For better or worse, Pokémon Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire lies exactly within my expectations. It’s a slightly reworked and updated version of the GBA classic, but now running on the X/Y engine. Just like the past remakes in the series, it builds upon what was presented in the last proper release in some minor but good ways, while acting as a pleasant piece of nostalgia for long time fans. While Ruby/Sapphire was never my favourite generation of Pokémon, it comes across well here and Game Freak has done a really good job of adapting the new engine to Ruby/Sapphire’s more unique features. As is always the case though, if you weren’t already a Pokémon fan then I doubt this will win you over, but for the life long leaguers out there Pokémon Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire will be sure to satisfy.
Starting off with the story, there isn’t really too much to say here considering that this is a remake, but they have touched things up in some interesting ways. For one they’ve clearly gone ahead and rewritten a lot of the incidental dialogue, making it seem a little less stilted than I remember it being. They’ve also added a lot more drama to certain parts of the story, specifically the gym battles, through the use of the evocative camera work. The little speeches the gym leaders use to introduce themselves carry a nice bit of gravitas, and the way the camera pans across them as they chew the scenery adds a lot to the proceedings. It also feels like they’ve expanded some of the rival stuff a bit by adding some more emotion to the lines said by May (or Brendan if you’re playing as a girl) and Wally. It’s made significantly more clear how lonely May was before you came to town and why your friendship is important. Similarly Wally’s character arc and growth has a bit more impact than I remember it having twelve years ago. I will say that the game could use a proper rival, an asshole like Gary Oak that you can love to hate, but I’ve made that complaint before and it extends to pretty much every Pokémon game but the first one. It’s just that without a true antagonistic force, you never really get to feel like an underdog, which is part of what made Red & Blue so good. Regardless, the story is still fun-if not well worn-and there’s enough little changes here and there to make it worthwhile for both for the audience that never played the original versions and for Hoenn veterans who want to experience it all over again.
Moving onto the gameplay, ORAS carries forward a lot of the neat ideas that X/Y brought to the table while adding a few of its own. Returning stuff from X/Y includes the incredibly useful Exp Share item, which gets rid of the old tag-in-tag-out level grind; the bottom screen mini-games of Pokémon Amie and Super Training, both of which allow you to deeper tailor the growth of your Pokémon; and the extensive PSS Online System, which provides a comprehensive suite of trading and battling options for casual and serious players alike. Mega-Evolutions also return but to be frank I never actually got to see them; I only had so much time to devote to the game and as such I only managed to get about four gyms deep, which apparently wasn’t far enough to unlock that ability. Returning features aside though, they do make an effort to add some new things as well, with the biggest addition being the ability to sneak up on rare Pokémon. Basically what will happen is that every once in a while, a Pokémon’s tail will stick up out of the tall grass and by slightly moving the circle pad, you can sneak up and engage them in battle. Pokémon encountered in this way not only tend to be higher in level than other Pokémon in the area, but can also have unique abilities, moves, or items that set them apart from their more easily found brethren. It’s a fun little twist on the classic formula and it adds some much-needed excitement to the earlier parts of the game. Another neat thing they’ve added is the PokéNav feature, which basically turns your bottom screen into a PDA featuring all the info you could ever want. More importantly it contains the new DexNav feature, which not only alerts you when those hiding rare Pokémon appear, but also tracks which Pokémon you caught in that specific area, letting you know if there’s any specimens you’re missing. For those who truly want to Catch ’em all, it’s an invaluable tool and having that information always readily at hand is a godsend. Of course they’ve also brought back many of the features from the original Ruby/Sapphire that never made it into the later games, such as Pokémon Contests and Secret Bases. These features work in more or less the same way that they did back in the day but with some significant updates. The Contests have become a bit flashier, making full use of the new engine; Pokeblocks have been streamlined, with both blending and feeding being done from the item menu; and the Secret Bases are now more easily shared thanks the 3DS’ ability to read and create QR codes.
Unsurprisingly, this game looks very similar to X/Y in terms of visuals, but at times it’s clear that the world on display was originally designed for 2D. Hoenn just doesn’t feel as vast in scope as the Kalos region did and as a result many of the towns and landmarks feel somewhat smaller and less impressive. That’s not necessarily a bad thing though as it gives the game a comparatively quaint charm at times that I actually quite liked. While it is nice to see this once 2D world realized in full 3D, being on the X/Y engine does bring with it a few drawbacks. The most notable of these faults in my mind is the game’s spotty frame rate during battles; this was an issue I had with the last game as well and it’s a pity to see that it hasn’t been fixed in this release. Similarly, while the whole game is polygonal, it’s still the case that only the battles can be viewed in actual 3D, and doing so causes the frame rate dive even lower. Those faults aside though, it’s still a very pretty game and the new engine allows them to do some really nice camera stuff that helps bring Hoenn to life and really sell a lot of their story beats. In terms of sound design there isn’t really much to say; it’s same battle cries we’ve all heard before and the music is the standard takes on the old themes that all still sound great.
Honestly, a review for this game feels almost unnecessary, as most people made their decisions about whether or not to buy it within five minutes of when it was originally announced. If however you are somehow still on the fence, the thing to know is that this is simply another Pokémon game, nothing more and nothing less. While it does add a few new features and definitely holds some nostalgia value, it’s ultimately the same as the game we all played last year. Frankly though I wasn’t really expecting ORAS to be anything more than that and as such I had a great time with it. That’s why in the end I’m giving Pokémon Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire a 4 out of 5 stars.