Ryan Smythe ‘16 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
The Pokémon Company, like most major studios now, have a yearly release cycle nailed down. This chunk of autumn featured a brand new Pokémon game for Nintendo’s current handhold system for the sixth time in seven years. Not even Super Smash Bros. could hold the pocket monsters back as it outsold the console competition by over 2 million copies (2.58 million to .48 million).
It should come with little surprise that Pokémon continues to capture the hearts of every generation graced with its titles. Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire (ORAS) however, hold a special place in the hearts of many college-aged gamers. The original titles, released exactly 12 years before the remakes, brought the series to the Game Boy Advance and for many people marked the last time they would adventure with Pikachu. While FireRed and LeafGreen came out two years later for the GBA, they were overshadowed by the impending release of the Xbox 360 and PS3 and already established GameCube. There was little reason for the maturing audience to hold on to the battling creatures of their childhood, so Pokémon continued its success with a predominantly younger audience than the one it released to.
Now with the massive success of the 3DS across generations because of titles like Super Smash Bros., The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, and Pokémon X and Y, many of the college-aged gamers have access to ORAS, and their nostalgia simply can’t be contained. The sales of these new games keep mounting, and with the recent explosion in popularity of competitive battling, these games have massive expectations to succeed.
The game opens up to familiar questioning from Professor Birch. “Are you a boy or are you a girl?” Since Red and Blue, it’s been popular to joke about the professors inability to identify the gender of someone in front of them. Finally, Pokémon addressed this by having the question asked via computer screen, just as a basic questionnaire for a new town member. What makes this especially touching is that it is done via the classic sprite animations before panning out of the truck and into the world, showing just how beautiful the world of Pokémon has become.
It’s the beauty of this game that makes it worth the purchase. The 3D sprites are fairly similar to the ones from X and Y, with more animations completed this time around. Most notably, Combusken and Blaziken have finished kicking animations for their moves instead of the tiny hop they did previously. The camera angles during battles improved as well, improving on what Pokémon Stadium introduced 15 years ago in expanding just how pretty battles could be.
Accompanying the revamped Pokémon designs are what feel like brand-new towns and locations. Some remain mostly unchanged in terms of layout from the originals, but others received a complete makeover. Mostly, the redesigns expanded the size of the locations, capitalizing on the departure from sprite animations to allow for the sensation of exploring a large environment. While nothing is quite as big as the huge cities from X and Y, the world of ORAS feels so much bigger than it did in the GBA versions.
Some of the redesigns, like the ones to the gyms, feel necessary due to the way they were originally laid out. Mostly the ones involving moving pathways could be overwhelming and confusing, so they were altered slightly to keep the player on the same page as the developers. The most consistently amazing part about the redesigns, though, was that they always kept the same feel as the originals. Every change feels deliberate and thought out, with love and care sculpting the new models and pathways.
The attention to detail, from little pieces of dialogue that allude to the other regions in the series to new game mechanics to make gameplay more enjoyable, is so consistently top-notch. Two new mechanics in particular, the DexNav and AreaNav, do more for the game than anything else. The AreaNav places the Town Map on the touch screen, completely eliminating the need to stop, press X, open the PokéNav, and finally select the town map to know exactly where you are and need to go. It’s such a simple and intuitive change that probably should have happened when the Nintendo DS first released, but now that it’s here it should stay for every subsequent installment in the series.
The DexNav, while not complicated, features much more. It displays every Pokémon available in a given Route, colored in if they are already caught and greyed out if they’ve only been encountered. Once all of them are caught, a little crown pops up in the top right corner alerting the player that they caught them all. Once a Pokémon has been caught once, tapping its icon on the screen will search the surrounding area for it, cutting down the time spent looking for the perfect nature on the rarest Pokémon in an area.
The DexNav also introduces a new feature hinted at in the demo, sneaking. Gently pushing the circle pad causes the player to slowly creep forward, a necessary tactic to sneak up on rustling grass patches. These patches have existed in one form or another for several games now, but never at the frequency they happen in ORAS. The most exciting part about these rustling patches is the chance that the Pokémon in them will have a special move. During the opening sequence, players have a chance to catch a Poochyena with either Thunder Fang, Fire Fang, or Ice Fang depending on the chosen starter.
A feature added to the series in X and Y, a full-team Exp. Share, makes its return again. There are bound to be complaints about how it makes the game so much easier by keeping every Pokémon in the party well leveled, but like in X and Y, it can be turned off for a more hardcore experience. The biggest positive it brings ties in to competitive battling, where an entire team can be trained extremely quickly, making it easier for more people to experience the challenging world of online play, as well as the new Battle Resort.
The Battle Resort, a single building that replaces the massively popular Battle Frontier from Pokémon Emerald, may just be the beginning of post-game play. With an entire new chapter added after the player beats the Elite Four, the developers may not have had time to complete the Frontier, but they did have time to put in an NPC that hints at its ongoing construction. Whether this alludes to a future game or upcoming DLC remains to be seen, but the Pokémon Company obviously knows how popular it was back in Emerald, and wants players to know they are doing something about it in the future.
Overall, this game balances the nostalgia trip older gamers want with accessible gameplay for newer players. The competitive battling scene is only expanding, and with all of the new tools available for easier IV and and EV training, as well as for simply finding the correct Pokémon in the first place, not even the sky seems to be a limit for this franchise. The only true fault with the game is the lack of consistent 3D graphics, but this was advertised ahead of time. With the quality of the game produced, this is such a small nitpick that it in no way affects the final grade of this game.
Final Grade: A