Life's taken me to many places this year and as of late, the places it's taken me have been nothing but the best. However, these past few days, I've diverged to an area I've not been to with any level of genuine enthusiasm in several years: the world of Pokémon.
I've not really cared for the Pokémon games since Black & White's sequels, though I did complete Pokemon Y and most of Omega Ruby. I never played through any of Sun, Moon, or their… sequels—if that's what Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon were. I digress however, one thing I've always quite enjoyed were the ROM Hacks that the fan community make. There have been a few that I've enjoyed, though I never dove into that many. Lately however, I have. So, today, I'm gonna review one that I've played through—most of it anyways. I've not done too much with the post-game content, but I may do a follow-up review when I do.
Pokémon: Altered Emerald
Formerly known as Pokémon Emerald 2, Altered Emerald is a fully redone version of one of my favorite Pokémon games: the titular Emerald. My experience with this series began with Hoenn and ironically ended with it too. Anyways, Altered Emerald finds its footing from its premise alone. Take Hoenn, throw in all the Pokémon from Kanto, Johto, and Hoenn (and more!), make quality of life changes, and redo some of the routes as to make the game feel different, yet the same.
Altered Emerald is something I found myself having way more fun playing than I expected. The game ups the levels of most of the trainers and buffs certain Pokémon so they can be usable, if not more usable. I found this out by capturing a Poochyena and using it to bite and crunch my way to victory whenever anything that wasn't a fighting type Pokémon entered the field.
However, countering my dream to recreate The Lion King with Scar as the winner was the game's difficulty curve. I've read that many Pokémon ROM hacks fall victim to having obscene difficulty curves and that's very evident with games like Pokémon Shiny Gold Sigma. While Shiny Gold is a game that I quite enjoy, the curve in its “harder” counterpart is less difficult and more “let's just make the Pokémon higher leveled and give them more obscene movesets to give the illusion of difficulty”.
In the case of Altered Emerald, it's different. To a degree anyways. While I find the difficulty curve a bit steep at times (I'm looking at you, Tate and Liza), it's more or less fair and entertaining. It helps that the physical/special split was out into this game.
Story wise, the game's a mirroring of Emerald. You go on your Pokémon adventure, Team Aqua and Team Magma are at each other's throats because of their insatiable desire to awaken legendary Pokémon, and Mr. Briney is chasing Peeko still. There are.minor differences event wise, but I was playing with the emulator's acceleration mode on, so I admittedly didn't pay too much attention if there were any key differences. Ultimately however: if you've ever played Pokémon Emerald, then you'll have experienced this ROM hack's story.
The more prominent differences come in the form of the aforementioned route changes and the inclusion of all the Pokémon. This game gives you access to every Pokémon up to Hoenn. For example: Lickitongue is one of the first Pokémon you can catch after you get your Pokéballs from May after you make her adorable little Treecko/Torchic/Mudkip eat dirt. I, however, decided to forego the large tongued hellspawn. Maybe you won't however. Perhaps you're the chosen one to lick every Pokémon in Hoenn and become the tongued terror of the terrestrial plane.
Adding onto the availability of these Pokémon are those oh-so coveted events that you likely never got to experience, such as Birth Island (where you fight Deoxys) and Faraway Island (where you capture Mew). It bears mentioning that getting the Old Sea Chart was one of the most obnoxious things I've had to do in a game as I'm terrible at Mach Bike challenges.
Moving on however: Celebi also exists in a nice little hidden area, one that I encountered by complete accident. It was one of those things that brought a large smile to my face as it gave a bit of extra personality to both existing characters and the game as a whole. It honestly made the game that much better for me given I love little details like that.
The core focus of Pokémon however is its combat. You send your little monsters to battle others. With Altered Emerald, the combat has been updated and tweaked. As stated earlier: the physical/special split exists. This is something I wish every ROM hack would do as I've never been good with what types are and aren't physical and special prior to Gen IV. Your Pokémon's natures are also highlighted in their stats page; the stat that's increased by its nature being highlighted as red and the stay that's reduced being blue.
On a more sour note: moves and abilities from later games are also added, including some from Gen's V and VI. This is something I admittedly wasn't too fond of as it was very jarring for Poliwag's family to knockout my Mightyena after I KO'd it. The idea that a tadpole could mess up my poor Son of Sam like that was heartbreaking and baffling. Thank God for Bulbapedia, otherwise I'd have never guessed the ability was a signature part of a legendary I'd never heard of—and I'll admit, I've also forgotten. If memory serves, it was from Sun and Moon. All I recall is it dealt damage equal to the amount of HP the Pokémon had before fainting.
My Own Personal Story
This section is dedicated to my own adventure in the game, so if you don't care, feel free to skip ahead. That said, I picked out Torchic as my starter. It was my starter back when I played through Ruby for the first time, along with Emerald, so I figured why not. From there, I got myself a Poochyena because I love Mightyena's design. The adventure was smooth from there until Brawley destroyed me thanks to a Haryama he had. Not even the Zubat and Eevee I had at that point could save me. Luckily, the endless slaughter of countless Pokémon saved the day and I was high enough level to march on.
It was about this point I began to realize just how much fun I was having with the game. It was surreal remembering how much I did love this series once upon a time. That only amplified as I continued onward and went from town to town—capturing a Bagon and Duskull to (temporarily) complete my team. After a while, I actually began to hate the fact that I had to write because all I wanted to do was reminisce with the game; that great sense of excitement when I found something new. I hadn't felt that sensation since I played Platinum a decade ago.
At this point, I was in Fortree City and remembering how demonic Skarmory was. The sole reason as to why all armored birds are evil and why it's my favorite Steel-type!
From here until I reached the Elite Four and Wallace, I realized that I'd finally found something that would let me revisit the Pokémon franchise until Sword and Shield come out (I'll reserve judgement as I refuse to look at any gameplay footage of it). From Lilycove to those two blasted twins and Sootopolis. Altered Emerald makes enough changes to the routes while maintaining all the love and charm that the original game maintained.
Even Mirage Island.
I hate that damned place.
Overall: if you're a fan of Pokémon and/or use a GameBoy Advance emulator, I recommend giving this game a look. It's more than worth your time—my few grievances considered or set aside.
Final Score: A++