Pokemon ORAS Review: A Beautiful Love Letter To The Originals

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Developer: Game Freak

Publisher: Nintendo

Platform: Nintendo 3DS

Release Date: November 21st

Pokemon Ruby and Sapphire are 11 years old, so I feel safe talking about the plot a little here. There are some new elements and twists to the plot, but I will keep this review spoiler-free of any new storyline. If you want to avoid all spoilers, skip the “Land and Sea” section on Page 2.

Wow. Never has it been so hard for me to keep a secret as it was reviewing Pokemon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire, the upcoming remakes of Pokemon Ruby and Sapphire to be released on Friday. I wanted to scream everything about these games to the hilltops–all the good, and there’s so much good, as well as grumble about the few flaws that speckled the game here and there. Pay attention! This Pokemon ORAS review’s a three pager.

Where do I even begin? From the moment the game begins–in the back of a moving van, if you recall–you can tell that the developers had a lot of love for the original games. They seek to tell the same story of a fledgling trainer collecting eight gym badges that we have come to love, but with tons of added color. In many ways, this is the same story we all knew from the GBA–an evil team trying to cover the world in land/water, a scared kid catching a Ralts and gaining confidence, an ancient power sleeping deep beneath the ocean, and the overarching theme of harmony between humans, Pokemon, and nature. But what ORAS does best is take the system already established in Pokemon X and Y and nearly perfect it, bringing a fresh take to the old games and letting players relive them as a brand new adventure.

Natural beauty

Let’s start with what you notice first–graphics. This game is beautiful! You know by now that the graphics are technically the same as they were in X and Y, but my awe was in the amount of detail they put into making Hoenn really look like a region blessed with natural beauty. From little touches like unique trees along the sides of the road (instead of the same tree copied again and again), to huge effects like giant craters left by meteors; from crystal clear waterfalls, to detailed carvings on cave walls, to my personal favorite, a glassy lake that reflects enormous glowing stars above it at night, Hoenn is drop-dead gorgeous.

More than that, the environment felt alive. As I traveled, grass would rustle with wild Pokemon (more on that later), and sometimes while running along the beach I would scare a flock of Wingull into flight. When entering a particularly beautiful or significant area, the camera angle automatically panned in, out, or around to give me the best view of the scene. All in all, Hoenn’s visual transformation from GBA to 3DS was pure joy.

That’s the good. The bad is that…well, aside from some nice new backgrounds for the different areas, battle graphics are the same for the most part. And while the updated 3D battle system was awesome in X and Y, some of the attacks still look ridiculous and the framerate is still really slow in 3D, and sometimes even in 2D. It’s really obvious when the Pokemon’s animations start slowing down considerably. The 3D is worth keeping off for this game for the most part…though be sure to turn it on during cutscenes, and whenever you enter an area with a particularly gorgeous backdrop. There’s a few areas that ORAS does render in 3D that are absolutely stunning.

If you, like me, were clamoring for trumpets, trumpets, and more trumpets in the game’s soundtrack, you might be disappointed. The music, while featuring trumpets prominently in some melodies (Routes 104 and 120, for instance), has about as much brass as any other Pokemon OST. However, this has been replaced with wonderful orchestrations. I played the game with the volume all the way up, all the time, and occasionally just stopped and listened, particularly in places like the Oceanic Museum and Route 113. The new soundtrack more than made up for my disappointment at not every song being performed by a full brass choir, and there’s even several new pieces composed for some of the game’s most epic moments that still carry the flavor of Hoenn.

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