7.8

Pokémon Gold review
Almost Gold Standard

Summary:

When pokemon first appeared on the humble Gameboy nobody could have anticipated the sheer magnitude of the craze that would follow. Red, Blue and Yellow became must-haves despite critical flaws in their design. Years later, while the franchise was still enjoying its popularity high, Game Freak brought around the much sought sequels. Could Gold (and Silver) build upon the success of the originals and address the problems within?

The visuals kick off by taking full advantage of the better hardware to deliver a colour experience that simply was not possible with the older games. No longer are monsters limited to a set of green shades but instead benefit from a more diverse colour palette. The land itself also benefits from this, and while the variation isn't as impressive as many home console titles it is a most welcome step up from the first set of games. Rare "shiny" versions have also been programmed into the game, but with the exception of the Lake of Rage Gyarados the chance of meeting these is so ridiculously low that it doesn't seem all that worth it.

Colour is not the only improvement. Sprites, inparticularly those used in battle, are several grades higher than before. The front sprites alone are clearly much better designed, with the monsters more closely resembling the official art, and the finer details show through better. The back sprites have received the biggest improvement, going from the unrecognisable messes that hardly looked like the pokemon from the first games to much more accurate portrayals in this generation.

The overworld uses many of the sprites from before but given a GBC lick of paint. It is a bit minimalistic for what might be expected but they serve a good purpose of crafting some nice locations in Johto. It is good seeing different areas like the frigid Ice Path and the vast Lake of Rage. The time feature also means that different lighting is used depending on when in the day it is and that is a nice touch.

Some areas, unfortunately, have not seen some much needed advancements. The main offender is the battle sequences of the game, where Pokemon are still represented purely by static sprites. Animation is limited to sprite flickering and shaking, but that's hardly an impressive feat. Yes, the GBC can't do too much and there are 251 monsters to worry about, but that doesn't help to alleviate the disappointment.

The music is quite good given the limits presented. The beeps and bops of the soundtrack are arranged into some rather pleasant overworld tunes along with those classic Kanto tracks we all love. What stands out especially is the battle music, which is certainly in-keeping with the tense nature one would expect for epic battles between supernatural monsters to have.

The story is mostly built from the old one with some modifications. You are once again a young boy on his way to becoming a Pokemon master and must at various points thwart the criminal activities of the evil Team Rocket, who have risen from the ashes to have another go. Compared to their original appearance, this Team Rocket lacks a certain spark and the end of that plot point feels like it didn't have much of a resolution. Otherwise it's a fine tale to give you an excuse to traipse across two regions, and seeing a bunch of returning faces is a real treat, even if some of it feels a lot like retreading old ground.

It's great to see the various shout outs to players of the old games. They're subtle but there is more than enough to make you stop and go "oh, that is like the thing in R/B/Y". This is a nice touch.

As per usual in RPGs you have gameplay split between exploration and battle. This time the game gives two regions to explore - the new location of Johto and a cut down revisit to Kanto from the original games. As well as providing a huge nostalgia bonus this generally means there is a lot of ground (and sea water) to cover. Fans may be a little disappointed to note that some locations in Kanto have been cut entirely or reduced in size considerably (places like Seafoam Islands and Viridian Forest are pretty much gone entirely) but there is still enough to make it feel awesome.

Routes between places tend to be filled with trainers waiting to challenge you in addition to all the wild pokemon. For the most part this provides a nice set of things to do on the road. Sometimes it can get a bit much though. Mainly I found it most problematic on sea routes, since a couple of my team were already rendered fairly useless by the over specialisation of the opponent trainers it put more pressure on consuming more healing items than usual and hoping my PP would hold out. At least this game provides more accessible means of restoring PP when in the middle of a route unlike the limited supply of such items previously.

Wild pokemon encounters are mostly the same deal as before. Walking through grass, caves or surfing along sea routes can randomly trigger a wild pokemon battle, where you can fight for experience or flee if your team's health and/or PP is low or you just don't want to fight. For grass areas this works out fine, as you can try to dive between non-grassy areas should you wish to avoid monsters. In caves and sea routes however this is still a bit of an issue, where there is literally no safe zones and you can have monsters jumping out at you every 2-3 steps. Repels can help to keep the near endless streams of zubats at bay, but that sinks a rather big hole in your finances given their limited duration. Post game this really doesn't matter, but during the story it can be a bit of a pain.

Exploration is encouraged in these games, as you can find enclosed areas or entire locations with treasures and new pokemon just waiting for you. Trekking to the end of that dark cave area and snagging a rare pokemon provides a great sense of accomplishment. Some areas will pose some interesting puzzles as well, like pushing boulders around in a certain manner to open the next path.

During the game though you will have to make use of HM moves. These are moves taught via an infinite use special machine that have both a battle effect and a field effect. Cut deals normal damage in battle and removes small trees in the field. These are used to initially limit your available routes and then open them slowly as you earn the right to use them (via collecting gym badges). This is a good way to open places slowly but the system itself is still awkward. Having a HM move means taking up one of your limited attack slots and some of these attacks simply are not good ones to have. GF also decided to increase the number of HMs for these games, making the issue worse than before.

A time system was introduced here, which is often considered one of the best additions for good reason. The game keeps track of the current day and time and adjusts events accordingly. Pokemon encounter rates differ depending on the time of day, like Hoothoot can only be found at night. Certain events also occur on specific days, like the bug catching contest that is held on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Berries also exist, which respawn on trees each day, and are used for healing pokemon. There's a wealth of things affected by this and it is a cool concept to have.

Battles in the game are conducted in turn based one on one format. Each side sends out a pokemon. If you chose to fight then you can pick from four moves to use. These moves will depend on the pokemon and what moves have been taught to them, which can be gained in a variety of ways such as merely levelling up to using a TM on them. The limit does make you think careful about the set you want to go with.
Attack moves are simply ones designed to cause damage, but may trigger a second effect like dropping the enemy defences. Support moves tend not to cause damage directly but instead work to inflict a status ailment, such as a burn or sleep, or to affect stats of a pokemon. Several new support moves, like Rain Dance, work to affect the field conditions instead, with this move boosting water moves but lowering fire moves for all pokemon. This is an interesting addition that can allow your members of the team to support each other even though they can't be on the field at the same time.

Every pokemon is classed as a type or types. Every move is also assigned a type. These are used for determining the damage multiplier applied to attacks. A water type attack hitting a fire type, for example, would have its damage doubled, but hitting a grass type with the same move would halve the damage. The game therefore encourages a surprisingly amount of strategical thinking by ensuring you're maximizing on the damage you're doing. Also, the type matchups have receiving several critical changes to make them much more balanced along with the new move additions. Psychic pokemon are no longer so ridiculously overpowered thanks largely to the addition of the dark and steel types. Bug types are no longer so weak. These were much needed changes and most welcome.

There's also been a change to the mechanics that is significant enough to mention. Pokemon generally have two sets of "attacking" stats, split between physical and special. If a physical attack is used then the physical stats are used in damage calculation while special stats are ignored. For special attacks the opposite happens. In R/B/Y the special stat was just one singular figure for a pokemon, but now they have been split into special attack and special defence. In all honesty, this should have been like it from the first games, but it is good to see them address this issue.

Players can opt to switch their pokemon for another in their team, but doing so uses up a turn so this has to be a last resort option. Then their is the run option to flee from wild pokemon, although fairly useless in trainer battles.

The item system in this game has seen a major overhaul too. This time the bag has been split into multiple pockets to better categorize them. No longer are key items and TMs mixed in with your healing and battle items, and it makes it so much easier to find what you are looking for. Additionally the item limit in the bag no only affects those in the primary pocket, which means you can safely carry those key items and the like without worrying about running out of room.

In terms of items many have returned, such as potions for restoring HP or vitamins for boosting stats in a certain area. There are two new types to bring particular attention too. First are the aforementioned berries, which are mainly used to restore a pokemon in some way and act like freebies if you go pluck them regularly. Then there is holding items. Yes, Pokemon can now be given an item to hold before battle. Giving them man made stuff like potions won't help as they won't know what to do with it, but a lot of stuff is specifically designed to have an effect when hold. Berries are automatically consumed or certain things like the sharp beak increase a Pokemon's abilities when held. This adds an extra dimension to proceedings.

Opponent AI seems to have improved. Wild pokemon still fire off random attacks, although this seems like an intentional move given that these pokemon don't have a trainer to give directions and so this works fine. Trainers now seem to be able to read battles and use more appropriate attacks. No longer will you see an Elite 4 member ordering their full health Dewgong to use rest. It's not perfect and savvy players can still lead them into obvious traps but it is a significant improvement.

That said, the difficulty isn't notably high or anything. Elite 4 levels are relatively low, and while this may be due to the post game content of Kanto it does mean being able to plough through them easier than the title of "Elite 4" would lead you to believe.

Of course, you can't fight without a team, and Pokemon has a rather clever "recruitment" method. You're given your first pokemon and then once you get hold of some pokeballs you can catch more. You do this by weakening a pokemon by dropping their health and inflicting a status ailment, which causes the capture chance to increase. As you reach new areas move pokemon appear and give you a chance to add them to your team. You are limited to 6 pokemon on your active team, and any extra are stored in a PC that can be accessed from any pokecenter. Pokemon are sometimes acquired through other means too, such as getting them as gifts from NPCs.

The game also allows you to trade with a friend so you can exchange pokemon. This is in fact encouraged, as certain pokemon are exclusive to certain versions and traded pokemon grow faster. Game Freak even managed to work compatibility in with the old games via the time machine, allowing you to trade over pokemon exclusive to the original set of games. Of course, there is a slight smell of greed in the air, as you need to ensure you know people with at least the opposite Gen 2 game and a Gen 1 game in order to truely catch them all.

So what can I say? Many pokefans have fond memories of this generation for a very good reason. Pokemon Gold (and Silver) not only built upon the foundations already laid done but addressed numerous problems present. What we got was an excellent RPG unlike anything by other companies and certainly worth your time.

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Quixotic Dec 5, 10
This is a very thorough review. You explained the various aspects of the game with great detail. I enjoyed reading it. Good job, Insanity Prevails.
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