In 2003, Game Freak released Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire in the US with a general sigh of indifference among mainstream gamers.
The prevailing wisdom at the time was that the Pokémon phenomenon that had started in 1998 and reached its peak the following year had run its course. Pokémon Gold and Silver had received positive reviews from critics, but their core audience was starting to grow and the animated TV show was not as popular as it had been a few years earlier. Pokémon, critics said, was going the way of Cabbage Patch Kids and Beanie Babies.
Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire did little to quell that feeling. His monsters were derided as pale copies of those introduced in red and blue, and longtime fans howled when it emerged that their existing collection couldn’t be transferred to the Game Boy Advance. Like the GBA itself, Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire embodied the awkward middle ground between the original Game Boy and the resurgence of interest in handheld games brought on by the Nintendo DS.
Today it is most fondly remembered as the beginning of the modern age of Pokémon, but it is somewhat controversial in its own way. With Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire on the way, here’s a quick introduction on what to expect and what stands out from the third generation of Pokémon after all these years.
Alright, you’ve given some general background on Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire. But how about some basics?
Of course. Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire are set in the Hoenn region, which is modeled after the real-life Fukuoka region in Japan. It stars Brendan and May, either of whom can be cast as the main protagonist, a feature that had previously been introduced in Pokémon Crystal. As usual, your goal is to travel the region, collect eight badges, and ultimately catch them all.
In a marked departure from the first and second generation games, Ruby and Sapphire take out Team Rocket and introduce two new teams of villains: Team Aqua and Team Magma, whose stated goals are to flood the world and dry it up respectively (don ‘task). To that end, they seek out the legendary monsters Kyogre and Groudon, who have the power to drastically alter the world’s weather patterns. Depending on the version you play, you will fight either Team Aqua or Team Magma, eventually having a chance to capture the legendary monster they are looking for.
Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire mark the first appearance of many features that have since become staples: hidden effort value stats, weather effects, traits, and personalities, among them. The idea of two primordial legendaries exercising control over some aspect of the world, be it space, time, or the elements, would also be replicated in later games. And of course, there’s the biggest addition of all: Double Battles, which would eventually become a staple of Pokémon tournaments.
And the entrees?
Ruby and Sapphire feature Torchic, Treecko, and Mudkip, all of which have become popular in their own right over the years. Mudkip, as everyone knows, was the subject of a meme that wouldn’t go away for a while. Blaziken, the evolution of Torchic, was popular enough to be the only starter outside of the Red and Blue trio to receive a Mega Evolution in Pokémon X and Y.
At the time, the Ruby and Sapphire headlines stood out as each being strong in their own right. Treecko eventually became Sceptile, then one of the fastest monsters in the game, while Mudkip became Swampert, who was a sturdy and reliable tank. Blaziken struggled due to his low speed, but his high attack stats still found him a (admittedly narrow) niche. All three have remained very popular over the years, which is not something that can be said for most Pokémon beginners outside of Charmander, Squirtle, and Bulbasaur.
Cool. So why was it so controversial?
Well, as I mentioned earlier, fans didn’t react particularly well to the likes of Beautifly and Swellow, who they ridiculed as mere copies of Butterfree and Pidgeot (although Swellow would later get his own fanbase). There was also the little affair of 186 monsters, including the extremely popular Gengar, Eevee and Tyranitar evolutions locked in favor of the newer monsters. At the time, Game Freak saw it as a simple cash grab; And indeed, when I recently asked series stalwart Junichi Masuda why the monsters were omitted, he admitted that Game Freak was withholding them for the 2004 Fire Red and Leaf Green remakes.
The combination of Pokémon’s declining popularity, lame rival (Brendan and May don’t even manage to evolve their headlines in the original), the fact that the region was unusually heavy in water, and several missing features conspired to make Ruby and Sapphire something. of a black sheep in the series for a long time. It wasn’t until very recently, actually, that Ruby and Sapphire’s reputations began to be rehabilitated among fans, which clearly coincided with the coming of age of those who played Ruby and Sapphire growing up. Nostalgia is a remarkable panacea.
Was that the case with Pokémon Emerald?
Not so much. When Pokémon Emerald appeared in 2005, almost all monsters were obtainable through some combination of Colosseum and Pokémon FireRed and LeafGreen. Emerald also unifies the two stories into a cohesive whole for what amounts to Hoenn’s “ultimate take”, which concludes with a rather impressive three-way battle between Groudon, Kyogre and Rayquaza. And of course there’s Battle Frontier, a set of late-night challenges that builds on the mission of the eight badges, making it one of my favorite pieces of post-game content. In fact, I really liked Pokémon Emerald. It might even be my favorite game in the series.
Will that content be in Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire?
Yes and no. There have been general indications that Battle Frontier will return in Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire; And of course there will be many more Pokémon to catch at the end of the game. But the remakes will have a lot more in common with Ruby and Sapphire than Emerald in the way they split Team Aqua and Team Magma between the two versions.
So… Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire are going to be horrible then?
I did not say that! After all, Ruby and Sapphire certainly had their strengths. Aside from the aforementioned headlines, they introduced Contests, which turned out to be a fun alternative to the simple battle with their judging and pageantry competitions. There were also secret bases, which I really enjoyed back in the day. They will both return in Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire.
The series too (ahem) has evolved quite a bit since 2003. Online fighting and trading are now available, and it’s quite possible to carry over your collection from previous versions. As I mentioned before, several of my monsters will be going home after the release of Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire. Game Freak has also deliberately cultivated a unique personality for each region, which should stand out more than ever in the Nintendo 3DS version. Personally, I am excited to go back and see how I feel about the Hoenn region after all these years.
Cleansed. So are there any Pokémon I should be looking for?
Salamence and Metagross are the quintessential Pokémon of the Hoenn region; And it so happens that Game Freak is giving away a free shiny version of Beldum (evolving into Metagross) at launch, so it’s partially covered in that regard. I’m also a fan of Breloom, a pretty cool grass / fighting type Pokémon that starts life as the unassuming Shroomish. Milotic stands out as a great pick for lovers of water-type Pokémon, evolving from the ugly Feebas to a powerful tank. There are a few others, including Mawile, Flygon, and Dusclops, but the ones I mentioned above are my favorites. Of course, there are now more than 700 Pokémon available to catch, so you won’t be short of options.
Court! Hoenn, here I come!
Have fun! See you there.