Pokémon Alpha Sapphire Review
(Note: I’m just an average college kid, so I did not have the time or money to play and review both Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire, so this review is specifically referring to Alpha Sapphire. They’re similar enough to get the point across, though. Oh, and spoilers ahead.)
Way back in 2002 (in Japan, at least; 2003 for the rest of the world), Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire were released for the GameBoy Advance. Fans and critics were divided, some saying they were a glimpse at a bright future for the Pokémon franchise, with others calling them the worst Pokémon games to date. Personally, Ruby and Sapphire have always held a special place in my heart, because they were the first Pokémon games released after I was old enough to truly understand how to play. Of course I spent an obscene amount of time with Generations 1 and 2, but they came out when I was 5 and 7, respectively. I just wasn’t old enough to understand how to play properly. Gen 3, however, came out when I was almost 10, so I had a little more time to learn how to properly play Pokémon. As such, those games were always extra special to me.
I tell you that story in hopes that I can effectively convey my excitement for Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire (ORAS). When these games were announced for the Nintendo 3DS, I could not contain my excitement. Every Pokémon remake up to this point has been excellent, so I knew the remakes of the generation I hold so near and dear to my heart would be something special as well. As a kid, I owned Sapphire, so it only felt right to get Alpha Sapphire and continue the trend. Now, a little over a week and far too many hours put into the game later, I am happy to say that ORAS not only lived up to, but surpassed my expectations.
The core gameplay of the Pokémon franchise has largely remained unchanged since its inception back in 1996. The player cultivates a team of Pokémon either by capturing them or trading them with friends, and trains their Pokémon to be strong enough to defeat 8 Gym Leaders. Once these 8 boss-esque Gym Leaders are defeated, the player can challenge the Pokémon League, a group of extremely powerful Pokémon Trainers.
ORAS is no different. Remakes of the third generation of Pokémon games, the player travels through the Hoenn region, defeating Gym Leaders and eventually challenging Hoenn’s Pokémon League. Anyone who played the originals (or any Pokémon game, for that matter) will immediately recognize and feel at home with the formula. Of course new additions have been made since the originals were released (such as moves being categorized as Physical or Special and the introduction of Mega Evolution), but if you’ve played one Pokémon game, you can play any Pokémon game. There isn’t really any sort of barrier of entry.
During my entire playthrough of Alpha Sapphire, I couldn’t stop smiling. The world of Hoenn is, for the most part, exactly as I remember it from my childhood. I say “for the most part” because most of the game is identical to the originals, but certain areas have received a major overhaul. For example: Littleroot Town, the city where your trainer starts their journey, is absolutely identical to the Littleroot Town of old, down to specific building placement. Other places in the games, however, like Mauville City and Sky Pillar, are almost unrecognizable due to how much they have been changed. Mauville City now resembles a city-sized shopping mall, and Sky Pillar has been appropriately updated with the more powerful graphics of the 3DS. None of the changes I experienced during my time with the game felt excessive by any means; in fact, these changes were welcome, breathing life into games that are over a decade old.
ORAS cannot be discussed without mentioning one of the coolest, most mind-blowing (at least to long-time Pokémon fans) changes it brought to the Pokémon franchise: Soaring. After reaching a certain point in the story, the player receives the Legendary Pokémon Latias or Latios (depending on which version they play). A bit further into the story, they will receive an item called the Eon Flute, which lets them call whichever one of these two Pokémon they received in order to fly them around Hoenn. Now, flying on the back of a Pokémon to get from place to place is nothing new, and has been in Pokémon games since the Red and Blue days. Soaring, however, is something new entirely. Once you call Latios or Latias, you actually sit on their back and control them as they fly. You can do tricks, fight Flying-type Pokémon, stumble across Legendary Pokémon, and of course, fly to and land in any part of the map you choose. Were I a more emotional person, flying above Hoenn would have brought a tear to my eye with how amazing it was. For someone like me who the original games mean so much to, the experience was surreal.
While not a new addition, the return of Pokémon Contests is something that has been long overdue. Contests have been absent from Pokémon games since Gen 3, and have been sorely missed by the Pokémon community. They serve as a nice break from battling, and add a whole new competitive aspect to the games. Contests are essentially the same as they were in the original games, with Pokémon using their moves to impress judges in one of five different categories: Cute, Clever, Tough, Cool, and Beauty. Some minor changes, such as the introduction of Mega Evolution, have been implemented, but the core Contest experience remains the same. If you miss them from the original games, you’re going to be very pleased. If you have never liked them in the past, chances are you’re not going to like them here, either.
One of the aspects of ORAS that I was most excited for were the new Mega Evolutions. In my humble opinion, Mega Evolution has been one of the most fascinating implementations to Pokémon in recent years. I absolutely love the concept, to the point that I have taken it upon myself to think of some ideal Mega Evolutions of my own. So, it is not hard to figure out that I immediately tried out as many new Mega Evolutions as I could. And they are AWESOME. Mega Metagross hits like a Howitzer, Mega Sceptile is so fast that virtually nothing can outspeed it, and so on. One of my favorite things about Mega Evolution is that it takes Pokémon that are completely worthless and makes them viable to use in any environment, competitive or otherwise. Pokémon like Beedrill who used to be virtually unusable are now more than viable choices for many teams thanks to their Mega Evolutions. I cannot praise this enough.
Pokémon games are known for their post-game content, and ORAS not only delivers on this front, but takes it up a notch. In addition to the usual additional Legendary Pokémon (of which ORAS has an absurd amount of) and Battle Resort (essentially the same thing as the Battle Maison from X and Y), ORAS comes complete with an entirely new chapter of the story, called the Delta Episode. In a story that feels significantly more adult than any Pokémon story I’ve ever experienced, a large meteor is on a crash course with Hoenn, and threatens to destroy the world if nothing is done to stop it. Having any extra story content in a Pokémon game is a good thing, but the Delta Episode did not simply rest on its laurels and deliver a half-assed attempt at some extra content. No, the Delta Episode may be the best story ever told in a Pokémon game, and I can’t lie, I kind of wish it had an entire game devoted to it. It really is that good. It must be experienced to get the full effect, but this may come close to effectively capturing the epic feel of it: Mega Rayquaza and Deoxys fighting in space. Yeah. It’s that cool.
What I am about to say next is going to be taken either positively or negatively depending on the person reading this article. When compared to Pokémon X and Y, ORAS feel somehow quieter and gentler. The world of Hoenn has a more rural, small-town feel to it than the bustling Kalos region. Hell, Lumiose City alone very well may have more total size than most of the cities in Hoenn combined. Of course the story makes the games intense, as an ancient Pokémon threatening to destroy the world through the use of bad weather is wont to do, but when the story is not at a fever pitch, the game just feels safer and more benign than others in the series. Again, how this is taken is going to depend on the reader, but I missed the simpler feel of the old Pokémon games, so this reversion to the old style felt right to me.
IGN.com inadvertently created a meme in their review of ORAS when they said the games had “too much water.” While this sounds like a stupid claim to make and a poor reason to chastise a game, the truth is that the claim is not without its validity. One of the major flaws of Ruby and Sapphire was that their late game consisted almost entirely of Surfing on the ocean, and ORAS, in its mission to recreate the beauty of the originals, follows the same problem. Now, I knew this going in (having spent so much time with the originals), so I would not fault the game for this, but it is an important aspect of the games to point out to prospective buyers. It can get a bit tedious towards the end of the game when it feels like you are constantly Surfing and Diving. Get those Grass- and Electric-types ready.
This leads me to another problem with the games: in their faithful recreation of the originals, they also shined a light on an aspect of Pokémon that had been almost entirely eradicated in recent years: unnecessary HMs. HMs are moves taught to Pokémon that they use outside of battle to help you progress through the story, ranging from Surfing on water to Cutting down trees. As they are (typically) not good enough to use in battle but take up one of the precious moveslots of a Pokémon, they are a hassle to deal with. Recent Pokémon games have cut down on the need for them, but ORAS reminds people how annoying they were.
Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire are faithful (in some small ways, to a fault) remakes of the third generation of Pokémon games, and they more than do Ruby and Sapphire justice. They do not simply feel like cheap cash-ins made to capitalize on the nostalgia of kids in their twenties who grew up with the originals (like myself). They are fully-realized Pokémon games that further prove that Game Freak and Nintendo can do no wrong. Your enjoyment of the games are more than likely going to depend on your feelings about the originals. If they mean as much to you as they do to me, ORAS may be the greatest Pokémon games you’ve played in a long time. If you never played them or didn’t like them when you did, you may not enjoy them as much as you did X and Y. Regardless, they are two more stellar entries in the Pokémon franchise, and absolutely should not be missed by casual and hardcore fans alike.