There's not much new in Emerald, but the addictive and deep Pokemon formula just doesn't seem to lose its charm.
Pokemon Emerald is the third installment in the Pokemon Hoenn trilogy, but it essentially follows the same slim narrative. You play as a young rookie Pokemon trainer who just arrives to the quiet village of Littleroot Town. After meeting up with the local Pokemon researcher Professor Birch, you select one starter Pokemon from a group of three and set out on a huge adventure across the Hoenn region of the Poke-universe. Your goal? Defeat the eight Gym Leaders to earn badges, battle against the toughest trainers in the region (The Elite Four), and of course, catching all the Pokemon you can. Along the way, you encounter the misdeeds of Team Magma and Team Aqua, two crime syndicates who aim to literally shake up the world and change the climate. If you've played Ruby or Sapphire, you'll find the storyline to be close to the same as you've already seen, but there are some minor changes. Magma and Aqua encounter each other more frequently, meaning you'll have to deal with both groups instead of just one like in Ruby or Sapphire. Don't expect long drawn out storylines, massive cutscenes, or overblown melodrama in Pokemon Emerald (or any Pokemon game, for that matter). It's all about you catching 'em all.
After you select your starter Pokemon, the game opens up quite a bit from the traditional RPG formula. Instead of simply enlisting allies for your party, you have to catch them instead. Thus is the introduction of the Poke Ball. When fighting a wild Pokemon (Pokemon that aren't owned by a trainer), you have the choice to catch the Pokemon. The Poke Ball is your capturing device, but most Pokemon must be weakened considerably before being vulnerable to capture. Once captured, the Pokemon can be used in your own party. Pokemon can then be leveled up through vigorous battles, learn new moves, or even evolve into a stronger form. Despite being accessible, Pokemon has always had a strong grip on the party system. Essentially, you have hundreds of options for your party, offering a ton of customizability in how you traverse the world of Hoenn. It's by far one of the most versatile party systems you'll find, allowing any gamer to use their own strategies when taking out an opponent's monsters.
The battles are the second major aspect of Pokemon. Battles take place with turn-based mechanics, where you can select from a Pokemon's four moves to attack an opponent, increase or decrease stats, or something completely different. What makes Pokemon so accessible is its weakness-resistance system. For example, a fire Pokemon is weak against water attacks, so water attacks like Water Gun will do more damage. Simple at first, but soon all 17 Pokemon types begin to enter the playing field, and it really comes down to how you select techniques during battle. It's remarkable how such a simple system can be so streamlined and deep, making Pokemon a great RPG choice for any handheld gamer. It's a superb example of a handheld RPG done right, and is easily one of the most addictive GBA games released.
Pokemon Emerald, for better or for worse, is Ruby and Sapphire with some minor twists. The story is a bit different, following the trail of Groudon, Kyogre, and Rayquaza more thoroughly. Some areas have gotten re-mapped, some of the trainers have been moved to emphasize two-on-two battles more, and you'll find some of the Gym Leaders to have some new Pokemon in their arsenal. Also, the Pokemon Contests have been moved to a single city, with the others being replaced with Battle Tents, arenas focused more on the actual Pokemon battles. The biggest addition, however, is the Battle Frontier, which is a Pokemaniac's dream land. The Battle Frontier is a selection of challenging arenas where a player can battle through other trainers to earn prizes. It's surprisingly expansive and the ability to take on some serious trainers without having to use a multiplayer connection is great to say the least. It does take some effort to really get through all of the challengers, but the Battle Frontier is a fun addition to the Pokemon series. Aside from that, Pokemon Emerald isn't much different than Ruby and Sapphire, even less than Pokemon Crystal was to Pokemon Gold and Silver. If you're a Pokemaniac who's really out there to catch 'em all, or an avid battler who's out for a solid challenge in the Battle Frontier, Pokemon Emerald is quite possibly the best installment in the Hoenn Pokemon trilogy. Just don't expect a ton of changes to the Pokemon system.
Pokemon Ruby and Sapphire were some great-looking GBA games upon their release. The bright, bold color palette was exceptional, and the battle animations burst with power and flair. Pokemon Emerald does the same thing. The battle animations still look great, the environments still have an intense hue selection, and the overall presentation remains great on the GBA. However, that's it. There's really nothing new here. The Pokemon do these obscure distorted dances when set into battle, and they really look low-quality when you see your favorite Pokemon enter the arena. Aside from that, this is Ruby and Sapphire presentation all over again, and it's definitely running thin.
+ Pokemon gameplay remains accessible, though deep
+ Battle Frontier makes for a fun diversion
+ Incredibly addictive
- Not much has changed since Ruby/Sapphire
- Barely any updates to presentation
But is it worth shelling out your hard earned cash for another Pokemon adventure? If you're a newcomer to the Pokemon series, Emerald is definitely a good place to start. The Pokemon gameplay astonishingly has stood the test of time, remaining as one of the best RPG battle systems in gaming history. The versatility makes constructing your party fun and varied, so playing through using your preferred Pokemon, moves, and tactics is very addicting. The massive quest, hundreds of Pokemon to capture and train, and Battle Frontier all add up to a great RPG, even if you've already played through Ruby and/or Sapphire. While you'll find familiarities in both the gameplay and presentation, at the end of the day, Pokemon Emerald has plenty of things to do even after you've played through the main quest. As far as RPG's go, Pokemon has achieved addictive triumph of the handheld role-playing game, and Pokemon Emerald is just another way Nintendo can spell it out for you. It's not a quantum leap for the series, but it's a fun, addictive RPG that finishes the Hoenn trilogy with style.