Saturday, October 17, 2009

The final Heart Gold/Soul Silver review

If a Pokemon game's story can justify a spoiler warning, there will be spoilers. Viewer discretion is advised. This review may contain language that may be offensive to young children and 2nd gen fanboys.

When starting Diamond and Pearl, the player is greeted by a television report discussing a Red Gyarados. The minute this was revealed, the speculation for a GSC remake went from non-existant to ludricrous speed. Nostalgia blinded everyone to the flawed execution of the second generation games and ??? was promoted as some sort of good character.

This wouldn't be the first time this phenomenon was observed amongst the hoi paloi of the Internet Pokemon Community (IPC) - after all, we saw this same pattern played out after Ruby and Sapphire's release with Fire Red and Leaf Green. The key difference is that in the 3rd generation, the remake was followed up by a canonical 3rd version for the true 3rd gen games (Emerald for Ruby and Sapphire) which was a superior experience in practically every area. The same thing happened in the 4th generation, except they got the order backwards and put the best game of the generation out before they put out the remake.

That isn't to say that Heart Gold and Soul Silver are bad games, but once you've had Scizor it's hard to go back to Heracross. What remains is what 2nd generation should've been crossed with a 5th generation tech demo.

The Interface
The first striking difference is that the games have moved practically everything to the DS's touchscreen in addition to the traditional button controls. After some experiementation, the best control method is setting L=A in the options at the start and using the left hand for movement/confirmation with all other functions on the stylus in the overworld.

The issues come in if you've been using the traditional controls for moving Pokemon around the boxes. It doesn't take any more button presses to move a Pokemon from the party to a box, but when swapping a Pokemon - say, from a party to the box and vice versa - instead of being held in reserve, the Pokemon swap spots automatically. And yes, there are enough HM spots that you will have to navigate HM mules again.

The boxes are the only major problem with the new interface, though. It's easy to roll through the Pokedex, and the item menu can go from front to back in about 15 seconds with a full inventory because you can skip through them 6 at a time and touch the one you need right away. The only changes I'd like to see implented in 5th gen is have encounter rates built into the Pokedex and subdivide evolution/battle items.

The World
Pokemon has basically been running the same storyline since 1995, and only in Platinum did they go beyond and bring in a truly villianous character in Cyrus. The main problem I had with the original games after the 40th playthrough is one I've harped on before - because they decided to bring in two continents, both continents are compressed to hell.

Now that the games are on gigabit DS cards, there was the chance to bring in far more content for both continents. The additions - the Pokethlon, Safari Zone and an actual dungeon for the Seafoam Islands - were OK, but I still wanted more. And when they should have gone with higher levels all around for Gym Leaders, they only raised half of them by 1 level and actually lowered the levels for the rest or changed Pokemon to be less difficult. Kanto went up a bit all around, but Red took back his crown as "highest leveled trainer in existence" with a L88 rat and there's still an insane amount of grinding required unless you hop your clock around like a madman to set up the Gym rematches.

One thing that deserves credit is the expansion of the Safari Zone. Almost every Johto-debuting Pokemon is now obtainable prior to the Elite 4 - though the apparent abject hatred of the Dark type continues, as neither Sneasel or Houndour is in there. You'll have to spend at least 110 days (or 2 hours resetting the DS clock) to get everything out of it. Oh, and have fun catching something with a catch rate of 3 with Safari Balls (here's a hint: There's an ingame trade post-game, use that. It's a lot easier to get another Forretress and trade it for Beldum).

The main thing I blatantly ignored in Platinum was the contests - staying with the 3rd generation ones would have been just fine, thanks - and they've been thrown out for the Pokethlon minigames. All told, they're a fun distraction and you do have the urge to keep playing them to fix a major problem with the originals (the lack of evolution stones). The hurdles game is an overhead version of Stadium 2's "Run, Rattata! Run" minigame, but my personal favourite was the snowball fight.

There was a bit of legendary overload in this game, though - largely because of the decision to eliminate the need for the GBA slot. Did we really need the birds again, when we just got them in Platinum? I find it hard to believe they stuck a standard encounter in these games just to placate the competitive players. If they were doing that, all three of the gerbils and the Latis would be standard encounters instead of roaming.

The additional legendaries and mingames provide a bunch of quick distractions, but there's still not enough story meat. Platinum is fun to roll through (except for the damn snowfield), but HG and SS are chores. There's two Rocket dungeons, and that's it. Could unlocking the alternate Lati and the bonus fight requiring a fateful encounter Celebi have changed my mind? Probably. At the very least, throw a bone to Kanto aside from the "restore the power" quest. It's 10 minutes tops and serves a redundant purpose now that you can fly to Indigo Plateau and go right from there to anywhere in Johto.

Even the most addictive postgame content - the Battle Frontier - is basically a copy/paste from Platinum with the HG/SS tutors and learnset changes added. I'm not sure if this is was planned or if they were going to change other things around and ran out of time prior to release. Either way, they could have held off on this for a week to change a few of the Frontier Brains around.

Then again, this is the same game that thought a String Shot tutor was a good idea.

The developers ensured this game would be harder with the split of physical and special moves and the punches being tutored at the Battle Frontier. Unlike GSC, Kadabra/Alakazam isn't a god and Mareep is nearly unusable without the availability of Fire Punch. This of course, cripples those who started with Cyndaquil. At launch, I was quoted on a prominent messageboard (GAF) as saying the starters went "1) Totodile, 2) Cyndaquil, 3) sharked L100 Magikarp with just Splash, 4) Chikorita". After using all three for a runthrough, I'd knock out the Magikarp as the gap has closed between Cyndaquil and Chikorita - by Cyndaquil's extremely limited movepool and Chikorita learning just the right moves and HMs to serve two purposes ingame.

Fire is one of my favourite types, and I always get disappointed when I can't use a good Fire ingame - so I was severly let down after going from Platinum (Infernape! Houndoom! Magmortar! Huzzah!) to Cyndaquil (physical Fire moves and Swift make up the majority of his movepool, and his Attack pales in comparison to his SA), Magmar and the version type until you get Ho-oh. (Like Shannon Tweed, Flareon is never the right answer).

Totodile is probably the easiest starter of the bunch, and it even makes the Red Gyarados somewhat obsolete except for HM muling. However, I must warn you - the Arceus event is being distributed in November, and if you use it to unlock one of the DPP mascots, you WILL break the game if you use it at the first opportunity. Because the first opportunity is "the minute you walk into Violet City", and they become able to fight for themselves at about level 3. Plus, they learn their entire natural movepool by L46, including Aura Sphere and Earth Power. And they come with items that give them 20% bonuses to everything they already get type bonus for.

You end up relying on the dragon with backup from Geodude and a starter because the rest of the ingame Pokemon kinda sorta BLOW. Pidgey and Hoothoot, I met Starly. Starly was my friend. Starly tore apart Diamond, Pearl and Platinum. You, Pidgey and Hoothoot, are no Starly. Furret is the poor man's Rattata, and Soul Silver players are at a severe disadvantage because they don't have Growlithe (best non-Cyndaquil option for Fire) and can't get Butterfree (still the best sleeper ever) unless they go to the Bug Catching Contest.

The rest of the Pokemon aren't really worth mentioning, except that the Extremespeed Dratini is best saved for competitive play if you're into that sort of thing because raising a Dratini from L15 after the 8th badge without  the Vs Seeker is an experience that will have you ripping your hair out. The fact that you have to call for rematches again and have to do it at a specified time made me ransack the internet for a 999 Rare Candy cheat. The game throws two massive curveballs at you - Clair and Red - where you have to go up levels, and without being able to call for a rematch at your convenience really drags the game down. The second registered item slot would have been perfect to have the Seeker in. Between that and the amount of clock-changing you have to do to unlock things...

For me, the Pokemon games are a "default game". I blow files apart all the time and play Pokemon when I don't have the urge to attack my backlog - which is often. All you need to know is this - I played more of the originals than anyone, and my main game that I play is still going to be Platinum. Heck, I started a new file the day I finished this review.

The interface changes are nice, and I can't wait for the next generation or release in this generation to see what they're going to do to refine them. It's just that the storyline needed a major repair and got a mild tune-up.

Due to a lack of Japanese knowledge, I wasn't able to use the PokeWalker. I'll post my impressions of it when I can read the instructions and avoid pitching it into a million pieces - which is what I ended up doing.

1 comment:

  1. Hey, Yameneko549 here, though you probably don't remember me.

    I recently ordered SoulSilver since I bought a friend HeartGold for his birthday. Just from what I've seen of his HG, I have to agree with you on the problems with the lack of VS Seeker and the BS with rematches being in specific timeframes.

    Personally, though, I think it looks and feels like a real Pokémon game. Platinum felt both forced and cumbersome until you hit post-story (Volkner, E4, and post-game). I still haven't beaten the E4 due to having to level my team.

    I'll probably enjoy a little bit more since I can understand some Japanese (thank you Pokémon Green for being my first game), but since I didn't enjoy GSC as much as most people, it's still up in the air. Your review just made me a lot more anxious to get it, though. Thank you for getting my hopes a little higher.


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