Pokemon Ranger - a review and what the main series should take from it
by, 8th January 2012 at 05:55 AM (356 Views)
About a month ago I 'completed' my Pokedex on Pokemon White - which left me with little left to do in the game, I'm never going to be a competitive battler or anything and I'd never want to be EV training or take notice of the metagame - so what's there left?
Well I could play non-Pokemon games, I have Portal 2 sitting still unfinished, I'm also still slowly poking away at the career mode in Tiger Woods 08; I've also got a few half finished save games on various Final Fantasy games that I keep meaning to pick up again. Kinda a trend with me, for all the games I own, there's only a handful I've completed, so yay for persistence!
But, I ended up on eBay after finishing White and ended up making a few purchases - finally getting Pokemon Snap and Pokemon Stadium on the N64 (went down the Playstation path when I was younger so never got to play them until now). Pokemon Stadium is really painful to play - it doesn't age nearly as well as the handheld games did and the commentator is unbearable. But I quite like Snap, though you really need to take it in small doses - so I'm yet to complete it.
However my third eBay purchase was the original Pokemon Ranger, and it's really a great game that I wish had a lot more elements brought in to the main games.
I just like the idea of the game using Pokemon in a practical sense - using the natural skills you would expect Pokemon to have in practical problem solving is great, you can pick a Pokemon with claws, and they can cut things, you can get a water Pokemon and put out fires - it just makes sense.
By being like that, the game is far more interactive with Pokemon than sending out battle commands, it shows there is more to them than just being battle machines or performing the HM tasks outside of battle that seem to be just delaying tactics in the main RPGs.
As for the capture styler, compared to the uses for things like making poffins, it's a good use of the DS - and it puts a different spin on catching Pokemon - something a bit more skilful than just throwing balls. I wouldn't want to have to sit there drawing rings around a Pokemon to capture them in the RPGs, but equally some variety would be nice - especially in regard to having friendly captures, there should be opportunities to gain the trust of Pokemon rather than capture them in battle - something I'd suggest should depend on the nature of the Pokemon.
Even perhaps go as far as taking some elements from Colosseum/XD - and have Pokemon who need to have their hearts opened up to be most effective in battle; or alternatively, allow you to take the risk of disobedience in exchange for a powerup for certain moves - as much as the game should allow you to play to befriend Pokemon, the opposite should be equally true. For that reason I've thought for a while that Frustration should be potentially a more powerful move than Return, so that there is a legitimate path to playing the game with different ideals.
Considering how much the NPCs talk about truth, ideals and the bond with your Pokemon in White - it is quite a bad omission that there's no real way to adjust your path, or even something as minor as checking in the first place. At least in HG/SS you could check on your Pokemon's feelings - even if they seemed a bit random at times.
Walking Pokemon is one good step to developing that feeling that there's something more than battling - going back to Yellow it was always a goal to keep Pikachu happy, I'd be frequently checking and it was always great to see it in full on love mode - because you knew you had done well. But I would hate for the positive to be the only path. If the game is about truth - there should be an option to take the other path.
Pokemon Ranger doesn't do that at all - but I wouldn't expect it to; Rangers have a specific role and job - but trainers are different and I think that you should be able to take different routes to achieving the goals of the RPG games, and Pokemon Ranger serves as a good demonstration of how things can be different.
The problem solving and puzzles in Ranger are far more enjoyable than the Gym mazes - and the need to think about the natural talents of Pokemon and the way to complete a task is important. Ranger does kind of spoon feed you the tactics, but there's no reason that can't be changed.
I have a slight bit more appreciation for Plusle and Minun than I previously had, and the animation of all the Pokemon and the general art style of Ranger is fantastic. And diagonal walking!
Apart from the usual problem of being annoyed at NPC actions (I'm just going to push this button!) and the extreme linearity of the mission based storyline - I really did enjoy Pokemon Ranger. The game felt very short - I got to the ending screen with less than 8 hours on the clock, but I had a great deal of fun in that time, and for someone playing it for the first time it offered a very different approach to gameplay and Pokemon than I was expecting.
As a bonus, I bought the game used but the Manaphy egg was still there, so I need to get that transferred - then I'll be a little bit closer to actually completing the Pokedex in White - there's still all of those legendaries that aren't required for the completion to get (minus the convenient Victini).
I suppose I've talked too much about the main RPGs in what was supposed to be me reviewing Ranger - but the problem is that the mechanics and direction of Ranger make me annoyed at how little there is of that style of gameplay in the main series.
Don't get me wrong - Pokemon White was a massive step up, I hate hearing people who dismiss it as just being more of the same - it is unique and good in its own right, the changes over the previous versions are significant. I just wish there was much more depth, much more ability to alter the outcome of the game - no I don't expect you to be able to join Team Rocket and be THRUSTING the hammer of justice down onto the black darkness of the universe! - but when the game makes so many mentions to the bond you have with your Pokemon, and the story revolves around a clash of truth and ideals - it is annoying you don't have much influence on it.
A complaint I have with all Pokemon games (Snap excepted) is that there's no threshold for failure, if you lose a battle you just do it again, you save and reset. Obviously some things need to be completed to continue a story, but good writing and a variety of paths to the same destination can minimise the need for that.
If you lose a battle, you should be able to reassure your Pokemon, even if that's literally patting them using the stylus - some interaction and meaning behind what you do in the game. Perhaps to the point where you could have one refuse to battle for you until you get its trust back; if the game's message is to have meaning - the game should have that depth.
It certainly is a lot to ask; and unfortunately Nintendo know have my money regardless of what they do - but I hope that what they've built, with the development and depth added to Black and White, the walking Pokemon experiment with HG/SS, and the new mechanics available in the non-main series games; can all be integrated to some extent.
So, to get back to Pokemon Ranger -
- Very different and enjoyable gameplay
- The ability to use Pokemon in a more natural way
- Good variety of missions and requirements
- Interesting dialogue
- Good use of the DS hardware
- Great graphical design and animation
- Linearity of the main quest
- Lack of choice in partner Pokemon
- Short main quest
Overall, I'm very glad I bought it. I'm tempted to buy some of the sequels, but worried they won't be as good or that the game mechanics will get tired when they are no longer unique. I suspect I'll be playing it a bit more to try and complete some more of the captures - though I probably won't be aiming for completion of the browser.
I suppose I'll be looking at buying Pokemon Mystery Dungeon next - but in the mean time I still have Pokemon Snap to work on.
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