Pokemon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire just came out early last week. Unfortunately, I’m not exactly an esteemed member of the press, so I had to buy my copy on release date with the rest of the world (Aside from Europe! Ha!) I actually finished it Saturday night, but I spent an extra couple of days wandering through the game before committing to this review. So, here we go! I’ve never done this before, so I’m sure this is going to be a little rough.
I feel like I should open this by telling everyone a bit about me and my personal feelings on the Pokemon games.
I started with Pokemon at the very beginning. I played Red, Blue, and Yellow on my old see-through purple Gameboy Color that I later accidentally lost. I also played both Gold and Silver on an old arctic blue GameBoy Advance that was later stolen. Then, there was a great drought. I call it “Parents that didn’t want to buy me Pokemon and I couldn’t do a thing about it because I was still in Jr. High”. I didn’t play Crystal, and still haven’t to this day. I didn’t play Ruby or Sapphire. I didn’t play Fire Red or Leaf Green. I didn’t play Emerald. Not until I graduated High School and got my first job like a real, live adult did I decide to finally do some of the backtracking I’d missed out on. In 2007 I bought a lovely GameBoy Advance SP (Which my dog later chewed up) and Pokemon Emerald (Which now has a dead battery). I was iffy on Emerald, but played it to completion, then set my sights on the next games. I bought a DS Lite (Which later broke) along with Pokemon Pearl and absolutely adored it. A second DS Lite later (Which is thankfully still in one piece) I also bought Diamond, Platinum, Soul Silver, Black, White 2, Y, and finally the reason we’re all here, Pokemon Alpha Sapphire.
I don’t like Generation 3. I’d almost go so far as to say I hate it. Like, a lot. I could have opened with this, but I felt it necessary to make it clear that one of Gen 3’s major sticking points with a lot of people doesn’t apply to me in the slightest. I wasn’t around for all of the controversy involving a completely new, separate generation and all your old Pokemon becoming irrelevant. It never affected me. I also wanted to establish that I started with Emerald, the best version of the Gen 3 games, as my entry point. As if that wasn’t enough, I was also ending a years-long Pokemon drought. The old dumb kid who loved Gold and Silver was yearning for a new game, and had to spend years looking at copies of Ruby, Sapphire, Fire Red, Leaf Green, and Emerald behind Wal-Mart glass cases. The odds were completely stacked in Pokemon’s favor. All the game had to do was not crash and burn on takeoff, and I’d have been satisfied.
And I was still underwhelmed. I almost didn’t continue the series. I was terrified of not liking Diamond or Pearl, and I almost didn’t buy them. But, I was young, and dumb with my money. Disposable income is a hell of a drug, and I was going to spend it on everything that even remotely interested me.
Last December, intent on truly catching them all, I replayed a bunch of Pokemon games again in preparation for the (Later delayed to a hilarious degree) release of Pokemon Bank. I replayed Emerald. Then Fire Red. Platinum, Soul Silver, and Black all followed, and I grabbed the legendary Pokemon in each game so I could have a nice collection prepared for the release of the Bank. If present-day me me could go back in time I’d tell myself that Emerald was still bad and I shouldn’t have given it another shot. I’d tell myself that weather trio was available in Soul Silver. That Latios and Latias were available in Black and White 2, as are the Regis. Also I’d probably warn myself about the Pokebank delay, but that would really only be the second most important thing I’d say.
Unfortunately, I can’t go back in time (Yet), and went through with this self-induced marathon. Even after playing all of those games again I still found Emerald to be the undeniable low point. I’d had more than half a decade to settle on the experience, and accept it for what it was. I thought maybe I had been too hard on it because I was looking forward to Diamond and Pearl. Maye, just maybe, it was really great and I had just been grumpy for the days it took me to beat it.
Turns out that nah, I was right. Because I’m always right and the game is still not great and the Hoenn dex is awful.
Despite ALL of that, I will 100% fight you if you seriously try and argue that Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire are bad games. And I’ll win that argument. Not because I have facts on my side, but because I’m not afraid of using weapons, and the cops owe me a bunch of favors.
Disclaimer: This review is biased. It’s what smart people call a review from an enthusiast. Objective reviews don’t exist, and the people out there who want them are by and large idiots. Bias informs. If you want to read what a non-Pokemon fan thinks of this game, then you won’t find it here. If you’re a fan of the series though, and would like a review tailored to someone who thinks like you, then you’re at the right place. If you’re neither and just want an interesting read, well, I hope this is good enough.
I know I know, some of you want to hear the good parts after all that. But after writing the good part first I felt like the bad brought the review down too much. Especially considering that I’m overall extremely positive on this experience.
Anyway, as much as I may love them, ORAS is not a perfect pair of games. Like a good porno, almost all of Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire’s problems lie in its plot. If case you haven’t played the original, here’s the story.
You’re a dumb nerd kid from some podunk town who embarks on a journey to collect all the region’s badges and eventually challenge the strongest Pokemon trainers in the land, the Elite 4. Doing so means that you will become the Pokemon League Champion, and famous as the greatest trainer in the land. Along the way you encounter the obligatory evil team, Team *Aqua or Magma*. Team *Aqua or Magma*’s grand plan is to destroy the world by using the legendary Pokemon, *Kyogre or Groudon*, to *flood the planet or dry up the oceans* making more *water for Pokemon or land for Pokemon*. The plan is idiotic, and it is something that many many many many (See: just about everyone) people disliked about Generation 3. This is still in place, and it’s still dumb, although a dumb plot isn’t necessarily a dealbreaker, as I’ll elaborate on in the second part of this review.
The regional Pokedex is still rather inadequate, containing only 7 Pokemon that weren’t available in the original 3rd Generation games. The ones that were included now are all related to Pokemon that were already in (Such as Gallade and Froslass, both 4th Gen Pokemon that are split evolutions for Kirlia and Snorunt respectively.) While the story’s details are actually largely improved, there are a few notable areas where it remains completely broken. Wally, a trainer you meet early in the game with an extremely punchable face still has an unsatisfying character arc. Gym leaders are almost never seen outside of their gyms, and for the most part are still extremely one-note. The mildly cooler unified story from Pokemon Emerald is tossed away in favor of the lesser storylines from the original Ruby and Sapphire, meaning Rayquaza’s great role is cut out and shoved into the post-story Delta Episode. The region is more tropical than any other region, which is shorthand for saying, “No, they didn’t fix the abundance of water.” You do get a nice little feature on the bottom screen called the Area Nav to make this mildly more manageable, but swimming in largely empty maps is still a pain. Some people like the amount of water. I don’t, and I never will. Water is the worst. I’d rather just stay at home than go swimming in a big dumb stupid lake.
Speaking of things they really should have fixed. HM’s. Holy crap these things just need to go away. Generation 5 fixed HM’s perfectly (One of the many reasons it’s my favorite Gen) by making it so they were almost never required to beat the game. In Black and White you had to use Cut exactly once in order to demonstrate you knew how to do it. After that, an HM was never ever required to beat the game. X and Y were mostly the same, as you only had to use Surf once in the game to demonstrate you knew how… right up until Victory Road, where they spit on all the good will they’d acquired by forcing you carry Pokemon with Strength, Surf, and Waterfall to make it through. Throughout ORAS you’re required to Surf very frequently, and make heavy use of Dive. Cut is also a big requirement, as is Strength. Waterfall is also required at least once.
ORAS is a tremendous improvement overall, but there are still some holdovers from the original game that have aged as well as mayonnaise-heavy sandwich. Wanting to pander to anyone nostalgic to these games is all well and fine, but you shouldn’t make your game worse because of it.
What, you want specifics? Fine. The music, for starters. I’ve never been a huge fan of Gen 3’s music overall, but I really like the arrangements for ORAS. They’re nice, but really, my favorite tracks are the ones that are completely original. Seriously, they’re great. If you want some super cool battle music, you’ve got that. Note that if you don’t want music spoilers you shouldn’t click on any of these videos, and the descriptions / comments likely also have story spoilers as well.
But maybe a rockin’ theme isn’t what you’re into. I bet you’d like something slow, and relaxing, right? Well, ORAS has you covered there too.
Another big favorite of mine is the oddly Spanish or Italian (Sorry, terrible with regional music!) sounding theme for a new character, Zinnia.
If you loved the original game’s music then you’ll love the entire soundtrack. If not, then there’s still more than enough new tracks to make love to your eardrums here. Of course, great music is only one part of a game’s presentation. I’m happy to report that ORAS looks much better than Pokemon X and Y, which is saying a lot because I don’t think those games looked bad at all. A bit bland outside of cities maybe, but certainly not bad.
ORAS is brighter, and more vibrant from the very beginning, and it feels like everything’s just a bit nicer overall. You may not have a customizable trainer anymore, but Orlando and Anna (Or Brendan and May because I will never ever get used to these new names) are both pretty well designed and the game is better animated overall. Some Pokemon received new animations, and some moves were changed for the better as well. All in all ORAS is a great improvement over XY on the audio visual front, but, let’s face it, that’s only a small part of the reason people enjoy Pokemon.
So, story. The big one. I’ll refrain from spoilers, but, well, it’s actually good. Original RSE were notorious for having an unfathomably idiotic story, but ORAS significantly improves in one main way. While the overall plotlines are just as dumb as they ever were, the villains were given much more depth.
I do a lot of writing. Like, a lot. I tend to keep things conversational here and mildly professional elsewhere. I bring this up so you know I’m coming from a place of experience when I say that I could write a better story for Ruby and Sapphire after getting my skull caved in with a baseball bat. I could craft a more engaging narrative after having my entire life’s memories wiped with a Men in Black-esque neuralyzer.
However, an excellent plot isn’t the only thing that can make a great story. Ask anyone who’s ever written erotica how much a deep, involved storyline matters. Or ask me, because I have. Go ahead. I’ll wait. Or don’t. I don’t care, because I know the answer, and so should you based off of how much confidence I exuded while making that statement.
Plot doesn’t necessarily matter. Compelling characters can elevate an idiotic storyline to acceptable levels, and the villains in ORAS do this. Archie is a driven, menacing individual. He stops at nothing to accomplish his goals, and seems to develop a twisted bond with your character, to where he even looks forward to you rushing to stop him at every step of the way. Shelly is violent, angry, and isn’t afraid of using physical force to get what she needs. Despite this, she holds a soft spot for Archie, and believes in his goals. Matt is a bit of a muscle-headed lunk, but he loves Archie like a brother (Sometimes it even gets a little homoerotic in my personal opinion). He always means well, even when he messes up and has to come back to begging for forgiveness. Not to spoil anything, but there’s a post-ending scene with the entire team that just made my heart melt a little. They are handled so much better here than they were on the GBA.
Now would be a good time to remind you that I only played Alpha Sapphire. I’ve heard much of the same compliments levied at Omega Ruby, but I sadly, can’t confirm these myself. If I was made of money I’d be willing to buy a copy of Omega Ruby just to compare the two of them, but I’m not, so you’ll just need to tread a little more carefully there. Personally, I’d believe that Omega Ruby is just as good, given the quality of Alpha Sapphire’s writing, which is a statement I never thought I’d make even if I lived to be a hundred years old.
I doubly can’t believe I just said that because so much of the script is actually unchanged. I find it fascinating just how much more we get out of these same old lines now that there’s real, animated 3D models with facial expressions tied to them. My favorite example of this is the 4th Gym Leader, Flannery. Her dialogue is largely the same, but she gets so much out of those facial expressions that she’s all kinds of adorable and cool at the same time.
Your rival is another character that benefits greatly from these updates. In the original games, well, they were a big disappointment. May or Brendan will just give up on their Pokemon journey partway through, and never even fully evolve their starter. That certainly isn’t so in this case, and there’s a few little wrinkles to the relationship with your rival that I found cute as all heck.
And that’s not even going into the gameplay! While it’s still Pokemon, and plays very much like XY in just about every way, there’s a lot of nice little features added to ORAS that make it a significantly more fun experience overall. The DexNav allows you to seek out specific Pokemon in patches of grass, as well as find new, “Unique” Pokemon that have guaranteed good IV’s and generally come with a free egg move attached! Complementing the DexNav is the BuzzNav, which basically takes the role of TV’s in the original game. Whereas before you’d have to go watch a random TV in the world to find out what friends you’ve mixed records with are up to, in ORAS you get the an infinitely streaming loop of programming on the bottom featuring the many many things just about anyone you’ve ever met has done. Of course, the PSS, Super Training, and Pokemon Amie options all fully return for ORAS and are just as functional as ever.
One of the biggest new features from XY, Mega evolutions, appears in ORAS as well and is made significantly less annoying all around. In XY almost every Mega was exclusive to the post-game sections, and locked off until then. In ORAS almost all Mega stones are available on an initial playthrough as long as you’re able to access the area they’re hidden in, allowing you a much greater variety in choice for a Mega to take with you through the latter half of the game. It is unfortunate that there are a handful that are still restricted to the post-game sections, but if you’ve got a friend who’s already completed the game they can always trade you the stone and you’re free to use it as soon as you unlock the Mega Bracelet!
Really, it’s hard to properly gush about this game without going into too many spoilers. I could go on about Contests, but I personally didn’t find them all that interesting. They seem well done, and a free, adorable Pikachu in a funny outfit is a great gift to coerce you into trying them out. Secret bases return, and you’re given the ability to share them online, as well as set up various NPC’s in your base. It’s all pretty cool, though there are some annoying restrictions and a saddening 20 item limit to any base.
OKAY! I’M DONE! Seriously, this has gone on way longer than I intended it too. The bottom line is that this game is great. There are many features from XY that I do miss (Seriously, character customization would have been nice) but the sheer amount that this game has improved on over its predecessor is astounding. It makes me very excited for what the next game could possibly hold, and it has all but reversed my opinion on the classic Ruby and Sapphire tale. I still would not recommend the originals to anyone, and the surfing routes in Hoenn still make me cringe, but ORAS is such a drastic improvement even over XY that I feel I must give it all of the praise that I can muster.
My personal list of best Pokemon games will continue to feature Black and White at the top, but ORAS will now firmly sit in second place. If you’re a Pokemon fan you’re doing yourself a disservice by not playing this game. If you’re not, then, well, maybe consider this, or XY. As much as I love this, XY is probably a bit more friendly to new players overall. That’s not to say ORAS is particularly difficult or anything, just that it tends to assume the player is a bit more experienced in the series.
The game is out, and I have a tiny viewer base. Regardless of that, if any of you have any questions about the game feel free to comment and I’d be happy to answer them. I’m sure just about anyone looking at this already has it, but, hey, you never know!
Though the game looks better overall and everything else looks really nice, there are still a few hiccups relating to the battling specifically. Framerates still dip when the 3D is turned on, and the 3D feature is entirely disabled outside of battle. There’s still not really enough anti-aliasing on models, giving a lot of faces a pixellated, grainy look. Despite all this, the music and art direction really sell the game overall, and there’s more than a few extremely memorable setpieces despite the 3DS’s hardware limitations.
The battling may not have changed much, but there’s very little that needs to be changed. The addition of Mega Pokemon in XY has forever changed future Pokemon games by allowing them the chance at adding new Pokemon without having to retool the entire game for new Pokemon slots. I think it’s fantastic that we can expect 20+ new Pokemon on every series iteration to shake up the meta, even if a few of these are blatantly overpowered and will be banned from all forms of play. Mega Rayquaza will eat your dreams and infest your nightmares.
God I still can’t believe I’m not only recommending a Pokemon game for the story, much less a remake of Ruby and Sapphire. I adore almost all the characters in ORAS, and would love to see Gens 4 or 5 get the same love that 3 did some day. There are still a few hiccups here and there, but overall the experience is very fun and engaging throughout. It’s also nicely paced, which is a huge breath of fresh air after the awful, atrocious pacing that XY suffered from. Things move at a generally good clip throughout, and you don’t have any 5-hour long stretches without a gym like you did in XY.
Maybe we’ll be revisiting these two in 2015?