesting. But all the advances made in Gold and Silver and Crystal were gone. Good Bye Phone. Good bye Animated Pokemons. Good bye Pokemon coming out at certain times and at certain days. The end result was a game that neither used the GBA’s ability to its full potential, but a game that was on par with RGBY. Yellow and the GSC series were superior in every way. So talk about a major disappointment. And once again we had a focus on a small ten year old boy become a the master of all Pokemon. FIFTH GAME IN A ROW. Annoyed? Oh yes.

Fire Red and Leaf Green came out in Jan, 2004, or Sept 04 for America. A year and two months later. It was a remake of Fire Red/Leaf green with R/S graphics. I could live with this, even though it was now the sixth game in a row with the same plot on the GBA. It was superior to R/S because it got rid of the beauty contests and I was willing to accept it needed to be released so that people could get the Kanto Pokemon since Game Freak could make R/S compatible with the old carts. And people wanted those Pokemon back. Plus I was willing to overlook the 35$ price tag because both FR and LG came with a wireless adapter which was a 20$ value. They also improved the original games in every way, added some more depth to the plot, made certain quests and bosses harder and gave you a few nice presents after you beat the game. I was so happy with this game because R/S was such a letdown.

Now we have Emerald. The SEVENTH game in a row using the same plot. And in truth all Emerald is, is a game where they added all the stuff that should have been in R/S in the first place and a bunch of hokey gimmick battles you can access AFTER you have beaten the game. With a $35 dollar price tag. When LG, FR, R and S are all widely available. And without a wireless adapter.

And that’s it for me. There’s no innovation, no originality, no anything about Emerald that made this game need to be made. Oh what’s that? You can get Mew, Lugia, and Celebi in this game? Not without Nintendo’s help.

But the big kicker for me is this. In RGBY, there were 4 games. You only needed two to get all the Pokemon. That’s a 40-60 dollar investment. Liveable.

Then came G/S/C. You needed 4 carts for that. Or three if you had a RGBY cart with all 150 Pokemon saved on it. That was a total cost of 60-90 dollars. Okay, again, tolerable.

Then with the GBA games, you could no longer use your old RGBY or GSC carts to upload to the new games. This meant that in order to get all the Pokemon you would need a copy of Ruby, a Copy of Sapphire, a copy of Fire Red and a Copy of Leaf Green to “catch them all.” Plus the price for Pokemon games went up to 35 smackeroos here. That’s 140$ right there. But wait! You also needed to buy a 50$ Game Cube game in order to get all the Pokemon. That’s $190 total price tag now. And then you still learned there were some Pokemon you couldn’t get and thus you had to wait for the 35$ Emerald to truly, utterly have a complete Pokedex. That’s $225. Or an investment SIX TIMES larger than the amount you needed to complete a 150 Pokemon Pokedex 9 years ago. And that doesn’t include whatever little things Nintendo is going to make you do for the tickets needed to access the ultra rares.

Am I really, truly the only person that sees a problem with this? Jesus, I love Pokemon. I’m a damn fanatic over it. You would be frightened to know all the Pokemon cheesy things I own. Hell, when Burger King did their Pokemon: The First Movie Promotion, their web site listed me as the first person in the bloody country to get all the toys. Pokemon is one of my favorite franchises of all time. And even I’m getting pissed at Game Freak churning the same product again and again. I swear if Diamond and Pearl ONCE AGAIN feature a ten year old kid, 8 gyms, and the same exact plot, that is it for me. I’m done with the franchise. And don’t tell me what with the amount of money involved to get these games, that it’s a child oriented series.

Game Freak, take a good long look at Poke Coliseum. All the trappings we know and love, but without any of the rehash. Original plot, characters, setting, everything. Try something like that for once. Pokemon saved Nintendo’s butt. It still outsells damn near ever series ever made. It’s the most successfully marketed video game of all time. It blows away Mario, Sonic, GTA, whatever you want to name in terms of spin off merchandise and profit margin. Even with all the sad pathetic gamers out there calling it kiddee or lame because it’s cute, it still has been consistently in the top five selling video games every year for a DECADE now. And this is the series supposedly burning out? Holy crap, most games wish they were plummeting like this. Pokemon officially joined Dragon Quest, Final Fantasy and Megaten as the four big RPG franchises in Japan, and it’s easily debatable that Pokemon is doing better than any of the three that have been around since the NES days in terms of merchandise/profitability/etc etc.

Nintendo and Game Freak, Pokemon majorly saved your asses in a lot of ways over the past ten years and made you both a lot of money. It’s a series endearing to tens of millions of people. Don’t take that love some many gamers have given you, and crap all over it like you’ve done with Emerald. Because they will eventually revolt when you try resting on your past accomplishments. Ask Sega and SNK how they’re holding up. Oh Wait, that’s right. You’ll have to ask Sammy and Playmore now, won’t you?

Right. Three pages of disgruntled ranting. Let’s review the game now. And be surprised, for all my anger over the lack of originality and rehashing the same bloody plot, Pokemon Emerald is a pretty decent game.

Let’s Review

1. Story

Okay. You’re a ten year old boy who seeks to become the greatest Pokemon Master ever. You get help from a Professor Oak. No wait. I mean Professor Elm. No sorry, It’s Professor BIRCH this time, who gives you a choice of three Pokemon (Fire/Grass/Water). You set out to get all 8 gym badges and then take on the Elite 4, but along the way an evil villainous organization know as Team Rocket does some dastardly things and you get involved to stop them.

Oh wait. In Emerald it’s Team Magma and Aqua. Two teams instead of one. OOOH! DEPTH!

And this is pretty much the entire game. That’s it. Yes some minor changes have been made by making the Fire and Water starters gain a second type in their second and third evolutions, and they pulled a GCS by having a final secret boss hidden away with level 70 Pokemon. This boss was the original Pokemon Champion in R/S. Truthfully, it would have been a lot cooler to have had it be Ash again. No one cares about Stephen. They also took the 8th Gym Leader and made him the new Pokemon Champion and just stuck yet another water Pokemon master as that gym leader. When Pikachu can take down the Pokemon Champion practically by himself, we have a problem folks.

Look, the plot was great in simplicity in 1996. It was acceptable and quite good with GCS as they added so much to it, and basically gave you two games in one. R/S was a letdown as it was the whole three strikes rule. Fire Red and Leaf Green, it was acceptable as it was a remake. Can’t really change the plot in a remake without purists going nuts. And that gives Emerald a bit of “Get out of Jail Free” card here as well as it is a remake of R/S.

But it’s gotten old. It’s gotten cliche. It’s gotten blah. It’s still a good plot in practice, but time and going to the well once to often have lowered it to Mediocrity. It’s just like my complaints about a certain other turn based RPG series that has had the same plot of angsty slightly androgynous quasi-anti-hero saving the world from a supreme evil and gathering friends along the way.

Something new next time. PLEASE.

Story Rating: 5/10

2. Graphics

Okay, let me enter fanboy mode for a second.

OH MY GOD! The Pokemon are animated again! Look at Mudkip’s little dance when he pops out of the Pokeball! So cute! I love him! All so happy and cheery and cuddly. And Pikachu! Oh god, I love him so! MUST. HUG. PIKACHU.

Not let me slip back into reviewer mode.

Umm…why was this not in R/S? I am very thankful for animated Pokemon again as it made Crystal amazingly delightful, but considering it was done back in 2000, why did it take 5 years and some change to put it back in, especially on a cart that could handle more graphically?

Look, it’s good. And it’s a huge improvement over R/S if only because it was static graphics in that game, but there’s no excuse why R/S was only half the game GCS was.

The Pokemon look better than ever, and it’s a treat to see each new one pop out and do their thing. It makes the game feel a little more fresh.

Outside the battles, the graphics are typical turn based RPG with lots of random battle fare. And by this I mean underwhelming and below what a system can do, but this is pretty much a complaint with every turn based RPG I can think of, save games made by Sacnoth. They’re okay, but decidedly vanilla for what the GBA can do.

In other words, in battle, Pokemon have never looked better. And the character designs are some of the best graphics I’ve seen on the GBA. If you have Emerald, you’ll want to upload every Pokemon you have onto this cart so you can see their animations. But everything else is mediocre. And Mediocre and Awesome average out to simply good.

Graphics Rating: 7/10

3. Sound

The music of Pokemon Emerald is the same as all Pokemon music. It’s simple midis that are amazingly catchy and fun. They are vibrant, peppy, upbeat and wonderful. And I often catch myself humming them hours after the game has been turned off. Sometimes they stick in my head for days.

But then there are the voices. We still have digitized squawks and crackles and squeaks instead of say, oh, the actual Pokemon voices. Come on people. Pokemon Yellow had Pikachu saying over a dozen different things. And that cart was able to hold a fraction of what a GBA cart could. Not to mention the fact, Emerald is about half the game in length that GCS was. Is it really that hard to fit some tiny one word wav files on the cart? No. it’s not. Take the voices from the cartoon. Have Pikachu say “Pika Pika” again. It’s cute, it’s what Pokemon fans have wanted since day one. Try listening to them for once.

Man I hate the weird electronic chittering. I didn’t mind it for the first two gens, but there’s no reason this should still be occurring.

Pokemon has the best score out of most cart games ever made. But please, please of please, get rid of the voices and take a hint from your 6 year old GB game and add some Poke-voiceovers.

Sound Rating: 8/10

4. Control and Gameplay

Pokemon has one of the best turn based engines of all time. It’s simple and yet so deep, it’s impossible to truly master. You have Hundreds of Pokemon, each which can learn dozen of moves, but yet you can only ever have 4 of those moves at any one time. Amazing levels of strategy and customization here.

There’s also the stretched out version of Rock/Paper/Scissors Gameplay. There are 17 types of Pokemon, some are strong against other types, while weak against another. Take Ice Pokemon for example. They are strong against grass, ground, flying, and dragon, but weak against fire, water, other ice Pokemon, and steel types. You can also have Pokemon with two types which creates some interesting combinations, and a lot of Pokemon can learn moves out side their normal range. A Blaziken (fire/fighting type) can have a fire move, a fighting move, an electric move, and a rock move. These four moves would allow you to be strong against ten types of Pokemon instead of just six if it stuck to only fire and fighting moves.

The gameplay is deeper than any other turn based system I can think of. It gives you more options than a lot of my favorite games in this genre aside from the Persona series.

R/S/E have also added the concept of double battles. Think “Texas Tornado” style tag team wrestling matches where all four wrestlers are in the ring at the same time until one team is beaten. Again, it adds a level of strategy and since some moves now affect one pokemon, two pokemon, or all pokemon in play, you have to think about what you’re doing in these battles. It also creates more of an emphasis on defensive moves or stat boosting moves.

The core of Pokemon is finding what 6 Pokemon work best for you, what 4 moves you should give them, and will you stick with the same Pokemon constantly, or have a vast array to switch to at any given time. Pound for pound, Pokemon still maintains the best turn based engine I can think of. In this regard I can understand why Nintendo and Game Freak are loathe to change anything. If it ain’t broke, why fix it, right?

Poke Col. That’s why. Same engine, totally original everything else.

Control and Gameplay: 10/10

5. Replayability

This is the puzzler. On one hand, Pokemon never ends. Get enough friends into it, and you can play forever against them, making teams and tournaments. The game never ends and since every Pokemon in different in terms of stats, personality and so on, you can keep catching and playing for an eternity.

The flipside is you can only have one save per game, and very few people want to lose their progress since it takes forever to get anywhere in the game. I mean, if you have a Pokedex of 258 Pokemon, do you really want to start from scratch and go through the same linear plot just to try new Pokemon, when you can do that by catching ones in the game you already have and leveling them up?

It’s the double edged sword of once you start a game, you really don’t ever start a new one, unless you want to buy a new cart, or have Pokemon Box which is a very recent invention.

And that’s what earns this game a thumbs in the middle from me. On one hand it’s infinite. On the other, there’s only one game you can ever play and you’re loathe to ever start over.

Replayability Rating:5/10

6. Balance

Although the customization and playability in Pokemon Emerald is vast, the game still manages to be shockingly easy. I’ve never lost a single Pokemon battle against the computer once since the days of RGB, and Emerald keeps it going. The AI is spotty and often times you’ll see the computer use a move that can’t hurt you or that is the second part of a combo without doing the first part. It’s truly bizarre.

As well, since the gym leaders and Elite Four always focus on one type of Pokemon while all gamers have a wide mix, it’s super simple to defeat them. No challenge at all. Especially at this point of the game. After a nigh decade of Pokemon gaming, everyone should know what type beats another type. The challenge in the story mode, thanks to a nonstop rehashing, is nil.

There are two things saving this category. The first is the addition of the new gimmick battles, as they take a slight bit of time to get used to. But once you learn the gimmick, the battles are still easy thanks to the AI. Let’s look at all the Battle Frontier gimmicks, shall we?

1. Battle Factory. The gimmick? You have to you random Pokemon against the computer’s random Pokemon. Well, since you don’t know what the computer has anyway unless you buy a strategy guide, this is more just a big handicapped against you. GOOD. It means there’s actually some thinking involved. You actually have to be good at the game instead of using rote memorization. However, you do get to choose your Pokemon from a random selection, so it comes down to picking the Pokemon you know have the most type advantages. This is probably the hardest challenge, but after your first set of seven battles, it’s cake.

2. Battle Dome. It’s a 16 man single elimination tournament. Ho hum. Next.

3. Battle Pike. It’s a choose your own adventure pathway. Again, no real challenge, and aside from the Boss’ Shuckle, which newer players may not be familiar with, there’s no challenge. Here’s a hint for it. Use a Pokemon with a Water, Rock, Steel, or Poison move. It dies quickly.

4. Battle Arena. It’s a Set KO challenge. You have three turns to knock out your opponent’s Pokemon and it goes to a draw. Should not be a challenge by the time you get to this event. Especially as there’s a Battle Tent early on in the game that uses these rules.

5. Battle Palace. You choose your Pokemon, but they use their “instincts” to battle. If you want a truly easy way around this, use Pokemon only with fighting moves so you don’t have to see them use say, defense curl 12 times in a row. This is also the only other challenge you’ll have as it’s you at a disadvantage where the computer just plays like a computer. The Boss is easy. An Electric Pokemon and a Fighting Pokemon takes out its 3 Pokemon team.

6. Battle Pyramid. Ooh, It’s dark and you can’t see what you’re doing until you beat a trainer. Then with each trainer you beat, you get some more light. No real challenge. The Boss uses all three Regi-Pokemon, which are VERY easy to beat. One Word: Metagross.

7. Battle Tower. Done that been there since in every game since Crystal. Ho hum yet again. Next.

There’s a little innovation with some of these, but the only challenge that ever comes up are when you play the battles where you don’t have total control over your team. Basing a game on luck and chance is not a challenge. It’s merely playing the possibilities. And since you can’t access the Battle Frontier until after you’ve beaten the game, there’s no way you should have much of a challenge here.

For people new to Pokemon or coming back to it after a while, those gamers might actually be in for a test.

But no, the real saving grace of this category is the second aspect: Player vs Player battles and mini games. When you have to actually play against another human being and their Pokemon Army, then things spice up. No team is unbeatable. No set of moves is infallible. Player vs Player is the one thing Pokemon does better than any other game on the planet.

But again, with all things considered, we’ve got another thumbs in the middle.

Balance Rating: 5/10

7. Originality.

Okay. 5 of the seven Battle Frontier ideas are original. Oh wait no, the Pyramid was done as a Gym battle before. Sofour out of the seven challenges are actually new. And for the rest of the game? It’s all stuff that was in earlier Pokemon games that they inexplicably left OUT of Ruby and Sapphire.

Pokemon Emerald is a rehash of a rehash. It’s a, “Hey! Remember those things we could do a generation ago and we left out of the last games? Well now they are back! Give us 5$ more than you would a normal GBA game for us doing what we should have done in the first place. Plus it’s been 5 years so it all FEELS new, rather than actually having done any true innovation. YAY!.”

Sod off. Stop the redundancy. There’s no reason to pick up this over a lot of other Pokemon options.

Originality: 3/10

8. Addictiveness

Pokemon is the only game I’ve ever played that makes Obsessive Compulsive Disorder seem fun. So many Pokemon to get. And get two of each so they can breed and make you baby Pokemon. Oh! Fight lots of battles for lots of money so you can buy Power-Ups and TM’s!

What can I say? A good deal of this has to do with the cute factor and baby Pokemon, and the fact that instead of just mindlessly collecting things, you’re collecting playable RPG characters to customize. That really helps a lot.

Most people will get hooked on this game for the same reasons everyone gets hooked on Pokemon games. It’s a decent game. The Problem comes for those of us who have played through Ruby and Sapphire. There’s no real thrill out of playing Emerald except for watching the Pokemon jiggle around on the screen. Same for those of us who have played every Pokemon RPG out there. R/S were the worst Pokemon games out there, and Emerald is just rehashing that game. The others are more fun, more interesting, and more addicting. Emerald is still good in terms of being hard to turn the game off, but it’s a shadow of the other, better version out there. I went out and started a game of Fire Red after Emerald just to wash the unclean off me and remember why I love Pokemon so very much.

But again, if you’ve been out of the Poke-Loop for a while, you’ll find this game rewarding in this aspect.

Addictiveness rating: 8/10

9. Appeal Factor

Look, Pokemon’s one of the best RPG franchises of all time. It’s one of the best franchises period. Aside from the GBA games, Pokemon is constantly reinventing itself. We’ve had pinball games, photography games, puzzle games, trading card games, we’ve had Pokemon Channel, Pokemon Box, Pokemon Coliseum, and more. Pokemon is usually very original and innovative, and most of all it is FUN. A lot of FUN.

The only people who can’t appreciate Pokemon are the sad pathetic gamers out there that give gaming a bad stereotype. The ones who run out and buy the next Tomb Raider or whatever game has big titty women on the screen. The ones who prefer graphics over gameplay. Or the ones that won’t play a game because it is cute and they have to maintain some messed up digital machismo. People that call Pokemon “for kids only” either haven’t played the games, or are amazingly dimwitted and refuse to actually look at the game for what it is. So what if it had a cartoon. Simon Belmont was in a cartoon. Is Castlevania “For Kids Only?” Heck no!

Look, as long as you have your head on right, you’re going to have fun with this game. Me? I’m just bitter and pissed because it’s the same old and Game Freak is going to start alienating its fans by shrugging the innovative and originality this franchise is known for. If you have never played a Pokemon game, then YES! Get this! You will be sucked in! You will have fun! Ignore the ignorance that patrols on message boards and forums and the people that constantly proclaim the latest game “A TEN!!!1!!!”.

At the same time though, compared to the previous Pokemon games, Emerald is a letdown and a testament to why R/S was a let down as well.

Appeal Factor Rating: 8/10

10. Miscellaneous

Okay, You’ve just sat through 11 pages of me babbling about Pokemon. What other reviewer is going to be that passionate about a pile of electronic cock fighting monsters?

I have to keep saying it: Emerald is not a bad game. It’s merely a rehash of the worst Pokemon game out there, and it’s the last straw in Game Freak saying “let’s add another 100 Pokemon to a cart and just churn out the same old crap.” Pokemon RPG’s aren’t crap. Not by a long shot. But with each game, the innovation is going down because it’s the same plot, same setup, same everything. This is the first Pokemon game I can’t officially give a “good” rating too, if only because compared to the other remixes out there (Crystal and Yellow), Emerald looks pretty darn bad. But it IS an improvement over Ruby and Sapphire.

If you want a GBA Pokemon game, get Fire Red or Leaf green instead of this. If you want a Pokemon game in general, you can pick up Yellow and Crystal for the same cost as Emerald, and they’re better. So what if the graphics aren’t as modern. The gameplay is exactly the same and they were a lot more fun. But then, this is me who has at least two cartridges of every Pokemon RPG ever made. To a newbie to the franchise, Emerald might be a very good game for you. Maybe even a great one. But I’d still recommend Fire Red and Leaf green over it in a heartbeat.

I just can’t get behind Emerald because I fear if I do, it’s the first of many nails in the Pokemon Coffin. Still it’s a decent game. And better than a lot of RPG’s out there. It just is too little too late from my beloved Franchise and makes we worry Game Freak has become about profit over fun.

Miscellaneous Rating: 6/10

The Scores

Story: 5
Graphics: 7
Sound: 8
Gameplay/Control: 10
Replayability: 5
Balance: 5
Originality: 3
Addictiveness: 8
Appeal Factor: 8
Miscellaneous: 6
Overall: 6.5
Final Score: 6.5 (Above Average, but not quite good)

Short Attention Span Summary
The worst of the Remixed games, Pokemon Emerald merely brings back all the things that were left out of Ruby and Sapphire for god knows what reasons. There’s not enough change in the game to warrant a purchase if you already own R or S, however if you’ve never played either, you should pick it up, especially in conjunction with either Pokemon Coliseum or Fire Red/Leaf Green. But if you’re looking for something innovative or original from the Pokemon gang, this is NOT the game you are looking for. Please Game Freak, anything else but the same old, same old for Diamond and Pearl. We’re begging you.