Review: Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire (Nintendo 3DS)

Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire: Official GBAtemp Review

Nintendo 3DS 8,030 views 3 likes 36 comments
Reviewed by Brandon Boui, posted Nov 25, 2014
This title basically was a huge part of my childhood, and being able to revisit it over a decade later in the form of a remake is a dream come true.
Nov 25, 2014
  • Release Date (NA): November 21, 2014
  • Release Date (EU): November 28, 2014
  • Release Date (JP): November 21, 2014
  • Publisher: Nintendo
  • Developer: Game Freak
  • Genres: Role-playing game
  • ESRB Rating: Everyone
  • PEGI Rating: Seven years and older
  • Single player
    Local Multiplayer
    Online Multiplayer
    Co-operative
Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire are remakes of the original titles released for Game Boy Advance back in 2003, bringing back mechanics from the Generation VI games X and Y and adding new Mega Evolutions and revamped features.
Brandon Boui

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Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire (NA) – Retail Copy

It’s been too long. I honestly have been longing to write a review on this title for the past six years since I started writing as a small time blogger. It was announced only recently back in May, but given their release patterns, a remake of this title had to be inevitably coming, and now it has finally come out. The title that was a huge part of my childhood; I played this game about eleven years ago, on the Game Boy Advance, at ten years old. I spent hundreds of hours on the original Ruby and Sapphire, and then moved on to Pokémon Emerald and spent even more time on that. This game was the big cheese for me because I actually was starting to understand the mechanics of the game and not just defaulting to choose moves like Hyper Beam because they looked cool. This game sparked the interest in competitive battling for me. A lot of this game was to bring back the sense of nostalgia of being able to re-explore the Hoenn region on a new system, and Game Freak has succeeded in many ways to bring that dream back to life. It’s therefore time to (hopefully) deliver a comprehensive review of the two titles and see how they fared against their predecessors. There’s going to be some spoilage, so I’ll be sure to let you guys know when the time is coming.

Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire use the engine of Pokémon X and Y as a template. The environments have been gloriously redone in three dimensions, the soundtrack remixed, staying fairly faithful to the source material. In other words, this game is a giant trip down nostalgia lane, from the moment you hit New Game to the moment you become the inevitable Pokémon League Champion, and it shows.

Spoilers will commence here.

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Plot wise, the original story of Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire is kept true, although this time, the characters are a lot more fleshed out and don’t suffer in terms of personality because of the text limitation. Characters from the original Game Boy Advance versions spoke in a manner that was too concise, and felt robotic. Almost every single character is given a much more detailed personality – from Maxie and Archie, to the protégé you’ve been keeping up with, Wally. With Wally, you watch him develop from a child with an illness and a lacking of confidence to a confident young Pokémon trainer, which culminates in an epic battle theme at the Victory Road. It was great to see the story come full circle. The plot is as whimsical as ever, with Team Magma in Ruby hoping to expand the land, and Team Aqua in Sapphire hoping to raise the water in the sea… by taking water out of the sea. The main game plot aside, nothing much really happens. It’s more of the same old same old.

Major spoilers ahead. Please avoid me for now if you haven’t gotten to the post game!

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Where Game Freak really excelled this time was in the post game portion of the game, for the Delta Episode. The Delta Episode takes on a much darker tone with a meteor having been sighted that would be on a course for Earth. The only way to stop it was to take it literally head on with the help of a 3DS exclusive character, named Zinnia. Zinnia is part of a group of mysterious Hoenn characters that were based on summoning Rayquaza. So, to be more concise, summon Rayquaza, save the world. The cutscenes for this portion were absolutely amazing.

Game Freak shows their modern storytelling version by giving us a lot to think about. I sometimes love the whimsy of Pokémon story telling, and I love it even more when it gives us something to think about in terms of human morals, something that Pokémon Black and White did quite well. The Delta Episode basically shows us that Hoenn’s scientists are actually quite ruthless and are willing to sacrifice lives by basically proposing to drop the meteor anywhere as long as it doesn’t hit them. Great, huh? The new girl, Zinnia, proposes something otherwise that actually brings quite a bit of food to the table – the theory of Pokémon existing in alternate timelines. This means that the games don’t quite follow a connectivity as what Zinnia proposed is that the Hoenn you’re currently romping around in is a parallel universe to a Hoenn where Mega Evolutions aren’t possible – like, the original Ruby and Sapphire, no? They’re tying in a bunch of stuff and by mentioning the superweapon from Pokémon X and Y they’re proving that the Kalos region and the 3DS Hoenn are tied to the same universe. Either way, this is absolutely brilliant when you think about it. And Game Freak does a good job at being sinister storytellers as well.

Spoilers end here.

Players rarely visit the Pokémon titles for their dialogue. It’s a children’s game, they say. It’s one of my biggest gripes. There isn’t much to really explore in a children’s title, they said. You just stomp through everything, they said. The game is too easy and the content worthless, for clean and mindless fun, they said. But when you pay attention to the little details, you start to realize that Game Freak is quite sinister in their dialogue. One prime example of this is the Sea Mauville facility. The dialogue if you explore Sea Mauville to its entirety is absolutely creepy to a degree – some of the items that you can interact with will tell tales of unemployment, a professor’s wife leaving him due to being absorbed in his research and not being there for his family. Things like that shouldn’t be in a game for ten year olds. You will interact with a drink that contains snake extract – what kind of working conditions were these workers exposed to? A corporate company that fell under becomes a tourist attraction? And when you reach a treasure room, you find a dead Pokémon. What kind of ten-year old audience would enjoy this? I personally think that it reaches out to a much wider audience and I wish Game Freak would continue this. But I digress. I could write a small novel on this stuff, but it’s not suited for a review. Just be sure to pay attention to the little things. If you really pay attention to the details, you might be pleasantly surprised.

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The visuals for the game, using the X and Y engine, are quite good. But with a good thing comes a bad thing, and the bad thing is the X and Y engine was not exactly the greatest engine for the game. The lag in battles when the 3D was turned on is back and the same as ever, unfortunately. The changes to the frame rate may be slightly better, but the lag persists. Not to mention that the environments were not fully 3D, which is again a small shame.

Pokémon always had a fantastic soundtrack, and this game is no exception. I had some extremely high expectations of the track, and the game seriously delivered on much of the track, keeping faithful to the originals and adding some new themes for certain situations. Ironically, these new themes were probably some of the best that the series had to offer, and it’s a huge surprise when you run into them because you just won’t expect it, and it’s good. I’m not an audiophile or anything. I don’t care if the music isn’t played at 320 kbps or any of that. The soundtrack is just phenomenal with the orchestration, and if you pair it with a set of headphones, the game seriously packs a punch in this department. The bass drop for the Team Leaders theme is amazing. Listen to it, and agree with me.

The difficulty is a matter of preference. For those that choose to play with the EXP Share, the grinding will be minimal and the game rather easy until you choose to rematch the Elite Four in their rematched forms, where everything is actually high level and it becomes a battle of attrition. If you choose to turn off the EXP share, you're going to have a fun time playing the game, because it's on par with the original games in terms of difficulty. Best of luck wherever you choose.

Some new features that the game brings forward are the revamping of the original Pokémon Navigator, instead being christened as the PokéNav Plus. The device is absolutely useful in the adventure because it has a plethora of information that the player can use at their fingertips. The touch screen becomes vitally important for players who wish to maximize on the game’s potential. Features of the Plus include the DexNav, AreaNav, PlayNav, and BuzzNav.

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Starting with the DexNav, this little feature will tell you what Pokémon are present in any given area. What makes it fun is that often times, a Pokémon will often appear in the grass on the overworld. By using the new sneaking mechanic, you can surprise ambush the poor critter and capture it, yielding a Pokémon with increased potential such as breeding only moves, or enhanced stats. Once you capture it, you can just search for that specific Pokémon in the grass, enhancing and streamlining a breeding mechanic that often took hours to perfect. This system is upgradeable depending on your quantity of usage, and you can increase the level to increase creature potential.

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The AreaNav is by far the most practical feature for me. The AreaNav is simply the map of the Hoenn Region, but it hosts a wide variety of features. Gone are the days of going in to the Pokémon menu and selecting your HM slave to fly. The map will now do that for you, and you can fly to individual routes. Yes, you read that correctly. You can fly essentially anywhere that you’ve explored. You can also keep tabs on trainers that are rematch ready, or fly to your berry growing locations, or fly to the Routes where your Super Secret Base or friend bases are located.

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The PlayNav is a rehash of the social hub from Pokémon X and Y, which includes all of the features like PSS, GTS, and O-Powers. I won’t talk too much on it here, but basically, all of the social gathering functions can be found here.

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And finally, the BuzzNav, which is the least practical, but gives the sense that the world is actually alive. It’s basically a bunch of television programs on the bottom screen that tell tales of how you have triumphed in the game, and if you have friends and connect with them, you’ll see their achievements too. It makes the world feel alive and actually somewhat connected. It's actually constantly telling you things, so be sure to switch menus if it wears off in terms of appeal.

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Furthermore, the game really takes social gaming to a new level, which is a first for Pokémon and Nintendo. Gaming with people feels a lot more lively with the inclusion of the Super Secret Bases. Super Secret Bases, or secret bases from the original titles, are customizable spaces that you can decorate to be your own little “home” of sorts. Only, in Ruby and Sapphire, you can make it into a gym of sorts by hiring people you’ve interacted with to become your Secret Pals. In addition, you can distribute your secret base information in the form of a QR code that can be distributed to anybody, by retrieving it off of your SD card. By distributing your secret base, you can have people’s bases in your own world - up to 74 bases can be added, with one for you, making 75 bases. There are a plethora of decorations that you can add to make your base amazing, and the mechanics from Generation IV return – Capture the Flag! Once a day, you can go around to your friends’ secret bases and take a flag. By capturing more flags, you can add more decorations to your base and use more skills on your secret pals. But what about Contests in Hoenn? How did those do?

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Contests in Hoenn were rechristened as the Contest Spectacular, and even this little mini game has a storyline to tell. You are introduced to contests early in the game by Lisia, a Contest Spectacular idol of the region who is apparently scouting to find the perfect talent, and to the surprise of everyone present, you are the one, through a deus ex machina mechanism. Contests are revamped and given a faster pace, with a much better visual to accompany it. They did this very well for the most part. In short, it’s still a bastardized version of rock-paper-scissors, but the strategy of trying to throw people off is quite fun to still do. I do have a minor gripe in the fact that the complexity of Pokéblock feeding has been dumbed down to an extent by their removal of the Berry Mixer minigame, something I thoroughly enjoyed back in the days of the original Ruby and Sapphire. Nowadays, for convenience, you access the Kit, and you toss berries in the machine, and hit okay, and you get a Pokéblock. It’s too easy, and I think it took away from the overall fun of the minigame – and they add salt to the wound by showing display cases of the original Berry Mixer in the Contest Hall, as if they were spiting us. Forgive me while I cry a little inside.  I will leave the visual surprise for you when you fill out the excitement bar though...

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By far, one of the best features that Pokémon introduced this time around was the Soaring feature. It’s everything that I wanted in a Pokémon title and it really nails home the message that Hoenn was always about the land, sea, and sky. For crying out loud you end up in space at some point too, but I digress. To be able to soar, you need to progress through the game enough until you receive an item called the Eon Flute. By using the Eon Flute, you will summon your flying companion, Latios or Latias, which you are given very early on in the story as a gift of sorts, and take to the skies. The animation does get a bit old when you initiate the Soaring sequence, but the first time you get to the Sky is one of the most memorable occasions in Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire – hands down. The view of the region from above is absolutely stunning, and you realize how small you are when you’re looking down. You can even run into wild Pokémon from up above as well – nice touch there. The world is alive!

When Soaring, you have the chance to land at locations that you’ve visited. It’s a better version of fly that gives you a taste of freer exploration. Also, you will be able to land in Mirage Spots that allow you catch legendary Pokémon from the previous titles – from the Legendary Dogs of Generation II to the dragons of Generation V. Combined with Pokémon X and Y, it is very possible to complete the Pokédex. I found the visuals for this portion to be top notch, and Game Freak really deserves praise for this because it’s free flight – no rails, no limits. You can also barrel roll. I’ll leave it at that…

Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire take some steps forward in bringing the game mechanics up to speed with the latest in sixth generation mechanics, including Mega Evolution and the social features that brought players together from Pokémon X and Y, but at the same time, they took a few steps backwards. The joy of Pokémon comes from the incremental upgrades and the subtleties, though, rather than the big gaping changes that hit you head on. To me, I found the subtle details like wild Pokémon flying in the environment, or the leaves blowing in the grass, to the wind in the trees, or even the people who stare at you as you run by, or seeing your reflection in a pond with a starry sky, to be so much more significant than the fact that there are new Mega Evolutions or catching mechanics. To me, this game made the world for once feel actually alive instead of stagnant. In one of the more humorous points of the game, you are able to go surfing on a Sharpedo, which makes traversing the Hoenn region a much faster task as it's like a speed boat that goes two times faster than any other Pokémon. Even more humorous is that if you try to fish on this shark, the game will say that you can't because it's too dangerous to let go of a shark. The plot characters were more fleshed out and didn’t have the technical limitations of character limits that the Game Boy Advance titles had. They actually felt a bit more human, albeit quite whimsical in practice with their over the top machinations. When I look at what Pokémon has done in terms of detracting from the experience, it boils down to nothing more than high expectations and endless wants from a game that has so far already delivered. A few of these minor gripes include the lack of character customization, the lack of a true endgame challenge in the form of a Battle Frontier, and the excessive streamlining that the game does to make the game a simpler experience to reach out to its target audience. When I mention the excessive streamlining, you can call it convenience, but it just takes away from the overall complexities that the game has to offer to its fans. Some of these streamlining effects come in the form of teleporting the player to story destinations if the travelling is a few towns over, or taking away the complexity of making Pokéblocks for your contest Pokémon, instead having the player choose a few berries and then pushing OK to hurry the process along. Or, the notable example of the endgame area, Sky Pillar, being reduced to a tower climb, not going back to the days of shaky floors and agile finger timings. I completely understand where Nintendo was going with regards to what they were aiming at, but for dedicated fans, they may feel a twinge of dismay seeing some of the complexities that were once endured be completely removed in favor of a more hand-holding, children friendly experience.

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I have a bit more in terms of detraction of a gaming experience, and it deserves its own paragraph because it actually is quite significant in terms of Game Freak’s strategy for future games. I’m talking about downloadable content and the possibility of micro transactions. Game Freak decided to make this title an entirely open-ended experience. It leaves them covered, but at the same time, it’s driving people like me crazy because the ending was so ambiguous. Some time before the game was released, skilled developers began to data mine the title, to see whether or not Nintendo would cover their bases and add any secret content that they had not revealed yet. To the dismay of Pokémon communities, the mining fell short as all previous Mega Evolutions had been revealed already and there were no new ones, and there was no existence of a Battle Frontier. However, what the data miners did find were hints that a Battle Frontier was in development, as stated by NPCs in the game, and even something as bold as a replica building of the original Generation 3 Battle Tower, with a sign saying that the Battle Frontier project was beginning. The ultimate cherry on the top was the presence of the remixed soundtrack of the Battle Frontier Brains theme, which is absolutely marvelous by the way. It led many fans to wonder why Game Freak would bother including all of these tell tale signs of the fans’ most wanted feature, yet leaving it absent. These signs are absolutely pointing at downloadable content, or a sequel, or something to enhance the games, which are sadly not known at this point, but are no doubt giving Game Freak a field day at their Japanese headquarters, I’m sure. At this point, people are crying foul and Game Freak is considered the master troll for doing this. I’m really hoping that they release expansions, as they’ve done DLC before for other games and Nintendo is warming up to DLC as seen by Super Smash Bros. 3DS and Wii U, by offering Mewtwo. All hope is not quite lost just yet…

Stated plainly, this game is a nostalgia trip from start to finish, and it definitely had an impact on the experience for the better. It is definitely here to primarily bring together a new generation of young children to start their own journeys, and it’s here to bring people like me, who have played the originals a decade before, back together. Ironically, when I was waiting in line to pick up my copy, I found a lot of people that were my age or older looking to restart their journey. It’s come full circle, and it was nice to talk to some of the kids who were just ecstatic about beginning their journey anew. The game’s excellent visuals, stunning soundtrack, and revamping of features makes this by far a definitive game to own that has an excellent base – although, that base is not exactly perfect given that the ending has driven me close to crazy and they may have streamlined things too much. When you look at the games head on, you'll find that it's just the same old thing given a new coat of paint, but when you look at it with an eye for detail, you'll realize that this title has more complexities than any other game in the franchise thus far and that there is plenty of things to do that are different. But overall, if you enjoyed Pokémon X and Y, you definitely need to grab this game because it’s so much stronger in terms of content. Lastly, if you loved the originals, you still should grab this game. It is a definitely solid purchase taking everything into account, and I personally believe that you will enjoy it thoroughly. Who doesn’t love Pokémon here, after all?

Verdict
Pros
+ The Hoenn region has been redone in 3D, and the visuals are fantastic
+ The world feels alive with a bunch of subtleties
+ Quality of life changes that make game more convenient
+ Strong soundtrack
+ Game makes progress with a more mature plot line
Cons
- Game is too streamlined and takes away from the complexity at some points
- No challenging endgame Battle Frontier facility
- Ambiguous ending leaves a desire for more...
9 Presentation
The game has so much to do that it's hard to really find fault with it. Game Freak has outdone itself with some of the mechanics, and they managed to stay true to the original titles to cater to their veteran Pokémon audience.
7 Gameplay
In a way though, it's still Pokémon at its bare roots, and the game play will remain the same with a bit more paint and fancies. Those that can look past the roots will find an enjoyable game that trumps almost all titles so far in the franchise.
7 Lasting Appeal
Once the legendaries are caught and once you beat the Delta episode, it's competitive battling time, but the lack of a Battle Frontier facility leaves much to be desired.
8.2
out of 10
Overall (not an average)
This game has a ton of strong points and few weaknesses, with one of the weaknesses possible to fix in the form of DLC. It's a very solid title that deserves to be purchased if you enjoyed the previous versions. For sure one of the better games of the franchise, and could well be THE definitive game of the series if Game Freak plays its cards right.
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