Remakes of games can be a very tricky prospect indeed. Like tampering with classic films, you have to walk the fine line between staying true to the spirit of the original without simply copying it. After all, why pay more for a new version of same-old-same-old? Nintendo as of late have been the masters of repackaging their own products, and it pleases me to say that they have done well with Pok?mon FireRed.
For those who never played the original Pok?mon Red, (or anything else in the Pok?mon franchise for that matter), the game play of Pok?mon can be broken down into an extremely simple concept: you run around in a happy little world, find lots of adorable little monsters and beat them senseless until they follow you; so they can battle other people’s adorable little monsters. It’s not nearly as cruel as it sounds, believe me.
Pok?mon battles are on the surface a simple, menu-based system where you select one of your pok?mon’s four moves on your turn, wait for a counter-move from your opponent, and repeat. As a trainer you can have up to six pok?mon on your immediate roster and hot swap between them in battle. You can also augment or heal your critters in a fight through use of commonly available items.
The strategy in all Pok?mon games comes from the relative strengths and weaknesses of each individual monster. Each pok?mon is associated with one or more types including but not limited to: fire, ice, grass, water, earth, light, dark, psychic, fighting, ghost, and normal. These types are strong or weak against other types. For example fire burns grass-types easily and does lots of damage while a water pok?mon wrecks havoc on the fire monster. Lightning zaps water, earth-types ground lighting, grass types dig into earth? the list goes on and on. Understanding how these types interact is critical at early stages of the game when pok?mon hit points are precious.
This type-based strategy is simple enough for a grade-schooler to grasp but complicated enough for her mom to master after hours of frustration. Perhaps that is where the addictive charm of pok?mon battles comes from. I will admit that battles can get repetitive after a while, especially when you are trying for hours to catch one rare pok?mon; but there is usually enough variety in your opponents to keep your interest.
It should also be noted that the only real change in the battle system from the original Pok?mon Red is the inclusion of dual pok?mon battles. Of course this feature was introduced in last year’s Pok?mon Ruby. There is, however, a noticeable improvement in the multiplayer capabilities of the GBA included with this game.
The brand new wireless link for the GBA comes with either Pok?mon FireRed or its twin sister game LeafGreen. Finally, you can swap pok?mon or just beat up your friends without the need for a cumbersome cable. This wireless link not only improves the multiplayer in Pok?mon, but should also enhance many GBA titles yet to come.
Outside of battle, there is little to do but run around and talk to people as in most old school RPGs. There is minimal frustration trying to get into secrets and hidden areas, with most secrets being tied to either a plot item or a special pok?mon ability. The plot surrounding the monster catching is still thin at best with very little drama or characterization to distract you from hunting critters. I guess as far as Pok?mon plots go, Pok?mon FireRed – who shares it’s story with the original Pok?mon – is as good as any of the others. In fact, I think all the Pok?mon plots are the same. You start off as a kid, you get pok?mon, and you fight everyone to become the strongest trainer in the land. Pok?mon FireRed lacks the ridiculous save the world sidequest of Pok?mon Ruby and Sapphire, so I suppose that is a plus. One nice new feature added in this version of Pok?mon Red is a summary montage that loads whenever you come back from a save game. It’s nice to know where you are at times.
Graphically, Pok?mon FireRed is greatly improved over its Gameboy Color predecessor. The addition of bright colors and sharper lines not only makes the game more fun to watch but easier to play on the world map. In battle animations have been improved, but ultimately Pok?mon isn’t a game about graphics. In the end the pictures are only there to service the addictive game play. As the 3D Pok?mon titles on the N64 and GameCube have proved, it’s not how pretty these games are that determines their quality.
Once again in FireRed, Pok?mon games sag in the audio department. Of course, the GBA is not a sound powerhouse to begin with. Much of the in-game music is bland and utterly forgettable. Honestly, I play the game on mute to avoid the distraction (and to avoid disturbing my neighbors on the commuter train). The battle music is as dramatic as they can make to showcase puffballs whacking each other, and the sounds the individual pok?mon make can almost be distinguished from one another.
I’ve played pretty much every version of Pok?mon since the first Red title, and I must admit I’m a sucker for nostalgia. It was fun going back to the original this time. However, I must admit that FireRed couldn’t hold my interest for quite as long as some of the later titles. Perhaps because I’ve played it before, it couldn’t devour 80-100 hours of my life like the original Red or Pok?mon Ruby did. If you haven’t played the original, and you like being a completist, or you just have lots of friends to battle; Pok?mon FireRed is a good investment that can get you days if not weeks of quality gaming action. If you’ve already played the original, I fear there simply isn’t enough new and different to make this game quite the value of its venerable predecessors.