Welcome to a new feature on this blog: the Fangame Review. I will examine a Fangame or Fangame project in detail, sharing my thoughts and impressions upon playing the game. I will highlight the things that I think the project did well on, and also give some suggestions on how I think the game might be improved or expanded upon in the future.
Today, we will be looking at the fangame Pokémon Alabaster.
Game Thread on Relic Castle
Alabaster arrived without much fanfare late this past December. Its creator, Alababal, has been working on it since 2014. It is quite a substantial game, with 3 Gyms and an estimated 12-15 hours of gameplay. It takes place in the Nyejo region, an all-new region in the Pokemon world. It does not have Fakemon in it; rather, all 721 Pokemon are planned to be included in the final release. As someone who is always on the watch for promising new game projects, this one caught me off-guard by coming from seemingly out of nowhere with a significantly sized game release.
Its unpretentious exterior conceals a surprisingly well-made game, with a degree of polish the likes of which one seldom sees in fangames. It boasts a unique and original story, full of intrigue and plenty of twists and mysteries that I’m still left wondering about. The writing in this game is very strong, clear and even funny sometimes. Without spoilers, the plot is definitely a lot darker than your average Pokémon game, although the specifics of what happened are only revealed as you progress farther into the story. While it features several “Teams” — the ones I’ve seen so far are Team Tectonic and Team Celestial — their motives appear to be unclear and their morals ambiguous. (Well, Team Celestial anyway, Team Tectonic are a bunch of thugs.) What I think is remarkable about the story is the way it slowly builds around you as you discover more and more about the region and the world. With some pretty intense action sequences and climactic battles already, I can only imagine what lies in store for the future. I’m looking forward to finding out!
The game’s eventing is what allows the story to really shine through: the level of attention paid to small details, like minor NPCs or signposts, serves to immerse the player in the world of the game. I often found myself losing track of time as I played, because I was so curious about what I was going to discover next. It’s clear that the creator has put a lot of careful thought and attention into each area of the game, especially the Academy where your journey begins. There are also some truly ingenious puzzles that require the player to think creatively in order to figure out a solution.
It is also quite tough, along the lines of Pokémon Reborn, Rejuvenation, and similar Fangames. Scarce resources and an unconventional selection of starter Pokémon make the game feel sometimes punishingly difficult. But all battles can be won with some determination, and in my experience all that extra challenge simply adds to the feeling of accomplishment you get when you do win. For a veteran Pokémon player, a truly difficult Pokémon RPG can feel like a breath of fresh air since the Canon Pokémon games have gotten easier in the most recent installments. Though, those averse to doing grinding should keep in mind that I found it necessary at several points throughout the game, mostly before a Gym battle. The EXP system (scaling like in Pokemon Black and White) results in a much slower growth curve than I’m used to. Oftentimes, however, it instead encouraged me to think outside of the box and use more nuanced strategies than simple brute force. The game really inspires you to think creatively in order to win.
There are also Level Caps in the game — a controversial design choice — although I seldom if ever actually hit them in my adventuring. (I think I came close just before graduating from Nyejo Academy, but that was it.)
Also worth mentioning is the game’s original soundtrack, composed by the creator Alababal himself and absolutely one of the best parts of the game experience. It fits in perfectly with the 4th gen style, and there are some seriously catchy melodies (I found myself humming the Academy and Battle themes for hours afterwards).
Let’s move on to the Pokémon. It might seem a little strange for me to be reviewing a non-Fakemon game on this blog that is about Fakemon. But I’m willing to set aside my preferences in this case, because the way Pokémon are included in this game is simply wonderful. They really feel like a part of the world, factoring heavily into the story, your characters’ motivations, the setting, etc. I’m always thrilled when I see Pokémon in the overworld; little details such as that are what really immerse you in the game’s world. To my knowledge, the obtainable starters are: Beldum, Togepi, and Larvesta. Any game that lets me start with a cute fire bug is a great game in my book.
Let me see if I can sum up my thoughts on Alabaster into a quick bulleted list:
- Interesting story that still feels like it’s grounded in the Pokémon world
- Excellent Maps
- Catchy Original Soundtrack
- Challenging gameplay that rewards strategic thinking and patience
- Requires some grinding
- In-Battle graphics are “meh”
- It’s sometimes not clear where the player should go next
- Still some bugs to iron out (to be expected, it’s only a beta)
Pokémon Alabaster is an exceptionally well-done fangame, which is worthy of recognition and more appreciation. Its creator, Alababal, has approached the Pokemon game format with imagination and ambition, and has managed to create something wonderful because of it. Although the slow pace and high level of challenge might feel off-putting to some players at first, I encourage them to stick with it despite all that. It is a game that feels very satisfying to play, and absolutely worth giving it a try and sending the creator some love and appreciation for all of his hard work. So, thanks, Alababal, for sharing your game with us — it’s truly something special.
That’s it for the first Fangame Review. I plan to do more of these in the future for fangames that catch my interest, not necessarily the most well known ones. If you have any suggestions for games that you would like to see me review, feel free to leave them in the comments below although bear in mind I will pick them at my own discretion.