Nigel has been playing video games ever since he first picked up a Master System controller in his diapers. Nintendo fanboy.
This article is probably going to be less contentious than other articles I've written about the Pokémon franchise's flaws. These games performed well by most definitions, but poorly by expectations from previous and future entries in the series. The series had peaked and most fans were either starting to outgrow the series, or starting to experience franchise fatigue. Between three movies, four seasons of a television series, and merchandise everywhere, fans were starting to get sick of oversaturation.
Even the new director of the series Junichi Masuda admitted he lost sleep over fears about Ruby and Sapphire not selling well, claiming he would have nightmares about seeing store shelves full of copies of the game because they wouldn't be sold. However, despite having some of the lowest sales in the franchise the games would still sell 22 million copies (when Pokémon Emerald is included) which is still enough to be considered successful by any fair measure.
The game still drew a ton of criticism however, and I think it's time we explored why Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire are the worst.
1. The Original "Dexit"
Remember when Pokémon Sword and Shield came out and it was revealed that there would be no National 'Dex and only Pokémon that were in already the games could be transferred in from previous generations? Remember how upset fans were? This affront to the fans who have been keeping their favorite Pokémon for generations became known as "Dexit," a term coined from the Brexit movement in the UK, the country that inspired the location of those games. You could tell that a lot of these fans were from the younger crowd, because that wasn't the first time this has happened. It also happened in 2002 when Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire were released. This was because the programming of Pokémon stats were completely changed, forcing Game Freak to abandon plans to transfer Pokémon from the second generation of games to the third.
The result of this decision meant that the National Pokédex would not be available until the release of Pokémon FireRed and LeafGreen almost two years later, and even then, between all the games in the third generation for the Game Boy Advance, there were still several Pokémon that could not be obtained. The only way to complete the National 'Dex in the third generation was to play the GameCube game Pokémon Colosseum and use the link cable accessory to trade from the GameCube to the third generation, with some mythical monsters—Mew or Jirachi, for example—being made available through events and GameCube demo discs.
This was the first real Pokédex controversy, and it still makes things difficult for avid collectors today.
2. Too Much Water
I know, I know. . . The complaint has become a bit of an overused meme, but hear me out.
IGN was famously mocked for "too much water" being a reason for lowering their review score of Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire, but they weren't wrong. It is a shame they were much more generous to the original releases, scoring it at 9.5/10 and not even mentioning the nightmare that is endless Tentacool encounters. This game makes players miss Zubat caves. And at least in caves in previous generations there was more variety in encounters. Plus in the remakes Repels are much easier to use, unlike those in generation 3.
In Ruby and Sapphire, there are seventeen routes that are either entirely or mostly water, and some of them are rather nonlinear, meaning you could be spending a great deal of time just trying to find any marker to tell you how to get to where you want to go. Revisiting the old games on the Game Boy Advance it took me over an hour to get from one city to the next near the end of the game. In fact, almost the entire last quarter of the game is travelling on these water routes. From your sixth badge to the start of Victory Road. It's really frustrating, not to mention side quests and at least two legendary Pokémon are also along these water routes.
On the bright side, that means lots of chances to grind—even if involuntary—and at least one of your HMs actually serves a purpose. Speaking of which...
3. Hidden Machine Fatigue
Hidden Machines—often shortened to 'HMs' the game and fandom—are used to teach your Pokémon certain moves that also have an effect on the overworld. Now, this isn't exclusive to HMs, as some normal moves learned in game also have overworld effects, such as Sweet Scent or Teleport. The major difference being that HMs are also used to progress in the game. However, because these are also battle moves, that means that keeping a move slot for HMs means that you have less diversity in your moves for battles, and you may have to give up on some really effective battle moves to keep a less effective HM.
The difficulty is that there are so many HMs in Ruby and Sapphire, and this won't be the last game where this is mentioned. I gave Gold and Silver a pass and this generation was no kinder, increasing the total number of HMs from seven to eight, many of which are only required once to complete the story, such as Waterfall, or Dive. Of course, you can use these to explore other areas that aren't necessary to complete the story, but the purpose is to keep players out of specific areas until they've reached a point in the story where they've obtained the Hidden Machine.
It's not uncommon for RPGs to have such mechanisms, but the fact that there are also key items in the game that perform the same function, such as the Go Goggles allowing entry to a route on a sandstorm. HMs are an interesting mechanic for an RPG, but not when they've gone out of control and begin interfering with a player's ability to enjoy the game, and Ruby and Sapphire's Hidden Machines certainly interfere with the ability to enjoy the game.
4. Lacklustre Rivals
There's a lot to be said about jerk rivals such as Blue and Silver. Some people prefer those rivals, and other players prefer the kind and friendly rival. To be honest, I'm perfectly okay with both types of rivals, so long as they have some personality. Silver, from Pokémon Gold and Silver didn't appeal to me because he lacked motivation. He was just a jerk for no real reason and he didn't seem to have any reason for his journey besides being a rival for the sake of being a rival. While his story was expanded in the remakes of the games, his original presentation just left him devoid of any real personality besides "only here to annoy you." Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire introduced the kinder, friendlier rival, but likewise didn't give them much motivation or personality either.
In this generation, you had two characters that could be considered your "rivals." You had your neighbor Brendan or May—depending on whether you played as a boy or a girl—and you had Wally. Between the two, Wally is clearly better written and had better motivations, however he appears so infrequently that it's hard to think of him as a rival. Your neighbor, although very kind and polite, has a similar problem to Silver where they have no real motivation. It isn't even clear if they are on a Pokémon journey or are just simply helping the professor fill the Pokédex. They seem like they are just there to periodically battle you and give you key items. It just feels like Wally and your neighbor are only half a rival each, each one having the half the other lacks.
While this is improved upon in the remakes, with Wally having a more prominent role and your neighbor being better written to be less of a rival and more of a good friend who enjoys battling you and spending time with you, this article isn't about the remakes. Focusing strictly on the original games, the rivals just felt like they were each missing something.
5. One of the Worst Postgames in the Franchise
When writing about the problems in Pokémon Gold and Silver, I was rather critical of the game's empty postgame. However, that is nothing compared to the postgame of Ruby and Sapphire. The battle tower was a nice touch for those who skipped Pokémon Crystal Version but besides that, there was almost nothing. Hunt for the one roaming Legendary, visit Sky Pillar, and that's it. There's not really any new places to explore.
There's a few routes that weren't necessary during the main story but were still able to be explored, so you could visit those locations if you missed out earlier. Breeding Pokémon was still a new mechanism that needed perfecting, so trying to create the perfect team for competition was still something only the most hardcore players would do.
The postgame was probably the second emptiest postgame in the series besides that of Red and Blue. While some games have had amazing postgames—looking at you Platinum and Black and White 2—this begins the trend of really disappointing content after the game has been completed. Emerald added the Battle Frontier, which was nice and gave players a ton of options to test their skill beyond what the Battle Tower provided, but more exploration really would have been nice. But as for Ruby and Sapphire, you pretty much just worked on your Pokédex and contests and ribbon collecting, all things which you could do during the main game.
Are there more?
Of course, other features, such as the lack of Fire type Pokémon or contests have also been contentious. What did you think about Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire? Did Emerald Version fix some of these problems in your mind? To me, I did have fun playing these games but had some disappointments. I was excited about the remakes for the 3DS, which improved in almost all of these areas. Plus, they let you transfer Pokémon from previous games into them finally.