Remembering the Classics: Pokemon Ruby and Sapphire

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The Pokémon franchise is an unstoppable force within the industry. As the second most profitable, each new installment guarantees commercial success. This is especially evident when it comes to the main series. Fully utilizing the concept of handheld gaming, Pokémon has thrived for nearly two decades. This is why the past several years have been awesome for hardcore fans. A new main game has come out every year since 2008, save for 2011, and it looks like 2014 will simply continue this trend. While not releasing an outright original entry like last year’s Pokémon X & Y, Nintendo announced this week that remakes for Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire will come to the 3DS in November.

This news was hardly a surprise. Not entirely unlike the also popular Final Fantasy franchise, Nintendo started re-releasing older Pokémon games in 2004. This is when Pokémon FireRed and LeafGreen came out as Game Boy Advance remakes of the first two games (Pokémon Blue was originally Pokémon Green in Japan). By then the series was already in its third generation, started out by Ruby/Sapphire. Continuing the trend, 1999’s Pokémon Gold & Silver came out again in 2009 as HeartGold and SoulSilver for the DS. With FireRed/LeafGreen on the GBA and HeartGold/SoulSilver on the DS, it’s clear Nintendo was adopting a one remake per system policy. The 3DS is now one of the hottest consoles on the market with X/Y already selling over 12 million copies. Why wouldn’t they seize this opportunity to make a 3D version of another top selling hit?

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Very little changed when Ruby/Sapphire first came in 2002. As the first series games released on the GBA, they were a step up from prior entries graphics-wise. The colors were more vibrant and the world felt livelier. Yet the basic mechanics were entirely unchanged. The trainer you controlled was either a young male or female and you directed them on their journey to become the next great Pokémon Master. The main story was about you catching as many pokémon as you can and beating the Elite Four. Throughout your journey you combat Team Aqua (Sapphire) or Team Magma (Ruby) who want to destroy the environment using the awesome powers of legendary pokémon Kyogre (Sapphire) or Groudon (Ruby). Collectively there were 202 individual pokémon you could catch throughout the Hoenn region. To catch the then current amount of 382, you also needed copies of FireRed/LeafGreen.

In what can only be described as the norm for a new Pokémon entry, Ruby/Sapphire introduced some brand new concepts amid all of its typical content. The most influential change these two games brought were double battles. Since the GBA was more powerful that the previous Game Boy models, some battles allowed you to put two pokémon out at once. This seemingly simple change completely altered the fighting dynamic as certain attacks damaged the entire field. If you were ill-prepared, you could easily lose at least a third of your team in one fell swoop. The upside to this is that you could do the exact same thing to your opponents and even train weaker pokémon in the process.

Even though the story maintained the linearity all Pokémon games have, this was the first time the two games actually differed in how everything unfolded. When you look at the past titles, the only significant difference between corresponding entries was which pokémon you could catch. This meant that you absolutely needed Red and Blue or Gold and Silver if you wanted to catch ‘em all. Yet the story was exactly the same regardless. Ruby/Sapphire changed this up with a different villainous team on either game. Gone was the universal evil of Team Rocket. In was Team Aqua who wanted to flood the land and Team Magma attempting to increase Hoenn’s landmass. Naturally this made combating Kyogre or Groudon a mandatory part of the game, which was another first. Both of these elements have since become vital features of the series.

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There were some of complaints with Ruby/Sapphire despite all the positive buzz. While the game did use the stronger GBA to enhance the experience, some critics felt not enough was done to update the game. The characters were still rendered as simple sprites and there weren’t many new animations. A lot of people thought the game was underwhelmingly easy too. When you look at Red/Blue and even Yellow, the Elite Four especially was an incredibly daunting challenge for any player. Beating them was a massive accomplishment. Gold/Silver updated this by opening up the entire Kanto region from the original games once you finished the Johto Elite Four which delivered an entirely new set of difficult experiences. The most notable of these was fighting the original protagonist, generically named Red, in one climactic final battle. Ruby/Sapphire didn’t contain this though. The Elite Four was considered a joke in comparison and the main story ended right there. Harder optional challenges opened up after like the Battle Tower and catching other legendary pokémon, but they weren’t necessary for people focused on becoming the new champion.

Like any good fan, I was already hotly invested in the series before Ruby/Sapphire came out. Buying at least one of them at my local score was a no-brainer. I personally chose Sapphire and absolutely loved it. To this day I still hold the game in high regard because the hours I spent on it far surpass every other entry. While the simplicity of beating the Elite Four, and subsequently the game, took me off guard, its lack of a grueling difficulty made me happy. While I never finished Red/Blue, finishing Yellow was not an easy task. Beating Gold was an accomplishment too but also took me so long to finish. Sapphire was much shorter and the game never beat me down to the point where I didn’t want to play anymore. It’s still my most complete adventure. Unfortunately, my Sapphire journey came to a jarring end as I lost my cartridge and never found it again. It’s currently one of a very few games of mine that vanished without a trace.

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Right now, there is very little information concerning the remakes Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire, but their November release means something will come very soon (likely at E3). I myself am very excited for this and may actually pick up one. The big question now though is where does Pokémon go from here remake wise? The next wholly original game was Diamond/Pearl for the DS in 2006. It is entirely possible for Game Freak and Nintendo to remake those games for the next handheld. Yet I think it would be even better if they took this opportunity to remake some older Pokémon games that weren’t portable, considering how powerful these little consoles are now. Maybe Pokémon Stadium or, dare I say, Pokémon Snap? There are 719 revealed pokémon and those two games especially are in dire need of an update.

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