Pokemon Ruby and Sapphire are the first pair of Pokemon games for the GBA. The games are essentially identical (a neat marketing trick on Nintendo's part to sell more games with minimum extra work), with fairly minor differences which I will describe later.
If you're not familiar with the Pokemon game format, it is essentially as follows. You start out in a little town at the beginning of your Pokemon Journey, with only your low-level starter Pokemon as a companion. Over time, you win battles, catch, train and evolve Pokemon, explore (and possibly save) the world, and eventually become a champion.
Ruby and Sapphire (hereafter refered to as 'the game'† when refering to both of them) is extremely long if you want to finish off everything - I've played over 130 hours (on Ruby) and am still going‡. You can 'beat' the game, in the sense of becoming the champ, in about 40 hours, but because of the open-ended nature of training your Pokemon, you can play virtually forever.
So, as I mentioned, Ruby and Sapphire are basically identical. There biggest difference between the two is that in Ruby you fight the legendary Pokemon Groudon, while in Sapphire you fight Kyogre. There are also some Pokemon
which are only available in one or the other, or are extremely rare in one while being common on the other. You can get the ones you don't have by trading with other people, so if you know someone who has, say, Sapphire, you're better off getting Ruby so you can trade (this was the course I took with my housemate, who had started playing Sapphire previous to my getting a GBA). It turns out I actually like the Sapphire-only Pokemon more than the Ruby-only ones, but since I just traded for those ones, it doesn't really mater.
In addition to the traditional battling, there are also contests, where Pokemon can compete at looking cool, cute, beautiful, tough, or smart. There are 4 levels of contests, so if this interests you it will take you quite a while to finish it all off. As part of the contests, you get to be a farmer - obtaining, planting and watering various strange types of berries. Some of these have special powers (including some that are very useful), and all of them can be mixed up to make candies, which you feed to your Pokemon to increase their coolness or whatever. Oh, right, there is also fishing, a safari, a casino, shopping for TVs if you want, it's basically just a little mini-world with stuff to do, or not do, as you feel like. No e2, though. Shame, really.
This game is really fun, and addictive (as you might think from the fact that I've spent 130+ hours playing it in about a month and a half). There are a million things to do, and this expands exponentially if you know other people who play it, because then trading/battling/etc with them comes into the picture.
There are some things that annoy me, however:
- The big one for me is that your Pokemon don't get experience for fighting against the Pokemon of other (human) trainers. This just plain sucks, and I think if you did get XP for it, it would make person-on-person battling even more fun. Also, it's rather tough to level up Pokemon once they hit around 80, simply because there isn't anything that provides sufficient XP for beating it to be worthwhile. But if two human-trained level 80 Pokemon square off, one is going to win, and would get a whole ton of XP.
- Some wild Pokemon are basically impossible to find, and you will have to either be extremely lucky, or look it up online, in order to get them. Some of these Pokemon are, BTW, extremely cool dragons which you will probably want to own. A few, you'll spend 6+ hours trying to find, and then another 12 getting to evolve into their cool form.
- Similarly, some secrets are so fscking obscure that the only way to know about them is to read about it in a walkthrough. Unless you would guess that saying "Contest Challenge" to a particular person would get you a particular rare berry. I wouldn't.
Nits aside, if you're looking for a really fun hand-held time waster this game cannot be beat. At my current time spent on the game, it's come to about $.25 per hour of playtime, which is a hell of a deal in any circumstance.
Warning: Minor but Useful Spoilers/Hints Follow: AKA things I wish somebody had told me about before I started playing.
- When you fight Groudon/Kyogre (or any of the other legendary Pokemon), you can (and should) catch it in a Pokeball. I feel like an idiot for not trying it, even though it occurred to me at the time. So now I am short one Groudon. Save before you fight, so if you accidentally kill him, you can restart and try capturing him again. This may make it easier for you to choose which one to get, if you have no reason (price, friends having the other one, etc) to pick one over the other - look at the boxes, and pick which Pokemon looks cooler.
- Make sure to get the Master Ball in the Team Aqua/Magma base. Don't fight the leader of the team until you have the Master Ball. If you beat the leader without it, you will never be able to get it. I didn't. This sucks ass, because you will want it late in the game (most especially if you're playing Ruby, but in Sapphire as well).
† No, this should not be 'games'. There really are only a tiny number of differences between the two, mostly with regards to a particular sub-plot of the game, which ends once you catch/kill your first legendary Pokemon.
‡ October 10, 2003: 165 hours