?It?s yet another Pokemon game!? That opening statement either brought widespread joy or deep sadness and anger to whoever read it. Either way, you know what to expect when you hear ?Brand new Pokemon game!? so let?s just get on with it, shall we?
The story of this Pokemon game, like all those before it, is that you are a young, aspiring Pokemon trainer. You have to go around whichever world you?re in (In this case Hoenn), training up your perfect squad, and collecting badges from Gyms until you have enough credentials to go and take on the Elite Four (The most elite Pokemon trainers in the land) and become Champion of the Official Pokemon League. Ok, so it?s not the deepest of storylines, but then, it doesn?t have to be, because as if anyone plays Pokemon for the story?
Specific story changes for this version include fighting a bunch of bad guys called either Team Magma (Dedicated to widening the land) or Team Aqua (Dedicated to expanding the seas), and taking on your own father in a gym (What a dedicated family of Pokemon lovers you all are!). Interestingly enough, whether you choose to play as a boy or a girl at the beginning of the game changes only one slight thing ? the gender of your rival, who follows you around pretty much the whole game taking you on at random intervals. So really, forget about the story? it?s just an excuse to raise Pokemon in the first place.
Graphically, taking into account the limits of the Gameboy Advance, this game looks absolutely stunning. The whole world of Hoenn is so brightly coloured and crisp that it hits you so hard in the teeth, you forget you?re playing on a GBA in the first place. Caves are dark and hazy, the screen gets cloudier the ?higher up? you go (like climbing a mountain), and when the game switches to night time, using its in-built clock, the whole place looks so much different, as if you walked into a parallel world (Really messes you up if you head into a Pokemon Centre and it?s daylight, then you walk out and everything?s gone dark). The characters' animations are smooth of course, and the Pokemon all look amazing. The animated attacks now have a slightly higher sense of realism than they used to, which pleases me, because now we?re that one step closer to virtual reality versions of Pokemon (I REALLY need to get out more?). There is also a ton of little graphical touches that add to the overall ?sheen? of the game. Like, for example, tracking your own footprints in the sand, or your shimmering reflection in the water. It?s little things like that, which usually push a game above its rivals (?does Pokemon even HAVE rivals?). But of course, graphics alone maketh not a game, young one! Or something?
The audio aspect of this game is one of the most annoying, yet most charming parts of the whole cute fluffy Japanese package. The opening theme?s got a bit of a remix since the olden days, and then the even older olden days (I hardly recognise it now?), but still reminds me of the first (and in my opinion greatest) installment. The music as you?re milling around on your adventurer ways is pretty adequate too. Not a lot stands out about it. The most annoying part of the audio is when you?re walking through a cave, or a forest, or somewhere where you know you?re going to encounter a lot of wild Pokemon and you?re constantly subjected to ?that? battle theme, which hasn?t changed through 3 generations of games. The first couple of times, it?s fine, but after about 30 consecutive battles with Zubat as you fumble through a long, confusing cave, you find yourself reaching for the volume control (Either that, or a sledgehammer? or maybe even a drill to bore the sound out of your skull. That?s it, I?m gonna start to get out more.) So yeah, if you can live with a near infinite repetition of the battle theme, audio?s peachy.
Multiplayer. Aha! The part that everyone stays for, and where the real genius and success of Pokemon truly lies! The multiplayer element of Pokemon has always been the ?little bit extra? that keeps you coming back for more, and in Ruby/Sapphire, it?s no different. It?s the age old formula of the Colosseum, where you take on a friend in either 1 on 1 or the new, well implemented 2 on 2 battle (which I?ll cover in more depth later.). This is a game that can make or break most of your friendships. Here?s what the instruction manual tells you about the different multiplayer battling aspects ?
?Single Battle (2 Players)
In this mode, up to six Pokemon on each side fight one on one
Double Battle (2 Players)
In this mode, up to six Pokemon on each side fight 2 on 2
Multi Battle (4 Players)
In this mode four players, divided into two teams of two, battle against each other.?
If there was anything there that you WEREN?T expecting, then you probably haven?t tracked this game very long. Obviously, the most fun is to be had in the latter option, the 4-player battle, since if you lose you can always stand there yelling at your friends because it had to be their fault, and if you win, you can parade around the room telling your friends how much they need you! It?s brilliant, really. The other 2 should be self-explanatory. Single battle is like everything else in the game ? You take each other on. Double battle is like every, erm, double battle in the game, where you take on each other.
The other major element to the multiplayer is the ability to trade Pokemon. This is paramount to your overall completion of the game, since, as I?m sure you all know, some Pokemon are available in the Ruby version of the game that aren?t in the Sapphire version, and vice versa. So to this end, you have to be nice to your friends, otherwise they won?t trade with you, and you?ll be stuffed (One of the best things you can do here is to rename the Pokemon you?re trading to something profane, like a swear word, when you know your friend wants to use it in a tournament. Heh.).
Then there?s the gameplay. I?m assuming if you?ve read this far then you really DON?T know what Pokemon's about, so I?ll give you the briefest account of the gameplay as I can. Out of battle, you walk around in a top-down, isometric 3-D view (As in Zelda), performing the typical RPG type actions, like talking to people, exploring caves and fields, that kind of thing. Once you run across a wild Pokemon, everything changes to a whole new system, where the Pokemon at the top of your list faces of against the foe's 'mon. I won't go into too much detail, because it's all outlined in the manual, but it's fairly straightforward. The most noteworthy gameplay feature in this installment would be the new 2 on 2 battling. It works in much the same way as normal battling, with the order of battle being decided, as usual, by the Pokemon's speed attribute. However, the world of 2 on 2 battling opens up a whole new strategy, with one Pokemon's status ability (Another new feature, whereby each Pokemon has its own status ability, varying from immunity to sleep to lowering a foe's attack power as your own Pokemon is called out, like Pokemon powers on Pokemon cards.) affecting the way you battle. Then, there's pokemon contests, another new feature of R/S. Using new items of food (or something...) known as pokeblocks, you can increase the cosmetic appearance of your Pokemon, affecting things like how cool they are, or how tough, or their beauty. It's a great little diversion to the rest of the game, and works well.
Other than that, there's very little that's new in the way of gameplay, not that what they have done isn't enough, of course, because it was a very hard formula to improve on in the first place.
Overall, Pokemon Ruby/Sapphire is everything you'd expect. Unfortunately, when you don't expect very much, you don't GET very much. I mean, we all knew there would be a few new Pokemon, and an alternative world to walk around in, and that's not really a lot, so that's what we've got.
If you've played every Pokemon game up to now, chances are you'll buy it anyway, but believe me, you won't enjoy it as much as the others. If you've never played Pokemon before, you'll love it. Again, you'll just have to believe me. It may not amount to much if you've played it before, but it's a fantastic game in it's own right, and that's how I feel I must judge it.