Review by Phediuk

"Not once will I mention the word "Pikachu" in this review..."

Say what you will of Pokemon.

Yes, I could go on and on about all of the furry junk that is constantly attached to Pokemon. But I won't.

Because you should ignore any other score you see about this game. Some people are uneducated, biased, or don't understand what makes Pokemon so great. The whole package. That's all you need to know. Unfortunately, to sum up the masterpiece that is this game, three words are not enough.

Your quest starts off fairly simply: after a short chain of events, Professor Oak of Pallet Town, your home, lets you start a Pokemon quest. Three Pokeballs, the containers in which Pokemon are kept in energy form, lie before you on the table. Choose it carefully...

Does the flaming-tailed lizard, Charmander, suit your fancy?

Or perhaps the upright tortoise, Squirtle?

Or even the bulb-backed reptile, Bulbasaur?

While it may not seem as such a big choice, it will be a monstrous factor to your success early on in the game, when you reach Pewter City. Your first Pokemon Gym looms before you. Brock, a master of Rock-type monsters, awaits inside. Simple logistics will now help you. Should you erode your opponent with the hydrous powers of the Water-type Squirtle, or cast overgrowth upon them with Grass-type Bulbasaur?

...at this stage in the game, the Fire-type Charmander will be, quite simply, annihilated. Fire does only half damage against Rock. Your first encounter with ''typecasting'' is present.

Upon defeating Brock and receiving your first Gym Badge (a symbol of your victory), your true mission is revealed: gather the other seven Gym Badges, defeat the Pokemon League, and become the Pokemon Champion! And thus your 20-hour quest through the world of Kanto starts.

Kanto is a fairly small country, with a grand total of ten cities littered about the overworld. The first thing you will want to find in a city is the local Gym. Discover what type of Pokemon its leader possesses, and whip out a Pokemon that is effective against that particular type. This may not be an original concept, but such an intricate, complex chart of battle advantages, disadvantages, and complete immunities had never been achieved before Pokemon.

Speaking of the battle chart brings to light the fighting system in itself. In Pokemon, your monsters are your party, and the character you control never dukes it out himself. Your opponent summons their Pokemon forth from the ball in which they were once contained, and their creature appears. Each Pokemon has two battle sprites: one from the front (your opponent), and a nondescript, horribly pixelated back view of their head (your monster.) Granted, the front views aren't drawn much better, considering how much different most of the Pokemon sprites look from their artwork.

And thus your turn in battle begins. Should you cast a Reflect to halve your opponent's attack power, or go all-out with the powerful Earthquake attack? Then again, what if you should just swap to another Pokemon that's more well-suited to fighting your opponent? But switching costs you your turn...

Although it may not sound like from that last paragraph, the fighting in Pokemon is one-on-one, turn-based. Your Pokemon can bear up to four different techniques. Half of these will cause little to massive damage on your opponent's health bar and sometimes add in a status ailment such as paralysis or confusion just to be cruel. The other half will cause a myriad of effects, sometimes increasing your statistics, sometimes hindering your opponent's capabilities, and some other neat uses.

As mentioned above, stats play a big role in Pokemon, just like in every RPG. Some Pokemon are dual-types, which means they have double duty on the type chart. There's plenty of combinations, such as Grass/Poison, Ground/Rock, and Dragon/Flying. There are 15 types in the game. Each technique also has a type attached to it, but this is only relevant if that particular technique causes damage.

Additionally, you have your standard RPG stats: Attack decides how much damage your physical techniques cause, while Defense states how much punishment your monster can take. Speed is the factor in choosing which Pokemon goes first, while Special decides both your attacking and defending capabilities from elemental attacks. The Special stat, I'm sorry to say, causes a huge unbalance in the game, as it does double duty. Any Pokemon that strikes with elemental attacks well is almost impossible to penetrate with them, so Pokemon with high Special and average stats otherwise have a huge advantage over Pokemon with high Attack/Defense/Speed and average stats otherwise.

There are many, many more complexities in the battle system, but listing them would prove only one thing: the learning curve is a bit too steep for the casual gamer, but seasoned RPG players should be able to hop on and have a blast. Put simply, Pokemon is fun. Fighting enemy trainers, Gym Leaders, and the ultimate Pokemon League masters is a blast and never gets old. The non-linearity of the game allows for many choices of what to do next. But your goal is always clear; if there's a bad guy blocking the Gym, invade their hideout! Thirsty guard? Grab him a soda! The game's pacing is absolutely flawless; you know exactly how far you are into the game at any given point, new events and twists pop up whenever things start to get dull, and a former friend (now rival) of yours battles you several times throughout your adventure.

Probably the biggest contributor in the go-anywhere, do-anything nature of the Pokemon is your complete freedom in choosing the proper Pokemon party. After receiving your first Poke Balls, you can walk through tall grass and caves to find random Pokemon encounters. After wearing down these Pokemon until they have a tiny little sliver of health left, throw a ball at them.

Captured.

One wiggle.

Two wiggles.

Three wiggles.

Silence.

The ball's color darkens. The monster is yours.

Such is the suspense of capturing Pokemon. Now, go kick the snot out of some Gym Leaders.

Your trials are not over after acquiring the eight Gym Badges; you must then journey to the Indigo Plateau and show the resident challengers there who's boss. One by one, you defeat them, and reach their leader. This leader is the master of the ultimate Pokemon type, and the bearer of one helluva catchy tune.

Which brings up the subject of sound. The music in Pokemon is, put simply, excellent. Each of the four battle tunes will stick in your head long after you've heard them. The overworld (which is fully fleshed out, unlike most RPGs) themes are less memorable, but still suit their environment well. The town themes repeat themselves constantly, but are easily hummable as well.

Nonetheless, it's difficult to concentrate on the music when the Gym Leaders are handing their asses to you. The difficulty in Pokemon is sporadic and uneven. The sixth Gym Leader is easily the hardest battle in the game, while the fifth and seventh are some of the simplest. Some trainers have ridiculously powerful Pokemon during early portions of the game (Raticate with Hyper Fang, Lv. 16, in Mt. Moon? Ugh...), while the final battle of the game is only marginally difficult. This is probably the biggest flaw of the game.

While the simplistic graphics and happy-go-lucky feel to Pokemon may turn some people off, let it be known that this is an incredible game, and the best RPG on any handheld. While not quite at the level of quality as its sequel, Pokemon is an awesome game in its own right, and anyone with a Game Boy would be insane not to pick this up.

Besides, we all know there's a lot to love in the franchise behind all of the Pokemon underwear.


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 04/14/03, Updated 04/14/03


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