Generation 3 (Ruby, Sapphire, Emerald, FireRed, LeafGreen)
- Hoenn Feels Very Distinct - Perhaps appropriately since Gen 3 was basically a soft reboot, the new Hoenn region feels quite distinctly different than the Kanto and Johto regions, which were based on Japanese geography. In contrast, Hoenn features much more island-hopping, giving it a coastal feel that gives it its own identity to set it apart from other generations.
- Introduction of Abilities - The addition of abilities for every Pokemon was a fantastic new feature which fundamentally shook up how all Pokemon are used, made battling more unpredictable (since Pokemon might have 2 different abilities to choose from) and even opened up new design and balance opportunities (most notably seen with the ultra powerful, but lazy, Slaking).
- Introduction of Natures - While this feature could easily be missed entirely by a more casual fan, natures have huge implications for competitive battling and breeding, as they can add 10% power to one stat, while hindering another 10%. This addition just further individualizes each Pokemon, as they now don't necessarily have the exact same stats, and opens up new options for building up a moveset.
- Art Design - The art style in the Gen 3 games is fantastic and, I would argue, the best in the whole franchise. The overworld design in particular is very reminiscent of A Link to the Past's gorgeous artwork and the game moves very smoothly at 60fps, a feature which no other Pokemon game can boast (outside of Gen 5's battle system, which exclusively runs at 60fps).
- A Couple Big Quality of Life Improvements - While it doesn't refine the formula nearly as much as Gen 2 did, Gen 3 introduced a couple major refinements which Gen 2 sorely needed and which would become franchise staples going forward. Probably most importantly, the PC system was finally streamlined, automatically switching when a box is filled up, and now featuring a full graphical user interface, making box management less of a hassle. In addition, Gen 3 introduced the running shoes, which allow you to move through the overworld faster, even without having to hop on the bike - thank freaking God.
- New Pokemon Are Very Solid - The new Pokemon in this generation are very solid all-round, with some becoming all-time classics on-par with the best of Gen 1 (Gardevoir, Mudkip, Blaziken, etc). There are only a couple Pokemon that I actively dislike (Spinada, Swallot), while there are others which are just questionable (by design, Volbeat and Illumise are basically the same Pokemon, as are Plustle and Minun), but all-in-all this was another classic generation.
- Double Battles - I can remember seeing kids playing the Gen 3 games back when I was in elementary school, and I always thought that the new double battles were the coolest feature. They definitely are a flashy addition with some real gameplay impacts (eg, some moves have additional properties in double battles, being able to hit multiple Pokemon at once), although I would argue that this feature is under-utilized in-game.
- Battle Frontier - While I haven't experienced it myself, everyone sings the praises of the Battle Frontier in Emerald for being arguably the strongest post-game in the entire franchise (yes, rivaling the return to Kanto in Gen 2). From what I understand, it's similar to the battle towers in other Pokemon games, but far more fleshed out, with much more interesting and rewarding battles. If you're into the battling side of these games, then I can definitely see how you would fall in love with the Battle Frontier and how it can add dozens of hours of additional play.
- Underwhelming Remakes - FireRed and LeafGreen, the Gen 1 remakes introduced during this generation, are by all accounts solid games, although they're also very basic as far as remakes go, doing very little to change up the gameplay (including locking off new evolutions until the post-game). Other than a new coat of paint and introducing the gameplay refinements of the previous games, the only other addition is the Sevii Islands, where players can catch Johto Pokemon. This still makes them the ideal way to experience Gen 1, but they could have done much more.
- No Day/Night Cycle - The biggest missing feature in the Gen 3 games is the lack of a day night cycle. On the one hand, now you don't have to wait until a certain time of day to catch Pokemon, or wait for weekly events, but on the other hand, this cuts down on the replayability of going back to old areas which made that feature so good in the first place. It's omission just feels like a step backwards.
- Version-Exclusive Villains - By all measures, having version-exclusive criminal organizations (Team Aqua in Sapphire, Team Magma in Ruby, and both in Emerald) is a cool idea, but the execution is underwhelming. Neither team has much personality outside of their aesthetics and (nonsensical) ultimate goals, meaning that you don't really notice much of a difference if you try out the other version of the game. Worse, Emerald has both villainous teams taking center stage, meaning that in the late game you have to battle through both sequentially instead of just one, grinding the pacing to a crawl. I'd still put this feature under the mixed heading though since version-exclusive villains battling each other is still the only thing that makes either of these teams stand out and is at least a cool idea.
- Too Much Water - I know it's a meme at this point, but seriously, there's too much damn water in these games. Like, imagine if 50% of the Kanto region was Rock Tunnel and you couldn't escape from all the Tentacools attacking you constantly. I know you can get around this with repels, but you shouldn't have to resort to that to get some relief.
- Too Many HMs - HMs were annoying in previous generations, especially practically useless ones like Flash, Cut and Rock Smash, but they were only that - an annoyance. In Gen 3, they became a full-on blight on the series for the first time. In order to advance, you need 8 different HMs, 3 of which are Water-type moves as well (Surf, Waterfall and Dive; remember too that at this time all Water moves are special attacks too, so this cuts down on coverage significantly). Consider that you will only have 24 move slots available on a team at a time and you're probably going to have to use up 1/3 of your moves on HMs, and somehow find multiple Pokemon to spread the different Water-type HMs to. This was the time when HM slaves came about, Pokemon which were useless in battle, but only carried around because then you wouldn't have to waste a good Pokemon with bad HMs.
- Old Pokemon Can't Be Brought Forward - For the first and only time in the main series, Pokemon from Gen 1 and Gen 2 cannot be brought forward to the Gen 3 games in any capacity. This really sucks - imagine you spent years breeding a perfect team or catching shinies and then suddenly you can't use them anymore. You can make the argument that this is because of the changes in IVs, natures, etc, but it doesn't change the fact that this just plain sucks (and in the initial releases, hundreds of Pokemon were straight-up unavailable until the Gen 1 remakes were released). This is also the only generation in which this would be the case, which just makes this even more of a sore point.
- Contests Are Boring - Maybe there's someone out there who loves the Pokemon Contests mini-game, but the game does not teach you the mechanics very well at all. It's interesting that they added a way to use Pokemon outside of their battle stats, but the mechanics of Contests aren't nearly as interesting as those of battling. Worse, you "level up" your contest stats through the production of Pokeblocks, whose quality depends on how well you time (and understand) button presses in a mini-game. Even worse, the number of Pokeblocks you can give are finite, and there is one Pokemon that needs to max its beauty stat in order to evolve: Feebas. The result is one legendarily difficult Pokemon to not only acquire but to evolve as well. Add it all up, and you have a gimmicky mini-game that I don't want to even bother touching again beyond the one mandatory tutorial the game forces you through.
- The Regi Puzzles Are Ridiculously Obtuse - Pokemon has always been intended to be a social game, but I feel that the Regi puzzles take that a step too far. Seriously, the steps required to beat this puzzle are on the level of modern-day ARGs, and would be basically impossible to decipher alone - meaning that you will have to resort to a guide, which is far less satisfying than a simpler puzzle that you could actually figure out yourself. Even worse, the Regi-trio are widely considered some of the weakest legendaries in the entire franchise, meaning that it's only worth it for a collector. Like, just look at some of the instructions involved in order to pull it off:
- Surf to a specific spot in the overworld and then use the Dive HM to find an underwater cave with Braille writing. Proceed to learn how to translate Braille, because all of the "hints" involved will require that you can read it.
- Use TMs and HMs such as Dig, Fly and Rock Smash at specific points where they would normally make no sense (eg, the game has taught you that they wouldn't work in that spot).
- Have a Relicanth and Wailord in your party - oh, that isn't just what's required though, you also need to have the Relicanth at the front of your party and the Wailord in the last slot. Do this at the right spot and you will now be able to find the caves which allow you the chance to find a Regi.
- To find Regice, you literally have to find its cave and then just not touch your game for 2 minutes straight.
- To find Regirock, walk to a specific spot and then use Strength (on open ground).
- To find Registeel, walk to the middle of the room and then use Fly (inside of a cave, where it normally would not work).
- Weak Story - Gen 3 is regarded as the first game in the series that gives any sort of serious consideration to its story, but it is also often criticized for doing a poor job of conveying it. For example, your rival (Brendan or May) is pretty much universally considered a boring disappointment, while Team Aqua and Team Magma are basically palette swaps with nonsensical plans and now real motivations.
Shittiest Pokemon of Gen 3: Spinada, Swallot, Luvdisc (cute, but totally useless), Minun and Plustle (just... why? They're not even good picks within their niche gimmick)
Tune in soon for the next entry where I'll cover Generation 4.