By Callum Humphreys
Imagine a world as dark and disturbing as that in The Hunger Games trilogy.
Now transfer that violent imagery to a Pokémon game. Reborn, this franchise certainly is. Pokémon Reborn isn’t quite as disturbing as the dystopic future portended by Suzanne Collins, but nevertheless this fan-made iteration of the Pokémon games feels distinctly like a young adult novel.
The game takes place in a new region called Reborn, and from the get go it has a different feel to previous games. “Reborn City – Black smog and acidic water garnish the crumbling structures along the skyline. City streets fest like alleys with disaster and crime. But the metropolis stands, a decaying blemish on the once-vibrant region.” This description from the Pokemon Reborn website accurately sums up the vibe – don’t expect to see bright, happy colours as in previous games, because you’re in for a gritty ride. The game opens with a bombing at the Reborn train station that results in several casualties, so the black tone is set from the get go. You quickly get roped into fighting against the evil Team Meteor (this version’s incarnation of Team Rocket, though teams Aqua and Magma do make cameos), and are swept away into stopping their nefarious plans to cleanse Reborn. This is an incredibly dark game, and not one that should be played by children. Swearing is common, and there are numerous moments that deal with sensitive topics in a way that young children will not be ready for. Attempted suicides and child abuse run rampant in this game; it’s almost a cliché.
Pokémon Reborn is free to download and is updated periodically, meaning that the game is a work in progress, and new Pokémon and new chapters of the story are added regularly. That being said, I’ve spent a significant chunk of the past month playing it and I still haven’t finished what’s been released so far, so there’s a good amount of content to sink your teeth into. As for the writing, the story is different and has its moments, but is let down by poor writing. There are some great one liners in there that made me laugh out loud, but don’t play Reborn expecting a well-written story. The dialogue often feels clunky, and you’re sent back and forth between cities multiple times before you even get the HM Fly, which becomes infuriating. On that note, most of the useful HMs aren’t gained until much further into the game, so expect a long grind.
The gameplay is, generally speaking, as solid as you’d get in an official Pokémon game. You’re given the choice between all 18 starters at the beginning of the game, and there are opportunities to gain some of the others as you progress through the story. There are over 700 Pokémon planned to be in the game, so if you have a favourite from past games, chances are it’s there. There doesn’t appear to be any legendary Pokémon at this stage, but perhaps they’ll be introduced in a later update.
One of the most significant additions to Pokémon Reborn are field effects, which alter depending on what environment you’re battling in. Grass attacks become stronger when fighting in a forest and electric attacks become more powerful if you’re battling in a power plant; the list goes on. While this is a neat feature, it’s in need of some serious rebalancing. Often, if the gym leader uses an attack that’s boosted by a field effect, it’ll one-hit-KO you, even if it’s not super effective. This is an inherent flaw in the game even when you disregard field effects – some Pokémon are unreasonably more difficult with seemingly no logic behind it at all. Particularly with gym leaders, you need most of your Pokémon to be at the level cap to defeat them, but this also raises the issue of your Pokémon overlevelling in battle and disobeying you, which is even more frustrating. Especially since not every gym badge will raise the level cap, so you’ll find yourself forced to train your Pokémon to the cap to beat one gym, only to find them overlevelled for the next one. This can be rectified with “Common Candy”, an item introduced by the game to lower the level of your Pokémon, but it feels counter-intuitive doing so when it’s a big grind to level Pokemon up in the first place.
So what else is different? Reborn boasts jumping puzzles, riddles, and other challenges you need to complete to progress through the story, but unfortunately does not continue the tradition of the Pokémon beauty pageant. I know, it’s terrible. But not to worry, you can still get their… hair cut? The biggest difference, and one that will be welcomed by fans of the series, is the ability to have more than one save file. No more will you need to delete your old save to start again with different Pokémon, and instead you can now hop between the two! The last major difference to the game is that Reborn does not have a multiplayer mode. Although unfortunate, this is completely understandable considering the game designers created the game using RPG Maker XP, and don’t have the servers to support multiplayer. Ultimately though, Pokémon Reborn is a huge game even without the multiplayer, and for the cheap price of free, you’d be a bit of a slowpoke to not at least give it a go.