'Pokemon Ranger: Shadows of Almia'
A Review of the Nintendo DS Game
After around a year of my 3DS being broken, I finally got my hands on a working one. Going through my games, I figured I’d do another run through of the classic DS title Pokemon Ranger: Shadows of Almia. Did I regret it? Not even a little bit.
Am I fit to review a game like this? Perhaps, perhaps not. But I’m going to anyway. This game is absolutely astounding, and it deserves to be recognized by more than just the niche community it currently is. Let’s get into it right away (no spoilers).
You play as a Pokemon Ranger student, in the region of Almia. You start the game on your first day of Ranger School, where despite being a silent protagonist, you fit in immediately. The player graduates from Ranger School and becomes a full-fledged Pokemon Ranger.
A Pokemon Ranger is a person dedicated to keeping the peace in the world, by befriending Pokemon, and using their multiple abilities to solve problems. A Ranger befriends a Pokemon via a device called the Capture Styler, which performs a “capture” by drawing circles around a wild Pokemon. Once captured, the Pokemon and Ranger are friends, until the Ranger uses its talents to help them with something. The exception to this is a Partner Pokemon, who travels with a Ranger, and helps out without the need to be captured again.
Once you become a Pokemon Ranger, you will travel all over Almia to help citizens in need, and even stop the bad guys, from the bustling streets of Pueltown to the serene greenery of Vien Forest. You will receive Missions from superiors, and Quests (usually simple requests) from citizens who need a Ranger’s help.
The game takes place in the larger-than-life Almia region, a place where people and Pokemon live in harmony. Odd kerfuffles happen from time to time, but the close proximity of the Ranger Union makes certain that trouble never lasts long. Almia is host to an immense amount of memorable citizens, whether it be the two fisherman who are always trying to one-up each other, or the Slakoth that falls on a poor guy’s head. Needless to say, Almia makes sure that there’s never a dull moment.
Shadows of Almia is written masterfully. As the game is a spinoff of the Pokemon franchise, the writing is predictably family-friendly. Despite the lack of crude and vulgar humor, there were a few points that I had to pause my game, because I was laughing so hard. The game also knows when to be serious. I can’t say that I cried at any point, but especially near the end I could feel the high stakes. The characters are all lovable, making a player really feel invested in the world. From your teacher Ms. April, to your family to your fellow Pokemon Rangers, all of the characters within the Almia region leave some sort of imprint on you.
Wow, this game is extremely pleasing to the ears. I’ll go so far as to say that there’s not a single bad song within the entire experience. The theme at the Ranger School makes you feel hopeful, like you’re going to move on to better things once you graduate. It instills a sense in the player that really makes you feel like a student, learning to become a Ranger. The happy-go-lucky Vientown theme, the classy, bustling Pueltown theme, every track in this game is just outstanding. My one gripe with the soundtrack is at times it can be a little repetitive. The wild encounter theme never changes (save for boss fights and a few other special encounters), and while it’s a good song, it only gets my blood pumping so many times. Again with the wild encounter theme, there’s a part near the end where you have to do a few obscure things to track a group of Legendary Pokemon. When you encounter them, the same vanilla theme plays, instead of the boss theme, or even a unique song. Other than that, the sounds are just amazing.
The big one. The most important reason one would play a video game in the first place. What’s the gameplay like in Pokemon Ranger: Shadows of Almia? Well, to be honest, it’s awesome.
The gameplay can realistically be divided into two separate categories: the overworld and encounters. The overworld may just sound like a means to get from Point A to Point B, but this isn’t Mario. There’s a bit more to it than that. Let’s just start with the overworld.
At first glance, yes, the overworld looks like a standard RPG, where the player just walks around it and marvels in the sights. Sorry to burst your bubble, but Shadows of Almia has a bit more depth than that. The main differentiating feature of this game’s overworld is the ability to perform a “Target Clear.” Almost every Pokemon has a field ability (Crush, Tackle, Cut, etc.), numbered one to five. For example, if there’s a rock in the way, a Pokemon with Crush can get the job done. If it’s a small rock, a Bidoof with Crush one can likely take care of it. But if it’s a larger rock, a Pokemon such as Hariyama with Crush three may be necessary. The game makes sure that if an obstacle is in your way (at least as part of the main story), there’s always a Pokemon with the necessary Field Move to get rid of it. Most of the time, the Pokemon needs to be a bit searched for, but they’re usually pretty fun to find.
Encounters, encounters, encounters. What can be said about encounters? One might view the encounter gameplay and be confused, and rightly so. However, despite its originally off-putting appearance, the gameplay here is loads of fun. As stated before, the process of befriending a Pokemon is known as a “Capture.” To capture a Pokemon, a Ranger draws circles around the target Pokemon, with their Capture Styler (using the DS Stylus). The Pokemon is not likely to just stand by and let them, however. From Pichu’s electric shocks to Geodude’s thrown rocks, Pokemon have the ability to damage the Styler. The Styler has an energy bar, and once its gone, it’s game over. The player is brought back to the last save. The stronger a Pokemon is, the more power the Styler needs to capture it, as well as the more damage it’ll do to you. To avoid the attacks, the player can either lift the Stylus from the screen or drag the line away from the line of attack. The former is easier, but there are bonuses to using one line for an entire capture, so the risk may seem worth it.
The repeated action of drawing loops with the Stylus and avoiding attacks may sound like it’ll get boring. It doesn’t. But, even so, there’s one more thing to add a bit of depth to the capture mechanic: Poke Assists. Each Pokemon has a primary type that will be used when using Poke Assist. The stronger the Pokemon, the longer an assist will last. For example, Munchlax’s Normal type assist strengthens the Styler, and adds to its length for a short time. Shellos’s Water assist allows the Ranger to flick bubbles at the opposing Pokemon. The big thing to keep in mind when using an assist is, that just like a Field Move, the Pokemon will leave once they are finished (with the exception of a Partner Pokemon, which cannot perform Field Moves anyway).
There’s little to complain about with this game. It’s so expertly done that it feels like it’s on a larger scale than it actually is. Despite being rather easy, having a repetitive soundtrack, and lasting less than one would hope (only took me around 25 hours to 100 percent the game, 22 to beat the main story, including side quests as they were available). Pokemon Ranger: Shadows of Almia is an absolutely astonishing game of the utmost quality. I give it a score of 96 percent.