It’s been just over a year since the release of Pokémon X and Y, but well over 11 years since Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire made its first appearance. With over 700 critters and loads of new features introduced in X and Y, how does the new remake compare to its original as well as its predecessor? Unlike the scuds of remakes and remasters that are being released lately, Pokémon Alpha Sapphire and Omega Ruby are vastly different from the original. However, if you’ve ever played the original Sapphire and Ruby (or even Emerald) then you’ll be glad to know this game is loaded with nostalgia, but also enough new content so that it doesn’t feel like an X and Y game with an old story attached to it.
Just like the original, it kicks off just the same. In fact, the very first thing you see is an actual part from the original game. It’s a wonderful nod to fans of the series. It then transforms into the beautiful look and feel that you’ll get with the newer version. You exit the moving van, set the time on your wall clock and save Prof. Birch from a wild Poochyena. The story this time is actually an improvement and makes a little bit more sense. Oh and if you’re on the “There’s never a story in a Pokémon game” fence, then you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
While it’s not anything breathtaking, the narrative of each new Pokémon game is improving and AS OR are no different. Unlike the original, which focused heavily on Team Magma or Team Aqua altering the state of the world, this one focuses more on their desire to obtain the Primal Pokémon, i.e., Primal Groudon and Primal Kyogre. Their focus is still to provide more land and ocean (depending on which version you pick), but it’s centered around the Pokémon and reverting them to their stronger forms. This is where things tie-in nicely regarding Mega Evolution, though this time round it does take a bit of a back seat and is no longer a massive “in your face” aspect. What’s nice about this game is that once you’ve beaten the main campaign, and finished the Elite Four, there’s another little story for you to tackle afterwards. This side story is by far one of the strongest stories I’ve seen in a Pokémon game and it really does add to the remake.
Visually, almost everything is translated perfectly onto the 3DS. Although it looks similar to X and Y by design, new features have been added to make it feel more unique. For example, random flying Pokémon that fly by on the screen. When diving, you’ll see schools of water types swim past you. And that’s just on the visual side of things. The interface has improved a bit, especially the touchpad section. First of all, all the touch features from X and Y return, i.e., PSS, Pokemon-amie and Super Training. But that’s not all, three new features have been added: The AreaNav, The DexNav and BuzzNav. Buzznav is a TV app that pretty much gives you useless information, but it’s also used to update guest secret bases and the like. The AreaNav is a map of the Hoenn Region, but it also tells you which trainers can be fought again and which online player secret bases are in the area. Next comes my favourite, the DexNav.
This is sort of a mini-Pokedex. It lets you know which Pokémon are in the area and if you’ve captured them or not. It also works inconjunction with the latest gameplay mechanic, sneaking. Every now and again a wild Pokémon will shake a little patch and reveal a small mark or a tail. When that happens, you can click on the DexNav to highlight the function and start creeping up to the Pokémon. When you get close, the app will show you a silhouette of the Pokémon and some stats, like level and attacks. This is very useful, and sneaking up on Pokémon really makes one feel like Steve Irwin stalking animals for a documentary. Another new thing that’s introduced to the game, is flying. And not the usual HM02 flying, the real kind. You can only fly late in the game and with a mega evolved Latias/ Latios, but it’s fun and also the only way to reach all the legendaries in the game.
Now, enough about the new stuff, time to talk about the returning stuff. There are two key things that make a return in AS OR: Secret Bases and Contests. Just like the original game, the contests are fun and a nice break from the normal battle orientated game. But it’s also a bit improved. First, the Pokeblock section doesn’t require multiple partners and there’s no time-wasting mini-game as well. Feeding your team certain blocks, boosts certain contest attributes. Once you’re comfy with your attributes, you can enter your darlings and hope to win. The actual fighting part of the contest activates the camera setting on the 3DS, so you can take a photo of your Pokémon setting fire to your pooch if you wanted to. The image is then saved to the SD card. A pretty cute idea. Next is the secret base. Although it’s a side feature and optional, it’s a great way to have fun and EXP grind. All over Hoenn are secret bases. Open one and you can create your own. However, you can also recruit other real world players to act as your Grunts. This works by visiting other people’s secret bases, fighting them and recruiting them. Then you can actually turn your secret base into a mini-gym of sorts. You can’t control how other players tackle your secret base, but it’s loads of fun to set it up and challenge other people.
While all the new and old features makes me smile, there are some faults that really irritate me. First of all, the developers did not address the framerate issue in X and Y. Depending on how busy the screen is, the battles do drop in framerate and it’s even worse when you’re playing in 3D. This makes the 3D portion a bit pointless. Secondly, there’s not a massive variety of Pokémon in your first playthrough. I know it’s a remake, but we should be able to have access to more Pokémon from the start. This is offset a little thanks to the Pokémon Bank, but without certain gym badges, it might be a little difficult to control your Pokémon. Also the EXP yield of most of the Pokémon at the start of the game is extremely low, which forces you to grind a bit. And the gym leaders don’t offer much resistance – except, oddly, for Flannery.
Although it’s not the Ni No Kuni-esque game people have been asking for since Noah built the Ark, Pokémon Alpha Sapphire and Omega Ruby are not only worthy games, but fantastic remakes. It brings you the story and excitement of the original and elevates it to new heights. It’s not a perfect game, but it’s a game fans will love and colorful and easy enough for kids. Plus the new Pokedex is, wait for it, AWESOME!