As I said in my introductory post to this series, I started playing Pokemon with the third gen, and as such one would be right to expect a natural bias on my part towards the games of the third generation. However, when replaying Emerald I felt that, although my feeling towards this game were strong, it didn’t click for me in the same way as Crystal did.
The start of the game sets it up nicely for Emerald to have more of a plot than any prior Pokemon game (although that’s really not saying much). The game starts with the player in the back of a moving van, and as a way for Game Freak to show off the new graphical fidelity of the GBA, the player has to walk from a dark, cramped space to the bright and colourful Littleroot Town, which now seems boring, but marks a big step up in the visuals of the mainline Pokemon series (the trick of having to go through a small boring space before getting to a point where graphics are shown off will be repeated through out the series – see the gate to Skyarrow Bridge for another good example of this). Another significant change from the previous games is that you now have a dad; Norman, and with that comes a greater emphasis on plot. Norman himself gets a bit of character development after you beat him as a Gym Leader, and the role of parents having to let go gets a nice echo in the character of Wally. The other area where this increased focus on plot becomes apparent is in the villains; Team Magma and Aqua have more distinct goals than just ‘make money’, and these goals tie into the backstory of the legendaries. Because of this, less time is spent on your rival, but Archie and Maxie fill in the holes left by the absence of a strong rival such as Blue or Silver. These plot developments are not significant in the grand scheme of things – no Pokemon game will ever have a deep enough story to rival any other major RPG. They do, however, have an adverse affect on the linearity of the game.
Emerald allows the player very little chance of independence. Despite various sections where one must backtrack to get to a gym leader or newly unlocked path, the game guides you through the whole experience, major battle to major battle. There’s no longer any time where you might feel lost and the increased role of story gives the game a solid excuse for pushing you around the new tropical region of Hoenn. Hoenn itself is only alright as regions go. I talked in my Pokemon Crystal review about visual cohesion, but Hoenn takes this concept slightly too far. The visual similarities of routes, which comes about because of the limitations of the system and the tropical theme, does not allow enough diversity when traversing Hoenn. This is exacerbated by a new aural cohesion; the oft referred to reliance of brass instruments means that routes blend into a trumpety, grassy mess in my mind. Like it or not, there is also too much water in Hoenn. Coupled with the already non-distinct ground routes, the water routes are too numerous and their failiure to leave a lasting impression is even worse. Nevertheless, Hoenn gets a pass because of the various little spots that do leave an impression; the cable car is my personal favourite, but the hot springs in Lavaridge, Route 113 and the Mirage Tower also immediately spring to mind.
Places like those mention often show off the visuals of the game, which are still nice to look at today. Pokemon battles can get a little samey, but environments are lush and colourful, and the dull backgrounds of Pokemon battles are enlivened by the Pokemon designs, which are fantastic (my favourite Pokemon, Duskull comes from this generation), and the new attack animations that are by no means revolutionary, but do their bit. More revolutionary is the introduction of double battles and abilities. Double battles, like Mega Evolution, is a flashy new battle mechanic that instantly changes the strategy of a battle and bough a whole new side to competitive battling. Abilities are less of an instantly recognizable change, but they require players to get to know each species of Pokemon better than they might have done in prior generations. Overall, these two changes are one of the few unqualified successes of the third generation.
The other new additions; a larger story; a more cohesive region – these come with their caveats, and while I wanted to be able to praise this game as fully surpassing Crystal to become the best game I’ve reviewed so far, not even my rose-tinted view of this game could convince me of that. It’s still really good, however.
Just to let you know that I will not be reviewing the remakes- so the next game to be reviewed in this series is Pokemon Platinum.