You read the title right – on Sunday it was 14 years since Pokémon Ruby & Sapphire launched in North America and introduced fans to the Hoenn region for the very first time.
Generation Three holds a special place in my heart as the pinnacle of my Pokémon adventure as a child. I had been introduced to the earlier releases having been briefly lent copies of Blue and Gold by friends, but this was the first Pokémon game I had ever owned and I was hooked from the start.
Ruby & Sapphire play very much like their predecessors – same perspective, same objectives, eight gyms, Pokémon League, Elite Four and exclusive Legendaries. This generation also introduced a whole load of new features, most importantly the Double Battles, a brand new spin on traditional battles whereby (yes, you guessed it) trainers face off two of their Pokémon against each other rather than one. Select moves like Surf could even affect both or all Pokémon on the field, making way for a whole new set of tactics.
Also added to the series were the Nature & Abilities features, something that has held fast for all games since. These Pokémon characteristics can significantly change a battle, strengthening Pokémon against certain types and adding variation to them even within their own species, making each one you meet just a little bit different from the last. Weather conditions were also introduced to make the world feel more alive and these too can change how a battle plays out, strengthening certain types and weakening others.
The very popular Contests also debuted in Ruby & Sapphire. These were a new form of competition which focused not on a Pokémon’s ability to do damage, but their ability to put on a show. It was a strange yet welcome addition to the series and one became a mainstay of future games.
Quite possibly the coolest new feature and easily my favourite was the addition of Secret Bases. Whilst it’s a very trivial feature, looking back, it meant the world to me and I’m sure many other players. Customisation is a huge deal for me as a gamer and Secret Bases, the ability to dig a cave at a user-selected location in the world and make it your own personal space, was a wonderful addition to an already excellent game.
At the department store players could purchase accessories and decorations for their bases, lay traps in the floor and place furniture around to make it as homely as could be. Players who linked devices could even visit their friend’s base and battle an NPC version of their friend inside it. This feature was another to return multiple times, it was built upon in Diamond & Pearl with a whole new underground network players could explore together, and made a welcome comeback in remakes Omega Ruby & Alpha Sapphire.
Safe to say, this generation was easily the best time I had as a Pokémon player, and unfortunately a peak always has a downhill slope on either side. Whilst I still love Pokémon to this day, not even the Ruby & Sapphire remake could allow me to fully relive the enjoyment I got back in 2003/2004, and that fact is testament to an excellent game that found me at just the right time in my life.
If you haven’t played a Pokémon game before, I would absolutely recommend this as a starting point – it’s old enough to stay true to the very perfect original formula of Red & Blue whilst being recent enough to not feel overly dated and holding a few awesome extra features.
Happy (belated) Birthday, Ruby & Sapphire, thanks for the memories!