Review by VCBlue

""Innovation""

Welcome to the world of Pokemon! In this game, you star as ''Ash'' (an original name that you can customize), and your goal is to become the ultimate Pokemon master! To fill in for what seems like such a basic story concept in my opinion, Nintendo and Game Freak have created a unique and brilliant game concept that ultimately makes this one a *lot* of fun to play.

This is a role-playing game. The game is generally designed like most classic old-school RPGs, in which you are given an overhead view of your character, houses, as well as town strangers (another familiarity to old RPGs). The game starts off with your character heading off to Professor Oak's house (professor of Pokemon, of course), where he gives you a choice of choosing one of three different Pokemon to begin your ''ultimate'' quest - Charmander, the fire-based pokemon, Bulbasaur, the grass-based pokemon, and Squirtle, the water-based pokemon. Straight away, the game gives you a choice of making decisions that will ultimately affect your quest. For you see, the game's structure is highly based on elements. This part of having to choose your starting pokemon is a plus for the game - especially for the many others who got involved in this craze, it will be interesting and exciting to combat your starting choices against your friend's.

This ''ultimate'' quest is truly comprised of gaining eight ''badges'' that will allow you access to the Pokemon League. In this ''League'', you will battle four highly skilled Pokemon trainers known as the ''Elite Four'', and upon victory you will ''complete'' your quest as the ''Pokemon Master''. Interesting, no? The basic idea of this game revolves around moving from one town to the next, with a dungeon or cave generally lying in between the two. The badges that give you access to the ''League'' are gained by defeating ''Gym Leaders'', which are found, one each, in 8 towns around the game. Of course, you don't have the choice of choosing which town to visit first - there are generally barriers that prevent you from advancing in the game unless certain tasks are completed.

In my opinion, this quest idea is only a cover for the highly addictive battle system featured in this game. The game features random battles, where you battle wild pokemon from a third-person view. The battle screen gives you four options: ATTACK, ITEM, POKEMON, and RUN. ''ATTACK'' allows you to choose a maximum of four attacks for your pokemon to use. Of course, your pokemon will start off with less and will learn more as it levels up. POKEMON allows you to switch between pokemon (using up one turn, however).

Pokemon are given a certain ''level'' as in most RPGs, as well as hit points (HP) and a limit as well for the number of times they may use a certain attack. Pokemon gain experience for participation in battle, as well as money for the trainer.

The idea of random battles with wild pokemon is further complicated by your quest itself - to collect as many pokemon as possible! There are 150 pokemon to catch in the game, and the game's shops sell items called ''poke-balls'' that are used to catch wild pokemon - adding them to your collection, where you can train them to become part of your team. The game allows you to carry a maximum of six pokemon, whereafter you must then deposit pokemon into pokemon PCs. By catching new pokemon, you'll be able to create an awesome team to use against others.

The game is heavily focused on catching pokemon and training them to a high level. Other than random battles, the game includes encounters with other pokemon trainers, where you then battle their trained pokemon with your own! Of course, you cannot catch other trainer's pokemon. The game also involves an ''element'' system that makes the beginning choice of your pokemon truly significant. Pokemon attacks do more or less depending on the element of their attack - for example, Charmander's fire attack will generally do *significantly* more to a grass-based pokemon, than to a water-based pokemon. I mentioned ''significant'' as the game makes an important use of elements.

Another interesting factor about this game is that once pokemon ''level up'' to a certain point, they have the choice of ''evolving'' into a further stage (thus increasing their stats). While this may seem like a definitive yes for the trainer, it's interesting to note how pokemon will have different stats, depending on whether they've evolved or not. For example, a level 60 Charmander may have a lower strength than that of a level 60 Charizard (the 3rd stage of Charmander), but it may also have a higher agility stat. This entire system is complex - but almost *perfect*, in my opinion.

What do I mean? Nintendo decided that because the game involves battles between trainers, it would also be a good idea to have battles between actual *players* of Pokemon. Using a link cable, you'll be able to battle a friend's set of pokemon - and the fact that you're only allowed a team of six truly adds another level of depth - one that forces you to train a group of pokemon that will be ready for any type of ''element'' that the opponent decides to attack with. Remember the significance of ''elements''? Be ready for it here. This aspect of the game is a definitive standout, and I praise Nintendo's work on it.

One interesting aspect of the game is the difficulty and challenge level of catching all 150 pokemon. Certain pokemon are only found in the Red version, and vice versa for the Blue version. As well, some pokemon are extremely easy to find in the Blue version, while the same pokemon may be extremely rare to find in Red version. This has definitely added a high level of replayability to the game - especially since the three pokemon to choose from in the beginning cannot be found elsewhere!

Determining a difficulty level for Pokemon is hard to do. Different strategies will give different results in the end - will you train one pokemon to level 50, or four pokemon to level 30 each? One flaw about this game is the number of pokemon trainer encounters in the game - in between towns, whether you're in a dungeon or on a road, your path will generally be *swarmed* with trainers that automatically notice and then force you to battle. For example, I ended up facing 12 trainers once - and while I suppose it is a unique alternative for random battles (if they intended it to be that way), I find it simply easier to carry out the concept of training your pokemon as much as possible, and then progressing without fighting at all. After all, it's interesting to note how the game has grassy and non-grassy areas, where random battles are encountered *only* when you're on the grass. Overall, the high ''trainer'' encounter is an annoying aspect that Nintendo will hopefully fix in future Pokemon titles (see Pokemon Gold/Silver).

Another flaw in this game is the absolute lack of a plot. There are *no* plot twists, whatsoever - the game is, like stated, composed of heading to each town to get badges, going to the dungeon that eventually leads to the next town, and then eventually facing off against the Pokemon League leaders. The dungeons are very typical as well - it's basically start to finish.

One thing the game does try to do, however, is employ a system called ''HM and TM''. HMs are certain abilities that you can teach your pokemon (although they become part of the 4 moves they're limited to). Some dungeons and parts of the games require you to use these abilities to advance. One example is using ''SURF'' to get to another area surrounded by water. This was smart of Nintendo and Game Freak, as the blandness of dungeon crawling in this game was just too much.

TMs, however, are different. They're abilities as well, but they do not aid in advancing the game. Instead, they're attacks that can be taught to pokemon as part of the battle system. They can be taught to any pokemon, and help in the strategic battle factor of the game. What I mean is that you can teach ''Lightning'' to a fire-based pokemon using a TM, so that it can fight better against a water-based pokemon. While there are limits to which TM abilities you can teach to different pokemon, there are many interesting abilities that you can teach (to Pokemon that seem very distant from such abilities!) This TM system is another plus of the game, and adds more to the already addictive battle system.

Which is to say, of course, that Pokemon is an extremely *fun* game to play. The battle system definitely serves as a definitive factor and the main reason to play the game --- battling friends also adds another level of gameplay.

Lastly, another neat gem in this game is the ability to trade pokemon. Of course, in order to collect all 150 pokemon, you must gain access to another friend's cartridge to gain access to the pokemon that you cannot get. This itself can serve as the purpose of the game, and in my opinion, served as another reason to play the game. Talk about replayability!

Pokemon is not a game for graphics. However, the towns are fairly detailed (you can see the bricks that comprise each building, as well as light grass on town grounds), and the pokemon animations resemble their cartoon versions almost perfectly. The graphics help aid the random battles as well - the third-person view you get of your pokemon facing the opposing pokemon, along with the two energy bars and the small menu screen on the bottom is definitely adequate, if not ''non-annoying'' (if that's a word).

One of the gripes in Pokemon is the sound - the battle theme, for example, starts with a ''frenzy-like'' sound which actually becomes a frenzy - especially since you can expect at least a thousand random battles before reaching the end of the game. Some of the dungeons create a ''dark'' theme that comes out more as annoying - and whenever you run into a trainer (who then opts to battle you), a (''I just noticed you!'')-like annoying sound comes on. Considering how many trainer battles occur in the game, it can only get even more frustrating. Fortunately, one of the things Pokemon provides (non-audio related) is the ability to save anywhere you want. This is very helpful, because having to venture so far only to ''black out'' (as the game calls it) can cause a great deal of frustration. With ''blacking out'' in mind, it's interesting that in Pokemon, whenever all of your pokemon are defeated in battle, you don't ''die'' - you're transferred to the closest pokemon center (where depositing and ''free'' healing of your pokemon is also done - there's one in every town!). Luckily, these features make up for what can become ''annoying audio'' at times.

And perhaps it's the innovation of Pokemon that made it such a success in the first place. Being able to ''catch'' creatures, and to train them - this game started it all. It's a concept such as this that only makes myself want to say, Pokemon, I choose you! ...It's in the show.

Pros
+ Very addictive battle system
+ Addictive quest to 150 pokemon
+ Very innovative

Cons
- Battle/Trainer Battle themes get repetitious
- Trainer battles get repetitious
- Lack of plot

Overall: 9.4 / 10 (9 / 10)


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 08/28/03


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