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Pokémon Emerald

Posted by Dan Biersdorf.

The Pokémon franchise has sold over 140 million copies since the games were first introduced to American consumers eight years ago (to get an idea of how insane that is, the total sales of the entire Zelda franchise have amounted to about 43 million). You'd think by now we'd be all Poké'd out, yet the games still manage to sell through the roof with each new installment. Nintendo is capitalizing on the resilience of the Pokémon craze by releasing as many new titles (and remakes) as Game Freak can pump out of their development house. That's not to say the games don't go without quality, however; regardless of whether or not you are against the marketing ploy, it's undeniable that the games are buffed out with a thick sheen of quality and a charming shine, and Emerald is no exception.

In case you're unfamiliar to the Pokémon turf, Nintendo has created three full-blown RPG trilogies revolving around the little critters since 1998. It all started with Pokémon Red and Blue on Game Boy, followed by a spinoff that styled itself after the television show and focused on Pikachu, titled Pokémon Yellow. Once the Game Boy Color hit, Nintendo followed in similar tradition with Pokémon Gold and Silver, and again a tweaked version called Crystal was released shortly thereafter. With the Game Boy Advance we were treated with Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire, and now more recently Pokémon Emerald, which (in case you haven't caught on) is an altered version of the first two.

"What's the point of all these versions of the same game?" you might ask. Well, it all has to do with what's entailed in really beating a Pokémon game. At the outset, a Pokémon trainer sets out to obtain up to hundreds of the game's monsters, raise them into more powerful monsters by battling them against another trainer's, and eventually face off against the Pokémon League to gain the bragging rights as the greatest trainer in the world. At that point the game is "beaten", but as with any worthwhile RPG, there's plenty more to do. The real goal of players in the Pokémon universe is to "Catch 'em All!", actually collecting at least one of each species of Pokémon in the game. This task is not so easy as just running around and looking, however, because each version of the game is treated with a few exclusive monsters unobtainable in the other version. For example, you can catch an Ekans (snake Pokémon) in Pokémon Red, but the Pokémon doesn't appear at all in Pokémon Blue. Because of this, gamers are required to link up with fellow Pokémaniacs via link cable to trade for the elusive monsters that they can't find in their version. Basically, Nintendo duped consumers into forking over the cash for both versions, when in reality each game is hardly any different from its counterpart, thus earning Nintendo twice the moolah. But they didn't stop there; Nintendo then offered gamers a choice of a third package(a la Pokémon Yellow after Blue and Red), which contains minor upgrades over its predecessors but still enough to warrant a purchase to the hardcore fans. Of course, the third version is also a few Pokémon short of a full tally, so any way you cut it gamers can't get away without either buying multiple versions or linking up to trade.

So here we are with Pokemon Emerald: the latest in the series, and likely the final Pokémon game to grace the Game Boy Advance before the franchise makes the transition to the Nintendo DS. While the Pokémon craze has a lot of potential for future platforms, it still has a lot of steam on the GBA and Emerald proves that as it's easily one of the biggest adventures you'll find on the little handheld. With around 380 creatures to capture and train, creating teams and throwing them into battle is a task that almost never ends. Isolating the gameplay from the beginning of a file to the completion of the adventure storyline, however, will still land you roughly 30 hours of game time.

You'll take the role of the self-named protagonist in which you seek out to become the greatest Pokémon trainer of all time. At the game's beginning you'll help rescue your new neighbor from a rabid animal, and in return he will hand over your very first Pokémon. With it you can then travel the vast region of Hoenn, where you will have to battle your way against other trainers to the top of the charts. As you progress you'll cross paths with the sinister Team Aqua and Team Magma gangs. Emerald differs from its GBA counterparts in that now the story involves both gangs as they try to conquer the world, putting the task to you to stop them.

The gameplay is similar to what gamers been seeing since we first started playing the Pokémon series. You'll be able to customize your Pokémon to your liking and use items and other techniques to further advance the power of your team. Emerald also pushes two-on-two battling, something that was introduced with Ruby and Sapphire, although in those versions it was a seldom occurance. Game Freak decided to make a splash this time around, and while the two-on-two bouts are still outweighed by traditional one-on-one battles, you can be sure we'll be seeing more and more of this concept as the franchise evolves.

New Additions to Pokémon Emerald -

- Supports the Wireless Adapter.

- New story involving both Team Magma and Team Aqua gangs.

- More frequent two-on-two battles.

- New Battle Frontier, Battle Dome and Battle Tube areas.

- All new Gym Leader.

- Ability to catch Kyogre, Groudon, Ho-Oh, and Lugia.

- The legendary Deoxy's is in his speed form.

- Main characters feature new clothes.

- A series of new items, such as the return of the phone.

- Pokémon are now animated like they were in Crystal.

Emerald brings one other very big addition to the game: the Battle Frontier. A concept started in the Pokémon Stadium games, it allows gamers to rent three Pokémon and then use them to battle. The unique part of the Battle Frontier is that you can face a series of "Frontier Brains", a line of trainers who will test you on specific combat skills, all of which are some of the hardest battles in the game and will require the absolute best teams in order to win. For those who are all about perfecting their teams, you're going to love every bit of the Battle Frontier. If you don't, then you're out of luck, because this truely is the biggest addition over Ruby and Sapphire.

The new Battle Frontier

This generation of Pokémon games has been very big on connecting with each other, even moreso then their predecessors. As I said earlier, the only way to get every critter out there is to link up and trade with the other versions. So not only can Emerald link up with Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire, but also with FireRed and LeafGreen too, the visual remakes of the original Pokémon Red and Blue titles, respectively. With FireRed and LeafGreen you'll be able to obtain around 100 or so monsters unavailable in the Emerald region. But Nintendo didn't stop there; you can also hook your Game Boy Advance up to the Gamecube and import your monsters to 3D in Pokémon Colosseum, where you can take part in a battle tower full of difficult trainers. Last but not least, you'll also be able to link up to Pokémon Box, a tool used to organize, arrange, and store up to thousands of Pokémon.

The Poké-Connection

While the improves on gameplay mechanics, the graphics and sound are exactly the same as those of Ruby and Sapphire. The 2D sprites are certainly some of the best on the system, but as we close in on the final year of the GBA, it's much more of the same. Games like Astro Boy were able to incorporate gorgeous 2D animation with a splash of 3D effects, something that really put the icing on the cake. Pokémon Emerald is very safe in the graphics department; it's nothing new, but it still looks manages to look pretty darn good. One of the biggest improvements is that the text is now presented in the font that was used in FireRed and LeafGreen, far easier on the eyes than the text in Ruby and Sapphire. Other than that, the games looks nearly identical to its GBA counterparts. But then, it's always been gameplay, not graphics, that pushed the Pokémon craze for so many years.

This game gets an N-Philes score of B.

How much fun can we get out of game that, for the most part, has been on the market since 2003? It's all going to come down on how much you enjoy the Pokémon series. If you already played Ruby and/or Sapphire to death (and don't care much for strictly increasing your Pokémon collection), then Emerald is certainly not for you. Of course, if you are one of the many, many Pokémaniacs who spend hours of their lives trying to breed and raise the perfect team, you're going to enjoy the bells and whistles Emerald has to offer, especially the new Battle Frontier. And of course for those of you who haven't picked up any Pokémon title yet, there's no better time than now, as this will certainly hold you off for the highly anticipated Pokémon Pearl and Diamond releases on the Nintendo DS. I admit the series is beginning to run dry in the gameplay innovation, but at its core Pokémon Emerald is still a solid RPG with pretty graphics, an overall well made game.

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