In major parts of November and December, I played through and thoroughly enjoyed Pokémon Platinum, which was particularly surprising considering I didn’t think I liked the fourth generation of Pokémon. Upon its release roughly seven months ago, Fire Emblem: Three Houses destroyed my social life and ended up being my 2019 GOTY. Both would have a profound impact on my experience playing games from their respective franchises that came before: Fire Emblem: Awakening and Pokémon LeafGreen, both of which I had previously completed and enjoyed. Said impact, unfortunately, did not end up positive.
This isn’t going to be a post of all-encompassing reviews of Platinum, Three Houses, LeafGreen, and Awakening, but how I believe the latter two games suffer because of the former two. Kind of like saying Star Fox suffers because Star Fox 64 exists, and the further boosts in technology and experience made the original title obsolete. I basically just explained the whole post going forward, but if you feel like staying, I’ll try and make it entertaining!
First, a little personal history: Pokémon is probably my most-played game franchise of all time. Considering the number of games, mainline or spin-offs, I’ve played from the company and their lengths as JRPG’s, it’s hard to think of any competition, except perhaps World of Warcraft. Just a few years back, I actually replayed FireRed for the umpteenth time and enjoyed it quite a bit, rewarding it with an 8/10. LeafGreen and FireRed have almost zero differences, so labeling it as either is essentially the same game. It wasn’t until playing Pokémon Shield last year (and enjoying it, despite the hand-holding) that I found the desire to go back and play a title from every generation to completely ascertain my opinion. Finishing LeafGreen a few days ago, I’m left with a feeling of… indifference.
With Fire Emblem, it’s the opposite story. To this day, I have played a whopping two games from the entire franchise. It’s always been a consideration, seeing as I liked Awakening enough. After Three Houses, however, it’s become a little less enticing. After all, upon (finally) putting Three Houses down, I got an urge to try Awakening again. So I did… and… I didn’t even finish it. Like the first time around, I liked the stages and the strategy required to ensure the safety of all of my units. I also still didn’t care for the story and a majority of the characters… only this time, it was less tolerable. How small and bite-sized everything felt compared to… well, I’m getting ahead of myself.
LeafGreen vs. Platinum
LeafGreen is something of an interesting case, considering it’s already a remake of the first game in Pokémon‘s history in Red & Blue. That said, while they updated the graphics, mechanics, and added some new features, it feels more like a remaster than a remake. “Remake” implies they’ll be doing things in a different manner, while “Remaster” is basically just an updated skin for the modern age and maybe a few added details. For much of the experience, it seemed like it had no desire to innovate or be creative. Veteran purists probably adore it for not throwing a lot of frivolous garbage at the player, though I’ve grown to like that they do a little of that.
Platinum introduced the physical/special move split (a godsend for certain pokémon), heavy implementation of 2.5D graphics, and had what I considered a decent collection of characters. The adventure, while not always consistent, felt more grandiose in its presentation and set out to hit more of the adventurous tones that LeafGreen seemed resigned to only sprinkle in. I, at one point, praised the simplistic and hands-off approach that Silver & Gold, my favorite Pokémon games (for now?) incorporated in their adventure. Recently, though, I’ve found that a little dull. A change in preferences from a changing person? Or a consequence of boredom caused from repetition? I’m still not keen on the l-e-g-e-n-d-a-r-y storylines that the franchise seems fond of since the third generation, yet I was fine with Platinum‘s take. Perhaps it is a matter of moderation; not too over-the-top, not too aloof.
Pixel quality was another aspect I found disappointing in LeafGreen, though deep down, I always thought so. Even Ruby & Sapphire, which came out roughly the same time, I thought looked more interesting. There’s a paleness to LeafGreen that sort of sullies the emotional capacity for spontaneous moments of grandeur. Doesn’t hurt immersion, that’s for sure, but it doesn’t pop in the same way that Platinum does. With this latest playthrough, I’ve noticed that the lesser amount of pokémon to select from feels especially apparent, with lots of basic trainers opting for Pidgeys, Rattatas, Spearows, Koffings, Grimers, Goldeens, and other region-specific selections that seem to fit all types. And trainers were everywhere! Hoards and large groups plopped down on a route or place of significance for the sake of it. It got tiring close to the halfway point, always putting down Pidgeys and Rattatas like scrap meat. I generally like to grind, but it was too much.
At this point, I’m coming to the conclusion that I believe the fourth generation was a sweet spot for Pokémon development… ignoring Diamond & Pearl, which kind of faltered out the gate (Platinum fixed many of the issues). Difficulty wasn’t too soft or tough, the selection of pokémon was large enough to allow developers to include some prime candidates in every area (and varietize trainers’ teams), there was a noticeable effort in making things look interesting, and the physical/special split was revolutionary, allowing pokémon that usually underperformed due to their type/stat combo (like my sweet Kingler) to flourish. As someone who likes complex narratives in my games, even the dumb, simple narrative for babies didn’t bother me too much. LeafGreen‘s… was just too simple. The only interesting bits came from the Pokémon Mansion on Cinnabar detailing the story of Mewtwo’s birth. Otherwise, pretty shrug-worthy.
Awakening vs. Three Houses
As alluded to previously, the contest between Awakening and Three Houses is borderline unfair due to size differences. Awakening was a last-ditch effort by Nintendo to bring Fire Emblem to the West (and to keep the franchise alive at all) for the 3DS. Three Houses is a 200-hour game for the Switch after numerous successful games paved the way for it. It’s almost like comparing Super Mario Odyssey to Super Mario Bros. Nevertheless, my feelings were not persuaded!
What’s most fun about Three Houses to me, aside from the lovely characters, is the freedom to play it as you desire. Many things are mandatory, of course, but the way you build your class, amount of time you grind (on Normal difficulty), and go about the RPG aspects is almost entirely voluntary. I can spend upwards of two hours just partaking in auxiliary battles that last, at most, 15 minutes (usually 10 or less for me, depending on how overleveled I am) because I love battling that much. I never got bored of it. And while the same can technically be done in Awakening, it’s not as seamless. One must spend money in order to re-do certain battle scenarios continuously, and the level of enemies tend to vary. Three Houses offers a variety of freedoms to you that Awakening, in its more linear design, does not, and that irks me greatly.
When you smell that sweet aroma of freedom, it’s hard to go back to the metallic tinge of restriction. At many points in my second playthrough of Awakening, I wished I could’ve had more discussion time with my fellow units. I wished I could be able to use any weapon, classes be damned. There’s no hub world to explore to further build immersion, which has been a primary complaint of mine for a number of games (Sonic Adventure 2, Super Mario Galaxy 2). The only thing Awakening really has going for it are the pair-up features, which combines statistical strengths of two units in battle, and the marriage option between (almost) any two units at any point in the game, which Three Houses painfully lacks (the romance in general in Three Houses is mediocre).
Hard to make a credible argument based on “There’s more stuff to do,” but that’s basically the argument to be had. Three Houses has far more detail, activities, and freedoms the player can take advantage of to employ an otherwise fruitful and memorable slice-of-life-esque adventure. Awakening is much more standard, complete with restrictive measures to increase difficulty and the same story beats that any medieval-esque fantasy story incorporates. The difference in circumstances surrounding each game’s creation will undoubtedly cause some to cry foul with my argument, which I can respect. All I can say is that Three Houses made Awakening seem less inviting by comparison, and it’s been months since I’ve even entertained the thought of picking Awakening back up.
So whether it be subsequent games that add onto the previous or games within different franchises that do similar things, sometimes when one’s used to more, it can be hard to go back to less. Some games have that magic no matter the age of technology, like the aforementioned Super Mario Bros., which is still good fun to this day, despite its archaic design. Others, like the two victims of today’s article, end up within a pit in the back of one’s mind as stepping stones to better experiences. Not to say one can’t enjoy them individually, just that it becomes evident that, when held up against games with more preferable qualities, they tend to wither with time. An unfortunate, inevitable conclusion.
Are there any games you can’t go back to after playing certain other games?
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Thank you for your time. Have a great day.