I bought Pokemon Alpha Sapphire on release day and I have finally played it enough to have formed a considered opinion on it. While I did play the original game (I had Ruby as a child) I don’t remember much about it so Alpha Sapphire was a mostly new experience for me. I’m sure that affected how I enjoyed the game.
Let me start with what I liked about the game. The 3D models of the Pokemon all look fantastic. I was particularly impressed with the models’ idle animations. Even when you just stand still in a battle, thinking about which move to use or which item to use, your Pokemon move about, as if impatient for you to act. It is a great way to keep you engaged with the game even if you aren’t actually doing anything. The music is quite good. It very heavily uses trumpet sounds although I can’t tell whether these are samples or just synthetic approximations. Whatever the case, they sound crisp and clear, especially if you wear headphones. There are a huge selection of Pokemon available in this title, spanning all of the game’s generations. While it was nice to see the old third generation Pokemon again after so many years (my favorites Latias, Wailord and Sceptile for instance), it was also good to see newcomers like Frillish in Hoenn.
The game’s story is about what you’d expect from a Pokemon game, focusing on the values of friendship, heroism and the balance between nature and human society. While the story most certainly does not break any new ground on these topics, I can appreciate it for what it is. One of the most remarkable things about Alpha Sapphire is an app for the Pokedex which tells you which Pokemon are in your area and whether you have caught them or not. This is a highly useful addition to anyone who wants to catch ’em all. I’ve been waiting for such a mechanic for a long time and I am happy that Nintendo has included it. Another new aspect that I enjoyed was the new Soar ability. Towards the end of the game, you obtain an item called the Eon Flute which allows you to ride on Latias/Latios. From the dragon’s back, you can explore a fully rendered 3D map of Hoenn. This is what I always envisioned as a child whenever I used the Fly ability: holding on to back of a Pokemon, ascending ever higher above the clouds, looking down as the world speeds past beneath me. I certainly hope that it makes a reappearance in later Pokemon games.
The game features a host of post-game content (which is what I am playing through at the moment). As soon as you finish the game, a new chapter to the story called Episode Delta begins, in which Rayquaza plays a central role. The story repeats the same themes as the main story and is not particularly well-written or well-executed (again, like the main story). However, it was nice to see Nintendo extending the game length and offering the player an opportunity to catch some rare Pokemon. After finishing Episode Delta, the player obtains a ticket to the Battle Resort in which the Battle Maison from X and Y makes another appearance. While the consecutive battles begin easy enough, the Maison becomes much more difficult after the 20th fight. Your 21st opponent and the ones after all have competitive-level teams. These fights are for advanced players only. I appreciate the fact that Nintendo included this mode for people who want a greater level of difficulty in the game (the difficulty is something which I will discuss in detail later). Finally, there are a host of Legendary Pokemon to catch, requiring you to scour the land and the skies in search of them. Encountering these mythical Pokemon and struggling to catch them (throwing Ultra Ball after Ultra Ball, counting the shakes!) is always fun and I am glad that there are several such encounters in the game.
Now, let me talk about what I didn’t like about the game. While I do appreciate the story for what it is, it is by no means engaging or well-done. I also felt that the balance of the game was off. The earlier Gym leaders can be difficult (Wattson and his obsession with Volt Switch constitutes the game’s biggest early obstacle) but that difficulty soon fades away. The later gyms (I would say Norman and those following him) are significantly easier. Even the Elite Four (yes, even Drake’s Salamance) and the Champion pose little threat. One of the main causes of this is Nintendo’s policy of handing out powerful Pokemon strangely early into the game. Up until January, Nintendo is giving away a shiny Beldum which eventually evolves into the menacing Metagross, which is capable of taking down many powerful opponents. Also, at an early part of the game, Steven Stone directs you to Southern Island and there Latias/Latios joins your party. While Latias is one of my favorite Pokemon and I was glad to have an opportunity to use it for a long time, it is extremely powerful and makes the game very easy. While one could elect not to use these Pokemon, it is hard to resist the temptation when they are so freely offered. This is not just a problem at the beginning of the game. When you catch Kyogre at the end, it has a new move called Origin Pulse. I don’t recall whether or not this move is more powerful than Water Spout but, combined with Kyogre’s Primal Reversion, it is enough to tear through pretty much anything that stands in your way. Again, one could choose to send Kyogre to the PC Box but it is hard to ignore it after making such an effort to catch it. Nintendo definitely needed to more seriously consider how offering such powerful Pokemon would affect the game’s balance. I also wish that the Soar ability was available earlier on in the game. Perhaps this move should have been available to Pokemon other than Latias/Latios? Maybe Nintendo will implement Soar again and allow other Pokemon to use it (maybe all Pokemon who can use Fly and all Dragon types?). Finally, while I enjoy catching Legendary Pokemon, the game forces you to do extremely convoluted things in order to encounter some of them. I wish that I could just go to a dungeon or a hidden cave or a distant cloud to find them instead of jumping through hoops just to make them appear. The game focuses on doing random things as opposed to exploration in relation to finding Legendary Pokemon.
Over all, I highly enjoyed Alpha Sapphire even though I felt that the balance was off and that the story and Legendary Pokemon encounters could use more work. It is certainly worth playing!