Wait … there’s more? Yep, instead of going right to Generation IV, or even getting an expanded version of Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire, we’re instead getting remakes of Pokémon Red and Green. You read that right, Green. While it was never released in the West, it was released alongside Red in Japan, with Blue and Yellow coming later. The fourth-generation games, Pokémon Diamond and Pearl, wouldn’t launch for another two years. An expanded version of the main Generation III games, Emerald, would come eight months later.
This is part of an ongoing series. Be sure to check out previous entries in the Year of Pokémon!
These games were released at the tail end of the Game Boy Advance generation, a mere ten months before Nintendo would launch the original DS and Sony would launch the original Playstation Portable (PSP), both of which lead to a large leap in what a handheld system could do. With launch titles like Super Mario 64 DS and Wipeout Pure, 3D games were now something to reasonably expect. As a farewell to the Game Boy line, we go back to Kanto to relive our adventures and fond memories.
Pokémon Generation III … point 5? – January 29th, 2004
Generation 3.5 includes: Fire Red Version, Leaf Green Version. This review is based primarily on Leaf Green Version.
"Welcome to the world of Pokémon!"
True to their names, these are largely a repeat of the original games in the series, Pokémon Red and Green. In these Generation I remakes, the player starts off in Pallet Town, alongside their rival, canonically named Blue. Like Crystal, Ruby, and Sapphire, a female player character is an option in the game, canonically named Leaf. The male player character is canonically named Red, as established at the end of Gold, Silver, and Crystal.
As the player makes their way through the various Pokémon League gyms, they will also have to fight Team Rocket, traverse the Safari Zone, awaken sleeping Snorlaxes, challenge the Pokémon League’s Elite Four, and become the Kanto region Champion. The Champion is allowed access to the Cerulean Cave, where the savage clone Pokémon Mewtwo awaits. This is where Generation I ends.
Spoilers lie beyond this point! Skip to the next bolded text to avoid story spoilers!
However, in the Generation III remakes, new adventures await on the Sevii Islands, an archipelago south of Kanto. Seven of them are accessible through ordinary game progression, but two of them can only be reached via event items.
After the player defeats Blaine, the Cinnabar City Gym Leader, they can speak with Bill, the creator of the Pokémon PC system. He will give the player a Tri-Pass, which allows access to a ferry where the S.S. Anne was earlier in the game. The first three islands are accessible, then the remaining four are unlocked after beating the Elite Four, obtaining the National Pokédex, and completing a side quest on the islands.
One Island leads to the massive Mount Ember, the new home to the legendary bird Moltres. The player must retrieve both a Ruby and a Sapphire guarded by Team Rocket. Upon defeating this group of Rockets, the administrator realizes that Giovanni has disbanded Team Rocket. Initially, he confuses the player for Giovanni’s kid, but corrects himself, noting that Giovanni’s son has red hair. This foreshadows Pokémon Gold, Silver, Crystal, and their remakes, where a remnant group attempts to revive Team Rocket. Silver, the Generation II rival, is also confirmed to be Giovanni’s son in the later remakes, Pokémon Heart Gold and Soul Silver.
The remaining two islands are triggered by items obtained via Mystery Gift or at a physical event held by Nintendo. Because of the age of the games, neither are viable options in 2018. Anyone picking these games up for the first time must resort to cheating devices, such as an Action Replay or Gameshark.
The first island, Navel Rock, is home to Lugia and Ho-Oh, the legendary birds of the sea and sky. The final island, Birth Island, is home to the legendary DNA Pokémon Deoxys. Once captured, it can change form based on what game it is present in. It will take Attack Form in Fire Red, Defense Form in Leaf Green, and Speed Form in Emerald.
The Sevii Islands overall are a short addition to the game, but they are a welcome addition from the Generation I games, especially for fans that have already played Generation I. It’s also unfortunate that while Nintendo went through the process of remaking Kanto in Generation III graphics, Johto was not added to the game. The endgame of Generation II is the longest out of any generation to this date, with 16 badges and a final fight with Champion Red.
Spoilers end here. You can continue reading below!
While they’re a different set of games, Fire Red and Leaf Green are still ultimately a part of Generation III and utilize the same engine. There is no graphical improvement from the previous three entries of Generation III. Even though it was released less than a year later, Emerald actually takes the crown for the best graphics of Generation III. In Emerald, Pokémon perform a small movement when they come on to the battlefield, a graphical feature that first appeared in Crystal. But just as strangely as it disappeared for Ruby and Sapphire, it disappears once again in Fire Red and Leaf Green. Animations would make a permanent return in Emerald and Generation IV.
"POKÉ FLUTE awakens POKÉMON with a sound that only they can hear!"
The sound is of the same quality as the tracks in Ruby and Sapphire. Nothing remarkable, but nothing terrible. They’re largely faithful recreations of the original music. Fans of Gold and Silver will appreciate that the Sevii Islands music tracks are remixes of tracks from those games, but there are only three tracks for the seven islands rather than each island getting a unique theme.
Being based on the same engine as every Generation III game, the gameplay has very little differences from Ruby and Sapphire. The additions and changes in Generation III were highlighted by Connor Foss in the previous entry of the ongoing The Year of Pokémon series. In addition to not playing exactly like Generation I, this also means the major glitches, such as the infamous Missingno glitch, are no longer present. Oddball glitches and broken mechanics like the Old Rod being able to fish in statues, freezing being a semi-permanent status change, Psychics mistakenly being immune to Ghost-type attacks, and Focus Energy decreasing your critical hit percentage are also fixed. Features like the real-time day/night system that were removed in Ruby and Sapphire are still absent.
The player still has the choice between Bulbasaur, Charmander, and Squirtle at the beginning of the game, and your rival will choose whichever starter gets him a type advantage. Being that there’s no starter Pikachu, Pokémon Yellow’s extra features are taken out of the game. Pikachu is not available as a starter. Elements of the anime that were incorporated, such as Jessie and James being Team Rocket mini-bosses are gone.
Fans coming in from Generation I will have to adapt quickly to new features from Generations II and III, such as hold items, breeding, abilities, and natures. Natures will boost one stat and depress another, leading to even more careful consideration needed for higher level play. Hold items, such as automatically healing berries or items that prevent one-hit knockouts, will hinder strategies such as an overreliance on a few powerful moves or status changes. The addition of Dark and Steel types, as well as the addition of more powerful Bug and Ghost-type moves, means Psychic types no longer completely dominate the game.
Game Freak did take the time to add a bit more continuing play value after defeating the Elite Four. In the original games, all that was really left to do was to capture Mewtwo. The addition of the Sevii Islands is a nice touch that also expands the lore of the series. Players that prefer outright battling will also be happy to know that after the Sevii Islands are finished, the Elite Four will sport new lineups, higher levels, better strategy, and a few Pokémon from Generation II. But like the original games, you can complete this challenge an infinite number of times, and nothing else in the game is affected. These games mark the final appearance of slot machine games in the Game Corner in western releases. The remakes of Pokémon Gold and Silver would swap these for various cards and puzzles to avoid the appearance of gambling.
Fire Red and Leaf Green also have one other odd quality to them. They’re a snapshot of a particular point in time, before the DS and PSP made handheld wireless multiplayer common, and after Nintendo made the first decent wireless gameplay device in the form of the GameCube’s Wavebird controller. We may be spoiled by wireless today, but there was a point where we actually needed a physical hard-wired connection between two systems to battle or trade Pokémon.
Released alongside these games was the Game Boy Advance Wireless Adapter. It was comically large by 2018 standards, but it did allow freedom from cables, and there was also a lobby system set up, where up to 39 players could meet in a “Union Room." The adapter was not commonly supported. Outside of Pokémon, the primary games to support it were the titles under the Classic NES series, Mario Tennis: Power Tour, Mario Golf: Advance Tour, and the Mega Man Battle Network series. A version compatible with the Game Boy Micro was also released.
But the use of additional hardware didn’t end there. Like all Pokémon games, you can’t catch em’ all in one game. Completing the National Pokédex will require trades with Fire Red, Ruby, Sapphire, and … either Pokémon Colosseum or Pokémon xD: Gale of Darkness? These oft-forgotten GameCube games are actually required for some Pokémon. Before Emerald’s release, there was no way within Generation III to get the Generation II starters Chikorita, Cyndaquil, and Tododile. Generation III completely revamped the data structure of Pokémon stats, adding things like Abilities and Natures. As a result, this broke backwards compatibility. And because the internal clock and day/night system was removed, it was the only game where Eevee could evolve into the Psychic-type Espeon or the Dark-type Umbreon, whose evolution is dependent on the time of day. Getting those into your game would require a Game Boy Advance, a GameCube, a game for each system, and a Game Boy Advance Link Cable, a peripheral that connects a Game Boy Advance to a GameCube’s controller port. Well, at least it wasn't The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures, which required four players with four Game Boy Advance systems and four Game Boy Advance Link Cables connected to a GameCube for the game to be played as advertised.
The Final Word
Generation III has a mixed reputation in the Pokémon fandom. It added quite a bit for gameplay, but it also contained a lot of strange omissions, such as the day/night system that was a huge draw for Pokémon Gold and Silver. By going back to Kanto, we’re repeating a story and area that was a known hit with fans, unlike the lukewarm response Hoenn received. Generation III is also in the awkward spot of being too new to have a whole lot of nostalgia, but also too old to have done anything that was a definitive new look for the series. It’s also simply hard to get into since it requires connectivity with GameCube games in addition to other Game Boy Advance games to fully complete the Pokédex because of a choice to break backward compatibility. Generation II could receive Pokémon from Generation I, and Generation IV onward made the process far easier thanks to internet connectivity.
It’s difficult for me to recommend picking the games up just to play them. They aren’t poorly made or particularly bad, but Generation I holds a special place in history and in player’s memories. Simply experiencing the Kanto region is more pleasant in the endgame of Generation II or the remakes of Pokémon Gold and Silver in Generation IV. Nintendo hasn’t re-released Fire Red or Leaf Green on the 3DS’ virtual console, and it is unlikely they will. There isn’t enough unique material in these games to recommend hunting them down. If you’re eager to catch em’ all with Red again, I would recommend one of the original games on the 3DS’ Virtual Console or waiting for the likely inevitable second remake of these classic games. If you already have a system and can really want to play every Pokémon game, they’re an enjoyable, if flawed, swan song for the Game Boy Advance.
Game Boy Advance Wireless Adapter photo By Hbdragon88 - My file, CC BY-SA 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1170710