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Review

Pokémon Omega Ruby & Alpha Sapphire (3DS) Review

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Remakes and tired rehashes. If you were to ask the opinion of nearly any large group of game enthusiasts about their thoughts on Nintendo and it’s franchises, you’re bound to hear voices decrying Nintendo for doing the same thing over and over again, while die-hard fans just keep on buying. The Pok√©mon franchise might be one of those most accused of becoming iterative and tired rehashes desperately clinging to nostalgia of players who grew up with the earlier games.

After the refreshing changes to the Pokémon formula brought by Pokemon X & Y last year, I found myself skeptical of whether Omega Ruby & Alpha Sapphire could capture my attention in the same way. Surely a remake, regardless of whether that remake was in a new engine, would inevitably feel like going through the motions yet again. To my surprise, after an admittedly slow start, Pokémon Omega Ruby & Alpha Sapphire seized my attention in a way that no Pokémon title has since the original Pokémon Sapphire eleven years ago.

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As with any other Pok√©mon game, your adventure begins proper by choosing one of three starting Pok√©mon from the local Pok√©mon professor, then waltzing into the big wide world full of dangerous monsters and hazardous terrain. With your beginning Pok√©mon by your side, you can defend yourself against the wild Pok√©mon who will ambush you in long grass, and use Pok√©balls to capture these wild monsters and add them to your team. You’ll then push forward and explore the places and events of the Hoenn region.

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The progression of Pok√©mon Omega Ruby & Alpha Sapphire, for the most part, doesn’t deviate a great deal from tradition. There are eight Pok√©mon gyms, each specialising in training a specific type of Pok√©mon, whose leader must be defeated in order to progress in the story. Once all eight gyms’ leaders are overcome, you progress through a penultimate test of your training in Victory Road, before finally facing off against the Elite Four and the Champion in the Pok√©mon League.

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I’ll be blunt, the first hours of Pok√©mon Omega Ruby & Alpha Sapphire felt downright formulaic to me. Having played a game from each previous generation of Pok√©mon thus far, it became hard not to notice a strict formula each game followed. The types of Pok√©mon encountered towards the start of the game may have different names and somewhat different traits, but they all stick to a formula we’ve seen in Pok√©mon since the beginning. There’s a few Normal-types and a bird Flying-type just outside the home town, an early town with a gym you return to later in the game, and a forest with two sets of bug type Pok√©mon that evolve to maturity by level 10. This formula is tried and true, and clearly a successful one, but it was hard not to feel like I was just going through the motions yet again for the first few gyms of the game. The further you dig into Omega Ruby & Alpha Sapphire though, the more you see what has changed in this new edition, and mostly for the better.

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Of course, the most obvious change in these remakes is the presentation. Game Freak established a new engine for the 3DS with Pok√©mon X & Y, and these latest titles have been built on that foundation. Pok√©mon in battles are now 3D animated models rather than awkwardly shuffling 2D sprites, and each monster has been beautifully modelled for battle scenes. The game world is entirely 3D now as well, while still remaining faithful to the original Ruby/Sapphire layout for the most part. The music of Ruby & Sapphire has been recreated as well and will certainly captivate memories of those who played the original games. Each track still manages to feel entirely familiar while capitalising on audio capabilities that far exceed what the GameBoy Advance could provide. There are some new tracks too which accompany new story scenes, and these pieces don’t at all feel out of place.

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These new story events and areas that slot so well into Ruby and Sapphire’s existing narrative that if you didn’t know better, you’d probably not be able to notice what has been added. Without giving too much away, there have been new events added during the main game as well as an expanded storyline that plays out after the Pok√©mon League. The post-League content dubbed the Delta Episode adds some particularly exciting new elements to the lore of the Pok√©mon world and is sure to pique the interest of long time fans. In addition to story content, there are numerous other game tasks to pursue after the main game is done with as well. There are optional areas to explore like Sea Mauville (previously known as the Abandoned Ship in the original games) which holds secrets just waiting for attentive detectives, and almost thirty legendary Pok√©mon to discover through thorough exploration and some creative puzzle solving.

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Aside from the visual upgrade, many of the other improvements from Pok√©mon X & Y have made the transition into Omega Ruby & Alpha Sapphire. Battling and trading with friends has become much easier thanks to the Player Search System (PSS) which allows players to initiate communications locally or via the internet at any time, rather than having to make the trek back to a Pok√©mon Centre. Pok√©mon-Amie lets trainers feed and play with their Pok√©mon friends to build a bond with them, while Super Training tags along as an easier method for competitive trainers to coerce the very best from their Pok√©mon’s potential.

Secret Bases were one of the most useful features introduced in the original Pok√©mon Ruby & Sapphire games, and they have been entirely absent from every Pok√©mon title since. While exploring through the world of Hoenn, players will come across small markings on cave walls, peculiar looking trees and other spots. Using the Pok√©mon move Secret Power, trainers can open up an empty space called a Secret Base and claim it as their own. This space can be decorated with furniture, floor mats, posters and other props. In the original Ruby & Sapphire games, these Secret Bases would be transferred into other people’s games through the Mix Records feature, which also sent across the team each trainer was using. Trainers could locate their friends’ secret bases in their own game and challenge the their friends’ Pok√©mon teams, which was an invaluable resource for training high level Pok√©mon.

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Secret Bases return in Omega Ruby & Alpha Sapphire, and are immeasurably improved by the new technology in the Nintendo 3DS. Instead of a tedious and manual Link Cable being required to transfer secret bases, this all happens through the 3DS’s StreetPass Function. Implemented in game through the BuzzNav device you receive partway through the story, Secret Bases will be populated in your world by the people you StreetPass, and then you can enter these bases to battle with the player’s team, grab a secret base flag for your collection and to simply admire the decorative genius of your friends and passersby.

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There are some potentially concerning issues with these remakes though, which dull the shine of an otherwise enjoyable experience. One of the most immediately noticeable issues with this new Pok√©mon engine was noticeable in X & Y, and has not been solved in Omega Ruby & Alpha Sapphire. The frame rate during battles and cut-scenes is distractingly inconsistent. As the battles of Pok√©mon are turn based, it doesn’t affect being able to actually play the game effectively, but it is still a noticeable issue that Game Freak have failed to fix the second time around. The effect is even more pronounced when using stereoscopic 3D mode. It’s a real shame too, since some of the cut scenes look gorgeous with the 3D effect enabled, but the visuals animate so choppily sometimes that I found myself turning off the 3D effect altogether just to keep the animations smooth. These performance issues are likely the reason why 3D is only enabled during select battle types and cut scenes as well. Most of your non-battle game time will only be displayed in 2D mode, regardless of your 3D slider setting.

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My other concern with the games is related to the Hidden Machine (HM) move system that has been in Pok√©mon since the start. Progress in Pok√©mon games is gated by learning and using HM moves, like Surf or Cut which allow players to traverse parts of the world they couldn’t do without the help of their Pok√©mon. The issue here though is that in order to use these HM abilities, you need to teach each one to a Pok√©mon in your team. These HM moves are rarely the best option for a Pok√©mon’s moveset, and so you either need to sacrifice a precious move slot of one of your main team, or carry around one or two Pok√©mon specifically for HM moves. This is not so much of an issue in the early game, but can become an annoyance later in the story where you’re needing to have Surf, Dive, Strength, Waterfall and Rock Smash all available. This might not be a concern to some, but for me this was a major annoyance that I couldn’t wait to get past. One positive though, the Fly HM isn’t as much necessary anymore, since you can use an item to fly freely around Hoenn after a certain point in the story. It would be nice if more of the HM abilities were supplemented by items in this way.

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After a slow start, Pok√©mon Omega Ruby & Alpha Sapphire really begin to open up with a wealth of Pok√©mon options and optional areas. After the core game is complete there are still seemingly endless legendary Pok√©mon to find, locations to explore and mysteries to solve. When all is said, the minor niggles I’ve mentioned are just that, minor. While they did sometimes cause annoyance, they were not enough to majorly affect my experience. Pok√©mon X & Y were refreshing enough to bring me back to Pok√©mon after a few generations of disappointment. Pok√©mon Omega Ruby & Alpha Sapphire manage to build on this new foundation from X & Y, recreate and improve upon the story and mechanics of the original games they’re based on, and bring the most enjoyable and content-packed Pok√©mon we’ve had in years.

Rating: 4 / 5

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About The Author
Steven Impson
Software developer, podcaster, writer and player of video games.
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