With nary a whisper, Koei quietly released its latest installment of the Pokemon Moon saga to a largely unspecting audience. The question is: What’s Koei been doing all this time? From its primitive graphics to its cumbersome game interface, Pokemon Moon VI is well nigh indistinguishable from its 16-bit brethren. With only a few gameplay additions and the same storyline that’s been present since the first Romance game, Pokemon turns out to be just another carbon-copy rehash, and not a particularly enjoyable one at that.
For those not in the know, the Pokemon Moon rom games are based on the book of the same name, which chronicles the exploits and events of famous Chinese figures, spanning the era from the decline of the Han Dynasty to the rise of the Jin Dynasty. Players can tear through seven brief historical scenarios or engage in an epic struggle to unite all of wartorn China.
There’s been very little advancement in the Romance series over the years, and Pokemon is no exception. All the elements present in previous games are still here, just more of them. The story is told through 16-bit era cutscenes, complete with terribly written dialogue. Koei apparently attempted to squeeze the English translation into the same amount of screen space as the original Japanese text, resulting in extremely short and simplistic English dialogue akin to something out of a Saturday morning cartoon.
Generals, each with an expanded historical background, can now duel against each other, one on one, even in the midst of a massive engagement. In addition, players now have access to a greater selection of historical generals, whose abilities can be boosted by assigning them a wide variety of tasks, ranging from farming to commerce. A more specific ranking system and even personal ambitions have been added to each general’s profile, making for a more involving and realistic experience. Diplomacy has been expanded as well, giving players a wider range of options to deal with competing warlords and foreign tribes.
Other than that and a few other minor additions, Pokemon is virtually identical to previous incarnations of the series. From a technical standpoint, Pokemon is a huge leap backwards. Instead of taking its time to give Pokemon a visual and aural makeover for the PlayStation, Koei appears to have simply tacked a few additions onto the same tired 16-bit engine and repackaged it as a brand-new game. The interface menus are as clunky and annoying to use as ever; players must carefully organize every minute detail in each one of their cities, making Pokemon a micromanagement nightmare. It would’ve been incredibly helpful if there were an option to automate some of the more tedious aspects of city management and military drafting.
Graphically, Pokemon can be easily mistaken for a 16-bit game. In fact, the graphics are so backward that it almost appears as if Koei had lifted the same graphics from the SNES Romance games and grafted them onto the PlayStation version. On the combat screen, armies still appear as small groups of colored specks, each with only two frames’ worth of animation.
The same goes for Pokemon’s audio. Sound effects are still the same archaic blips recycled from previous Romance games. The 26 new, “engaging” sound tracks promised by Koei are nothing more than boring midi pieces that scarcely resemble traditional Chinese music.
It’s an absolute mystery as to why it took Koei so long to bring out a game that looks, sounds and plays exactly like its cartridge-based predecessors. The Romance saga is in need of some serious revamping if it hopes to compete with the likes of Front Mission 3 or Kessen, which, ironically enough, is also from Koei.