Hey, wait a minute! This isn’t an anime post! Indeed, while the Merry Days of Anime shall continue as planned, there’s one game I’ve recently finished that I wish to cover before going all-in. This is a neat little ROM hack I discovered after watching a streamer play it: Pokémon Kalos Crystal.
Overview and Major Differences
For a very basic description, Kalos Crystal is a ROM hack that does precisely what its title conveys. It’s Pokémon Crystal, only with the Kalos region of pokémon. However, what the title doesn’t state is that it’s technically a sequel, much like the second generation of Pokémon games were a sequel to the first generation. This is the second ROM hack by Azure_Keys, who also has a hack called Unova Red—just Pokémon Red with the Unova region pokédex. Kalos Crystal is like an in-universe follow-up where one plays through a Johto region containing both Unova and Kalos region pokémon.
Most everything else is mechanically the same. Some differences do apply via the Fairy type being implemented, new moves added (and some removed), evolution requirement changes (you don’t have to trade anything anymore), and Ghost-type moves being switched to Special and Dark-type moves being switched to Physical. Little details here and there have been tweaked to provide opportunities for underrepresented ‘mons to shine. I think that’s neat!
What may be highly noticeable lately is my tendency to go on for long spurts with my game reviews. The number of reviews this year that have exceeded 2,000 words has been shocking even for me! So let me provide a quick “tl;dr” version of this review in a single line for people who wish to get on with their lives:
It’s Pokémon Crystal with minor adjustments and some added legendary additions.
If you, like me, love and cherish and adore the second-generation of Pokémon games and want to play it again with a fresh coat of paint, this ROM hack is borderline perfect. Though it does not revolutionize the game in any way, it does just enough to make everything fresh for another go in Johto. Plus, things as simple as adding a new type and switching a couple type categories goes a long way in making most party options viable. Some may still miss the physical-special split, however…
Let’s Get Artistic
Did you all know that I love pixel art? I’m not sure if that was obvious or not, given my other posts and tendency to live in the ’90s. When it comes to a ROM hack such as this, where an entirely out of order collection of pokémon are present, one thing that becomes enticing is seeing how they translate into the graphical style of the game. We all know how fifth and sixth-gen ‘mon look in their respective eras; how would they look in second-gen spritework?
If Kalos Crystal is any indication, relatively great! It would be so easy to model pokémon in a more “modern” fashion, especially with the advantage of hindsight. However, it seems Azure_Keys is one who respects the era in all capacities, including their visual limitations.
The ‘mons in this game do not always look “great.” Some with a lot of detail to their design or incredible girth are often simplified or condensed down to fit a specific window. Depending on what the ‘mon is, this can either hurt or enhance the charm. For example, Beartic, Clawitzer, and Excadrill look fantastic; Sawsbuck, Braviary, and Scolipede look awful. Seeing what does and doesn’t work due to the constraints of the timeframe is immensely fascinating.
Similar limitations are placed on color, with some creatures receiving drastic color changes from their original design. Vivillon is mostly gray in this hack; Liepard is purple and white as opposed to purple and yellow; Cofagrigus has a large amount of teal to its sprite and no yellow. Some of the more “bold” colors that these pokémon usually sport are more often used as highlights instead of the base. Again, this can either harm or improve upon the designs, though I feel it generally works for the better. I lucked out by being relatively satisfied with my party’s overall aesthetic.
A few pokémon are framed almost identically to their spritework in the gen-five games, specifically. Encountering a Mienfoo for the first time, I immediately thought, “Yeah, that’s copy-pasted.” But about 95% of the pokedex (229 pokémon, unless I’m missing one) includes re-worked (some only slightly) models that give a lot of charm to these regions’ selections. I ended up being fond of pokémon designs I otherwise thought kind of dull in newer games.
They even made Klinklang look cool—the objectively worst pokémon ever looks cool in this. I can’t even fathom it. Incredible kudos to you, Azure_Keys.
In the original Crystal, there are a total of six legendaries you can collect (with the sixth only exclusive to a real-life event in Japan). In Kalos Crystal, there are a whopping 19-20, depending on if you count Larvesta as a legendary. Every legendary pokémon within the fifth and sixth-gen pokédexes are present here, though their means of acquisition range considerably.
Without spoiling too much, some legendaries are found in specific spots after a trigger has been set; some are simply handed to you; others appear after you have a specific item in your inventory. Especially during the postgame, it allows for a lot of different areas to be explored that you may not have otherwise. In the original game, a few spots felt like they should have been more integral to some specific event—here, a lot of these spots have more… “epic” significance.
As a quick aside, on the topic of “handed to you,” all starter pokémon can be acquired via handouts at various points in the game. Kalos Crystal ensures that you can acquire every pokémon in the pokédex in a single playthrough.
Circling back to legendaries, it can feel a little anticlimactic to have things simply handed to you. And you can have legendaries within your party as soon as before the second gym. (Again, this depends on if you count Larvesta as a legendary.) The “specialness” ends up being hampered when they become too commonplace, a criticism I have of future Pokémon games in general. At the very least, this ROM hack saves a lot of legendary acquisitions for the postgame, but it remains too prevalent. Though I can’t blame A_K too hard; you have to incorporate all the pokémon somehow.
Not Quite Pristine
I get it: Rom hacks are hard. Especially with having to erase all mentions of prior-gen ‘mons from scripted dialogue, it can be a monumental task. Making sure everything works as intended and that the world truly does feel like it was grounded in Unova. Unfortunately, this is not done to the fullest effect (among other things).
There were a few times where a pokémon from either gens one or two popped up in dialogue. Most notably, people who call you will have scripted dialogue where they comment on specific ‘mons. I had one where they commented on what I believe was “Pidgey,” so that’s one slip-up. Another more striking one is the man standing in front of the Pokémon Center in Celadon. If you speak with him, he’ll comment on his trusted “Poliwrath,” similarly to how he does in the original game. If you interact with said “Poliwrath,” though, it’s a Seismitoad.
These could very well be seen as nitpicks, sure. Although, when the goal is creating an alternate universe where gens prior to the fifth don’t exist, this can break the immersion and result in some “teehee!” moments. Little chinks in the armor, so to say.
I also stumbled upon a strange visual glitch while playing. Particularly close to Pallet Town, a few NPC models will take the form of the player, no matter the circumstances. If you get on your bike, so will the NPC; if you start fishing, so will the NPC. Seeing myself in blue and green is nifty, but also breaks the immersion far more than seeing “Pidgey” flash across the screen.
One other small complaint I have is that gen-five ‘mon have some of the highest level requirements for evolution throughout the entire series. Gen two, if I recall correctly, has some of the lowest leveled gyms and trainers throughout the series. Sticking these two facts together means one is going to have a lot of first or second-form ‘mons for loooong stretches of time. By the time they become totally viable, you’re near the end of the game anyway.
To their credit, A_K did scale some of the level requirements down to suit that purpose. Though the full product still ends up a bit too overwhelming. Maybe I’m just mad that half of my team required levels in the high thirties to evolve… just maybe.
Refer back to my one-line review near the beginning.
Kalos Crystal ends up a mostly fantastic ROM hack that gives a modern flavor to old-school Pokémon games. Some may be turned off by how little is changed with the core gameplay or adventure at its core. For those, like me, who will willingly replay Silver, Gold, or Crystal for any reason, this is a very solid “excuse.” Creative spritework, a lot of legendary hunting, and the inclusion of Fairy types make this one to try out if you wish to go back to Johto.
You can download Pokémon Kalos Crystal on GBAHacks.
For more reviews on this topic, be sure to check out the associated archive.
Thank you for your time. Have a great timezone.