Pokemon Ruby and Sapphire are the first pair of Pokemon games for the GBA. The games are essentially identical (a neat marketing trick on Nintendo's part to sell more games with minimum extra work), with fairly minor differences which I will describe later.

If you're not familiar with the Pokemon game format, it is essentially as follows. You start out in a little town at the beginning of your Pokemon Journey, with only your low-level starter Pokemon as a companion. Over time, you win battles, catch, train and evolve Pokemon, explore (and possibly save) the world, and eventually become a champion.

Ruby and Sapphire (hereafter refered to as 'the game' when refering to both of them) is extremely long if you want to finish off everything - I've played over 130 hours (on Ruby) and am still going. You can 'beat' the game, in the sense of becoming the champ, in about 40 hours, but because of the open-ended nature of training your Pokemon, you can play virtually forever.

So, as I mentioned, Ruby and Sapphire are basically identical. There biggest difference between the two is that in Ruby you fight the legendary Pokemon Groudon, while in Sapphire you fight Kyogre. There are also some Pokemon which are only available in one or the other, or are extremely rare in one while being common on the other. You can get the ones you don't have by trading with other people, so if you know someone who has, say, Sapphire, you're better off getting Ruby so you can trade (this was the course I took with my housemate, who had started playing Sapphire previous to my getting a GBA). It turns out I actually like the Sapphire-only Pokemon more than the Ruby-only ones, but since I just traded for those ones, it doesn't really mater.

In addition to the traditional battling, there are also contests, where Pokemon can compete at looking cool, cute, beautiful, tough, or smart. There are 4 levels of contests, so if this interests you it will take you quite a while to finish it all off. As part of the contests, you get to be a farmer - obtaining, planting and watering various strange types of berries. Some of these have special powers (including some that are very useful), and all of them can be mixed up to make candies, which you feed to your Pokemon to increase their coolness or whatever. Oh, right, there is also fishing, a safari, a casino, shopping for TVs if you want, it's basically just a little mini-world with stuff to do, or not do, as you feel like. No e2, though. Shame, really.

This game is really fun, and addictive (as you might think from the fact that I've spent 130+ hours playing it in about a month and a half). There are a million things to do, and this expands exponentially if you know other people who play it, because then trading/battling/etc with them comes into the picture.

There are some things that annoy me, however:

  1. The big one for me is that your Pokemon don't get experience for fighting against the Pokemon of other (human) trainers. This just plain sucks, and I think if you did get XP for it, it would make person-on-person battling even more fun. Also, it's rather tough to level up Pokemon once they hit around 80, simply because there isn't anything that provides sufficient XP for beating it to be worthwhile. But if two human-trained level 80 Pokemon square off, one is going to win, and would get a whole ton of XP.
  2. Some wild Pokemon are basically impossible to find, and you will have to either be extremely lucky, or look it up online, in order to get them. Some of these Pokemon are, BTW, extremely cool dragons which you will probably want to own. A few, you'll spend 6+ hours trying to find, and then another 12 getting to evolve into their cool form.
  3. Similarly, some secrets are so fscking obscure that the only way to know about them is to read about it in a walkthrough. Unless you would guess that saying "Contest Challenge" to a particular person would get you a particular rare berry. I wouldn't.

Nits aside, if you're looking for a really fun hand-held time waster this game cannot be beat. At my current time spent on the game, it's come to about $.25 per hour of playtime, which is a hell of a deal in any circumstance.

Warning: Minor but Useful Spoilers/Hints Follow: AKA things I wish somebody had told me about before I started playing.

  • When you fight Groudon/Kyogre (or any of the other legendary Pokemon), you can (and should) catch it in a Pokeball. I feel like an idiot for not trying it, even though it occurred to me at the time. So now I am short one Groudon. Save before you fight, so if you accidentally kill him, you can restart and try capturing him again. This may make it easier for you to choose which one to get, if you have no reason (price, friends having the other one, etc) to pick one over the other - look at the boxes, and pick which Pokemon looks cooler.
  • Make sure to get the Master Ball in the Team Aqua/Magma base. Don't fight the leader of the team until you have the Master Ball. If you beat the leader without it, you will never be able to get it. I didn't. This sucks ass, because you will want it late in the game (most especially if you're playing Ruby, but in Sapphire as well).

† No, this should not be 'games'. There really are only a tiny number of differences between the two, mostly with regards to a particular sub-plot of the game, which ends once you catch/kill your first legendary Pokemon.

‡ October 10, 2003: 165 hours

In my opinion, the Ruby and Sapphire (including Emerald) games (not necessarily including FireRed and LeafGreen) are by far the worst set of Pokemon games. However, I might just be overly nitpicky. Who knows?

I will, of course, justify this, but let me mention something: there were DEFINITELY improvements in this generation to the battling system, separate from the games. I wholely like the addition of Natures and Abilities. However, they screwed up breeding and Stat EXP, two changes I don't like. A lot of my complaints are directed at the games though.

Now: Why Ruby and Sapphire suck.

The biggest reason that Ruby and Sapphire (henceforth RuSa) sucks is because of the modification to the Stat EXP system. In earlier generations of Pokemon games, each stat had a certain amount of EXP, and you gained "Stat EXP" or "Effort Points" by fighting other Pokemon. This feature IS present in all generations of the game, and it is what distinguishes a trained Pokemon from an untrained (e.g. newly caught; collecting dust in your Box; whatever) Pokemon. Two Pokemon of the same species with the same IVs (like a Pokemon's genes. Each stat has an IV that affects the stat you see on the Pokemon's Status screen) could have different stats if they differed in the Stat EXP for each stat. (Count of the phoneme "Stat" in sentence: 6) Each stat's EXP was independent of the others, and, eventually, through much training, you could fill up each stat's EXP value and have one pimped out Pokemon with relatively maxed out stats (IVs also make a difference). This is widely regarded as an excellent move, much unlike the creation of the universe (-10 points for style, God! C'mon, quantum mechanics? Why probabilities?)

However, in RuSa, each Stat's maximum EXP/Effort value is set to 255. This isn't so bad, as a maxed out stat in RuSa will give the same bonus as a maxed out stat in GSC. What sucks about the RuSa system is that an individual Pokemon can only have a maximum 512 TOTAL Effort Points across the board. This means that your starting Pokemon, the one you raised and loved from its reception, will probably have crazy, undesired effort value growth (in otherwords, your Pokemon will suck for competitive battling). This is a Bad Thing. This is merely a gigantic inconvenience for anyone playing for battling purposes. We hate this! Oh, Nintendo, why must thou be so evil?

Another reason that RuSa is the worst set of games is the breeding system. Essentially, the Pokemon's IVs are inherited randomly. Up to three (because of a glitch) separate IVs can be inherited from the parents. All other IVs are determined randomly, which throws another monkey wrench into the proverbial printing press. This is utterly stupid and somewhat self-defeating. With this system, one lacks the ability to breed for the best genes of the offspring, as the IVs are so much more random than in GSC. Combined with the effort value system, this makes breeding/training the best Pokemon of a species a real bitch.

Now, as for things unique RuSa themselves:

One reason they suck is the Contests, which are utterly pointless. Some may disagree with me here. In actuality, the only purpose Contests serve is to get ribbons and stuff, and provide some sort of alternative, wussy form to battling (OMG MY POKEMON IS HOTTER THAN URS!!!!!!!!11111). One can easily ignore the contests. I choose to, personally. It just seems like a bit of a denigration to the series, though.

Another reason that they suck is because of the high abundance of special event Pokemon! Deoxys, Jirachi, the sibling in Latias/Latios, Mew, and the yet to be seen Celebi! Whatever happened to, you know, putting them into the game? I mean, I know Mew and Celebi were "secret" in earlier generations, which was still a bit of an annoyance to those who couldn't get to the conventions. But now, if you want to catch every Pokemon (nobody does anymore), in addition to buying the twin cartridge in the series, and buying BOTH FireRed and LeafGreen, you also have to buy: an e-Reader, another GBA, a link cable, the cards which give you access to the Pokemon, GBA-GameCube link cable, Pokemon Colosseum, another memory card (it takes up a full memory card, Colosseum), and the Pokemon Colosseum pre-order disc ($15, or more if you get it from eBay). Now, I don't know about you, but even to my white, relatively well-off suburban middle-class status, this seems like A Lot Of Money. In previous generations, for the secret Pokemon, you only had to find a ride to whatever convention Nintendo held, which might take up time AND money, but at least not a lot of money. Nowadays, they just give out so much stuff through the Pokemon Center in New York that you probably have to factor in airline costs when you get the price of the cards required.
I am fairly certain that, when you add it all up, you will probably be paying at least 1 USD for each separate species you catch in this generation.

My final (?) reason in support of RuSa's suckage is Nosepass. A weak, ultimately stupid Pokemon. I don't think I need to elaborate much on this. I mean, how much suckier can you get than NOSEPASS? Its suckage emanates from itself, spreading its suck to RuSa itself.

This is why it is my firm, undying belief that RuSa are indeed the worst Pokemon games of the main series ever made by Nintendo. And you can convince me otherwise only when you pry the Pokemon Crystal and FireRed cartridges from my cold, dead hands.

Forgive my rant.

* Yes, people, I am joking. This contention has no logic to it, other than personal bias. So don't actually take it as a reason.

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