It’s weird being on the left side of the website this time. Welcome back to Fresh Look, where we totally didn’t send Neal out to buy more headlight fluid. In the last week, Pokemon Scarlet and Violet’s first expansion, The Teal Mask released, but I’m insanely burdened by vet bills and haven’t been able to purchase the aforementioned DLC yet. Thankfully, there’s plenty of ways to get your Pokemon fix, and I wound up stumbling across a fan game called Pokemon Emerald Rogue, and it entertained me more than I could have ever expected.
Emerald Rogue, as you may be able to tell from the title, is a roguelite ROM emulator using Pokemon Emerald as a base. When Emerald Rogue first begins, the hub is pretty barren and you really only get to choose which of three randomized starter Pokemon you’d like to pick. In my case, I selected a Corphish I didn’t even realize was shiny until after I tossed it into battle for the first time. Randomized starter selections aren’t new to just Emerald Rogue, but this won’t be an experience like most Pokemon fan titles you’ve played previously.
Most Pokemon fan games follow Pokemon’s basic formula: You’re on a grand adventure, sometimes there’s new Pokemon, types, or a metric ton of cursing. Pokemon Emerald Rogue eschews the usual formula to give you something truly different. Emerald Rogue is closer to Hades or Slay the Spire than it is to something like Pokemon Radical Red or Insurgence. The paths you can take, as well as each dungeon route you select, are randomly generated with Pokemon, trainers, and items. If all your Pokemon get knocked out before you defeat the champion, you lose everything and have to try again.
After selecting your starter and beginning a run, you’re pretty much tossed right into the thick of it, as you’re abruptly brought to a world map and need to select from 1-4 locations in front of you to visit until you reach the gym leader battle to earn your badge. Littered along the world map are nodes, many of them with hints that help you figure out what you’re going to see in that location. Grassy, forest, and cave routes dot the world map with their own levels of difficulty, trainers to battle, items to acquire, and Pokemon to catch.
The selection of items and Pokemon you find in every route path will be wildly different run to run. Sometimes you may get lucky and find an early Scyther with its technician ability and then find a Metal Coat right after, but other times you get nothing but Oops All Stunfisk. Roguelites are often a game of balancing resources, and Emerald Rogue is no different. You start with a little cash and can earn some more by battling trainers, but managing your cash flow is important since basically everything wants you to spend money.
Healing items, powerful hold items that you’re going to want since trainers begin using them somewhat early on, TMs, and tutors to teach your Pokemon powerful moves: all of these things give you an immense edge when it comes to formulating your strategy, and you’re going to want to take advantage of all of it. It can especially hurt when you’ve spent tens of thousands on forming a Pokemon’s ideal move set only to lose it because you encountered a suicidal wild Haunter that knew Destiny Bond. It needed to seek therapy, and not murder my Dratini, I’m just saying.
If one of your party members reaches 0 HP in Emerald Rogue, that’s it, they’re gone. Challenge players may be familiar with this from popular Nuzlocke rules, though Emerald Rogue does have its own twist on this idea. Rather than limiting players to the first Pokemon you find on each route you choose, you can catch as many Pokemon as you want. If you go above 6 total Pokemon, however, you have to release one, which means you can never build a reserve of Pokemon to absorb your poor choices!
The previous mention of Stunfisk may have tipped some more avid Pokemon fans off to this next bit of information, but once you complete a run of Pokemon Emerald Rogue, you unlock Pokemon from generations 4-8, Mega Evolutions, Z-Moves, and lots more. My very first run was a successful one thanks to finding a selection of great items and Pokemon the further I went, including finding a Gyarados, Metagross, Gardevoir, and even a shiny Typhlosion (which necessitated I use both it and Crawdaunt). The great part was that even though I had some reliable damage dealers on my team, this title gave me a renewed love for Vileplume that I haven’t had since I originally played Pokemon Red as a child because Growth + Giga Drain + Sleep Powder Vileplume allowed me to escape unscathed from battles I had no business winning.
What makes Emerald Rogue so appealing is that it’s challenging and requires you to actually use strategy. There’s a strict level cap enforced, so you’re not going to beat Emerald Rogue by just power leveling to overcome adversity. Thankfully, leveling is quick and doesn’t require any grinding to get your Pokemon to the cap and be ready for the difficult battles ahead. More often than not, trainers often have powerful hold items, and the gym leaders, Elite Four, and champions will utilize weather, terrain, and some very powerful strategies that may be familiar to those with competitive Pokemon knowledge.
While most of your gameplay will revolve around exploring routes and visiting rest stops to buy items or teach moves to your Pokemon, there are a few fun locations you can find along the way that might result in a perfect run, or lose it for you outright. There are some spaces that can let you catch powerful legendary Pokemon, you may find strong trainers who usually feature a fully kitted out team, but surmounting their challenge will have them offer you one of their Pokemon. There’s also the Lab, which lets you revive one of your dearly departed Pokemon that you either released into the wild or lost in battle, though sometimes that comes with a drawback.
Emerald Rogue effectively has no story to speak of, and is just the battle system Pokemon’s known for in a roguelite shell. The great thing about Pokemon is that its battle system is incredible, and all of the options the titles have afforded players over the years really make Emerald Rogue shine, because it’s everything good about battling without having to ever listen to Hau or Hop. It is so good that I kind of wish that developer Game Freak would try something like this in the future, like an expanded Dynamax Adventures from Sword and Shield’s Crown Tundra expansion.
Rogue Emerald is just an excellent time for anyone who fancies themselves good at Pokemon battling. There are tons of challenges to beat, like winning without losing any Pokemon or using only Kanto Pokemon, that give you money to spend in the hub, unlock new items like Mega Stones, and more. You can spend your money in the hub to take some items with you into your next run, as well as choose your starter Pokemon from any that you caught in a previous run. So, if you’re both a gentleman and a scholar, you can begin a run with both a Scyther and a Metal Coat, for example.
Emerald Rogue is a great customizable experience for Pokemon, so much so that I’d recommend it to anyone who enjoys battling. We haven’t had a Battle Frontier in many generations now, and I think Emerald Rogue is what finally scratched that itch of mine that I’ve been nagging developer Game Freak about since they dropped the Battle Frontier from Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire. If you’ve ever felt that the standard Pokemon titles have left you underwhelmed when it comes to challenge, Pokemon Emerald Rogue is just a great time, and will likely keep you busy for dozens, if not a couple hundred, hours.