Pokemon Gaia

I was really, really tempted to give this game a rating of five stars. I think it is a perfect ROM hack: it is polished, nuanced, and you forget very quickly that it is a ROM hack at all. There is zero jank (especially compared with Pokemon Prism ↗, a hack that I had a good enough time with but was very aggressively “a pokemon hack”, and featured moments and additions that were distinctly off-brand for the series), and the fact that this is the output of a small team is ridiculously impressive.

This is not meant to damn with faint praise, either — it is not a preamble to "despite all of that, I hated this and had a terrible time." I had a great time playing this game: more fun than Pokemon Sword and certainly more fun than Pokemon Legends: Arceus ↗. It felt like exactly what I wanted out of it — an update to the FireRed formula & engine which I love so much, with a new region and harsher (but not unreasonable) difficulties. The story was perfectly simple-but-not-idiotic. The writing nailed it; quippy one-liners but mostly staying out of the way.

If you like — or even liked — Pokémon games, I would play this one. It's a lot of fun.

The things I didn't like about the game — the things that took it slightly away from perfect — were reasonable design choices that I disagreed with. Two big ones:

  • There are too many monsters now. I phrased this as a joke on Twitter, but I think it's serious; trying to catch them all just feels sisyphean when there's ten new monsters in every route and there's no obvious reward for catching them 1, and it's hard for an Old like me to keep track of all the various types and weaknesses when the corpus is that large. Again, this is more of a series complaint than a game complaint, but still!
  • Hidden Machines are... annoying. There were seven in total here, and you really need to use them all pretty consistently. It feels bad to use them. I understand introducing interesting design constraints, but this didn't force me to make any interesting moves or difficult choices — it just made me feel bad.

Those are nits, and perhaps they're too nitpicky because I have a lot of long-term feeling for this series. But all of this is to say — this game is both a huge accomplishment and a huge joy.


  1. Something metagame-y would have gone a long way here.

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