When Nintendo announced that the third generation of Pokémon games would finally be getting re-made for the Nintendo 3DS, many fans could barely contain their excitement; yet after the truly excellent Pokémon X & Y, what could Game Freak do — besides feed nostalgia — to possibly improve upon it? It seems the Poké-dev still has a few tricks left up its sleeve, even after all these years.
Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire follow the plot of the originals religiously — with only a few minor adjustments here and there to better fit the modern Hoenn — but due to the 3D models as well as the other more impressive visual capabilities, the story feels infinitely more alive than it did before. The gravity of the situation is all the more apparent for the 3DS’ beefier system, and the animation of the characters really helps to give them more of a personality rather than the slightly forgettable 2D sprites of yesteryear.
Depending on which version you play, the plot follows the nefarious deeds of either Team Aqua (Alpha Sapphire) or Team Magma (Omega Ruby) as they attempt to bring about a new world that is more hospitable for Pokémon. Both teams have been redesigned to make them much more distinctive, especially when considering their slightly uninspired designs in the originals. Speaking of design, those who loved dressing up in different outfits in X & Y may be disappointed, as there are no options for customising yourself in these titles. It seems like a bit of a step backwards, and that’s not the only strange thing that’s a bit archaic for the series; the Pokémon Centres and Poké Marts are separate once again, despite them being combined into a single, convenient building in the previous 3DS outing. This decision was probably made in order to try and keep the layout of the towns consistent with the originals, but it still feels like an odd move.
A lot of the features from X & Y have been carried straight over to this new entry; there’s no hiding this fact, either, as the features that have been copied have been done so without any real adjustments. The Player Search System, Pokémon Amie, and Super Training have all been copied and pasted into this entry, so anyone worried about not being able to shove Poképuffs into their beloved Treecko’s mouth can rest easy — we outline these features in our Pokémon X & Y review. Many if not all of the Mega Stones that were present in X & Y can also be found in these new titles, but don’t expect to have to wait until after you’ve beaten the Elite Four to find them, as many of them are scattered around Hoenn from the get-go, marked by conspicuous sparkles on the ground. Most of the stones required for the new Mega Evolutions will only become accessible as you delve deeper into Hoenn, making use of all the water-based HMs (moves that have a significant effect outside of battle) that these games offer.
Hoenn itself has received a number of enhancements; some of them are minor, like the placement of trainers and items, but some of them are outright enormous. Mauville City’s Gym Leader Wattson spoke in the original about completely overhauling his city, and in these remakes you can tell he’s clearly been busy fulfilling this dream; Mauville is now entirely one building, with everything being held under a single roof. This is also where you’ll find a lot of elements that have been introduced since Ruby & Sapphire were released, such as the move tutors who specialise in special moves for starter Pokémon, a shop where you can partake in Inverse Battles, and a Poké Miles exchange stand to name a few. As crammed as these newer features feel being all in one place, it does allow for the rest of Hoenn to be as faithful as possible, for better or for worse.
A new system for finding Pokémon makes an appearance in these games, the DexNav. This feature of the PokéNav Plus allows you to scan Pokémon whose tails stick out of the tall grass (or equivalent, depending on environment) and gauge their level, first move, and ability. This can help you pick out the best monster for your party, but the effectiveness of this feature will only be fully realised once you’ve searched and scanned the Pokémon you’re looking for a large number of times, increasing the DexNav’s level for that particular Pokémon. This replaces the Poké Radar from previous titles, and functions in a very similar yet more effective and enjoyable manner. Of course in order to make sure you don’t scare these Pokémon away you’ll have to make use of the new sneaking mechanic.
By pushing lightly on the Circle Pad you can creep towards your hapless victim and catch them unawares; if you run or even walk at full speed you’ll scare them off, but that’s not all sneaking does. By sneaking you actively lower your chances of bumping into a wild Pokémon in the grass, so if you’re trying to get back to a Pokémon Centre with a very weak party, you can use this feature to try and (slowly) make it back in one piece.
Pokémon Contests reappear as Contest Spectaculars, and largely function in the same manner as they did in the originals. You submit your Pokémon and select moves in order to try and win over the crowd as much as possible, or cause your opponents to falter if they’re getting a bit too big for their boots. They offer a distraction from the main game and allow you to show off your Pokémon in front of an audience, but ultimately the biggest issue is the moves. Each move has its own in-contest effect and type, which are necessary to make the most of if you want to win, but unless you get a separate group of monsters for these contests you’re going to be stuck with the moves you chose for their potency in battle, which may very well not be the best when it comes to a Contest Spectacular. It’s a fun little thing to do on the side, but the excitement is fairly short-lived. Luckily these don’t impede on the main game whatsoever and are entirely optional, so if you’re not interested you can simply walk right by them.
You'll also recognise that the Secret Bases have returned, only this time they're referred to as Super Secret Bases. These are basically the same as before, only this time you have the option to download other people's bases through various means such as QR codes. Once you've got a handful of bases at your disposal you can play some fun little mini games with them, such as capture the flag. Like the contests these are a completely optional part of the games, so you can simply ignore them if they're not to your tastes.
As far as the battles themselves go, it’s the same affair as in X & Y; the models all look utterly gorgeous, the battle animations are excellent, and the mechanics are intact. There is the addition of the new Mega Evolutions, and whilst these are just as enjoyable as the Mega Evolutions from X & Y, they don’t bring anything particularly new to the table; this is the case in order to allow Omega Ruby & Alpha Sapphire to communicate seamlessly with X & Y. If you are planning to trade or battle with someone on X & Y, you’ll have to adhere to the rules in your opponent’s game, which means you cannot use the new Mega Evolutions or trade Pokémon holding any of the new items. This makes a lot of sense, and it’s good to see that Game Freak has kept the two as compatible as possible. The framerate is still a little bit spotty when bringing in larger monsters – especially with the 3D on – but it’s easily forgiven when seeing just how gorgeous and smooth the Pokémon themselves look on a system as limiting as the 3DS.
Without a doubt the most impressive new feature is the new Soar ability, which functions very much like the Fly move that would allow you to instantly jump to towns you'd previously visited – as long as one of your party members had it as one of their four moves; with Soar you actually get to control the flight path from a third-person perspective and see the whole of Hoenn from atop the Latias or Latios you’ve befriended. This function is activated by using the Eon Flute item and does not require Latias/Latios to be in your party, as the legendary beast will quite happily swoop down from the sky and pick you up even if it’s in your PC Box. Once you’re on the beast’s back, you’ll activate your Mega Bracelet and shoot off into the sky on the Mega Evolution of your game-specific Legendary Pokémon, accompanied by some absolutely spectacular music as you do so.
Soaring renders Fly completely obsolete, as not only can you land in towns and cities, but also any route or landmark that you’ve visited before. It takes longer than simply using Fly, but the additional freedom you’re given coupled with the pure joy you feel when flying over the entire region and the freedom to not have a Pokémon with the move in your party at all times leaves what was arguably the most useful HM largely unnecessary. We can only hope that Game Freak has realised that the HMs are a bit of an outdated nuisance and give players similar items in place of these in future instalments.
As far as the post-game is concerned, Ruby and Sapphire were known for having an absolute wealth of extra content that you could access once you’d beaten the main game, and these remakes are no different. All of the old content is thankfully still here, and using the new Soar ability you can access numerous new areas that were previously nothing more than nameless islands on the main map, as well as the ominous ‘Mirage Spots’. We won’t go into too much detail for the sake of spoilers, but suffice to say it’s enough to keep you going for a very long time, and expect to see lots of Legendary Pokémon!
Overall, Pokémon Omega Ruby & Alpha Sapphire seem very similar to Pokémon X & Y, as you might expect, but the story and the environments you encounter feel – despite the fact that they are remakes – very fresh and unique. They’re not an extensive upgrade from their other 3DS counterparts, but any Poké-fan who’s played one of the series remakes in the past knows that expecting an enormous upgrade is a fool’s errand. These titles should be considered as games that belong alongside X & Y, rather than successors; they've successfully surpassed X & Y, however, by building on the tremendous features available on the 3DS and pushing new ideas such as the Soar ability. Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire are a must-buy for any Poké-fan, even if you already own X or Y.