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Pokemon Ranger: Guardian Signs Review

I know, I know… I’m late.  Don’t know why I put this off for so long since I finished the game about a week and a half ago, but I apologize to those of you who have been waiting for me to give my verdict.

Guardian Signs was not my first ‘Pokemon Ranger’ game.  I had also played the second one (Shadows of Almia) as well.  In many ways this new game improved upon my previous experience, but I definitely see a lot of the same.  One of the biggest changes, for me, was the exclusion of selectable ‘partner pokemon’ that traveled with you and were not just “single use” like the normal wild pokemon you would encounter.  Instead you are stuck with “Ukulele Pichu” for the entirety of the game… whether you are a fan of the electric rodent or not.  Being the grass and bug pokemon fan that I am, I would’ve preferred some choice in the matter.  Find the full review after the break

Graphics

Guardian Signs adds nothing to the traditional ‘Pokemon Ranger’ graphical style.  Sprites seemed to be the same and of fairly good quality.  The backgrounds were pretty, particularly the forest settings.  One of the downsides to the sprite approach is that when you have pokemon following you they only have about 4 ‘directions’ they face and they’re all diagonal.  Sometimes when you’re moving in a straight horizontal line it can look out of place.  The Ranger series does not even pack in all of the pokemon up to the end of Gen IV so this seems to be a time/cost saving measure that doesn’t reflect well on it.  The graphics may be pretty, but they do not stand out and are certainly not up to par with some other series who use 2D to beautifully illustrate their games.  6/10

Gameplay

The main gameplay mechanic in the Ranger series is to draw circles around a pokemon while it moves around and launches attacks.  If it hits your “styler” (top shaped gadget) or your line you’ll lose “energy”; run out of energy and it’ll be game over.  To be honest it is addictive and fun when the game challenges you.  Some attacks cover the entire screen and you’ll be hard pressed to keep circling.  If a small amount of time goes by when you haven’t circled the target pokemon its gauge that shows your capture progress will start to deplete.  The problem with this game lies in the fact that it really doesn’t challenge you very often.  I got a ‘Game Over’ screen *once* (final boss).  Shadows of Almia had some challenging bosses in my opinion, but Guardian Signs just seemed like a major pushover.  When you dumb down the system too much it feels like you’re just wasting time and slogging through the storyline instead of really “playing”.

One of the nicer additions to the gameplay here were the ‘points’ you earned for completing the ranger missions.  These points can be used to upgrade your styler’s strength, line length, and more.  This adds a level of customization to your game experience that didn’t exist in the last two games and felt like a welcome improvement.  Like in past versions there are also some ‘side quests’ thrown in to add additional gameplay.  Generally these come from villagers who are worried about a pokemon or need you to capture a pokemon for them.  Completing these will give a smaller amount of ranger points than you would receive from the official ‘missions’, but are a good way to get a few extra points here and there.  In Shadows of Almia you would unlock certain resistances to types of attacks, but using points as a reward was a much better incentive for me.  You can also take on multiple side quests at a time and complete them at your leisure, another improvement over Shadows of Almia.  The last thing I want to mention is the fact that you start off in Guardian Signs being able to have a full party.  This was also a convenience as opposed to past iterations.  This game also included obstacles that would have to be cleared by using multiple pokemon’s field abilities.

I’ll also touch on the ‘Signs’ quickly: During the course of your gameplay you’ll encounter some legendary bosses that will reveal a “sign” to you that you will then use to call them at will.  The 3 legendary dogs are the main ones you’ll use throughout the story and are akin to HMs of the main game.  You’ll find obstacles scattered throughout the world that block your progression until you get the dog that can overcome them.  A secondary feature is that they provide a faster walking speed so you’ll frequently call them whenever you feel like walking might be too slow.  Side quests will also unlock other various pokemon for use by you, but they’re generally the first stage of an evolution chain and server no purpose (why they were included I don’t know).  The signs add very little to the game in my opinion.  7/10

EDIT: I would like to point out that Guardian Signs did MUCH better about easing players into the gameplay than Shadows of Almia did.  The latter’s “Ranger School” section bored me out of my skull and I was worried I’d find the same slow, mandatory tutorial area in Signs.  Luckily my fears were unfounded as all of the previous mechanics have skip-able introduction tutorials and I was alright with the new mechanics being explained.  Guardian Signs hits the game running and I give it props for doing that :]

Plot

This game thinks it has an engaging story.  I’m sorry, it doesn’t.  Playing through this game you will hear characters go ON AND ON with dialog box after dialog box with no signs of stopping.  In fact it feels like the gameplay is severely hindered by these large story-driven scenes in which characters will be much more melodramatic than they should be.  I would save after every large story interruption just so that I could guarantee that I would NEVER have to go through it again (even when pushing A A A A A A A A A A A A A on the DS they still take awhile to get through).  Had the plot been integrated better it could’ve been entertaining, but since I built up such a resentment towards being interrupted after every mission it just felt like the developers thought they were writing the next FFXII, or at least trying to.  Give us some animated cutscenes and then try to put in an epic storyline.  Another thing I wanted to touch on is the character dialog.  It is weird.  The characters all seem to phrase things in highly unusual ways and it kept on annoying me to read it.  One thing that stands out is the running gag of the series about tying people up “a smidgen on the tight side”.  It is obvious this sort of writing style is just used to try to amuse the younger audience they’re aiming for, however I question why they have such long story sections then.  No 10 year old is going to sit through that.  3/10

Overall

It’s clear that this game is not one that can find an audience with older fans of the main series who may want to try a pokemon spin-off game.  From silly dialog to the linear storyline progression, it just doesn’t cut it for those of us who enjoy the deep strategy that we’ve come to expect from the Pokemon games we grew up on.  It is unfortunate that Nintendo titles rarely go on sale, because if you could find this game for about $15 I’d say it might be fun to buy it.  You just need to go in with the mindset that this is a light hearted game whose main draw is the circling mechanic (which can be very enjoyable at times).  It is definitely a step up from the Ranger game that preceded it in a lot of small ways, but I’m afraid that it is largely the same game with a new (and terrible) plot line.   Final Opinion: Be ready for what you’re buying if you’re going to drop $30 on this game 6.5/10

<3 pokejungle

ps- Thoughts?!

pps- NEW POLL!! </overdue>