Review: Pokémon Alpha Sapphire – Too Much Land
The long awaited remake of third generation in Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire has arrived, and with it a host of new changes to coincide with the sheer amount of nostalgia that veteran players will undoubtedly feel.
The first thing you’ll notice is the title screen opening. In the original Ruby and Sapphire versions, the graphics and beautiful music served to showcase the then impressive power of the Gameboy Advance, and the redone version not only serves that same purpose but also fills original players with heart-rending memories of that long-ago moment.
Game Freak then delivers a one-two punch with the actual game’s opening, which seems to be an exact replica of the original speech from Professor Birch (sprite graphics included) until you realize the protagonist is playing a Gameboy Advance SP and the real opening is in first-person point of view, rendered in full 3D.
Gameplay is still firmly rooted in a foundation that has grown for over a decade: Pokémon taking turns using various moves on each other to attack, inflict status ailments, buff and debuff. Each Pokémon has a specific typing which grants it both strengths and weaknesses against other types (the ubiquitous example being Fire is strong against Grass, Grass is strong against Water and Water is strong against Fire). Pokémon also have special abilities with unique effects during and outside of battle. For instance the ability Overgrowth is used during battle and it raises the power of Grass-type moves when HP reaches one-third or less.
There’s also more complex mechanics such as IV and EV training, and how a Pokémon ‘s given personality affects their base stats. Just as in Pokémon X and Y, EV training is done through the Super Training section of your Pokémon Navigator (or PokeNav for short), making the process much simpler than before.
Battles are still exciting to play through, with the 3D bringing the combat to life in ways not possible with 2D sprites. There’s still a bit of slowdown here and there occasionally but since battles are turn-based anyway it won’t really affect you.
Not every gameplay feature carried over from X and Y is a positive, however. A still pervasive issue is that battles are simply too easy. Level grinding is a cinch and trainer, Gym Leader and even Elite Four members max out at around the mid 60s and there’s a good chance your team will be overleveled before reaching Evergrande City (my Sceptile alone was level 55 at Lilygrove City, and this was without level grinding and with a full team of Pokémon in their mid to late 40s). Luckily competitive battle is as robust as always and will surely appeal to many hardcore fans.
For the more casual audience, there’s still plenty to do other that battle and train. The original Pokémon Contest is back and still retains the familiarity of its predecessor. You choose a Pokémon, then a contest — between Cool, Beauty, Tough, Clever or Cute — and then dive right into the role of Pokémon Coordinator. There are two parts to the contest, the Popularity section and the Talent Round.
The former automatically occurs and is based on your Pokémon’s stat in that area, necessitating the stat growing powers of Pokebloks to raise said stat when fed to them. The latter is where your tactical thinking is truly tested, as you need to use each move and special ability to your advantage.
Do you sacrifice rapport with the audience and use a jamming move to startle and lower another contestant’s own rapport? Or do you use a risky move that earns rapport but leaves you vulnerable to jamming moves?
A new addition to the Contests are Spectacular Talents activated after a Pokémon manages to max out the audience’s pumped meter. There are several unique moves that can be displayed depending on the Pokémon and they really pump up the crowd. Cooler still is if your Pokémon has a Mega Evolution, which will automatically trigger during the special and excite the audience even more.
I found the Contests to be quite challenging with a huge amount of depth and strategy involved, especially in the Hyper and Master ranks. It was also nice having a fun side-plot with Contest Idol Lisia, who is very supportive of your career and gives you an awesome Contest costume to boot.
Then there’s cosplay Pikachu, an adorable female Pikachu with a complete heart-shaped tail with near maxed Contest stats and the ability to gain a unique move depending on the costume she dons. The moves correspond to the category as the following:
Cute – Draining Kiss
Tough – Flying Press
Cool – Meteor Mash
Clever – Electric Terrain
Beautiful – Icicle Crash
Naturally the popular Secret Bases make a return here and work pretty much the same as in the original Ruby and Sapphire. You find a tree or a hole in the wall in any route and have a Pokémon use the move Secret Power to make the base. Then you collect or buy furniture, dolls, accessories, etc. to decorate your room with.
In the remake, you can even host battles in the base and have trainers ready to fight other players who come across your base with the Streetpass function. You can generate a QR code in order to share your base online and scan other codes with the in-game scanner. While I had tons of fun customizing my base to resemble a Gym, my only complaint is the rather strict item limit.
Of course there’s a path of divergence here, which makes things both more convenient and interesting. A new mechanic in the field is the ability to sneak up on Pokémon that appear in grass, caves and water by pressing lightly on the analog stick.
The Pokémon is indicated by a tail that sticks up in the area followed by their signature cry. What’s really nifty is the fact that the model for the tails are unique to the Pokémon and even unique to the gender. For example, a male Pikachu will be shown as a tail with a zigzag motif, while the female is represented as a heart-shaped tail.
On the convenience end we have the major upgrade to the PokeNav feature. With the AreaNav mechanic, the town map has been given some serious upgrades, with the ability to automatically keep it on the bottom screen at all times. You can also access any town and route to check out detailed information and even Fly there instantly (yes, routes included).
It can also display which Trainers are available for a rematch (as well as detailed info on their stretegy and lineup of Pokémon), which Pokémon can be captured in that route, what berries you planted in which route and what secret bases are located in that area.
Then there’s DexNav, a Pokémon collector’s dream. It displays which Pokémon have and have not been caught yet in a given route or cave and it also features a handy silhouette of the Pokémon you are currently sneaking up on when it appears in the field. As you catch more Pokémon this way, The AreaNav increases level and it displays detailed information on its level, first move, potential and held item. Players can still access Pokémon Amie, Super Training and PSS through the system as well.
Finally we have the BuzzNav, which is the TV station of Hoenn that shares news about current plot events and a variety of shows centered around your hero. When you Streetpass with other players, their exploits are broadcast on your BuzzNav too.
The plot has been fleshed out and given far more punch. In Alpha Sapphire, Team Aqua’s goal is to put in place Project Azoth, which will use the Blue Orb to activate Kyogre’s Primal Reversion and bring the world back to its “original state.” Team Magma in Omega Ruby has similar plans but are planning to use Groudon instead.
Primal Reversion is both similar and different to Mega Evolution. While the latter requires energy from a trainer and partner Pokémon and gives the Pokémon a new form, the former garners energy from nature and reverts that Pokémon to its prehistoric self. The Delta Emerald plot that opens up post-game is especially great and provides some real shocking twists for the franchise.
Meanwhile, there’s plenty of character and relationship development between your friendly rival (the character you don’t choose in the beginning) and especially with sickly boy turned dangerous trainer (yet still kind) Wally. Steven Stone also receives more back history, as does the final gym leader Wallace.
Balance-wise, I rather enjoy the fact that the region is water-based as it adds a sense of uniqueness that differentiates itself from other titles in the franchise. Exploring the vast seas with Surf and Dive is one of my favorite pastimes — there’s nothing like finding new treasure, a new sea trench and now even new Diver Trainers to battle. I wish there was more variety in the water Pokémon you could catch in the very beginning; it takes about mid-game for your options to really open up.
TMs are spread out pretty well and I had no issues with my party’s moveset throughout the game. There are seven HMs total in this region (downsized from eight in the original games) but I always enjoyed the challenge of trying to balance distribution of the moves between my Pokémon, although Cut and Rock Smash become pretty useless very quickly. Moves like Surf, Waterfall and Strength are quite good and Fly and Dive are feasible in normal play.
While Game Freak did reuse assets for ORAS, the graphics are overall much more polished and there are no in-field freezes and frame-rate drops to speak of. The trade-off for better visuals is the fact that you cannot customize your protagonist in any way. This makes sense, of course, since this is a remake and the original versions didn’t possess this feature but it’s still a little strange not being able to at least change clothes. I also appreciated the addition of dynamic camera angles and pan-backs during exploration, as it lets you view dungeons and other puzzle-filled areas with much more ease.
Nearly every character in the game received a design overhaul, giving them much more distinctive looks then their previous sprite art incarnations. Most impressive are the redesigns for Team Magma and Team Aqua, which are completely different from the original and serve to enhance their unique characteristics.
Battle Tower has also been replaced by Battle Resort and Battle Maison, which was actually a positive for me as I felt the former was rather barebones in Ruby and Sapphire versions. Some veteran players might be disappointed by the lack of Battle Frontier, but that was a Pokémon Emerald version feature. There are some great battles to be had at Resort and Maison and an excellent Move Tutor for those interested in breeding and training Pokémon for competitive play.
There’s so much content and so many new details, features, mechanics, upgrades and more that Game Freak added to this remake. It certainly doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but fine tunes that wheel to near perfection. Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire is a true labor of love and, aside from some minor hiccups here and there, deserves a go from both newcomers and old fans alike.