Pokemon is a series that sometimes gets some criticism for not really changing much between each generation of games. Yes, they’ll introduce a whole host of new monsters to catch and train, but the core game play often remains the same. But each new game does try to bring something new to the mix in some ways.
The second generation games would bring colour, animations, and breeding, Generation Seven would get rid of Gym battles for special trials, Pokemon X & Y brought in Mega-Evolutions, and the latest games gave players an open world to explore. They might not be huge changes, but they always bring something, and the third generation games were no different.
Set in the island region of Hoenn, the third generation games, Pokemon Ruby and Pokemon Sapphire, put players in control of a young character just moving into their new home in the quiet Littleroot Town. Your character has barely stepped foot outside their house to have a look around when you hear a call for help from the nearby grass. Rushing over, you find your neighbour, Professor Birch, under attack from a wild Pokemon. Grabbing one of the three Pokeballs dropped on the ground, you come to his aid in your first Pokemon battle; a battle that results in you being able to keep the Pokemon you picked.
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Once you’ve received your Pokemon you get to meet your rival, the child of the Professor whose gender is determined by your own, and get to set out on your quest to fill the Pokedex and become the region’s Pokemon Champion.
This closely follows the basic premise of the games that have come before, and other than a few tiny changes such as being new to the region, and your father being one of the Gym Leaders you have to battle, there’s not much that separates this from previous games. But slowly the two games begin to reveal more details that make the third generation something a bit different.
The main difference here is that as well as having version-exclusive Pokemon to capture, each game has a slightly different story. This is the first time that the versions have changed in such a way, and is something that the series would repeat rarely over the years. Depending on which version you pick up you’ll find yourself fighting against one of two different villainous gangs.
Pokemon Ruby will see you challenging the red hoodie-wearing Team Magma, who set out to free the ancient Pokemon Groudon in order to change the world to their liking by expanding the amount of land mass. Pokemon Sapphire replaces Team Magma with the pirate themed Team Aqua, who seek out the legendary water Pokemon Kyogre, who they hope will expand the amount of water in the world. Both stories run along similar paths, but are different enough that you and your friend with a different version will have subtly different experiences playing.
The games also introduced some new features that would be available in both games. The first of these is the DexNav system, which displays important information for the player including their map, the condition of their Pokemon, and information on trainers who want to rematch you. There are also a few new Pokeballs, including the Premier Ball (which would become one of the more well known in the franchise), the Dive Ball, Net Ball, Timer Ball, and others, all of which were designed to be used in different circumstances and have their own unique designs.
The third Generation was also where Abilities and Natures wold be introduced, features that have become a core part of the series. In an attempt to vary Pokemon somewhat, each Pokemon would have its own Nature, which would dictate its personality type and could shift their stats slightly depending on that Nature. Abilities also gave Pokemon their own little twist, such as allowing immunity against certain types of attacks and boosting attacks in certain circumstances. Even the same types of Pokemon could have a variety of Natures and Abilities, which encouraged players to catch multiple of the same Pokemon in order to find the best one to meet their play style and tactics.
In order to break up the monotony of Pokemon battles the game also introduced Pokemon Contests, competitions where players could enter a Pokemon into what is basically a pet show. Your Pokemon would be required to compete against others, and would be judged based on categories such as cuteness and toughness. These Contests made for a fun distraction from the main quest, and also allowed another arena in which to compete and think about Pokemon in a different way.
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Initially released in Japan on 24th November 2002, Europe would have to wait an additional six months to receive the game, and would be the last territory to do so. Despite this staggered launch, the game received positive reviews across the press, and the new additions helped to outweigh criticisms of it being similar to what came before. The game was also a commercial success, and sold 1.25 million copies in Japan in its opening weekend alone. With combined sales of 16.22 million copies, the third generation of Pokemon became the biggest selling games on the Game Boy Advance (though these numbers were drops from previous generations).
The love for Pokemon Ruby and Pokemon Sapphire would continue over the coming decades. It helped that it was the only new Pokemon generation on the Game Boy Advance, and the drop in quality and critical reception for the next two generations made them games that people remembered fondly. The two of them would be remade in 2014 for the Nintendo 3DS, where they would receive several new features, updated story and graphics, and incorporated elements from the third game in the generation, Pokemon Emerald. Along with their remakes, Pokemon Ruby and Pokemon Sapphire have become highlights of the Pokemon franchise.
Pokemon Ruby and Pokemon Sapphire were released in the UK on 25th July 2003