It's easy to miss, but the people of Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire whisper about things. Incredible things. Inexplicable things. The sorts of rumors involving legendary Pokémon that sound unbelievable, until you remember you're dealing with a video game, where there is no such thing as a tall tale.
When I was a kid, 2003's Pokémon Ruby and Emerald were my favorite entries in the series. I remember spending days solving mysteries that would hopefully lead me to Pokémon I wasn't sure actually existed. It was the sort of suspense and wonder that no Pokémon game has been able to surpass—the only time in all my years playing Pokémon that obtaining a rare legendary Pokémon felt genuinely special. Why? Well, I got to pretend I was some sort of Pokémon archeologist who got to dig into ruins, and discover all sorts of secrets. The world of Pokémon felt alive to me.
It's strange, looking back as an adult. I now know that the Hoenn generation of games weren't exactly well-received by the public, thanks to a poor selection of available Pokémon and an overabundance of water adventuring, among other things. As much as I was overjoyed to hear that the developers at Game Freak was remaking this generation of Pokémon games, there was some fear attached to the announcement. What if I revisited the games, only to find out everyone was right—Ruby and Sapphire aren't actually as good as I remember? Don't misunderstand, it's not that I care about being wrong. It's more that I didn't want to ruin a tender memory. I didn't want to find out that everything I loved about an old game was just nostalgia.
Thankfully, no such thing happened. Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire are solid Pokémon games for fans and newcomers alike, thanks to many elements that make the entries shine among other major Pokémon games. Funnily enough, the things that make the games stand out are just as much the modern additions offered to make life as a Pokémon trainer easier, as they are the cool ideas the older games already had.
Let's start with the first thing that people will notice while playing the game, though: the graphics. While the bulk of the game remain the same as the originals, at least layout-wise, being able to see everything in 3D, sometimes literally from new angles, makes the game feel new. It helps that there are now so many dang Pokémon in the franchise; it's impossible to feel bored when there are over 700+ Pokémon to raise, breed and collect, all with their own elemental strength and weaknesses you have to keep track of. The game manages to strike a balance between awesome Pokémon, and completely doofy ones, too.
Still, Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire won't feel like a reinvention for the franchise, as last year's Pokémon X & Y did. While ORAS adds many of the joys of modern Pokémon games, like being able to pet your Pokémon through a feature called Pokémon Amie, and and it lets you do things like be able to seamlessly connect to other players around the world with just a few taps, you're still, as always, commanding a team of six pocket monsters in easy turn-based battles. There is depth to be found in the combat system, it's just not the sort of thing you experience in the single-player, where you'll probably overlevel a Pokémon enough that you don't have to think about their elemental affinities and weaknesses anymore.
The game will feel familiar if you've ever played a Pokémon game before. The structure is exactly the same. You train your Pokémon so they get strong enough to face off against mini-bosses at things called 'gyms.' Beating these gyms lets you obtain badges, and once you beat all eight gyms/collect all the badges, you can challenge a league of master trainers called the Elite Four.
What's different this time is the premise. Pokémon X & Y introduced us all to mega evolutions, those temporary power-ups that transform Pokémon into more badass versions of themselves. You'll find the special stones that activate mega evolutions in ORAS often, thanks to the ever-expanding list of Pokémon that can now mega evolve. But, in addition to megas, ORAS introduces the mysterious concept of primal reversion. Primal reversion, similarly to megas, temporarily power up and transform a Pokémon —only in this case, the Pokémon reverts to a prehistoric version of itself. Your primary goal is to become the best there ever was, but as you go along, the game sometimes poses questions like, what were ancient Pokémon like? Can the Pokémon of legends be restored to their former ancient glory?
While there aren't many Pokémon that can undergo primal reversion, I consider it a more interesting mechanic than mega evolutions, partially because the lore already supports it. We know there are prehistoric, ancient Pokémon—every Pokémon game hides fossils which the player can bring back to life. Players have even come up with wild theories about how certain ancient Pokémon turned into newer Pokémon over time. Primal reversion feels right.
Your encounters with primal reversion will primarily happen thanks to either Team Aqua or Team Magma, depending on which version of the game you get. Both Team Rocket-esque villain groups want to revive an ancient Pokémon in the hope of transforming the world through their power. While the version-specific enemy is neat, and while primal reversion is a natural addition to Pokémon, these elements feel somewhat underwhelming. The game never meaningfully explores primal reversion, lore-wise, and the villains are written with the sort of simplicity you'd expect out of a children's game.