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October 19, 2015

Pokémon HeartGold (Part 4)

Read Part 1 here and Part 2 here!

InPart 3, I covered the whole Kanto half of the game. There was a LOT to discuss there. For the fourth and final part of this review, I’m going to talk about the special ways to get Pokémon in HeartGold. There are many ways to find new Pokémon here, and I’ll try to explain each of them. I covered some in Part 3, but I might explain them in greater depth here. So, let's begin!

Dammit Steelix, cheer up!
Alakazam looks like he's
sneaking behind the Trainer.
Oh, wait! Before that, I need to talk about the walking Pokémon! Yes, Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilver introduced a mechanic that hadn’t been seen since the first Generation, and which hasn’t been seen since, and that’s a shame, really; it’s a great mechanic. The walking Pokémon. Just like the Pikachu in Pokémon Yellow, in this game you can have a Pokémon following you around. It’s always going to be the Pokémon in the first slot of your party. And yes, all 493 Pokémon can follow you. Including the Legendary ones such as Arceus, or the very tall or very heavy ones (such as Wailord or Snorlax), and even the ones that wouldn’t like to follow you at any time of day (such as the Hoothoot and Noctowl line, who are nighttime birds, or any Ghost-type who hates the sun). Plus, at any moment in the game your character can turn to his/her Pokémon, and get a message that changes based on a number of factors: How far you are in the game, your Pokémon’s happiness with you, its current state (poisoned, low on HP, etc.), the location you’re currently in… and I’m probably forgetting some. Game Freak even added some neat touches, like the larger/heavier Pokémon being unable to enter buildings, the walking Pokémon coming into battle from offscreen rather than being released from a ball… That’s an amazing idea and I wish it would come back.

Gotta wonder how long it takes
to finish this huge task.
Now… So You Want To Complete The Pokédex. I already discussed the swarms, these Pokémon species who are not always native to a Route, who suddenly appear en masse on those Routes. Some are Gen 3 or 4 Pokémon who shouldn’t logically have anything to do here. Yet, they happen. Something else can happen as well, thanks to the Pokégear. If you use the radio and tune in to the “Pokémon music” channel while on a Route, you may hear what’s known as the Hoenn Sound (only on Wednesdays) or the Sinnoh Sound (only on Thursdays). Playing these channels on certain Routes will attract Pokémon from the third or fourth generation. Of course, the music has to be playing for this to work. 19 additional species can be caught this way.

Night falls everywhere, so every place gets
darker. And the more it snows, the more
there's snow. Join the Obviousness Team!
While I’m at it, Pokémon Gold and Silver introduced two new concepts to the series: Time of the day, and day of the week. Simple, you say? Back when the games had an internal battery, it was quite the achievement, but the remakes make great use of the Nintendo DS’s internal clock. Basically, some species are seen throughout all time periods of the day, while others may prefer to appear only in the morning, in the afternoon or at night. Case in point: Hoothoot, which you can only find at night on some early Routes. This isn’t used to its full potential, even to this day in the recent Pokémon games, but it’s a neat thing that diversifies the encounters. Next is the day of the week. While it doesn’t affect Pokémon species much, it’s a feature required if you want to, say, find certain NPCs (the 16 Gym Leaders), or call other NPCs with the Pokégear. Sadly, it basically amounts to having to wait X number of days to get feature Y… You want to battle Misty but you can’t call her until Wednesday morning? When you’re in school? Too bad for you! Yeah, each feature has its ups and downs, and this game has a truckload of special features, so my job through this review wasn’t only to explain the plot, it was also to discuss most of the features while not letting this overshadow the story.

Another special thing: Headbutting! If one of your Pokémon knows Headbutt, you can use it on just about every tree of Johto and Kanto. Sometimes they contain Pokémon, sometimes they don’t. It’s the kind of thing you do to get a few rare species. Trees in one same location can have different Pokémon as well, and on different levels. After the National Dex is obtained, you can find new rare species. What’s more, there are very specific trees that hide very specific species. These trees are so specific that you have to actively search for them. Thankfully, there are guides out there. These special trees hide Pokémon that cannot be found anywhere else. It’s tough (and I hate that a in any Route may be the only one to hide a certain species), but necessary to move towards completing the National Dex. That’s nine new species from Gens 3 and 4.

Oh yeah, there’s also the Pokéwalker thing, which you attach to yourself, go on a walk, and then plug to your game, and you can encounter more Pokémon this way… but I never got to try it, I didn’t have the damn thing.

There’s only one last thing to explain… the Johto Safari Zone!

Created for HeartGold and SoulSilver, this Safari Zone can be accessed by going through a cave near Cianwood City, at the fast West end of Johto, and then walking through Routes 47 and 48. (For those interested in Legendary Pokémon-catching, there’s the Embedded Tower on Route 48.) A miniature village was built around the Safari Zone Gate. When you first reach this place, the warden Baoba will explain how the Safari Zone works, and will see if you understand by sending you in there to catch a Geodude. Three hours later, you can return and Baoba will have a second challenge for you; catching a Sandshrew. This is so useful, y’all. However, in order to achieve this, you need to use the Area Customizer to add a Desert area to the Safari Zone.

Wait, what?

Ah yes, allow me to explain. This is one weird Safari Zone. See, it’s made of six blocks in a 3X2 map. Each zone represents an environment and has different Pokémon species that can appear, from all four Generations. With the Zone Customizer, you can play around by setting different zones. There are 12 different “zones”, and each one can be placed anywhere on the 3X2 map. Hell, you can put the same one in all six squares. After which you can freely move around and catch Pokémon.

That's a screenshot from, for one of the 12 zones.
One of the simpler zones, too.
Simple for now? Oh. Just wait, it gets infinitely more complicated. See, in each area you can place block items. There are four types of block items: Plains, Forest, Peak and Water. Certain Pokémon species only appear once you have placed blocks like these in a zone. As an example, Girafarig will start appearing if you place three Plains blocks in the Plains zone. Some Pokémon need two different types of blocks, too. But wait, it gets worse. And by worse, I mean so insanely complicated, you won’t believe it. See, some Pokémon don’t have enough of just a few blocks. No, they want a huge lot of blocks. And you can only place a maximum of 30 blocks in the Safari Zone at a time, so place wisely. Most Pokémon don’t require many blocks, but some demand 20+ blocks of certain types. Thankfully, the blocks increase in value after a number of days has passed.

Wait, what?

Yeah! After 10 days, a Plains block will be worth 2, so if you’ve placed 10 and waited 10 days, the game considers that you now have 20 Plain Blocks in there. Each type of block increases its worth on every 40 days, so after 50 days since you placed them, the Plains blocks will be worth 30. Forest blocks go up after 20 and 60 days, Peak blocks go up after 30 and 70 days, Water blocks after 40 and 80 days... I think that’s what I understood. Trust me, it took quite a while for me to grasp all of that. Because none of the guides explained it well enough for my tastes. And I read a LOT of guides about the Johto Safari Zone…

As is the case with everywhere else in the game, some Pokémon only show up on certain times of the day; some only come out at night, others in the morning or in the afternoon. You can also encounter Pokémon by Surfing and fishing, and those, too, are affected by the number of blocks placed in the zone.

But there’s another thing; some Pokémon only appear after a certain number of days, period. See, each zone keeps a counter of the number of days it’s been in place. After X days, some Pokémon will appear. However, this directly ties into the blocks mechanic; these Pokémon will only start appearing after the required number of blocks (of either of the four types) has been reached AND then, after a number of days has passed with these blocks in the zone.

Some Pokémon show up after 10, 20 or 30 days… which is already long. But wait. SOME POKÉMON ONLY APPEAR AFTER 100 OR 110 DAYS. That’s almost four fucking months. And of course, it only starts counting after the required number of blocks has been reached, which can also take a while. Thankfully, Baoba will call you on the Pokégear whenever new Pokémon show up in either zone. I guess that's a god thing...

The worst examples of this are Gible (Rocky Beach, 13 Plain Objects, 17 Peak Objects, 100 days). Bronzong (Forest, 9 Forest objects, 19 Peak objects, 110 days) and Bagon (Swamp, 9 Forest objects, 19 Peak objects, 110 days). Just imagine that. It can take well over 200 days to catch everything in the 12 zones.

And I was so fucking close. See, I waited like a saint for the time to pass. I had caught almost all of the species in the Safari Zone. In all twelve zones. I was only short of one Pokémon: Bagon. And then, someday, Baoba calls me. New Pokémon in the swamp! It can’t be any other. It has to be Bagon. I head there, and miracle! I catch a Bagon! It took me longer than I can remember, but I fucking did it.

The next day, the cartridge crashes.

A big Fuck You Nicolas from the God of Electronics. Or maybe its mischievous brother, the God of Glitches, is behind this, like a Loki of machines. Either way, I lost not only my entire save file, but also all the Pokémon I had collected thus far, including the Pokérus-infected Seadra (no, really, I caught it in the Whirl Islands, I remember that), the Red Gyarados, an Arceus, the weather trio of Hoenn, the legendary dogs, Celebi, Mewtwo, the legendary birds, Ho-Oh and Lugia, and… oh. I lost far too much. Including 300 hours of time spent raising Pokémon, evolving them… For the record, Johto is one of the worst regions to raise Pokémon; outside of the Legendary ones, the maximum level of Pokémon in the wild is hardly above 40. Training in Kanto, or in Mount Silver, or facing the Elite 4 again, those were the best ways to raise Pokémon. This was before Audino the EXP whales appeared, by the way.

I never forgave Pokémon HeartGold. And there is no way I’m going out and buying it again. And I’m not replaying my own cartridge again, ever. It might just crash. You may have noticed in some of my reviews that I can’t stand games that crash on me. It’s all because of Pokémon HeartGold. And that’s a shame, really.

I know what you're feeling.
Because this is a good game. I’m heartbroken over something that doesn’t have a damn thing to do with the game. Well, let me rephrase that. I am convinced that this cartridge was gonna crash at some point. And that there was nothing I could do against it. But of course, I didn’t know at the time. Am I to blame? Perhaps, for accepting a game that had been picked up from a wastebasket and cleaned up. Maybe I am really an idiot. Maybe I’m wrong in thinking that there was some ominous countdown towards a save file-erasing glitch. But after 300 hours of play time, nobody could have seen this coming. It has worked well for months on end, why would it break now? In fact, you know what? If less time had been wasted looking for Pokémon in the Safari Zone, I probably would have been able to complete the Pokédex. Four months wasted on looking for a few species, this just sucks. Four months, with every day taking me closer to the crash.

I’m sorry if it’s annoying, I just… I’m sure you know what it’s like to lose something you’ve worked on for a long time. But enough about that. I said I had to be fair, so fair I will be. And to be fair, I need to get myself away from my personal experience with the glitch, and evaluate the game on its actual content. And you know what? This game has flaws, but it’s still good.

One cannot talk about these remakes of Pokémon Gold and Silver without mentioning how much the late Satoru Iwata has done for these games. In order to give us both Johto and Kanto in a single Generation, he compressed all of the data contained in what had been done so far, and did it so well that more than half of the space was now free. The team at Game Freak was then capable of including Kanto, giving us almost two games for the price of one.

And he did it in his spare time. This game, like every Pokémon game, is a labor of love and dedication to the gamers, to the loyal Pokémon fanbase. And you can feel it. Not only is there an entire storyline to follow, most of the 493 Pokémon can be caught at one point or another, and there are dozens of gimmicks that add to this game’s unique feel. This stands for Pokémon Gold (and Silver, and Crystal), but it’s just as much true for Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilver. The team behind these games has offered more than we could ever hope for. And every few years, the cycle restarts with a new Generation, more new things to try, more new mechanics, more new thingamajigs and species...

Every Pokémon Generation has at least one rival,
and it must be quite the challenge to invent a story,
a secondary journey for this unofficial antagonist.
The story of Pokémon HeartGold is fairly simple. You can’t take out the “Trainer’s journey” out of a main series Pokémon game; it just wouldn’t make sense. (For the record, Pokémon Colosseum and XD are considered spin-offs, so the "Trainer's Journey" isn't a part of them.) Then, of course, we follow the story of Silver (the rival, which I named Keith) as he grows from a lowly robber wishing to take down Team Rocket to a respectable Trainer in his own right. Truly, the sole weakness of this story is Team Rocket, who don’t have anywhere as much an effect on the plot as they did in the preceding Generation. They’re still cruel jerks, but they lack a visionary leader here, which may explain why very little is done by them. All they do is try to call their past leader. That's kinda pathetic for villains of such a grand game, don't you think?

As for the gameplay, it’s excellent. Very few elements outright annoy me. A large majority of the 493 Pokémon can be caught in a way or another, whether it’s in the wild, during day/night, by headbutting trees, using the Pokégear’s Hoenn and Sinnoh Sounds, the Pokéwalker, the Safari Zone, the giveaways, and all of the Legendary Pokémon that can be found. And of course, evolving and breeding the species you’ve collected. If you were somehow to catch all the Pokémon that can be caught in the game through all of these methods, there would be very few trades necessary to complete the Pokédex. That’s cool, I like that. It’s a nice change from games where you can’t even get half of all the Pokémon without trades (case in point: Pokémon FireRed, where you could get only 167 of the 386 species if you weren’t to trade at all; for the other 219, you had to trade).

Is that an eyepatch?
...Can I have it?
Sadly, it’s not all perfect, though my complaints are, for the most part, minor. My only real complaint is that, no matter how much you fight, it just feels as though experience grinding in this game is long and tedious. Even as you fight against Elite Four members and the 16 Gym Leaders, it just feels long, very long to get your Pokémon to level up. Those were the times where your Exp. Share had to be equipped to a Pokémon in your party, and thus only one would gain Experience along with the Pokémon you used in battle. It’s a chore. And oddly enough, I never felt like that in a Pokémon game before or since. Even Pokémon Black and White, with their terrible level-related Exp.-gaining ways, weren't so bad. Maybe it’s just my perception. I might be wrong. But that’s what I felt.

We meet again, Zapdos!
My other minor complaints almost all stem from the Pokémon-catching options… The Hoenn and Sinnoh sounds on Wednesdays and Thursdays, which are school days for the kids who'd like to play this game more. The very special trees in the overworld that hide rare Pokémon species are completely indistinguishable from the others. So unless you have a determination of steel and choose to headbutt every single one of the 1000+ trees in this game, a couple times each, good luck finding those all by yourself. There’s also a ton of gimmicks that can be used in this game, but there are some you’ll hardly ever use. I also have a problem with the “calling Gym Leaders on certain days and certain times” thing, because again, we have to wait for the precise time to call, and only then does the Gym Leader become available. Can't call at that precise moment? Suck it!  Last but not least, the Safari Zone. Look, I appreciate the idea of placing zones, using items to attract rare Pokémon and waiting… but I don’t think having to wait for months is a good thing. I was pro-Safari Zone all the way, until I saw how many Pokémon appeared only after 50 days. I am not of the patient kind, but I pulled through. Well, I tried. But I don’t think having the gamers wait for so long for so few Pokémon is a good idea.

I guess the key words here are: Time, and waiting. A lot of time-related issues, and a lot of waiting. What do I do while I’m waiting? I play Solitaire? I work on that science-fiction novel I've been willing to write since the third grade? I guess that sums up my issues with the game.

So… in the end, Pokémon HeartGold is actually very good. I think this review had something therapeutic to it. Venting about my problems always does me a lot of good. It’s free for me, it’s free for you, and I entertain! And it has helped me come to terms with my loss. No one is safe from an electronic mishap. Not even the best games out there. In fact, hating on a game because it crashes is the easy way out. It leaves scars, sure. You feel like you’ve lost something, sure. But this sort of thing can happen. And most of the time, this actually has nothing to do with the actual content of the game. Note that sometimes it does, if the crashes are so frequent they’re practically a part of the experience, or when a game is already bad and it crashing is just the cherry on the sundae. But it’s not an argument to use against a game if everything else in it is good. The three hundred hours spent playing it were far better than the few hours I mourned my loss.

This is the lesson I learned today. And I’ve been fair all the way through. I’m feeling at peace right now. Like a big weight has been lifted off my shoulders.

But Poké-Month is not over. But I don’t have small Pokémon games to review… well, there would be Pokémon Shuffle, but… nah. Not now. So… Is anyone in the mood for a Top 12? Alright! This Friday, my 12 favorite Pokémon!