A worthwhile and addicting remake of Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire that is sure to renew your interest in the series, Pokémon Emerald makes me glad I got back into the Pokémon franchise. After playing it, I possessed a renewed flare for Pokémon, and I'm impressed.
Almost the second you get into this game, it's hard to put it down. I began with Torchic, one of the three third generation starters along with Treecko and Mudkip, and from there, blazed through the first few gyms. I became extremely involved with the story while running through it. I keep feeling as if I'm going to run into Team Aqua or Team Magma even in the later parts of the game; it all seems so familiar.
The story centers on a on an epic, waging battle between legendary Pokémon Kyogre and Groudon, and the ancient dragon Rayquaza being forced to come between the two to end it. The professor in the first city of Littleroot is Professor Birch, and you receive your starter Pokémon by choosing it from his bag when saving him from a Zigzagoon at the very start. Many new features are apparent near the beginning of the game, such as the ability to have a double battle, a 2-on-2 battle with two of your Pokémon out at a time, or one of yours and one of a partner's, against two opponents. It isn't an absolutely fantastic add-on to the series, but it certainly doesn't take anything away from it, either. Special abilities are also introduced in Pokémon Emerald: each Pokémon has an ability that is active during battle, and, in certain scenarios, outside of battle as well. As an example, Pikachu has the special ability Static, which can paralyze enemies that directly damage it. The special ability of a Pokémon can be checked using the Summary ("Stats" in previous versions) option after ticking it. These new abilities force a bit of a twist in strategy, although it isn't a huge difference. The Safari Zone also makes a comeback, and a few old Johto Pokémon are catchable after beating the Elite Four (yes, them again). Some changes were made from the old Safari Zone to the modern, but none of them are extreme enough to go into detail with. You'll just have to see for yourself; it's a pretty cool feature if you're a collector of rare Pokémon. The Day-care center is also still in play, which is useful if you're big on collecting all of the Pokémon available in each version. And for those of you who like having your Pokémon hold useful items, apricorns have been eliminated and replaced with berries, which also grow on trees, naturally. They can't be turned into pokéballs, but they each have their own beneficial characteristic and can be planted and regrown through use of the Wailmer pail. Some restore 30 HP, others heal status problems, and yet others may be blended to create pokéblocks, pieces of candy that Pokémon snack on happily and readily.
The graphics of Emerald give the series a huge boost when it comes to eye candy, and thus entertainment as a whole. No more excruciatingly simple visuals and animations, as were common in the past metallic generation, detract from the amount of fun you can squeeze out of the game. This one adds a bit of flare to the series with some newbie graphics, such as a female trainer sprite now being playable, enabling the player to engage in the Pokémon universe as a male or female (which was pleasing to me, as I'm not a fan of always playing a guy), along with every Pokémon having its own, individual sprite, instead of sharing a graphic with a random, easy-to-depict Pokémon of the same type. Also, the text font and textbox color are no longer drag and boring; the color of the text area can now actually be changed through the Option menu. Colors have been made brighter and more distinguishable as a whole than in previous versions, and the Hoenn region is nowhere near as stale and predictable in scenery as Gold's Kanto. The map is also more visually appealing than ever before; I no longer dread opening my PokéNav (no longer called PokéGear) to find where I want to fly. The actual Pokémon in Emerald are also a bit spiffed up, with new, more vibrant colors and bits to boot. They didn't seem to mind going into detail with the Pokémon in this one, either, which always helps.
As far as the sound goes, the normal, overly-tedious music is, for the most part, done away with (at least almost as much as can be done in a Pokémon game), and new, unique cries accompany the many contemporary Pokémon of Hoenn. The bike music no longer makes you want to gouge your eyes out, and the city symphonies are pretty decent as well. Nothing really hurts the ears anymore, but nothing's over-the-top amazing, either. However, it does open new doors in terms of video game involvement, as the sound can suck you in if you concentrate on it and enjoy it as much as I do. It may not be the greatest, but it's very fitting for the type of game you're playing. Still sort of cheesy, but it's all classic. It's at least beginning to improve.
One of the most intriguing new features in Pokémon Emerald is the Battle Frontier, which can be accessed after beating the Elite Four. It's a fun, optional island I still haven't fully explored, and probably will go into further a bit later. In the Battle Frontier, you can battle one-on-one with several trainers in a row, choose a partner from a room of NPCs and double battle, or you can team up with your friends in defeating your trainer adversaries. In fact, you can battle your friend in the Frontier if you mix records with him or her, as long as your friend lost a battle and thus was placed at the position of the loss. For example, if your friend battled his way through the first four trainers of the Battle Tower, but lost at the fifth, he will replace the fourth trainer in your Battle Tower line-up, which is pretty neat.
Other than my little knowledge of the Battle Frontier, the rest of the game was spectacular. One question that has to be asked, though, is "Is it worth it to catch all 202 Hoenn Pokémon?" The answer is quite a resounding "no". I'm sure seeing pokéballs next to each and every Pokémon in your Pokédex is nowhere near worth the hours upon hours required to find some of the elusive Pokémon in the game. In fact, not all of them can even be caught unless you link up to a Sapphire or Ruby version, which has always been a tad annoying. Marketing techniques are bothersome. It's fun getting close to the big 202, though.
Although I wouldn't label this a must-have for all RPGers, it is an absolute necessity for any Pokéfan. The game is pretty well-rounded, with many secret areas, Pokémon, and unlockables that can only be found through trial-and-error, strategy, patience, and the Internet. One of my only complaints about it is that there were too many legendary Pokémon: so many as to make the word "legendary" seem obsolete and useless. They might as well just be really-hard-to-catch-Pokémon. The creators seem to enjoy slapping the term on just about any new monster that's semi-powerful or interesting. Same exact issue with dragon Pokémon: so many that they're no longer that special. That aside, I was completely hooked up until I caught Rayquaza and played for 93:31 hours; only then did I slow down a noticeable amount. I still enjoy playing the game, and will continue to pick it up on occasion in the future.
I never did fully complete my Pokédex. I hate Feebas.