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October 9, 2015

Pokémon HeartGold (Part 1)

A bit of backstory. One of my best friends is a great Pokémon fan. Not only did she introduce me to the Pokémon games (I knew about the anime before meeting her), she even gave me Pokémon FireRed as a Christmas gift way back, when we were in high school. 8 or 9 years ago. I don’t even remember what I gave her, but I’m sure it wasn’t anywhere as great as that. Anyway, Pokémon FireRed (which I reviewed, if anyone’s interested) was the first Pokémon game I owned. And for a long time, it was the only one. I have fond memories of it, if only because I played through it three or four times, and on the last time I actually managed to complete the Pokédex, complex feat if there ever was one. Alright, it wasn’t very impressive back then, as there were only 386 Pokémon, and now we’re at a staggering 721. But it was still something! My passion for the Pokémon games never really faded. At some point, my friend found the cartridge for Pokémon HeartGold, in the house of someone who didn’t want it anymore. She already owned that game (to be fair, she owns pretty much ALL of the main series’ games), so she cleaned it up a little (it was in a wastebasket, I think?) and deleted the save file (which clearly belonged to a child with an immature sense of humor, as the file was filled with some... very crappy humor, shall we say). She created a new save file for me, and handed me the cartridge. I was so happy. We would frequently hang out just to trade some Pokémon. Needless to say, she had almost all of the Legendary Pokémon in the games she owned, so she always had spares for me. And you can bet your money that I would have completed this Pokédex! It required a lot of patience, due to certain mechanics that I’ll explain later. But I would have done it! In the meantime, I had even bought Pokémon White, with the intention of trading my Pokémon from HeartGold into it once I had completed the Story Mode!

And then… the disaster. Many months later, I turn on my Nintendo DS, boot up the game, only to find out that the save file had been corrupted. All data? Lost. All the 400+ Pokémon species? Never heard of them again. Farewell my Pokérus-infected Seadra, my trusty team, my plans to build one different team for each Type and kick the Elite Four’s asses 17 times in a row! I was devastated. I had racked up over 300 hours of playtime on that thing. For the record, that’s twelve days and a half nonstop. I had caught that final Pokémon that I could find in the Safari Zone, a Bagon! It only took 110 days for it to appear! I was so close, so fucking close! I cried. A lot. I don’t think I ever recovered. It might explain why I treat harshly games that crash on me. I just think back to Pokémon HeartGold. And how days of hard work can all go to Hell because of a tiny little problem. It worked well for months, I would have never expected something like this to happen!

I’m not gonna lie, this is a tough one. For purely personal reasons. But I must carry through with reviewing Pokémon HeartGold. I must be fair to it. I must not let my bias take over! I must treat this game like I treat every other game, and not let my personal experience get in the way! …But I’m probably not gonna play through Pokémon HeartGold again, just in case it corrupts itself once more. So, you will probably find this review less detailed than usual. That’s probably a good thing, I tend to give too many details, and before you know it, I’m at three, four, five parts. But, more than anything else, this is my test in fairness.

Let’s go.

As usual, we open on resident Pokémon Professor. Johto's Prof Elm welcomes the player to "the wonderful world of Pokémon!", and we assign a gender and a name to our character. Alright, so, Male, Nicolas. Because I don’t wanna waste a day thinking up a cool name.

We open in New Bark City, where our character meets up with Prof Elm. Said Prof is very excited about an all-new discovery Mr. Pokémon, a friend of his, has made in Cherrygrove City. He hands the player a Starter; Chikorita, Cyndaquil or Totodile. I remember, when I played through the game, I think I had picked Cyndaquil. So, our character heads to Cherrygrove City and picks up the discovery: Congratulations, it’s an egg! We hurry back to New Bark City, but upon arrival we see a red-haired boy fleeing from Prof Elm’s lab, dropping an ID in the process. This kid stole one of Elm’s Starter Pokémon! And, coincidentally, exactly the Starter Pokémon who’s strong against the one you picked! He battles the player, loses, and runs away. We check the ID… time to name the rival!
Just look at this face.
Who wouldn't want to punch it?

It’s Keith. I’m calling him Keith. No questions. I want my rival’s name to be Keith. That is all. And if you wish to know why, well…

Quoted from the Yu-Gi-Oh! The Sacred Cards review, all the way back in 2014:
"I'm totally naming my next Pokémon rival Keith. I call dibs on that."

Sprout Tower, AKA Necessary Yet
Unimportant Stop During My Journey #1.
That’s why. So, our character is now ready to start his Pokémon journey! He makes his way through Routes 29 and 30, and reaches Violet City, where he first must defeat the monks of Sprout Tower before facing against the Gym Leader. That guy is none other than Falkner, an expert in Flying-type Pokémon. Obviously, since this is the first Gym of the game, it’s not too difficult, but since none of the Starters are strong against Flying Pokémon (and, in fact, Chikorita even has a weakness to it), you might have to find something to help. And what a coincidence, a person in one of the visited towns so far offers an Onix for an in-game trade, and Onix is resistant against Flying-types. Upon winning, the Trainer earns the Zephyr badge. After which he is contacted by Prof Elm’s assistant, who leaves him the egg, which contains a Togepi. Back in Pokémon Gold and Silver, breeding and eggs and hatching were new concepts, so this was their way to introduce it to the players at the time; they probably just kept it in because… it flowed the story, I guess? Or maybe getting a free Pokémon is always welcome?

Say Hello to Falkner.

Time to head towards the second Gym. Route 36 is blocked by some kind of tree that can’t be cut, so we go down Route 32. Along the way, we see the mysterious Ruins of Alph, home of the Unown… Those weak, lame letter Pokémon who are absolutely useless. But there are 28 of those, so they’re a must-have for every OCD-driven collectors. More sections of the ruins become available as we progress, so very little of it is available for now. Let’s move on! God I hate when I get sidetracked by the game this way…

"You! Shall not! Pass!"
"Shut the Hell up, Rocket!"
We need to pass through the Union Cave, and then we get to Azalea Town… where we find out renegade members of Team Rocket who are still at work. Yeah, apparently, Team Rocket disbanded after their boss, Giovanni, had his ass handed to him in a Pokémon battle multiple times by a voiceless kid Trainer. Oh hey, good to know Team Rocket has become as much a joke in the main series as it is in the anime! Oh, and what are these Grunts doing? Cutting the tails off Slowpokes! Wow, that’s evil! The player, aided by some Pokéball maker named Kurt, chases the Grunts, and makes them flee the place. Phew. We learn that Kurt makes custom Pokéballs from Apricorns, odd fruits found around Johto. He can create seven different types of Pokéballs, but chances are you won’t use his talents much, because, guess what? For the most part, his Pokéballs suuuuuuuuuuuuck.

Too few of them are worth it.
Well, alright, I’ll be fair. Most of his Pokéballs are useful but only in very precise scenarios, at times where you won’t think of using them. The Love Ball works great, only if you’re facing a Pokémon of the same species than the one you control, but of a different gender. The Moon Ball works well only on Pokémon who can evolve with a Moon Stone, which is, what, 7 or 8 species? The Fast Ball is only good against ultra-quick Pokémon or those who can escape the battle. The only viable one is the Heavy ball, because a lot of Legendary Pokémon are very heavy, and a lot of non-Legendary Pokémon are also heavy enough for this ball to have a better catch rate. The rest suuuuuuuuuuuuucks. Oh yeah, and not only that, but he can make only one per day. It’s not worth the trouble.

So, the Gym Leader in Azalea Town is a guy named Bugsy.. a Bug-type specialist. Wow, I would have never guessed! And he's young too, which makes me wonder if there are any rules for being Gym Leader outside of being "Master of one Type", After Bugsy is defeated, we’re ready to move on to Ilex Forest, but we’re stopped by Dick Dastardly- Oh wait, I meant Keith. Battle ensues. Keith loses, because duh. You can’t win with stolen Pokémon! …Well, a guy named Wes would beg to differ, but nobody cares about him at the moment. This is Pokémon HeartGold, dammit! Nicolas heads into Ilex Forest and helps some guy retrieve his Farfetch’d. For our troubles, we get HM01, Cut, which is required to play lumberjack and make trees fall. But I feel like this isn’t enough action. Cut is a tad weak, it needs to get powered up a little.

Uh… No, that’s too much.

I just remembered! In this game, the Pokémon in the top spot of your party follows you around! I'll go back on that much, much later; once I'm done with retelling the plot, in fact. In Part 4.

Big cities have big secrets...
We pass through Ilex Forest and reach Goldenrod City – Oh wait, before that there’s a Route, and on that Route there’s the new and improved DayCare Center- Oh wait, it WAS new and improved in Gold and Silver. Here, due to the games being remakes, they have to pretend it’s a new thing… even though the Gen 1 remakes had a two-Pokémon DayCare Center on Island Four I said nothing! Now let’s not get sidetracked, we go to Goldenrod City, home of the Normal-type Gym Leader Whitney. Every Pokémon game has its big city, with more houses, a larger population, more stores and a lot of secrets. Goldenrod City had, in the second Generation, a time-traveling machine that allowed to send Pokémon from games of the second Generation to games of the first. It also had a Game Corner, but shhhhh! Apparently, gambling is eeeeeeeeevil! Then again, I don’t know, I never spent more than 5 minutes in a casino-like Game Corner in Pokémon, I am way too unlucky. I guess that’s the good thing with my jinx; I’ll never waste my money at the casino. Anyway, the gambling was replaced in this version by a mini-game where you flip squares in a grid and must avoid flipping Voltorbs. A neat little logic game, difficult to master, but very rewarding once you do. Goldenrod City also has a radio tower, a large department store, the Magnet Train, and the Global Terminal. That one allowed to Trade between Gen 4 games while it was active… but since I got this game after its online features ended, I got jack squat. …and thus I never got to complete the Pokédex…

I gotta get a hold of myself! No time crying over spilled milk!

Her strongest Pokémon is
a Miltank? Holy cow!
So, who is that Whitney? For starters, a freaking powerful Trainer. Don’t let her Normal-type Pokémon fool you. She’s good with them. Her Clefairy may be her weaker Pokémon, but she’s got quite a few tricks up her nonexisting sleeve. But the big player here is the Miltank. Declared as one of the toughest Pokémon to face, if only because Miltank can heal herself… with her own milk… and hit hard. Still, she’s defeated. Whitney welcomed you almost with open arms, yet when she’s defeated she cries and almost refuses to give the Plain Badge to the player. Hey! I worked to get this! Your Miltank put me through Stomp And Lactose Hell! And then, when she decides to give it, she’s cheerful again. Um… Bipolar much?

One, two, three...
Guess what's not a tree?
Whatever, let’s move on. On the road to Ecruteak City, there’s quite a number of things to do. There’s the National Park, where one can participate to Bug-type Pokémon-catching contests. The tree blocking the road can be watered, revealing itself to be a trickster Sudowoodo that you can battle and catch. There’s also an all-new section, the Pokéathlon, unique to HeartGold and SoulSilver. In this new mini-game of sorts, your Pokémon participate in all kinds of sports in five categories: Jump, Power, Skill, Speed and Stamina. The Pokémon play in teams of three, and every contest goes through three mini-mini-games. Each Pokémon has ranks in all five categories, so you can tip the balance in your favor by picking Pokémon from your PC boxes who are better in the category you picked. While not my favorite thing in the game, it’s definitely a fun bonus. It takes quite a bit of skill, but it’s alright. I… never really got to play it to my full potential…

Dammit, Nicolas, go back on track!

We finally get to Ecruteak City, home of Ghost-type master Morty. Again, very subtle for a name. It was like a predisposition caused by the name his parents gave him: “Son, your name starts with the French word for ‘Death’, you better start getting good with Ghost Pokémon. Nobody will take you seriously if you start training the Electric type. And don't count on your friend Rick!”

Come to think of it, the names of Gym Leaders in the second generation are even more obvious in their Type symbolism than in any other Generation. Bugsy, Whitney, Morty? Then again, I have only played four Generations, so maybe the Gym Leaders of Hoenn or Sinnoh are even more obvious… Whatever. Time to wipe the floor with the clothes of ghosts! Oh wait, right, Shuppet was only available later…

I'm not ready to battle three Legendary
Pokémon at once! What's this, XD: Gale
of Darkness?
Ecruteak City is also home of the Burned Tower, where of course the Trainer has to go. In there, he sees the Legendary beast trio of Gen 2: Entei, Suicune and Raikou. They flee, but one eyewitness takes interest in Suicune, a mysterious guy named Eusine. From that point on, if you’re unlucky, you can wind up facing against either Entei or Raikou in the wild, completely out of dumb luck. That’s the Roaming Legendaries, hands-down one of the most hated mechanics of the Pokémon series, if only on how difficult it is to get those damn Mons. And how they can completely screw over your party if you’re not ready against them... and how they love to run away if you do have the upper hand… urgh. The last place of interest in Ecruteak City is the Bell Tower, but it’s not interesting as long as there isn’t a "very, very special reason" to go. Imagine I said that last sentence with shifty eyes, almost whispering. Because these games like mysteries. A last problem is the Rocket Grunt harassing a kimono girl, and we have to defeat him. Gee, is that all you got, Team Rocket? I’m disappointed. You guys feel like Jessie, James and Meowth right now. No, actually it's worse than that.

I'm just a lowly Trainer! Why doesn't she do
that herself? ...A Gym is over there?
...FINE! I'll go.
Anyway, it’s time to head towards the fifth badge. Nicolas goes across Routes 38 and 39, visiting a Miltank farm on the way, and reaches Olivine City, home of Steel-type specialist Jasmine. However, she can’t play right now, she has, *gasp!*, actual problems! The Ampharos who serves as a light source in the lighthouse is sick. And Jasmine tasks the player with picking up a Secret Potion from Cianwood City, located on the other side of a body of water. Yep, you know what that means: Surfin’ time! I would ask why Jasmine doesn’t go there herself, but she most likely doesn’t have any Steel-type Pokémon who can use Surf, so I suppose she can be excused… Anyway, we have to head over to Cianwood City.

Suicune is rther strange, compared to its fellow
Legendary Dogs.
The Routes towards Cianwood City are pretty basic, but there’s a formation nearby knows as the Whirl Islands. Like the Bell Tower, there’s a story to this place, but it's not important right now… because you know, secrets and stuff. Cianwood City is a beach town with very little to offer for now. Keith is there, menacing to steal some guy’s Pokémon. Nicolas kicks Keith’s ass and gets from the saved Trainer a free Shuckle, which will have to be given back after a moment. Further north, Suicune shows up and Eusine, who’s been chasing it down, arrives. After Suicune leaves, Eusine challenges Nicolas to a match to “prove himself” to Suicune. Wow, you… you’ve got issues, dude. Why all the admiration? You know what, I have a theory why this guy is so obsessed with Suicune, and I don't want to say it. I won't allow myself to. Besides, Suicune isn’t even all that great when it comes to Legendary Pokémon, you know. It’s got a base stats total of 580. There’s a bunch of Pokémon with base stats total of 600, and others with 680. Way better, don’t you think? Go worship Mewtwo instead, he’s much more worth it. Or maybe Lugia, or Ho-Oh. In Cianwood City, there’s also a Photo Studio, a Poké Seer, a pharmacy where you get the Secret Potion… and of course, a Gym.

Finally a Trainer sprite
large enough that I can place
a caption under! Wait, it's over?
Now is as good a time as ever to enter and beat the fifth Gym, led by Chuck the Fighting-type specialist. Now, you’ll pardon me if I don’t remember how difficult it was to defeat him and gain the Storm Badge. Either I don't want to remember because it was too hard, or I don't remember because it was too easy. Anyway, he gets beaten and we can move the plot forward…

But before we go back to Olivine City, take a look at this entrance blocked for the moment; it leads to the Cliff Edge Gate, which grants access to Route 47, and beyond that Route, none other than the all-new, all-ameliorated Safari Zone! But we can’t go there until we heal Jasmine’s Ampharos.

You know what, I’m gonna stop there for today. I’ll continue next Monday!