Monday, January 21, 2013

Pokemon Ranger - Shadows of Almia

Vastly improved over its predecessor.
Review By Striker64

Pokemon Ranger was originally meant to be a refreshing change from the standard gotta-catch-em-all RPGs that the series is known for. The original was met with largely mixed reviews, but it still sold well because it was the first chance for players to obtain the legendary Pokemon Manaphy on their Diamond or Pearl game cartridge. Shadows of Almia is the sequel to the original, attempting to add more content to be an all-around better experience. Some things have been changed that enhance the gameplay a good deal.

The game starts off rather predictably – you are in school in the land of Almia to become a Pokemon Ranger. Once you complete your schooling, you are sent off to the Ranger base in the next town over, where you will complete missions as they are assigned. You soon discover that an organization called Team Dim Sum is trying to unleash its evil plan in Almia. As you complete missions, your Ranger ranks increase, which allows you to have more friend Pokemon, draw a longer capture line, etc.

The idea is here that instead of using Pokemon you have caught to wear down a wild Pokemon before throwing a ball to catch it, you will instead on your own be capturing the Pokemon. You do have Pokemon assists to help you with this feat, but by and large it is up to you to actually capture the Pokemon. Each Ranger is given a styler, which is imitated by your DS stylus. You will use your stylus to draw consecutive circles around an enemy Pokemon. Once the Pokemon's life is depleted, you capture it. Your styler also has energy, rather than the Pokemon, so it can take damage and it will break if you take too much (basically game over). As such, your styler is also gaining experience and leveling up, so your Pokemon are entirely static.

One upgrade I was really happy to see from the previous title was that you are not limited to a single partner Pokemon. Well, to be fair, you had the choice of two different partners last time, but they were, in essence, the same Pokemon, with the only difference being their colors. This time, you get a choice between three different partners, and they can make your journey easier or harder, just like the starter you choose in the standard RPG titles. Plus, you are not even limited to just your starting partner Pokemon – this time around, you can actually accumulate different partners to use permanently throughout your quest. You can still only take one at a time, but you are free to exchange them out anytime you wish.

In battle, you will notice another bar just above your life bar – this is the assist bar for your partner. When it is full, you can call your partner Pokemon out during battle, thus helping you capture the opponent Pokemon. Really, every Pokemon you capture can do this – the difference is, your partner Pokemon's assist bar recharges as you complete circles around a Pokemon, whereas a friend Pokemon's assist is good only once, as your friend Pokemon leaves you after the assist is completed. Assists differ depending on the type of Pokemon using the move. For example, for an Electric Pokemon, you tap your stylus on the screen, which will cause a lightning bolt to strike. If the bolt strikes the opposing Pokemon, it will be paralyzed temporarily, allowing you to encircle it freely. For a Water Pokemon, you hold your stylus on the screen, which cause a bubble to appear and grow. Once it has grown to a size sufficient to you, you can “fling” your stylus toward the opposing Pokemon. If it connects, the Pokemon takes damage and is slowed for a short time. Each assist is very helpful in battle, but the only difference in assists between different Pokemon is the amount of time it lasts. That is, Growlithe and Vulpix are both Fire types, so they have the same Fire assist in battle. Growlithe and Arcanine are both Fire types as well, but Arcanine's assist lasts considerably longer.

Battles have changed a good bit as well. In the previous title, you were basically forced to encircle a Pokemon and capture it without removing the stylus. This was very frustrating as even the smallest amount of contact broke your capture line, causing you to start all over again. This time, as you encircle the Pokemon, a small life bar appears above its head. When the bar fills yellow, the Pokemon is captured, and the battle ends. Should your capture line break, you can continue encircling the Pokemon as you see fit, as it is not necessary to start all over again. You will be picking up on the life bar where you left off. This would seem to make the game considerably easier, but there is a check in place. If you wait too long to begin capturing the Pokemon again, its life bar will refill. Wait too long and you will be starting over from square one. Some Pokemon's life bars fill faster than others. A boss Pokemon's life bar is visible at the top of the touch screen, much longer and meant to be somewhat intimidating.

Pokemon you capture are called friend Pokemon. There are almost 270 different Pokemon to capture. Once captured, they can either assist you in battle, as described above, or aid you in your quest by using field moves. Each Pokemon has a specific field move that they are able to use. They will allow you to do such tasks as smash crates, shake trees, and later, more advanced field moves such as cutting down vines to climb and smashing massive boulders. Evolved wild Pokemon obviously have stronger field moves than their pre-evolved counterparts, meaning you often need the right Pokemon for the job. Just as with an assist, when a friend Pokemon uses a field move, it leaves you. Fear not though, as the Pokemon will return to the spot in the wild where you originally found it, and you are free to capture it again as necessary.

The majority of the game consists of you completing missions as they are assigned. They can be as simple as finding and capturing a Pokemon creating a ruckus, and they get more advanced as you move on. After completing missions, your Ranger rank increases, allowing you to have a longer line on your capture styler, or the ability to carry more friend Pokemon at a time. The missions are actually a decent idea as you are not left to figure out what you need to do next, as is the case with many other RPGs, but instead the game tells you exactly where to go and what you need to do. This does make the game somewhat easy.

Aside from missions, you also can complete optional quests, 60 in total. Many of these are villagers who have a concern they want addressed. Some may want to see a particular Pokemon, or some may have spotted a Pokemon in distress that needs help. As rewards for completing these missions, you are given a capture card. These cards provide extra defense against certain types of attacks, make your line longer, or even enable friend Pokemon assists to last longer. These are good side quests and the capture cards become quite helpful throughout the game; however, many of the quests end up being somewhat annoying fetch quests. The upside is that at least you are getting a good reward out of it.

The sound is largely forgettable, but passable. The Pokemon franchise is generally known for having very good soundtracks, but such is not the case here. The background music does not change often. Many of the sound effects can get pretty irritating though. The graphics remain virtually unchanged from the previous title, and that is not a bad thing, as the graphics are quite good. Landscapes are lush and the amount of detail in special areas is astounding. Opposing Pokemon attacks look very good as well.

Just like its predecessor, the game suffers from a lack of replay value. After completing the main quest, you can complete all of the side missions and capture all of the different Pokemon, but beyond that, there is little to do. Completionists will appreciate that every Pokemon is given a ranking when you capture it, with C being the worst and S being the best. You can keep capturing Pokemon until you have an S for all, but as far as I know nothing special happens here. If you have WiFi, there are downloadable missions for you to undertake, but as of this writing they are only available for a limited time. There are also six total confirmed missions, but it is unknown if Nintendo will periodically release new missions.

The last title also offered Manaphy for download to Diamond or Pearl. These extra downloadable missions do the same – you can transfer a Manaphy, Darkrai, or a special Riolu to your Diamond or Pearl cartridge. Only one of each Pokemon per Pokemon Ranger cart is available, just like before. This alone makes the game a huge selling point for many players, especially competitive battlers.

The game is pretty addictive. It sucks you in soon after the start and the game is entertaining enough throughout to keep you wanting to play more until the end. The game does drag at times and it is difficult to get through the very beginning of the game, as it ends up being about an hour long extended tutorial. There were also several times throughout the game that there was entirely too much dialogue. Seriously, the game just has the characters tell you exactly what is going on. Let the game tell the story – it is much more fun for the player when they come to a realization on their own. Another issue is, as stated above, that many quests end up being fetch quests, and especially the later ones that require you to capture multiple Pokemon at once can be particularly annoying. Still another is that the game is fairly easy, so those looking for a good challenge will likely be disappointed.

Shadows of Almia is a refreshing change of pace from the standard Pokemon RPGs. Any Pokemon fan would probably easily get into this, and fans of this genre can find something to like as well. Considering the franchise is driven primarily by the standard RPGs, it is good to know that change-of-pace games such as this can coexist and are actually well worth your time. I completed the game and finished all side quests plus captured all Pokemon in roughly 30 hours, so if that sounds like a good time investment and you are a fan of either the series or this type of game, you would do well to pick it up.

SYSTEM: Nintendo DS


1 comment:

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