Pokémon Emerald Latias and Latios

Retrospective

20 years ago, Pokémon pulled off a feat that Scarlet and Violet flubbed

How the franchise felt expansive without an open-world.

Nintendo

In my dreams I still see it. Beyond the fog, the island calls to me, but it vanishes every time I reach out. In the 20 years since Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire was first released, its biggest secret continues to haunt me. Even as the franchise opens up its world with bigger adventures than ever before with the release of the latest entries, Scarlet and Violet, I cannot let go of the image in my head of what lies beyond the fog: Mirage Island.

Across the sea

The first time I heard about Mirage Island was on the school playground, as all the best gaming urban legends begin. My friend Michael told me he heard from someone who had heard from someone (and down the line as these things go) that if you are lucky, a secret island would appear in Ruby and Sapphire along route 130 to the west of Pacifidlog Town.

Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire have many post-game adventures for players.Nintendo

I had spent many hours with my copy of Pokémon Sapphire before this fateful day on the playground, at least 130 (my playtime when I first beat the Elite Four). I reached the top floor of the post-game Battle Tower, I had captured Latias, and I had even managed to uncover the mystery of the Regis. But Mirage Island was a new adventure.

The way I would know if I could travel to Mirage Island was to travel to Pacifidlog Town and find the old man looking out his window. Initiating dialogue would prompt him to say “I can’t see MIRAGE ISLAND today...” or the elusive “Oh! Oh my! I can see MIRAGE ISLAND today!”

The more I played Sapphire, the less there was for me to do. Before long I got tired of trying to complete my Pokédex. Yet I never stopped talking to the old man in Pacifdlog Town. Eventually, I would spend hours in the town running between the man and the rest area where I could sleep and move the in-game day forward. I obsessively repeated this cycle. My total playtime currently clocks in at 230 hours.

The old man in Pacifidlog Town has let me down more times than I can count.Nintendo

Island in the sun

In the years after I stopped playing Sapphire nearly every day, I was never sure if Mirage Island was real or just that — a mirage. One day in a nostalgic insight I found myself opening up Google and searching for answers on Mirage Island.

I was pleased to discover that it does exist. This game that I spent so much time in, uncovering its many complexities and secrets, continued to hold new adventures that I never reached.

The nitty gritty behind Mirage Island is as follows: Every in-game day, a new random number between 0 and 65535 is generated. If this number matches the first two bytes of the personality value of any Pokémon in your party, then Mirage Island will appear. Your odds increase to 1/10923 if you have a full party with no repeating bytes. If you win this lottery then Mirage Island appears.

So, what awaits on Mirage Island?

Mirage Island isn’t quite what I imagined.Nintendo

The island itself is a small plot of land with a few trees and a small patch of short grass. It is inhabited only by Wynaut and a single Liechi Berry. While not the grand treasure I had built up in my mind for years, the idea that this was real was enough of a reward.

There is something wonderful in how Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire encouraged the player to explore. Even with Pokémon Scarlet and Violet being the first open-world games in the franchise, adding several paths for players to uncover, Ruby and Sapphire manage to give the player an expansive world of mystery that still feels unmatched.

As I wrote this, I dug out my red GameBoy SP that I had in my hands on the playground twenty years ago. I inserted my Pokémon Sapphire cartridge to find the world as I had left it. Still in Pacifidlog Town, I ran along the memorized path to the old man’s home — just to check.

“I can’t see MIRAGE ISLAND today...”

Well, there’s always tomorrow.

Related Tags
Share: