If you are like me, you are always on the hunt for the next Pokémon ROM hack. The Pokémon fan community has a seemingly endless supply of creativity, constantly delivering new adventures that push the boundaries of what we expect from fan-made games. I have a soft spot for ROM hacks that offer not just a new world to explore but also a compelling, original story.

In this review, we’re going to explore the world of Pokémon Gaia. I’ll be breaking down its storyline, the level of challenge it presents, and the fresh features it introduces. Having recently reviewed Pokémon Unbound, which has become my gold standard for Pokémon ROM hacks, I’m curious to see where Pokémon Gaia stands in comparison. How does it measure up? What unique spins does it bring to the Pokémon ROM hack scene? We answer these questions and more in our Pokémon Gaia review.

pokemon gaia 1 edited

What is Pokémon Gaia about?

In Pokémon Gaia, you set out on an exciting adventure to explore the mysteries of a new region called the Orbtus region, which was once home to a flourishing civilization. This civilization, known for its deep reverence towards its gods and guardians, left behind temples and idols as echoes of their existence after their mysterious disappearance due to catastrophic earthquakes.

In the present day, the Orbtus region is experiencing a concerning increase in seismic activity, prompting Professor Redwood, an archaeologist and Pokémon Professor, to seek the help of new Pokémon Trainers to aid him in his research.

You begin your journey in the quaint seaside Celanto Town, where mysterious totem poles stand as silent witnesses to the region’s troubled past. As a young Trainer, you embark on a quest not just to become a Pokémon master but to uncover the secrets of the past, stop the villainous “New Elders”, and prevent a repeat of the historical disaster. Your journey is intertwined with the fate of the region, which is full of discoveries and unique challenges.

Pokémon Gaia is not only a tale of adventure but also a deep dive into a region’s lost history, blending the excitement of Pokémon battles with the intrigue of archaeological exploration. It’s a story that goes beyond the usual Gym battles, pushing you to unravel the mysteries that lie dormant beneath the surface of the Orbtus region.

pokemon gaia 3 edited 1

Highlights

So many aspects of Pokémon Gaia make it an absolute joy to play. It is the most cohesive Pokémon ROM hack I’ve played to date from a story and mechanics perspective. While some ROM hacks, like Pokémon Unbound, venture into more unconventional territory, Pokémon Gaia possesses a polish and coherence that could easily place it alongside mainline entries in the Pokémon series.

It’s obvious how much thought the developer, Spherical Ice, has put into each change and addition, ensuring they enhance the gameplay, contribute to the enjoyment, and seamlessly integrate into the overarching story.

I’m not going to sugarcoat it, Pokémon Gaia is pretty challenging. Not unfairly so, but it pushed my limits. As you progress through the game, the majority of Pokémon you’ll encounter are going to be at higher levels than your own, unless you’re doing a fair bit of grinding.

This level discrepancy forced me to get a better understanding of the game’s mechanics and adopt new strategies in battles. In that regard, I feel Pokémon Gaia served as a crucial learning experience that will better equip me to deal with even more challenging ROM hacks like Pokémon Radical Red in the future.

The story is a massive strong point of Pokémon Gaia. I could not put this one down and ended up finishing the game over a long weekend, clocking in just over 27 hours on my playthrough. It’s a perfect blend of sci-fi and mystery, reminiscent of movies like Indiana Jones. The gripping story mixed with the game’s perfect pacing and focus on exploration keeps you constantly guessing and eager to uncover the next piece of the puzzle.

pokemon gaia 8 edited

Speaking of exploration, the reworked maps and added features like diving, which enabled you to explore underwater areas, added greatly to the overall enjoyment while discovering the Orbtus region. Navigating the world is intuitive and engaging and I felt like all of the towns in the game felt unique and like they fit well within the story.

Visually, Pokémon Gaia is familiar yet refined. The updated sprites and tiles throughout the game are beautiful, fitting seamlessly with the FireRed aesthetic. The new ancient rune and glyph designs also fit in perfectly with the overall look and feel of the game.

The game also features nice breaks from the main quest like the bug-catching contest in Avalon Town and the office building in Atsail City, which features some great humor if you talk to all of the office workers. These additions take Pokémon Gaia from being a great game to a memorable experience.

pokemon gaia 9 1 edited

Minor Complaints

Pokémon Gaia is an exceptional game and I highly recommend playing it, but like all creations, it has a few areas that could be enhanced for an even smoother experience.

One feature that would have been beneficial is a mission log. The game is full of characters asking you for certain items or Pokémon or to complete certain tasks. A system to track these would have been a great help. It would have not only assisted in keeping track of game progress but also encouraged you to engage more deeply with the side missions.

I also experienced a minor hiccup with my save file getting corrupted after defeating the gym leader in Atsail City. Thankfully, due to frequent saving, the setback only cost me about 15 minutes. However, this serves as a good reminder of the importance of saving regularly.

Overall, these points are minor in the grand scheme of what Pokémon Gaia offers. They only represent opportunities for refinement in what is already a thoroughly enjoyable and well-crafted game.

In Summary

Pros
  • Cohesive Story and Mechanics
  • Challenging Gameplay
  • Engaging Storyline
  • Enhanced Exploration
  • Unique and Diverse Settings
  • Fun Side Quests
Cons
  • Lack of a Mission Log
  • Minor Technical Issues

Final Verdict: Is Pokémon Gaia worth playing?

Pokémon Gaia is my favorite original story when it comes to Pokémon ROM hacks. It offers an adventure that perfectly balances challenge, engagement, and mystery. The gameplay is both demanding and rewarding, which forces you to get a deeper understanding of its mechanics to get past some of the game’s most challenging areas. It’s a visual treat throughout, seamlessly blending with and elevating the classic FireRed aesthetic.

While not necessarily a negative, one addition that could have kept me hooked for even longer is if there was a mission log where tasks I received through all of my encounters with NPCs in the region were tracked. I definitely would have gone back to towns and spent more time in certain areas if there was a system for tracking these interactions. However, the lack of this feature didn’t diminish the enjoyment of the game.

Pokémon Gaia stands among the best Pokémon ROM hacks available, making it a must-play for fans seeking a fresh yet familiar adventure. The developer’s attention to detail and focus on creating a cohesive story shine and make for a truly unforgettable gaming experience.