Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire - Review


Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire

Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire - Review

My journey into the Pokémon universe continued with Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire. Personally I played Ruby, and I’ve played the advanced edition, Emerald, many times in the past so I was really comfortable playing the game and didn’t really feel out of my depth.

However, playing both Red and Gold just before Ruby gave me complete appreciation of all the advances features in Pokémon Ruby; it really helped figure out exactly how kids unboxing Pokémon Ruby and slotting it into their shiny new Gameboy Advances felt back in 2003, when Ruby and Sapphire were released. And boy, the changes from Pokémon Gold and Silver to Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire were big.

Just to recap, Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire were released in 2003, as the first main series Pokémon games to be released for the GameBoy Advance. Pokémon Emerald, the advanced edition, was released a few years later, and together, all three games became some of the best-selling Gameboy Advance games of all time.

Although the games mostly received positive reviews Ruby and Sapphire were both criticized for repeating a lot of gameplay elements from previous generations, and their Metacritic score is 82% based on thirty-three reviews.

However, I personally feel that both games improved vastly over their predecessors, although it’s hard to say whether this is purely a result of game development, or the shift to a more advanced console.

Storyline and Plot

Just like the last two games, in Ruby and Sapphire, the player starts off by moving to a sleepy little town in the middle of nowhere. You leave your house and head outside for the first major difference to happen.

After exploring the neighborhood and meeting your new next-door neighbor, you come across a lab-coat wearing man being chased around by a wild Pokémon! You choose a Pokémon from the professor’s briefcase and save the professor, creating a bond between yourself and your chosen Pokémon.

From there, the Professor charges you with exploring the world, discovering all the Pokémon there are, and fighting all the gym leaders in the Hoenn region.

The premise is pretty much identical to the premise of Red and Blue, but it plays out very differently once the player leaves the starter towns and begins to explore. Unlike when I was playing Gold, every town I explored felt unique and pushed me to explore, looking through all the houses to talk to interesting NPCs, or finding important items.

The Hoenn region is definitely more interesting and varied than the Johto region, with its scraggly mountains, long coastline, complex archipelagos, and even jungles of tall grass. The new Pokémon similarly felt fresh and interesting and I was quite impressed with some of the new type combinations.

One of the starters is a part fighting type when it evolves, and some the Pokémon like Baltoy (a dual ground/psychic type Pokémon) and Tropius (a flying/grass type) had type combinations I’d never seen before. Personally I was really impressed with Tropius given its unique design, a combination of a stegosaurus and a Boeing 747, but most of the other Pokémon had something interesting to offer besides being useful for gameplay.

I was quite surprised to find that Ruby had a very large aquatic maze section; throughout a large part of the late-game, the player has to explore an archipelago of several islands and underwater caves, which was, while interesting, a bit confusing the first few times I played through it.

Still, the concept was fresh (the earlier generations had sea exploration sections as well, but all fairly linear and none on this scale) and I applaud Game Freak for it.


On the topic of water however, I will add that HM usage was a significant source of annoyance for me throughout the course of the game. The very first time I played a third generation Pokémon game, I’d played Emerald, and I’d picked Mudkip, the water-type starter.

However, due to the prevalence of sea-based battles and exploration, it quickly became clear to me that I needed to teach my water-type Pokémon the move “surf” in order to explore the sea. Then, I had to teach it “dive” to explore the underwater caverns.

Add to that repertoire “waterfall” and pretty soon my previous start type Pokémon was effectively an HM slave, relegated to the role of a pack animal. It was kind of sad, and I had to plan hard in advance to avoid reaching this kind of state in later playthroughs.

I understand the necessity of having HM moves and gating certain regions in the game behind natural barriers, but it doesn’t make me any less annoyed at clogging up my water-type Pokémon’s move set with effectively useless moves and limiting its flexibility in battle. Still, for the casual player this might not be that much of a problem if they don’t rely on their water type in battle.

However, what I do want to add, and probably the biggest positive that I felt Pokémon Ruby added and that the previous generation lacked, was the addition of a strong sideplot.

In Red and Blue, fighting Team Rocket was still a new experience, and at the top of their power they were able to form a significant barrier to the player’s progression through to the Elite Four, what with Giovanni holding Viridian City gym, Team Rocket’s grunt’s blocking access to the Saffron City gym, and even holding Mr. Fuji hostage in Pokémon Tower, where the player has to get the Poké flute.

In comparison, the sideplot in Gold and Silver was pretty disappointing, with just some lingering remnants of Team Rocket hanging around Johto, waiting for Giovanni to come back, and stopping their scheme to enrage the Gyrados in the Lake of Rage felt more like a chore than anything.

On the other hand, the sideplot in Ruby and Sapphire was both consequential, rewarding, and interesting. The player has to fight the heinous Team Magma or Team Aqua (depending on the game version), which unlocks ancient powers rooted in the history of the Hoenn region in a misguided attempt to enslave a legendary Pokémon and expand the surface of the Earth or the ocean respectively.

The consequences this time affect the entire world, and the premise is quite a bit more interesting than some lowly criminals looking to make some money, so I was quite invested in it in my playthrough, and that’s all besides the tasty reward of the powerful legendary Pokémon Groudon, Kyogre, and Rayquaza that can be unlocked through the quest, of course.

Gameplay and Art

If there was one field where I had to say that Ruby and Sapphire improved over Gold and Silver, it was in the art department. The upgrade to the GameBoy Advance definitely gave Game Freak the room they needed to begin creating more concrete and colorful designs for the Pokémon in the game.

Most of the background art is new, with my personal favorites being the new designs for the Pokécenters and Pokémarts. The variety in the Hoenn region I mentioned before definitely owes a lot of its success to the vibrant colors of the GameBoy Advance, with the deep blues of Sootropolis City’s oceans, the rich reds of the mountains, and the lush greens of the forests and grasses in Hoenn all appearing spectacularly pleasing to the eye.

I was a bit disappointed with the lack of improvement in the gameplay department, what with dropping the day/night cycle introduced in Gold and Silver, and making only a few small improvements elsewhere.

The backpack and PC upgrades were definitely helpful, more organized storage space is always appreciated for hoarding RPG gamers, and the added doubles battles were fun to play, especially in Emerald where you get to fight a doubles battle with your fellow Pokémon trainer against Team Magma, although I have to admit that, as noted by 1UP.com, the doubles battles were greatly underused, and could have used with more inclusion in the gameplay.

Conclusion

Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire are, in conclusion, a solid entry in the Pokémon series. They generally felt to me like a bit of a break from the wide expansion that Gold and Silver made in terms of gameplay features, taking time to refine some of the things that Pokémon already had going for it, like an attractive cast of Pokémon and notable rivalries and battles, while applying a previously successful formula to a new, unused location.

In retrospect, Gold and Silver definitely felt like they were piggy-backing off the success of Red and Blue, with Johto opening up directly onto Kanto and a lot of the characters from Red and Blue being accessible in Gold and Silver.

In contrast, Ruby and Sapphire feel like fresh, interesting takes on the Pokémon genre, while maintaining the entertainment and adventure that the earlier generations so successfully developed.


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