I came to an interesting realization after spending some time this weekend playing Pokémon Omega Ruby, the sixth-gen remake of Pokémon Ruby for the Game Boy Advance: during the early 2000s, Nintendo was really obsessed with nautical exploration. You could surf the massive seas of the Hoenn region in Ruby and Sapphire on your Game Boy, then for more seafaring fun all you had to do was pop a copy of The Legend of Zelda: the Wind Waker into your GameCube.
And for each of these titles, sailing massive oceans had its pros and cons. The biggest downside, of course, is that you are forced to spend way too much time in a massive blue landscape without much to look forward to besides reaching a small island at some point.
And yet, there is something about sailing across the sea that brings with it a great sense of adventure. Which is why, despite the negative criticism I have seen from other reviews, I don’t mind the massive amounts of sailing and diving that must still be done in Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire.
Perhaps this is because, I’ll admit, that I had never played the Game Boy Advance originals. I did play the first two generations on the original Game Boy, and I picked up my Pokémon habits again in college after grabbing Pokémon Black, but sadly Ruby and Sapphire came out at that time in my childhood when suddenly it was “uncool” to play Pokémon. Oh, how I now wish I had grabbed a copy back then, because playing the remakes makes me understand why this game is so revered among die-hard fans of those powerful Pocket Monsters.
The story is easily the best I had ever experienced in a Pokémon game, because there is much more of an imminent danger in this world due to these games’ legendary Pokémon. Depending on which version you pick up (I played Omega Ruby), the main antagonists are either Team Magma (Omega Ruby) or Team Aqua (Alpha Sapphire). Both teams try to “better the world” in their own way; Team Magma wishes to expand the world’s continents while Team Aqua wants to expand the oceans. Both teams attempt this by resurrecting an appropriate ancient Pokémon: Groudon for Team Magma, Kyogre for Team Aqua. The awakening of these powerful beasts both lead to impending doom, unless your player can tame them. The plot is engaging, thrilling, and shrouded in mystery (many more legendary Pokémon exist in the Hoenn region, and following the clues to their whereabouts makes for some amazing side quests). The villainous leaders of Team Magma and Aqua are also very memorable, because after unleashing the power of Groudon and Kyogre the two have a change of heart and see the error in their evil schemes.
The gameplay is also nearly perfected. As the next set of games in Generation VI, Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire include many of the newer gameplay features that were present in Pokémon X and Y. Notably, Mega Evolutions make a triumphant return, with the addition of even more Mega Evolutions for Pokémon such as the Hoenn starters, Slowbrow, Sableye, and even Latios and Latias. Groudon and Kyogre get their own special evolution as well; called “Primal Reversion,” Groudon and Kyogre can convert into more powerful, prehistoric versions of themselves when they hold a special orb. Unlike Mega Evolution, however, Primal Reversion cannot be controlled by the player – it automatically happens when you send Groudon and Kyogre into battle as they hold their respective orbs. This takes a little bit of strategy out of battling, but it doesn’t affect too much. Primal Reversion does not prevent you from Mega Evolving one of your Pokémon holding a Mega Stone, for example. If anything, it is a fun new feature that makes two overpowered legendaries even more powerful, which is insanely fun to play with.
Additionally, Mega Stones are much easier to find in Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire than in X and Y. In Pokémon X and Y, players are given a one-hour window each night to find Mega Stones, which can only be picked up during that time. This I found to be frustrating and pointless. Thankfully, in Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire Mega Stones can be found at any time of the day, which makes Mega Stone hunting feel more like what it should have felt like in the first place – a fun side quest, not a timed mission.
Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire both do something else that X and Y do not: these games cater to die-hard Pokémon fans, and it sure feels that way playing them. The Hoenn region is far more expansive than Kalos. I have already put in at least twenty hours into the game and only now am I reaching the Elite Four. Plus, the number of side quests these games have to offer is staggering; I’m already planning what legendary Pokémon I should go after next once I tackle the Pokémon League. The difficulty I remember from the original Game Boy games, I noticed, has also not gone away. It took one Ultra Ball, in one attempt, to catch Xerneas in Pokémon X. My battle with Groudon in Omega Ruby was much less successful, to the point where I wasted my Master Ball on him, the very first legendary I encountered. I appreciate this level of challenge, as it encourages me to strategize more and build out my team to make it stronger and more powerful.
There is also a little less handholding in these games. Half of my final party in Pokémon X included Pokémon that were given to me at points in the game: Greninja, Charizard, and Lucario. In Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire, you are only automatically given two Pokémon during the main story: your starter, and either Latios or Latias. A one-Pokémon difference is actually huge; I found myself spending more time in this game than in X and Y contemplating which Pokémon should be added to my party, and which should be removed. In these games I am forced to think more, which I appreciate in any RPG.
Secret Bases, a fun feature from the original games, also make a return. Now known as Super Secret Bases, you can spend hours searching for these hidden rooms along routes, which you can transform into your home-away-from-home. I spent so much time trying to get through the main story that I have not spent a lot of time creating my own base, but I am starting to plan more as I look at catalogs of furniture I can buy. Though not necessary to complete the game, Super Secret Bases are a fun feature I look forward to enjoying later on.
There are some downsides to Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire; in particular there are areas where the game does show its age. In Pokémon X and Y, I really enjoyed how the Poké Mart was a part of the Pokémon Center, where you traditionally go to heal your Pokémon after battle. But in Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire, we have returned to having separate buildings for healing and buying items. It is inconvenient, but certainly not a game-ruining feature.
The most frustrating thing about these games is the insane number of HMs you have to teach to your Pokémon. There are eight in all: Cut, Fly, Rock Smash, Surf, Dive, Strength, Waterfall, and Flash. As is the norm with HMs, these special moves are used outside of battle and are needed to progress through the game and access other secret areas, but can’t be easily deleted once taught to a Pokémon. If you want to have a winning team in Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire, you need to designate a random Pokémon as your “HM slave,” in order to teach your main team better moves for battle. Some of these HM moves should have been downgraded to regular TMs for use outside of battle, like Secret Power, which is a move used to discover Super Secret Bases.
But again, these are minor inconveniences. Overall, Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire are games that you will enjoy if you grew up with any generation of Pokémon. Each game in the Pokémon series is an amazing adventure, and these games give you one of the greatest adventures in the Pokémon universe. There are many great battles, amazing stories, and so many side quests to undertake that this game will keep you busy, and smiling, for days.
Final Verdict: Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire are games for the hardcore Pokémon fan. You get to once again explore one of the series’ most famous regions, but now with updated graphics, music, and with Generation VI gameplay. Though some aspects of the game could have been updated for a smoother experience, the core mechanics that have made Pokémon stand the test of time still remain, and will still bring a smile to your face. An adventure in Hoenn is one of the greatest you will ever experience, and now you can enjoy it again in a way that is almost perfect.
The Minus World is written by Steven Brasley. You can keep up with his thoughts on gaming via Twitter. Check back every Tuesday for new articles.