Last week saw the release of the next installment in the Pokemon series. Pokemon Alpha Sapphire and Omega Ruby are remakes of the third generation Pokemon games, originally released for the Game Boy Advance in late 2002 in Japan and early 2003 in the United States. To call the third generation of Pokemon popular would be an understatement as Ruby, Sapphire and Emerald are the best selling GBA games of all time. Game Freak has often been criticized for playing it too safely with the Pokemon series which is a fair assertion since none of the games in the main series ever deviate too far from the original formula; however there is steady, albeit gradual, improvement with each installment. Pokemon X and Y featured a jump to a new platform, but seemed to take a step back in design due to the technology being new. This game was going to be their chance to make full or at least far better use of the 3DS hardware, and they did not disappoint.
In terms of game play, it is the same as any other Pokemon game. You assemble a team, get all the gym badges, stop the resident bad guys, and eventually challenge the Pokemon League Champion to be recognized as the greatest trainer around. There are tweaks in the role playing game elements, but these nuances are more for the sake of competitive play and game balancing. X and Y were praised for their new features that made the games more convenient for the player, and the new games continue this trend. Instead of analyzing the core game play which has not changed for decades, I will just go over the new features that improve the experience.
- The “DexNav” allows the player to see information about the Pokemon they encounter to help narrow down the search for a specific attack or ability. Originally there was no way to discern these until the Pokemon was already caught, forcing the players to go through the effort to potentially find out that they wasted their time. This eliminates much frustrating busy work, that impedes progress instead of requiring skill.
- The “BuzzNav” allows players to share news with each other. It also gives the random interviews more of a purpose than in the originals as they can be sent to other players over wifi.
- The method of traveling know as “Soaring” allows players to meet Legendary Pokemon in the sky and alleviates the need for ridiculous trade processes to obtain the ones that exist outside the region.
- The rebuilt assets look amazing. This is not technically a new feature, but the colorful setting was a great chance to show off what the 3DS can really do. X and Y looked nice, but the world felt very small in comparison to the previous generation. The new Hoenn feels both vast and alive.
- The new take on Secret Bases has given fans what they have dreamed of for years. Not only can you create cool secret bases for people to see, you can convert them into your own miniature Pokemon Gym, complete with puzzles and hired trainers.
The narrative of the game has also been greatly improved. The sprites of the original games limited story telling, especially in conveying character. The new three dimensional models can have facial expressions giving more weight to the dialogue. It is a still a very simple story, but the characters are far more fleshed out with distinct personalities. Though there was emoting in X and Y, the player character was a blank slate to allow for the customization elements. It won’t be winning any awards for story telling, but it gives the player an actual sense of urgency when things go wrong.
Pokemon Alpha Sapphire and Omega Ruby absolutely do justice to the original games. These are easily the best remakes Game Freak has produced so far. What else is there to say? It’s Pokemon at its finest. Fans of the series will be completely floored by nostalgia upon starting the game and impressed with all the new things that have been so vocally requested for quite some time. As for newcomers to the series, there has never been a game as user friendly and accessible in the entire series. Any 3DS owner who does not pick this game up will be missing out on a great experience. If this game doesn’t convert people on the fence about the series, nothing will. It accomplishes all of its goals spectacularly. Though no game is truly perfect, this is as close to perfect that Game Freak has ever gotten.