Welcome back to Elite Evaluations, an ongoing column in which I review the Elite Four from each generation of games in the Pokemon series, with an especial focus on costume and character design. Previous entries can be found here.
This time, we’re looking at the Elite Four of the Hoenn region, featured in the games Ruby, Sapphire, and Emerald, commonly referred to as ‘Generation III’ and released between 2002 and 2005, as well as their remakes Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire, released in 2014. The header image is from ScreenRant; all other media are cited throughout.
Ruby, Sapphire, and Emerald were the first mainline titles released on the Game Boy Advance as opposed to the Game Boy Color, and as such had a wider and more vivid palette than previous titles. Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire were released on the Nintendo 3DS, which similarly offered more opportunities for detailed costume and character design.
Sidney is a Dark-type expert and the first member of the Hoenn Elite Four. I’m not particularly keen on Sidney’s outfit in Ruby, Sapphire, and Emerald; his most distinctive feature may be his magenta, punk-inspired hair, but this costume doesn’t really showcase it.
His salmon-coloured shirt, black vest, and pinstripe ochre pants clash, and not in an appealing or interesting way. The magenta stripes on his cuffs and collar are a shade too off from his shirt to be successful tone-on-tone dressing. While Sidney describes himself as a “punk” in Emerald, his outfit itself is remarkably conventional and somewhat stylistically confused. He doesn’t look like a punk; he looks like a junior associate with a misguided sense of fashion, two drinks in at happy hour.
Sidney’s outfit in Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire is a phenomenal improvement on his first outfit, and shows how a lot of subtle, smart design decisions can bring out the best in a character. Sidney pays a lot of attention to aesthetics, and his costume design perfectly illustrates this trait. We get a better look at his outfit in the Pokemon Masters EX spinoff mobile game:
The redesigned outfit places a new emphasis on Sidney’s hair; arguably the defining and most recognizable aspect of his character. Not only is his hair larger in his official character art, but the outfit itself is designed to showcase it as well. Both small and large aspects of his look, from his eyebrows to his pants to the short socks peeking out from his shoes, perfectly match the colour of his hair.
Now, let’s look at some of the changes I alluded to above. Perhaps most noticeably, the salmon colour of his shirt is gone, and the remaining colours — the magenta of Sidney’s cuffs and collar and the ochre of his pants — are swapped. This isn’t just a palette change; both colours are much darker, making the magenta deeper and changing the ochre colour into a dark mustard. It’s an advanced understanding of colour theory; pairing the complementary colours of purple and yellow, but in subtler shades, that reflects both Sidney’s keen aesthetic eye and the costume designers’ brilliance.
Sidney also now sports a dark mustard-coloured shirt with wide stripes in an even darker colour, which feels more modern than the narrow pinstripes of his original pants. His pants are shorter as well, a more current and youthful look. His vest is now a long-sleeved, mostly unbuttoned, slightly rumpled suit jacket with rolled-up sleeves. The effect is at once casual and highly curated; a sort of refined punk. Sidney’s original outfit felt like two competing aesthetics at war with one another; here, there’s also a tension, but in a more thoughtful and compelling way. Pokemon costume design doesn’t get much better than this.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5.
Phoebe, the second member of the Hoenn Elite Four, specializes in Ghost-type Pokemon. She regularly trains at Mt. Pyre, Hoenn’s memorial place for departed Pokemon, and is the granddaughter of the caretaker there.
Based solely on that description, one might expect Phoebe’s outfit to have the same tropes associated with other Ghost-type experts in the Pokemon series, including Agatha of the Kanto Elite Four: eerie motifs, and lots and lots of purple. Instead, it’s the exact opposite; Phoebe wears a bright blue top and patterned skirt, set off beautifully by the coral-hued flowers in her hair and anklet. It’s a stellar example of perhaps atypical yet fully-realized costume design.
Phoebe’s outfit didn’t change much (if at all) in Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire, but honestly, I don’t mind. In previous columns, I’ve criticized designers for not taking the opportunities offered by remakes to add new meanings or dimensions to existing outfits. However, in this instance, I can’t find much to improve upon as a costume design. It’s fully-conceptualized and immediately memorable.
Rating: 4 out of 5.
Glacia, the third member of the Hoenn Elite Four, has “travelled from afar” to the Hoenn region to hone her Ice-type Pokemon’s abilities. In Ruby, Sapphire and Emerald, Glacia’s severe hairstyle and the jagged edges of her blouse’s collar and cuffs have icy connotations and contrast her considerably more subdued and monochromatic dress. The brown-and-gold belt is an eye-catching addition that provides visual interest in an otherwise straightforward design. The hem of the dress could have been floor-length, as it ends somewhat awkwardly. Maybe they wanted to make it clear she was wearing shoes.
As we saw with Sidney, Glacia’s costume in Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire amplifies key elements of the original design while also creating a new and distinctive look. Her plain purple dress is now a ballgown I might describe as “icy lavender.” The jagged and icy elements in her original outfit now take the form of white gloves, a pattern around the gown’s neckline, and a choker. The skirt is now wider, and the lines on both sides give the gown shape and structure.
I like the shoes, which coordinate with the gown, but because this is now a ballgown, the hem should really be floor-length. Glacia’s costume in the mobile spinoff game Pokemon Masters EX demonstrates what this would look like:
Surely I’m not alone in feeling like this significantly improves the overall look. Glacia’s remade outfit is excellent in general, though; like Sidney’s revised costume, it speaks to the character designers’ renewed creativity and expanded inspiration.
Rating: 4 out of 5.
Drake marks the second time in three generations that a Dragon-type expert is the final member of a region’s Elite Four. While this might suggest a lack of imagination on the part of the designers, Drake’s outfit and character are highly distinctive; indeed, he may have one of the more notable costumes we’ve seen on a major character up to this point in the Pokemon franchise.
Drake is a former sea captain who was saved from certain death by his Dragon-type Pokemon. We can immediately tell this from his captain’s hat, tattered cape resembling a dragon’s wings, and perhaps even his grizzled demeanour.
But what may be most interesting about Drake is that he’s a working-class character. Up to this point, the Pokemon series had occasionally recognized that certain inhabitants would be unable to traipse around the world in their free time, but they were mostly side characters or anonymous trainers. Drake is one of the earliest major characters to have this aesthetic. He doesn’t wear a shirt. His faded blue jeans are tucked into his boots — which are lace-up work boots, a notable detail when so many characters’ footwear is an afterthought. Even his tattered cape contributes to his nuanced depiction.
For Drake’s depiction in Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire, the character artists smartly focused on his cape, without changing his design in any noticeable way. I don’t particularly mind that his look stayed the same, though I’m sure some small details could’ve enhanced his outfit.
Rating: 4 out of 5.
In my eyes, Hoenn’s Elite Four is the first such group to have consistently great costume designs, each of which helps form a fully-realized character. Not only is it difficult to imagine any other character in these outfits, but someone without any knowledge of the Pokemon series could take one look at these four people, understand who they are, and probably guess at their backstories. It’s masterful work.
Next time: To mark the release of Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl, we’ll look at the Elite Four of the Sinnoh region. It may prove to be both the most challenging and interesting group to write about yet. See you then!