Hi! Sorry to keep you waiting! Welcome to the world of Pokémon! My name is Tyler. But everyone calls me the Pokémon Professor. In truth, I’m unlicensed and probably shouldn’t be giving you these Pokémon. If anyone asks, you got these from the kid with six Magikarps that only know splash, alright? Also, please don’t cross-dress. I have a hard enough time telling what gender people are and it doesn’t help. But, before you go out on your adventure this November, why don’t you sit down and let me tell you about my first Pokémon journey, way back with the original Pokémon Ruby & Sapphire for Gameboy Advance.
Now sure, you might be like, “Tyler, stop being a nostalgic fanboy. You should talk about the new re-vamped versions of these games, Omega Ruby & Alpha Sapphire,” to which I would reply,
“GO GARDEVOIR! YOU HAVE TYPE ADVANTAGE. PLEASE CRIT YOU HAVE LIKE 5 HP. GODDAMNIT, THERE WAS LIKE A 10% CHANCE FOR YOU TO GET FROZEN AND FFFFFFFFU– “ “In order to talk about the new games, you need to know where they came from.” So I thought I’d give my thoughts of the first Pokémon game I ever played, and how it’s shaped my view of how far the series has come in 11 years.
Wayyy back on November 21st, 2002 (12 years ago!!!), Nintendo released Pokémon: Ruby Version and Pokémon: Sapphire Version on their not-even-a-year-old console, the Gameboy Advance. That thing was awful, you could not see a dang thing on that screen (Thank god for the SP), and it wasn’t exactly comfortable to hold for extended periods of time. Yet despite all that, this little piece of technology let young children the world over journey again into the fantastical world of Pokémon. Catching these wondrous creatures and basically raising them from cute little starters to fully-evolved butt kickers, these games instilled a sense of responsibility and attachment to whichever Pokémon you kept with you during your adventure.
However, that’s always been Pokémon. If there’s one thing Nintendo has been criticized for, it’s repeating themselves, and Pokémon may be their biggest offender. Now I’m not going to say the games have no flaws, because they definitely have some, but Ruby & Sapphire gave it their best shot at mixing up the formula from Gold & Silver.
The most immediate thing, is the introduction of Double Battles, fighting a 2 vs. 2 in addition to the usual 1 vs. 1, as the series only had before. This allowed for entirely new strategies to be employed during Pokémon battles, as you could actually inflict friendly fire damage on your own Pokémon. This also let up to four players link up and play together, twice as many from Gold and Silver.
Game Freak also added an entirely new goal for the player to work towards (should they so choose) in the form of “Pokémon Contests.” All moves were given contest effects in addition to their normal battle ones, and the contest itself was a sort of competitive puzzle game where you tried your hardest to screw over the other contestants in a turn based 3-part event. In my opinion, it was one of the best mini-games outside of the normal battles they’ve come up with, and it should have really stayed as a permanent addition past Ruby, Sapphire, and Emerald.
To go along with the contests, they also put in the one mechanic that has stayed in the franchise since the were added in Sapphire/Ruby: berries! You could pick berries from wild bushes and trees, and plant them in suitable soil all around the region. The berries were used to make Pokéblocks, which were a contest equivalent to the stat boosting items like calcium and zinc used for battles. The best part was you could often plant your berries right outside your secret base.
Ahh yes, secret bases. The one thing that made Ruby & Sapphire truly shine with adventure, you could make a secret base that you could decorate to your hearts desire. Fill it with furniture, playground equipment, Pokémon plushies, you name it. It was yours, your own little slice of Hoenn to call all your own.
Now, compared to more modern games like say, Minecraft, secret bases don’t really seem like that big of a deal. But back then, being able to have your own little home in a game already chock full of all these other awesome things was well, incredibly satisfying. You could even swap data with link cables, go FIND your friend’s secret base, have a Pokémon battle against his team, declare his base to be total crap and then go put trap pads and spinny switches all over your base to piss them off endlessly when they try to invade yours. It was like trolling before trolling was a thing. And it was the absolute best.
Yet, as cool as all that new stuff was, they’re not necessarily why I liked these games so much. What really makes Ruby, Sapphire, and Emerald stay so close to my heart, is what you see from the very moment you turn the game on. Just watch the opening from Emerald (which is basically identical to Ruby/Sapphire’s), and see what I saw every time I wanted to escape from the real world.
Wow, just, oh my goodness. It start’s off real calm and peaceful with the water falling off the leaves, simple flutes chiming in tune. Then holy cow here comes this flying dragon thing that goes, SWOOSH over the grassy hilltop to show you these rolling hills of green with craggy peaked mountaintops with distant silver clouds. BAM. Here you come, riding your sweet ass dirt bike all over this magnificent landscape, your Pokémon by your side. I didn’t know we were in America, because look at all that freedom. Holy hell. Then you get to see those legendary Pokémon: Groundon and Kyogre, being all ancient and ominous. The skies darken, the sun fades and there, looming in the sky is Rayquaza, the keeper of peace in Hoenn. He charges up that hyper beam and then white.
Then, my god, perhaps the best part. In come those glorious trumpets, ROARING, BLARING WITH JUSTICE. Bronze bells clang and ring. Light gleams off the logo spelling “POKéMON”. It shines once, then twice, and on the third time the version title falls down, the legendary blasts onto the screen and it just flashes right there in front of you…
Press obviously means press the button. But what does start mean? Start, means you begin doing all the things you just witnessed happening on that screen right in front of you. Ride that kickass bike all up and down the world, catch all those amazing looking Pokémon that will be with you until the very end, and meet those mythical legendaries that set the stage for all the conflict and events that are about to go down.
Start means you’re about to stay awake for the next 72 hours, because there is not a single more amazing quest in the entire world that could rock you like that opening title screen did in just under two minutes and thirty-three seconds.
There were only a few times when I played, in which I didn’t sit there and listen to that entire opening theme. I could have beaten the game 800 times and that opening would still give me goosebumps. With that opening, Game Freak says, “We’re pulling out all the stops on this one.”
Hoenn is portrayed as a tropical paradise filled to the brim with wonder and excitement. And every location and piece of music that you experience going through it slaps this feeling all across your smiling face. Perhaps represented in no better location than Slateport City, a maritime town where people come from all over to revel in the surf, sand and sun. Beachgoers dance about merrily, an open marketplace bustles with life, and the harbors receive and send off countless ships and boats. Everything about this location shouts “joy,” and the music that plays when you walk in is no different.
In fact, that’s probably one of Ruby and Sapphire’s greatest strengths. Out of all of the Pokémon games, they may have the most well remembered soundtracks. The infamous trumpets that are featured in nearly all of the songs, have spawned memes mocking the games’ limited audio capabilities. But big, boisterous and loud is exactly what Hoenn is all about.
Some would balk about the extensive amounts of surfing one must undergo in order to progress through the game. But, hardships and perseverance through them is part of what makes a game challenging and ultimately satisfying when we reach our destination. It wouldn’t been an adventure if you could just walk straight from your hometown to the Elite Four, there needs to be a world in between. A world full of not entirely friendly monsters wanting you to suck on their confuse rays. There are even puzzles hidden out there, IN BRAILLE, that you must solve in order to find three legendary golems. I don’t remember deciphering any languages in any other Pokémon game.
Even the plot is substantially more complex than other games (Up until Black and White, that is). In like, the biggest change in Pokémon ever, your character has a father IN THE GAME. Not only that but he’s the gym leader of the fifth gym!! Like, is that not cool as hell, having to fight your dad for a gym badge?! Your mom also throws you in the back of the moving van when you guys moved in, so maybe your dad is just trying to keep away from his psychotic wife, idunno.
This is also the only game to have two teams that are in the middle of a giant gang war, Team Magma who want to expand the continent and evaporate the ocean, and Team Aqua, who want to flood the world and drown the land. They’re both crazy, but for different reasons, and the game tells a sort of war tale, where both sides think what they’re doing is right, but in actuality they’re just bringing about the end of their own world. It’s a lot better than Team Rocket’s motivation, and I hope to heck they expand upon that sort of “war doesn’t solve anything” message in the remakes. Pokemon games have always had a duality to them with the whole two versions thing. It’s something they explored in Black and White later on, and it’s just to show the player how there are always two sides to any conflict, and there is almost never a good side or bad side.
Well hey, they changed the games a lot more than you would initially think. And that, is most likely due to Masuda Junichi being elevated from lead composer to director when Ruby and Sapphire were made. In both Red and Blue, and Gold and Silver, he had just worked on the music and audio programming. But with these games, he was given the reigns to do whatever he wanted really. And he did the same thing Tajiri Satoshi did when he directed Red and Blue, drew from his childhood, the eternal land of wonder and adventure.
See, Masuda based a lot of Hoenn around his vacations to the Japanese island of Kyūshū, where he, much like Tajiri did as a child, caught fish and insects for fun. He also played trombone and enjoyed classical music in high school, which in turn influenced how he composed music, including the songs in Ruby & Sapphire. You could even say Ruby & Sapphire were a big deal for Masuda, he married and had a daughter right before the games were released. He even put a character in Sootopolis City named after her, Kiri, who will give the player two berries everyday if they talk to her.
So when you play Pokémon Ruby or Sapphire, you’re not just playing a fantastic game full of story and excitement, wonder and mystery, joy and sorrow; you’re playing a little part of Mr. Masuda’s life. He and Game Freak gave many long years to make the best, most amazing game they could on that little purple handheld. And in my personal opinion, they did that and so much more.
They made a world so full of life and endearment, gave it an epic backstory, filled it with dangerous creatures and challenging foes, populated it with an incredibly colorful cast of characters and locations, and wrapped it up in a 8-bit symphony that I will never forget for as long as I live. They made the definition of a Pokémon game clear as day and I couldn’t possible be happier with what they gave to us all those years ago.
So you, with your new Nike shoes and strange hat that is definitely not your hair. And you, with your strange bunny-shaped headband and double pants. You say you’re going to go catch em’ all in the region of Hoenn, and become the very best like no one ever was? Good. Go on then. Take one of these little fire chickens. Go ride an old man’s boat with a Wingull named Peeko. Go visit the hot springs underneath an active volcano. Go climb around in a city among the trees. Go dive to the bottom of the ocean and see things that no one else has. A lot can change in 12 years for sure, but I’m sure it’s all just as I remember it. Like those who came before you, and the ones that will follow after; it’s not about where it ends or even where it begins, it’s about all the things that you’ll do between the land, sea, and sky.