Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire were respectively the land and water based counterparts of Pokémon’s third generation. They had us explore the region of Hoenn: the most waterlogged location in the world of Pokémon to date. Their respective legendary Pokémon, Groudon and Kyogre, were given a larger role in the plot than the legendaries of the previous instalments.
For the first time, the game’s plot was affected by the copy of the game being played, giving either Groudon or Kyogre a pivotal role in the story. Ten years have passed since then, and the new features added with each generation have slotted perfectly into the re-created world, adding depth to the already existing without distracting from the original.
After the third generation, many mechanical improvements have taken place in Pokémon. For many players, these made little difference to the Pokémon experience, but to others, they make the older games feel archaic and unbalanced. One of the most important of these was the physical/special split of generation four – this split meant each Pokémon type could now have both special and physical moves, rather than being constrained to one. Pokémon that were useless before could now serve a purpose, and others had their signature moves nerfed. After the alterations of fourth, fifth and sixth generations (whether obvious to the player or not) the journey through Hoenn is a more refined experience than the first time around.
The sixth and current generation added some features that revolutionised the Pokémon experience. For me, the most exciting of these wasn’t the balancing of types, or the graphical overhaul, but the increase in power of the experience share. As in X and Y, the experience share is now a key item that benefits all party Pokémon, meaning that grinding for experience is no longer an issue, nor is limiting your party to a size that makes training manageable. To top it all off, X and Y also gave the player a pair of roller skates after the first gym. They didn’t serve a particular purpose, but made travelling more fun than in previous games, and showed off the player’s new ability of freely moving in any direction.
Alpha Sapphire and Omega Ruby have forsaken this feature in lieu of a new tool with a purpose. Although the loss of roller skates feels like being stripped of a new toy, the DexNav and tiptoeing mechanic that replace it are a far more practical set of tools. As in previous generations, Pokémon can rustle in the grass, but now these Pokémon can be searched for specifically after being caught once, and their details are shown before the fight commences.
Thanks to this change, the efficiency of team building, and hunting for Pokémon with rare traits and abilities is easier than ever before. Gone are the hours of tedium, running around in patches of grass while hunting for an elusive Pokémon to add to your repertoire. Now specific Pokémon species can be searched for over and over again, regardless of their rarity. It’s a fantastic feature that, together with the experience share, has made creating and editing your party something to enjoy, rather than a chore to dread.
Hoenn as a whole has been revamped. Small fixes are obvious in multiple areas, like characters offering you fast-travel opportunities after plot events to minimise backtracking, or caves having their maps redrawn to remove unnecessary fluff and the need for teaching Pokémon moves to help you travel through a single area. Despite this latter improvement, the need for water-based HMs (attacks used to traverse watery terrain outside of battle) remains in the later portion of the game, which is a shame to see after X and Y virtually removed the necessity for HMs seen in the games that came before it.
The aesthetics of Hoenn have gained more than just an extra dimension. Some areas have been given a new coating of paint, while others have been redesigned completely. For example, the city of Mauville is practically unrecognisable in its new form. These changes are explained in-game, allowing Gamefreak to tie in Hoenn to the regions we’ve explored between its initial appearance and its sixth generation reboot. One nice touch is with Pokémon gyms, where each gym leader battle benefits from their own unique battle stage, rather than the blank, white grid we’ve had until now.
Entirely new sections have been added, including a group of islands and a new mode of transport to travel between them. I won’t spoil it, but I will say that it’s much more exciting than your dusty old roller skates ever were. Even after the Elite Four have been defeated, there’s a plethora of new content and areas to explore, including too many legendaries to count on your fingers and toes combined. I expected a lot less post-game content than Alpha Sapphire offered, and was impressed with the bulk of activities on offer even once the main story had reached completion.
My playthrough of Alpha Sapphire wasn’t entirely positive, however. As with X and Y, there are some frame-rate issues when 3D is enabled, most noticeably in battles. The game runs well in 2D, but the moment 3D is activated, there is a noticeable drop in performance – something that we shouldn’t be seeing from as big a release as Pokémon. Even with 3D disabled, some Pokémon models remain jerky when moving, showing how poorly optimised the game is. It’s a shame that Gamefreak couldn’t develop as technically sound an experience as some of Nintendo’s other first party powerhouses.
The opportunity to re-explore Hoenn is a thrilling one, and there’s more than enough new content and tweaks to the old to justify the return trip. Although there are some mechanical issues, Alpha Sapphire remains a smooth journey that doesn’t just feel like retracing your steps in the sand.
By combining this new content with the old, Gamefreak have created their most accessible remake yet. Generation three and Pokémon Emerald can step aside; Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire is by far and away the definitive Hoenn adventure. It’s not as ground-breaking as Pokémon X and Y, but is nonetheless an impressive reboot of one of the more memorable Pokémon regions.