Once upon a time, handheld gaming wasnít popular. When compared with the awesome games on the various consoles, many portable games lacked the kind of appeal that would drive legions of prospective gamers to play them. How could Super Mario Land ever compete with Super Mario World? Who cared about Linkís Awakening when Link to the Past was considered the greatest thing to ever happen to the SNES? Did everyone just forget about Metroid II when Super Metroid reared its head? But in the ever increasingly dismal prospects, a ray of hope shined forth, illuminating the future of handheld gaming and ensuring its success for years to come. Since its debut in 1998, the Pokemon series has revamped portable gaming with its incredibly addictive gameplay, creating a fanbase that spanned across the globe. Thankfully, Pokemon Emerald continues to carry the torch of its predecessors, treating the gaming world to an experience that so many enjoy.
You are not some valiant super hero fighting against evil, nor do you have any special powers or inherent abilities. In truth, you are nothing more than a statistic, another in an unending line of ten-year-old children embarking on the coming-of-age quest of their lives. Youíre obligated to undertake a Pokemon journey, an epic adventure that spans across the continent. Using some advanced technology, inherent skill, and a little bit of luck, itís your mission to venture forth into the world and capture animals called Pokemon. These strange and wonderful creatures coexist with humanity, offering economical benefits, domestic lifestyle, and emotional security. But these critters also live to serve another purpose: battle. The more a Pokemon fights, the stronger itíll become, attaining a myriad of powerful moves and astounding abilities, and granting you fame and prestige throughout the land. If you overcome the adversity of the rival Pokemon trainers and formidable foes, youíll become the Pokemon Champion, the greatest trainer to ever grace the Hoenn region.
Your beginning will be a humble one, marked with a few significant events and a remarkable amount of luck. The adventure begins once you acquire your first Pokemon from the friendly neighborhood scientist. From that one tiny Pokemon, youíll be able to amass the most formidable fighting force ever seen. While traversing the wilderness, youíll be able to sic your loyal pet on wild Pokemon, weaken it, and use a tiny sphere called a Pokeball to capture it and add it to your ever-expanding empire. Thus the vicious cycle of battling and catching continues throughout the game, allowing you to level up your Pokemon and take down anyone who dares to stand in your way. Youíll have to travel from city to city, wiping out other trainers on the road and taking down some tough Pokemon Gym Leaders before you move on. With each Gym Leader you defeat, youíll climb higher in the ranks, eventually allowing you to ascend into some of the toughest battles ever conceived.
Itís the same concept that has held true throughout the series, all the way back to the original Red and Blue versions of the game. Fans of the series will recognize that Pokemon Emerald mimics its Ruby and Sapphire predecessors, complete with almost identical maps and random Pokemon encounters. However, a few parts of the story have some new plot twists, a few Gym Leaders have been switched around, and some Pokemon have some awesome new abilities. While these small differences wonít mean much to the veteran Pokemon gamer, Pokemon Emerald comes with a huge ace up its sleeve: the Battle Frontier. Over the years, Pokemon has become focused on strategic gameplay, maxing out stats, creating balanced teams and truly deadly movesets. Such technical gameplay requires a sharp mind, and the Battle Frontier is just the place to prove your mettle. Youíll be able to take on trainers that specialize in specific Pokemon types, moves, and just about every other facet of combat. If you manage to best these awesome foes, youíll be rewarded with tons of rare items that are just begging to be used. Indeed, itís the Pokemon strategistís dream come true.
But in case youíre not into playing hard, Pokemon Emerald comes with over 200 different critters to track down and capture, a true treat for obsessive collectors everywhere. Youíll spend hundreds of hours searching every inch of Hoenn, looking for that last beast to make your collection complete. Luckily, the decent presentation makes this game easy on the eyes. The landscape is rendered with bright shades of color and basic detail, portraying a world that many GBA owners will recognize. Youíll get to visit stucco houses, walk down cobblestone streets, trudge across desolate wastelands, explore the oceans depths, and see plenty of other strange and exotic locales. Many of the character and Pokemon sprites have been redone, complete with brief animations and colors. Most of the battle themes have remained the same, as has the cheesy dialogue and trainer quotes. Aside from the beautiful Battle Frontier and a few new drawn-out cutscenes and plot developments, gamers who have played the previous GBA versions wonít notice too many changes to a presentation that seems all too familiar.
Some may say that this game is nothing more than a rehash, a directorís cut of the Ruby and Sapphire adventures. However, youíll be too addicted to really notice the seemingly unchanged adventure. Pokemon Emerald takes the best parts of the previous installments and expands on them, granting you access to tons of Pokemon, various areas, and tough competition. The massive roster of Pokemon will make for countless hours of searching, catching and leveling. The battle system has developed into an art form, complete with deep strategy and dozens of moves. The Battle Frontier will leave both Pokemon veterans and new fans engrossed and begging for more. Indeed, Pokemon Emerald reminds us why we love both the series and portable gaming so much. Itís not about how flashy it looks or any of that extra baggage. Itís about having quality content and making it work well. Thankfully, this game has plenty of it.
Eight out of ten