Review: Pokemon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire

omegarubyalphasapphire

For years, fan have been asking about an updated version of Ruby/Sapphire/Emerald. Once Heart Gold and Soul Silver were released on the DS a couple years ago, it seemed inevitable that the next generation of Pokemon would get the same treatment — and so it went. But do Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire deliver, or waste some of their potential?

GAMEPLAY

This is one area that continues to get more refined as the series goes on. The interface and mechanics in X/Y were already pretty solid, but OR/AS tweaks things just enough to make gameplay feel fast and satisfying.

While the roller blades were an interesting idea, the 3DS’s circle pad has a more useful (and easier to control) function: creeping around like a stalker to sneak up on wild Pokemon in the environment. Coupled with the new DexNav, this means being able to set your sights on exactly the encounter you want. If you prefer to run around like a madman, that’s fine too — the same random encounters permeate grass and caves and the vast seas.

The goal is nothing new: get eight badges, defeat an evil organization, become the champion. Those looking for a new experience may as well give up at this point. But while the concept is familiar/stale, the improved graphics and 3D approach mean that you’ll be traveling through Hoenn like you’ve never seen it before. Some areas will be nigh unrecognizable because they look so different from the original, but an incredible level of attention to detail means they are still the same, sometimes down to a tile-by-tile match.

STORY

Just like in the first iteration of these games, Team Aqua and Team Magma don’t like each other. They each have a plan that they believe will make the world a better place: either expanding the oceans or the land mass. They’re both a little misguided, of course, especially once they start reviving ancient Pokemon whose command over the weather is far beyond their control. Overall, Gen III did one of the best jobs of balancing its antagonists — there’s a scheme that involves a global scale, but it’s elemental and believable, as opposed to space-time rifts and alternate dimensions and whatnot. Depending on which game you choose, you’ll experience the story from one of these two sides, while the other makes token appearances.

One of the game’s biggest pluses comes from content that wasn’t in the original. Once you beat the Elite Four for the first time, you embark on a post-game story that explores the origins of Rayquaza and the true meaning of balance. Without spoiling too many details, the additional battles and new primary character make the three- to four-hour experience well worth your time.

THE GOOD

— The DexNav is, quite simply, the way that Pokemon should be played going forward. The premise is simple: if you catch a Pokemon in an area, you have the option of tracking it. The more you encounter it, the more likely it is to have maxed IVs, rare moves, special held items and unique abilities. So if you really want a low-level Skarmory that starts with Brave Bird (an attack it only learns by breeding), you can take the time to track one down in the wild. This is also great for farming certain encounters, like taking out a bunch of Pelippers to get Lucky Eggs or punishing Magikarps for quick Speed EVs. If this paragraph’s jargon means nothing to you, good news! It’s all optional. Hell, it can just be used to track down a certain Pokemon you like.

— The Secret Bases are back and better than ever. The last decade has been kind to online functionality, so now you can scan QR codes to add your friends’ bases to your world. There are a ton of decorations to choose from, and eventually you can start inviting people into your base who are useful — training your Pokemon or finding valuable items for you once a day. Or you can do what I did and load up on trainers who have level 100 Blisseys, and level up your team with the greatest of ease. (Seriously, Blisseys who kill themselves + experience O-Power + Lucky Eggs on the entire team + EXP Share is the most broken thing we’ve ever seen outside of cloning Rare Candies on the coast of Cinnabar.)

— The graphics are better than ever. The game retains the clean 3D look from X/Y, with the added bonus of being a bright, colorful region in the first place. It’s basically what we were hoping for years ago from games like Pokemon Stadium — better-looking battles — but with the full story mode to go with it.

— The post-game offers plenty to do. It corrects the mistake X/Y made by allowing you to refight the Elite Four with tougher teams. There’s the big story addition I mentioned earlier. There are new areas to explore, and virtually every legendary to catch. And for those trainers who love to spend their time breeding or raising Pokemon, there’s an endless bike path to hatch those babies and your secret base, and a combination of vitamins, Super Training and secret base recruits can help raise EVs at light speed.

— For all the grief this generation gets for having wide expanses of water, OR/AS fixes its problems in numerous ways. The random encounter rate while surfing or diving has been vastly reduced. You travel faster. There’s a way to fly without having a Pokemon who knows that move in your party. There’s even the option of catching a Sharpedo to jet through the water at maximum speed. You may have heard of IGN’s “too much water” trope, and other than it being an outrageously stupid comment in a review, it was also flat-out wrong.

THE BAD

— Even though I don’t care about this viewpoint, it’s still worth noting: the formula is unchanged. So if you’re looking for a Pokemon MMO or just some evolution of the series in general, keep looking.

— I wouldn’t necessarily mind a Pokemon game that has older teenage characters and some kind of love subplot, but the Brendan/May shipping that OR/AS goes for is just creepy, especially when these kids are 12 at best. By the end of the game, I had saved the world and become the Champion, and Brendan was still following me around like a sad puppy — challenging me to a battle post-credits, no less. Come on, kid. You’re making yourself look foolish.

— The game teases it, but…the Battle Frontier is nowhere to be found. Bringing back the Battle Maison is okay and all, but one of the highlights from Gen III was taking on the Frontier Brains in a variety of challenges. One would imagine that Nintendo will address this through a patch or DLC or an inevitable Delta Emerald, but it’s still a disappointment.

THE VERDICT

By now, you know exactly what to expect from a Pokemon game, for better or worse. The small changes in each release still make a large difference. Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire have created some of the best systems for catching specific Pokemon and training them without hours of monotony, while still offering a fresh new look at the Hoenn region as a whole. It’s a worthwhile purchase for fans of the series, and perhaps a better entry point for newcomers than X/Y.

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RATING: 4 out of 5 stars

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2 thoughts on “Review: Pokemon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire

    1. I’m cautiously optimistic that they will. There are some times when a cool feature gets lost between Pokemon games, but this one seems too thorough and too important to disappear now. Here’s hoping.

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