REVIEW / Pokemon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire (3DS)

 

Hoenn confirmed.  Just when the meme started to grate on even the most patient gamers, Nintendo made the announcement. Remakes of Pokemon Ruby and Sapphire were coming after all.  Running on the same engine as X and Y, Pokemon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire launched worldwide last month.  But how does one review a game like this? The graphics and gameplay are taken from X and Y, while the story, characters, and selection of Pokemon are taken from Ruby and Sapphire.  There are some new features, of course, but we also can’t ignore the people who haven’t played either of the original games.  It’s a game of its own, a remake, and a follow-up all in one.  Hopefully this review will give the details everyone needs to make an informed decision.

Even those new to the series probably know the basics, but if you don’t, it’s pretty simple.  The Pokemon games are turn-based RPGs that focus on the capture of and battling with creatures called, what else, Pokemon.  Your character is a young boy or girl setting off on his or her adventure.  After you receive your first Pokemon from a professor, you travel through the region of Hoenn.  You can battle wild Pokemon and capture them to use later in battles, compete against other trainers, and even fight off criminal organizations.  Ostensibly, the goal is to defeat the leaders of each city’s Gym before facing off against the Elite 4 and the Champion.  Everything works and acts perfectly; the game is extremely well designed, and there are no technical issues.  It’s a Pokemon game, after all.

 

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But again, you probably know all of that.  The core gameplay hasn’t changed much since the series began in the 90’s.  That said, each game does bring something different.  The biggest new feature in Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire (heretofore referred to as “ORAS“) is the Pokenav Plus.  Based on the Pokenav from the original Ruby and Sapphire, this device takes up the bottom screen of the 3DS and has had a number of functions added throughout the game.  The AreaNav is your map, displaying not just major landmarks but also trainers waiting for battles, Secret Bases (more on that later), and more.  The BuzzNav is basically a portable TV, with very short shows focusing on the exploits of you and the people with whom you Street Pass.  The PlayNav contains the three bottom-screen features from X and Y: Super Training, Pokemon-Amie, and the Player Search System.

But the main attraction here is the DexNav, a brand new tool for those who want to catch ’em all.  It shows sprites of all the wild Pokemon in the area that you’ve caught, silhouettes of those you’ve seen but not captured, and emblems to tell you when you’ve caught everything nearby.  More importantly, it ties into a brand new mechanic, that of hiding Pokemon.  Occasionally, wild Pokemon will poke their heads out of the grass.  The DexNav will give you some information about the Pokemon in question, and then you need to sneak up on it.  The sneaking can be tedious, and it’s easy for your hunt to be ruined by trainers or other wild Pokemon, but it’s worth it for two reasons.  First, hidden Pokemon sometimes have special traits to set them apart from the normal counterparts.  They might have unusual moves or abilities, they might be holding items, or they might be at a significantly higher level than the other Pokemon in the area.

 

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Most of the other new content is focused around legendary Pokemon and/or Mega Evolutions.  The game brings many new Mega Pokemon, including the starter evolutions.  While X and Y only had one Mega Evolving legendary Pokemon (Mewtwo), ORAS add Groudon, Kyogre, Diancie, Latios, Latias, and Rayquaza to the list.  The Mega Evolutions for Groudon and Kyogre are actually called “Primal Reversions,” and they play a big part in the story.  Mega Latios and Mega Latias, meanwhile, let you fly around Hoenn in real time once you get a certain item.  Rayquaza and Deoxys form the basis of the Delta Episode, a major post-game element added to ORAS.

It explores the origins of Mega Evolution and the history of Hoenn, and is probably the best post-Elite 4 content in any Pokemon game to date.  Still, I’m not sure it’s enough to make these games unique.  HeartGold and SoulSilver stood out with following Pokemon and the Pokewalker; I wish these games had something like that to set them apart.  The new content does add a lot to the game as a whole, but none of the individual additions alone are enough to really wow me.

 

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Fortunately, returning features from Ruby and Sapphire spice things up as well.  Pokemon Contests return, giving you another way to raise and show off your Pokemon.  The rules can be a bit confusing at first, but in essence it’s all about bringing the right Pokemon and using the right moves, just like a battle.  Secret Bases also return, and they’re beefed up significantly.  You can visit other players’ bases through Street Pass and QR codes, and within you can battle against them in a battle type they choose.  This can be a good way to gain experience, as you’ll often find higher-level opponents.  Underwater exploration returns as well, and it looks much nicer with the 3D graphics.  For some Pokemon, it will actually show them specifically, instead of the typical Wailmer-esque shadow used in most cases.

Sadly, not everything returns from X/Y and Ruby and Sapphire.  You can no longer customize your character’s outfit, for one.  I get that there’s some nostalgia for the classic designs of Brendan and May, but it couldn’t have hurt to give the option.  From the original GBA games, the Berry Blender mini game is no more; Pokeblocks are made automatically.  These are both small problems, but they seem unnecessary.  There are a few other issues here as well: for one, the game feels painfully slow.  Every battle seems to drag on, an issue that existed in X and Y as well.  It could be my imagination, but it gets bothersome.  I’ve also found it difficult to start using new Pokemon: generally, wild Pokemon will be 10-15 levels lower than my team, and it takes a lot of battling to level them up.  The new EXP Share helps, as it did in X and Y, but prepare to use a freshly caught Pokemon quite often if you really want it to become part of your team.

 

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Now we come back to the big question: how does one review a game like this?  When I look at ORAS as a remake, it’s nearly perfect.  All of the charm from the originals is here, and the improvements from later entries breathe new life into it.  When I look at ORAS as a follow-up to X/Y, it’s somewhat disappointing; while there are some cool new features, none of them are quite enough to set ORAS apart.  Ultimately though, there are so many angles from which one can view a game that the best thing is to judge it in a vacuum.  And there’s no question that Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire deliver as games.  Are they the best Pokemon games?  Probably not, but that still puts them well ahead of most titles.  It may feel like more of X/Y, but I wouldn’t say that’s a bad thing.

 

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