I’ve divulged into my thoughts regarding Pokemon in the past; though to keep it short, like many young videogamers of the time, the series holds a special place in my heart. The years of playing the games on my GameBoy, and eventually on my DS, were easily some of the best memories of my childhood… in fact, perhaps the most defining game of my elementary-school years was the original Pokemon Sapphire. The years I spent playing that game are ones that I won’t easily forget, and those memories aren’t ones that I would trade for the world.
Pokemon has changed a lot since that 2003 release, though; and I’ve managed to keep up, for the most part. Pokemon X and Y most recently brought the largest change to the series since Diamond and Pearl did, several years earlier. Beyond the regular gotta catch ’em all mantra – online connectivity, various changes to the battle system, a new Pokemon typing, and other features have changed up the formula enough, that – although Alpha Sapphire still resembles it’s predecessor – it contains enough changes to be an experience all its own. I don’t think I need to explain exactly what Pokemon is – I’m certain that everyone knows what the game is at its core – but some context is in order here. Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire are in and of themselves new games; but they are also remakes of previous titles in the franchise, that (at the time) managed to split the Pokemon fanbase fairly hard. For one thing; Pokemon Ruby and Sapphire (the original titles) were the first Pokemon games to not feature backwards compatibility with the prior games. Beyond that, the games were the first titles (barring Crystal) to not run on the original GameBoy – instead taking advantage of the then new GameBoy Advance.
…All of that is a fancy way of stating that when they initially released, Ruby and Sapphire caused their fair share of splintering within the community. Although nowadays they are seen the same as any other Pokemon game, the fact that they had essentially “rebooted” the franchise meant that, at the time, overall thoughts regarding the installments were… “varied”, to say the least. Indeed, even without that fact, the games were a large change for the franchise – as much of what individuals had come to expect from the series was changed.
I suppose it is appropriate then, that Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire have led to a shattering of expectations regarding the series.
Pokemon ORAS, as I’m going to be calling them, are the third set of remakes for the Pokemon series; a tradition that started the year after the original Ruby and Sapphire launched. Each time that GameFreak has remade prior titles, they have taken special care to include new content to make the games feel fresh – Pokemon FireRed and LeafGreen included an entire new region via the use of the sevii islands; while Pokemon HeartGold and SoulSilver included several new routes, as well as much of the content from the then definitive Pokemon Platinum, and the older Pokemon Crystal. Pokemon ORAS leans more towards the latter, than the former; but with a few key differences. I don’t intend to spoil the post-game content for anyone that has yet to procure the game; but to simplify it – don’t expect any of the Pokemon Emerald exclusive content while you are playing. The majority of the new content this time around has to do with story-related textlogs, and the advertised Delta Episode. You do find Mirage Spots to capture a great number of legendaries; but for the most part, the post game can be compared to that of Pokemon X and Y’s.
As for the other aspects of the game; there is a renewed focus on the narrative this time around. The story itself remains for the most part unchanged; but the overall execution is much improved. Beyond that, there is a great deal of exposition waiting to be found in the games – both hidden, and otherwise. This actually mimics a similar change that occurred with the original Ruby and Sapphire with regards to hidden text and the like, but these changes are much more substantial! Normally you wouldn’t expect anyone to recommend a Pokemon game for the story, let alone the lore – but the strides made in this department show that the series has become more focused on this aspect of the titles than before. The visuals also see a slight upgrade from that of Pokemon X and Y, with a greater emphasis on the various colors within the environment; and as for the gameplay itself, it remains for the most part the same as X and Y’s, though a few major changes help set the games apart from those titles. Dexnav in particular – the new mechanic that allows you to sneak up on Pokemon on the wild in the effort to find stronger hidden Pokemon – works astonishingly well to make the games feel fresh, despite the obvious similarities to the original titles.
Pokemon Contests make a return alongside Secret Bases; but of the two, Secret Bases sees the biggest updates in regards to mechanics; merging the Capture-The-Flag aspect of Diamond and Pearl’s underground with the already solid inclusion in the original Ruby and Sapphire. The ability to create your own pseudo-gym allows for you to recruit other players from the various Secret Bases that you may have encountered, as well as battle the gyms that others have created… although in practice this doesn’t work as well as some may like in regards to balance. Thankfully you can share your Secret Bases online with a QR code; meaning that for users that wish to set up Secret Base Pokemon Leagues, or something of the sort, don’t have to work to hard to get these leagues set up. It’s a great feature, and definitely unexpected!
Soaring is another neat addition; though it’s only unique purpose seems to be giving players access to the various Mirage Spots after the main story is completed; especially since one of the mechanics main strengths – flying to routes directly – is copied by the older fly mechanic. It’s useful for reasons other than for catching legendary Pokemon, of course; but besides the novelty, there isn’t much left to talk about besides the absolutely wonderful background music while soaring. I felt the need to mention it in this review; but the actual changes it makes to the formula is minimal, albeit enjoyable nonetheless.
Contests see an update compared to before; but as for the contests themselves, they remain nearly identical to the ones present within the original titles. With regards to training for these contests, however… much of the grind has been left out. The PokeBlock creation has been completely streamlined – and although I undoubtedly miss the PokeBlock mingame from the GameBoy Advance titles, I can’t deny that the change is for the best. The lack of WiFi contests is one of the bigger missteps the game has, but the worst I can say regarding these contests is that they are accurate to their portrayal in the original games.
That last point really drives home what the game is at its worst, forgiving some slight lapses in immersion brought forth by the new engine. Although I certainly would have liked more from the game; in nearly all of its attempts, it manages to at least match what the original GBA titles had offered. Much like the previous remakes; it separates itself from the rest of the games in the series, and has allowed the developers to truly experiment. It’s not perfect – it’s not even my favorite remake – but it is one of the distinguished Pokemon games that I have played in years. People will be talking about this one for a long time to come; and I don’t blame them. It’s got plenty of content, and the substance to match it; every mechanic not related to Pokemon X and Y’s story is present. Pokemon Amie, Super Training – beyond all else, Pokemon Omega Ruby & Alpha Sapphire are the definitive Pokemon games on the 3DS to date.
If you’re interested in picking up the game, it is available both physically and on the Nintendo eShop!
This game was purchased by the reviewer, and the Alpha Sapphire version of the game was sampled.
Much like the previous remakes; it separates itself from the rest of the games in the series, and has allowed the developers to truly experiment. It's not perfect - it's not even my favorite remake - but it is one of the distinguished Pokemon games that I have played in years.