The Pokémon series has always excelled in crafting large worlds, drenched in legends and history. This aspect of the series has steadily improved with time, and Pokémon is now one of those rare RPG franchises that actually benefits from richer music and better visuals in some meaningful way. This trend continues in Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire, where even more is done with height and scale to make it seem as though the surrounding environment is swallowing you up.
The trees in your starting town, Littleroot, can hang over the camera and create dynamic light and shadow over the roof of your house. When the camera zooms out as you climb Mt. Chimney on the trolley, the sheer the size of it is something to behold. Manmade structures also receive the same treatment, with the Seaside Cycling Road towering overhead the first time you leave Mauville City.
Colors in Hoenn are much more vivid than before, too. Trees range from the brightest green to a dark pine, and bodies of water can have different ripple effects and darkness, depending on their depth and size. An enormous effort must have been put into making every area distuingishable, and though not every single Route in the games is unique, many stand out in my mind just because of these small differences.
Of course, while the orchestrated music and graphical upgrade do go a long way toward bringing Hoenn to life, this is ultimately a Pokémon game—which means that a simple facelift alone wouldn’t be enough to create a better sense of the world around you. No, Pokémon has always been about the incremental upgrades—the constant pursuit of building upon what already exists, in an effort to make players buy into its world. That’s how each generation has gotten progressively better (for the most part), and that’s where Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire truly shine. This time around, the pair of games comes with a single, standout feature that makes exploring their world much more involving than just zipping through Routes on your Mach Bike: special hidden Pokémon.
In Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire, there are two types encounters. The first is the random encounters everyone is familiar with. The second encounter type is the one where you can see hints of Pokémon hiding in the grass. As you walk around through the grass or walk through caves, you’ll see signs of rustling. In previous generations, this could indicate a rare Pokémon, and the same holds true here—but there’s more to it than that. Once you spot a hidden Pokémon, you can sneak up on it by lightly pushing on the 3DS’s Circle Pad. This can take a little getting used to, and there were multiple times when I would walk too fast and scare the Pokémon away.
So, how do you find hidden Pokémon, and why are they such a big deal? That’s where the “DexNav” feature comes in.
The designated gadget of this generation is the PokéNav, and in Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire it is outfitted with three applications, all accessed via the bottom screen: the BuzzNav, AreaNav, and the DexNav. That last one is the feature we’re most interested in. The DexNav has one primary role—to make finding Pokémon more interesting. The basic function of the DexNav is to show you what Pokémon you’ve caught on a particular route and what other Pokémon are also available on that route. If you’ve met a Pokémon before, its silhouette will appear as an outline on the DexNav, and if you’ve caught it, the complete icon for the Pokémon will appear. Looking to see if there are any suspicious spaces on the DexNav is a good clue as to whether you’ve missed something, and it even tells you whether you’ve caught all the Pokémon on a route by giving you crown marker in the corner.
Once you’ve caught a Pokémon, you can activate the Search function, which lets you find other instances of that Pokémon on the same route. When you tap the Pokémon’s icon on the bottom screen, you can search for other hidden Pokémon of that species nearby. Doing this makes the DexNav scan the surrounding area, but this time, it gathers useful information on the Pokémon hiding nearby. Just what kind of information it gathers depends on the “Search Level” of that Pokémon in your DexNav.
Search Level essentially means the number of times you’ve encountered the Pokémon, whether it’s in the wild, in trainer battles, or even in the world. For example, if you spot a Skitty in someone’s house, you can scan it and acquire some basic information. This will increase your Search Level by 1. The same goes for any wild Pokémon you come across in the world, such as Wingull soaring overhead or Beautifly drifting over the grass. At low levels, activating Search will only display a silhouette of hidden Pokémon, their type, and level. Increase that Search Level a few times and you’ll be able to see various other stats, such as the first move they know, their Abilities, and their “Potential,” which I suspect is in-game lingo for IVs.
The higher you raise your Search Level, the more likely you are to find hidden Pokémon wandering around with Egg Moves already learned—such as a Poochyena with Thunder Fang or a Taillow with Boomburst—and perhaps even a Hidden Ability. What this means is that, now, you aren’t simply interested in catching a particular Pokémon so you can add it to your Pokédex. No, now you want the very best version of that Pokémon you can possibly find, and chances are, you’re going to put hours into finding that level 12 Aron that already knows Body Slam. But wait! The DexNav says that there’s another level 12 Aron hiding nearby, and this one already knows Head Smash and has a different Ability and higher Potential. Well, of course you’ve got to have that one, too—they’re two different Arons, after all.
And that’s why hidden Pokémon are such a big deal—because it isn’t just about “catching a Pikachu” any more. It’s about catching every rare breed of Pikachu you can find. The wild Pokémon you can encounter are actually different from one another in meaningful ways. This helps lend a certain sense of believability to the world of Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire that has never existed in Pokémon before. It is, arguably, one of the most important upgrades that the series has ever seen, and it’s going to be very, very exciting to see where Game Freak takes this feature in future games.
Food for thought:
1. The way the Search function works with in-game Pokémon reminds me of the anime, where Ash points that Pokedex of his at every Pokémon he sees, new or not. Now, we finally have reason to do it, too.
2. Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire has to be the first Pokémon game where I’ve genuinely needed all the items I can spend money on. You will need a lot of money for Pokeballs, if you decide to catch the rare wild Pokémon you encounter, and they are everywhere. You may want to invest in Repels, too. And don’t forget about the Secret Base decorations! Those cost a pretty penny, but that story is for a later time.
3. It also seems like the encounter rate through the rare encounters has evened out. In random encounters, there’s a certain percent chance you will encounter every species, but I think it’s pretty much equal with rare encounters. I’ve found many fairly rare Pokémon, such as Skitty, in record-breaking time.