Andrew Barker
The End and The Beginning: A Return to Hoenn
Editorial by Andrew Barker, aspiring Pokémon professor.
09.10.14 - 8:29 AM

"Hi! Sorry to keep you waiting! Welcome to the world of Pokémon! My name is Birch. But everyone calls me the Pokémon Professor."

And with those words, back in 2003, aspiring Pokémon trainers began their journey in Hoenn, home to starters Treecko, Mudkip, and Torchic; and legendaries Groudon, Kyorge, and Rayquaza.

According to history, the region was created when Continent Pokémon Groudon literally raised the landmasses, creating them in the process, and when Sea Basin Pokémon Kyogre filled the earth with water. When the two met, they engaged in a battle for supremacy, only halted by the appearance of Sky High Pokémon Rayquaza who, until this point, according to its Pokédex entry, "lived for hundreds of millions of years in the earth's ozone layer, never descending to the ground."

In real life, Hoenn was inspired by Japan's island of Kyushu. Though flipped 90-degrees, Hoenn and Kyushu line up almost perfectly geographically. Director at Game Freak, Junichi Masuda, has stated that the region's name comes from the word hōen, meaning "abundant relations." He hoped this would emphasize the focus on relationships between people and Pokémon.

Although the series is rarely known for tackling contemporary real-world issues, Pokémon Ruby & Sapphire bring pro-environmental messages in their story (as do Black & White, with their loose theme of animal welfare). In Ruby, the evil Team Magma wishes to expand the world's landmass by lowering sea levels by finding and waking Groudon. In Sapphire, the villainous Team Aqua desires to increase water levels by using Kyogre's powers. Okay, sure, it's a tenuous link, but it's about the closest the series has ever gotten.

Left: Littleroot Town (GBA). | Right: Littleroot Town (3DS)??

Whether Ruby & Sapphire really advocate environmentalism is debatable, but there's no doubt a strong natural theme reverberates throughout the titles. Aside from the story themes already discussed, the towns of Hoenn have names such as Littleroot, Petalberg, and Lilycove, among others, and even the new Pokémon introduced to Generation III have more plant-themed creatures than any other.

If you've experienced Hoenn before, then little of the above was probably news to you. So let's get to what we really want to talk about: what's new in Omega Ruby & Alpha Sapphire (which, interestingly, is ordered as "the end and the beginning" — signalling the rebirth of Generation III, perhaps)?

Without a doubt, we have to start with Secret Bases. Super-Secret Bases, as they're now called, allow you to hollow out a tree or dig into a wall and create your own little hideaway inside. By purchasing and winning furniture and other décor items throughout the game, you can bring them back to your base and decorate it. It's pretty safe to say that you'll be able to drag, rotate and place items similar to decorating your house in Animal Crossing: New Leaf, which provides a countless array of potential designs.

Speaking of New Leaf-styles, you'll even be able to share your Super-Secret Base with friends and acquaintances via StreetPass or by distributing your base's QR code. Think of the exciting possibilities! You'll be able to find QR codes on Twitter, Tumblr, Reddit, and all across the internet, allowing you to check out inspirational designs from across the globe. I'm also hoping you might be able to order furniture you see in other people's bases (again, a la New Leaf). Nothing has been mentioned on this, but it would be a fantastic addition.

Aside from doing with your base what you wish, there's a variety of games you can play too. Returning from the Underground of Diamond & Pearl is a Capture the Flag mini-game you can participate in with other players to level your base up. "Secret Pals" you meet can be battled and provide special powers (similar to O-powers from X & Y).

To top it all off, you can turn your Super-Secret Base into a mini-gym. Yep, you can now be a Gym Leader and have other players come in, work their way past puzzles or obstacles, and then battle you (not for an actual badge, unfortunately). We don't know much about this yet, but with the right furniture items, you might be able to recreate your favourite gym (I was always a fan of the arrow tiles from Giovanni's in Red & Blue, personally). And, again, if these can be shared via QR... this is effectively never-ending post-game content. Well, as long as you enjoy interior decorating.

Mega Evolutions, which made their debut in X & Y, are back, and a number of new Pokémon will be joining their ranks. So far, all three starters, Sableye, Altaria, Lopunny, Salamence, Metagross, Slowbro, Audino, Sharpedo, Camerupt, Gallade, and Diancie have been revealed, with more likely still to come. If you were watching the Pokémon World Championships mid-August, then you'll know exactly how important Megas are in the competitive metagame.

Omega Ruby & Alpha Sapphire will be bringing in a new form of Mega Evolution though, too. Called Primal Reversion, this special state reverts Kyogre and Groudon back to their "primal" states and increases their powers in the same way Mega Evolution does for other Pokémon. We still don't know much about this mechanic yet, though I wouldn't be surprised if we see Primal Rayquaza revealed eventually. Which, let's face it, would be pretty awesome.

Just as Secret Bases are making a return, so too are Pokémon Contests (now known as "Contest Spectaculars"). These originally debuted back in the original Ruby & Sapphire, but have had a bit of an upgrade for Omega & Alpha. Just as found in previous generations (namely III and IV), contests are made up of two rounds: the introduction, where you dress up your Pokémon to appeal to the audience; and the talent round, where you execute moves matching the type of contest in order to impress the judges and inhibit your opponents.

Aside from visual upgrades, the contest improvements seem to be fairly minor. You can now Mega Evolve during a contest, and certain hold items will give you bonuses, but the format is largely unchanged. A bit disappointing, I think. Compared to side-events such as the Pokéathlon, I've always found contests to be somewhat underwhelming. While I'm sure it will be enjoyable, further innovation wouldn't have gone amiss.

Having said that, Cosplay Pikachu looks to be a fun new addition. After winning your first contest you'll be given this special Pikachu that can be differentiated from its fellows by the heart shape on its tail. This particular Pikachu can be dressed up in a variety of costumes that let it learn moves it's not normally capable of. Meteor Mash, Draining Kiss and Flying Press are just a few of the new moves it can pick up while dressed up. And seriously, how cool does Rock Star Pikachu look?

While that encompasses most of what we know about the new games so far, there are still a few months before their release, so there's likely plenty more to come. For starters, the official new map of Hoenn released (see below) has some interesting new features. Check out that weird black, shadowy area in the north. That definitely wasn't there before. Perhaps it will have something to do with Kyogre's and Groudon's primal reversions? It's likely they will be related to the story somehow, so a new area that tackles them is fairly likely.

There's some heavy clouds down the bottom right-hand corner; some in the area where the Battle Tower should be. There's some new islands around there too, though they could be just aesthetically pleasing additions to the map. And check out that weird pattern in the water on the right-hand side. Is that an eye? A giant Unown? We've seen many new additions to the world and story for past remakes (HeartGold/SoulSilver, FireRed/LeafGreen), so there's every chance Game Freak will have plenty of surprises in store.

And, of course, let's not forget the exciting graphical improvements. How fantastic will it be to explore the tree-tops in Fortree City in wondrous 3D? I can already picture winding around the trunks and meandering over rope bridges. If you'd like to see some graphical comparisons between new and old, head on over to imgur for a large compilation image.

It's not long until we'll be able to experience the new and improved Hoenn region, and I for one can't wait. Make sure to keep your eyes on our front page for the latest in Pokémon news, and take a look at our gallery for all the latest images.