Normally, if there is a new generation of Pokémon, it is followed by a third version; once in a while though you get a remake of the older classics. It’s now widely known that the development of the Kanto remakes Pokémon Fire Red/Leaf Green were a rushed project for a small team, meaning that it was devoid of post-game content; much like the third generation itself. Game Freak could quite easily have left the remakes of Pokémon Heart Gold/Soul Silver as they were, but care and attention went into not only enhancing the Gameboy classics, but adding new elements not previously seen.
After experimenting with the first direct sequel, Game Freak have revisited the Hoenn region first shown on the Gameboy Advance in the brand new Pokémon Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire, albeit with enhanced gameplay functionality not only akin to last year’s Pokémon X/Y, but also some completely new mechanics. The result is a vastly superior game to the Gameboy Advance origins, but not everything works spectacularly.
Given how the third generation saw the franchise move into 16-bit visuals, it’s fitting that the 3D world first introduced in Pokémon X/Y should be replicated here. That said, the same hiccups present in last year’s engine persist, such as frame rate drops when certain big dragon Pokémon are unleashed. The star of the show however, is the remixed soundtrack that retains the now iconic drums and trumpets of the original Ruby/Sapphire, whilst improving the quality substantially. Towards the end-game portion however there are a few reused assets, including of all things the Pokémon Crystal version of the Suicune theme. What was wrong with the Heart Gold/Soul Silver versions of the track?
While X/Y had multiple functions on the touch screen, Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire go one step further and include apps called ‘Navs’. The PlayNav is where you can find the PSS (Player Search System), Pokémon-Amie, and Super Training, which work exactly as they did in last year’s game. BuzzNav is home to the TV shows that usually require invasion of someone’s personal space to view, though they’re largely pointless and present for seeing what other players are up to real-time. Of more use is the AreaNav, which is an enhanced town map that includes titbits on trainer rematches, landmarks, secret bases, and even give a summary of what has been caught. It’s a neat idea and handy for certain tasks.
By far the most successful of the new mechanics is the DexNav. Whenever grass shakes or you encounter a trainer’s Pokémon, you can tap the screen to scan. If an NPC, it will show you the Pokémon, increasing the “search level” and adding some data to the Pokédex. More importantly though; if it is wild, you are able to sneak up on it by slightly tilting the circle pad. The closer you get, the more information you obtain. The higher the skill level, the better chance of it having moves it wouldn’t learn via levelling, better potential which uses the whole perfect IVs that only the dedicated understand, or have a hidden ability. Since this uses moves from the Egg Move pool, this is a highly useful tool for obtaining that Poochyena with Fire Fang.
However, this mechanic does more than that. It brings that sense of wonderment, of discovery, back into Pokémon in a refreshing way. Hunting for a certain party member is one thing, but hunting for the perfect party member is something else. It’s all the more sweeter when that Pokémon is a ‘shiny’, as previous shiny Pokémon methods were tedious beyond all belief.
The elephant in the room is of course enabling the trainer to relive the story while at the same time including all the new enhancements, such as Mega Evolution. How they tackled this conundrum is to intertwine new segments with the old, culminating in the reveal of a new function for the Red and Blue Orbs – Primal Reversion. It’s Mega Evolution but it enters in its Primal form.
Other new Mega Evolutions are introduced throughout the story, which add new uses for old creatures, but it’s the choices of which ones can newly Mega Evolve that’s interesting. It helps that the pacing is a lot better than X/Y, giving you the option to teleport if it would take an age to get to your next objective. It’s completely optional however, as is enabling the Exp. Share, so you are given the freedom to play how you want to.
All the new stuff culminates is in a brand new endgame scenario that expands on several locations not really given much attention in the original games. I won’t spoil the specifics here, but Delta Episode has a massive payoff, albeit with a rather lousy new ‘antagonist’ shoehorned in to make things tedious. You also have access to Latias/Latios’ Soar ability via the Eon Flute, which allows you to soar in the air to explore strange new lands. Sadly all this does is act as a Fly without the necessity for said HM, while providing you with tons of legendary Pokémon to catch. It doesn’t get much more interesting than that, but is at least good for collectors.
Beyond that, Secret Bases make their return and the gloriousness of being able to create your own personal space, design the layout, and now be able to create your own gym is a realisation of a childhood dream. Sharing your Secret Base with others easily rounds off the vast improvements of an underused mode in the originals, making it a fantastic time waster!
Contests have seen more of a visual upgrade than anything else as mechanically they act exactly the same; but the new character gives you an incentive to undertake what originally was a side-attraction, much like the champion for the Pokémon League. Pokéblocks use berries you collect on the way to enhance contest stats. Different combinations give different results and it’s great experimenting with combinations to get different results. Contests are relatively simple to understand, but with three opponents at any time it becomes a struggle to jostle for the top.
I was stunned by Heart Gold/Soul Silver, but Pokémon Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire has blown the level of quality out of the water. Some end-game sections are mildly underwhelming, but all the new stuff makes a certain amount of sense. Having that wealth of discovery in DexNav is the most important new development, keeping the series fresh. I wasn’t a big fan of the Hoenn region the first time around, but the remakes have won me over completely!