377th played so far

Pokemon-Ruby_SapphireGenre: Role-Playing
Platform: Game Boy Advance
Year of Release: 2002
Developer: Gamefreak
Publisher: Nintendo/The Pokémon Company

If we timed it right, this entry will go live around the same time this game’s remakes will be released. It’s not something we can normally arrange this easily, but for once the numbers worked out and we were aware in advance.

I know the Pokémon series incredibly well – there are few games I know better – thanks in part to a long time helping maintain related websites. We held off on the write-up for some time simply because it seemed cheap and because we could do it from memory, something I’ll be doing even now. Even so, the timing of the book’s release impacts a lot, with some of the best games being released just after the book’s initial publication. Still, we have to try to be objective here.

Our Thoughts

Pokémon, as a series, does not seem like the most interesting game for a hardcore player. The main campaign is usually fairly easy, with the solution to any problem consisting of gaining levels – almost any team will work to finish the game. Once you get deeper into the game, this changes, and the battling system can get frighteningly complex, down to the partial disassembly of the game people have done to understand how systems work and how everything affects each other. While many rarely go deep down the rabbit hole, it’s all there (although not always explained) and you’ll likely still use one or two bits of them.

Even now, people have analysed all the different monsters in teh game, compared them to each other, and made tiers of competence. Large groups turn up for official tournaments each year, with some of our friends having travelled to Hawaii for the official tournament – paid for by Nintendo, who support what is their second biggest franchise (following the Mario series) and is, by sales figures, the second biggest gaming franchise in the world. I suppose this is a story as much told by the other places the franchise has gone, through trading cards and the now 17 season long anime series.

The reason for its popularity is probably, in part, that at this point, it’s up to you how far deep you dive in. You can do your favourites, or you make it tough. You can go deep into battling or have fun with contests. You can place onerous restrictions on yourself – the Nuzlocke challenge is a recent favourite. On the whole though, unless you go for the boring repetitive stuff, the game is fun, with bright, cartoony visuals and easy new choices to make each time – new starters, new catches, new moves to use and try.

The gameplay is pretty basic – battles, against wild Pokemon (which can be caught) and trainers (who use a team like you) pit your team of up to six Pokemon against the opponent. Each Pokemon knows up to four moves, which can be damaging or supporting moves, and the one you have out (or two in double battles) can use one each turn. Damage is influenced by the type of the move and the type(s) of your opponent in a giant web of rock-paper-scissors setups. All sorts of additional effects then come in – the aforementioned double battles require you to interact with each other more, there are status effects to consider, abilities that make each Pokemon a bit more unique and held items that can change their abilities a bit further. These are not too different from other RPGs, but through the generations of the game, these have become more refined, with the system only being adjusted between games, with the majority staying and only bits and pieces being added on.

To progress through the game, you level up your monster and capture more of them – one of the game’s main tenets was (and still is) the “catch ’em all” aspect of trying to fill your Pokedex by having owned all of them in the game. It’s really just an element for the obsessive, but even trying to get some part of it done can be fun for a while.

As the basic concept of the game doesn’t change much, then (and most of the write-up should stay relevant for our future discussion of Diamond and Pearl), these games have often been accused of being repetitive. Ruby and Sapphire try to fix this in a few ways. The big one that stuck were the double battles – setting up Pokemon in a 2vs2 match, changing the feeling of battles and underlying strategy. The concept was expanded on later, but feels solid here already. Less permanent were contests, which were slowly removed, but feel like a full extra game here with different Pokemon being viable and different strategies being needed. Their biggest sin is probably that they exist so far outside main gameplay, only happening in a few cities and unlocking only halfway through the game, that there’s rarely a need to bother with them. Not much useful comes in. If they were integrated better (such as in-route battles, as we speculated about back when drips of informations leaked during the months before release) they would have made for an interesting, if at times frustrating alternative, but as it is it seems to fall flat, being more a bother than an interesting game.

The third generation of Pokemon games seems to have more detractors than many others. It will be interesting what these critics will say of the remakes, as it feels like their concerns won’t apply as much. The big one seemed to be the shock of being unfamiliar – most of the old monsters weren’t available in the game, to be released in later games, with no way to trade them from earlier games (the only time this was not possible between generations in a Pokemon game, and one that seems to have been the reason transfering was possible in every future generation). The region, while prettier, tried to imitate a number of known beats a bit too closely, which is the common joke about the series now, but didn’t seem to offer enough personality of its own. Again, here a remake could help.

Looking at it with the benefit of hindsight, it all isn’t as bad. If you’re not familiar with all the beats, they work well enough here. There is a feel, now, of the game being a step in between, and any player who wanted to play them is probably better off playing Emerald, the third game in the list, which cleaned up some issues and expanded the endgame with a lot more focused battling facilities that were as difficult as they should be in a game like this. Beyond that, the region and games are different, perhaps at times a bit flavourless, but good fun once you’ve gotten into the franchise. If you haven’t, Diamond and Pearl play better from the games on the list, and you’re probably always better off playing the most recent games.

Final Thoughts

I know a lot about the Pokémon games having played one from each pair that has ever been released. The inclusion of Pokémon Ruby/Sapphie baffles me since it is by far my least favourite of the main RPGS. To be honest I find it hard to express what it is exactly about this game that makes me dislike it significantly than the other ones.

I figured once the list was updated it would be jettisoned for the newer version that I enjoyed… but no. Still, I might enjoy the remakes.

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