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Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Pokemon Omega Ruby & Alpha Sapphire.

Hey, guys. Guess who's had about five hours sleep and a very busy day. That's right, Murphy has had about five hours sleep and a very busy day.

Pokemon Omega Ruby & Alpha Sapphire.

You guys, I love Pokemon. The games, at least, not so much any of the surrounding stuff, but the core of the franchise, the thing that people never grow tired of, I think, has always been the games, which is why they are Nintendo's largest and shiniest cash auroch. I think we all eagerly await the day when Nintendo attempts to combine their biggest cash cattle by creating Pokemon Zelda (featuring Wario). 

But Ruby, Sapphire and Emerald were not my favourites. They could be aptly described as my least favourites, even. I played Emerald, specifically, and I didn't really like the region, which seemed bland compared to Johto and lacked the nostalgia factor of Kanto; nor was I particularly enamoured with the plot, which revolved around two environmentalist teams, Team Magma and Team Aqua, attempting to increase the size of the land or ocean respectively by summoning ancient elemental Pokemon.

(No, not those elemental Pokemon. The other ones. No, not those ones either, the other ones.)

Look at these losers.

But I got ORAS (well, I got Alpha Sapphire, my learned colleague at Nine Over Five got Omega Ruby) anyway, because the Pokemon franchise has my delicate man-walnuts in a vice-like grip, and Nintendo knows it. I held off until a little before Christmas, for reasons involve the gifting of gifts and the secreting of secrets, but well was I aware of Nintendo's looming, godfather-esque shadow growing darker and deeper with every passing day.

A remake with shiny new graphics, much updated gameplay, and the welcome addition of Mega Evolutions for more Pokemon (Mega Evolutions being, in essence, digivolution from Digimon), ORAS places a slightly new twist on the story by putting you in pursuit of one of the two environmentalist teams as they attempt to awaken ancient primal versions of their chosen demigods. 

One interesting thing about ORAS' plot is that it seems to have been built for Alpha Sapphire and then clumsily altered for Omega Ruby. Why, Team Magma, do you have an aquatic base with a submarine that you are using to get a Pokemon from beneath the sea? Does this not seem entirely counterproductive to your theme? Not to mention that Team Aqua's goal of a great deluge has an impressive mythological clout behind it that Team Magma's goal lacks.

It's at this point that I come up slightly short on what to say, because while all Pokemon games build on their predecessors, they are also all, by and large, the same. You travel around an interesting region, catching Pokemon and using them to win gym badges from the eight gym leaders, while thwarting the plot of some manner of crime syndicate or cult. The game mechanics, which have been essentially the same since the very first generation of these games, are simple enough for small children while layered enough to keep older children, teenagers, and twenty-something journalists contented. 

The gym leaders have also been redesigned, now with 30% more 'Brawly looks
like a shark got transformed into a dude.'

The graphics are beautiful, the soundtrack is very nice but also very recognisably an updated version of every Pokemon soundtrack, the writing is sound but doesn't stand out amidst the Pokemon games.

These are not massively innovative games, all told, nor do they need to be. The formula has worked very well for producing very enjoyable games for a while. It's not, I think, a lack of originality when you're very deliberately sticking to a formula that you know people enjoy and have a more or less unlimited appetite for, if Pokemon's popularity with a vast audience of diverse demographics year after year is anything to go by.

There are two innovations of sorts for this game, though.

Firstly, Soar, an ability you get after defeating your primal box art Pokemon of choice, which allows you to freely fly anywhere on the map while actually controlling your flying Pokemon, and go to several islands, caves, and interdimensional voids holding legendary Pokemon from other games. It's a very fun ability to use, and also means you can basically take whichever Pokemon has learned Fly out of the team.

Slightly macabre gym.

Secondly, Delta Episode. Functioning kind of like a DLC without the downloading part, Delta Episode is a little epilogue story after the end of the game in which you must prevent a meteorite from hitting the planet. It's fun, kind of epic, can be blurred through in about two hours, and culminates in a legendary Pokemon battle IN SPAAAAACE. It also introduces Zinnia, a rather interesting and surprisingly layered character, and ties in the plot of ORAS with the plot of Pokemon X & Y. 

All in all, a very solid entry in the Pokemon series, and while certainly not a groundbreaking one, it builds on its predecessors in some very interesting way. Now I look forward to the next two Pokemon games, so that Nintendo can once again hold me upside down and shake me out for coins.

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