Pokémon Alpha Sapphire Review – Time To Hoenn Your Skills
Developer: Game Freak Publisher: Nintendo, The Pokémon Company Platform: 3DS
Release Date: November 21st Price: $39.99
Shocking news! The Pokémon franchise is still going strong. With 16 years and 6 generations under its belt, Game Freak has come up with a pretty good formula. However, as the series started to release annually, my interest slowly dwindled until X and Y kickstarted it again. Now, how does Alpha Sapphire match up? Does it keep those spirits high? For the most part, yes.
This review can apply to both Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire because of their similar core structure. To prevent confusion (and to avoid having to write out both titles each time), The review will reference the version I played, Alpha Sapphire.
The plot of Alpha Sapphire is pretty much synonymous with every other game in the mainline series. Get your starter Pokémon, challenge 8 Gyms, take on the Elite Four and the Champion. The destination may be the same, but each game manages to make the journey interesting, and this game’s no different.
The original plot of Ruby and Sapphire involves not one, but two enemy teams seeking control of the Hoenn region, Team Aqua and Team Magma. In Alpha Sapphire, Team Aqua is the main group you contend with. There is also alternate running narrative about the Legendary Pokémon of the sea, as well as characters like Steven Stone and Wally to liven up the story.
Pokémon Alpha Sapphire does a great job of the retaining the original story, as well as the game’s layout and progression, while at the same time updating features. This retention is seen right away with the Pokémon Center and Pokémart as separate buildings again. This is a good consideration for the Ruby and Sapphire fans, while still being straightforward for newcomers.
There is also quite a bit of additional story that expands on Hoenn’s place in the Pokémon Universe, especially later in the story. The biggest of these is a cool post-game sequence called the Delta Episode. Without spoiling too much, the Delta Episode takes a look at events that happened in Hoenn over 3,000 years ago and investigates the forces behind Mega Evolution.
Unsurprisingly, Pokémon X and Y’s 3D visuals return in Alpha Sapphire. Game Freak seems to have learned from their development of X and Y and makes better use of 3D space, with more appropriate angles in cutscenes and exploration. This makes for the most visually striking mainline Pokémon game so far, even though many location layouts are identically square to the GBA games and not like Lumiose City in X and Y.
Plenty of areas get needed visual updates, with some areas like Mauville City getting complete overhauls. Gyms are also appropriately updated in their visual and puzzle designs, with my favorites being the Rustboro City and Mossdeep City Gyms.
Alpha Sapphire has many areas of visual improvement, but there are others that I feel could have been improved. Gym Leaders and other boss characters get great overworld models and animations, but their battle introductions are just 2D character art. It also feels like less characters have animated battle intros, and I really wish it was either one or the other.
That’s not to say that either one looks bad. In fact, these redesigns look cool and fitting for the updated visual style. Characters like Archie and Shelly look completely different now. I like the majority of these, with the exception of the female playable character May. I feel that removing her bandana took a lot away from her design, and I don’t think that the headband is a good replacement.
On the technical side, battles still suffer from framerate drops, especially in 3D Mode. It seemed to be improved at first, but the problem reared its ugly head in later battles with larger, more complexly animated Pokémon.
As for Alpha Sapphire’s sound design, it’s pretty much par for the course. For the most part, they are mainly updated or higher quality sound effects from the original GBA games. The music, however, is the key element that stands out. This game’s soundtrack has some of the most nostalgia-inducing Pokémon music I’ve heard in a remake.
I haven’t really been a fan of previous Pokémon remake music, especially HeartGold and SoulSilver. In the case of Alpha Sapphire, I find that the music strikes a good balance in its style. I never really noticed how much Ruby and Sapphire made use of trumpets, but it’s pretty obvious in this version. Having a single instrument as the foundation for the rest of the composition makes for a memorable soundtrack and some of the best music in the series.
The Pokémon series’ core design has remained fairly stationary. Catch Pokémon, learn their strengths and weaknesses, level them up and/or evolve them, and use them to battle other trainers. That said, there have been many enhancements to the series in the past decade since Ruby and Sapphire, and Alpha Sapphire takes advantage of these.
Previously, there were moments where you needed to backtrack quite a distance to another city for story reasons. That option still exists, but to expedite your travels, characters like your rival will ask if you want to accompany them, essentially as a sort of pre-Fly fast travel. It’s a small detail, but I appreciate it.
One of the big Generation III features was the introduction of Pokémon Contests. Contests are side competitions where you show off the appeal of your Pokémon against other Trainers. This time around, a new character named Lisia introduces you to the Contest scene and gives you a costume. Cosplay Pikachu also comes into play here which is pretty cute in Contests. Functionally, Contests are similar to the games before, but the visual upgrades and Mega Evolving are nice touches.
The Circle Pad on the 3DS can be used for analog movement in Alpha Sapphire, but it can also be used for a new Sneak ability. By tilting the Circle Pad, you can slowly sneak up on Pokémon hiding in rustling grass, which can be detected by the DexNav on your PokéNav. The rustling grass may be hiding uncommon Pokémon, or even Pokémon with rare abilities or moves.
Alpha Sapphire does have some returning features that have less of an impact. For example, Super Secret Bases are back. Like before, if you use the move Secret Power in certain locations of the overworld, you can open up secret hideouts to furnish and share with friends. While its core is pretty similar and will get you as much mileage as you would expect, the ability to share via StreetPass or by QR Code is a nice touch.
HM requirements for Alpha Sapphire are identical to Ruby and Sapphire, so it’s important to go in anticipating that. It’s possible to find yourself needing to use Surf and not having a Pokémon that can use it. I noticed that just playing through and catching the Pokémon I felt like catching didn’t prepare me for this, so be aware.
On another note, it would be nice if Dowsing Machines would stop changing how they function for each game. I’d appreciate not having to relearn how it works, and Alpha Sapphire’s is one of the more bizzare.
Many of the gameplay features introduced in X and Y make their return in Alpha Sapphire. Obviously, Mega Evolutions are back, and the new ones are pretty rad. There are less new Mega Evolutions this time around, but Mega Stones from X and Y can also be found. The only new Mega Evolutions I don’t like visually are Mega Latias and Mega Latios since they look incredibly similar.
Granted, Mega Latias and Mega Latios give you the ability to soar through the skies. This can be used to travel to many locations, not just Pokémon Centers. Other areas know as Mirage Spots can be found while flying. These help you find Pokémon from other regions, including Legendaries.
Pokémon Amie, the Player Search System, and Super Training all return from X and Y and appear in the PlayNav section of the PokéNav. As expected, these function exactly the same as X and Y, so those familiar with them should have no trouble. Exp Share works in the same way as well, for better or worse. Still, you can toggle this on or off like before.
Unfortunately, one of my favorite features from X and Y didn’t make it into Alpha Sapphire. If you dislike your character’s design like I dislike May’s, too bad. Character customization isn’t available in this version, and I feel that it devalues the game somewhat. This is especially noticeable when battling online, as each Trainer looks the same instead of X and Y’s diverse mix.
As a remake, Pokémon Alpha Sapphire is a wonderful example of how best to handle updated features and content. As the 6th entry in a row in the now annual Pokémon series, however, its impact isn’t nearly as strong. While it has much needed content and story updates, it still has a couple of unfavorable old designs and lacks a couple of new ones. Even if I dislike these, It wouldn’t be a proper remake if these were changed and the game is still a lot of fun. Pokémon Alpha Sapphire is a good game and a great remake, but for some, that may not be good enough.