With two Pokemon remakes out this holiday season, Invisible Gamer gave two members of our staff a copy of the game to review. The first review is by Tristan Ettleman and the second is by Jonah Ort.
Poke-MAN, this is good!
Pokemon Omega Ruby, and the variety of things it has to offer, can have a flustering effect. Omega Ruby accompanies Alpha Sapphire in the third set of Pokemon remakes, following in the footsteps of FireRed/LeafGreen and HeartGold/SoulSilver. Just as those games were updated revisions of previous games in the style of the new ones, so too does Omega Ruby take various elements of the Generation III games (Ruby, Sapphire, and Emerald) and present it in the style of the most recent games, X and Y. Omega Ruby not only looks and feels like the alphabetical entries in the series; it also incorporates gameplay elements and advancements. And for someone who hadn’t played a Pokemon game since the original Ruby was released for the Game Boy Advance in 2003, that made Omega Ruby feel totally foreign … at least at first.
As was the case with X and Y, gone are the shrunken sprites and fairly static battles. Omega Ruby’s 3D models and fully animated action scenes were at first delightful yet strange, then a little off-putting, and finally back to aesthetically pleasing. The art design that was present in the original Ruby is still somehow present in the not-so-flat and stretched out version of Hoenn that Omega Ruby depicts. That Hoenn is still a wide expanse of inspired locations that shocked and awed a kid accustomed to the similar locations in the first two generations of Pokemon games. Rainy forests, a town built on trees, windy deserts, and a city that can only be reached by way of an underwater grotto are only some of the locations that make Omega Ruby’s region unique.
It’s also clear that conscious effort was made to ensure that the Pokemon native to the Hoenn region would be all that new players would need. Gone is the blending of Pokemon, at least until later in the game. Instead, the Hoenn region has familiar but unique Pokemon that fit into the roles initially established by the creatures of the Kanto and Johto regions. Need an early game bird Pokemon? Hoenn’s got you covered with Taillows. None of those Pidgeys in site. And who needs a Caterpie when you’ve got a Wurmple? Although it appears that a shallow attempt was made to replace archetypal Pokemon with new and fresh ones, it ends up making the game feel incredibly fresh. It helps that Omega Ruby’s Pokemon designs are some of the most inspired and creative in the entire series.
In a similar manner that isn’t executed quite as well, Omega Ruby’s plot is buffed out, and several elements weave their way into a story that is, unfortunately, not quite as cohesive as it could be. Pokemon games have always had the element of the missing father, the rival, the quest to Pokemon League dominance, and the nefarious mob-like “teams,” but Omega Ruby complicates each of those elements further — further, even, than the original game it emulates, and to a point of hyperbole. Omega Ruby’s cinematics heavily dramatize plot points, and they are ultimately undermined by the game’s difficulty. It was almost comical when I beat every gym leader, who are among the strongest Pokemon trainers in the land, with my first two Pokemon (of six) without much effort. It was certainly funny when I quickly caught Groudon, the legendary, primordial, powerful Pokemon that had just managed to cast harsh, person-and-Pokemon-killing sunlight over the entire world, with a plastic ball. That may just be chalked up to the nature of Pokemon games. However, Omega Ruby’s difficulty reveals that its most glaring faults lies in its gameplay.
A likely cause of the ease with which I progressed through the game may be attributed to the game’s “Exp. Share” item. Unlike in previous games, Omega Ruby’s “Exp. Share” item, when activated, distributes a portion of experience to every Pokemon in your team, even if they did not participate in the turn-based, rock-paper-scissors battles that have not changed quite so significantly throughout the series’ existence. Of course, that was a conscious choice, but one that I found didn’t draw a line between “convenience” and “easy mode” very well. It’s a system that was redefined in X and Y, and unfortunately it remains unchanged in Omega Ruby. Technical issues, as well, plague battles in a way I’ve never seen in a Pokemon game. The framerate can chug significantly in the face of over-the-top effects, and it worsens even more if the game is being played in 3D.
Otherwise, Omega Ruby offers a ton of appreciated, different avenues and activities to explore beyond the path the Team Magma story and gyms shuttle you down. Contests that are essentially “Toddlers and Tiaras” for Pokemon, minigames and pampering that are essentially preparation for Pokemon “Toddlers and Tiaras,” a postgame storyline that leads to some very valuable legendary Pokemon, a post-postgame location that will keep the battle-hungry satiated, the entire “catch ’em all” metagame, and (somehow) much more can keep you busy for a very long time.
The Pokemon formula may be well-established, but it’s also fun. Enough is added and tweaked with each installment, but that especially needs to hold true with new versions of games that are over ten years old. These remakes essentially act as a means of making it much more convenient to get older Pokemon into the new games, but developer Game Freak has proven that they’re more than that with each iteration. Despite some stagnant flaws in the general Pokemon experience, Omega Ruby is the definitive way to travel Hoenn due to its abundance of new content that doesn’t negatively affect the core elements that defined some of the best games in the Pokemon series.
Last year’s Pokemon X revitalized my love for Pokemon. After getting burnt out on Pokemon Diamond for the DS, I felt that last year’s game gave me the perfect time to jump back into the Pokemon franchise. Pokemon X really pushed the series forward and streamlined the Pokemon formula in a way I could get behind. When Nintendo announced that Ruby and Sapphire, my personal favorite generation of the Pokemon games, were getting a remake, I was excited to dive in. However, after playing Alpha Sapphire for a bit, my excitement gave way to disappointment.
Alpha Sapphire takes place in the Hoenn region, which provides a great backdrop to the familiar Pokemon formula. You collect, battle, and level up your Pokemon and collect 8 gym badges from increasingly tough Gym Leaders who serve as the game’s boss fights. Along the way you’ll be taking on the villainous Team Aqua, which plans to harness the power of an ancient Pokemon in order to rule the world. The game features X/Y’s fantastic 3D art style along with a slick, easy-to-use interface. Its turn-based battles remain unchanged aside from some flashy attack animations, and each battle features the same rock-paper-scissors strategy that has been a staple of the Pokemon games. The Pokemon this time around are some of the best-designed in the series and the variety of elemental types keep battles fresh.
So what went wrong? Well, first off, this game is a remake of my favorite Pokemon game, so it’s difficult for it to evoke the same sense of wonder and excitement as X//Y did for me. Previous Pokemon remakes did a lot to offset this in a myriad of ways. Fire Red/Leaf Green, remakes of Red/Blue, delivered some of the most impressive sprite-based artwork I’ve ever seen, and it had a ton of extra content after the story ended. HeartGold/SoulSilver, remakes of Gold and Silver, added the neat pedometer that allowed you to raise Pokemon outside of the game as well as a revamped user interface that made better use of the DS touchscreen. Despite the fact these games are remakes, they still felt like they were making significant changes to spice things up. Alpha Sapphire’s improvements feel much less weighty. The biggest new addition to Alpha Sapphire is the revamped interface on the bottom screen that features a few useful functions, like a map or a tracker that shows you which Pokemon you have caught in a certain area. These additions are nice, but hardly groundbreaking. The only other truly new thing is the Eon Flute, an item that allows you to fly around the map and land on any previously-discovered Route or city. It’s neat to get a bird’s eye view of the map and it’s convenient to jump to any area on the map quickly, but that’s about it.
Perhaps my least favorite thing about Alpha Sapphire was its pacing. I believe that Pokemon’s Gym Leaders should be fierce boss fights that challenge and stimulate you. I also believe that the trek from one Gym to the next should be arduous but rewarding. Unfortunately, neither of these things are true in Alpha Sapphire. Gym Leaders are almost laughably easy to beat, and the puzzles leading up to the Leader are either extremely easy to solve or boil down to complete guesswork. Defeating Gyms is unsatisfying, but traversal from one area to the next is even worse. The game’s cities simply feel too close together, which makes the whole game feel small. And although each city feels unique and interesting, you hardly spend enough time in them to really appreciate it.
I understand that this is ultimately a kid’s game and that streamlining can be a good thing. However, the streamlining of Alpha Sapphire has hindered it and made the game feel like it flies by too fast. A good example of this presents itself early in the game when, after a story segment, your rival asks if you want to travel with them back to a city you’ve previously visited. After selecting “yes”, you’re teleported back to the city. Usually, this would be a great thing, as I’m not a fan of backtracking. However, this only makes the world feel even smaller. One time after defeating a Gym Leader, I was once again approached by my rival and teleported to another city where I then fought another Gym Leader back-to-back with not even a minute in between Gym battles. This epitomized my problem with Alpha Sapphire: there just isn’t any weight to what you do throughout the game.
However, my gripes with the game’s pacing and lack of meaningful new content didn’t completely sour my experience. I still haven’t grown tired of the basic Pokemon formula; collecting, battling, and leveling up your Pokemon is still plenty fun. Many of the great features of Pokemon X/Y have carried over to Alpha Sapphire, like the oh-so-cute Pokemon Amie that allows you to pet and feed your Pokemon like Tamagotchi, or the revamped Exp. Share that allows every Pokemon in your party to level up together. The game’s environments are also extremely varied and unique, perhaps more so than any other Pokemon game. I also think that it has one of the better stories in a Pokemon game, with appropriately charming dialogue with some neat cutscenes thrown in. There is also a bevy of content available once the main story is completed, which is nice considering other Pokemon games have felt empty once the credits roll. Those acquainted with the Pokemon franchise will find themselves in familiar territory.
All in all, Alpha Sapphire is not a bad game, but it’s a mediocre Pokemon game. I enjoyed my time with it just fine, but I couldn’t shake the nagging feeling that it’s a notable step down from previous iterations in the franchise. I really wanted to like the game more, but the bad pacing and lack of meaningful changes keeps it from meeting my standards for what a good Pokemon game should be.
Invisible Gamer’s review of Pokemon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire is based on codes provided to us by Nintendo.