Pokémon HeartGold/Soul Silver Review

 

GameFreak remakes the best games they’ve ever produced

 

Health risk notice: the following review is a revised script I wrote for the import version. Copypasta may contain trace of peanuts. Women who are nursing, pregnant or may become pregnant should stop eating copypasta and contact their doctor immediately. Side effects of copypasta may include laziness, and journalistic apathy.

Late last year, Nintendo released two more entries in the ongoing Pokémon main series of games in Japan – Pocket Monsters HeartGold and SoulSilver. This past spring, the games were finally localized and released in North America as Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilver.

If you’re wondering why these titles sound fermilliar, its because they probably are –

These are remakes of the incredibly popular and successful Gold and Silver games, not to mention the fact that I put up a review of the import versions right here on my blog last year. Now that I have the English versions, I’ll go over them again in greater depth.

It’s been ten years since Gold and Silver hit the Gameboy Color in America, and Nintendo/Game Freak felt it was time 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. Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilver are  the best Pokémon games made thus far. If you’ve fallen out of place and missed the last several games, this is where you should jump back in. There was a reason why I imported the Japanese version even though I have only a preschooler’s ability to actually read written kana.

Genre

If somehow you don’t know what a Pokémon game is about, kill yourself let me tell you.

The Pokémon games are turn based strategy RPGs with a heavy emphasis on customization. You engage in 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 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 kiddy appearance.

Story

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 every game since Crystal, you can choose the gender of your character at the start of the game. You can choose to be Gold/Kenta/Ethan, a young boy clad in red and gold or Kris/Kotone/Lynete, a revised design of the Crystal female character now dressed in only what can be described as a Mario outfit. I find this change rather odd and confusing.

Why the update? Crystal looked fine (not that way, pedo!) the way she was. One theory is she didn’t suddenly change, it was a gradual change over several years.

A slow change we didn't notice until it was too late.

The Johto Region as it appeared in Gold and Silver.

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 simple 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 use 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.

Sound

The return to Johto would be a rather dull experience if the fantastic 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.

Admit it: the return to Kanto made you happy. In your pants.

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.

Control

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.

Availability and Price

These are new games, and Pokémon games generally carry a premium. Try ebay – I won an auction for a new copy for $18 US! Beware of buying from Hong Kong or China – counterfeit versions are all over ebay. There is also a cheaper French-Canadian version which is real…but the whole game is in French!

Audience

A typical image from a typical Pokémon General thread.

Everyone, but mostly adults! – While on the surface marketed towards young kids, HeartGold and SoulSilver are unspokenly made for gamers in their 20’s that have fond memories of the original Gold and Silver. The online component means we no longer need to gather in playgrounds with link cables and carry around heavy shame and embarrassment for doing so. There are Pokémon General threads on notorious imageboard 4chan several times a day, everyday – Pokémon games are secretly for the hardcore adult gaming nerds and we’re proud of it.

History

After several slight revisions to the hugely successful Pocket Monsters Red and Green and after they had become popular in North America as well, development quickly started on the next Pokémon games.

First announced in Japan in as early as 1997, Pocket Monsters 2: Gold and Silver were originally planned to be Gameboy games that would make heavy use of the Super Gameboy’s enhanced color. As the project progressed, GameFreak began to shift development towards the up and coming Gameboy Color, which would greatly outclass what would be possible on the SGB.

Almost two years later, near finished versions of Gold and Silver were shown at SpaceWorld in early 1999, and anticipation for Gold and Silver grew like wildfire the world over.

The next games promised so, very much. Full color, vastly improved graphics, a new world, and new Pokémon were just the tip of the iceberg New Pokémon were shown and speculation on just how big these games were ran rampant.

Planned for around the time of release, Nintendo also announced a virtual pet keychain called the Pocket Pikachu Color, which could collect “watts” and be used as a currency to buy useful items in Gold and Silver in much the same way the PokéWalker interacts with HeartGold and SoulSilver.

Some of the many improvements included almost Pokémon would now have gender and could breed, hold items, learn special moves and heal themselves independently with various berries.

Another big change was that the Special stat from the earlier games would be devided amogst special attack and defense, chaning the dynamic and usefulness of certain existing Pokémon.

For example, Hitmonlee had a very low special stat in the first games and was thus very weak. When the special stat was divided, it gained a large special defense and a low special attack, making it much more useful. On the flipside, Cloyster, a Pokémon with a very high special stat in the first games, gained a very low special defense.

The games would also use a real time clock which would not only track the time of day, but also the day of the week. The game actually put various events at certain times of the day and certain days of the week, requiring players who wanted to get everything out of the games to play every day.

Gamefreak had introduced so many new concepts in Gold and Silver that the games that followed on the GBA actually removed some of these features to make the games more streamlined and simpler. Even Diamond, Pearl and Platinum lack some of what made Gold and Silver so spectacular.

As a final unexpected treat, players who beat the Elite Four would be returned to their home town and told….a whole new world awaited.

The ability to return to Kanto was incredible, and no Pokémon game since has allowed you to do anything like this.

Closing Comments

old gold/silver guide

HeartGold and SoulSilver so closely mimic 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. Only slight storyline differences and Crystal inspired events won’t show up in your old guides, but you’ll find them still incredibly helpful.

The maps really make exploring some areas much easier. You might want to track down the VS guide on ebay.

Personally,I couldn’t wait for HeartGold or hell, even the original Gold. More than 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:

Pocket Monsters Gold and Silver Translation Guide

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.

A great choice indeed!

Example An example of the translation guide

Overall, except a great experience. I played it in Japanese and am playing it again in English. This is a must-buy. It’s epic. 9/10

IMG_0687
Hot Double Gold Action!

Data

Platform: Nintendo DS

Genre: RPG

Release Date: 2010

Devoloper: GameFreak

Publisher: Nintendo

Developer’s notable other works: Pokémon Diamond, Pearl, Platinum, FireRed, LeafGreen, Ruby, Sapphire, Emerald, Gold, Silver, Crystal, Red, Blue, Yellow

ESRB: E

Buy or skip: Buy

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