Nintendo made me cry, blue edition.
However, as for the game at hand, there is no reasonable way of saying this without hurting anyone's feelings; I don't like Pokemon Ruby and Sapphire. After being a hardcore Pokemon fan for five years and being blown away by two generations of quality releases (Blue-Red-Yellow, Silver-Gold-Crystal), it's understandable that eventually I would be let down. But the R-S generation was not just a disappointment, it was a major step back from what the Game Boy Color had just done, and not offering enough to compensate.
Chalk it up to the new Game Boy Advance hardware, Game Freak's relatively small team, or the new commercialization of the Pokemon franchise; whatever it may be, the Pokemon series suddenly became a shadow of its former self. The Game Boy Color generation brought colored and detailed graphics, user interface improvements, a day and night system, backwards compatibility with trading, items for monsters to hold, and a world that doubled the original and then revisited it note to note. It was the sequel that me and millions of other Pokemon fans dreamed of, and it finally came to break all our expectations.
And then the Advance generation stumbled along, possibly drunk, discarding half of that list and throwing in poor substitutes, like the broken 2-on-2 battles, a dull "contest" minigame set and a hidden-base system. The rest of the game failed to live up to even the expectations of its predecessor, and dropped even short of being as innovative and fun as the original Red and Blue. The new world Game Freak created was too complex and was mostly made up of boring water-clogged paths, and never revisited the original game like Gold and Silver did.
Of course the same framework of the Pokemon series was there. Monster capturing was still solid and sound on the GBA, as it should have been. But once you take away that wonder and quality the other games had on their old systems, what you are left with is a repetitive level grind through a dull world filled with even more dull characters. Most of the time, level-grind games rely on story or challenge to convince the gamer to move forward, but Pokemon never had either of those things anyway. Once you throw in a few hundred more of those beasts and then cut off the original games for trading options, there's rarely any reason for a player to keep looking forward for answers.
Even the bar set for a Game Boy Advance RPG was missed completely. While Golden Sun was busy dazzling and the Final Fantasy games were looming on the horizon with complex story and brilliant graphics, Pokemon Ruby and Sapphire decided that a minimalist approach would be best. What we were left with was a complete lack of animation, detail, or even colored backgrounds. The land that it created was made up of dull tiles and sprites that failed to give any area a personality, something that the series had always prided itself in.
While Pokemon has never been about the audio/visual experience, part of its success on the early Game Boy was its ability to create characters that weren't ugly or weren't handheld friendly. Silver and Gold largely perfected this to a tee, showing off some of the best art design the system ever had in its forgotten life. Ruby and Sapphire, unfortunately, failed to see that the series needed to move out of the NES era and move into the SNES era, and it suffered for it. Instead of polish what they had, Game Freak decided to add more Pokemon than they could handle at one time, creating a game filled with lots of monsters, none of which look or sound very interesting. And besides, you couldn't catch 'em all in the first place, so what's the big deal?
But, before I start rallying on the negative too much, I do have to stop here, interject myself and remind everyone that it's still Pokemon. I, among many fans, still, despite my best efforts, pick up and then put forty hours into each installment when it comes out. They're easy games, perfect for that brief moment in time when there's nothing to do but veg out in front of something easy for a few hours. It arguably got me into video games. While the brilliance may have run out with the Color generation, it still stands that the Pokemon core never left.
Unfortunately, as my angered rant above shows, it is not the definitive game in the series, nor is it even one of the mediocre. I was so disappointed with this generation of Pokemon games, because it showed that the series would be going down a path that forged its way, not to player interest, but to money. Rather than take the time to really make a good one shine, to start over on the GBA with something that would show those old fans a thing or two, they chose to dumb down what was a pretty simple game to begin with.
So I give my score of a 3.5 to this game. It was a poor game in my mind, and I have traded away any copies away to Gamestop for pennies; not because I was saving up for another game, but because I refused to look at what it represented any longer. So the users of the internet will shake their fists and pound the tables, and I'm sure there will be plenty of younger gamers who will skip my review entirely and give me a thumbs down. This happens. Again, the world is filled with many opinions, and I know mine is in the minority.
If it isn't for the satisfaction of knowing other people appreciated my work – which, I'm sure, will not happen – then why did I write this review? In the hopes that a younger Pokemon fan will see what they are missing out on. The fact that some younger gamers started with Ruby and Sapphire is a terrifying prospect, and it keeps me up at night. It's also in the hopes that these ideas will spread, and soon the message will come to Nintendo, and say:
"What you did with Ruby and Sapphire was wrong. Never do it again."
I'm being dramatic here. Emotions portrayed onto a game that was a failure to me, and me alone; the game was an economic success and has many fans around the world. But to new fans of Pokemon, you can do better. To long-standing fans who hear my pain, here's some more food for thought. To the people who disagree with me, don't take my words in any more weight than your own opinion. While I didn't like the game, I'm not the only man who ever walked the earth with a red-tinted Game Boy Advance cartridge.
I'm just one who didn't like what he saw.