When we think of Pokémon we think of a colourful world full of creatures to befriend. We think of lighthearted stories or in the case of Sword and Shield.. barely any story at all. We think of happy clefairies dancing and lickitung sushi eating minigames. Yet what if we look at pokémon in a different way? What if we go darker? This is what the amazing Rom Hack, Pokémon Reborn is about.
Terrorists and Hookers
The game begins rather uniquely. You can choose a gender, including non-binary and up to six avatars regardless of what gender you choose to identify with. A nice touch, now you can play as whatever avatar you like best. After that we get a wholesome train scene. Some guy talks to you about the Reborn region and the gym challenge there. Then it starts. A mysterious incident happens on the train.. and while you drive into the train station of reborn city, the train explodes. Terrorists have struck! While you arrive at the station you encounter a happy and bubbly girl, who was fascinated by the explosions.. she claims to be the first gym leader and tells you to meet her soon. At this moment you get control and you can walk around. Normally there is this guy who tells you that science is amazing explaining new features of the game. That guy is also walking around here! I decided to talk to him. “You were on that train?” He asks me? “So was my wife”. We all know what happened here and it hit me like a truck!
When we exit the screen we get a cut away scene, to a policeman who captured the terrorist responsible. The terrorist is tied in a small room, cuffed to a metal chair. When he refuses to talk the policeman takes out his torkoal and tells it to super heat the chair. With the screams of the terrorist we are told we aren’t playing any random pokémon game. We are playing Pokémon Reborn. We get taken to a building where we get one of 21 starters. All the pokémon up to gen 7 are in this game and you can choose each starter. I chose Piplup a choice I came to deeply regret. As soon as we leave the pokémon lab we can battle a few trainers. These are all hoodlums or hookers. The hoodlums use your standard Team Rocket Esque pokémon while the hookers named Doxies, use baby pokémon who use charm and attract. When you win.. you win 3 or 4 pokédollars…because these people don’t have any money. After a few battles I encounter a group of ruffians who are bullying a zigzagoon (but it can be a bidoof as well if I am not mistaking) they are scaring it and threatening to toss it off a bridge. I call out Piplup to school them! Piplup has a bad nature ..(for now) and I end up losing the fight. When I return to them to save Ziggy.. it is gone. It was tossed off the bridge. I then find out the water is acidic in Reborn City, and the zigzagoon died. I can’t live with myself and reset the game.
A real Gym Challenge
It is time for a new run, I choose my main boy Bulbasaur instead. This game is hard and I will need it’s bulk! Zigzagoon is alive again! Unfortunately .. the wife of the technology guy… is still dead. This time I know what’s ahead and I grind a bit, I even manage to catch a bidoof to assist me. We win. When healing up I see someone selling pokémon for 500 bucks! Sure I will allow myself to be Magikarp scammed! I’ll use a Gyarados! Unfortunately this is not Pokémon..this is Pokémon Reborn.. I basically get robbed of my money and end up without a pocket monster! However I’d advise anyone to buy that pokemon as it will grant you a side quest that will encompass a fair few hours as you get revenge and go find your promised pokémon. After exploring the first ward in the city I got a hand full of okay pokémon. Bidoof already evolved to Bibarel and I think this is the perfect time to take on the first gym. I was dearly mistaken.
Pokémon Reborn treats gym leaders like actual competent people. Every single gym leader (which includes gyms for each type) uses a full team of six Pokemon. Not only that each gym leader uses actual tactics. The explosion loving girl is the electricity type gym leader, and while you can not really find any ground type Pokemon to counter her.. her move sets are made to compensate any flaws in her team. Bulbasaur can take electricity fairly well… so virtually every single Pokemon on her team has a move that can hurt it normally. Not only does this apply to the gyms it also seems to apply to wild monsters to an extent. It seems as if Pokémon in this world have developed better defenses against this hostile environment.
To distinguish gym battles from regular battles though, all gyms are hosted on special fields. These are like the terrains in Pokémon Main Games but more complex. For example during the steel type gym fight, the entire room is covered by mirrors. Every beam type attack is powered up. Every special attack.. when missed is reflected off the wall and has a second chance to hit..if they dodge that.. you need to dodge as well. If you miss with a physical attacks some of the mirrors shatter and those who miss take damage of glass shrapnel. The Dark type gym is shrouded in darkness.. which empowers dark type moves..but by using electric moves you can turn on the lights weakening dark moves instead. Using electricity again will power up your electric move but short circuit everything out going back into darkness again. Those are some deep strategies! Now this is a challenge.
Suffering and Sorrow can be great!
Now you might think you can just grind levels and overpower your enemies one by one.. but no you can not. You see in Reborn pokemon and human are further apart, so when something is overleveled it stops obeying you regardless if it is traded or not. Essentially this means the Gym Leaders ace is always the strongest pokémon and you can NOT outlevel it.
Now your monsters can still gain xp and it would be a shame to lose your pokémon because it because unresponsive so the makers made a clever new item. The common candy, an item that brings your pokémon down a level. This way you can still always focus on your team. The fact that I do use these things a lot is a testament of how easy it is to actually level .. and that is a good thing.. because you might have already figured this out if you read between the lines… the gym leaders use a full team of six that can benefit from their fields. Essentially this means that you have to have a solid team to face them each gym. You can’t just pick Bulbasaur and hope to steam waltz through everything.. you can not waste a slot on Bulbasaur in a psychic or fire type gym. You are going to need a team made for your next challenge. Gone are the days of coasting you need to work to be a master in this game.
The difficulty can be somewhat relentless at times, you are constantly fighting a battle against the unknown. The evil organisation in this world is experimenting with forced mega evolution and augmenting or mutating pokémon, which means you never fully know what to expect. Fairly soon in after the game I encountered a street that was fully torn up.. huge rifts torn in the streets.. a girl crying as her boyfriend just fell to his death by this event… the reason for this is a giant weaponised tangrowth who the evil team is using to tear the ground asunder to unearth something they want to find. You have to navigate across these chasms by bursting through gang territory, by raiding warehouses and saving a popplio from dissolving in acid. The game while difficult encapsules that atmosphere.. you are not meant to make this in one go. You need to push as far as you can.. retreat to a pokémon center and lick your wounds. You need to adapt.. say goodbye to the pokémon you want to use.. and take that one that offers you an advantage. We are not in Agatha’s ideal world… the stakes are real this time. At times it can feel “not fun” it can feel like you are struggling and suffering..but that in a way is the point. In Reborn you shall not feel powerful.. in Reborn you make due.. and try to get by the skin of your teeth.
Hey no fair!
Reborn is one of my favorite pokémon fan games ever, even if I have yet to complete it. (Updates are brought episodic and I am not sure it is fully finished yet, but at least there are 18 gyms already so safe to say you are good for a solid while). The feeling of this world is so unique and gut punching real that it is truly a sight to behold. We all wonder why people alway play by the rules in pokémon right?! Well in this world they don’t. At one point you challenge a sick fighting master. Yet the evil team is on her trail. She battles with the leader and when she is putting up a good fight, the team leader uses his garchomp, not to attack her pokémon but to cut her in half. Her distraught pokémon promptly tossed in the volcano and dies as well. People use pokémon as weapons in this world not as friends and somehow it manages to balance it’s difficulty to reflect that. While I loved my Pokémon during my runs of the game, I had a team of about 20 that I had to use. So I did not bond as much to that one pokémon in my party.. as in this game you should really not do that.
This world feels cold.. and sometimes victories can feel hollow. For example a certain gym leader upon his defeat will get so depressed by his defeat that he ends up committing suicide by taking jumping of a bridge. One of the next gym leaders, his daughters best friend witnesses this event as she lives right next to the place where he landed. The sprite of her house even shows stains indicating where he landed. As a result this girl is traumatised and put up in a mental ward. Which uses Electabuzz to experiment with electroshock therapy on children. You have to rescue her from these experiments which leads to an even bigger story line that will have you flee reborn city for a while. Trying to keep this vulnerable kids safe. Never do you feel in control though. Never do you feel like the champion, you feel like you are being chased and as such this game gets a bit of survivor horror genre vibes. Which resources do you use.. do you stay there and gather or do you try to push on. Which battles have consequences and which reset you? Pokémon Reborn doesn’t feel fair.. it’s not about winning, it is about surviving.
Obviously a game with this tone can not really use the original soundtrack assets from pokémon. It would not fit theme wise..so the soundtrack has been very overhauled and it is truly amazing. The songs in this game feel broody and dark, dystopian. Gym battle themes feel like you are facing someone truly powerful and boy are they powerful. I managed to beat about 7 gyms so far (like official badges..not including any invalidated ones) and while they changed it up a bit in the more recent updates I can say nothing but praise for this soundtrack. Each area is so memorable. Simple decisions can be super effective. One gym leader..who feels barely human has the gym leader theme others have played backwards, causing you to feel very uncomfortable. The sound mixes so well with the theme of this game that I would think this is an official product. Very little about this feels ..fangame to me!
While it uses GBA style graphics and to an extend borrows from the original pokémon tilesets it goes completely it’s own way. From the water that is a rusty disgusting brown to all the derelict graffiti covered buildings. From the ash covered beaches of a volcanic island to a toxic wasteland that has it’s grass turn into a sickly purplish shade due to all the chemicals leaking into the ground. This is pokémon like we have never seen before. The boss pokémon look a bit less official with some sloppy sprite work here and there but they do feel properly twisted for this story. The game also features increased shiny rates and many shinies have received customisations that look absolutely stunning. On one of my attempts, I managed to get a Golem (you can get an item to get trade evolutions) whose core had a magma-ish glow while it’s rock have been darkened I squealed in excitement. Shinies in this game look absolutely amazing and with the higher encounter raid they made the much needed grind quite a bit more exciting.
This game is definitely not going to be for everyone. There is a steep learning curve, and I mean steeeeeeeep, but for those who like a challenge this game is truly excellent. The writing feels somber but not needlessly edgy..well maybe a bit..but at least it’s consistent to the entire world so never feels out of place. There are plenty of lighthearted bits as well to make it all tolerable and digestible! It has a pretty great story that does feel like it respects what pocket monsters can truly do. It respects the power that inside. Yet at the same time this did not completely feel like a Pokemon game to me. It feels like a JPRG more akin to Final Fantasy VII or Nier. It feels as if the pokémon are a mechanic .. in a non franchise game.
I’d say they more take on a role more similar to the concept of “magic”. A mage in one game is not persé like a mage in the next. These creatures are not your pets.. and there is no one to evaluate your pokédex and give you shoulder pads. These are your shoulders and together you fight to survive.
Pokémon Reborn is free to play and is fully made in RPG maker. It features online trading and online battling (though I would not expect to much out of that) and to any gamer who likes darker RPG’s I say definitely check this one out. At a certain point it even gave me Chrono Trigger Vibes (especially in the future bit) . There are a handful of colourful locations as well but to the pokémon fans who are in love with Pokémon Go and Let’s Go, I’d say.. this is not like that at all. Puzzles are as hard as the battles and require you to actually require you to read some dialogue. However unlike in other fan games where you can get quizzes that need you to look up stats of pokémon or so on the internet.. or know them by heart ..this game does offer you all the right tools. While hard and grindy it never really asks you to EV train.. or breed… like some of the more hardcore fangames do. This one is all about strategy … and surviving… and I love it dearly for that.
For those interested you click here to get Pokémon Reborn yourself!
Let me know if you decide to play! Remember I love you all! Keep Smiling and Stay Positive! Even darkness can be amazing!