Pokémon LeafGreen review
Cool, now I don't need nostalgia goggles to enjoy Red and Blue
The idea of remaking anything is something that's often met with disapproval, and for very good reason. More often than not, a remake is devised, often citing money and a lack of creativity under the guise of “improving the classic, making it more up to date” as reasons for doing such a thing. Admittedly, there are some remakes that do succeed over their originals like the remake of the first Resident Evil for the Gamecube, but more often than not, they feel less refreshing and more like corporate greed at its finest. Having said that, I was ecstatic for a remake of Pokemon Red and Blue because despite having found enjoyment in the originals back in the day, they sure feel archaic and plain horrible after playing Pokemon Ruby. That's not to mention that people were pretty damn upset over not being able to transfer their Pokemon from the Game Boy games over to Ruby and Sapphire. So to basically remake the old games using the same engine as the then-new games and give people the option to transfer the Kanto Pokemon to their Ruby/Sapphie save files is something worth being excited about.
The wait was most certainly worth it. Pokemon FireRed and LeafGreen was what Game Freak wanted to make originally, but couldn't due to time and budget constraints. Originally, Pokemon was lucky to even be considered for retail purchasing as Nintendo wasn't too keen on the idea of a simplistic RPG with the “gotta catch em all” motif on the then-dying Game Boy. Due to this, the original versions, although playable, were glitchy, ugly and had that feeling of being unfinished. With these remakes comes a more complete package full of polish and a generally fuller experience. It's due to this and everything the originals had right in the first place that makes this a worthwhile purchase. It's far from perfect, especially considering that this essentially relies on a mix of nostalgia and willingness to play a more refined version of a vastly outdated classic, but it's still full of fun times.
However, the charm that comes with a simplistic, underdeveloped story is still there. You're a young trainer who has essentially just acquired their first Pokemon and must make the journey around the region of Kanto in order to acquire the eight badges, compete in the Pokemon League and capture every single Pokemon. On the side, you'll have to deal with the crime syndicate, Team Rocket, who sell bootleg Pokemon to the highest bidders while finding a means of taking over the world. Outside of the Black & White games, I've always questioned why the main Pokemon games place more importance on making it to the Pokemon League than on stopping the destruction of the world, but here, I can definitely see why Team Rocket plays second fiddle to being a Pokemon master – the worst that they can do is steal and sell Pokemon. You're a kid who just so happens to be meddling in their affairs at specific moments throughout your journey. That's really all that there is to it. Yes, the other games have better writing, but it's not until Diamond and Pearl when they would utilize it best and as a result, this one is just plain better.
From a theoretical standpoint, the general aesthetic of Pokemon LeafGreen is no different from what's in Ruby and Sapphire – that is to say, it's got a fair amount of detail and the sprites and environments are detailed. Mind you, animations squarely consist of your character and other humans take steps in an overheaded view and perhaps the Pokemon sprites jump around when they're released from their Poke Balls, but let's tackle what we have here rather than wish for something more. In execution, not is all as rosy as it sounds as the sprites have more jagged edges than what you'd expect from a Game Boy Advance game and really, not much is done to excite you. Granted, that's a given when it comes to Pokemon's graphics in general, but at the same time, Ruby and Sapphire are far more appealing on a visual front than LeafGreen due to there being more visual variety and more colorful, detailed locales while this is only somewhat colorful and detailed.
When it comes to the sound design however, it's very clear that 8 bit games have different goals from 16 bit games in terms of aesthetics – while both are typically simple in scope, 16 bit soundtracks are typically bigger in scope than 8 bit soundtracks. Sadly, Pokemon LeafGreen's rerecorded soundtrack comes across as two midgets in a giant trenchcoat. The sound quality is somewhat crispier and less rough around the edges, but that's about all that this has on the original soundtrack. Otherwise, it actually feels rather subdued in execution, significantly less bombastic than what you'd expect from this format and there seems to be thinner, less bassy sound to it than what's acceptable for a Game Boy Advance game - as a result, even without nostalgia goggles, I find myself preferring the original soundtrack as that had more of a kick to it. In its defense, it still sounds good and can either energize you during battle or keep you calm while in the various towns and across the sea. But the less than stellar bass and lack of bombast is what keeps it from being a great soundtrack.
Where this remake has any real purpose is in the refined gameplay. Much like the graphics engine, the gameplay engine is in line with what you had experienced in Ruby and Sapphire. Besides the fact that you can now go through the Celadon Gym without the need to worry about the infamous Wrap glitch that was present in first generation games, you can use HM moves whenever you press A while running into whatever you can use said HM moves on (for instance, you can have a Pokemon that can use the Surf attack in your party of six to carry you across a body of water), there are categories for items which means it's harder to exceed the 20 unique item limit, and it doesn't take a five month long odyssey through a series of menus and saves in order to use a PC to manage the Pokemon that you've captured. There are also natures imported from Ruby and Sapphire, which determines which statitistic an individual Pokemon excels in and another statistic it doesn't do so well in compared to completely neutral, non-natured Pokemon, unless they have natures that keep their stats neutral, so it at least gives some variables if you were to capture two Pidgeys or whatever. Due to all of these, it feels infinitely more playable than the original Red and Blue games.
However, for those who have been on Mars for the past 16 years in a cave with their eyes shut and fingers in their ears, that may not be enough to establish a purchase of this game. Pokemon in general revolves around capturing Pokemon and using them in battle, whether it's against a random trainer, a gym leader or a criminal who will be more than willing to step aside if you defeat him in a Pokemon battle – no, I do not wish to explain how that makes any kind of sense... it's *bleep*ing Pokemon, what is this logic you keep speaking of?! Capturing these critters involves running into them either in tall grass or inside dungeons (usually caves) and throwing a Poke Ball or a similar capturing object at them. It's better to whittle their health down and inflicting a status condition such a paralysis (with a 50% of them not attacking at all) just makes things all that much sweeter. Once you capture a Pokemon, you'll be able to use it in battle. You can only carry six at a time, so if you capture a Pokemon and you already have six in your party, they'll be transferred to the PC. I could never fathom why you cannot capture a fainted Pokemon and always found it to be a rather tedious challenge to have to whittle them down to a low amount of HP to ensure that they're captured, especially the further along you go when you'll be a lot stronger and the wild Pokemon can't quite keep up.
Pokemon battles revolve around a rock paper scissors system where a type of attack – that consisting of Fire, Water, Grass and other types – can either deal neutral, double or half damage, depending on the type of Pokemon it's being delivered to. On the topic of types, while the prospect of a Fire type only having Fire type moves sounds sweeter as attacks that happen to be the same type as the user gain a 150% power boost, variety is king as Pokemon who can resist Fire type attacks are going to be a nightmare. Statistics also play a huge part in battle as some Pokemon are better for swift attacks such as Primeape and Alakazam, while others are more physically inclined (that is to say, they have plenty of physical attack and defense) like Rhydon, and some are meant to withstand hits such as Snorlax and Hypno. Sadly, given that this was made during the third generation, the physical/special split that occurred in the fourth generation hasn't come into effect, so types also determine what kind of attack they are – Rock, Ground and Fighting attacks are physical, for instance, while Psychic, Fire and Water are all considered special attacks. Not to mention that even three generations in, some types get the short end of the stick - Dragon, Flying and Rock type Pokemon either have very few attacks or a bunch of weak attacks that require them to either rely on their secondary types or a wide assortment of attacks that compliment their statistics; meanwhile, given that Ghost attacks are still physical and Ghost Pokemon are more specially inclined, you'd think they'd rely on Dark attacks to keep these pesky Psychic Pokemon at bay - sadly, Dark attacks are all but non existent outside of a meagre Crunch attack that few Pokemon from the first generation can learn. Speaking of Psychics, I'm grateful that they either have terrible defenses or are more defensive than offensive to keep them in balance - otherwise, it'd be a repeat of Pokemon Red where they're more powerful than God. Keeping all of this in mind is key to not only constructing one good Pokemon, but a team of six good Pokemon. Considering their strengths while keeping a check on their weaknesses is key to a successful team.
Sadly however, I'm making it sound a hell of a lot more complicated than it really is. Perhaps the metagame is more complicated (tediously so, I'd imagine), but the adventure you embark on in LeafGreen is rather easy. The battle system is easy to get the hang of and checking up on their stats is easy enough. The only tricky thing is going back to the archaic “type determines physical/special attack” system present in the first three generations after playing through the last two, but generally speaking, there are enough trainers to keep your Pokemon from being underlevelled and underpowered against the gym leaders. This, for the most part, does eliminate grinding, although if you're in a habit to train every Pokemon you can, this may make things trickier than necessary. The difficulty curve is like a slippery slope with the end that seems to be made out of a halfpipe – indeed, the first few gyms are tricky, but the next batch are very easy if you keep a somewhat varied team with somewhat varied movesets, with only the Elite Four and Champion presenting any challenge.
The AI isn't completely braindead as they do know to hit you with a move that has an advantage over your Pokemon or can cause trouble in general, but the movesets don't really cover their other Pokemon outside of maybe a weather attack – MAYBE. Beyond this, the game is easy because not a whole lot of thought was put into the movesets of the opponents' Pokemon, not even the gym leaders. Granted, the appeal of any given Pokemon game is to trade and battle your Pokemon with/against friends who are infinitely smarter than the computer trainers – especially since its chief appeal was to export generation 1 Pokemon into Ruby and Sapphire - but this shouldn't be an excuse to skimp out on effort in regards to a single player campaign. Thankfully, Game Freak did improve on this with the main fourth and fifth generation games, but man, did it take a while for that to happen...
Nevertheless, Pokemon LeafGreen's main ambition was to be a playable version of the original games after the advancements in the formula set by the games made after said original games made them virtually unplayable. In that sense, it succeeds. But oh boy, it shows how underwhelming the first generation really was without a pair of nostalgia goggles. The plot only really works if you ignore it, the game is almost criminally easy for all the wrong reasons from the second – maybe third – gym until the Elite Four, and really, nothing about the actual adventure is noteworthy in any way. At the same time, raising Pokemon could not have been any more fun to do due to the variety of ways you could build up a solid team and despite the easiness of battling, it's still fun due to an easy and intuitive battle system, plus the satisfaction that comes from raising a solid team. Perhaps that last point sounded like a cop out and as if I'm softening the blow, but the singular aim of any given game is to be the least bit fun, and hey, this is fun. It has some underwhelming aspects, but it makes up for it with its general play mechanics and the feeling of raising a solid team of Pokemon.
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