Review by Mykas0
"Good games often come in pairs."
Just like its predecessor, this game can't be considered a true sequel to the colour-based RPGs, but it ends up being an extremely enjoyable experience. Just like in the previous title, here you are able to use Pokemon in order to complete several tasks, just like characters of the anime series used to do across their adventures. You're no longer limited to cutting grass, flying or pushing boulders instead, you're given access to a wide variety of creatures, each with particular strenghts and weaknesses, and you're told to complete several missions and quests.
Regardless the sex you choose for your main character, you're soon allowed to pick your first companion Pokemon, a unique monster that will accompany your character for the rest of his adventure. Unfortunately, the storyline presented here is still rather limited, and awfully predictable after the first few minutes of gameplay - you're a student of a Ranger school, who later joins the corps and is assigned a few missions, a fact which, as usual, leads to a quest which will have its pinnacle in the possible salvation of the land of Almia.
Fortunately, missions are less predictable than in the previous game, and you're often told to do a lot more than simply take your character from point A to point B. Saving helpless Pokemon, extinguishing massive forest fires and recovering unique crystals are only some of the things you're asked to do, and the path you can follow to achieve your objectives are, sometimes, wider than the ones presented in the last game, where you had a single possible path to follow.
As before, you'll have to use several different Pokemon, which you capture as part of the adventure, to achieve certain tasks. What, a huge boulder is blocking your path? Grab an Aggron and you'll be able to tear it down. You need to climb some herbs, but they're stuck in a high spot? No problem, a creature like Fearow will be able to release them for you, allowing you to proceed. There are several ways to achieve certain objectives, but since some monsters are only available as part of the storyline, fans of those particular creatures may end up slightly disappointed at their absence.
Don't get me wrong, there are more than 270 unique creatures available in this game, and despite this high number you'll usually find yourself with very limited resources. Monsters such as Pikachu, Magneton or Vulpix are fairly common, but you're likely to find a single Squirtle, or just one Charmaleon, across your adventure, which makes me wonder - where are the rest of those creatures? Are players supposed to buy that, whenever they need this or that creature, they'll have to go back to a single spot, because Charmaleon, Rapidash or a few others are unique creatures in such a wide world? I'd understand if I was talking about legendary Pokemon, like some of the ones presented in the first game, but what if I tell you that capturing a Golbat is harder to do than capturing a Blastoise?
Oddly, this was one of the changes made to this series. Unlike what happened in the first game, where you simply had to encircle a monster for a certain number of consecutive times in order to capture, this game introduces styler power and monster HP. Just like before, you still have to encircle a monster with your stylus in order to capture it, but instead of having to do it several times in a row, you now diminish that monster's HP for an amount which depends on your styler's power - once the monster's bar is filled, you'll capture it. As you may suppose, this change would make this a terribly easy game, and fortunately they added a regeneration factor to your enemies, meaning that if you stop your encircling motion for some time, the enemy's HP will start to increase.
As you gain more experience and increase your character's level, the power of your styler will also increase, and while you'd initially cause limited damage, it tends to increase as you advance further in the game. That's OK, it happens in almost every RPG, but here it also leads to an enormous bug monsters found in the first missions (such as Blastoise) end up being terribly easy to capture later in the game, and while it may only take you three or four circles to capture such seemingly powerful beast, you'll probably find yourself wondering why you have to a lot more trouble capturing a Sneasel. It has nothing to do with battle skills, or hazardous strategies, it is just an awful feature that this game offers, and which you're very likely to clash with.
Once you've captured these amusing creatures, you can use their powers in two different areas. Apart from their field usage, which I already mentioned above, you can use their powers in the middle of battles, with effects directly related to that Pokemon's type. A Fire Pokemon can cause twice the damage, a Bug one allows you to throw sticky goo at your enemies, while Ice monsters can freeze the enemy for a short amount of time, just to name a few. In order to succeed against the hard boss battles that this game has to offer, you'll have to master the unique abilities of each type of creature, which is easier than it sounds.
For those of you who complained about the lack of replay value of the first game, this one bears some surprises. First, quests were added to the game, which work as small tasks that some inhabitants of the Almia region request. They are nowhere as tough as missions, but they are actually fun and rather unpredictable. Among some of the quests you'll find, there are things as basic as simply removing a natural barrier, or destroying three crates, but some of the later missions ask you to capture specific combinations of monsters, which may take a while, unless you cheat. All these give you access to bonus' content, like unique monsters or Guards, which increase your defence against particular elements.
If doing tons of quests just isn't for you, a new option was included in this game, called Ranger Net. By going online, via Nintendo's Wifi Service, you'll be able to download new missions, and even though I doubt they'll make a new mission available every week, kinda like what happens in Professor Layton and the Curious Village, it is interesting to be given this possibility, as it gives a fairer gameplay experience to all those people whom, for one reason or another, just can't attend physical events.
When it comes to graphics, this title retains the fable quality presented in its predecessor. It doesn't have bad graphics, but you won't be astonished by this game's looks, either. As for the sound, it is worth hearing for a while, but nowhere as impressive as what you can hear in Soma Bringer. Although this really isn't a game by Square Enix, some effort could have been put in these technical areas of the game. This way, it seems like if they decided to stick to the proven formula presented by the first game, instead of trying to take this game higher.
In the end, this is a kind of game which Pokemon fans will surely enjoy, but it also ends up being an interesting gameplay experience that most RPG players will enjoy. It's not really a ground breaking experience, but it ends up providing some fun for more than 60 hours, and that's something that may be worth your money.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 04/07/08
Game Release: Pokemon Ranger: Batonnage (JP, 03/20/08)
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