I’ll be honest: I had originally planned on writing a Sonic The Hedgehog 2 article, in celebration of its recent 22nd year anniversary, but the more that time passed the more I found myself procrastinating with playing Pokemon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire. And while in any other sort of writing field this could be kind of a threat to productivity, I tend to interpret distraction by other video games as a possible sign of something more worth writing about for a given moment.
If you’re a pokemon fan, you might have been one of the millions who have been waiting eleven years for these remakes. Despite selling considerably less well than Pokemon Gold and Silver, their immediate predecessors, hype for remakes has been around for years, even making a fairly regular internet meme out of the phrase “Hoenn Confirmed,” alluding to fan speculation about inclusion of Hoenn (Ruby/Sapphhire’s region) references in other games. Ruby and Sapphire, and to an extent their followup game Emerald, were big game changers for the Pokemon series for a number of reasons. In no particular order:
1. They proved you don’t need E3 to promote the game to get the job done.
It’s very common these days for the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) to be that big push games need to psych up consumers – worst case scenario, E3 is the last ditch effort for getting gamers to even hear of some titles. Ruby and Sapphire did not receive promotion from Nintendo at that year’s E3 convention, but rather opted for promotion in other means. Small promotions at the time included a contest to sing the theme song for a chance at a Lugia PT Cruiser, and collaborating with the UK soda brand Vimto to put the name of the games out there.
Older fans may also remember the Eon Ticket Summer Tour, where 125 Toys ‘R’ Us stores across the United States gave away the Eon Ticket, a tangible e-card that unlocked a special island in the game for a pokemon normally not obtainable in the given version (Latios or Latias respectively).
In some ways, the ability to ignore E3 altogether was a big sign that pokemon had officially “made it” – which sounds silly to think about now that they’re so big and were already kind of a big deal at the time, but it also showed that smaller promotions can do just as well, giving hope for both future pokemon games and more independent games down the road.
2. They introduced the ability to patch games to the series.
This one is another huge deal that is lost on increasingly younger generations. Patches, and downloadable content as a whole, are practically a given with console games these days, and are often as simple as just downloading the updates off the relevant online store of that system. But Pokemon was doing that before games could really get online to any useful capacity (I say “useful” because I do admit games like Phantasy Star Online made noble attempts and paved the way for other games later, but were not reaching full online gaming potential at the time). Pokemon Ruby and Sapphire, like their predecessors and many games in general, had their fair share of glitches, but one glitch in particular would actually damage the way the game was played: if the game was played for a year straight or over 100 hours, time based events would stop occurring, such as gardening, the tide and weather on certain routes, department store sales, or evolving Eevee into Umbreon or Espeon.
In the absence of any sort of online distribution, the developers got creative. The Pokemon Colosseum Bonus Disc, a disc that gave Jirachi to those that pre-ordered Pokemon Colosseum, would send a patch with Jirachi to the afflicted games – and every future Generation III game – Fire Red, Leaf Green, and Emerald – would also transfer the patch through common interactions.
Pokemon in particular is a series that can benefit from a precedence and history of patching. While Pokemon X and Y, the first games in the series to implement multiple patches through easy online distribution, predominantly used this feature to fix glitches, they have proven themselves capable of patching for other features, such as allowing compatibility with future games. Hidden within the game’s coding are signs of pokemon not yet released or possible to obtain, as well as items and Mega Evolutions that did not become usable until Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire. Although Nintendo has expressed disinterest in interviews with doing this for the time being, there’s really nothing stopping Nintendo from sending patches that add new areas to explore or new pokemon to the possible Pokedex.
Speaking of checking the game’s coding…
3. Data mining became a reasonable way to speculate the future.
One of my favorite things growing up with Ruby and Sapphire was that those two games in particular would impress me time and time again with things hidden away that I did not know about. The internet would eventually make this more of an expectation than a surprise, but even before Fire Red and Leaf Green came out people were able to data mine and find within the coding the “National Pokedex” – a phrase now common in pokemon games but first used in these games to describe the pokedex that has every pokemon from every series. Ruby and Sapphire were commonly criticized upon initial reviews for not being able to connect with Generations I and II, and with the Hoenn Pokedex only containing a small sample of previous generation pokemon, many were initially convinced their favorites were lost with the new generation.
But data mining and finding the National Pokedex promised there would be more to come. It showed it was possible in that generation to complete a pokedex of 386 pokemon (the maximum released at the time), and that future games would allow access to the pokemon thought by younger fans to be lost forever. Some of this was exacerbated at the time because the final box art for the games mysteriously dropped the until-then iconic slogan of “Gotta Catch ‘Em All!” – although later fans would joke that this was just a note that not even the developers thought it was realistic for every gamer to try and catch every pokemon in the world anymore (and many critics also were noticing that catching them all required multiple purchases, satirizing that with parody catch phrases of “Gotta Buy ‘Em All”). The slogan was retired for about ten years, until Pokemon X and Y made the slogan popular with YouTube channel videos.
Getting back on topic, it is now fairly common for people to look through the data of pokemon games to see what’s next. Pokemon X and Y data mining revealed the new pokemon still to come, and looking into the coding of the demo version of ORAS also revealed several trainers and abilities that would come later, like the Primal Groudon and Kyogre new signature abilities.
4. Double Battles allowed for competitive play to hit its stride.
Depending on how deeply you get into the pokemon community – and which communities you join – there will be some debate as to whether the true test of skill lies in Singles or Doubles style battles. But this Doubles style feature, introduced with Ruby and Sapphire, became a staple of competitive play, being the mode of choice for official Nintendo tournaments from 2006 all the way up to the current season.
The switch to Doubles, or two pokemon on the field from both teams at a time, led to several changes that made competitive play possible to reach the level it has today. For starters, battles are considerably shorter due to the sheer amount of damage possible on a given turn. Battles are a reasonable expectation of ten or twenty minutes for a fairly even match, and will not take more than twelve turns or so, often ending in five or six. Compare this to singles battles, which can take up to thirty or so turns, sometimes more – and with fewer things to watch at a time, there is considerably less on the spectator side, both in terms of knowing what happened if you missed a piece and in terms of just staying interested in a given fight for long enough.
Doubles, despite several debates about which style requires more skill, no doubt adds complexities to the game that makes the field interesting. Blind attacking becomes slightly more complicated, as players must decide if they want to gang up and take out a big offender or spread the damage more evenly, such as to either avoid a total shut down by the target or to set up a sweep later when everything on the field is equally weakened. Not only that, but moves that only last for a few turns, such as weather modifiers or initiators of special rooms and fields, get far more utility out of the limited turns available as two pokemon can benefit at once – which can make simply stalling out a given condition a less viable choice. These complexities also led to more tension that made the game worth watching, which led to all sorts of additions to the competitive scene that other games have already adapted, such as including commentators to describe the match and promoting matches on a big screen for audiences to watch.
The competitive scene is something that isn’t for everyone, and certainly is not all there is to the game, but it is nonetheless a critical component of pokemon (especially considering the first lyric to the theme song is “I want to be the very best,” and that the majority of the games end in becoming a champion rather than defeating a final boss). And making the competitive scene interesting for people to watch as well as play is one of the most vital essentials to the community’s growth – something Doubles contributed to in several ways.
Of course, the games received hype for reasons other than being such an influence to the pokemon community. For one thing, the music was spectacular; it speaks volumes, not about the remakes but the originals at the time, that remixes and upgrades of the music have not changed all that much. And the world really felt like an adventure to explore, with oceans to sail across (too much water, IGN? Really?), and areas deep under the ocean, or in high trees of forests, or the tops of mountains, just waiting to be explored. And, like any game worth remaking, it was just overall a pretty enjoyable experience the first time, making a remake with better tools at hand all the more curious.
If you haven’t tried ORAS yet, I strongly recommend it. Hoenn’s finally confirmed, and if you play for a little bit you’ll quickly see why.