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So Does Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire Include Trainer Customization?

The answer provides an interesting window into Game Freak's approach to game design.

Preview by Kat Bailey, .

Ever since Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire were announced back in the spring, a lot of Pokémon fans have been asking the same question: "Is trainer customization back? Well, is it?" It seems like such a no-brainer given the nature of the series, but Pokémon fans have learned to take nothing for granted.

As it turns out, they were right to be skeptical. During an event last week, Game Freak's Junichi Masuda confirmed that trainer customization had been removed from the upcoming remakes: "In terms of the customization of the trainer, that was really kind of a special thing for the Kalos region, which featured this kind of motif of France and really focused on this beauty and fashion aspect, which is why it was a prominent feature in that game. For this game, we're focusing on adventuring elements, so we don't have the actual free customization of the trainer, but you'll see the items you use throughout the game visually represented; for example, when you're underwater, you'll have this little mouthpiece that lets you breathe. So there's some cool stuff for how your trainer changes clothes and puts on accessories throughout the game."

The removal of the trainer customization comes just one year after it was finally introduced in Pokémon X and Y, where it was possible to dress up the avatar in a variety of hats, boots, dresses, and other items. True, it wasn't everyone's cup of tea; but for a lot of people, trainer customization lent an additional degree of ownership to the fantasy. When battling someone online, it was fun to see what outfit they had selected for their trainer, whether it was a plain t-shirt and jeans or a more esoteric lolita outfit (of which there were a few).

Disappointing as it might be, however, the decision to remove trainer customization also serves to shed a degree of light on Game Freak's approach to game design: namely, that every region should have its own identity.

"It's really meant to give unique traits of personalities to the different regions. So with the secret bases, for example, they're really popular in the Hoenn region," Masuda says. "Everything we come up with always tie back into the themes of the games we're working on, so with the original Ruby and Sapphire we had the theme of richness or abundance, which is in the name of the region: The 'Ho' part means richness or abundance in Japanese, and 'enn' means bonds, like the bonds between people and their Pokémon, for example. So it's just reflecting the theme of the individual regions."

Of course, Hoenn has its own odd history among Pokémon fans. The original Ruby and Sapphire were somewhat controversial as far as Pokémon games go, making it impossible to transfer monsters from the original Game Boy games as well as locking out 186 monsters, which Masuda says was due to the desire to get people to complete the Pokedex by playing Pokémon Fire Red and Leaf Green. The region itself wasn't exactly popular, either. Fans complained about its focus on surfing and its superfluous Dive HM, not to mention the abundance of Pokémon like Beautifly—weak clones of monsters that had appeared in previous games.

Nostalgia has a way of curing all ills, though, especially when it comes to a popular series like Pokémon. The kids who grew up with Ruby and Sapphire are in college now, and they no doubt have warm, fuzzy memories of capturing Kyogre with their Swampert. Nostalgia also has a bit to do with why trainer customization is out, and secret bases and contests—first introduced in Ruby and Sapphire—are back in. As far as I can tell, it's part of a far-reaching effort to make each entry in the series seem unique and irreplaceable, making them a part of a puzzle rather than a product to be disposed of when a sequel arrives. It's a philosophy that has seeped into every level of the art and design, occasionally helping to elevate the series in unexpected ways.

For Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire, one such element is the new DexNav feature. Conceived by Shigeru Ohmori, who was a game planner for the original game and is now directing Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire, the DexNav expands on the Pokedex's location functionality, hinting at which Pokémon can be found in a particular area by showing their silouhette on the 3DS' bottom screen. After a Pokémon is captured, it's possible to set the DexNav to target more monsters of that type, thus locking in the encounters and removing the random element. From time to time, a tail will also pop out of the grass to indicate that a monster is near; and in true Pokémon fashion, you have to tiptoe by gently nudging the left analog stick in order to sneak up and surprise it.

And then there's Cosplay Pikachu.

The new feature comes as part of Ohmori's desire to build on some of the themes of the original, which centered around richness and abundance: "One of the ways I wanted to express [the themes of abundance and richness] in the various environments [of the original Ruby and Sapphire] was to make it feel as if Pokémon were constantly surrounding you, so we had a Pokémon cry sound effect that you could recognize. This time we have greater technological capabilities, so I wanted to take this theme of abundance to another level, and I came up with this idea of co-existence with Pokémon all living together in harmony. With that in mind, I wanted to use the graphical capabilities of the 3DS to show the Pokémon in the field, such as the tail waving in the tall grass or the Pokémon silhouette, so that way you can sneak up on the Pokémon you want. "

True to Ohmori's word, abundance is constantly apparent in Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire. He cites the occasional glimpse of a Pokémon in the tall grass, but there are other examples as well. As Brendan/May enter Hoenn for the first time in the opening cutscene, they look out the window to see multitudes of Pokémon frolicking by the roadside. When they enter Petalburg Woods, the camera pans up and a handful of Wingulls swoop past.

Interestingly, despite the nods toward a livelier world, Game Freak is not prepared to abandon random encounters anytime soon: "[Random encounters] go back to the idea that different kinds of play exist. I think there's these core categories of play: you have competition, imitation, and the element of surprise or excitement," says Masuda. "I think Pokémon lets you choose between competition and the element of chance, and with the random encounters it's a kind of lottery as you enter the tall grass and you don't know what's going to appear. We think that by removing that, we'd be removing one of the big categories of play from the game, and we don't think that's a good idea."

From these decisions, an image gradually begins to emerge of a development team that has a very particular approach to design, which is backed by an almost uninterrupted record of growth and success. No one element of Pokémon can be called a "secret ingredient," but taken together, the series has managed to tap deep into the primal center of the pop culture consciousness, where it resides to this day. On occasion, it can result in baffling decisions like the removal of trainer customization; but ultimately, the positives may outweigh the negatives. After all, every Pokémon fan has a favorite region and a favorite generation—the sort of fan tribalism that is only possible if a series is particularly memorable and well-developed.

Of course, it's also easy to make the case that Pokémon is too set in its ways, which is a charge that the latest remake does little to refute. Yeah, I felt a burst of nostalgia moving into Hoenn, visiting Norman at the Petalburg Gym, and helping Wally to catch his first Pokémon (so that he can ambush me at the end of Victory Road... little jerk), but it also helped to drive home just how little has changed since 2002. Game Freak's dogmatic approach to design makes the pace of change almost glacial, even if the series is remarkably forward-thinking in other respects, such as the way that it fosters communication and community building.

Ultimately, trainer customization isn't hugely important, though it will certainly be missed. It's just that I can't think of many series that consciously remove a popular feature and file it away for later use. Even when sports games cut features, it's usually because they either don't work or the development team simply didn't have to implement them. It's worked for Pokémon, though. No doubt fans will soon be clamoring for a remake of Pokémon Diamond and Pearl so they can not only return to the Sinnoh region (my personal favorite), but so they can revisit the Sinnoh Underground.

It's an approach continue to fascinate me, if only because it seems to work so well. More than a decade after the original, somewhat controversial release of Ruby and Sapphire, Pokémon is as idiosyncratic as ever. And in the end, that might be just how Game Freak likes it.

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Comments 21

  • Avatar for brionfoulke91 #1 brionfoulke91 2 years ago
    When people make criticisms like "too set in their ways," I think what they really mean is a lack of boldness. In this particular case, I think removing the customization is the bolder choice. I like to see game developers going against popular ideas.
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  • Avatar for Kat.Bailey #2 Kat.Bailey 2 years ago
    @brionfoulke91 No, what I mean is that they are dogmatic about their design philosophy. They can be bold in some ways, but overly rigid in others, resulting in situations like them holding on as tightly as possible to random encounters.
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  • Avatar for brionfoulke91 #3 brionfoulke91 2 years ago
    @Kat.Bailey Nothing inherently wrong with random encounters, though.

    Being dogmatic certainly isn't good, but change isn't always good either. The worst kind of change is when a developer changes to match the current standards in the name of uniformity. The best kind of change is when it results in something new, or something that is outside the norm.

    Of course, just being "new to Pokemon" might be enough, so moving away from random encounters wouldn't necessarily be a bad change, but I don't think that keeping them is bad either. If it wants to be bold, Game Freak needs to balance two things: 1. standing out from other current games. 2. standing out from past Pokemon games. Doing one or the other is fine, but design concepts that accomplish both at the same time would be ideal.
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  • Avatar for CK20XX #4 CK20XX 2 years ago
    This is kinda like Apple's traditional response to why certain iterations of the iPhone are missing features. Does this mean that we'll still be lugging around HM Slaves next generation even though no one likes them?
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  • Avatar for calexd #5 calexd 2 years ago
    Hugely backwards decision. "Enjoyed being a different skin colour in the previous game? TOO BAD HAVE FUN BEING JUST WHITE AGAIN!".
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  • Avatar for devinmoza59 #6 devinmoza59 2 years ago
    @calexd technically you play the game as a japanese child.... not a white child.... its a japanese game....
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  • Avatar for SatelliteOfLove #7 SatelliteOfLove 2 years ago
    @calexd

    Well, Anime White, but yeah.
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  • Avatar for kivanyamaxwell81 #8 kivanyamaxwell81 2 years ago
    @calexd I honestly agree with you, the customization is a feature that I have been waiting a long time for pokemon to get. I mean come on, it is a freaking rpg after all, a customization feature is just as enjoyable as any other part of the game.

    Though I can definitely understand why they did not include it in Hoenn(they could've left in the clothing at least). The Hoenn region is based upon a part of Japan, since Japan isn't exactly super diverse, it's only normal the character is going to be of a lighter skin tone.

    The reason Kalos region was so different, is because it was based off of France, the only region in pokemon based on a country outside of Japan. Hence why the customization worked so well for that region, especially the skin tone changes. I really wish they would've at least have kept the clothing stores in the game, even if we can't change our skin tone.
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  • Avatar for dimasok #9 dimasok 2 years ago
    I dont understand why they keep insisting that the random encounters are a necessity. To me, they're an annoyance. If I move through a grass field and then backtrack through it, there shouldn't freaking be a Pokemon assaulting me there.
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  • Avatar for pertusaria #10 pertusaria 2 years ago
    @Kat.Bailey I managed to pick up a copy of Pearl recently, but haven't got very far into it yet - glad to be told it's something to look forward to!

    I'm still inching my way along in X with far too many distractions along the way (plus the older versions sitting on the back burner), so I'm not in a rush for Ruby / Sapphire, but it'll be interesting to hear your views when they're released.

    Edit: For some reason, I had assumed that removing character customisation just meant no more playing dress-up, which is a pity, but not a big deal for me. If it also means no more choosing your character's skin color, I think it's a bad call.Edited October 2014 by pertusaria
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  • Avatar for Daryoon #11 Daryoon 2 years ago
    There's a good reason I never find copies of old Pokemon games in charity shops, but plenty of old FIFA games, and I imagine the unique identity of each generation plays a part in that.

    I do wish they'd kept the World Tournament from Black/White 2 throughout the games, though.
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  • Avatar for CipherStone #12 CipherStone 2 years ago
    I was pretty disappointed that they axed character customization. Partly because I'm sure there are people who would rather see their trainer better represent who they are with selectable skin tone options, but also because now we're going back to the days of online battles being between clones, which feels kind of jarring (although I guess we'll just choose a "trainer class" for other players to see us as when battling in multiplayer).
    I like that they try to make each game distinct but it's too bad it's at the expense of features like this.
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  • Avatar for jessewaynewatkins05 #13 jessewaynewatkins05 2 years ago
    @kivanyamaxwell81 Kalos wasn't the first region based on somewhere outside of japan. Pokemon Black and White's Unova is based off of New York City.
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  • Avatar for renshinagami81 #14 renshinagami81 2 years ago
    what a load of bullcrap and here i Thoth i would get the game, character customization was the one god dam feature that was missing from the pokemon games now we cant get a change of pace, and we are stuck looking at the same character models over and over and over again,there's a reason it was a popular idea, a requested idea a good idea. I am not getting the game or any new one that's missing the feature for that matter.
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  • Avatar for chadconrad17 #15 chadconrad17 2 years ago
    @devinmoza59 Actually, this takes place in Pokemon's France. Not Japan. In Black/White, you're the Pokemon equivalent of an American.
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  • Avatar for tylerreaturner86 #16 tylerreaturner86 2 years ago
    @Daryoon It's because they make it impossible to learn certain moves/catch certain pokemon in one game, and unless you have friends interested in trading, you'll never complete one game without copies of the others.

    It's not because of the "unique identity". It's because people thirst for completion and Game Freak only gives it to you when you buy all the games.

    That said, the "identity of the region" should be emphasized through the narrative and the setting, not by implementing a neat feature and then taking it out. Are we implying Kalosians are the only people that might throw down for a haircut, or have an interest in personalization? Hoennites are the only folks interested in having a little secret base? Only people in Johto actually like letting their pokemon walk alongside them outside?

    Imagine if you could have all those features in one game, instead of having to play previous-console generation Pokemon games for certain pokemon or features. Instead of having to go back to when TMs were single-use items, among other problems.


    There's a good reason I never find copies of old Pokemon games in charity shops, but plenty of old FIFA games, and I imagine the unique identity of each generation plays a part in that.

    I do wish they'd kept the World Tournament from Black/White 2 throughout the games, though.
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  • Avatar for peachyyfiendd05 #17 peachyyfiendd05 2 years ago
    Wow yea that fucking blows.I wish I had spent money on something else.... And as for the stuck in their ways thing. Yes they are. And I don't really give a flying fuck about how THEY want the game to be. We are the ones who have to pay for it so fuck them.
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  • Avatar for peachyyfiendd05 #18 peachyyfiendd05 2 years ago
    They took out like everything what a down grade....
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  • Avatar for jonathangarner81 #19 jonathangarner81 2 years ago
    Game Freak thinks it's too much trouble to add more mega evolutions and clothes. I believe it was called laziness. "Why should we allow the character to express themselves when the game is about pokemon?" Now, because of their idiotic decision, we are stuck with a cookie cutter jerk off clone. How original... Now I can't put myself as the character because the cookie cutter asian hero looks nothing like me. I won't buy another one until the customization comes back, some people might troll me for such a stupid reason but I don't care. If you can't put yourself into the story then you feel no connection to the role and as such NO FUN.Edited April 2015 by jonathangarner81
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  • Avatar for Elliandr #20 Elliandr 2 years ago
    Honestly, I would be OK with every region having it's own identity - if it wasn't for the fact that each new game is treated like an upgrade. You can bring all the items and Pokemon from an old region to a new one, but not the other way around. If they were to patch the old games to allow the new items and Pokemon to be brought in we could enjoy the new regions, but choose our preferred region to play in. Obviously they wouldn't do this because why would you buy a new game if you like the features of the old one and can get all the new stuff in the old one? However, with Pokemon bank, it would be really easy for them to set it up like this:

    When you transfer Pokemon to the bank it could record the trainer information and game title you are transferring from. It could log this as a "registration" allowing older titles that you have also registered to receive a special DLC for free for all older titles which would allow the older titles to receive content. So, for example, if I own Pokemon Y and Pokemon Omega Ruby and transfer a Pokemon from each to the bank it would register both and allow me to download a DLC for Pokemon Y which would unlock all the new features of Pokemon ORAS. They could also potentially sell such DLC, but doing so would decrease demand for their new games so I think the patch option would be better for them.

    If they also allowed item storage in the Pokemon bank - or at least a limited item storage for Pokeballs and Megastones (since they might be game exclusive) it would increase sales for Pokemon bank

    In older generations an idea like this wouldn't work, but with the ability to update games with new features and bug fixes it should be no problem. This would also make it much easier for people to share and trade with their friends while allowing for more battle options.

    Another online feature I would really like is the ability to set the Trainer name, gender, ID and secret ID of your new game to one you previously registered with the Pokemon bank so that all of your games would have the same trainer profile.
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  • Avatar for atccoin #21 atccoin 15 days ago
    This is really awesome article.I have recently invested money in ATC Coins.
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