Since Reborn is closing to an end, and Rejuvenation now also took form and it's plot now going somewhere, i thought it could be interesting to compare those 2 games that are so similar, but so different. The games that, in my personal opinion, raised the bar for the Pokemon fan games and official releases definetly can take a lot from them (though they never will).
I personally replayed both of them more times than i care to admit and there are 20-something years of playing games and JRPG's almost every day behind me, so i thought to share my opinion, just as something to read and discuss or maybe for devs to even take note.
I will try to be as spoiler-free as i can, but obviously, SPOILERS.
1) The story and it's pacing. This is the first thing that kinda differentiate those games from all the rest, so i would like to focus on it first.
Now, Reborn story is pretty strong on it's own, but it does have it's weaknesses. In short, In Reborn we are just a trainer, that arrived in a new region to kick ass and call names, but is quickly stuck in the vortex of events bigger than him, leading to a confrontation with an evil team. It introduces new conflicts and characters very organically, they almost never feel forced into the story (*cough* Luna), however the gym battles mostly felt a bit forced, since it's our primary goal, and everything regarding Team Meteor and Arceus cult is just a side trip for our character. Thankfully, the story flow and all the intrigue about all the events during the course of the story mask the barebones general plot structure really well. One other thing, Reborn feels very "fragmented" story-wise, if that makes sense, like it got those clear arcs, that start and end in a certain area with certain characters, that just can be gone for ages. The few choices that are in Reborn, like with Taka or ZEL or even in the cages, where you are forced to fight your friends, feel meaningful and made by your own will.
Comparing this to Rejuvenation, it's protagonist stakes are much more personal, be it revenge, desire to know the truth of the events, or what is actually happening there. For out protagonist gathering badges is something that happens naturally during the course of events, and the story is driven by itself without a badge-crutch. Rejuvenation also considerably improved the pacing and traversing the region feels incredibly smooth, you are moving along with the story in a true flow without many stops, in every place you go a lot of events happen, characters appear and reappear and all make an impact on the story. However Rejuvenation, in my opinion, got 2 problems from the storytelling perspective. First one is time travel. Stories with time travel very rarely work, and this one is not an exception, the concept alone creates so many plotholes you cannot count and creates more questions the game can answer, also making it the cheapest plot device. Second one is that the much bigger focus on the story actually makes the main protagonist much less important, like you are not in control of events. Most of the time you only watch things unfold as a spectator, or because someone else doing something and you are tagging along. In contrast, Reborn's protag is what drives the events and make things happen.
This is a very close one, however i pick Rejuvenation as a winner since it got much cleaner structure, much better eventing and flow of the story, also a better overall purpose and a direction.
2) The characters
Hoo boy, now this is a tough one. Supportive cast and rivals and evil team are pretty amazing in both games, i would argue even the best part of both games.
The Reborn rivals, Cain, Fern and Victoria are all great. We got a humorous troubled dude who swings both ways, an absolute flaming asshole and a kind and strong girl, torn up by her responsibilities. All of them influence the story and protagonist in major ways and push them in the moments of need. Gym leaders each have their continuing story arcs, fleshed out personalities and feel absolutely alive, the writing of their dialogue is absolutely the best. Ciel and Samson banter, mysterious fourth-wall-breaking Radomus, troubles of Amaria and Titania, all of the leaders are fantastic. All of them. Only when it comes to the evil team things fall apart, because while Team Meteor's admin doing great job and even more or less destroyed the city, ZEL, Taka and Solaris are all well written admins, however so far Lin is absolute garbage as a big bad villain. She just appears out of nowhere for no reason, appears to be sorta omnipotent and act as edgy as a character can. So far there was basically no build up, no connection to her, no nothing.
Rejuvenation's characters are incredibly strong in it's own right, and while Reborn finds it's foundation in separate characters, Rejuvenation combines all of the main characters into one acting main group, which reshuffles it's roster from time to time during the course of the events. It keeps the characters interacting with each others, constantly opening new sides of them, which opens entire new dimensions of them. Leaders are probably the best out of any pokemon game period, well woven into the story and the events, all of them are compelling characters, playing their own role in the events. Shoutout to Kenneth, probably my favorite leader. The evil (?) Team Xen is a much better overall villain, however in this case situation is exactly backwards. Madame X is a fantastic leader, mysterious, strong, willful, having great interactions with heroes, giving us a heroes to both hate her and not hate her. I like all of the admins, Zetta, Geara, Neved, Anastasia, and Madelis, however all of the feel like they are playing second banana, it's clear that they all have their own agenda, stories to tell and reasons to be there, but after 1-2 confrontations they dissapear for tens of hours, in fact, for the second half of the game (GDC) they just pass the torch to the Bladestar, that dont even have memorable admins so far. While maybe it's not exactly fair to judge them while the game is still unfinished, in 100+ hours of playtime they could play a little bigger role in confrontations.
In fact, i have to make it a draw here. Both games have similar strenghts and shortcomings, but the characters in both are phenomenal nonetheless.
Now, let me explain. There are clear potions of the pure gameplay in both Reborn and Rejuv, be those ruins, mountains, caves, deserts, forests, e.t.c. Since those often take a lot of time, they deserve comparison too.
This is, in my opinion, THE single biggest Reborn weakness. In it, those dungeons are nothing but those - dungeons. A huge open spaces with wild pokemon, some puzzles and nothing interesting happening. The subway is not fun, the forest is not fun, the desert is ASS even with repels, the mountains are ass, the dark valley with luna is not fun, e.t.c. They dont offer anything interesting or compelling and most often dont have any story significance at all, and worst of all, they overstay their welcome by a huge margin. They are not without their own benefits, like smart puzzles and clever usage of certain pokemon abilities to traverse certain dungeons, but overall the design is just bad.
Rejuvenation deals with that so much better. Every dungeon you encounter is a place of some event, very major or not, and even some of the least eventful were greatly updated, like the additional dialogue in the water cave. Every route and dungeon keeps the story going, creating new events, giving new stuff and impressions, and even dreaded Valor mountain is great. it feels like this huge challenge you worked SO HARD for, and it basically serves as a final dungeon of a disc 1, if you know what i mean. It got this sense of finality of the current conflict, that makes you push forward no matter what. The other good point is they dont overstay their welcome and keep them relatively short and refreshing.
Rejuvenation destroys Reborn in this department without any chances of comeback.
Now, this is part of why we love Reborn and Rejuv, the battles are actually challenging and brutal.
Reborn kick you in the balls and then spits on you. The gym leaders are prime difficulty spikes because of their fields, and can feel unfair at times. Especially in double battles, where enemy teams designed for this one double fight with you, instead of being an all-rounder pokemon setup. Overall it greatly challenges the player, forcing them to git gud and think of ways to change the field of counter the main enemy strategy. Honestly, it's great. There are some fights that can feel infuriating if you are not adequately prepared, like the Meteor assault on Amaria house, and partner AI is a dumbass.
Rejuvenation is very similar in terms of difficulty and field effects, highly recommend playing it on Intense for better experience, but Rejuvenation feels much more forgiving with the Audino trainers. It always have some useful pokemon against the next leader next to him, and you can easily level up pokemons you need, and basically change the strategy on the fly. While it is much more forgiving, the challenge even on Intense also feels softened, because your strategy options are bigger and more easily accessible.
This is just my personal opinion, but i actually do prefer it the way Reborn does it. Zero lube, no preparations, and i find it more challenging overall because of the pokemon placement. Close one.
5) Additional content
Reborn is pretty dry with it so far, to be honest. There are some hidden pokemon here and there, very good sidequests you can encounter, and that's about it. Every extra dungeon you complete is just rare pokemon or a mega stone.
Rejuvenation, on the other hand, handled it perfectly. Zygarde cells, help centers with obvious sidequests and more hidden sidequests along the road, a huge amount of extra events that enhances the world, unique gimmicky dungeons like the timed passage. This is exactly how you do it, good job, Jan and co.
Without any contest, Rejuvenation annihilates Reborn in that department.
Now, all of this for me show sme one thing: Rejuvenation improved over it's predecessor in almost every way. Does it make Reborn bad? Hell no, it's bloody brilliant, but at this point, comparing it to Jan work, it might feel barebones and empty from time to time. I feel like despite it's few shortcomings, Rejuvenation might be the current golden standart for any pokemon fan game.
Now, my personal suggestions for both games.
Reborn: 1) Fix the dungeons. Make them shorter but more filled with content and events.
2) Give characters more interconnectivity. With some exceptions, characters are in a vacuum and rarely interact with other than their someone important.
3) Give personal stakes to the protagonist
4) Actually write Lin into the story, dont make it Lin-ex-machina
Rejuvenation: 1) Give protagonist more choices, more influence over the game events. We are the Interceptor, dammit.
2) More focus to the Xen admins and give us Bladestar admins.
3) Let time travel be just a side point for the plot, dont make everything spin around it
4) More small events with some characters that received very little attention would be appreciated, for example bonding with Amber (which i think is coming, since she is trying to tell us something for like 2 episodes, but oh so slowly) or actually talking to Saki and Erick. Just you know, would be nice to have a heart-to-heart with them and know them better.
The board is kinda quiet before the new episode, so i thought to liven up place a bit and discuss. All i've said is just my personal opinion.