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12 September 2010

Pokémon HeartGold & SoulSilver [DS]

Plot Synopsis: 6/10
Well, it's the same old schtick for the Pokémon franchise. The player starts off in a small, quiet town. They decide to leave town and explore, newly-acquired pokémon in tow. They witness the bad guys doing something bad, and decide to stop them. Along the way, they start challenging the local gyms and working toward becoming strong enough to challenge the Elite Four and the Pokémon League Champion.
This is an update of an early game from the franchise's history, so I can't really complain too much. It's not like they can change the story completely, and screw up their own continuity. As such, I'll give the plot a 6 out of 10. It's just kind of a repeat of the first generation's story.

Game Play: 8/10
I'm going to skip the very basics of the game play, here, because, quite frankly, I'd be shocked if anyone reading this had never played a single Pokémon game in their life. That being said, on to the more interesting bits.
With HeartGold and SoulSilver, we see the return of the GTS, which has also been updated a bit. The Union Room is still available, to connect several traders or battlers at once. The Pal Pad is still available, to allow for trading and battling over WiFi (once players have traded Friend Codes, that is). Hopefully, as two more generations of Pokémon games have been released since Gold and Silver were first released, it will go without saying that the National Pokédex has been updated to list all 493 species available at the time these games were released.
One thing I always thought was interesting about this generation of games was that it's the only pair of games in the franchise where the player can attain more than 8 badges. Thankfully, they retained this aspect of the games, as well.
I'll give the game play an 8 out of 10. I really want to say "If it ain't broke, don't fix it.", but I can't justify saying that about an updated (see "fixed") version of an older game.

Graphics: 7/10
The graphics in HeartGold and SoulSilver are the most advanced graphics we've seen yet, in a Pokémon title from the main franchise. They're still quite simple, easy to read graphics. But they are a vast improvement over the limited-palette graphics of the Game Boy Color, for which the original Gold and Silver were released. No complaints here.
The graphics get a 7 out of 10. They're getting better, while still keeping the same overall feel that long-time players are used to.

Audio: 7/10
Just updated, more intricate versions of the music from the original Gold and Silver. Nothing particularly amazing, here. However, as an interesting addition to the game, the developers programmed in an item that, upon activation, will allow you to listen to the music as it was presented in the original Gold and Silver, significantly lower quality as it may be. This adds a nice bit of nostalgia for older players while providing an interesting novelty for players who are newer to the franchise.
Audio also gets a 7 out of 10. Nothing outstanding, but it does the job.

Overall Score: 7/10
This game was nothing more than a way of making sure that all of the non-event species of pokémon were available for anyone playing any DS game from the franchise, since there's no way to trade from a Game Boy Color cartridge to a DS game card.

Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies [DS]

Plot Synopsis: 5/10
Same old drill. Introduced to main character. Play for a bit to get the hang of things. Tragedy happens. Main character decides they have to fix the tragedy and defeat the person responsible. Goes on an epic quest to do so, picking up other characters on the way. Gets captured. Breaks free. Eventually gets to head villain. Fight. Story ends.
The game gets points for adding a new twist here and there, as to the main character's origin. Bonus points for allowing you to create and customize every member of your party yourself. But overall, there's nothing new or exciting about the same old formula they've been using for years.
Thus, the plot gets a 5 out of 10.

Game Play: 7/10
Following a mind-set of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it", Square-Enix did nothing out of the ordinary, when setting up this game. The player wanders the world map, where they may occasionally have to fight monsters. Eventually, the story leads the player to specific locations on the map, where they must fight through some manner of dungeon, at the end of which resides a boss monster or character that the player must defeat in order to proceed.
The only thing they did differently is that they borrowed something from Atlus's Lunar franchise. The monsters on the world map are visible, and thus, it is occasionally possible to avoid the "random" encounters.
Also, the game falls into the usual Square-Enix pitfall. There are occasions where the player has no choice but to spend time leveling their party up, in order to avoid getting utterly trounced by the next dungeon/boss.
There are a lot of items and side-quests that the player can only unlock once the main story has been completed. Personally, I feel that this is Square-Enix's way of trying to add replay value to a relatively weak game.
The game play gets a 7 out of 10. Kudos for adding something new to the mix. It's just too bad that this particular "new" thing isn't even a new concept. Lunar did it back on the original PlayStation.

Graphics: 6/10
Square-Enix seems to have found a certain amount of contentment with the quality of the graphics for this franchise on the Nintendo DS. Personally, I'm not terribly impressed. Graphics while walking the world map are essentially the same as the recent updated release of Dragon Quest IV. I realize there's only so much screen to work with, on the DS platform, but I was expecting something a little better than what appears to be 16-bit graphics.
In battle, the graphics are essentially the same as Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker, which was released about two and a half years earlier. That's an eternity, when it comes to video game graphics. There are some minor improvements, but they make very little difference, ultimately. All I can hope is that it is a deliberate decision, on the part of Square-Enix, to keep the graphics style as it is, and not laziness.
I'll score the graphics a conditional 6 out of 10, this time around, hoping that Squenix isn't getting TOO lazy...

Audio: 7/10
The music is well made, but ultimately forgettable. It sounds exactly like every other recent Dragon Quest game. I really don't have much to say about it. I'll give the music a 7 out of 10.

Overall Score: 6.25/10
I almost feel bad scoring this game as low as I did. I legitimately enjoyed playing the game. But, I was expecting more, and was disappointed by what was delivered. Of course, that may have been my own fault, considering DQ8 was released for the PS2, while DQ9 was moved to a handheld. There's automatically less to work with.