Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire: A retrospective review

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A close look at why people love or hate Hoenn and the games that take place there.
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  • Monday, March 9, 2015

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This opinion piece has been written by MAGNEDETH. It expresses the views of the writer, not necessarily those of Bulbagarden networks.
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Who are you?

Howdy. I am MAGNEDETH. A Bulbagarden Vice-webmaster and former Bulbapedia Editor-in-Chief. I've been playing Pokémon since it first came out in the United States, back in 1998. My first game was Blue, which I still have (and it still works!) I am a rare sight on Bulbanews, but that's because I'm not much of a writer. However, I do have a loud mouth and I like to express my opinion. I usually do it on Twitter (@MAGNEDETH), but Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire gave me so much to say that a mere 140 characters could not contain it. So here I am, ready to take on the world of reviewing. Well, at least this one time. Why review a game months after release? Personally, I take my time in playing games. Many people played, and beat, ORAS in days, or weeks. For me, it took a few months (Christmas, work, and Smash Bros for Wii U didn't help, but I digress). After I beat the game, I found that I had a lot of strong opinions regarding this game. Rather than spam my Twitter followers with my opinions (which I do anyway), I felt compelled to write a proper article. I'm going to be looking at both the original Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire Versions, as well as the remakes, Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire. Let's start with a strong opening statement to really get you readers ready.

Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire are probably the least liked main series games to date.

Now, before the offended of you run off to start ranting at me, allow me to explain myself.

FYI Generation III is the best generation

The face of change.

Amongst the fanbase, Hoenn has generally been considered the worst region. Or at the very least, it's the one that gets the most vocal flak. Hoenn, and it's associated games, certainly have their fans though. To counter the disparaging comments, the fans of Ruby and Sapphire are just as loud, if not louder, in their adoration of the region, and associated games. But the details remain solid that such strong outcry, from both sides, wouldn't exist if there weren't something worth fighting over. Every region and game has it's fans and detractors, but the fight over Hoenn is by far the loudest. I would also like to make it clear that I am NOT referring to Generation III as a whole. While many people on the "dislike" side of things say they hate Gen III, they usually end up explaining Ruby and Sapphire, or simply Hoenn.

I myself used to be one of those people. While I think it would be incorrect of me to say I hate Ruby and Sapphire, I am among the people that wasn't impressed with Ruby and Sapphire as games. However, I was greatly impressed with Generation III and the tools it brought to the table. Think of all the major advances that Gen III brought us. New graphics, new sound, smoother interfaces, a ton of great new Pokémon, and major gameplay additions that completely revolutionized the series. Individual valuess (IVs), Effort valuess (EVs), Natures, Abilities, and such simple staples as running, Double Battles, and contact moves; the latter of which were a likely precursor to Generation IV's major innovation, separating moves into physical and special versions. Generation III was amazing.

Why the Ruby and Sapphire hate?

Mr. Briney, seen here, killing the game with kindness.

So here we have one of the biggest leaps from one game to the next in ANY series, and no one talks about it. Why? Well, Ruby and Sapphire had such a polarizing effect that a lot of people prefer to talk about the games, rather than the content IN the games. I myself am included this. Well, I used to be, and hopefully after this article, you will also understand my point. In fact, I dare say, this article might make the haters hate and the fans fawn even more than before. It's about focus (something this article is greatly lacking so far). If you love Ruby and Sapphire, now you have an even bigger reason to love them. If you hated them, now you can focus your hate on the games, and not the generation itself. All of this great new content, ignored in favor of arguing over which team is best, or if Hoenn really is the best or worst region.

But what about the actual games themselves? Why is the opinion surrounding them so strong one way or the other? Let's take a look at some key arguing points. The story itself, while not bad, feels sort of disjointed, a bit basic, and maybe even a little preachy at times. Breaking it up between two versions may have sounded like a good idea, but they haven't done it again since. They probably could offer two different versions of the same story in future games, but it would have to be handled better than this. Some of the encounters with Team Magma/Aqua are usually somewhat abrupt, and short lived. Show up at the Weather Institute, fight some goons, get a free gimmick Pokémon, and continue your journey. It just doesn't feel as immersive as other games in the series. It could be because the goal is more clear cut, land modification rather than taking over the entire world. It could also be because in one game, you fight one team, and the other it's the opposite. We always knew Team Rocket were evil from the moment we met them, but Magma and Aqua like to toy with us, but it just didn't feel cohesive. Toying with the player in the storyline can work, as it did in Black and White, courtesy of Team Plasma, fighting for the rights of Pokémon (or so we thought).

Then there's Hoenn, the infamous region. Its layout is designed to encourage exploration, but all it does is leave you backtracking a lot and actually ends up hindering the level curve. And of course, the copious amount of water routes. Water water everywhere, and not a drop without an encounter. Incidentally, one of my biggest personal complaints was Mr. Briney's voyages at the start of the game that skips five entire routes, Routes 105-109. Crucial early game exploring and training, completely wasted. Rather than install a boardwalk, or possibly a traversable sandbar, these routes are essentially skipped and serve only as scenery until you get Surf. That's really bad foresight given the numerous other routes that require Surf. Also, shout-out to anyone who plays Sapphire, you're going to have some beefy Electric and Grass-types after your playthrough because not only do you get routes upon routes of Swimmers, but you get to fight a villainous team that loves using Water-types! Meanwhile, we got a ton of new Pokémon, but among them were a fair amount of awful, gimmicky Pokémon, like the numerous Pokémon pairs (to in-game advertise the all-new double battles), and Pokémon with unique Abilities (some better than others). I'm not saying they're all bad, in fact, plenty of them are very good, but the gimmicks were spread across the region, ensuring you would run into all of them (usually multiple times).

What does this have to do with ORAS?

The DexNav looks nothing like this, but look how happy Brendan is!

ORAS gives Game Freak a chance to fix all the issues and make a game out of Hoenn that everyone can enjoy. They started off by giving us arguably the coolest intro to a Pokémon game we've ever had. While we are still, oddly, in the back of the moving truck (which I guess isn't super illegal in the Pokémon world), we start the game with our character playing an original game of Ruby or Sapphire on a device similar to a Game Boy, complete with original Gen III music and graphics. The game then pans outside of the truck, in full 3D, and explains to us about the world of Pokémon complete with a modern change in music. It isn't just the intro that looks good, the whole game does. I can't confirm it, but it seems like there's little tweaks here and there that make it look even better than X and Y. We then pan back into the truck and at our gaming device to choose our gender and name. Then the truck stops, the doors open, and our adventure begins. It is the best Pokémon intro to date, by far, and this is just the beginning of the game.

Introduced to us early on are our new touch screen tools in the PokéNav Plus. This thing is awesome. It has a ton of little features that make it so much easier to get around the region, find trainer rematches, keep up with Secret Bases, and find Pokémon. This thing does it all, and it does it all very well. The four main features are the AreaNav, PlayNav, DexNav and BuzzNav. The BuzzNav is basically a portable news network. It does reveal some things about Pokémon locations, but it isn't really important for regular play and I never used it even once. The PlayNav gives us access to the tools introduced in XY, Pokémon Amie, Super Training, and the Player Search System (which thankfully doesn't yell at you every five seconds like it does in XY). The AreaNav has a host of awesome features that let you use the map to find a ton of information about routes, including if you have all the Pokémon, have fought all the trainers, which ones are ready for a rematch, Secret Bases, and fresh berries. You can also use it to Fly, which is really handy (speaking of Fly, you can now Fly to almost wherever you want on the map, which is awesome).

DexNav is BestNav

But the best of these, in my opinion, is the DexNav. It reveals information about special Pokémon rustling in the grass, as well as all the Pokémon you've caught on the route. If you've seen it, but not caught it, it appears as a silhouette. All of that is great, but the icing on the cake is being able to individually search for any Pokémon you've caught, making chains easy, as well as just getting what you want. It even lets you know about the Pokémon's ability, potential IVs, level, and if it has special moves. The more you've encountered, the better chances of getting a good Pokémon. There is a downside though, the DexNav needs room between you and the grass to use it. On small, cramped routes, it can be a pain to use. But, it works very nicely in most places.

As you explore the story, you encounter the usual cast of characters, but many of them have been given some extra personality, which really helps you get into the conversations better. The major design changes of the Team Magma and Aqua outfits were only part of their changes as they now talk and act a little differently. The grunts and admins all have changes in how they act and speak, making each team feel more unique than a simple palette swap. Speaking of personalities, there's a few new characters introduced. Aarune, a loud, energetic outdoorsman shows up to explain Secret Bases. Lisia, a young, stylish girl that preps you to enter Pokémon Contests, and Zinnia, a mysterious, but very lively young woman who is....a spoiler. Each character adds some interesting commentary to the story, but Zinnia steals the show. You never know what she's going to do next.

Other than those horrid Luvdisc, it's nice down here.

Then there's playing the game. Well, it's Pokémon. What more do you want? There's not much to say on that subject. You catch Pokémon, train them, use them to destroy the dreams of children and rise through the ranks to become the best, like no one ever was. Get Pokémon, acquire badges. But if you're looking to perhaps offer your own challenge, the new Secret Bases allow you to essentially make your very own gym. Thanks to new QR Code Secret Bases, you can share your Secret Base with anyone over the internet. The original Secret Bases were pretty useless unless you had a lot of friends you could meet in person, and a lot of time waiting for Link Cables. Honestly, if they hadn't done Secret Bases utilizing QR codes with ORAS, then it would have been a staggeringly large waste of time. Admittedly, you don't need to make a Secret Base, but it's fun, easy, and sharing it with friends is a cool experience. A host of items are available that allow you to decorate your Secret Bases in pretty cool ways, including silly traps, or get creative and try for a makeshift gym. However, I wasn't too keen on some items being locked out unless you collected Flags from other bases. And I do mean a LOT of flags. You collect Flags by visiting other people's Secret Base, and you can only get one a day, per base. It's quite grindy.

But one key thing about Ruby and Sapphire has been changed. One massive, giant, extremely notable, blue thing. Water. Yes, there is still too much of it, BUT, thanks to a few tweaks, the water is no longer the unholy terror it used to be. It has a significantly lower encounter rate for one. I Surfed all the way from Route 105 to Route 109 and only got three random encounters the whole way. Surfing is no longer something to dread. Moreover, the route barriers got some much needed definition and the AreaNav shows your exact position, so it's nearly impossible to get lost (something I did in RSE a few times). They did it, they fixed the water. Sort of. The lower encounter rate can be a pain if you are actively looking for a Pokémon, but the near hassle-free surfing is much preferred over the constantly encounters from RSE. Also, Ace Trainers are now surfing on Pokémon, meaning it isn't only Swimmers out there to fight you. This adds some much needed variety to fighting out in the ocean. Additionally, the underwater sections are seriously nice. You might find yourself Diveing through routes just to enjoy the scenery (and music). Is there "too much water?" Yes. BUT, at least it isn't the confusing mess it used to be.

Job done, game of the year

More accurate than you think.

Not quite. I want you to remember back to the first two sections of the article where I essentially ranted about Ruby, Sapphire, and Hoenn in general. Pretty much everything I just said in those sections can be said about ORAS...except the compliments. Allow me to offer a massive spoiler regarding ORAS:
It's a remake.
Let me give you a moment to let that sink in. You good? You ready for me to continue? Good. Yes, if you hadn't realized, Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire are remakes (I know you're still shocked, but I have to keep going).

Some of you are reading that and just want to punch me for wasting your time, but I say "remakes" for a reason. FireRed and LeafGreen, HeartGold and SoulSilver were only mostly remakes. They took the original games, rebuilt them, and added a little extra. They took the regions, stories, and gameplay of those games, remade them, and then improved on them. FRLG got remade, but also gave us an all new half-region, the Sevii Islands which brought along an entire new story arc, as well as more challenges, and some pointless wireless adapters. HGSS gave us a lot less in the way of new locations, but those new places were big things. A Safari Zone, the Pokéathlon, and not to mention, a complete rebuild of Kanto. All of this came on top of a fixed level curve (seriously, GSC are to easy), and the ability to have Pokémon follow you around. Also, HGSS took all the elements of Crystal and added them in, meaning HGSS are more accurately Crystal remakes, which means it comes with the added Pokémon and storyline changes of that game. In all, FRLG and HGSS took the originals, kept their identities, and lightly improved on them. I can't wait to see what they do with Ruby and Sapphire!

What'd they do??

There he is officers, get him!

Not much. Sort of.
Remember when I said ORAS was a remake? Well it is. Strictly. Sure, ORAS adds some new things, but none of it really adds to the game in the same way that they did to FRLG and HGSS. It comes down to that word I randomly italicized in the previous paragraph, improved. Aside from superficial stuff, like the PokéNav, or Secret Bases, there's not much that's really been improved in ORAS over its source, and that brings a host of problems you might not notice unless you examine the details. Nearly every issue from RS are here (in 3D!) such as the poor level curve, backtracking, and the gimmicks. What really confuses me about all of this is why they remade Ruby and Sapphire. HGSS were quietly remakes of Crystal. ORAS should have been remakes of Emerald, as it fixed a fair number of issues with the games, including adding some challenge. ORAS is one of the easier Pokémon games. Not only do we get the overpowered Exp Share from XY, but Mega Stones are everywhere. Not that you need them, though. I breezed through most battles and not once did I ever use the EXP All or a Mega Evolution.

Speaking of a lack of content, hope you weren't expecting the Battle Frontier from Emerald either, because it isn't here. Not like it was extremely popular or anything. We got a Battle Resort instead, featuring only a Battle Maison and second Day Care (albeit, this second daycare is quite handy). They actually have the audacity to taunt us with a "coming soon" model of a Battle Tower and Battle Frontier. Some might think it implies DLC. If they add these via DLC, then that's bull. There's no reason they shouldn't have been in the game in the first place. The production time of ORAS was surprisingly short, and if part of that short time was to rush them out by Christmas, and in turn cut out the Battle Tower and Frontier, then that is wrong. But at least the games aren't buggy.

How is this a city in any way? More like MALLville, amirite?

Then there's the other side of the coin, things that got remade and perhaps didn't work out great. Let's take a look at Mauville City, which was just a city in a grassy field, and is now sort of like a giant mall. I wouldn't say I hate it, but it's weird, and sort of feels unnecessary. They took a city, and completely rebuilt it from the ground up. Great, so did they do this to other towns? No. No other town or city got a major update. Sure, they are visually updated, but to pick a few, Dewford Town, Lilycove City, and Sootopolis City are the locations that could have used some updates or layout changes. Dewford is still just a few buildings on a beach, Lilycove has those ledges that make traversing the East side of town a pain, and Sootopolis was just a pain to traverse in general. Actually, in ORAS, they made Sootopolis even harder to get around by splitting the town in two. Sure, it got a very pretty tree added to the center, but given it's a city in a circular crater, it would have been perfect to move around it in 360 degrees like Lumiose City. Some of the routes and caves got some minor changes which were actually pretty nice, but it seems like the idea of "minor changes" just didn't translate into towns and cities.

Speaking of non-updates, I really badly wanted to hear the great music of Ruby and Sapphire, remade on newer, better hardware, and it pretty much sounds the same. I'm kind of wondering how they managed it. Some folks might not agree with me, but listen to the new, original tracks in the game. Namely Zinnia's music, as well as some of the big battle themes that got proper attention, like the rival theme and Aqua/Magma boss themes. These themes sound new and fresh, but most of the regular music (routes, towns, battles, etc) just sound like updates, rather than remasters. Pokémon Crys also sound pretty awful this generation, but I can't specifically fault ORAS for that, as it's noticeable in XY as well. Something that no other remake did, but absolutely should, is remix the original song to fit that town specifically. A lot of towns use the same music, so why not change it a little to make each town unique?

Some things weren't updated, others not updated enough, and there's one thing that was just plain left out. XY introduced Sky Battles. Fights that took place in the air and could only be fought with some flying, or hovering Pokémon. They were met with mixed feelings from fans, namely due to their sporadic placement and questionable compatibility with Pokémon. But regardless of how people felt, they were new and unique. ORAS would have been the perfect place to expand on the idea. Some fights literally take place in the air, and some are literally on and under the water. There are also fights in a volcano. Hoenn has plenty of locations they could have had unique battles favoring a specific type. But no, nothing. Seeing pictures of a Golem fighting underwater may be humorous, but they also shouldn't exist. There's not much of a reason for this. A mechanic introduced and having potential to be expanded upon, but it was just ignored in this game.

Not even once.

There's a few other things that aren't worth dedicating a section to that really don't make sense in ORAS, like the weird TM and item placements. HGSS also had this issue, namely placing some good items in locations that can only be accessed after becoming the Champion, and it's baffling why they did it again. For example, Rhydon can't evolve into Rhyperior until the end of the game because the Protector is only found in the Battle Maison, a new location only accessible after becoming the Champion. Want a Gallade or Froslass? You're going to have to fight Inver a bunch of times or grind Super Training. We also got some weird decisions in the PokéDex, such as Budew being in the Dex, but not available for capture. Want a Jirachi? Too bad. It's not available anywhere in the game (as of this writing). Speaking of not liking things, the Berry growing in ORAS is worse in pretty much every way from XY. It's so faithful to RSE that berry patches are all over the place, there's no mulch, and you can't interact with your berry trees (wild Pokémon, weeds, etc), aside from watering them, obviously.

And let me just shoehorn my personal thoughts on Contests here. I know some people like them, but a lot of people hate them. I am definitely in the hate camp. I find them pointless, boring, repetitive, and having no redeeming value. However, of all the things I'm saying in this review, this is the section you should pay attention to the least. Heck, I went through the entire game without setting foot in any Contest Hall and only played them for the sole purpose of this review. Some people like Contests, and that's fine. They don't help or hinder your progress in the game, so there's not much point in me discussing them. They're pretty much the same thing as they were in Gen III, so if you liked them before, you will like them now. I like the idea of alternate forms of entertainment in the games, but Contests have never done it for me. They feel more like an attempt at luck manipulation than an actual challenge of skill. I'd rather play the Pokéathlon.

But aren't you forgetting about...

STOP! Wait! Let me post this first, just in case.

Are you done yet?

Still the one.

I think so. This has turned out to be much longer than I expected. It also ended up a lot more negative than I expected. But why? Rather simply, I'm disappointed with the games. Do I think they are bad games? No. They look great, play great, and bring the Hoenn region into the modern era, like most people wanted. However, they also feel phoned in. Very rarely, if ever, did I feel like they really attempted to make anything out of these games other than a graphical update, or rather, a remake. These felt a lot like the original games, and on that merit, you're going to have the same opinion on both. The lack of changes will be applauded by those who prefer a purely original experience, while lauded by others who were hoping for a new, fresh take on an old game. Consider me in the latter. I wasn't expecting major changes here, as it would affect the base games, but I was certainly expecting more than what we got. Simply put, if someone wants the best Hoenn experience, I think Emerald is the better game. It has more challenge and a great Battle Frontier.

As for the debate over Hoenn, with the lovers and the haters? Maybe I just don't get it. I've played through Hoenn about a half dozen times, and it's still my least favorite region. I think people will criticize this review for complaining about a remake being too similar to it's source, which makes sense, but hopefully people will look at the finer points I made and realize, I wasn't looking for a huge change, I was just looking for a refresh, and what I found was a rehash. If I had to sum up my thoughts on why I'm disappointed with the game, it's just nothing new. I didn't get a new experience. When I played FRLG or HGSS, it felt new and fresh, but ORAS just feels the same. It's very pretty, but it feels the same. The Delta Episode felt like the only effort at being new and unique, but it was essentially just a fetch quest with no exploration. Again, are ORAS bad games? No, definitely not. But if you weren't a fan of the originals, you aren't missing anything by passing these games up. Also, this might be the only generation where one version has a clear advantage over the other. The excess of water really hurts the balance of Alpha Sapphire and it's water-loving villainous team, so Omega Ruby is the preferred option. But if these games aren't bad, then what are they? Well, I would sum it up as:

7.8 - Too much Ruby and Sapphire