I remember the third generation of Pokemon rather well. At the time it launched over ten years ago, I was going through my mid-teen phase and was knee deep into the Playstation 2 and Gamecube. Sure, I still cared for Pokemon, but I kind of didn’t bother with Ruby or Sapphire until after the first-generation remakes of Red and Green launched, which re-struck my interest and to pick up Pokemon Sapphire nearly two years after it hit shelves. The land of Hoenn was an interesting one, and oddly enough, was probably one the least remembered locales by fans as the peak of the Pokemon craze was slowly dying down just a bit at launch, which makes the idea of a remake or reintroduction perfect to go along with the now sixth installments of X & Y. After seeing what the 3DS did for Pokemon in general, Nintendo and Game Freak have brought us Pokemon Alpha Sapphire and Pokemon Omega Ruby. With a brand new look and newer features in tow, can these two remakes prove to stand the test of time? Let’s find out.
After just moving to Hoenn and exiting a moving truck in Littleroot Town, players start on their journey to becoming a Pokemon master right after saving Professor Birch from an attack. One of the gym leaders (Norman) is your father in this title, so you have a lot to prove already. Of course the “evil team” is none other than Team Aqua (or Team Magma if you picked up Omega Ruby), who are usually around every other route to challenge the player to a battle. The same formula of collecting badges hasn’t changed much, and if you played the originals you should know that the pacing has remained in tact. The mascot legendary of Alpha Sapphire is Kyogre, and Team Aqua are determined to respect its habitat and flood the land, causing what seems to be unintentional chaos along the way.
Its odd how much Pokemon has changed, yet stayed the same. When Black and White released, many considered it to be a mature storyline as it dealt with extremism in the form of a PETA like group that had good intentions, yet went about their mission in a destructive manner. After playing the remake here, I can say that Black and White were not really too far of a stretch, as this group simply wants a paradise for their Pokemon of worship. Its a bit cliche, sure, but in 2003 – I now see how deep this little tale here actually was compared to the first generation, where we were just stopping thieves, and the second – where we stopped a revival of the same group. I really feel like this story arc, along with Wally (a shy, sickly kid that simply wants to be a Pokemon trainer) touched upon deeper themes for the franchise, and really brought it up to where it is today.
If you know anything about the general structuring of Pokemon, you will have no problem picking up Alpha Sapphire and taking off quickly. As you would expect, the main objective is to pick a starter, get a Pokedex, and set off on a journey through the land and sea as you aim to obtain all eight badges, tackle side quests of sorts, and defeat the Elite Four. Personally, I never liked the first three starters with this generation. I know, Mudkip is a god of the meme world, May has made Torchic famous, and Treeko is decent on his own, but I guess this trio never struck me as great, despite the fanfare behind them. That said, there are plenty of Pokemon to collect in this title that introduced so many, and those who are like myself in terms of taste will be able to snag a nice Wurmple or a Ralts rather quickly after starting up.
The battle system has remained relatively the same since X & Y, and players will be happy to know that type advantages have been retained from the latest version and not reverted to the more archaic methods of the past, as all of the additions such as Fairy Pokemon, triple battles, and yes – the EXP Share are back, making the road slightly less bumpy in terms of overall difficulty. I want to say that the EXP Share (which is optional) would be great, but personally, I found its inclusion to be a bit off as this title doesn’t really require it. Sure, you can have a full team leveled without ever swapping your party, but this game was already built for a bit of a grind and isn’t in need of much assistance when it comes to leveling. Now, I can say the pacing isn’t hurt, but part of the charm of Pokemon is taking to a bush to do some leveling, and with that being said, most veterans may want to turn off this booster that may take away some of the spirit of the originals.
Another feature that doesn’t feel fully in tune with the remake are the Mega Evolutions. I get that these creations were a nice gimmick to bring us forward with the franchise, but I feel like every Mega is a weight that throws off the balance of general competition. Its a fun gimmick and no – it doesn’t hurt the experience at all when it comes to single player, but those looking for pure nostalgia will have these hefty evolutions to break that illusion – as The Mega Pokemon seem to be here to stay, like it or not. Those two gripes out of the way, I can say that Hoenn is a wonderful place to explore. There is a lot of water, so players will have to equip their team with HMs such as Dive, Surf, and Waterfall for the sea. On top of that, you will also see a lot more Rock Smash – which was introduced this generation and used heavily in caves and mountainous areas. The NPCs are also full of little tidbits, tips, and secrets as well, making it worth speaking to everyone you encounter.
Secret Bases have had a major overhaul. Players now have the ability to build and customize their base from the ground-up, and then share their creations via Streetpass or a QR code. Players can also share decor and battle styles as these little hideouts work as a nice little gym of sorts, and have come full circle as they feel much more important than a whole in the wall with a few dolls crammed in. Pokemon Amie is also back, and due to contests being a thing yet again, this little set of mini-games for you Poke can now be utilized for a purpose as a happy Pokemon is more likely to perform well in contests. Pikachu can even don a few sets of clothes too, and while its cute – it doesn’t do a lot if your not already a mega fan of the electric rodent. Because of the much larger variety of tools that keep contests interesting this time around, players can finally use contests as more of a focus for the post-game.
Those who are into menus will have a lot to take in. While you can retain the same menu that X & Y saw, the updated Pokenav has been overhauled to make the experience more streamlined. We can now track how many more Pokemon remain in an area as a crown appears throughout each route to inform the player if they have caught every species on a route. If that screen doesn’t do it for you, the town map that displays plenty of re-battle opportunities is a nice touch. Instead of having to go and look at a television, players can also see news reports live from their Pokenav that update with you and your friends’ journeys, which is a nice distraction and quite a clever change.
Its honestly hard to just pick one thing to do within Alpha Sapphire. Contests, training, catching them all, shiny hunting – the list goes on and on. Its Pokemon, a game that begs you to play for hundreds of hours, and Game Freak have done a fantastic job with both the little details to modernize a classic. I have to say that sure, we don’t get roller blades, but being able to tip-toe to catch a rarer Pokemon is a great idea. The same goes for the two styles of bikes in the game. When Ruby and Sapphire were released, they brought about a ton of new to the franchise and all these years later, those features have been fully realized and make for one incredible journey to the top.
Every little pixel has been upgraded within both of these remakes. Donning the same art style from Pokemon X and Y, we have been treated to a colorful world that keeps the same shape and atmosphere, yet feels much more alive due to the added animations, cutscenes, and everything else in-between. Its a massive visual overhaul that was pulled off successfully, as even if you have played the two classics, you have not experienced anything in the same caliber as Alpha and Omega. Walking into a gym was a puzzle, now its a game in itself due to the spacious designs and the sharp new attires of the larger than life gym leaders. Its even a great thing to see a random trainer, as watching heads turn as you slowly creep through a bush to avoid a wild Pokemon will put players with a low HP count on edge as that next battle looms near.
Trumpets, my friend. Those glorious trumpets. The soundtrack within Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire are top of the line, featuring remixed tracks featuring those boisterous trumpets from the original titles. The battle music has a razor sharp edge, and every single encounter is felt due to the powerful tunes that this and every other Pokemon title have featured over the years, sure to stick in your head for quite some time. Its also nice to hear the distinct cries of the Pokemon. Sure, we could do voices like the anime, but the cries have an odd audible charm to them and hearing a Pokemon pop out of the grass and let out a familiar chirp does a lot to add some nostalgic vibes to the overall scale of the game.
For years Pokemon has dominated the handheld market, and these two remakes can be seen as two more gems for the franchise, as they hit nearly every mark a fan could ask for. Yeah, I am not a big fan of the Mega Evolutions or a couple of other minor preferences, but those small gripes are drowned out in what is literally a vast ocean of content, where one can start on that old road all over again and get new memories in a classic world reborn. Pokemon Alpha Sapphire is not the greatest Pokemon game of all time, but it is a worthy remake that feels just as relevant as every other modern title currently on the market. Game Freak could have easily released these two titles on the Virtual Console and added a trade feature and I would have been happy, but instead we have received two underdogs of the Pokemon universe that have finally shown true evolution for a whole new generation. Grab your fishing rods and swimming trunks, as its time to go back to Hoenn.
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