I was never a big fan of the Gen III Pokémon games. They weren't terrible games by any stretch of the imagination, and they were definitely some of the best games in the Game Boy Advance library. But compared to the previous games (Gold, Silver, & Crystal), Ruby, Saphhire, & Emerald felt generally lacking; the Hoenn region didn't feel as alive or immersive as Johto did, the Contests felt underwhelming, and the new Pokémon looked either strange or just plain bad. There were some things I liked about the games, such as Double Battles, Abilities, and Personalities, but these changes didn't make up for the stuff that was taken out, such as a tradtional day and night cycle, and ultimately they weren't enough for me to keep me playing. Not long after, I decided to take a bit of a break from the series (the games, the anime, the trading card game, etc.), and it wasn't until Pokémon Diamond, Pearl, & Platnium, otherwise known as Gen IV, to get me back into the series, specifically the main games (I haven't watched the anime in years, but supposedly I'm not missing much).
Flash forward to May of last year, when the Pokémon Company announce on their website that Pokémon Ruby & Sapphire would be getting remakes, this time with an updated presentation, some new content, and making some updates to the main game beyond taking everything from Pokémon X & Y. Everyone except yours truly was super excited about the game, but despite my misgivings about the originals, I thought I'd give these remakes a chance, if for no other reason then I've played all the other ones, so why break with tradition? I didn't get my chance to play Pokémon: Alpha Sapphire until I got it as a Christmas present, and unlike the first time around, I actually played this through to completion. Did these remakes change my mind about the Gen III games? Do I now understand why Pokémon Sapphire & Ruby end up on so many Poké-fans top list?
The short answer to both these questions is no. But that doesn't take away from the fact that both Pokémon: Alpha Sapphire and Omega Ruby are excellent games that bring a lot to the table.
For some people, this is the toughest choice they ever made.
You play as a nameless boy or girl who recently moved to the land of Hoenn with your family. After meeting the Hoenn region's Professor Birch, picking a starter Pokémon to help said Professor, and have a battle with his kid, you leave home and start your quest to be the very best, like no one ever was. As you travel across the land, searching far and wide, you'll capture and train various Pokémon, battle other Trainers, and collect the eight Gym Badges from the various leaders (one of whom is actually your dad *gasp*), leading up to the final encounter with the Elite Four, and the Hoenn Champion. Along the way, you'll battle an evil orginization called Team Aqua (or Team Magma if you're playing Omega Ruby), a team of grown men and women who cosplay as pirates (and whatever the hell Team Magma is supposed to be....hobos, maybe?) who want to resurrect an ancient Pokémon and use their power to flood/dry up the world to make a perfect place for Pokémon to live (apparently sleeping through or skipping Biology 101). So yeah; no pressure or anything.
If the plot sounds familiar, it's probably because it is. It's the same story (with the some variation) that we've seen in Pokémon games for the last twelve years. However, in the game's defense, Pokémon Ruby & Sapphire were the first games in the series to attempt actually telling a story that goes beyond "capture all the Pokémon and become the Champion", so to fault these games for telling a story that isn't all that great would be like faulting the original Dragon Ball Z anime for having too much filler. Besides, you don't play a Pokémon game for it's story; you play it because you want to explore the region and capture the various Pocket Monsters you find along the way. And this is where Pokémon Alpha Sapphire kind of loses me.
I was never a big fan of the new Pokémon introduced in Ruby & Sapphire, and that opinion hasn't changed as I got older. I wouldn't call them the worse designs in the series (especially since Black & White were the games where you can capture an ice cream cone and a Pokémon literally made of garbage), and in fact some Pokémon first introduced in this generation I've somewhat warmed up to, like Gardevoir, Roselia and the Lotad evolution chain. However, these Pokémon are the exception rather than the rule, and after I found six creatures that I was okay with, I mostly avoided wandering the grass or caves for new creatures to catch outside of the legendaries, and the few that I did catch I'd just throw in the box and never look at again. There were even a couple instances when I would look through my Pokédex or through the boxes of my PC and say to myself "I don't remember catching that". And for a franchise that encourages, no demands, that you "gotta catch 'em all", me not wanting to go out of my way to catch them is a problem.
They're not terrible, but these Pokémon aren't the kind to take home to mother.
Thankfully, the other main component of the Pokémon games, the battling, is excellent as always, adding the many refinements and additions first introduced in Pokémon X & Y. The newly updated EXP. Share is back (making leveling a team much easier), as well as the Super Trainer and Pokémon Aime, making much of the meta game that much easier to access. In addition, despite it being first introduced in X & Y, the Fairy type feels a lot more prominent this time (though that might just be because I had a Gardevoir in my main party for most of the game), as well as Mega Evolutions, though the more Pokémon that get a Mega Evolution, the less interested in the idea I become (really guys, Mega Beedrill?). All of these add up to battles that are both fun and familar. And while I didn't have too much trouble battling the various Trainers along the way (outside of a few story battles and Gym Leaders), I still had a lot of fun and actually found myself revisiting old areas just to re-battle Trainers I had wailed on previously.
Contests are also back from the Gen III games, but this time you get a special Pikachu which you can dress up and enter in any of the contests. While I ultimately didn't bother much with the Contests (since I was never a fan of them anyway), it is nice to see Game Freak expand on an idea that, in my opinion, felt lacking in the original. Secret Bases are another perfect example of this, as there's much more stuff to do with them this time around. Sure you can model them however you see fit, but now it implements StreetPass functionality, so you can share and visit Secret Bases from other people that you meet and invite them to stay at your base. Once I got a few StreetPasses, I found myself getting really into making my Secret Base as cool as possible, something that I didn't expect to happen.
I said earlier that Alpha Sapphire & Omega Ruby had some minor updates to the game, and boy are they much needed. For starters, at certain points in the main story, you can fast travel to your next location by talking to an NPC, thus cutting down on needless backtracking and making the game progress at a fast pace (though it is optionally if you don't want to). The PokéNav, which I completely ignored in the originals, has been completely updated to include a mini news channel (to let you know how awesome you are), a Play Search app (which functions the same as the bottom screen from X & Y), the AreaNav, which shows you the location of Berries that can be picked, Secret Base locations, where and when you can challenge defeated Trainers to a rematch, and DexNav, a feature that shows which Pokémon are in whatever area you're currently in; the one caveat is that you need to actually see the Pokémon in question before it shows up on the scan, but overall it makes filling the National Pokédex much easier. Oh by the way, you no longer have to beat the game to get the National Pokédex, as you can pick it up from Professor Birch (who even gives you a explanation as to why you can now suddenly catch Pokémon from other regions that actually makes sense) after you get all eight Gym Badges, including the Legendaries from every generation except the originals and X & Y. My personal favorite update is that late into the game you get an item called an Eon Flute, which lets you fly anywhere on the world map without teaching any of your Pokémon the HM move Fly.
Screenshots don't do this any justice.
But the big thing from Alpha Sapphire & Omega Ruby that everyone will talk about years from now is the Delta Episode, which is a mini story that takes place after you beat the main game and involves you stopping a meteor from crashing into Hoenn. It's not very long, but it is much more substantial than previous post game content. You even get two legendaries out of it; Rayquaza and the elusive Deoxys. Overall, this and a lot of the improvements that have been made aren't enough to recommend Alpha Sapphire & Omega Ruby, but they are much appericated. I really hope Game Freak builds on these improvements and updates in the Gen VII games and the inevitable Diamond & Pearl remakes.
It should go without saying, but Alpha Sapphire looks great, with the Pokémon looking great in 3D (well, most of them anyway), character models and art work show off a lot more personality, and the environments are bright and colorful, showing off a lot of area diversity. It's just a shame that the various cities and towns you visit feel kind of small and empty. Thankfully, the soundtrack (which is one of the few things I liked about the original games) is just as amazing as ever, finding a perfect balance between being serious and upbeat when it needs to be, fitting ever situation perfectly; in my entire playthrough, I never felt the music was out of place or inappropriate, something that hasn't happened since, well, the original Pokémon Sapphire & Ruby. The new music is really great too, with my personal favorite being the new battle theme for Wally, a young Trainer who you help in the beginning and grows as you progress. I won't spoil it here, but let's just say that the battle against him before you face the Elite Four looks and sounds amazing, and it felt like I was playing the opening to a 90s anime (and yes, that's a complement).
As I said in the beginning of this review, Pokémon Alpha Sapphire didn't change my opinion about the Gen III games. I'm still not a fan of the Gen III Pokémon, and Hoenn just isn't as interesting of a region as say Johto or Unova are, so in that regard, the game ultimately failed. And yet despite these criticisms, there's no denying that I still had a lot of fun during my playthrough. Many of the problems with the originals have been either fixed or removed all together, the amount of side activities to do is great, the music is phenomenal, and while I wouldn't recommend picking the games up for the Delta Episode alone, the game is substantial enough to feel worth the $39.99 asking price. Even as I'm typing this up, I'm still discovering things to do and Pokémon to catch, and I don't see myself stopping anytime soon.
But perhaps Pokémon Alpha Sapphire & Omega Ruby biggest achievement is the fact that for the first time, I'm actually excited to see what the future of the series is beyond catching new creatures. While the games have been making progress over the years, Pokémon X & Y and now Pokémon Alpha Sapphire & Omega Ruby are the biggest changes to the series I've seen in a long time, and show that Game Freak really have been listing to their fans, and I for one couldn't be happier. I've got a fever, and the only cure is more Pokémon.
TL;DR: If you've never played a Pokémon game, or left the series a long time ago, nothing here will change your mind or bring you back. But if you're a long time fan of the series, or recently got back into it thanks to X & Y, Pokémon Alpha Sapphire and Omega Ruby are excellent games to pick up, even if you weren't a fan of them when they first came out.
Final Score: 8.5/10