Up until last year, I had taken a very long hiatus from new entries in the Pokemon series. In fact, it was 10 years since I played Ruby& Sapphire back in 2003. With well over 700 Pokemon, the addition of 3D graphics and an almost laughable lack of difficulty, I wondered why I got came back in the first place. Sure Pokemon XY wasn’t awful; but to someone who grew up in love with the original – and its proper sequel Gen 2 – there was so much lacking.
Well this year we got a remake of the very two games I ended with over 10 years ago, Pokemon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire (ORAS); and as fate would have it, these games sparked a love of Pokemon I haven’t felt in a very long time. From its incredibly expressive graphics and astounding new game mechanics to its immersive story and open world idea, Pokemon ORAS – and The Delta Episode – simultaneously return the series to its roots while also propelling it far into the future.
Enhanced Graphics Done Right – Scenic, Expressions & Romance?:
In Pokemon XY, the 3D graphics were . . . ok. It was nothing really new considering we’ve been seeing 3D Pokemon since Pokemon Stadium on N64. Aside from its change to the hand held systems, the graphics weren’t that different in Pokemon battles. As for the world itself, the 3D graphics made it a lot harder to find what you were looking for and overall felt like a hindrance more than an aesthetic touch. This time however, the improved graphics not only fit in; but also enhance the story unimaginably.
From Mt Chimney to the scenic vistas of Mossdeep City, Hoenn is a beautiful land and the improved graphics completely demonstrate that. Unlike Pokemon XY, the camera angle works with you here so that you can actually enjoy the spectacle rather than become loss and overwhelmed by it. You might feel overwhelmed on the long path from Mauville to Fortree City; but not for a moment do you ever feel lost. It’s all about exploration; and this game makes that exploration something you look forward to rather than suffer through.
Though the greatest addition this game is the animations and facial expressions for the characters themselves. Whether seeing Wally’s timid nature or Team Magma & Aqua’s rage and turmoil, the addition of these well crafted expressions just make the characters seem more real. In fact, at times it even seems as if there’s a blossoming romance between May and the male character – or at least that’s what it seems like from playing as the male. I don’t recall if there was ever this much stuttering in the original versions; but the additions of May blushing and waving her hands frantically after she shows too much concern for you hints at a romantic angle that Pokemon has ignored for a long time. I’m not saying we need Poke-Dating 101; but added character depth and motivations are ALWAYS appreciated. Speaking of which…
Story Depth – Character Depth, Mythology & Kalos References:
Beyond the expressions added by the graphics department, the story itself is also incredible well though out and goes much deeper than any Pokemon game before. Unlike past games that seem to put a lot of weight on a ‘child champion’, this game actually makes note of that and gives great morals where the adults in the series learn the error of their ways and work towards a better tomorrow. Though whereas some actions have great effects, there are also some deeply disturbed characters whose reasoning vary from suspicious to severely misguided.
Though it’s not just the characters that get deeper stories. The usual creation story of Kyogre vs Groudon gets some serious updates that not only deepen the mysteries of this land; but also place Pokemon ORAS into a larger context. These new and improved Pokemon Myths not only explain Mega Evolution – as well as Rayquaza’s role – in the whole story; but also refer back to the old Kalos mythos from Pokemon XY. Further still, there are even slight hints during the ‘The Delta Episode’ about parallel universes, which could be a self referential device to the original Generation 3 games (Ruby, Sapphire, Emerald) since they speak of a less developed Hoenn that didn’t know of Mega Evolution and the Kalos Weapon.
Customized Credits & The Delta Episode Post Game:
One of the most incredible portions of this game was actually the end credits – hear me out. Rather than the usual sprawl of text, you get a look back at all your major gym battles and encounters. Though these aren’t just generic inserts, these are truly flashbacks of YOUR encounters. Whatever Pokemon you used in that Team Magma/Aqua battle or gym battled will appear by your side for that flashback.
Everything is blended beautifully in this game. Even these ‘flashback credits’ are framed within the context of you and your rivals journey back home, which ends in another battle between you two – Pokemon fully healed of course. As the credits come to a full close, you’ll also get some little conversations from your parents as well as a mysterious individual known as Zinnia, who’s secret agenda and Draconid origin is a major focus on the Delta Episode. This is all in lead up to the post-game story, The Delta Episode.
This post game story line isn’t just one disjointed mini-mission; but rather something that is hinted at throughout the main story itself. We meet some pretty seemingly unstable characters that are sure to come back with revenge in their hearts – and others with more mysterious motives. In fact it’s hard to even call The Delta Episode post game because it’s a huge part of the game and is probably one of the most action packed – and story dense – arcs of this entire game.
Expanded World – Free Flight, Poke-Finder, Hideouts & More:
After the full character customization of Pokemon XY, having set characters might seem like a step back for this game; but what is gained is just as important. The DexNav holds a multitude of add-ons which help with not only rematches; but also reminding you where you planted berries. Additionally, while roaming through the grass, Pokemon will sometimes show themselves – which you must then sneak up on. This are great ways to find higher level, hidden ability of egg move Pokemon. A Poochyena might just be a Poochyena; but when you catch one right off the bat with Thunder Fang many battles become a lot easier.
Another customizable option in this game – rather than the character – is Hideouts/Secret Bases. You can not only set up your own gym-like atmosphere but also join other teams and stumble upon other people’s bases. This in and of itself is a huge game element that can provide hours of fun. Additionally, some Pokemon even have special animations and perks when using Hms. For example, Surfing on Kyogre will have a bigger hit area while Sharpedo will make you move even faster – each with its own specific animation. Though there is one aspect of this game that outshines all others – free flight.
About halfway through the game, you will be given a Latios/Latias – awesome, I know. You will then receive the Eon Flute to use with your “Jet Pokemon” – all in game – which allows you to free fly around Hoenn and land where you wish. All you need to do is play the flute and Latios/Latias will fly to your side, Mega Evolve and fly you wherever you need to go. This not only effectively cancels out any need to have a Pokemon knowing ‘Fly’ on your team – Latios/Latias will even come to you if its in the PC – but also offers you chances to catch every Non-Event Legendary Pokemon from the series, except the original 3 Legendary Birds 😦
The Best Of the Past – Difficulty, Super Training & Pokemon Choices:
Beyond all the new things this game has added to the series, a lot of series staples have returned. For starters, the games overall difficulty has returned to normal. Pokemon XY was way too easy with players not only allowed to pick how they face the Elite Four but also with the members having only 4 Pokemon at a time. These are the best the game has to offer so there should be difficulty, and this game has it! Don’t worry though. The difficulty is offset with the ease at which you can train your Pokemon. The team wide Exp Share, Super Training, Pokemon-Amie and everything else you’ve come to love from XY thankfully return as well making it easier to make your Pokemon love you and master their EVs.
Though in the end, the greatest returning thing about this Pokemon game is the rooster of Pokemon itself. To be honest, I think there are too many Pokemon. The 250 of Gen 2 always made the most sense to me; but there have been some really incredible additions over the years following – though sadly many more WTF additions. With this game coming after Pokmeon XY and the Pokebank, you now have full access to any and every Pokemon from Gen 3 games. If you had a Torchic from the original Pokemon Ruby, you can transfer it to this game – a long process but still doable.
The point in all this is that you can start crafting your perfect team from your first visit to a Pokemon Center. For example, I ditched my ORAS starter quickly and traded in a Perfect IV Adamant Totodile – my all time favorite – that a friend had bred for me. You could trade in a low level Bagon – a Dragon type that isn’t available until much later in the game – or even that Level 1 Celebi you should have received a while ago for getting the Pokebank. Heck, before you attempt the Elite Four you could literally have a team of all Legendary Pokemon if you choose to do so. Embrace all of this freedom of choice and make your starting team your dream team.
No game is perfect; and whereas the Pros of this game FAR outweigh any CONS, there are a few things that could be improved upon for the next game. As I already stated, I miss the character customization. The presence of boutiques did make things a lot more confusing; but that was more level design then shop design. If boutiques were available within the Hoenn map, it’d be wonderful.
The other drawback of this game is much more comical. Remember all the way back in Generation 1 – or any Generation for that matter – when you’re surfing and battle. What if you battled with a Pokemon bigger than the one you were surfing on and/or weak to water – like Onix. What if you used the Pokemon you were surfing on? Well this game introduced a much more hilarious upgrade to those quandaries now that we have sky battles and space battles.
That’s right, while flying around Hoenn you can get into Pokebattles with flocks of Swablu and other Flying types. I didn’t think much of this until I forget my lead Pokmeon was Primal Groudon. Imagine a Pokmeon Battle . . . in the sky. . . with the massive Primal Groudon just floating there. Better yet, think of the Space Battle with Deoxys. Sure you have Mega Rayquaza who’s used to living in the upper atmosphere; but what if you want to switch out. I mean I always thought Feraligatr was the Mon; but being able to float and breath in the vacuum of space. AWESOME!
To be fair, it’d be pretty difficult to deal with these flying/space battles in a realistic way. Would only certain Pokmeon be able to be used? What problems could that lead to? As it stands now, this is more of a funny thing rather than a drawback since to fix this could add restrictions to this game’s very open world concept. Too open world? Perhaps, but I’ll love it all the same.
In the end, this was just a really fun game that added depth and new mechanics that I hope the series keeps from here on out. This game just goes to show that exploring the world we know in new ways can sometimes pay off more than an entirely new world itself. Pokemon has always had a beautiful world teeming with new mythologies and adventure to explore further. We don’t need another 100 new Pokemon every year; but more ways to connect with the ones we already know and love. Pokemon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire does that; and if I never played another Pokemon game in my life, I’d be fully satisfied with having played this game.