I’ll be undertaking this particular review of Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire differently than usual. Rather than just getting my opinion on these newest entries into the core Pokémon series, you’ll also get an appraisal from frequent CelJaded editor Tim Joyce as well. Hopefully it will be a case of two opinions being better than one!

We’ve exhaustively played through both titles concurrently over the past week, and now feel qualified to deliver a comprehensive view on what these latest additions to Generation VI have to offer. This review will assume that you have a basic working knowledge of the Pokémon games and will instead focus on the key changes that ORAS have introduced and whether they still measure up after more than ten years.

So let’s start by digging into the good stuff.


 

The Good

Alex Hajdasz says:

I would never suggest that Pokémon Ruby or Pokémon Sapphire are disappointing games, but they’ve never been among my series favourites. The creature design feels a little less inspired than the previous two generations and despite the graphical update offered by the Gameboy Advance, the games as a whole feel a bit old hat considering the huge leap that Generation II delivered.

Fast forward to 2014 however and we now have two 3D updates of those titles in Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire; a couple of remakes for Generation VI that pack a visual overhaul and plenty of gameplay improvements.

Anyone who has ever wished for a full 3D Pokémon game can pretty much look to Generation VI now; this is where we’re at from now on. The environments, the Pokémon and the various characters are all rendered with polygonal 3D models and look fantastic due to the power of the Nintendo 3DS hardware.

Expressions on characters’ faces do wonders for enhancing the game’s reworked cutscenes and it’s much easier now to appreciate what’s happening in the game’s story.

The game’s Pokémon gyms have been redesigned, various areas have been tidied up and it’s harder to get lost thanks to the more helpful signposting on offer.

The new flying minigame is a fun novelty.

The new flying minigame is a fun novelty.

In terms of new features, you have the DexNav– a useful accessory that helps you locate specific Pokémon out in the wilderness. Instead of wandering through tall grass over and over again, the DexNav now allows you to track any monster you’ve already seen and force an encounter with that Pokémon. It’s a very helpful feature and gets better once you realize that it offers enhanced information on the Pokémon you track, including details on its ability and any bonus moves that it has learned.

But most of the good points in ORAS mainly come down to the number of quality of life tweaks and enhancements that make replaying this episode easier and more enjoyable as a result.

The long overdue ability to fly anywhere you want (as opposed to being limited to Pokémon centres) is a welcome feature as is the shortened health warning sound that spares your ears once a Pokémon’s HP dips into the red. The new map screen is great in the way it highlights points of interest and the lower encounter rate in certain areas (especially at sea) deserves a round of applause in itself.

Another great little inclusion is Ken Sugimori’s original 2D Pokémon art that appears in the Pokédex. It’s amazing to see how well the 3D models match these original drawings and I hope it’s a feature they decide to keep around for future games. Without Ken I doubt the series would ever be the same!

Pokémon Omega Ruby (the version I personally tested) has plenty of gameplay packed into its cartridge and it’s very nice to see an extensive post-game scenario and expanded endgame content included for this release. The 2003 originals didn’t give you much to do when the main story was complete so this is a major improvement in my eyes and deserving of considerable merit.

To finish my look at the positives, I think that ORAS are definitely the best of the Pokémon remakes. There seems to be more polish and more gameplay hours in the overall package and it’s just plain nice to see everything rendered so well in 3D this time around.

 

Tim Joyce says:

When I first heard that there was going to be remakes of Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire, the first thing that sprang to mind was “Why?”. I wasn’t disappointed by the announcement but at the same time I wasn’t particularly excited either, at least not as psyched as I was for the previous installments.

The original games are now well over a decade old and those who were perceptive enough would’ve surely noticed the little Easter egg in Pokémon X and Y foretelling the release of these two games. So without further ado let’s take a look at the positives of Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire.

First things first, let’s talk about the demo. The demo starts you off in a late-game area which has some nice scenery to gaze at and people to talk to. Aside from having a chinwag with the local population, your main goal is to go on little “adventures” with your compatriot Steven. These are basically bite-sized missions for you to complete; the more you finish the more rewards you’ll receive which can then be transferred to the full game. For some bizarre reason you can only transfer one item every day but it’s a minor quibble and on the whole the feature is good.

Naturally the demo is just designed to give you a taste of things to come; there isn’t much to do other than complete missions with your preset Pokémon. Being able to transfer items to the full game was a nice idea though as it encourages you to play through the demo multiple times and experience the different content it has to offer.

The demo certainly helped whet my appetite so when the full game finally arrived it wasn’t long before hours and hours of gameplay were being sunk into it. The game starts off with a wink to the fans; you’re presented with the same introduction from the original games until it zooms out to reveal the actual 3D world of Hoenn; incredibly re-imagined. You’ll be left gawking at the wonderfully vivid opening cutscene, taking in sights of lovely vistas and frolicking Pokémon.

The 3D technology certainly goes a long way to bringing the region to life and is probably the best aspect of these remakes. But of course where would this Pokémon game be without a good soundtrack to back up its impeccable visuals? Once again the very talented composers at Game Freak have done a great job of recreating that trademark sound of the originals, and have provided great tunes to listen to even when you’re not playing the game!

Some of the rough edges of the predecessors have been touched up; flying is now capable of transporting you to almost anywhere on the map; something that probably should’ve been there to begin with. There is now a dedicated area for growing berries, very important if you strive to take on the challenge of the Pokémon talent contests. Not to mention that secret bases have been given a serious makeover; with tons of new decorations and locales available to ensure a highly customizable hideaway to call your own. The Pokémon gyms have also been cleverly redesigned with each one featuring its own unique shtick. Both games also feature some nice cinematic sequences, some of which are wildly different to each other and look really nice in 3D.

Get used to seeing water; there's a lot of it in ORAS.

Get used to seeing water; there’s a lot of it in ORAS.

I seem to remember the signposting in the previous games being somewhat dodgy, I often got lost whilst knowing how to proceed. Needless to say the signposting in this game has been vastly improved, characters will sometimes take you with them to places in order to forward the story, something I’m sure the many younger players of this game will appreciate. The Exp. Share is received very early on and helps your whole team grow strong, perhaps too much so, but more on that later.

The improved user interface has been stocked with extra features and is sorted neatly into separate tabs. The Dexnav is one of these features; a scanner that indicates which Pokémon have already been caught in the area. It also helps you find the ones you haven’t caught yet, an exceptionally useful tool for any serious collector. Each Pokédex entry has been significantly lengthened as well giving a bit more flavour to each Pokémon, something that is different between the two versions.

Later on in the game you’ll receive an item called the Eon Flute, this instrument allows you to summon your pal Latias/Latios and take to the skies. For those of you who are tired of using the HM, you can instead take the scenic route by soaring over Hoenn, performing loop-de-loops and visiting hidden areas.

Whilst piloting Latias/Latios you can drop off anywhere on the map as well as access what they call mirage spots; areas which grant you the opportunity to catch Pokémon not normally found in the game including legendaries. Overall I thought this mechanic was a bit gimmicky, however it does add a few extra challenges for the pros.

Once the game has been finished you’ll get to play the endgame quest, Delta Episode. Basically a separate storyline which involves Rayquaza; the mascot of Pokémon Emerald, and a massive meteoroid falling towards earth (sound familiar?). The majority of gameplay really just involves you going to one place and then going to another with not much happening in between. I quite liked the finale however, there can be some real challenge if you’re that kind of person.

If you finish Delta Episode then you’ll gain access to the battle institute; here you can test your Pokémon’s mettle under tournament rules and experience the hardest challenge the game has to offer.

That just about wraps up my positives for the games; there’s no real surprise that these turned out to be the best of the remake games so far (HeartGold, FireRed etc.).

They definitely have the advantage of 3D graphics and a streamlined UI, and it’s nice to see that Game Freak have taken good care of the original games that are remembered for bringing Pokémon into the 32-bit era.

 

The Bad

Alex Hajdasz says:

We may well be looking at the best remakes the franchise has seen yet, but that doesn’t mean ORAS don’t suffer from many of the same problems.

Despite the steps forward, there are also a few irritating steps back; a criticism that’s frustratingly common in the Pokémon franchise.

The auto-run feature from Generation IV is still frustratingly absent and the roller skates your character gets in Pokemon X/Y aren’t included in these versions either. You’ll constantly be holding down the B button to run everywhere and it quickly grows tiresome.

The bike items help alleviate the slow pace of course, but then ORAS reintroduces the awkward concept of having two types of bike. The Mach bike is the faster option (therefore the best option) and is the only way to scale steep slopes whereas the Acro bike is a pointless trick-performing alternative that can bounce up cliffs. Until the main game is complete you can only carry one bike, so it’s irritating to frequently see bonus areas that you can’t reach and will likely forget about.

As an extension to that criticism, the ability to fly comes remarkably late and makes returning to previous areas a real pain. This was a similar situation in the original games and it seems ORAS have inherited the problem rather than providing a decent solution.

In terms of presentation, the use of the Nintendo 3DS’s stereoscopic 3D is still underused and it’s a shame to hear certain music tracks reused as often as they are. Controlling the bikes is twitchy when using the analog thumbstick; which can be even more annoying when using the new sneaking mechanic.

But perhaps the biggest problem for me is the mega evolution system. This is a major feature introduced in Generation VI that allows certain Pokémon to evolve mid-battle when holding a special mega stone. Mega evolved Pokémon look different, are extremely powerful and can seriously alter tactics when used in a competitive battle.

Sableye gets the 'mega' treatment.

Sableye gets the ‘mega’ treatment.

When Nintendo first revealed this feature a year ago I knew I was not going to like it and sadly that feeling continues with the release of this title.

Here are my problems with mega evolution:

  • There’s no way to view the stats or abilities of your Pokémon’s ‘mega form’ outside of a battle.
  • You can only activate one mega evolution each battle, so training multiple mega-capable Pokémon for your team is a less effective option.
  • Many mega Pokémon are absurdly powerful and many already potent Pokémon have gotten even stronger. This is somewhat of a problem in a battle system that is dominated by one-hit/two-hit kills.
  • Your Pokémon is forced to hold an item to achieve evolution thus diluting the strategy of held items even further.
  • You’re forced to watch the mega evolve animation in every battle you activate it and that’s assuming you don’t accidentally forget to press the evolve button; something that can certainly happen.
  • New mega evolutions introduced in ORAS are incompatible with the previous Generation VI titles.
  • Mega Garchomp. Is that really necessary!? Why not Mega Mewtwo whilst we’re- oh…

In short, I don’t get why the mega evolution system is supposed to be a desirable approach outside of pandering to 9-year-olds with a dragon fixation.

But even without this, it’s hard to shake the remake stigma when so many lesser points continue to pile up.

The unfortunate bias towards water Pokémon and water areas is still strong, a few sections still feel a bit too long for what they are and several Pokémon still have rather awkward move sets (why does it take Electrike so long to learn a decent electric move!?)

More than anything else though, is the effect that mega evolutions and the exp. share item have had on the game’s challenge. The gym leaders are insultingly easy to beat and the less said about the Elite Four finale the better.

In Generation VI, the exp. share is extremely unbalanced and it makes the game far too easy if used throughout your playthrough (you receive it very early in ORAS too). An item to distribute experience points amongst your party, the exp. share now grants every Pokémon on your team a much larger lump sum of experience.

To test this item out properly this year, Tim went ahead and used the exp. share all the way throughout the game whereas I kept the item disabled at all times.

Tim’s team finished the game with 6 Pokémon all averaging above level 70.

I finished the game with 4 Pokémon just above level 50 and 2 others at level 12 and level 9 respectively.

In case it’s not clear; the EXP. SHARE IS BROKEN!

But even without it I found myself able to defeat the Pokémon league champion (final boss) using a single mega evolved Pokémon and no stat boost items. I know the game has to be accessible to a younger audience, but where’s the challenge mode that was introduced in Generation V?

ORAS feel dated as a result of these criticisms, feeling like somewhat unnecessary retreads that are lacking the wow factor we’ve come to expect from Generation V onwards.

 

Tim Joyce says:

So, we’ve looked at the positive aspects of Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire and I’ve had plenty of good things to say, however all games have flaws and this one is no exception. Hold onto your hats because this could get ugly, mega ugly.

I challenge you to find one person who thought Mega Evolution was a good idea; go on, prove me wrong. Yes, it’s no secret that this has to be one of the silliest ideas they’ve introduced to this generation. Did someone at Game Freak say “Here’s a good idea, let’s make all those really strong Pokémon even stronger!”.

At first this concept seemed like a good way to give the old Pokémon a new lease on life, bringing previously subpar Pokémon to competitive levels. Whoever thought the likes of Metagross, Salamence and Garchomp needed to be even more powerful is either a complete idiot or an 8 year old child. Seriously, WHY!?

CelJaded-Pokemon-ORAS-(3)

Some Mega Evolutions are so powerful they upset the game’s already fragile balance.

Not only does this completely unbalance the current metagame but it also kind of ruins the challenge of the games themselves. As soon as I got access to mega evolution, I completely walked the game from that point onwards. As you proceed through the game you’ll be picking up lots of mega stones which, for a reason unbeknownst to me, don’t even get a separate tab in the bag.

You’ll be scrolling like mad through all these mega stones that you’re not even using just to get to the items that you do want to use. Some of them are for Pokémon which I don’t think even appear in the game, maybe not until after you’ve completed the story; sloppy, very sloppy.

To be honest, even without mega Pokémon, the game still would’ve been a cakewalk anyway, mainly thanks to the Exp. Share I mentioned earlier. This item essentially gives experience points won from battles to all of your Pokémon and completely breaks the game in half! By the time we had finished the game, my Pokémon were about 20 levels higher than Alex’s, even the two HM mules I had were level 60+ (Pokémon I were not training).

It just goes to show that this item was probably included to help out the younger players who aren’t as skilled at the game. I liked the idea of the Exp. Share because it can make having six Pokémon in your party viable (instead of cumbersome), but in this capacity it is completely broken. It wouldn’t of mattered anyway I suppose due to the execrable nature of the HMs (Hidden Machines).

That brings me to my next point, HM moves, ugh! Come on Game Freak, isn’t it time we did away with this archaic method of locking the player in? There are eight HM moves in the game, that means that at least two of your Pokémon won’t have the moves you want them to have. Unless you’ve prepared for the ordeal by having two Pokémon that can learn them all, you’ll be constantly switching out again and again. Even if you do have the ideal setup it still means that you’ll be down two Pokémon slots, forcing you to train four instead of six. Haven’t we come past the days of this nonsense? Pokémon deserves better than to be constantly hamstrung by these asinine rules.

I wouldn’t say Pokémon is known for its consistency and there are a number of glaring omissions in this game which I think support this:

  • Pokémon centers no longer contain the Pokémart, they are split up into separate buildings
  • No auto-run, what happened to the skates from Pokémon X and Y?
  • There are too few PC boxes for storing Pokémon, I count just seven (More are unlockable, but why have them locked in the first place?)
  • One bike format has been dumped in favour of Acro and Mach bikes, why not just keep the one bike and save the hassle of constantly switching?

Don’t get me wrong there are some good omissions too, but these just seem so pointless and annoying. It can be argued that these changes were made in an effort to keep the games closer to the originals, but then that comes at the cost of making the game more awkward for the player and that doesn’t make it more enjoyable.

I was never a fan of the talent contests in the originals but their presence in this game seems almost entirely pointless, mainly because they’re so easy. As long as you’ve fed your Pokémon enough Pokéblocks, you’ll trample your opponents into the floor. It actually seems like more of an effort to lose than it does to win. I think it’s something that would be better when played with other people, because that could potentially be challenging and fun.

The Elite Four was another thing that bugged me; three out of four of them were using duplicate Pokémon. This is also true for the originals, but isn’t this something they could of changed? Out of all those different Pokémon to choose from, they couldn’t switch a couple of them? It’s not even a case of sticking to only Hoenn Pokémon, as three of them are using Pokémon from other regions. This just seems like a lazy effort with no actual thought having gone into it.

Well that concludes all of the negative things I have to say about the games. Don’t let it put you off though, if you’re a Pokémon fan then you’ll undoubtedly still enjoy these games; I know I did for the most part.

 

Conclusion

Alex Hajdasz says:

Despite falling short of its more innovative and playable forbears, Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire offer enough worthwhile enhancements to be an easy recommendation for fans of the series. Just don’t expect anything spectacular this time around.

Tim Joyce says:

Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire are by no means must-haves, but they’re worth picking up if you’re looking for something to tide you over until the next big installment in the series.