Pokémon Omega Ruby & Alpha Sapphire (Game Review)

As a long time Nintendo fan, no series in video gaming has maintained the stronghold on my free time like Pokémon has. While the core concept has remained the same over the years, to become the Champion and complete the Pokédex by collecting all of the Pokémon, now at a staggering 721, has become an increasingly absurd goal with each generation; Pokémon remains a series of genuine fun, addictive mechanics and gameplay, and genuine emotional connection. While these creatures are virtual and fictional, you still develop an emotional bond with your partners throughout your journey, from choosing your very first Pokémon to eventually taking your fight to the Pokémon League and beyond. Now, in 2014, after the monumental success of the first 3D iteration in the main series, X and Y, we are given the third set of remakes in the franchise, first with FireRed and LeafGreen in 2004, then HeartGold and SoulSilver in 2010, and now Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire in 2014.

For the curious and uninitiated, ORAS (the fan given colloquial term for the games) is a remake of 2002's (2003 in Europe) Pokémon Ruby and Pokémon Sapphire, which introduced the third generation of Pokémon, the Hoenn region, and many mechanics that would remain to this day, particularly natures, which affected stat growth, and abilities, which added flavour to battling through adding an extra strength to Pokémon (including cutting your opponent's attack on entry, or being immune to certain status conditions and moves, even attack types). These remakes keep most of the features that were in X and Y, although the graphics are a lot better, particularly noticeable in the over world character sprites, all with hilarious facial expressions in cutscenes. The regional Pokédex was kept predominantly the same, except for a few evolutions from the fourth generation, such as Froslass and Dusknoir.

This iteration gives you a choice between Treecko, Torchic and Mudkip as your starters, and I feel as though the 3rd generation had the best starters (sorry Charizard) in terms of power, as well as feeling equal to each other and with their own strengths, with Sceptile's speed, Blaziken's power and Swampert's bulk at the later stages of the game. While Pokémon catching is still the most prevalent mechanic and objective in the game, there is a new mechanic that makes it more exciting, in the shape of sneaking. By lightly tilting the 3DS circle pad, your avatar begins to tip toe across the fields, and is essential to finding potentially very powerful Pokémon early on, such as a Poochyena at the start of the game that knows Fire Fang instead of Tackle, which is a much more powerful attack. The possibilities here are endless, and as a result becomes a huge time sink by itself. Returning from previous generations is trainer rematches, which allows you to battle trainers with increasingly powerful teams, allowing you easy access to battles based on your current location.

The best features from X and Y, Super Training, Pokémon Amie and the PSS, return to this iteration, so you can train your Pokémon in mini games and with punching bags, and then feed them Poké Puffs and pet them. Little things like this exemplify the importance of love and friendship, as cheesy as it sounds, in games like this. Your Pokémon are not slaves or monsters as countless parodies try to say, but they are your friends, and you battle alongside each other through countless trials. It's a very touching allegory of real life, and how there is strength in experience and in numbers. The PSS allows for easy access to battling and trading, through Global Trade Station, or the increasingly popular Wonder Trade, which acts as a trading Russian Roulette- you put a Pokémon in, and your results are completely random based on who is matched to you. For example, someone could send you a legendary Pokémon or a Magikarp.

In terms of the story, it's very much the same fare as with all of the main series- you are a young trainer who starts their journey across the vast region of Hoenn, catching Pokémon to complete the Pokédex, and collecting Gym Badges from the powerful Pokémon Gym Leaders throughout the land, in order to challenge the Elite Four of the Pokémon League, in addition to becoming embroiled in a plot from an evil organisation to achieve their goals by sinister means. Returning to these games are Team Magma and Team Aqua, who were the villains of Ruby and Sapphire respectively. Comparisons to X and Y's Team Flare will be made, and Magma and Aqua have much more personality from the get go, mainly through the leaders and admins being much more memorable characters, with the creepily robotic Courtney of Team Magma recently garnering an online following in particular. The teams themselves are distinctly different from each other too, rather than just the same team with a colour scheme. Magma are the serious scientific nerd types, whereas Aqua are the brash, over the top pirates. Archie and Maxie, the primary antagonists, are also greatly fleshed out, making them much more human characters when you learn of their motivations. What Team Flare had over Magma and Aqua, however, was Pokémon variety. There was a wide variety of Pokémon used by the villains of X and Y, and that is sorely missed here, with each team seeming to stick to the same four Pokémon throughout all of your encounters across Hoenn, making the battles with them seem a touch repetitive at times. The story eventually comes to a head and a confrontation with the box art legendary is in store, and it is certainly epic. 

Expanding from the most popular mechanic introduced in X and Y, Mega Evolution makes a bounding return by introducing 20 new ones, and people are now able to sweep an entire enemy team with Beedrill, and its Mega Evolution, giving it some much needed love. Other examples include Metagross, Gallade, Sharpedo, Camerupt, Slowbro, and many more. It is a shame however that Nintendo officially unveiled them all prior to the games' release, taking away the mystery factor that X and Y had with hunting for Mega Stones. Most of the ones introduced in X and Y were only discovered after the game was released, such as Pinsir and Heracross. Also, not to sound spoilt, but a few more Mega Evolutions would have been amazing, since the lack of the much requested Mega Flygon and Mega Milotic has been sorely noted by many, although the next entry in the series may address this. Late into the game, you are given access to 'soaring,' which allows you to fly on Latias/Latios to manually fly around a 3D model of Hoenn, barrel rolls and all. This was easily one of the most majestic moments I have ever experienced in a video game.

My main criticism I have of this game is the lack of character customisation. One of the best aspects of X and Y was the ability to change aspects of your character, including skin colour, hair colour and style, and the clothes your character wore. Understandably, this may have been because of trying to make the games true to the originals, but the greater connection you could create with your player avatar in X and Y is sorely missed here, because of your ability to change the character's style to your own preferences- scratch that, they WERE you.

However, what X and Y lacked was a post game. People may debate that and claim the Lumiose Mysteries counts as post game, but nobody likes Looker. ORAS contains a far grander and more epic story in the Delta Episode, the details of which will not be spoiled here. While it begins as a series of 'fetch quests,' events quickly escalate into what I can only describe as one of the most epic moments in Pokémon history, personally tied with the final confrontation with N in Black and White for me. However, the new character that appears, Zinnia, I found to be rather abrasive. I can see why she is a popular character, but many of her actions are questionable at best, and are never addressed. While I like confrontational characters, what she does sometimes left me feeling slightly uncomfortable, mainly because she never learns or sees from her actions. The post game also allows you access to almost every single legendary Pokémon, minus event legendaries and the ones you could capture in X and Y. Special conditions, and rather strange ones at that, allow portals across Hoenn to open, allowing you to challenge different legendaries. The Battle Maison also makes a return, although I would have preferred a Battle Frontier like in Emerald, Platinum or Heart Gold/Soul Silver for the sake of variety in challenges.

While Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire have some minor annoyances, this is easily the grandest game in the series' long history, and it will hopefully only get better from here. When the game delivers, it truly does deliver. And no, there is not too much water. 

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