Being remakes, Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire are extremely faithful replicas of the original Ruby and Sapphire in many respects. Almost all Route designs are kept the same, dungeons are still found in the same locations as before, as are trainers, and, for the great majority of the game, the story unfolds page by page the same as the original games’. You still have to set your clock when you move in (ostensibly—the clock actually picks up on your 3DS’s time) and save the Devon Researcher in Petalburg Woods. You still talk to Briney to head to Dewford and to deliver a package to Steven Stone in Granite Cave.
Of course, the mere inclusion of Mega Evolution and Primal Reversion throws the story off-kilter a tad, but I feel that the new events, grandiose and bombastic as they are, fit snugly into the rest of the story. Admittedly, this may largely be because of Episode Delta, but the way Primal Groudon is gradually revealed is nothing short of awesome, in both senses of the word.
Rather than just being tacked on, the changes to the world and characters are threaded in tightly to the existing story. One such change is with Sea Mauville, formerly known as the Abandoned Ship. Now an abandoned research facility, it is home to some of the stranger and sadder story tidbits the game has to offer. Smashed glass and personal belongings lay covered in dust in the shelves, telling of an immediate evacuation. Smiling photos hang crooked on the wall. None of this area is necessary, but Pokémon has always been fond of providing hidden tidbits of information, and Sea Mauville is no exception.
Despite the general fidelity to the original games, though, some areas received a complete makeover. The most blatant of all is Mauville City, which has been transformed from an ordinary city in Ruby and Sapphire into the indoor mall and residential area that is in Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire. Although the change was jarring at first and I couldn’t see any reason as to why it underwent such a drastic change, I came to appreciate the convenience of having everything, such as move tutors or the masseur, in one place. It’s too bad the casino shut down, though.
Likewise, other aspects unique to Ruby and Sapphire have been tweaked and expanded. Both bikes—the Acro and Mach Bikes—are back, and the routes that require them have turned exploration into a veritable puzzle rather than a brief jaunt that only requires a few Bunny Hops.
In terms of music, the tracks in the original Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire have always been simultaneously some of the most lyrical and the most bombastic pieces in the Pokémon series. These traits have been enhanced rather than merely replayed with an orchestra, for the most part. The snare drums can get the adrenaline rushing, and the chimes made me stop at the entrance to Mt. Pyre simply because it felt so foreboding. This really is the overall impression the remakes give off—that everything new only betters what already existed.
Even Soar, an entirely new feature, works well with existing options from previous Pokémon games. It would have been so easy to just make Fly obsolete since the advantages to Soar are many. Who wouldn’t want to gleefully fly over all the routes and towns you’ve trudged through? You also don’t have to worry about keeping a Fly Pokémon in your team 24/7. You can even land in any area—city, dungeon, or route—just like with Fly. However, Fly is simply quicker and more convenient at times, and it’s nice that one still has the option to use it when in need of quick travel.
Some of my favorite additions, though, are tiny, inconsequential gestures. Your character will lean inwards when you turn on a bike, and he has an idle animation now that depends on the context. When you jump down a Waterfall, he’ll look downwards first before taking the leap, as though he’s taking a second to hold his breath. Diving and traveling through the desert changes what your character’s image, too. (To make your character look like an alien, try equipping the Dowsing Machine and travel through the desert, haha.) Aside from these little touches, other small tweaks streamline the game an astonishing amount. Doing away with one Yes/No button prompt every time you pick a Berry saves a lot of time and having the DexNav lead directly into the PokeDex removes the need to navigate menus just look a Pokemon up. Battles move slightly faster, random encounters in caves and oceans are lowered, and viewing an attack’s Contest Effect can now be done with just the press of a button. They even give you the option to move the “Organize Boxes” option to the top of the options list whenever you open your PC.
One of the most influential changes is your character’s movement. Running rather than skating with the circle pad gives me a lot more control, and you don’t have to worry about stopping on a dime with the bike, Mach or Acro. Stalking is a fun addition, and Surfing and Diving is much faster than ever (thank goodness.) Ironically, this freedom of movement can be a bit problematic at times. Searching for hidden items is a hassle, and pinpointing a specific object to observe (such as one tree among a row of Berry trees) can be difficult without the D-pad. This is probably why using the Dowsing Machine and all movement indoors has been restricted to 8 directions. Despite this, though, this restriction actually makes walking indoors extremely difficult at times because of the lower camera angles, and I’ve never run into so many walls before as I try to move between a couple of desks or shelves. The Hero of Hoenn, thwarted by furniture!
In all seriousness, though, almost all of the changes feel very natural. None of the changes to the story make me shake my head in disgust at its unnaturalness, and, with the exception of indoor movement, the changes make it feel like I’m exploring Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire rather than always being jarred out of the experience because of minor inconveniences that can add up.
Food for Thought:
1. I don’t think every change is for the better, though. One receptionist puts it best. “Welcome to the Safari Zone! Admittance is free! Catch all the Pokémon you can! Enjoy yourself with Pokémon for as long as time allows!” For all the annoyance it provided sometimes, I liked that the Safari Zone had a unique system…
2. Yes, HMs are still around.
3. The Trick House also makes a welcome return. Beware, though. One of his last puzzles is one of the most extensive puzzles in Pokémon I’ve ever seen. (Hint: Don’t throw your 3DS across the room, no matter how tempting it may be.)
4. Though I haven’t tired yet of Soar’s long animation for take-off and landing, it may just be a matter of time…
5. One of the few times I feel the music remastering fails is with the battle music. Some, such as the Team Magma/Aqua themes, have been enhanced because the pieces take advantage of the new bass line. However, I don’t think the Wild Pokémon Battle theme and the Champion Battle theme fare as well, thanks to the smoother melody.