The beginning of "beginning and the end."
I had a chance recently to play the final versions of the latest pair of Pokémon games. Unlike the public demo, my time was spent at the beginning of the game up through the first trainer battle. I played Omega Ruby, while watching someone else play Alpha Sapphire. They start identically to the original GBA version, before masterfully transitioning to the full 3D game. The Greek letter editions stick close to the originals, so characters, locations, and situations should be very familiar. Of course, all of the recent enhancements from X and Y modernize and streamline the game.
You start out choosing a male or female trainer before being dropped into the story where you arrive in Littleroot Town, quickly befriending the kid of Pokémon expert Professor Birch, and setting off to become a Pokémon master like your father. Though the story generally progresses in the same way, I noticed that the game’s been made a bit easier at the beginning – and after my demo session, I went back to play the original to verify. I chose Torchic, the fire-based Pokémon, as my starter. In the original pair of games, Torchic took several rounds of leveling to learn Ember. However, in Omega Ruby, it was already in my first move slot. Some other things have been rebalanced. For instance, I started with multiple Pokéballs ready to capture Pokémon from the get-go. This equipment boost makes starting out progress more quickly.
Upcoming promotions like the Shiny Beldum giveaway and the fact that you can transfer progress from the demo version to the full version will further accelerate players through the game, letting dedicated players move from story to collection.
One of the biggest differences from the original is due to the dual screen nature of the 3DS. All menu functions now exist on the lower screen, so you don’t need to switch into a separate menu. This screen holds the PokéNav, a smartphone-like device upgradable with custom “apps” that you can receive from characters in game, which is a neat feature that helps players work through Pokémon collection more quickly. BuzzNav works as a news ticker, while AreaNav helps you track down Pokémon in surrounding areas. DexNav is the latest iteration of the Pokédex that stores data on all of the Pokémon you’ve seen and captured. These “Navs” make navigation around the world easier, as well as streamlines the process of “catching ‘em all.”
The Pokémon radar is a new mechanic in the AreaNav, which helps you find specific Pokémon of interest, as well as Pokémon you’ve already seen, but start with a stat boost. In certain areas of tall grass, you can see Pokémon tails sticking out. Approach too quickly, and the animal will get scared away. But if you nudge the Circle Pad just a bit, you can tip-toe and creep up on the Pokémon in order to force it into battle.
Pokémon-Amie, the digital pet feature that debuted in X and Y, is part of the PlayNav. The Mega Evolutions of X and Y also make their way into the remakes. Even Rayquaza, Pokémon Emerald mascot, will get a Mega Evolution.
The new 3D world allows for various small additions -- your character now sits down on chairs rather than walking over them. Characters are fully illustrated, giving them more personality, and the Team Magma grunts almost convey more seriousness (though how can they with those silly hoods and excessive salutes?). And it’s not just the game that’s become more technologically advanced. The world within the game has as well. Instead of Game Boy Advances and GameCubes, the protagonists now have Nintendo 3DS and Wii U consoles in their rooms. Speaking of technical advances, Game Link wires are no more, and battles are performed wirelessly as in X and Y.
Some of the oddities of X and Y still remain, such as where overworld graphics are not displayed in stereoscopic 3D. The only negative I noticed during my play time is that battles seem to take slightly longer to start up, adding a perceptible load time in a place where it wasn’t previously.
As I talked with the Nintendo reps, it quickly became clear how the layers of Pokémon have gotten increasingly complex over the years. Talking about Pokémon is almost like speaking another language. But layered on top of the simple design of Ruby and Sapphire, the remakes provide a great entry point into the series, as well as a chance for long-time players to revisit a newly invigorated world.