Shigeru Ohmori, the director of Pokémon Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire (ΩRαS, or ORAS as it’s come to be known), said that he wanted to make a beautiful game with Pokemon Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire.
ORAS came about from a conversation on Twitter during the production of Pokémon X/Y, believe it or not. Ohmori said that he felt the fans of the Pokémon franchise were ready to return to Hoenn – the region of the Pokémon world first seen in the original Pokémon Sapphire/Ruby/Emerald triptych. Not only this, but Ohmori felt that the team were ready to remake the game in a way that would do the game justice; he said he wanted to make a beautiful game.
His team has done a remarkable job of meeting that goal.
ORAS really is stunning to look at. In many ways it’s a fantastic iteration on Pokémon X/Y, with the game’s battle systems being pretty much identical. The most immediate difference is that the battle arenas where you fight are much more varied – be they in the sky, by a volcano or in a field scattered with red leaves, the arenas all look utterly fantastic. The walk through the Pokémon League is particularly sublime, and makes the League feel the way it should – unlike the thoroughly boring leagues of Pokémon Black/White/Black 2/White 2.
ORAS isn’t just a graphical remake, though. A few new touches make the game shine, such as it being immediately obvious to anyone whether or not you’re in a trainer battle just looking at the top screen.
There are a few nice additions to the original Sapphire/Ruby experience too, but the biggest difference in terms of battling is the addition of the new Primal Reversion mechanic for the Pokémon Kyogre and Groudon.
Mega Evolution was the big thing in Pokémon X/Y – you could take a team of specific, fully-evolved Pokémon and make just one stronger for the course of single battle by equipping them with Mega Stones. Activating the Stone would change the appearance of your monster, and give them a significant stat boost to help you stomp your way to victory. In ORAS, not only do we have more Mega Stones to play with, but we have the Primal Versions of our two beasts on the respective front covers. The key thing here is that Primal Reversion and Mega Evolution are basically the same mechanic, but different systems of Pokémon Evolution. You can only Mega Evolve one Pokémon per battle, but what’s to stop you from Mega Evolving your Metagross and Primal Reversion-ing your Kyogre in a double battle against your enemies? Double the power equals double the face-stomping. Sadly, Kyogre and Groudon are the only two Pokémon who can revert for now, but it’s nice to see a change and there’s room for expansion here in the future.
Kyogre and Groudon obviously play a big part of the main story, considering that they’re on the cover of their respective games. Since Primal Reversion is now a thing, the original stories have had to adapt to include it. Otherwise, it would feel as disjointed and needless as so many HD Editions are these days. Take The Last of Us for example: both the original and HD Remake are great games, but the HD Remake was essentially HD Facelift at full price; ORAS is a remake in the purest sense of the word – the original game is still there, but this is the new and improved version – with overhauled mechanics and completely remade visuals (thankfully, given the original games are over a decade old at this point). This is a remake which will blow any Pokémon Trainer out of the water.
ORAS will make anyone who has played in Hoenn immediately nostalgic – you see very first screens from the original Sapphire/Ruby on your character’s tablet in the opening cutscene, which left me beaming. The jaw dropping moment for me, though, was when Latios/Latias lets you jump up on its back and fly around Hoenn at your leisure. Remember that moment in Final Fantasy VII when you got the Ragnarok and could fly wherever the hell you liked? Remember how the game opened up like a flower? There – that feeling you’re feeling right now is how it feels when you start flying around Hoenn on a Mega Evolved legendary Pokémon. Omega Ruby and Sapphire has a few epic moments like this, and of all of the Pokémon games I have played to date, ORAS is the best in this respect. There are even a dozen or so amusing pop-culture references in here from the likes of Disney’s Frozen and Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings for those who keep their eyes open.
As incredible a game as ORAS is, it’s not perfect. There are a few things which were lazily done, and while I’m a fan of the phrase “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it”, I’m equally a fan of “if it’s crap at least try to improve upon it.” There are the Pokémon Amie and Super Training minigames which have been spliced from X/Y without a single change, for a start; the Amie was tedious the first time, and the minigames included within it are identical in ORAS. They aren’t new, interesting or even fun – you do them because if you don’t, your Pokémon won’t live up to their potential. Likewise, Super Training will allow you to destroy your friends in a competitive match, but I don’t care enough about my Gengar kicking footballs at an inflatable Aerodactyl to bother – I’d rather take the damn beating.
The saving grace here is that these half-arsed parts of ORAS take up the bottom screen of your 3DS system – a screen which is better suited to the new DexNav system. In previous games you could look up an area of the map in your Pokédex and see which Pokémon you could catch there; now when you enter an area, you’ll see silhouettes of Pokémon you’ve seen, and sprites of Pokémon you’ve caught. Let’s say you’re looking for a Lunatone to trade with your friend – you’ve caught one already, but want to trade a spare. With the DexNav you can enter an area where you know Lunatone lives and its sprite. You now get to play a game of Hot and Cold, and sneak up on that pesky, evasive Pokémon. Boom – job done. Do this a few times and you’ll be presented with more information about the Pokémon you’re sneaking up on, like if it’s got a rare Ability or special attack that it otherwise might not have. This function is one of the best mechanics I’ve seen added to a Pokémon game since the original Red/Blue games, and one I sincerely hope gets carried over to the next generation.
The multiplayer aspect of Pokémon has also seen a facelift with ORAS – the Player Search System (PSS), complete with the Wonder Trade and GTS systems, are still there and intact as they’ve been carried over from X/Y. The big addition is the Secret Bases from the original Sapphire/Ruby games. Once again you can make a Secret Base for your friends to come find you and battle you in, which was cool the first time, but there has been a significant improvement upon this – if you StreetPass someone with a Secret Base, they will appear in your game too – which is pretty cool in itself, but let’s say you’re down to 1 Pokémon, you’re miles from a Pokémon Center, and that Pokémon is down to its last shred of health. You spot a secret base, and a trainer between you and it. You wait for the trainer to look the other way, and dive into this stranger’s base. Not only do they give you a warm bed to rest in, healing all of your Pokémon, but they give you a little plushie for your base and even offer you a friendly battle, or just to be their friend. Nicely done, Game Freak. Nicely done.
Pokémon Sapphire has always been my favorite Pokémon game, and I hoped that they would do it justice with ORAS.
Not only have they done it justice, but ORAS is the definitive Pokémon experience right now, and it’s well worth the price tag. It’s easy to feel cynical about the series – there’s been so many iterations over the years that it’s sometimes hard to imagine what more the developer can do to keep it feeling fresh, while the avalanche of spin-offs – not all of which have been good, to put it mildly – can sometimes make Pokémon feel like little more than a cash cow. But there are hundreds of hours of fun to be had here, and it will feel new up to and after the Pokémon League. Pokémon Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire is simply an excellent game – packed with content and enough new additions to more than warrant its existence.
If you want something to get your teeth into this Christmas – or just want something to keep the kids quiet while Uncle Joe bores the family with yet another “witty” anecdote, then you can’t do much better.