As we build up to the 20th anniversary of Pokémon in February 2016, and look hotly ahead towards brand new things including the new Zygarde forms, we're continuing our monthly journey through each generation of Pokémon, this month we cover the generation that many ignored, the one that came after the Pokémon "fad" ended, but still one much beloved by many and one that has had the biggest impact on the game's mechanics since the inception of the series. If you need to catch up before reading ahead, be sure to check out our retrospectives on generation 1 and generation 2.
The build-up to launch
In 2001, when the Game Boy Advance was first showcased at an event in Japan, a short clip of a trainer in a mountain-like area was revealed. With this came three Pokémon, later known to us as Kecleon, Azurill and Wailmer . Tentatively titled Pokémon Advance, over time more got revealed about them as the first games for the Game Boy Advance and the first to use full colour to create a vibrant world. The Pokémon were gradually revealed within the anime and movies, with the aforementioned three being in the short to the fourth movie, and the fifth movie featuring even more such as Duskull, Volbeat, Wynaut and, of course, the Legendary Pokémon Latios & Latias. While many assumed these would be the cover Pokémon based on the red and blue colouring, it was soon revealed that there were other legendary Pokémon to adorn the game covers.
The main series
So, come November 21st 2002, exactly three years after the launch of Pokémon Gold & Silver and over a year after the Game Boy Advance hit the scene, Pokémon Ruby & Sapphire were first released in Japan and released later in 2003 in the US and Europe.
These games introduced a myriad of new Pokémon and a story that differed between the two versions, having you save the region of Hoenn from Team Magma or Team Aqua depending on the version, marking the first time that the versions differed in more than just available Pokémon; yet there is far more to these games than meets the eye.
The mechanical overhauls behind the scenes and even in front are the greatest generational leap we have had in Pokémon games. The Individual Value and Effort Value mechanics were radically altered, with possible IVs being doubles and there being caps on the amount of Effort Pokémon that a Pokémon can gain. It introduced the concept of Natures, which affected the Pokémon's stats and even gave each Pokémon one or two special abilities that can affect the course of battle such as Intimidate, which lowers the target's Attack, Static which paralyses a Pokémon on contact and so many more. It even introduced the concept of Double Battles, where you use 2 Pokémon at once, which has since become the official battling format of the competitive scene, used in the Video Game Championships each year. There's so much more that was added in these games, including various competitively focused items that didn't exist in Gold & Silver. I could go on for days about how this generation improved Pokémon
Despite these wonderful additions, these games have a bit of a mixed reputation. Due to all the new mechanics and changes in the IV & EVs, there were some issues. The Pokémon couldn't be transferred from Pokémon Gold, Silver and Crystal, so all the Pokémon you have trained since Red & Blue are forever locked in the game. To top it off, Ruby & Sapphire only had access to 202 of the now 386 Pokémon, locking players out of 184 of their old favourites from the generation for a while. This unfortunately turned a lot of people off, leaving a black mark on this generation.
There's also something else this generation brought to the table in terms of main games: Remakes. In late August 2003 it was announced that remakes of the original Pokémon Red & Green were to be released. Since Pokémon from those games couldn't be transferred to Ruby & Sapphire, it was a logical fit and these games then were released in Japan in January 2004, just under 8 years after the originals. These games retold the story of Red in his travels through the Kanto region and used the mechanics introduced in Ruby & Sapphire to bring it up to the then modern times, but that's not all. After the main story, it opened up a new island range known as the Sevii Islands, with a few side quests and various other Pokémon, most of which were originally native to the Johto region.
Those games also introduced a replacement to the Game Boy Link Cable, the Wireless Adapter, which allowed for wireless communication between FireRed & LeafGreen games for battle, trade and mini-games. This device was packaged in with all copies of Pokémon FireRed & LeafGreen.
Next up was a return to Hoenn in the Rayquaza focused Pokémon Emerald, which came to Japan in September 2004 and the west in 2005. This game was a retelling of the Ruby & Sapphire games but had you face off against both Team Magma and Team Aqua and awaken the Pokémon Rayquaza to stop both teams from destroying the Hoenn region. One of the other complaints about Pokémon Ruby & Sapphire was the lack of a sufficient post-game, but Pokémon Emerald rectified that by introducing the now much beloved Battle Frontier, which housed seven different facilities, each with a different twist on battling such as the Battle Factory where you used randomly given Rental Pokémon, and the Battle Arena which judged you in three turns based on your Pokémon's performance.
All of these games also had e-Reader support in Japan and for Ruby & Sapphire only in the west. Ruby & Sapphire introduced various new trainers to battle in Mossdeep City, just scan them and you could face them. There were also various new berries you could get by scanning the cards. There were two sets of these cards released, with only the first making it to the US. FireRed & LeafGreen changed this up by having you scan various floors of the Trainer Tower located in Seven Island. These contained various trainers and Pokémon to defeat to get to the top for a prize. Pokémon Emerald had its own set of cards that worked in the Trainer Hill in Route 111. These cards worked much like the FireRed & LeafGreen cards.
Now into the Pokémon of the generation, there were 135 Pokémon introduced, and unlike the previous generation there were very few related to old Pokémon, just Azurill and Wynaut. This gave this generation of Pokémon a completely different feel as you were mostly encountering brand new Pokémon.
The starter Pokémon were Treecko, Torchic and Mudkip, once again continuing the Grass, Fire and Water-type tradition of the starter Pokémon. They eventually evolved into Sceptile, Blaziken and Swampert. These differed from the previous generation in that Blaziken and Swampert had secondary types. Blaziken gained the Fighting-type and Swampert gained the Ground-type, giving them a wider range of capabilities.
There are eight Legendary Pokémon in this generation, the largest amount at that point. First off is the trio of Legendary Pokémon, Regirock, Regice and Registeel. These are legendary golem Pokémon and their inclusion connects with the game's seemingly unusual choice of using Braille for various puzzles in the game. Next is the duo Latias and Latios. These Pokémon are Dragon/Psychic-types and could be found roaming the region with one being exclusive to each game, but there was also a special event using e-Reader cards that allowed for you to download the Eon Ticket to give you the other one. Finally, there were the cover Legendary Pokémon. Kyogre is the signature Pokémon of Pokémon Sapphire and is a Water-type Pokémon with the ability to create perpetual rain. Groudon is the signature Pokémon of Pokémon Ruby and is a Ground-type Pokémon with the ability to create perpetual sunlight. Rayquaza is the signature Pokémon of Pokémon Emerald and is a Dragon/Flying-type Pokémon which can stop harsh weather from happening, acting as a calming third party to Groudon and Kyogre.
In this generation, it changed things up with Mythical Pokémon. Rather than just the one as seen in the past two generations, this generation introduced two of them and both were released to coincide with their respective movies.
First is Jirachi, the Steel/Psychic-type Mythical Pokémon. It is what many would call a "cute" Mythical Pokémon as it has the base 100 stat in every stat. It's said to only awake once every 1,000 years. Secondly is Deoxys, the strange Psychic-type Pokémon which is said to come from space. Deoxys is the Mythical Pokémon that introduced the concept of changeable alternate forms. The form change made Deoxys have a completely different look, massively different stats and even a different learnset. In this generation, Deoxys' form was decided based on the game it was on: Ruby & Sapphire had its Normal Forme, FireRed had its Attack Forme, LeafGreen had its Defense Forme and Emerald had its Speed Forme. Nowadays, however, the form can be changed at will through various in-game areas.
But that's not all, there are lots of Pokémon to like that were introduced in this generation such as Salamence, the powerful Dragon/Flying type, Metagross, the Steel/Psychic-type that is used by the champion Steven Stone, Grumpig, and many more.
For a full list of Pokémon, you can find them here: http://www.serebii.net/games/generation3.shtml
When November 2002 hit, the anime changed drastically. For the first time in the history of the show in Japan it changed its title to Pokémon: Advance Generation. After Ash learned of the Hoenn region from Harrison, he left Brock and Misty who were returning to the gyms in Kanto and he set off to Hoenn on his own, but a Team Rocket plot caused Pikachu to get sick as soon as he started to get to the region.
When there, he met up with a new trainer called May, who initially didn't really like Pokémon, and let Pikachu accidentally destroy her bike. She decided to join Ash on her journey, with her partnered with her Torchic. Her brother, Max, also joined them on their journey through the Hoenn Region, followed quickly by Brock, who returned to Ash's side after solving an issue with his family at the Pewter City Gym.
With Ash taking on the 8 gyms of Hoenn with Pokémon such as his Grovyle, Snorunt and Swellow and May facing off in the Pokémon Contests, they travelled through making friends and rivals such as Drew and even faced off against Team Magma and Team Aqua.
In the Hoenn League, Ash faced against one of his rivals, Tyson, who has a Meowth. In a tough battle, Tyson eventually claimed victory and took the Hoenn League. Following that, Ash, May, Max and Brock returned to the Kanto region where Ash decided to take on the Battle Frontier's Frontier Brains, eventually defeating them all, including Noland's Articuno and Brandon's Registeel, and got offered a place as being a Frontier Brain, which he declined.
During this generation, there was also a small series of specials. These specials aired in Japan during the series Pokémon Hoso, and in the west in a series called Pokémon Chronicles and featured episodes about various characters including Brock, Misty, Tracey, Team Rocket and Casey in their adventures after meeting Ash.
There were four movies during this saga of the anime. The first one focused on Jirachi and is called Jirachi - Wish Maker, where Ash & co. have to protect Jirachi after it wakes up for the first time in 1,000 years.
The second movie of the series, seventh overall, is called Destiny Deoxys and features Ash & co., entering LaRousse City where they find a Deoxys is causing mayhem, and Rayquaza steps in to stop it.
The third movie of the series, eighth overall, is called Lucario and the Mystery of Mew and features Ash & Co. encountering a Lucario who is trying to find out details about its old trainer.
The final movie of the series, ninth overall, is called Pokémon Ranger and the Temple of the Sea and ties in with the Pokémon Ranger spin-off title and has Ash & co. meeting a Pokémon Ranger who has been tasked with protecting the Mythical Pokémon, Manaphy.
The spin-off games in Generation 3 are where the spin-offs really started to kick off. Due to the delay in the launch of Diamond & Pearl from 2005 to 2006, making this the longest generation at that point, there were a lot of gaps to fill with spin-off games, some series of which still continue to this day.
There were numerous games out on the Nintendo GameCube for Pokémon. The first of which is simply Pokémon Box: Ruby & Sapphire. This bit of software was the precursor to Pokémon Bank and allowed you to store Pokémon from your Game Boy Advance games onto the GameCube's memory card. You could store up to 1,500 and you got various gifts the more you gave such as a Surfing Pichu if you put in 1,499 Pokémon.
Next up is Pokémon Channel. This game was a spiritual successor to the Nintendo 64 title, Hey You! Pikachu! and had you befriend a Pikachu and watch various Pokémon related television shows with it, as well as explore the nearby area. This game had e-Reader support in Japan and in Europe it gave your Ruby & Sapphire games a Jirachi!
Next is Pokémon Colosseum. This game, while considered a spin-off, is closer to the main games than any other. In it, you play as a former Team Snagem Wes as he goes through the Orre region to stop Team Snagem and the overarching team Cipher from stealing people's Pokémon and turning them into Shadow Pokémon. These Pokémon could be caught by you by stealing them yourself and then sent to your Generation 3 games, usually with a special move.
Following that was Pokémon XD: Gales of Darkness. This was a sequel to Pokémon Colosseum and had you play as another character called Michael as he travelled through Orre capturing Shadow Pokémon from trainers and purifying them. This game was also notable in that it included some Generation IV Pokémon in its actual gameplay rather than just references. In the PokéSpots, you would find Munchlax from time to time and in the Battle Bingo, you could get a sheet where you battled using Bonsly.
Game Boy Advance
There were very few Game Boy Advance spin-off titles within this generation, which is somewhat surprising at first glance, but considering the Nintendo DS's release in 2004, just two years after the generation began, it makes a lot of sense.
The first of the spin-offs is Pokémon Pinball: Ruby & Sapphire. This game was a sequel to the Game Boy Color Pokémon Pinball and utilised the Game Boy Advance's power to give you full colour boards as you played pinball to collect the 201 then available Pokémon in the Hoenn Pokédex, as well as the Johto starters. In Japan, it also had e-Reader support cards to make rare things in the game more common.
Game Boy Advance & Nintendo DS
The next game is unique in that it came in two versions. One was released on the Game Boy Advance and one was released on the Nintendo DS, and they could communicate with each other using passwords. This was the first ever Pokémon Mystery Dungeon game, Pokémon Mystery Dungeon Red Rescue Team (GBA) and Pokémon Mystery Dungeon Blue Rescue Team (DS), which combined the Roguelike gameplay mechanics of Chunsoft's Mystery Dungeon series with the Pokémon franchise. In the games you went through a variety of randomly generated dungeons collecting all Pokémon in your rescue team as you follow the story where you're a human who has turned into a Pokémon and have to solve a mystery about natural disasters which have begun happening all over the world. This game started the sub series which still continues to this day with the upcoming release of Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon this month in the US and early next year in Europe.
The first Pokémon game on the Nintendo DS is the title Pokémon Dash, which didn't receive much critical acclaim. It was a racing game where you controlled a Pikachu in races by continually swiping on the Nintendo DS's touch screen. This resulted in an iffy control system and an unfortunate lack of variety. However, it did have a special feature that brought in your team from the Game Boy Advance games if they were in the Nintendo DS and turned them into race courses for you to play on.
Next is Pokémon Trozei, also known as Pokémon Link!. This was a puzzle game that had you match together various Pokémon using the DS's touch screen to shift rows and columns to make the match ups. This had a variety of modes as well as a sotry where you played as Lucy Fleetfoot who was facing off against the Phobos Battalion. This game launched the puzzle series that continues to this day with the free-to-play title, Pokémon Shuffle.
Finally we have Pokémon Ranger. Another game that launched a sub series, this had you play as a Pokémon Ranger who uses wild Pokémon to help overcome various obstacles and protect the Fiore Region, and Pokémon within it, from the Go-Rock Squad. Temporary capture of these Pokémon is done by circling them on the DS's touch screen. It also connected with the main games by being able to send a special Manaphy over to the Generation 4 Pokémon games.
The Trading Card Game continued on through Generation 3 with a variety of new cards. These cards began a new mechanic which is even still going today. These are the Pokémon EX cards which are basic cards that are really powerful but come at the cost of you giving the opponent 2 prize cards if the card is knocked out.
This mechanic continued through the entirety of the third generation cards, but various other mechanics did come in. Various Team Magma and Team Aqua cards were introduced. These cards had begun a concept where a Pokémon could have up to 2 types. They also included Delta Species which were a unique sets of cards where the Pokémon would have different types to normal such as a Steel-type Pikachu or an Electric-type Mewtwo.
The first three of the sets, EX Ruby & Sapphire, EX Sandstorm and EX Dragon continued to have e-Reader capabilities, but this just showed the Pokédex entry for that Pokémon.
As we approach September 2006 in our retrospective, the third generation of Pokémon comes to an end. This generation is one that is often looked at with a resounding "meh" by many in the fandom, but in actuality it is one of the most fundamentally important generations of Pokémon to have ever existed after the initial introduction of Pokémon. So many of the mechanics and features, and even spin-off series, which are considered standard to us today came from this generation.