Thursday, March 5, 2015

Pokemon Omega Ruby - Emerald is Still Better


I've been catching Pokemon and raising them to be my personal army of cute warriors for most of my life.  My name as a tamer of Pokemon has rung across six nations, brought fear into the hearts of gym leaders around the globe, and annoyed the hell out of many a Younger Joey who learned that his Rattata was not actually in the top percentage of Rattata.  Obviously therefore when a Pokemon adventure is offered, I jump at the chance.   Time to once again gather a team of six Pokemon, usually including Milotic and Gardevoir, and go out to conquer once again in the name of Blue, Pokemon Extraordinaire, a legend in his (or her) own time.

Late last year "Pokemon Omega Ruby" and "Alpha Sapphire" were released for the Nintendo 3DS.  I was sure to scoop up "Omega Ruby" at my first opportunity.  "Alpha Sapphire" was not played for the purpose of this review, but you can consider all comments on "Omega Ruby" to refer to that title as well.  I devoured the main campaign within a week - a leisurely pace for the Poke Maniac who once beat Pokemon Silver in two days during a trip to Orlando.  And immediately after completing the game along with the post-game coda storyline, I put "Omega Ruby" back in its case, and have not touched it since.  It sits proudly on my game shelf on top of a growing pile of quality 3DS video games, and yet, I cannot be bothered to ever play it again.  In fact, following my short run with "Omega Ruby", I went right on back to my long-delayed Nuzlocke campaign in "Emerald"*.

"Omega Ruby" is now the third Pokemon remake.  The previous remakes are "FireRed" and "LeafGreen" which remade Generation I, and "SoulSilver" and "HeartGold", a remake of Gen II**.  Those previous attempts managed to outshine their ancestor's entirely.  I have not played a GameBoy version of Pokemon since grammar school thanks to "FireRed".  "SoulSilver" remains one of the best Pokemon games ever made, rivaling the mighty "Pokemon X".  A video game remake, unlike remakes of films, are nearly always superior:  superior in graphics, superior in gameplay, and superior in amounts of content.  However in this review, we are discussing a game where that is not the case.  "Omega Ruby" is the first remake to not supplant its predecessors.

The original "Ruby" and "Sapphire" games took place in a land called Hoenn, which, in my exalted Pokemon Master opinion, is still the most interesting and overall best region in the entire Pokemon series.  Kanto and Johto were made when the series was still very rough.  This was the best that the old hardware could accomplish:  mostly urban landscapes with a few basic straight plain paths between them.  Hoenn was the first time the Pokemon games really seemed like they were alive.  Compare "Silver"'s boundaries of endless repeating tree sprites to the beautiful Greece-inspired white cliffs of Sootopolis City.  Compare the short linear lines of Kanto to the long mountain trails in Generation III.  Hoenn was diverse land.  Between the mountains and the oceans you had deserts, forests, rivers, volcanic fire lands.  That the region was also an elegant yin-yang-shape of ocean and land only increased its claim as the most beautiful setting for any Pokemon game.

Come to Hoenn, land of adventure.
"Omega Ruby", having been released twelve years after the original Game Boy Advance games, obviously is a huge leap visual forward.  The graphics have been redesigned to fit into the "Pokemon X" engine, meaning that Hoenn now is in 3D, all Pokemon and people are 3D models, and the world is more fleshed-out and beautiful than ever before.  Graphically this game is the most gorgeous Pokemon game ever, defeating Kalos easily thanks to Hoenn's many incredible landmarks such as Mt. Chimney, Evergrande City, etc. etc.  (Have I mentioned enough that I really think Hoenn is pretty?  This post is doubling as ad copy for the Hoenn Board of Tourism.)

Since this is based off of the engine of "Pokemon X", "Omega Ruby" includes the gameplay revisions of Gen VI.  Pokemon's battle system has essentially been unchanged in any meaningful way in over a decade, and the general structure of combat in "Omega Ruby" is unchanged from the original versions.  You're a ten-year-old boy or girl who has recently moved to Littleroot Town, a forest town.  You decide to go on an adventure, trying Hoenn collecting little cartoon monsters to be your personal guard.  Then you fight a multitude of rival trainers, gym leaders, and insane ecoterrorist groups with your Pokemon in one-on-one turned based battles.  By this point, you know the idea.  If you don't know the idea, you're probably somebody's parent, and in that case, you are probably the oldest person to ever read this blog.  Congratulations!

The mixture of old and new unfortunately makes "Omega Ruby" an unimpressively easy game.  The one new addition GameFreak has made is Mega Evolutions, which are added occasionally to a few major storyline bosses.  You're handed as many Mega Evolutions as the enemy though, challenge is not really a factor.   Then there is the expanded EXP Share, which is handed over almost immediately.  As with "Pokemon X" you can raise your entire team at once, now from nearly the very beginning, and you are virtually guaranteed to have a party of six highly-powered Pokemon at least at the level or above the levels of the gym leaders and Elite Four.  So it doesn't really matter how many Mega Evolutions the leaders have, you're going to beat them.

Mega Swampert is one of the many doofy new Mega forms introduced in this game.
A more unusual effect is that "Omega Ruby" stays strangely faithful to the original "Ruby" in ways that disagree with the new style of game.  Hoenn is a lovely land, but Generation III was designed as almost as a reboot of the Pokemon franchise, with nearly all of its monster population being creatures that were new at the time.  That was not changed, so most routes in "Omega Ruby" have a tiny selection of only Gen III Pokemon to catch.  Compare to "Pokemon X"'s wealth of biodiversity, with dozens of Pokemon, even previously extremely rare ones, from all across history just flooding the tall grass.  By far the most misplaced reverence comes in character clothing and hair, which now cannot be changed at all, when "Pokemon X" made that a major enjoyable one.  Sure, GameFreak might really love how May's booty shorts, maybe I want her to be wearing fishnet stockings and a plaid skirt.  Isn't that my choice to have?

I really wish this was a remake of "Pokemon Emerald" instead of "Pokemon Ruby" and "Sapphire".  GameFreak decided to use the easier version of the Gym Leaders from "Ruby" and "Sapphire" versus their more difficult load-outs in "Emerald", making an already severe difficulty problem worse.  The game is just too easy.  Then there are the plot problems.  Where "Ruby" and "Sapphire" have just one villainous team attempting to resurrect one of the legendary monsters, "Emerald" had both, making for the most exciting version of the story.  We lose the awesome battle in Sootopolis city between Kyogre and Groudon.  More annoyingly, the Battle Frontier, an extensive and heavily challenging post-game area has been lost as well, other than a few teasing hints that it is under construction.  DLC maybe?  Nope.

It is not all losses though.  "Omega Ruby" has plenty to add, including a first for the series:  a story-heavy post-game battle with the stakes being the entire planet.  After you defeat the Elite Four and finish off the original Hoenn story, the end credits play, and then begins Episode Delta***.  Episode Delta is a globe trotting adventure where your character and his or her Pokemon must now go into space and fight a galactic threat.  Mossdeep City twelve years ago showed us a space center, but space was never an option in Gen III.  Now our dreams are complete, we can go into space!  Now all GameFreak has to do is finally finish that construction site in Vermillion City.   Delta Episode also comes with every plot point you would expect from a convoluted Japanese storyline in just two hours of running time:  ancient prophesies, super cool rogue babes with mysterious roles to play, and exciting battles with black holes, dragons, and even a hint of time travel.  Pokemon has done something I never thought it would ever do:  become a proper Japanese RPG.

There are even rambling pseudo-philosophical naval gazing bullshit lines like this. Pokemon is now Final Fantasy!
To conclude:  "Omega Ruby" is not a bad game.  It is not even a misstep for the series.  In some ways, it is even revolutionary.  Should you buy it?  I would say yes just to hear the new supremely badass rock song for the final Wally battle or to play with the many Pikachu cosplay costumes.  But there are faults.  I am now truly concerned that there may never be another difficult Pokemon game again.  At this point a Nuzlocke campaign is not a brutal hardcore challenge for the most advanced players, but a necessity to keep any level of difficult left in the gameplay.  This is far from a dealbreaker thanks to Pokemon's intense and ever-expanding competitive metagame.  So really the main campaign is just a long dull single-player mode that serious players need to force through in order to reach the rich and fulfilling multiplayer mode.

But ignoring that issue, here is the rub:  was this remake even necessary in the end?  "Omega Ruby" is an expensive excuse to just play Gen III again with 3D graphics.  Really all this game has that "Emerald" doesn't have is Poke-Amie - a feature whose charm for me wore off in amazing speed.  GBA graphics are not the most advanced in the world, but there was an art to spite work.  The audio possibilities on the 3DS are much more advanced, but the limitations of the GBA soundcard made Hoenn such a memorable place, full of heavy horn sections.  You just cannot recreate that magic.  You can try to streamline it for modern audiences, dumb down the difficulty, but you cannot properly rebuild a work of art, which is what Gen III was.  Hoenn was born on the GBA, and ultimately, that is where it truly belongs.

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* I've been trying to finish that Nuzlocke for a year and a half now.  With very little success.  I just cannot level grind enough without getting painfully bored, and I can't bare to part with my favorites after they die.

** Also one of the earliest games covered on this blog, if you're into ancient Blue Highwind history.

*** Irritatingly close in title to "Delta Emerald", the Gen III remake I wish they had made.

2 comments:

  1. Finally! Video games make their triumphant return to Planet Blue!

    I completely agree with your review, Blue. I wish there was more to this remake... it was just disappointing after X.

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  2. (I'm so sorry if you can see a blank above comment. I wanted to remove it because I don't like my full name displaying but it's looking like Blogger is refusing to co-operate. ;_;, if there is any way to remove it please do)

    It's looking like the easy difficulty is here to stay. At least you can turn the EXP Share off if you want to have a tougher challenge.

    Pokémon's been becoming more Final Fantasy like since Black/White's finale with the giant golden castle and legendary dragons. I hope we'll see more like this in future Pokémon games, I always thought Pokémon's world had the potential to tell more interesting stories than what we've seen.

    Glad to see you're writing about video games again... nowreviewpersona4likeyousaidyouwouldgrumblegrumble

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