"Keep me searching for a heart of gold"
Pokemon HeartGold and SoulSilver are twin 2010 Nintendo DS games that are remakes of two of the best games ever to appear on the GameBoy Color. These remakes were necessary for two reasons; first, Pokemon from Generation I and II games cannot be transferred from device to device and as a result you cannot bring Pokemon from your original games into the later games. Second, the original versions of Gold and Silver had a dastardly hardware flaw that had a dying watch battery delete your save file. My 315 hour file from when I was younger was deleted that way and I am still pretty angry about that. In a way, Gold and Silver were a bit ahead of their time and these remakes come in with the right hardware and generation. Playing these games is a fun reminder of what it was like to explore the massive worlds of Johto and Kanto and I was also impressed with the deep strategy and fantastic presentation of HeartGold and SoulSilver.
Gameplay – 8.25/10
Pokemon HeartGold and SoulSilver feature the player controlling an anonymous character as they travel through the lands of Johto and Kanto catching and battling Pokemon. The object of the game is to collect 16 badges and become the world champion of Pokemon battling. Moving around at first is a bit jarring because of how slow your character moves but luckily the game remedies its own flaw by providing you with running shoes and later a bicycle. While the world you can explore is absolutely massive (nearly 20 towns to visit) I was disappointed by the lackluster dungeon design. There is a serious lack of creativity and puzzles and getting from place to place is laughably easy. While you are trudging through these boring dungeons you will also have to deal with a very high random encounter rate. Luckily, the player is able to buy items that will disable random encounters but without them the game would take far longer to complete.
The ramshackle exploration is no match for the fantastic battle system in these games. There are hundreds of Pokemon ready to battle for you and the amount of variables that go into participating in a battle is astounding. You have to take into account movesets, elemental types, weather, innate abilities and other factors when battling a foe and this makes for very entertaining and challenging battles. There are hundreds of different attacks and each have their pros and cons and allow for you to have tremendous customization potential. This is also true about the hundreds of Pokemon available for capture and the many ways they can be acquired. As always, the Pokemon games are renowned for their social aspect and trading/battling with players is always a joy.
Although the exploration in this game leaves a lot to be desired, the second half is almost completely non-linear and you have a huge amount of freedom to explore and catch Pokemon. There are also a ton of side quests and optional Pokemon and battles to be undertaken giving the gameplay a lot of content. The true magic doesn't really happen until you have the freedom to explore. Although the beginning journey is mediocre the fantastic battle system and end-game content more than make up for it.
One of the worst interface flaws I have ever seen in a game existed in the original Gold and Silver and luckily it has been eradicated for this game. There no longer is a chance your file will delete itself due to a dying watch battery because the game uses the same clock as the DS. In fact, the complete opposite has happened; deleting a file is a lengthy process that has many steps to it. Despite this, I never understood why the Pokemon games insist on asking you if you want to overwrite your save file every single time you save your progress; this is incredibly annoying. The other aggravating feature of the interface comes with trainers constantly calling you to usually discuss nothing important. It seems like everyone and their mother wants to swap phone numbers with you and this contributes very little to the overall story or gameplay.
The menus are all very organized and easy to navigate. Items are grouped by type and you will not have to traverse through a long list to find what you are looking for. The only issue with the inventory comes with the fact that it is impossible to auto-sort your items and things can be a bit jumbled at times.
Pokemon HeartGold and SoulSilver follow more of a “slice of life” story format than an actual plot with a climax and what not. You control a male or female trainer as you embark on a quest to defeat all 16 gym leaders in both Johto and Kanto. The main “villains” of the game come in the form of crime syndicate Team Rocket, a mob that is devoted to kidnapping and exploiting Pokemon. Team Rocket's place in the story really feels like filler and is not cohesive at all; I feel like they should have played a much larger role to keep things in engaging. Instead, the plot moves at a wandering pace with very little that happens outside of defeating the gym leaders.
The biggest compliment I have comes with the fantastic cinematic presentation during the game. At times you feel like you are watching a movie and there a lot of nice touches to the dialogue, graphics and sound that really gives certain scenes in the game an “epic” feel. The ending is cute but is easily forgotten and sadly lacks the “epic” feel you find throughout other parts of the game.
Graphics – 9/10
The implementation of 3D graphics in these remakes is very interesting. The biggest benefactor of them comes with the breathtaking environments and backgrounds. There is one area that has trees that are bright red with fall colors and is absolutely stunning to look at. The designers do a good job of morphing the world you are in from day to night and this is especially impressive considering how massive this game is. The battle screens have bland backgrounds that are usually one or two colors and could have used a lot more detail, but the Pokemon designs are amazing. Every Pokemon has a short little animation when they appear and there are hundreds of attack animations to go with. Finally, one thing I really liked about the graphics was that every item that you carry in your bag has a unique design and this was a nice tough the developers gave to help differentiate all of the objects you find.
The music is remixed from the original Gold and Silver and the soundtrack comes to life with lots of instrumentation and texture to the sound. One great example of this is the beautiful track that plays when you are in the ice cave. The battle music is excellent as always and I absolutely love the intense boss music. There is an SNES-like quality to the soundtrack that gives a nostalgic feeling, especially if you played the original versions of these games. There is also a cool feature where it is possible to switch the music to what it sounded like in the Game Boy Color version. The sound effects are equally as impressive thanks to the hundreds upon hundreds of attack noises and Pokemon cries that are wildly varied and detailed.
Play Time/Replay Value – 10/10
I completed my play through in exactly 35 hours while focusing on defeating the gym leaders and not catching all of the Pokemon. This game simply is a replay-value machine thanks to the mentality that you need to “catch ‘em all” and explore the massive world available to you. There are lots of battles to be won and Pokemon to find and this makes this game a true joy to play through.
+Deep battle system
+Non-linear second half
+Tons of Pokemon
+Huge world to explore
+Large amount of extra content
+No watch battery glitch
+Menus are organized
+Excellent cinematic presentation to story
+Pokemon design is excellent
+Diverse and impressive audio
-High encounter rate
-Exploration is uncreative
-No auto-sort feature for inventory
-Annoying phone calls from trainers
-Wandering pace to plot
-Team Rocket plays too small of a role
-Battle screen backgrounds are bland
Pokemon HeartGold and SoulSilver provide a massive gaming experience that really make you feel like you are taking part in a huge adventure and are living in this world. Gamers of all ages and interests will find fun in playing through these games and the pacing is very flexible. This game is an absolute must-have for DS owners or fans of the series and is also a great game to start with for newcomers to the series.
Overall rating 4.5 Very Good