Not long ago, Nintendo released two more entries in the ongoing Pokémon main series of games in Japan – Pocket Monsters HeartGold and SoulSilver. If you’re wondering why these titles sound fermilliar, its because they probably are – Pokémon Gold and Silver were the games that along with Crystal made up what is now referred to as Pokémon Generation 2 back in early 2000.
Back then, I was completely stoked for the new games, which promised so much: a new world to explore, new Pokémon, new attacks, better visuals and sound, refined battle system, a real-time clock, in-game radio, phone, genders for all Pokémon and thus breeding and more…..goddamn Pokémon G/S were crammed with features. They had introduced so many new concepts that the games that followed on the GBA actually removed some of them to make the games more streamlined and simpler.
But now, ten years after their Gameboy Color debut in Japan, Nintendo/Game Freak saw fit to remake Gold and Silver from the ground up on the Nintendo DS using the graphics engine that powered the 2007 Pokémon games Diamond and Pearl. Was their plan a success?
Without a doubt, a resounding
yes. Pocket Monsters HeartGold and SoulSilver are both the best Pokémon games ever made and once again take the throne as the absolute best games on their platform , just as their original versions did on the Gameboy Color all those years ago.
Knowing that there was no way I could wait the year or so it would take for a localization, I simply had to import a copy of HeartGold from Japan. Thus, obviously, this review will cover the Japanese versions of these games. Not that there’s any other version, but hey….also, don’t ask me a thing about the PokéWalker. I’m not touching that thing.
Pocket Monsters HeartGold and SoulSilver are remakes of Pocket Monsters Gold and Silver. As such they play exactly like every other Pokémon game in the main series. In case your suffering from amnesia and have completely forgotten how the Pokémon games work, you engage in turn-based battles using your starter Pokémon against wild Pokémon and other trainers to gain strength and catch other Pokémon in orde to defeat other powerful trainers. The primary goal of the game is to become a Pokémon master, but like all Pokémon games, you also have the secondary goal to capture each of the 400+ Pokémon asnd complete your Pokédex. A third goal is to maybe train a few parties of six Pokémon. Altogether, these goals probably offer around 200 hours of gameplay at the very least. Truly, these are not short RPGs by any means despite their appearance.
Pokémon games are generally light on story, but essentially, you play as a beginner Pokémon trainer aiming to become a Pokémon Master. Along your journey you must collect badges from Gym Leaders and foil the secret plans of the criminal organization Team Rocket.
Like with all other Pokémon games, players will be divided into two categories, no exceptions – those who are fine with the visual presentation and those who feel it is completely outdated and in major need of an overhaul. See, with every new release in the main series, the main graphics have only improved slightly. For the main overworld field graphics, the original Gold and Silver used a slightly improved engine from that of Red and Blue. Then Ruby and Sapphire used a slightly improved engine from Gold and Silver. After that, Diamond and Pearl used a slightly improved engine from Ruby and Sapphire. Guess what HeartGold and SoulSilver do? If you guessed they use a slightly improved Diamond/Pearl engine, you’re catching along. The games do employ some DS-specific visual tricks such as changes in depth and 3D buildings made of simply polygons rather than sprites, but these effects are tacked on and the game wouldn’t suffer without them at all.
In battle, the biggest difference ever was from the days of Red and Blue where most Pokémon barely resembled what they were suppose to look like to Gold and Silver’s excellent sprite sets. HeartGold/SoulSilver uses even more detailed, excellent sprites.There really isn’t more than I can say. Basically, the visuals are the same as they’ve always been, only slightly enhanced.
The return to Johto would be a rather dull experience if the fantasitc music from the originals were not present and luckily they are – and holy shit do they sound good. Every chiptune from Gold and Silver have now been remixed using the godly DS soundchip and the remixes range from very good to “holy shit, did my DS just produce that awesome track?!”. I’ve played a lot of DS games, but I haven’t had that kind of experience since the first time I heard Golden Sun on the GBA. That’s how good it is.
GameFreak has seriously raised the bar in terms of audio on the DS. This game demands to be played either by pumping the sound out via headphones or better yet, a surround sound speaker system. As a special totally awesome treat for long time players, towards the end of the game once you get all sixteen badges, return to Celadon City and get an item called the GB Player – this nifty item reverts all audio tracks back to the 8-bit GBC chiptunes, and even generates new chiptunes for tracks not found in the originals!
One last time I think I should mention – as always, Pokémon shout their 8-bit cries rather than scream their names as in the anime. Considering what an amazing job GameFreak did arranging the music, it’s sad to hear the 8-bit screeches that play during it. I hope that someday this changes, or at least gives you the option to change it. The 8-bit cries have become so entrenched with the games that I’m not sure I’d like a Pokémon game without their ridiculously primitive sounds.
Rather than bore you with how these games play I’ll simply list the highlights:
-Can trade with Diamond Pearl and Platinum, as well as import Pokémon from Ruby, Sapphire, Emerald, FireRed and LeafGreen. English Pokémon can be traded without problem to the Japanese game and vise versa!
-Fully touchscreen driven interface in all aspects, not just battle.
-Refined battle system from Diamond Pearl and Platinum.
-New backpack interface that is touchscreen driven and allows easy sorting of all your hundreds of items by game’s end
-PokéGear makes its return with its watch, map, phone and radio functions fully intact
-Visitable Kanto with almost all of the locals from the original Red and Blue visitable once again, unlike in the original versions of Gold and Silver which simply would remove doors and entrances, making the Kanto region a rather dull one in the original versions of Gold and Silver.
-New events, and even a new area to the west of Cianwood City.
As mentioned, the entire game has been overhauled to support the touchscreen in all menu aspects. In fact, the only button required to play if you want to do everything on the touchscreen is the D-pad. However, you can still play it with buttons should you prefer. This makes me very thankful, as this is the primary reason I hated StarFox DS so much.
The game may be in Japanese, but it so closely mimics the original versions that you can still use old strategy guides for the GBC versions if you have any. Old guides still ring true with item, trainers and Pokémon locations as well as general maps. The maps really make exploring some areas much easier. You might want to track down the Vercus Books Pokémon G/S guide on ebay or something. Personally, to tell the truth, this isn’t the first time I couldn’t wait for the English version of Pokémon Gold and Silver…I had gone through the same thing almost ten years ago. I wanted to play through Pokémon Gold on an emulator (for shame I know) but my then-knowledge of Japanese was null. That’s why I bought this:
This guide was written in late ’99 shortly after the release the Japanese version and predates any other guide I’ve seen. It carefully details each area what you need to do, who you need to talk to, what items are for sale, etc. Even now, it proves a handy refrencebook for the Japanese experience as it explains the translations of key concepts and words.
Still, its no subsitute for actual Japanese knowledge and as the games are aimed at Japanese children, the language used is fairly simple and free of any kanji. This fact alone makes HeartGold and SoulSilver worthy games for those who are seeking to learn Japanese through videogames.
A great choice indeed!
Overall, except a great experience if you should decide to import the game. It’s epic.