Pokemon Ruby/Sapphire - Review

Semi-precious Game
By: Michael Beckett

Review Breakdown
   Battle System 6
   Interface 4
   Music & Sound 3
   Originality 8
   Story & Plot 2
   Localization 8
   Replay Value 2
   Visuals 4
   Difficulty Easy
   Completion Time 40-50 Hours  

R&S' stupid foes make complex strategy pointless.
R&S' stupid foes make complex strategy pointless.
Pokemon Ruby/Sapphire

   Nintendo seems to be in dire straits these days. The Gamecube is being mired by the X-Box and PS2's dominance of the adult market (never try to sell a $300 machine to a ten year old kid). Mario Sunshine seems to have been eclipsed, and the Pokemon fad is fading, replaced by Yu-Gi-Oh and others. So it seems a little bit incongruous that on the box of Pokemon Ruby and Sapphire, Nintendo bills itself as 'The Pokemon Company'.

   While Nintendo may or may not be grasping at straws, one of their greatest franchises certainly is. Pokemon Ruby and Sapphire makes a few minor and much needed adjustments to the formula, but for the most part, it's the same game Pokemon Gold and Silver was. That is one of Pokemon R&S' biggest problems - it's nothing new at all.

   Combat is nearly identical to the previous games. Six monsters to a party, one on one battles, Speed stat determines turn order, yawn. Still present are the ten-odd elementals which spice combat up and add a bit of strategy, but only the two-on-two battles are new. The two-on-two fights are very interesting and quite fun, but don't occur often enough for my taste. The enlarged list of Pokemon to choose from and the similarly inflated move list both go some way towards refreshing a combat system that was quickly going the way of the Tomb Raider series.

   Maybe it's just the new GBA SP, but control seemed stiff, especially in menus. Just a tap of the button gets the cursor nowhere, and things are similarly stiff on the field. Strangely, control got better in certain places; the PokeNav, colloquially known as a map, had quite responsive control, whereas the main menu from the field did not. While it was nothing overly serious, it did detract from the game at points where fine control was required.

   The music was quite unexpectedly good. Previously in Pokemon, the sound in general has been scratchy, tinny, and hard to listen to. What a difference a handheld generation makes, eh? Composition and sound quality both take a light-year leap over previous installments, making Pokemon R&S' music worth shelling out the money for a headphone adaptor, for those of you with an SP. Other sounds took a similar leap, though not as great. The monster cries are still a bit mechanical-sounding, and there are very few sound effects in the game outside of battle. The wide variety and high quality of the soundtrack takes Pokemon R&S' M&S rating far.

It is El Pollo Diablo!
It is El Pollo Diablo!

   Farther than its originality is going to go, at any rate. Pokemon R&S is Nintendo's tenth installment of the Pokemon franchise, counting all the Trading Card Game, Snap and Stadium spin-offs. Game Freak, the Pokemon designer, seems loathe to change a formula it knows has been selling well. The result is that Pokemon R&S comes off feeling a little stale. The new monsters help, as do the other minor tweaks they put in - a choice of genders, a slightly longer story, and, finally, a dash button. But the end result is still very similar to the previous games. Graphically, strategically, even story-wise, Pokemon R&S resembles Pokemon G&S a little too much.

   The plot of Pokemon is not very deep, nor should it be. It is, after all, aimed at young children. The story follows a young trainer, either male or female, as he/she tries to attain his/her goal of being the best Pokemon trainer in the land. Again, seen it before, nothing new, doesn't inspire much reaction. Like the rest of the game, the hopeful-happy-people-by-rote plot was given just enough tweaks to make it new enough for a re-release. This time, instead of one mean rival, the main character has two sympathetic ones. As far as was evident, the plot has neither development nor meaning to it, and the set of characters you start with is operationally the same as the one you end up with: no one really changes. This is another lamentable aspect that Nintendo RPGs all seem to have.

   Nintendo's localizations are usually well done, and Pokemon R&S follows in that tradition. Errors are very few - only one or two in 50+ hours of gameplay. The translators certainly deserve, at the very least, a massive pay raise for translating the names of three hundred and fifty-one whimsical monsters, and still keeping each name interesting, unique and humorous. And they're still loyal to the original names.

   What the Pokemon series does not have is replay value. It, still-play value. What I mean is that, since it is possible to capture a nearly unlimited number of each monster, and since the game still supports only one save file, the player is encouraged to keep playing the same file continuously instead of starting over. There's nothing wrong with this, but if you screw up and miss one or more of the game's unique monsters, you'll be forced to start over from the beginning in order to catch them. Or find some sap who doesn't want his.

Status effects, such as Dustox's, are an easy road to victory.
Status effects, such as Dustox's, are an easy road to victory.

   As stated earlier, visuals are singularly unimpressive. Aside from a small amount of sprite rotation and color shading, the graphics on Pokemon R&S could have been handled by the GB Color. I'd be interested to find out if it was a matter of continuity with the previous games or if the designers chose to keep an outdated graphical style because they were pressed for time, or what happened here. The Game Boy Advance is capable of so much more, and what's worse, Nintendo knows it.

   Either Ruby or Sapphire aren't particularly difficult games. Aside from one or two gym battles, any collection of pocket monsters should be able to defeat any opposing group based solely on superiority of levels. Time to complete is a hard thing to pin down. In order to complete the plot, the player will need to spend something like 40-50 hours - a fairly long game, especially for a handheld. However, there are a couple of sidequests that act almost as an epilogue to your travels, and if you intend to raise Pokemon for two-player competition or for the beauty contests, you could legitimately play Pokemon R&S forever. How's that for a selling point?

   I must admit to being a bit torn on the final score of this game. The combat system is overly simple, somewhat elderly, and far too reliant on level as the deciding factor of battles. The plot is weak, meaningless, and far oversimplified. On the other hand, raising the little critters is a lot of fun. Fighting a foe and trading with a friend adds extra enjoyment and life to a game that might otherwise become dull after a week or two. Character, and particularly monster design is very, very good, with an eye towards the aesthetic tastes of the younger generation without being so childish as to make the game impossibly kiddy in the eyes of older gamers. The end result is this; if you liked the previous games, and if you just want to have fun, you'll like this one. If you get easily bored by unoriginal plot and combat design, or think you won't enjoy Pokemon because it's too childish, best to steer clear.

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