Pokémon Omega Ruby
Significant changes are rare in the Pokémon series. Last year’s X & Y marked one of the biggest steps forward for the series, but this year’s follow-up returns to the process of making small, iterative updates. Thankfully, the changes in Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire are quite good, and these titles (remade from their original Game Boy Advance versions) also bring forward many of the best lessons learned from X & Y.
The basic Pokémon structure is in place. You make your way through a saccharine story about balance and nature while collecting creatures to battle with others who share your hobby. Building your army and watching them grow and evolve continues to be rewarding, and the addition of new and returning Mega Evolutions offers extra incentive to explore.
You don’t endure much training or dialogue before you’re able to steal Pokémon from their natural habitats and collect badges. I was even allowed to capture Pokémon before being formally instructed, showing Game Freak recognizes many players picking up these remakes are already familiar with the basics. That attention to pacing continues throughout; I never felt slowed down by text or unsure about where to go next. I even got automatically transported to the next story section on a few occasions to avoid excessive backtracking.
The PokéNav Plus (all the stuff happening on the lower screen) offers some of the biggest changes from X & Y. Forgettable distractions like Pokémon-Amie and Super Training also return, and are best left ignored. New additions include the DexNav, the AreaNav, and the BuzzNav, and these are what set this iteration apart.
The BuzzNav is basically a 24-hour Pokémon news network, which you can keep open on the bottom screen. It is surprisingly successful at making the Hoenn region feel alive with updates happening in the world. I laughed out loud when I saw quotes I had written for a pair of newscasters (who I had battled earlier) appear on the channel. They asked what I thought of my starter Pokémon, and I wrote, “He’s dumb.” In the broadcast, they treated that quote from the great up-and-coming trainer Kyle with great reverence and status.
The DexNav and AreaNav are less peripheral, as they offer details about the world and its features in the form of an overhead map and a scanner looking for nearby Pokémon. Using these tools, you have a much easier time finding specific Pokémon you want. It also lets you know if you’ve captured all the available Pokémon types of each area on the map – a feature I have wanted for years. It’s a handy tool for completionists, and a delightfully dangerous one for aspiring completionists who were never quite able to go all the way.
One of this entry’s most publicized additions, soaring, takes a long time to unlock. You have most of your badges by the time you finally get to take off and fly above Hoenn, but it’s worth the wait. It gives players of the original Ruby and Sapphire a new perspective on the world (alongside the 3D upgrade), but even for those visiting Hoenn for the first time, seeing and controlling Pokémon in the air is exciting.
Some features from X & Y didn’t make the cut (like character customization), but I don’t miss them. Instead of customizing your avatar, you customize a secret base. It scratches the Animal Crossing itch of organizing a home, but in the middle of an RPG about collecting and fighting monsters, I didn’t feel particularly compelled to inspect and re-organize my room every time I found a new piece of furniture. Another new addition, Pokémon Contests, lets you show off your Pokémon in something akin to a fashion show, but there wasn’t enough inherent incentive to make me interested in exploring its intricacies. Thankfully, the contests can be ignored entirely if you so choose.
The new PokéNav Plus elements are Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire’s biggest and best new additions. They change the way you participate in Pokémon’s most attractive mechanic – collecting Pokémon. It’s what separates Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire from X & Y, and ultimately makes them superior games. Having a better sense of which creatures I still need and where to get them is something I’ve been craving, and it makes this iteration in the series my personal favorite.
Significant changes are rare in the Pokémon series, and this year’s follow-up to X & Y returns to the process of making small, but worthwhile updates.