In 1996, a small developer by the name of Game Freak released a game called Pocket Monsters for the GameBoy in Japan. With both a red and a blue version containing different monsters to capture, Game Freak started a craze. Soon everyone wanted to catch those adorable creatures they came to call Pokémon. Japanese businessmen and schoolgirls alike had Pikachu on the brain. In 1999, Nintendo published the game in the United States as Pokémon and the craze spread like wildfire. Several releases later, Nintendo is ready to venture into the world of the GameBoy Advance with Pokémon Ruby and Pokémon Sapphire, gemstone throwbacks to the old red and blue.
Fans looking for greatly improved graphics will be sorely disappointed with these new additions to the series. The over-world graphics are nearly identical to those of the GameBoy Color versions of Pokémon. Even with an increased color palette and resolution, the combat visuals are largely the same with only a few extra frames of animation. Although this lack of a significant visual evolution may make many fans disgruntled, it may allow Game Freak to concentrate on other aspects of the game like the spiffy new Pokédex. The Pokémon have always been bright, colorful, and child-like; the same holds true for those found in Ruby and Sapphire, though some of them may have a more infernal appearance. These new versions will introduce an additional 100 Pokémon into the already overwhelming pocket monster populace for a grand total of 351 Pokémon! There goes the ecosystem…
Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire begins the same as every game of the series, though this time players will have the choice of playing a male or female trainer. Players will chose either spunky, young character to begin a quest at the behest of their mentor. Destined to be the best in the world, our heroes will introduced to pocket monster training by gaining their first Pokémon. Throughout the game, your hero (or heroine) will meet many NPCs who wish to battle, as they believe the better Pokémon is in their possession. The hero/heroine will eventually meet opponents who hold some sort of prestige or title that can be won though combat. This tired formula is repeated until your character becomes the greatest Pokémon trainer in the world… again.
The combat in Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire differs from their predecessors in that battles are no longer 1-on-1 affairs, but rather two vs. two a round ala Robopon 2. These two Pokémon may even team up to do special attacks, yet another throwback to Robopon 2. A multiple Pokémon team may still be available so players are not limited to simply the two Pokémon they have selected, though actual combat rounds will be limited to the classic 1-on-1 or new dual battles. Not many gamers were satisfied with the overly simplistic rock-paper-scissors style of the previous games, and this new method of combat will add a much-needed element of strategy to the series. The previous Pokémon games allowed players to carry their Pokémon over into all the other versions, and was a very popular feature that extended re-playability immensely, though Game Freak has not yet announced any such compatibility with Ruby and Sapphire.
All in all, Pokémon Ruby and Pokémon Sapphire aren’t brand new games, and aside from being almost identical, they’re simple sequels. Just as in the Jade Cocoon series, there is an obvious attempt at improvement over the previous game, at least in theory. The Pokémon franchise has what it takes to stay king of the hill – a killer license, brand new improvements, and Nintendo support. The game will certainly sell well, but the question lies in the content not in the sales numbers. Just how much Pokémania can RPG fans stand before they cry enough is enough? Only time will tell. Until then, Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire hit Japan on November 21st 2002, and though an American release date has yet to be announced, a quick localization is expected.
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