"Hearts on Fire"
Pokemon FireRed and LeafGreen are twin GameBoy Advance games released in 2004 that are remakes of the classic Pokemon Red and Blue games. The goal of these games was to update the overall presentation of the original and inject the classic story with Generation II and III Pokemon. These games also try to resolve some of the interface issues that plagued the original versions as well as offer new exploration opportunities. Overall, this is a very strong effort that allows players to experience the original adventures without having to be dragged down by some of the technological limitations of the original GameBoy.
Gameplay – 8.75/10
The core gameplay of FireRed and LeafGreen remains largely unchanged from the original formula found in Red and Blue. The object of the game is to assemble a team of Pokemon, train them by battling opposing trainers and finally capture eight gym badges to enter the Pokemon League and win a championship. The battle mechanics are vastly improved in these editions; every Pokemon has their own strengths and weaknesses as well as individual move sets and innate abilities. This opens up a huge world of depth and strategy at the player's fingertips. Many things must be taken into account when raising and battling Pokemon and fortunately many features for each Pokemon are customizable. These improvements make the gameplay more engaging and build upon the strong foundation of the original game. The battle system itself is still very simple and turn based but one should not be fooled by the overt simplicity; there is a massive number of variables that go into each battle that keep the game from becoming dull.
The Pokemon franchise prizes social interaction in real life and that is true in these games. Players can battle and trade Pokemon with one another and this is mandatory if one aspires to completely finishing a Pokedex. Sadly, the trading system in this game is a bit tedious. In the Union Room, players can link with multiple people and trade Pokemon with whomever is in that room; the process behind these trades has far too many steps and simply isn't worth the hassle. The other option is to battle/trade Pokemon with a person in a 1 on 1 setting. Trading is far more direct in this mode but I was annoyed with the fact that you can only trade one Pokemon at a time. The social aspect of trading and battling makes these games stand out amongst other RPGs but the process certainly could be streamlined.
The exploration of the world of Kanto is also done very well. There is a huge world to explore and while the game does progress within a set structure there is still plenty of opportunity for non-linear progression and exploration. As you defeat gym leaders and find items, your Pokemon will gain “hidden moves” that allow them to access new areas of the world. This encourages backtracking and adventure and really gives the game a nice feel to it. Each new area also includes new treasures and Pokemon to be found, although this can be a frustrating process at times due to the noticeably low encounter rate in these games. I was also disappointed with the fact that one cannot catch any Pokemon from Generation III in FireRed/LeafGreen.
The greatest compliment I can give the Pokemon games is that the depth and level of engagement is so consuming that they quickly suck you in and before you know it you are addicted to “catching them all” as a player. These games strike the perfect balance between accessibility and strategy that appeal to both casual and hardcore games alike.
One of the biggest downfalls of the original Red/Blue versions was the lackluster interface; fortunately, many issues that plagued that game have been resolved. The menus are far more organized and easier to navigate. Your inventory has been separated into categories and consequently it is a very fast process trying to find a particular item that is needed. The status screens for your Pokemon are all very neat and user-friendly. Although the save system once again allows you to save whenever and wherever you want, I was disappointed with the fact that there is only one save file available for use.
The only issues with the interface come when trying to trade Pokemon. As I mentioned above, I was annoyed with the slow process of trading and the fact that you can only trade one Pokemon at a time. Trying to trade with multiple people in the Union Room is an absolute nightmare and simply not worth the trouble. Still, the interface is very well done in the single-player mode and is a huge upgrade over the GameBoy games.
The plot of FireRed/LeafGreen stays true to its simple roots. You control a Pokemon trainer on a quest to capture eight gym badges and battle for a right to be Pokemon League champion. Along the way, the player encounters Team Rocket, a mafia-like organization engaged in a variety of Pokemon-related crimes. The plot really does not have much substance to it and the developers decided to suck the player in with the gameplay, not the story. Luckily, the characters are bolstered with strong dialogue and are given far more development than in Red/Blue. Still, there is a major lack of conflict and the action is on auto-pilot a majority of the time.
I was pleased to see more events and dialogue added to give Team Rocket more personality and purpose. While they still are not introduced properly in these games, they at least contribute more to the plot; this is especially noticeable after defeating the Elite 4. These incremental improvements do not completely reshape the story of Red/Blue but simply add a few more details and minor events. The larger problems of the original versions continue here and I was disappointed that the ending of these games is not enhanced considering how dull it is.
Graphics – 8/10
The visuals of FireRed/LeafGreen seem to be a point of contention for many fans, but I personally was satisfied with them. There is far more life and detail added to every area thanks to the wide pallet of colors available to the GameBoy Advance hardware. The Pokemon and sprite designs boast far more intricacy and are closer to the designs seen in the anime rather than the bizarre sprites seen in Red/Blue. Overall, Kanto looks great and the vast array of colors used really help this game out tremendously.
The biggest area of criticism I have with the graphics comes with the lackluster battle backgrounds. There is literally no improvement in this area from Red/Blue and aside from a few colors, they are blank. The player at least is treated to excellent attack animations but they are doing this in blank environments. The other issue I had comes with the Sevii Islands design. This is a new area added and consists of seven islands to be explored outside of the main adventure. The islands sadly add nothing new to the visual accomplishments of the Pokemon games and look very similar aside from the occasional cave or forest. All in all, the visuals get the job done and have wonderful sprites but also do not fully live up to the potential allowed by the GameBoy Advance.
The music of FireRed/LeafGreen is above average. The developers already had a strong foundation to work from and consequently the music is primarily a remix of the Red/Blue soundtrack. While most of the songs are very well done, I found some of the remixes to be inferior to their original counterparts. They simply lack the same power and emotion that the original GameBoy games had. Luckily, there are a wide variety of songs and most of them sound great.
The sound effects for the most part are clear and varied. The only issue I have is the sloppy effects for the Pokemon themselves. They sound distorted and out of place. Otherwise, the sound effects bring life to the game and are quite extensive.
Play Time/Replay Value – 9/10
The play time for Pokemon FireRed/LeafGreen is very flexible. I spent 107 hours, 40 minutes and 47 seconds on FireRed. I captured all 150 Pokemon and acquired every Pokemon possible between the two games on this particular file as well as completing every side quest available. On the other hand, I completed LeafGreen in a time of 8 hours, 13 minutes and 27 seconds. My point is that the player can make the adventure as quick or lengthy as they like and this flexible play time is certainly a strength.
The social aspect of trading and battling Pokemon adds tremendous replay value even though subsequent Pokemon releases render this game outdated. The good news is that Pokemon acquired in this game can be traded all the way up to modern generations, even on the Nintendo 3DS. The desire to “catch ‘em all” produces one of the more addicting franchises in video game fandom and will always make the Pokemon games worth a revisit. My only issue with the side quests comes from the imbalance in terms of rewards. There are several quests but they are not given proper attention or developed well enough to really be worth the effort. Aside from that, one will certainly enjoy trying to get every Pokemon between these two games.
+Battle system boasts accessibility and strategy
+Plenty of customization
+Social aspect of trading and battling
+Fun to explore Kanto
+Vastly improved menu interface
+More character development
+Wonderful colors and detail
+Varied sound track and sound effects
+Flexible play time
+Social interface encourages replay value
-Cannot catch Generation III Pokemon
-Encounter rate tends to be too low
-Trading Pokemon can be a hassle
-Lack of conflict and intrigue
-Dull battle backgrounds
-Sevii Islands lack originality in design
-Some song remixes are inferior
Pokemon FireRed/LeafGreen are games that really appeal to two groups of people that are not mutually exclusive. First, people who enjoyed Red/Blue and want an updated version of the GameBoy classics will certainly enjoy these two games. The second group of people is the hardcore Pokemon collectors who want to transfer Kanto Pokemon from Generation III. Other than that, there are better and more original games in the series that demand more attention; FireRed/LeafGreen may not be groundbreaking but are certainly above average GameBoy Advance games that will offer a fun play through.
Overall rating 4.0 Good