“Pokemon” Franchise Launches New Game

So you’re probably wondering (as most of the gaming world is), whether Pokémon Omega Ruby Alpha Sapphire (ORAS) is worthy of the Pokémon legacy. To answer your question, Pokémon ORAS is as fun and addicting as last year’s titles, Pokémon X and Y. Not only that, it’s a worthy remake of the original Hoenn-set titles, Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire (and this is coming from someone who considers Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire to be the height of the series’ innovation).

The original Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire saw the introduction of double battles, abilities, underwater exploration, double battles, Pokémon contests, added depth to stats, double battles, immersive environments, complicated berry growing mechanics, double battles, deeper supporting characters, the largest roster of new Pokémon since the original game, and, my personal favorite, have I mentioned double battles?

As a remake, Pokémon ORAS is not intended to eclipse the originals, or make any meaningful additions to the series (that was the job of Pokémon X and Y). In my mind, all Pokémon ORAS had to do was recreate the setting of the original games, with all the depth and production values of the most recent Pokémon titles. In this, Nintendo mostly succeeded. What makes this a great game is that there is considerable innovation, and in a title where none was expected. I found that a number of additional apps and systems had a surprisingly large impact on overall enjoyment and accessibility.

Pokémon ORAS manages to be true to the original Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire while giving them a modern makeover. At first, in the early game, I thought they may have reused old assets in some way. However, upon reaching the third gym, I realized that this was a legitimate remake, just one that appears to closely parallel the originals at times (likely for design reasons).

The environments of Hoenn (the series’ best in my opinion) look excellent. The more youthful look present in Pokémon X and Y has been applied to the characters of Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire. Battles look the same as they did in Pokémon X and Y (which, considering it’s only been a year, I believe to be reasonable).

In Pokémon ORAS, there’s a new mechanic added to flying: free-flight. With a mega Latios or Latias (do not trade them!) and the new soar ability, players are given the ability to fly freely around the Hoenn map. Not only does this open up new areas, but there are also sky-battles and Mirage spots (which can contain Legendary Pokémon from previous titles). I personally thought that this was a great innovation to a Pokémon game, especially one in which meaningful additions weren’t expected.

The next major advance is the upgraded PokéNav Plus. While this is described as a remake of the PokéNav from the original Ruby and Sapphire, really, it’s the bottom-screen applications from Pokémon X and Y with a few new apps added on.

There’s three new additions, specifically. The least important is BuzzNav, which basically is a TV-like app that displays news about yourself and other players that you meet. Next is the AreaNav, which is the best map I have seen in a Pokémon game to date. Along with an overview of cities and routes, it provides the locations of things like berries, secret bases, trainers who want rematches, and even Pokémon.

Finally, there’s the DexNav, a guide to helping you fill out your Pokédex (list of 700+ Pokémon). It shows what Pokémon appear where, provided you have come across the Pokémon in one form or another already (and can recognize it by its darkened silhouette). If, on the other hand, you already own the Pokémon, you can use the search function to attempt to make one of them show up from the terrain. At this point, the Pokémon is visible on the screen, and you use the new sneaking function to start an encounter.

I have only two considerable complaints on this title. My first is that the Battle Frontier is nowhere to be found. In Pokémon Emerald (a previous enhanced edition of Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire) the Battle Frontier, my favorite piece of postgame content, was introduced. Simply put, it’s an island where veteran trainers went to compete in seven different Pokémon competitions. These competitions were extremely challenging, as one typically faced off against Pokémon of equivalent levels. In many ways they are comparable to gyms (there are many trainers one fights against, and a frontier leader for each competition). There are strong hints that this will be added as DLC to Pokémon ORAS, but I wouldn’t feel right giving a game credit for maybes.

Another criticism is that Pokémon contests feel somewhat diminished (they certainly weren’t improved since the original titles). The Pokéblock mini-game that was used to prepare for contests has been removed entirely, which was disappointing. Collecting volcanic ash from mount chimney has also been simplified (and made much less enjoyable).

Industry insiders report that in order to comply with ESRB regulations (on fictional gambling), the arcade had to be removed. Also, character customization from Pokémon X and Y has been removed (sadly). However, balanced against the new additions, I personally feel that these stumbling points, aside from the omission of the Battle Frontier, are negligible.

Some have chosen to be critical of Pokémon ORAS, saying that it’s Pokémon X and Y all over again, or that the setting of Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire is showing its age. After playing through the full game, I have reached a different conclusion. As someone who’s played every core Pokémon title and remake, I feel that this is the best one to date; it’s worthy of the original Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire as well as Pokémon X and Y. More importantly though, it’s fun and, dare I say, addicting (don’t tell the ESRB). To score Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire I feel that 9 pokéballs out of 10 is appropriate (just shy of Pokémon Mastery, yet as electrifying as a gym full of Voltorbs).

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