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Old 3 Weeks Ago (7:00 PM). Edited 3 Weeks Ago by DrFuji.
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    Hack of the Year 2018 - Judging Round


    Introduction


    This is the third and final round of 2018's Hack of the Year competition. Three judges have played and rated the three hacks that got through the Elimination Round on a 10-point scale in four categories: Graphics, Story, Gameplay and General Appeal. The hack with the best overall ratings has won the Hack of the Year award and can be found here in the results thread. This thread will remain closed, as only judges will be allowed to post their ratings and comments here.

    Finalists

    Judges

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    Old 3 Weeks Ago (7:01 PM).
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    DrFuji DrFuji is offline
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    Dark Violet by Chaos Rush


    Graphics: 10
    The most obvious aspect (and one of the most interesting) features of Dark Violet is its graphical style in the overworld. While most hacks either follow a more refined FR/LG sytle or seek modernity 4th/ 5th gen graphics, Dark Violet stands out from the pack by going all-in with an R/S/E twist. While I've never been a fan of the default R/S/E tiles, the transformation of HG/SS buildings and other overworld features into an R/S/E style is profound and somehow incredibly appealing. While not nearly as groundbreaking or mind blowing, I appreciated the R/S/E-ification of the OWs. Interpretations of NPCs like the gym leaders and story-centric characters shows the dedication to R/S/E's style, though legendary Pokemon like Mewtwo and Heatran had a distinct 4th gen quality to them. Overall, the consistency, quality and style throughout the game is wonderful. The fact that I mindlessly tried to patch an Emerald ROM is probably the highest praise I can give it.

    Story: 6
    I find myself in two minds when it comes to Dark Violet's story. I greatly enjoyed new additions such as the Rocket encounter in Pewter City museum and getting a front row seat to the backstory of Marowak's death, showing off the cruelty of Team Rocket. My favorite new scenario was probably the S.S Anne that really showed that Team Rocket was now targeting the player, rather having me randomly run into their various operations across Kanto. This change in dynamics between the player and Team Rocket give both the player and Team Rocket far greater senses of agency and allows you to become more invested in the story as now its personal between these two opposing forces. In terms of story, the best new addition was Kamon/ Silver's attempts to be a thorn in his father's side. His characterization throughout G/S/C as an untrusting, arrogant arsehole plays out in fun ways and even in the final fight, is shown to be his central motivator and greatest pitfall.

    The biggest detraction that I felt marred the story was Giovanni. His back story was one of the edgiest I've seen in a completed hack and while it didn't completely overshadow Dark Violet's strengths, became really distracting each time we met. In my mind, even a boring and overdone desire like 'wanting to become the strongest trainer in the world' would have made him a better villain compared to what is in the game right now. The other major issue that Dark Violet possesses is its insistence on reusing FR's vanilla text. While not every NPC utilized the base game's text, many did, which led to a lack of incentive to talk to everybody I came across. I understand that maintaining consistency with base Kanto was important, but the moment-to-moment experiences with NPCs really suffered as a result.

    Gameplay: 7
    I want to get this out of the way first: Dark Violet has the greatest original soundtrack I have ever heard in a hack. Teaming up with giradialkia to produce over a dozen new tracks has given Dark Violet a distinct flavor that pays homage to the classic tracks known by every Pokemon enthusiast, but with new twists and a couple of originals inserted as well. I particularly liked Ariana's theme and had to repeat it a few times before finally defeating her. In this department, Dark Violet is unparalleled.

    In contrast to my playthrough of Adventure Red, in Dark Violet I assembled a team of some of the strongest Pokemon I could find. Scizor, Kingdra, Porygon-Z and many others really added to the power of my team. With these Pokemon I had few issues getting through the game with my only major grinding session taking place before the E4. While it felt pretty good throughout, I assume that the difficulty would be far harder with lesser Pokemon as towards the end of the game I was finding myself quite outleveled by my opponents but could still take them on one-on-one. Interestingly, this game was also the buggiest of the three, mainly due to its new moves and abilities. My game hard crashed three times during my playthrough during battle and my Porygon-Z had the strange ability to never be afflicted by status, even when hit by a move like Toxic or Thunderwave. The final battle sequence in Cerulean Cave also had its issues as I was given an opportunity to swap Pokemon from my team with the box in a cut scene, only to swap out my surfer/ flier, leaving me to have to whiteout in order to escape.

    Unfortunately, the majority of maps in Dark Violet are recreations of maps from HGSS with only a few minor edits to either slightly improve map flow or to give access to an item. There are a few noticeable improvements such the underground paths beneath Saffron intersecting as a really cool market area and the S.S Anne's interesting interior layout. As the game proceeds to its ending however, these small improvements become less and less common. Cerulean Cave's mapping style stuck out like a sore thumb compared to the rest of the game and the new Battle Zone's maps were forgettable. While I don't know where Chaos Rush finished and hacksrepairman started, the end game's content really started to fall off a cliff mapping-wise.

    General Appeal: 9
    Out of the three finalists, Dark Violet gave me the the most joy to play. Despite its considerable length, it only took me a few sessions to progress through the entire game. I was hooked and loved most of my adventure through Kanto. Excellent music, graphics and story additions came together in a magical way and provide the backbone to (what is in my mind) one of the best hacks on PokeCommunity. With the cessation of work on Dark Violet by Chaos Rush and hacksrepairman, I doubt that Dark Violet will have another shot at the HotY crown. If it doesn't win, I will be very disappointed.

    Total: 32/40

    Pokémon Coral by coraldev


    Graphics: 8
    For a second generation game, Coral looks damn good. Almost every area has something new and interesting to see; whether its the lofty palm trees of Sunbeam Island or the dark and decayed environs of the haunted woods, the tilesets look really nice. The highlight of Coral's visual inventiveness was definitely the vista from the top of Mt Onwa. The simple ability to look down a miniature version of a map that you've already traversed is something that I don't think I've ever seen in a hack and really excited me when I realized what was happening. The sprites for newer generation Pokemon fit in beautifully with the original 251 and the expanded party icons really added a personal touch to each of my party members that made me smile. Overall, Coral's graphics are some of the best I've seen a G/S/C hack and shows was can be accomplished with the older gameboy systems.

    Story: 4
    Being only three gyms long, there's not much that can be said for Coral's story as it isn't even halfway through. For what its worth, the encounters with Team Snare were serviceable and it may be interesting to see where they go, but for now they're doing regular early game bad guy stuff. Your rival is equally standard as he follows in the steps of Blue/ Silver and is a complete arsehole. I'm actually surprised that the two other new trainers who received their Pokemon at the start of the game didn't make any appearances, though I'm reasonably sure they will appear in later betas. Everything hums along fine, but there isn't much to say about the main story this early on.

    The more interesting parts of the hack are the interactions with NPCs and little side stories that are able to reach their conclusion. Most of the people in Onwa are friendly and have interesting tidbits to say about the region/ the Pokemon within it. It certainly made Onwa feel like a place with its own history and helped immerse me in the region. My favorite area and story excerpt was the haunted house in Eventide Forest. By borrowing a few tricks from the Old Chateau in D/P/Pt, coraldev managed to make a really intriguing and spooky event that will see you following a little ghost girl, reading the slowly deteriorating writings of her parents, falling through floors and ultimately meeting with the haunting force. I really enjoyed the dedication to this little side area and consider it the highlight of my playthrough.

    Gameplay: 7
    I found Coral to be the most difficult of the three finalists. It may be because I'm more used to the battling mechanics of the third generation than the second, but there were times when I was really struggling. The trek through Mt Onwa was intense and Starglow Cavern's immediate transition into a Team Snare event was brutal for my already battered team. I had a full team mainly consisting of third/ fourth generation Pokemon in order to try them out in a new setting and found it very difficult to keep up with the level curve with a full team of six. Strangely, however, I found the gym leaders to be pushovers. Perhaps it was due to somehow constructing a team that countered them perfectly, but I wouldn't mind them being buffed a bit to provide a more solid challenge. Coral's new and improved movesets were fun to explore as they incorporated many newer moves into old and new Pokemon alike. While this was largely cool, there were some oddities, such as my Growlithe learning Fire Punch - I find it hard to picture a dog standing on its hind legs to punch a dude in the face.

    I really liked Coral's take on the HM system - If you have a Pokemon that could learn a HM move, it can use it in the field. This allows you to cut down trees without wasting a slot on a Pokemon's moveset/ carrying a HM slave while also rewarding you for having a varied team. The inclusion of small and inventive side features like riding Dodrio and lava surfing were fun and helped to differentiate areas as the game progressed.

    General Appeal: 5
    Ultimately, while Coral has numerous strengths, its length is lacking at this point in time. I enjoyed myself for a couple of hours exploring Onwa, trying out devamped Pokemon and struggling though parts of the game, but it didn't last more than a few hours. Coral's quality is pouring out of every corner of the game, but the quantity is severely lacking. Given another year or two of development, I won't be surprised if Coral easily wins HotY.

    Total: 24/ 40

    Pokémon Adventure - Red Chapter by Aethestode


    Graphics: 7/10
    With all three finalists touting completely overhauled graphics, I feel like Adventure Red's is the most hit and miss of the three. While it can blow minds with features like the beautiful mugshots and sheer number of creative OWs, it can just easily falter in areas such as tiling. The best example of this dichotomy in a single area would be the new Pokemon included in the game which can range from the great looking Kabiin to the (generally) down-right ugly recolours in the Orange Islands. I may be biased as this is the first hack I've played with updated party icons, but I felt that they did wonders in freshening up what is usually a stale party/ PC experience. While the HGSS-style tiles were largely positive, discrepancies once again shone through. While most buildings had outlines and shadows, many do not. Celadon City and the Gym building are probably the most representative of these slips in consistency. A consistent style can do wonders in building a cohesive visual experience and I feel that while largely well put together, Adventure Red's overworld just didn't have the cohesion I thought it was capable of. Also, Cinnabar Island's house tile should just be burnt down and rebuilt from scratch. I was generally pretty happy with the style of the battle backgrounds but I experienced at least two instances of what I felt were incorrect background placements in comparison to their maps. Finally, the regular open field battle background's pallet should just be burnt down and rebuilt from scratch.

    Story: 8
    While I had played Adventure Red way back in 2015 for that year's HotY and knew certain story beats (RIP Arbok), the minutia was largely unknown to me. I'm glad that there's a hack that mirrors the manga and brings it to a new generation of players (or caters to old fogies like me that had no access to it as a kid). Unfortunately, I feel like the greatest limitation of hacking third-gen Pokemon games is the ability to tell a story. Limited control over graphics necessitates text dumps for almost anything story-related and boy, does Adventure Red have some text dumps at times. While Adventure Red's story is a truncated version of the manga, the simple fact is that its hard to tell an engaging story through two lines of text at a time. By the time I had reached Saffron City and was dealing with its litany of scripted events, I had begun to skip through dialogue and only take in the basics of what was going on. This is never a good sign, but I feel like Aethestode has dealt with the hand he was given admirably. The mugshots helped to keep my interest and ensured that I was always knew who was talking, even in groups of half-a-dozen or more speakers. OWs move around constantly to keep the the screen from feeling static and overworld battles with Pokemon being thrown out of their balls are a common occurrence, visually adding to an experience which in a lesser hack would be a couple of people standing in place and talking for five minutes. I recognize that its a tough line to walk between faithfulness to the manga and making an engaging hack and at times I felt it sway too far in favour of the manga, but sacrifices have to be made. On the whole, I still feel like it is futile to make story-centric hacks on third-gen games, but if there was ever a case of doing it right, Adventure Red would be damn close.

    While not related to the main story, I really enjoyed most of the side-chapters and definitely found them to be the most interesting parts of the hack. With stories ranging from uncovering the secret of a killer zombie Swampert that was out for revenge to helping a little girl win a drawing contest, the structuring and stories of these side chapters were, on the whole, pretty great. I felt that the fade to black upon discovering/ completing a side chapter was extremely cathartic and one of the most memorable parts of the entire game for me. The only major issue I encountered was an incorrect variable in a level script during the Dark Relic chapter which soft locked me, necessitating a jaunt into A-Map to fix.

    While I've been very praiseworthy of Adventure Red's story aspects thus far, one major detraction drags down the experience for me, namely its over reliance of pop-culture references in non-essential scripts and the sarcastic musings of Red. While the pop-culture references to things such as Yu-Gi-Oh, the Big Bang Theory and celebrities can raise a wry chuckle when done well, Adventure Red is just saturated with them. There was rarely a route or town that didn't have a see-through parody or random anime lyrics as somebody's dialog. It felt really off-putting as the hack is meant to be bringing to life one of the most core early Pokemon works, only to be bogged down with insipid jabs at things beyond the Pokeverse. I also felt really turned off by some of Red's comments to random NPCs. While it can be taken as a comment on the Pokemon franchises' tendency for weird/ idiotic NPCs, the constant snarkiness of Red gets real old, real fast. Its not even consistent with his character as during story events he is characterized as a happy child, willing to cooperate with his friends to save the people of Kanto from the evils of Team Rocket, only to turn into a grump whenever he talks to the average Kantonian. I get that writing for hundreds of NPCs can be boring, unrewarding work, but there are so many more ways to go about making filler dialogue that gives a greater sense of the world you're creating.

    Gameplay: 5
    While I know that a lot of people complain about the low difficulty of Adventure Red, I found it to be relatively fine throughout. It could be because I was avoiding top-tier Pokemon like Scizor and playing with stuff like Venomoth and Arcanine, but I felt the difficulty curve remained fairly okay throughout. There were some early dips in difficulty as you get some pretty OP TMs early on (Thunderbolt and Calm Mind come to mind) and thanks to infinite TMs, I soon had half a team rocking a 90 base power move really quickly. The difficulty took a pretty swift fall around the time I reached Saffron City as by then I had a fully trained team and started demolishing foes without a second's notice. The championship at Indigo Plateau was also a bit of a joke as there was no real step up in difficulty from the random rivals I fought in Victory Road. For such a long and epic journey to be capped off with a rival battle who's team is only at level fifty and I took literally zero damage from is a bit of an anti-climax. While playing around in the post game, I found two trainers (Sabrina and a copy of myself) that had level 255 Pokemon. They might be challenges for super dedicated players, but it just seems really strange to me considering the level of challenge up to that point.

    As a retread of Kanto, you expect routes to function similarly to how is portrayed in other games and for the most part the layout is what everybody knows and loves, but there are a number of significant divergences. Saffron City can only be accessed from two sides, Lavender Town is a literal dead end, there's a new place called Floral City north of Celadon and Route 13 is home to Digglet's Cave. These are the most significant changes that I can remember but I'm sure that there are many more routes and cities with alternate entrances/ exits/ destinations. This new layout of the world and liberal use of roadblocks serve to funnel the player to be at a specific place at a specific time. While it works well in that regard I just can't help feel disappointed as when compared to the huge changes of the world map, I find the route maps themselves to be largely forgettable and poorly made at points. Routes are too big and empty for large stretches of time, particularly in the early game, making them feel aimless. There were very few times when I was wowed by the mapping or felt the need to thoroughly investigate something as there wasn't that much interesting about them. The maps for the cities/ town fared much better as I felt that they were more organised and had a sense of purpose to them, though some like Celadon and Cinnabar could use some remapping to tighten things up.

    General Appeal: 6
    Going in to play Adventure Red again after all of these year, I was ambivalent about its potential. Having finished the main story and played around in the post game, I can say that its final impression on me was one of mild positivity. I had a pretty good amount of fun with it but just couldn't get the niggling issues out of my head. If I was to describe Adventure Red in one word, it would be: inconsistent. Great sprites exist side-by-side with terrible sprites. Amazing story snippets are surrounded by frustrating NPCs. Interesting overworld changes are made with sup-par maps. For every peak there is a trough and that was my main take away from Adventure Red. I seriously believe that if Aethestode left the post-game aside for a few months, looked back over his hack, reduced the negatives and expand on his game's very real strengths (graphics, side chapters etc) then Adventure Red would be a far more consistent and better game. The quantity is there, now its time to step up the consistent quality a few more notches.

    Total: 26/40
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    Old 3 Weeks Ago (7:04 PM).
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    Skeli- Skeli- is offline
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      Pokémon Dark Violet by Chaos Rush


      Graphics: 8
      I’ve never been much of a fan of graphics style used by RSE, but Dark Violet manages to pull it off incredibly well. Not only that, but Dark Violet incorporates many of the graphics from HGSS, modified to match the RSE style. This is impressive as many hacks mix and match tiles that don’t fit together.

      Battles were also very aesthetically pleasing. The battle backgrounds were standard for any updated hack, but it was very refreshing to see different attack animations for once. These animations were also put together very nicely, despite the fact that they were made when animation hacking was done by attaching strings of bytes together.

      However, that’s not to say that the graphics are perfect. The trainer sprites are squished down versions of the ones used in the fourth generation, making them quite awkward to look at. Sometimes the captured Poke Ball symbol on the health bar would disappear for no reason, and there were small graphical bugs with some of the animations (most notably Flash Cannon’s). The most glaring issue I found with the graphics was the mapping in Cerulean Cave. Knowing the hack’s history, it’s clear that these maps were not made by the original author. The graphical style is not the same and some lazy shortcuts were used (such as overlapping bridges instead of making new tiles).

      Overall, Dark Violet has an excellent graphical appeal. Overlooking the minor issues I found, it was very pleasant to look at.

      Story: 9
      Dark Violet’s story is exceptional. I was initially skeptical given the fact the Dark Violet is a remake of Kanto’s story, and Lord knows there are enough of them out there, but Dark Violet has a very well-executed story. Aside from the text issues (which I will cover in Gameplay), Dark Violet’s story had me captivated. It didn’t just rehash the same story of the player fighting Team Rocket, it incorporated several new characters such as your second rival and Silver (Kamon as he’s known in this game). Additionally, it also made you feel for the characters. Without going into spoiler territory, Giovanni’s backstory was handled very well, his reasons for what he was doing was fleshed out, and his relationship with his son was written well.

      I took off a mark because although Dark Violet has original ideas, it still uses that same Kanto base story.

      Gameplay: 5
      Despite its well-written story, the execution of said story is not handled as well. The dialog sounds very childish (although the author has admitted that he regrets most of it, I’m still not inclined to give it a pass), making characters such as Professor Oak have dialog that made me cringe while reading it. The thing I picked up the most on was the noticeable use of “you guys” in dialog (it was used way too much in my opinion). Other than the custom written dialog, the dialog was all vanilla text, making it way too predictable to determine what the NPCs were going to say.

      Playing through the game was also a chore. The level curve was extremely high, leading me to use Dark Violet to test my prototype scaled experience system. Needless to say, a scaled experience system does make Dark Violet much more reasonable to play; however, Dark Violet is not gaining back any points because of this. Additionally, there was a distinct lack of healing items given out on routes, requiring me to constantly run to Pokémon Centres.

      Dark Violet also has a distinct lack of “newer” features found in common games, such as an expanded bag (I admit this one is still relatively new, but there are hacks such as Gaia and Adventure Red that use it successfully), side stairs, and infinite TMs. This is somewhat expected, as Dark Violet is an older hack that was picked up recently by a newer author and completed.

      Despite all these gameplay flaws, Dark Violet has one redeeming quality: its music. Most of the soundtrack the game uses is remixed versions of songs found in other Pokémon games, but there are several amazing custom songs as well. The most notable of these being Giovanni’s encounter theme and his battle theme. Both are beautiful pieces of music that I can’t stop myself from listening to.

      Ultimately, if not for all these flaws, I could consider Dark Violet a near perfect game. If the new author fixed the aforementioned issues, this game would be much more enjoyable to play. Regardless, I still very much enjoyed playing through Dark Violet.

      General Appeal: 7
      I played through Dark Violet until the end of the Pokémon League, and overall I have to say that Dark Violet has beautiful graphics, a captivating story, and an excellent soundtrack to go along with it all. Of all the FireRed remakes I’ve played, this one has to be my favourite. If this game were to be remade fixing many of its tedious issues such as a lack of an expanded game and a ridiculous level curve, I would undoubtedly play it again. I highly recommend this game to anyone who has not yet played it and is reading this review.

      Total: 29/40

      Pokémon Coral by coraldev


      Graphics: 10
      I was initially skeptical as to how good the graphics could be, as this is a hack of Pokémon Crystal. But as I played through the game, I came to truly appreciate the graphical quality of this hack. I’m pretty sure the hack uses many of the vanilla tiles, but there are several inclusions such as the pink trees and cafe tables which really fit in well. The newer Pokémon sprites are also beautiful and fit in very nicely with the rest of the sprites. But by far, the best piece of graphical work in this hack is when the player is on top of Mt. Onwa. The author made a large effort to make it seem as if the player was really high off the ground. I have never ever seen this done in a rom hack, and this was very well designed.

      Overall, for a second generation hack, the graphics were phenomenal and I had no qualms.

      Story: 5
      As Coral only has a story up to three Gyms written, there wasn’t much story to comment out. From what I played through, it was a standard get your ‘mon, get your badges, fight an evil team kind of story. For all I know the story is much more than that, but I won’t know that unless I can play more of the hack. However, I am interested in seeing where this hack will go and I look forward to playing more again in the future.

      Gameplay: 8
      Despite its very short runtime, this game was enjoyable to play. To start, many of the NPCs were actually useful; most provided either general information about the region or useful items. This was a great way to handle the NPCs and I’m very glad I took my time talking to them all. The well-written dialogue for the NPCs didn’t make them a chore to talk to either. On the contrary, I enjoyed talking to them as they made the world of Coral feel alive.

      The game also provided fun features such as lava surfing and Dodrio riding. I very much enjoyed the latter, as it was nice to play a minigame within a Pokémon game. It’s clear the author thought very hard about trying to make a world with many things to do, as well as optional areas (lava surfing being found in one such area). At the same time, however, much care was taken in making the early game areas as easy to traverse as possible. I found that the early game cave was very easy to progress through as it was mainly as straightforward path, while later game caves such as Mt. Onwa had a more complex design.

      Other general good things include the nice six starter variety, running from the start of the game, and good roadblocks. One of the first roadblocks I encountered in Coral was a flock of Pikipek blocking the road while they ate bird food. This was a very clever way to use a road block and it's one of the more creative ones I’ve seen.

      The only negatives I found for gameplay was the fact that the town map wasn’t set up correctly (pressing the directional arrows made the selector move randomly), and a lack of healing in some areas. I went all the way through Mt. Onwa, then fainted and had to go all the way back to the town I was in previously. This could be handled better by possibly including a nurse or Chansey to heal you on top of the mountain.

      General Appeal: 9
      Pokémon Coral is very well-polished game. The dialog is well-written, the graphics are beautiful, and I really found it hard to complain about anything. Overall, I think Pokémon Coral is an excellent game, just not one deserving of the title for Hack of the Year, yet. In my opinion, it simply doesn’t have enough content to be considered Hack of the Year. That being said, it is still and excellent game and I recommend it to anyone, even those who don’t like playing Crystal ROM hacks.

      Total: 32/40

      Pokémon Adventure - Red Chapter by Aethestode


      Graphics: 5
      Adventure Red tried to use the graphical style found in HGSS, though it fell short in its attempt to do that.

      To start with the positives, there are places that Adventure Red shines graphically. The graphics used for the bag is very pleasing to look at, and the overworld NPC sprites are very adorable. I really like this miniaturized version of the HGSS overworld NPC sprites - they’re all very well drawn. The tilesets used for most interiors are also very good. Most notably, Silph Co. and the Seafoam Islands were probably some of my favourite interior designs in this game (Seafoam Islands was technically a mix of outdoor and cave tilesets, though that doesn’t change my opinion). Additionally, the battle backgrounds were very well made, and the mugshots used in conversations really added to the experience. But that is where Adventure Red’s graphical appeal ends, unfortunately.

      What I disliked most about the graphics was the attempt to miniaturize. Yes, the miniaturized NPC overworld sprites looked good, but the same cannot be said of the trees and the grass. In a lazy attempt to minimize the effort required for implementing trees from Gen IV, the author decided to compress the trees, making them very ugly. Additionally, instead of implementing the HGSS grass or even just using the style from DPPT, the author decided to compress the grass into these weird little “shrubs”.

      Other than this, many of buildings and some interior objects looked like their colour palettes were reduced with no effort made whatsoever to make them look good. There is a way to handle colour palettes for these fourth generation style objects properly; it just takes more time and effort. There were also several in-battle issues where when enemy Pokémon would have status conditions, it would appear badly on the HP bars (there is a way to fix this!), and the battle background that would be drawn appeared to be randomized every battle. Sometimes when battling in grass I would get a grass battlefield, but other times I would get one that looked like it should be used for Champion battles.

      Overall, the author made an attempt to improve the graphics of Adventure Red, but took too many shortcuts. If more of an effort was made to improve the graphics, Adventure Red could truly shine in this department.

      Story: 6
      I’ve never personally read the manga, but from what I’ve read on Wikipedia, Adventure Red follows the story of the manga quite closely. This can, at times, be a good thing as the manga story is very interesting. However, sometimes following too closely is a hindrance, such as in the case of most scripted battles. Red will constantly send out a specific Pokémon to fight scripted enemies, but once the battle starts, you fight with your regular Pokémon up front. I’m not sure what would happen had I not had the required Pokémon in the party, but I hope it was handled properly. One recommendation I can think of to fix this issue would either be to place the Pokémon that is being called out at the front of the party in the script, or just remove that part of the dialog altogether.

      Another issue that comes from this is when there are battles that Red loses in the manga. I won most of those fights fairly easily (mainly since those battles mostly consisted of my team of six against one wild Pokémon), but it was still frustrating being told that I lost and now have to do such and such because I wasn’t strong enough to win. This may be a case where divergence from the manga would be recommended, such that if you win, the NPC character next to you will come up with some legitimate reason as to why you should do the next thing; not just because you lost.

      I did really like how the story was separated into chapters. I found this a nice way to be told where I was regarding story progression. It would have been even better had there been some way of knowing what to do next in the story. Many times I had to figure out myself what to do, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it became difficult to figure out what was going on if I ever closed the game and came back to it.

      But by far my favourite story telling device was the use of the side stories. Initially they didn’t really catch my eye as all I could do was walk around as the selected character and pick up items to put in the real player’s bag, but the second time playing these side stories in Silph Co. was much more enticing. The author decided to allow the player to actually battle as these characters, with the chosen character’s parties. This was a great way to have the feel like I was actually playing as these characters.

      Overall, Adventure Red has a good story, and the side stories are excellent, but there are still many aspects that could have been handled better.

      Gameplay: 4
      Unfortunately, for Adventure Red, the flaws greatly outnumber the good aspects of this hack. To start with, the dialog is horrendous in this game. It doesn’t reach the lows that Dark Violet reached with its dialog, mainly due to the fact that the dialog is clearly a mix of what was written in the manga and what the author came up with by himself. The manga dialog helps the story be more understandable, but it’s very easy to see what wasn’t taken from the manga based on the change in writing style. Most of this new dialog is childish and makes Red come off as a jerk, especially when he talks to NPCs.

      This brings me to my next point, which is the numerous issues with the NPC characters. Way too many of them are useless in every sense of the word. To define the term in a hack, a useful NPC either tells you details about the game mechanics, helps with world building by explaining an area’s lore or history, gives an item, or provides some kind of benefit. Adventure Red has far too few of these NPCs, with most devoted to either saying obscure references which mostly flew over my head, ball jokes, or saying dumb things so Red could have an excuse to say something mean back. There were many times that I wished talking to all of the NPCs in an area would at least give me some items, though this wasn’t entirely absent from the game.

      Aside from the dialog and NPCs, the level curve is not balanced properly. In an attempt to fix this, your Pokémon are given incredibly powerful moves like Ice Beam and Petal Storm very early on. On one hand, at least I was able to progress in the game without too much grinding, but on the other hand the movesets were not very well thought out. If the reason the movesets are like this because they’re meant to reflect the movesets in the manga, it still doesn’t necessarily translate well into movesets in a game.

      There were also several bad design choices:
      Scripts that prevent you from leaving the area but NPCs that allow you to still teleport away.
      Replacing the Gym Leader battle theme with a standard battle theme in order to use the original theme for overworld battles left actual Gym Leader battles not sounding as good.
      An inability to view the world map as to see where you should be going was very infuriating several times, as Kanto does not look like it did in the original games.
      Some areas used side stairs that didn’t work at all, and other areas did.
      There were many issues I found, and this is only what comes to mind.

      Despite its many, many, flaws, Adventure Red still does have some redeeming qualities. Recurring NPCs such as the old guy “Martha” were nice and entertaining. These made the world feel a little more lived-in rather than just populated with useless NPCs. Overworld effects such as Koga’s Arbok’s poison bubbles poisoning your Pokémon and the flames burning your Pokémon were a very nice touch, and the inclusion of Beta Pokémon was not overdone. To top it all off (I think) the bag pockets were expanded, which made the game less tedious to play.

      Overall, Adventure Red’s flaws far outweigh its pros, leaving a bad taste behind.

      General Appeal: 5
      I played through Adventure Red until the completion of the Pokémon league, and overall it’s not a bad game. It’s clear to see how the author’s style has progressed as the hack goes on. However, in order to get to this part, the player must endure all of the aforementioned issues.

      The music is mainly vanilla music, but I enjoyed Blue’s theme. The mugshots help tell the story very well, and I think the author did a great job incorporating them all. My final qualm is that the text boxes could be made much easier to read by placing new sentences in new text boxes, instead of constantly using the \l command to make new lines.

      Adventure Red definitely is not the worst hack out there. If the author fixed the dialog, graphical issues, and added in more useful NPCs, the game could be much more solid. If he’s reading this, I implore him to stop trying to pump out new betas, and go back and fix the old one. If he were to do this, I believe that he could have a hack that not only appeals to manga fans, but to the Pokémon community at large.

      Total: 20/40
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      Dark Violet by Chaos Rush



      Graphics: 8
      Pokémon DarkViolet takes its visual inspiration from Ruby/Sapphire/Emerald, a breath of fresh air among the abundance of ROM hacks that aim to emulate the look of FireRed/LeafGreen or later generations! It is quite unique in this aspect; I can't think of any other hacks or fan games that opted to use this style. The titlescreen is more or less a recoloured version of default FireRed's with a new logo and Mewtwo sprite which works well enough. I assume this design was used to add to the idea that it's a remake, although it isn't particularly imaginative.

      The overworld sprites for NPCs and Pokémon were perfect. It must have taken a lot of work to recreate them in RSE style - it's no mean feat but was achieved nonetheless. I was also immediately impressed by the overhauled and improved interior tilesets. As for the outdoors, these were very much hit or miss in my opinion. Maps contained the odd tile error here and there plus I wasn't a fan of the tileset used for Viridian Forest or Cerulean Cave. They seemed much less polished than the others.

      The appearance of the battle interface is one of the areas where this hack shines. There were a few gorgeous custom attack animations; something that isn't commonly seen. The battle backgrounds also looked great alongside the beautifully revamped Pokémon sprites from the author's own DS-style sprite resource (this is shamelessly advertised with an in-game reference, which I found hilarious even if it was slightly off-putting from an immersive perspective). However, the battle graphics aren't perfect; in contrast to the Pokémon sprites, the trainer sprites from later generations were not very well devamped.

      It's clear that a lot of effort was put into modifying all visual aspects of this hack. The overall style seems consistent for the most part, which is the key principle for me when it comes to graphics, so with everything else considered I will award DarkViolet 8 points in this category.

      Story: 7
      Pokémon DarkViolet is Chaos Rush's take on a recreation of the original Red and Green versions. I will admit that I felt apprehensive before playing DarkViolet because like a lot of Pokémon game fans I've had more than enough of Kanto. Although that is more of a personal opinion than an actual reflection of this hack, I worried that it wouldn't have any story aspects to help it stand out from the games it was inspired by. It's safe to say my assumptions were incorrect! Similarly to Adventure - Red, the new story intrigued me enough to want to play much further past the three-gym requirement for judging in this competition.

      Something I strongly dislike in any kind of game's writing is the illusion of choice. Why offer a yes or no option when the outcome is the same despite the player's choice of answer? DarkViolet was guilty of this in a few instances. For example, I wasn't allowed to decline Red's invitation to dance in the S.S. Anne ballroom. When I responded with "no", the dialogue simply repeated until I agreed which was infuriating. I feel it would have been better to go ahead with the compulsory scene without asking the player to make an ultimately pointless dialogue choice. Another minor gripe with the writing had to do with the NPC text, a lot of which was unchanged from the FireRed base. I assume this was intentional to further add to Kanto's atmosphere, but it came across as a little lazy.

      The thing I appreciated most about this Kanto retelling was the addition of characters which are less seen in the traditional games and their development, such as Kamon (or Silver). It was fascinating to watch him go from potential ally in the beginning (from the player character's perspective) to rival later, and the motivations behind his actions. I actually felt sorry for him on more than one occasion. I even felt sad for Giovanni at times as his backstory was expanded upon and the origins for some of his motivations were explained. On the other hand, I wasn't a fan of the Devil's Prism plot, or some of the Team Rocket members' "edgier" dialogues. I also disliked the choice of Gym Leader for Viridian City, I didn't feel it was very fitting although I did like seeing more of the person in question throughout the story, that they weren't simply a background character as they are in the originals.

      Gameplay: 7
      The first thing I will address is the high level curve which was immediately noticeable. I had to start grinding twenty minutes or so in just to keep up with the surrounding trainers (I also felt there were too many trainers to battle in the first few maps). In the original games, it's fairly obvious that choosing Bulbasaur as your starter is the easiest option followed by Squirtle. DarkViolet enhances this with the addition of an Omanyte to Brock's team, so if you pick Charmander like I did (I wanted to build a Dragon themed team in my playthrough), the first Gym battle will be even more tedious than usual paired with the obnoxious level curve.

      Modernized features included the Physical/Special/Status split, new moves and updated learnsets. There were even a handful of custom moves available, something else that is uncommonly seen in fan games. For instance, my Kingdra could learn an attack called Osmosis, a powerful Water-type HP draining move that I found myself using often. Some quality of life changes which have become somewhat expected for FireRed hacks nowadays, such as sideways stairs and Fairy type, were unfortunately absent from this hack. The latter was most likely left out on purpose in order to further the idea of it being a remake of Red/Green.

      The underground market was a welcome addition to an otherwise dull area and sold a lot of useful stock. While there were plenty of items to find in the overworld, barely any were healing items which would be typical in a standard Pokémon game. The silver lining of this cloud was that it left me with enough to sell that I could purchase the coins I needed to grab a Dratini from the Game Corner! On the subject of items, some are broken, such as the Black Flute you can find in Mt. Moon. It seems like a welcome discovery at first if you're running low on Repels to escape the incessant cave encounters, but you'll find upon trying to use it that it neither has any effect nor disappears from the player's bag. This is by no means a game-breaking bug but it's annoying nonetheless and seems like the kind of thing that should have been picked up and corrected during beta testing, especially when this hack was worked on and revised by two different people.

      General Appeal: 7
      I imagine this hack will mostly appeal to an audience who treasure Kanto as their favourite region. Unfortunately, it lacks a certain degree of polish - while I had fun playing, it is not without its flaws. Moreover, the sometimes boring NPC text and occasionally cringey dialogue leaves a lot to be desired. Similarly to Adventure - Red, it really reminds the player that they're playing someone’s ROM hack as opposed to a professionally manufactured game and breaks immersion. It would be unfair to deduct points from Adventure - Red for this and not from DarkViolet for essentially the same thing.

      The custom music and remixes of the old tunes we all know and love were incredibly well done and pleasant to listen to. I found myself leaving my emulator on in the background while taking a break from gameplay purely to listen to the music. It's clear that a tremendous amount of effort went into it which is definitely worth a bonus point or two in itself. Overall, I enjoyed DarkViolet much more than I initially expected to.

      Total: 29/40

      Pokémon Coral by coraldev



      Graphics: 9
      Being a Crystal hack, Pokémon Coral has the most limitations in terms of graphical capability compared to the other contestants of this year's competition. That is by no means a hindrance to its appeal in this category - the second generation's visual style is timelessly charming and Coral stays faithful to it.

      Pokémon sprites from later generations were devamped beautifully, blending in perfectly alongside the originals. In addition, the fact that the party menu icons had been expanded so that each Pokémon had its own individual icon instead of the generic ones we can all remember was a fantastic touch. Unique overworld sprites for Pokémon were another excellent inclusion that helped to modernize the overall appearance of the game.

      While the majority of the tiles are default Crystal, the new palettes helped set them apart from the originals and the incorporation of simple tile animations such as the sparkling mountains in Glint Cavern looked very pretty. I also appreciated the effort that went into ensuring none of the areas looked too similar by making small variations in tiles used in each map.

      On the other hand, I wasn't a fan of the Pokémon Center redesign - I think the original Crystal Pokémon Center tiles look nicer - or the style of the titlescreen, which I assume was inspired by the Japanese version, but those are more personal preferences than actual negative points.

      I've saved my favourite graphical detail until last: the wonderful view from the peak of Mt. Onwa. This map allowed the player to see a tiny version of a town at the foot of the mountain, giving the impression of being high up and looking down upon it. I've never seen this done before in any kind of fan game and doubt I will see it so well executed again, even if others try to copy this innovative idea.

      Story: 5
      At the moment the story so far is generic yet familiar; earn eight badges, thwart the ambitions of the evil team, become the region’s Champion, and so on. That being said, not deviating from the standard Pokémon game plot isn't necessarily a bad thing. As stated in its presentation, Coral aims to recreate a typical journey reminiscent of Gold/Silver/Crystal. It is difficult to evaluate the story when there isn't much to talk about at this early stage in the hack's development. For example, the motivations of the staple evil gang, Team Snare, were unclear as nothing had been revealed yet.

      The main rival (I named him Colby assuming that was his default, intended name) came across as another version of Professor Oak's arrogant grandson personality-wise. Alex and Marcus, the other two new trainers, seemed as though they might have a cute friendly rivalry or more interesting relationship to be seen later in the game although that could be pure speculation on my part since you don't see a lot of them after your initial meeting at the lighthouse where you receive your starter Pokémon. The mysterious Disguise Master is a great character too - I hope we see him again in future releases!

      An aspect of the writing that I appreciated was the well done NPC text. NPCs offered information about the region which was really intriguing and added to the lore and world-building. I also liked investigating the Old Manor of Eventide Forest - a fun sidequest that was enjoyable to play through. It was a little story of its own.

      It feels a bit harsh awarding so few points, although to be completely honest as I have already said, there truly isn't much more to elaborate on.

      Gameplay: 8
      Pokémon Coral boasts an assortment of upgrade features including the Physical/Special/Status split, Fairy type, the Running Shoes, new moves and revised movesets to help bring the second generation mechanics up to date. I was immediately impressed by being able to choose a preferred colour at the beginning of the game to serve as the palette for my player character's sprite. This little touch of character customization was a brilliant detail!

      I loved being able to build a varied team so early on in the game. Perhaps I just got lucky that a lot of my personal childhood favourite Pokémon were available for capture such as Growlithe and Mareep. It was also nice to have an opportunity to train Pokémon I had never used before like Noibat and Pikipek. Finally, having a choice of six starters from both Kanto and Johto was great, although this made it really hard to pick my first partner!

      Where DarkViolet had issues with its difficulty and high level curve, Coral had the opposite problem. I found that every battle was almost too easy, even the Gym battles which you would naturally expect to be more of a challenge. This could have been because as previously mentioned, I had put together a full party of six Pokémon quickly.

      The new approach to HMs was another of this hack's positive traits. As opposed to being forced to waste a valuable attack slot (or worse, an entire party member) so long as the Pokémon was capable of learning the HM move in question they were able to use it in the overworld. Speaking of field moves, Coral includes a new addition in the form of Lava Surf. It was an interesting twist on the move it was based on - instead of encountering Tentacool in the sea, you would battle wild Slugma in the lava. This feature added an extra dimension to the maps it could be used in, which brings me to my closing comments.

      The maps were ideally designed, starting off simply and gradually becoming more complicated and longer as gameplay continued. None were particularly difficult to navigate or tiresome to traverse, and felt very reminiscent of Gold/Silver/Crystal's mapping style in that they could have belonged in a traditional game. I only wish there would have been more content to play through.

      General Appeal: 7
      It's not easy to design a whole new custom region, so I feel Pokémon Coral deserves a bonus point on that principle alone. In addition, the custom music was a pleasure to listen to and fit in nicely with the rest of the soundtrack. I didn't come across even the tiniest glitch during my playthrough, the characters and dialogue were well written, what can be seen of the Onwa region was fun to explore and it looked lovely into the bargain. The content that is currently playable at the time of writing this is polished and definitely deserving of praise.

      All of that considered, I think Pokémon Coral earned its place in this competition - I just don't feel it has enough content to be a worthy Hack of the Year winner at this point in time. Perhaps next year? In conclusion, I truly enjoyed playing coraldev's creation and very much look forward to future releases!

      Total: 29/40

      Pokémon Adventure - Red Chapter by Aethestode



      Graphics: 7
      For the most part, Aethestode has done a brilliant job with the graphical modifications we can see in Adventure - Red. The new Pokémon party menu and summary screens, updated trainer and Pokémon sprites, type icons, battle backgrounds and HP bars all looked great. I like the titlescreen a lot - it's not exactly traditional Pokémon style but it's ideal for the game's setting, depicting the titular character. I also loved the cute overworld sprites for NPCs and Pokémon. The character mugshots for the main cast, complete with varying expressions, were another fantastic addition and really helped bring conversations to life in a unique way.

      The HeartGold/SoulSilver style for the overworld lends itself fairly well to this hack however there were a few prominent inconsistencies, mainly when it came to the outdoor tilesets (the interiors looked good). Some buildings and minor decorations had clearly defined outlines while others didn't. Inconsistency has a negative effect on overall visual appeal, hence the deduction in points for this category. The Day/Night system wasn't quite perfect either. Entering a gatehouse or using certain warps at night caused a reversion to the original daytime palette. This was a bit distracting, even if the palette reversion only lasted for a few frames.

      The fact that it's been just over a year since I last played and there are still no running frames for the player character's overworld sprite had me raising my eyebrows a little. I feel it would be better to focus on tidying up basic requirements like this before considering working on new features, which brings me to my next point. While the Fashion Box item is a nice idea it was very obviously unfinished in its implementation, with the menu containing placeholder text "XXXXXX". Using an alternative costume caused a glitch with the in-battle trainer backsprite's palette. In my opinion it's best to iron out any issues with a feature before adding it to a project purely for the sake of it, especially before allowing the player to use it.

      Story: 6
      This hack is based on the manga series Pokémon Adventures, but having personally never read any of it, I can't comment on how faithful Aethestode's adaptation is. The story itself is a good one however the writing of it left a lot to be desired in my opinion; it would benefit from some extra proofreading to fix the grammar and punctuation errors (I found the over-use of "!!" slightly irritating). The actual placement of the text was another slight annoyance, frequent use of \l where \p should have been used for a new sentence made reading through certain conversations tiresome.

      There were also several NPC interactions that felt quite out of place within the setting. Rather than offering information that would have actually been useful - such as a hint about what to do or where to go next, or even something fascinating about the region or current location - NPC dialogue mostly consisted of real-life film/TV show references or immature jokes. It was almost as if the author deliberately intended to break the player's sense of immersion at every turn. Having played previous versions, I'd hoped some of the aforementioned might have been toned down in its new release, but it's still the same if not worse.

      I can get along with having a level 5 Poliwhirl for the sake of the storytelling perspective, although there were a few occasions where I found myself unable to "suspend my disbelief". It is a little frustrating to win a battle only for the events of the following scene to insist you lost. As well as that, there were situations where before a battle Red would exclaim that he was sending out a particular Pokémon, then when the battle began, the first party member was sent out instead. I assume this was done to follow the manga more closely, but it was still strange to watch. It could have been avoided by either making use of the bufferfirstpokemon scripting command or simply not including that line of speech at all.

      It may be an unpopular opinion among Pokémon fan game enthusiasts, but I don't mind if the player character talks. In this hack's case where the player is taking on the role of a predefined character, I think it adds an extra layer of depth to the storytelling. Character development has as many positives as it does negatives; the positives being when it came to interacting with the main cast. Supporting characters were well written. The negative aspects concern the titular character himself - the protagonist, Red. It's difficult to know what kind of personality he is supposed to have. During many of the main storyline events he is portrayed as a friendly kid with good intentions and a kind personality. Contrastingly, when speaking with minor NPCs he comes across as rude, sarcastic or even downright mean at times.

      My favourite aspect of the story was the inclusion of the bonus chapters, especially the ones where you can play as a different character. The bonus chapter that took place at Silph Co was a personal highlight! This is an interesting and innovative way of telling the story from a different point of view, and I enjoyed playing through these parts of the game the most.

      Gameplay: 7
      I played the latest release available at the time of writing this, Beta 14.5, released on January 30th of this year. The first noticeable negative by far is the mapping. The majority of maps, particularly routes, were long and meandering with vast amounts of empty space that lacked any detail. No world map made it difficult to know where you were at times (it didn't feel safe to assume that the region's layout was the same as Kanto's traditional one as so much was changed), although the NPC who served as a teleporter between towns and cities was very convenient.

      What I absolutely love about this hack is the engaging chapter-based gameplay which keeps everything moving at a fast pace, it has a weird way of pulling you in and making you not want to put it down! I appreciated the inclusion of the mini sidequests a lot of the chapters had to offer and the fact that not every single one of these involved battling, which helped events from becoming too repetitive. Something I feel earns Adventure - Red an extra bonus point is the implementation of tiles in the overworld that could inflict status conditions on your party - that feature is really cool. Other features that improved the experience were the upgraded battle system and other small quality of life changes such as the Repel system from Black/White.

      The very broken and widely criticized following NPC feature had been removed since my last playthrough which was definitely a wise decision of Aethestode's, although there were some problems that remained. The fadescreen command was used so often and repeatedly in the same script that it made the screen flicker during many of the numerous cutscenes which was quite distracting. Speaking of screen fades, there were several occasions where I thought the game might have frozen before I realized I had to press A to continue from the black screen. This makes me suspect that the scripting is a bit sloppy; better use of level scripts or even teleporting the player to a new location via warp would have been more effective.

      General Appeal: 6
      Aethestode's Pokémon Adventure - Red Chapter is rife with "edgy" humour, half-finished implementations of various things and moments where everything felt rushed. All of the aforementioned points, the NPC text in particular, made the game come across as less polished and professional than it otherwise could have been. At times I still found myself enjoying Adventure - Red in spite of all the "fourth wall breaks", although I had to deduct some General Appeal points because of how distracting they were from the overall experience.

      Fans of the Pokémon manga are bound to enjoy this hack and to some degree it is easy to see why there are are so many people out there who like it as much as they do. It's a shame that its lack of professionalism seems to be one of the main factors which lets it down time and time again.

      Total: 26/40
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