Less than a decade after the American release of Pokémon Red and Blue, Nintendo released Game Boy Advance remakes of these beloved RPGs. Entitled FireRed and LeafGreen (in Japan, Blue was called Green), the remakes promised updated graphics, additional content, and extended multiplayer capabilities. As with any remake, a potential buyer wonders at the necessity of the transition. While not startlingly different from their predecessors, the remakes make minor changes throughout and add new locations. Despite contrived and unnecessary additions, FireRed and LeafGreen make the original Pokémon journey more accessible and convenient than ever before.
The trademark story returns: the player begins in modest Pallet Town with the ambition to become a Pokémon trainer. Kindly Professor Oak offers up one of his last three Pokémon to begin the player’s collection of the quirky beasts, and his grandson becomes an instant rival. The player obtains a Pokédex shortly after and the mission to catch them all becomes clear, along with the goal to collect all eight Gym Leader badges and eliminate the Elite Four.
Every aspect of the plot from Red and Blue returns in the remakes, though there aren’t many aspects to carry over. Typical for a monster collecting RPG, the story serves only to provide a purpose for the countless battles, obsessive critter gathering, and long walks in tall grass. Those returning to the series will feel considerable nostalgia concerning the characters, but Gary is still a lame rival, Professor Oak is still boring, and Team Rocket is still mindlessly evil. Untouched from Red and Blue, the new storyline and characters are generic, but faithful to the Pokémon tradition.
The formulaic, addictive gameplay common to the Pokémon franchise remains intact in FireRed and LeafGreen, but the remakes make numerous changes with varying degrees of effect. Many changes are made for convenience, such as the short recap of what the player accomplished during the previous session when continuing a saved game. The Pokédex was also redone for accessibility. Pokémon can be sorted in more ways than ever before. Furthermore, the game includes equippable items for Pokémon, passive abilities, and two on two battles. These changes never diminish the quality of the experience, though I found some of them unnecessary.
Larger additions include multiplayer options and all-new locations. Packaged with the cartridge, the wireless adapter is the center of many new gameplay opportunities. Trading and battling are standard, but the new Union room allows for up to forty players to interact. The player will also need friends to take part in some of the new mini-games. Unfortunately, those without a wireless adaptor, or friends, are left out of these additions.
The remakes also include a series of islands that didn’t appear in Red and Blue. Mostly open after beating the Elite Four, these nine islands give the player access to new Pokémon, items, and dungeons. The new Pokémon cover those found beyond the original 150. This will excite many players, but possibly disappoint others due to excess tampering with the original formula. Although the islands provide further exploration and gameplay, they’re carelessly tacked on. At the mention of the islands’ unimaginative names — “one,” “two,” “three,” etc. — players will undoubtedly cringe. FireRed and LeafGreen preserve the traditional monster collecting gameplay and add plenty of minor additions, but the major changes are shallow.
One of the best updates to the old formula is the graphics. Entirely revamped from the original Game Boy versions, the new graphical palette is vibrant and colorful. In battle, Pokémon no longer appear hideously distorted; instead, their designs are closer to the iconic images found in other mediums. Attacks are more lively and varied than before, but the Pokémon themselves still don’t animate. Outside of battle, environments have been upgraded for clarity, and the menus have undergone evolution. Conveniently laid out and full of life, the menus feature unique thumbnail portraits for every Pokémon species in place of the generic blobs found in Red and Blue. FireRed and LeafGreen preserve the originals’ feel, but provide a necessary graphical update.
Much of the music from the original games returns in the remakes. While some tracks were remixed, the soundtrack retains the simplistic lightheartedness of the Pokémon universe. Every track conjures appropriate moods for any given situation. Battle themes are exciting and fast-paced, route themes are adventurous, and town themes are upbeat and catchy. Sound effects are directly transferred from the original games, down to every Pokémon’s cry. Fortunately, the developers didn’t venture far from the blissful tunes of Pokémon Red and Blue for the remakes.
FireRed and LeafGreen should appeal to those who wish to relive the original Red/Blue experience with updated graphics and conveniences. They should also appeal to those new to the franchise, however few may exist, who wish to enjoy the first 150 Pokémon in their traditional habitat. Those wishing to augment the Red/Blue experience can play through new material, and for purists, the optional side quests exist without harm to the original game. Considering the vast number of Pokémon games, fans may consider FireRed and LeafGreen to be heartless moneymakers. Less cynical fans, however, will find the second iteration of the first entry in the series just as entertaining, addictive, and endearing.