The Best & Worst of Pokémon: Generation III

Games
Pokémon Ruby Version
Pokémon Sapphire Version
Pokemon Emerald Version

Platform
Game Boy Advance

Region
Hoenn

New Pokemon
135
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+7. Starker contrast

When a new generation of Pokémon games is announced, said games inevitably come in pairs, and there is inevitably very little difference between the two versions. While it may not quite be an exception to the rule, out of all the main series releases Gen III arguably brought the loudest suite of differences between its corresponding games. The third generation arguably has the single most robust lineup of version-exclusive Pokémon in series history, and they begin to show up very early on. What’s more, Ruby and Sapphire are still the only games to offer a version-exclusive villainous team, which changes the flavour of the story, the types of Pokémon you face in enemy battles, and even the type of natural disaster that befalls the region late in the game (not to mention its accompanying music track). Only Gen V even comes close to that level of contrast.

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+6. Starting strong

I may be careful and diplomatic about my opinions on the new Pokémon offerings of each generation as a whole, but there isn’t a doubt in my mind which generation has the best choice of starters. Treecko, Torchic and Mudkip have just the right balance of cute and competent in their designs, Grovyle is probably the coolest middle stage starter in history and not only are each of the final starters striking visually, they’re all strong competitors in the metagame. Shame about Combusken, though.

While we’re at it, Gen III has a pretty strong collection of ‘mons across the board. Any generation that gives us Absol, Zangoose, Flygon and Aggron has to be up there.
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+5. A team worth fighting for

Quite apart from the extreme contrast in versions playing fast and loose with the heroic and villainous roles of each team, Team Magma and Team Aqua also stood out at the launch of Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire for their shades-of-grey moral character. After Team Rocket’s comically evil dual-generation dominance of Pokémon games, these teams brought players pause, as they were motivated by a desire borne from reasonably good intentions. Team Aqua just wanted to expand the sea to give water Pokémon more room to live, while Team Magma wanted to do the same for the land – OK, so maybe Team Magma’s motivation made a tiny bit more sense, which is probably why Aqua kept the evil mantle for Emerald, but I digress. Changing the series villains from maniacal monsters to eco-terrorists is one reason why Gen III’s story is generally considered one of the better ones in the series.
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+4. French horns for days

I mentioned a few days ago that there are a few soundtracks throughout main series Pokémon history that definitely stand out from the pack in my opinion. Ruby, Sapphire and Emerald share one such soundtrack. Instantly discernible from the others in the series through its repeated use of blaring midi-fied French horns, Gen III’s soundtrack boasts some truly fantastic tracks that hold up just as well to remixing and re-imagination as they do in their original forms. From the frantic, multi-phase Team Aqua/Magma battles to the majestic Meteor Falls, the triumphant bells of Slateport City to the ear-worminess of the Trick House, the mysterious yet epic Mt Pyre Exterior to just about every part of the Battle Frontier, the soundtrack to Pokémon’s third generation continues to hit hard with memorable music.
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+3. The base race

Secret Bases were a huge part of the Ruby/Sapphire/Emerald experience if you let them be. Though some might have seen them as an unnecessary distraction, they were built into the very fabric of Hoenn’s design and represented the first attempts the Pokémon series had made at a shared world. And they were pretty awesome. Your Secret Base was like your signature, a personalised haven reflecting both your progress in the game and your aesthetic tastes, and it would appear in your friends’ games as a persistent, Animal Crossing-esque taunt. As a bonus, it provided a platform for you to show off your best Pokemon team in battle, though the AI controlling your team rarely did it proud. Hiding, making, improving and comparing Secret Bases was heaps of fun.
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+2. You have the ability…

It was such a simple idea, such a natural evolution of Pokémon battling mechanics, and such a game-changing addition to the competitive metagame – the advent of Pokémon abilities. Essentially functioning as the Pokémon equivalent of passive skills in traditional RPGs, abilities added another dimension to the effectiveness of certain ‘mons while outright transforming the potential of others, opening up new and exciting strategies to boot. Abilities kept the otherwise ridiculously strong Slaking in check, granted unprecedented bulk to Gyarados, changed the way players treated opposing Heracross and lifted the formerly average Azumarill into an all-new class of heavy hitters, among many, many other significant changes.
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+1. A good amount of water

It’s a phrase to which I often return when discussing Gen III – it may not be my favourite generation, but it does feature my favourite region. Hoenn is a truly diverse, not to mention gigantic, place to explore, with bountiful nooks and crannies hiding plenty of secrets. Sure, you’ll go insane without a handy stash of Super Repels when you’re surfing across the unyielding ocean in the region’s southeast, but they’re easy enough to get, and you’ll discover something new nearly every time you visit, especially when you factor in all the underwater caverns and tunnels ripe for the looting. Then there’s the ashy, commoditised terrain of Mt Chimney, the bustling markets of Slateport, the parched plains of Route 114, the rustic energy of Fortree, the open-air splendour of Sootopolis, the list goes on and on.
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-3. Ray*******quaza

No, I’m not talking about the correct way to pronounce its name, or the recent power ascension granted to it by Game Freak that makes it literally the most powerful Pokémon in existence. I’m talking about the bitch it was to catch in its debut games. Some legendary Pokémon are harder conquests than others, but Ruby, Sapphire and Emerald really ratcheted up the difficulty on the rarest of beasts, and Rayquaza was unquestionably on top of the pile. It took no small amount of time and effort to reach the green dragon, and once you did it was super-high level, packing enough attack power to take out most of your team in one or two shots, consistently using Fly to arbitrarily extend your showdown with invincible turns, and above all, using Rest to fully heal itself and remove any status effects you’d worked hard to inflict upon it. No legendary battle has ever had so perfect a cocktail of irritating elements.
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-2. More like elite joke

Hoenn’s Elite Four have some of the lowest level Pokémon in the history of the concept. Generally low levels is a problem that pops up quite a few times throughout the Gen III games, notably also in the game’s pitiful excuse for a “rival” (I would have made a separate slot for that point if I had space) – whose starter Pokémon you don’t even get to see fully evolved – but by the time you hit the big final challenge of the game, and your first challenger, Sidney, has levels entirely in the forties, it’s plain to see just how little the game values your training time and effort. Thankfully the Elite Fours of later games ratchet the challenge up again.
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-1. What time is it?

This may seem like making a mountain out of a molehill, but words cannot adequately express how pissed off I was when I learned that the third generation Pokemon games lacked a day-night cycle of any kind. After the strong, meaningful implementation of the feature in Gen II, the sudden permanent daylight throughout Hoenn was jarring – especially as the developers went as far as adding weather effects to certain routes. To make matters worse, you had to set the clock very early in the game, even though your actions changed next to nothing. The reduced lack of immersion as a result was one thing, but the already confusing branching evolutions of Pokémon like Wurmple and Eevee became rather misleading as a result. I can’t tell you how many times I reset my game after maxing out my prospective Gen III Espeon’s happiness, only to repeatedly get an Umbreon instead…
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-‘> A WORD ON THE REMAKES <'-

Much like the Gen I remakes, the 3DS’ Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire nail the commonly held issues people had with the originals, sweeping them away rather effortlessly, but they then go one step further, accentuating the games’ strengths as well. Bumping up the enemy level growth curve and reapplying a day/night cycle are just the beginning of these remakes’ improvements, as they also tweak and extend scenes involving the protagonist’s gym leader father, beef up the role of your no-longer-pathetic rival, add personality and depth to each version of the primary villainous team and transplant what amounts to a full-tilt anime movie storyline onto the games’ post-Elite Four content. They also feature some of the very best use of StreetPass functionality available on the 3DS, which among other things takes Secret Base integration to another level. They really are great games, and I wish they hadn’t come out at a time when I no longer have hundreds of free hours to burn.

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