Review by EJRICH

"Soul+Heart=SoulHeart. Clever, right?"

So yes, Pokemon SoulSilver is technically the same game that you probably played ten years ago. Unlike most other developers, though, Gamefreak decided to take a different route in re-releasing its heralded franchise, a route that not only vastly improves the title over its predecessor, but also adds loads of extra content to an already incredibly long game. That aforementioned point, combined with the simple but profound mechanics of RPG growth integrated with oodles of exploration make Pokemon SoulSilver not only one of the best Pokemon titles to date, but also a must have for any DS owner with an itch for RPGs.

Unlike your typical RPG, Pokemon SoulSilver does the unthinkable: It has no concrete storyline! Should this flaw drop a giant nuke on your aspirations for the game? Sure, if you can't tolerate not having some tyrannical villain wanting to ruin your day, then it is highly recommended that you stay far away from SoulSilver, or any Pokemon game in general. Basically, the same premise that has dominated every “Story” in Pokemon games returns to fight another day. As the player, you are tasked with taking control of a fledging ten year old thrown out into a dangerous world full of creatures known as Pokemon with nothing but your own little monster to offer you protection. And that is it. Sure, there's the whole “Collect the eight gym badges, beat the Elite Four, become the best trainer ever” thing going on, but aside from that and a couple of brief appearances from the crooks known as Team Rocket, you get nothing. Nada. Zip. Zilch.

Thankfully, for those of us with a little something called self-motivation, the story, or lack thereof, in Pokemon SoulSilver will only be a minor detraction that can be easily forgotten once the gamer gets involved in the gameplay. For starters, the basic premise of SoulSilver rests on two main pillars. The first pillar, exploration, tasks the player with journeying across an absolutely massive world filled with every type of scenery imaginable. The second pillar, the battle system, allows players to fully embrace the RPG characteristics of the series through a turn-based system of combat. This system sports customization galore, especially when you consider the current roster of nearly five hundred collectible monsters that players are free to mix and match to suit their needs. Combined, these two pillars form a sneaky good nucleus that leaves most players trying to figure out why they needed a story in the first place.

As was stated previously, the first pillar of SoulSilver is the pillar of exploration. Frankly, what made the original game such an amazing title was not necessarily a radical shift in gameplay (ten years, multiple titles, still waiting…), but the fact that the developers included not only an entirely new world to explore, but also the original continent on top of that. From surfing sky blue oceans in Kanto to climbing the chilling peaks located in Johto, SoulSilver offers players myriads of environments to trek across, each containing boatloads of nooks and crannies that are just waiting to be discovered. Still not convinced? What if you were told that each and every one of these environments contained Pokemon only unique to that area? One of the things that makes exploring the world of Pokemon so much fun is the fact that each individual area does generally contain different Pokemon to collect. By doing this, Gamefreak places a huge emphasis on the exploration aspect of the game, giving players an incentive to get out of the battling system and into the beautiful world laid out before them.

Let's face it, though. Everybody knows that while Pokemon features a vibrant world to explore, hardcore gamers buy the game because of the battle system. Being the second of the two pillars, the battle system of SoulSilver is cleverly unique thanks to the fact that while newer players will find it easy to learn the system, vets can keep coming back for more because of the heavy level of customization that lies beneath the initial surface. At its core, battle takes place in a turn-based environment. You choose a move, your opponent chooses a move, and whichever Pokemon dies first (faints…remember the kids!) is the loser. If you win, you get experience points to level up your Pokemon, which will make them stronger. Depending on the Pokemon, they may or may not achieve evolution through leveling up, which will make them even more powerful. Add in numerous elemental types to exploit, plus hidden values that affect stat growth, and you have a deep system that can appeal to both spectrums of gamers.

In order to make SoulSilver appeal to people who have already played the originals, Gamefreak decided to include several new areas into the mix. Old stomping grounds such as the Safari Zone make triumphant returns, along with the Battle Frontier concept from the newer games. Well, not really a concept. Gamefreak decided to be lazy and place an exact duplicate of the Battle Frontier from Platinum right into one of the nooks in Johto. It would have been a nice gesture on Gamefreak's part to make a completely new battle area, but beggars cannot be choosers in this case, because Gamefreak typically waits until the third game in the triumvirate to put this nifty little area in. Cheapos.

If you were paying attention to that gigantic box that came with your overpriced DS game, or just have watched reports on the game, you might have noticed a small peripheral in the shape of a Pokeball. That Pokeball peripheral is known as the Pokewalker, and while some people absolutely love the thing, it honestly reminds me of one of those old digital pets that I naively left to die as a kid. Sure, there are uses for it. For one, that little device can sync with your DS card, allowing you to transport Pokemon over in an attempt to collect items. Several Pokemon can only be obtained from the Pokewalker as well, giving players who would not use it otherwise an incentive to try the little trinket out. Unfortunately, it does come with some rather nagging flaws, however. Pokemon can only level up by one level per visit to the device, meaning if for some reason you do not have access to your game card for extended periods of time, you are out of luck. Also, because the Pokewalker is actually a pedometer, many of the achievements that can be unlocked through the device require walking. No big deal, right? Wrong. Some of the requirements to get the last incentives require an absolutely absurd amount of walking in order to achieve them. Good luck with that.

Presentation wise, Pokemon SoulSilver sports a completely rebuilt graphics engine that may get you thinking along the lines of Diamond/Pearl/Platinum. Truly, Johto looks like it has received a complete breathe of fresh air. Everything has been dramatically upgraded to the times, allowing for returning players to experience moments of wonder as they revisit old areas anew. Colors are extremely vibrant and are well chosen to fit in with the area that they are present in. Even the little effects look great, from the character's reflection on water to the Pokemon that follows behind you at all times. On top of this, Gamefreak has also added in a musical score featuring both tunes from the past and present, allowing the game to both look and sound great at the same time. Some of the tunes do get repetitive, and that may unfortunately lead to the player being forced to shut the volume off if this becomes that much of a problem. However, most of the time the music is a treat to listen to, and it shows how much Gamefreak wanted to make this game both look and sound the part.

Do you like RPG games that allow for incredible levels of customization while offering vast areas to explore? Get Pokemon SoulSilver. Not only is this one of those games that will literally take you forever to get through (in a good way), but it also is a game that never gets old in-between. Gamefreak took its tried and true system from previous Pokemon titles and made something special here, not only reviving a great game to begin with, but improving on it in a way that makes it the definitive edition of the game, and maybe even of the franchise. Get it. Now.


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 06/24/10

Game Release: Pokemon SoulSilver Version (US, 03/14/10)


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