I’ve been a fan of Pokemon since Red and Blue. As with many from my generation, I remember the countless times I would restart the game with a fresh save file and relive it all over again. There’s something to be said about the longevity of the series, there’s obviously something that draws us back time and time again. But even as a long time fan, the series started to become stagnant. My enthusiasm started to wane around Pokemon Emerald’s release and beyond. Arguably there are some important changes in each entry but the core game has remained much the same. Pokemon X and Y hopes to change all with a fresh approach to this classic franchise.
On the Surface
The new generation Pokemon comes with updated graphics. It is unsurprising that Pokemon X and Y sports a new 3D world. Instead of the old top down view or even the tilted camera look of the DS generation, Pokemon X and Y is truly a 3D world and the camera changes to different angles at every route, city or town. The new world truly shines in the actual battles. Pokemon are fully rendered in 3D and there are some animations of Pikachu falling over and making a cute disheartened “Pika… Pika…” sound as he faints. The camera moves in and out and focuses on each character during the battle, and overall it feels a lot more alive than in the older generations.
There are a few customization options as well. For one, your character can be completely customized through the course of the game. You can purchase hats, clothing, pins, etc that will differentiate your character from everyone else’s.
To take advantage of this new look, you have the opportunity to take photos at iconic locations. There are castles, lakes, and even a Stonehenge-like location that will have a little camera sign beside it. If you check out the sign, you can call “Phil the Photo Guy” to take a photo of your character in front of the scene. The camera uses the tilt sensors and accelerometers to angle your camera, and there’s actually a few other options on the bottom screen for the photographers out there. You can of course zoom in and out, but also set the focal length, shutter speed, etc. These photos are then saved into your 3DS Camera and can be exported to your computer.
Overall, the graphics are hardly groundbreaking, but they certainly suit the Pokemon style. It’s simple and reminiscent of older times. Despite the fact that I don’t normally fall for the gimmicks of character customization, I think they’ve done a good enough job to appeal to a wide number of audiences here.
Put simply, the core mechanics of Pokemon X and Y have not changed. To anyone that is playing this game casually, the battle mechanics remain almost identical to those from 15 years ago. However, what has changed is the player integration and the wireless systems. Gone are the days where I had to approach random people on the playground with a Gameboy and a link cable on hand, instead the internet has replaced those few moments of human interaction. The Nintendo 3DS is the perfect terminal for connectivity. Online and wireless connections are a given, but SpotPass is also really something if you are in a location with a lot of 3DS consoles. Basically if you walk by another person with Pokemon X and Y, their information is automatically registered into your Passersby list. Your friends are automatically added to the 3DS as well as people online can be saved onto the list.
Anyone in your lists (Friends, Acquaintances, Passerby) can be challenged or a trade can be requested while they are still active. This can occur anywhere, and you are no longer limited to connecting at a Pokemon Center. You can also send them a video in the form of a HoloCast which is a customized video of your character doing silly things. There’s a few other cool features like shout-outs, profiles and a chat.
The system allows you to make random battles and make trades as well. There’s the Wonder Trade system which lets you get a random Pokemon in exchange for one of yours. I think the best part of online is the Game Sync. Your save data can be uploaded online and restored later on. I haven’t used this feature yet, but it sounds handy. They’ve also introduced Pokemon Bank a few weeks ago which is a system to store your Pokemon. So these will help preserver your Pokemon in the future and facilitate trades between the Pokemon games on the DS and Pokemon X and Y.
Lastly, there is a Battle Chateau located at Route 7. Not online, nor wireless, but if you are in need of level appropriate trainers, the Battle Chateau is a good place to go. You can send out writs and play against a good dozen trainers to level up.
Again, the core of the game has remained the same. You are still leveling up your Pokemon, battling them in a turn based system and trying to get all the badges. However, there are some new additions that spice up the game. Let’s get the obvious out of the way first, there are now 718 Pokemon out in the wild; an addition of 69 from last generation. It’s well beyond my capabilities to memorize, but that path was crossed a long time ago.
In addition to the new Pokemon is a new type: Fairy. A number of older Pokemon are now fairy or half fairy type including Clefairy, Togepi, Mr. Mime, etc. To give a quick rundown, they are good offensively against fighting, dragon and dark types, and bad against fire, poison and steel. Defensively, they are good against fighting, dark and bug types, and weak against poison and steel.
Another minor change are the addition of new battle types. Remember when they introduced 2v2 battles? Well, now you may go up against a horde. When you go into the wild, you may have to fight against 5 of the same Pokemon at once, though they are usually very low level. This was actually quite annoying since the experience wasn’t too good for the effort of taking down each Pokemon in general. They’ve also introduced Sky Battles. This type of battle will pit only flying or floating Pokemon against other flying or floating Pokemon. So it will now be important to have one or maybe two Pigeotto’s and Taillow’s in your retinue.
I think the biggest change is the new Mega Evolution system. Only a select few popular Pokemon from the older generations can mega evolve. To name a few, there are original 3 starters (Bulbasaur, Charmander and Squirtle), Mewtwo, Blaziken, Lucario and so on. With the respective Mega Stone and a Mega Ring, you can evolve within a battle. They are buffed for the rest of the battle, have a new look, new abilities and maybe even a new type. Then they return to normal.
The Little Touches
I think what Pokemon X and Y have done best is polish. To be honest, none of these features mentioned so far are truly game changers with the exception of the online capabilities for some of you. However, I had a lot of fun playing the game and I think it’s because of the attention the developers have put into addressing the little touches. It’s an odd sign of the times when there are characters that want to be part of a dance crew or are hyped up about photography, but stranger yet is the appearance of a WiiU in any living room. Throughout the game you’ll see a lot of minor character interactions or signs that will make you smile. Even details on the walls that a lot of you will miss scream great polish. But there’s definitely a need to mention a few of the minor details that made major impacts.
The first is the change in leveling. Grinding is a big part of most RPG games and it’s not the ideal way that I want to spend my time, however necessary it might be. If you play through the game, you’ll spend hours in tall grass fighting wild Pokemon to level up your own. There are two minor changes to make this process a little easier. The first is that you will receive experience and level up your Pokemon even if you capture it. Previously, after a hard battle with a high level Pokemon, part of you wants to win just to gain the experience, and the other part wants to catch it. It’s usually a no brainer for me, gotta catch ’em all, but you don’t need to forego the experience anymore. Also, you receive a key item called EXP Share early on in the game, roughly when your Pokemon are level 7 or 8. This item will give you the option to share experience points with all 6 of your active Pokemon regardless of whether they participated in the battle or not. This will make it a lot easier to level up your Abra’s and Magikarp’s without switching them in and out.
Another frequent problem that they have addressed is the speed at which you travel. Previously, you had your walking speed and a bike. Toggling the bike was not worth the hassle sometimes even though you’d like the speed, so running shoes were introduced in the Gameboy Advance generation. You hold B and your walking speed goes slightly faster. With Pokemon X and Y, they have introduced skates, which will slide between biking and running shoes. You can walk, and I guess they realize that no one likes to walk so those controls are on the awkward direction pad on the 3DS. If you move with the circle pad however, you will automatically use skates (when you get them, again quite early in the game). The speed is quite fast, so if you are trying to head into doors, sometimes the controls are a bit tough. If you are stuck by a building, you can either hold B and run with the circle pad, or use the direction buttons to just plain walk. This is a minor change, but they have solved a huge problem of the game, giving me a chance to frequent the Pokemon Center more often. The controls feel really natural and make the overall adventure less strenuous.
The last change to highlight is your group of virtual friends. You begin your journey with a few neighbors on a quest. Instead of spoiling the story for you, I’ll just mention that they have varied personalities and the game has used them extensive to address weaknesses in prior games. For example, when you are at a location far from a Pokemon Center, one of them may tag along and kindly heal your Pokemon. They are also great sources of information for locations that are a bit isolated or may confuse the players. The game actively uses them to show mechanics and also serves as the traditional rival.
Pokemon X and Y has addressed a lot of the pain points of previous entries with these cool little mechanics. It’s nice to see that they’ve been listening and learning along the way and actually implementing clever solutions to problems that are present not only in older Pokemon titles but also other games as well.
Pokemon X and Y are fine entries into the series. No, it’s not the total rehash that I was genuinely hoping for, but the gameplay still stands the test of time. What they have done instead is refine and polish until Pokemon X and Y are the best versions of the game to date.
It’s hard to tell because most of the changes are so minor, but there is enough of a significant improvement in between the previous generation and this one that without a doubt, I highly recommend Pokemon X or Y to both newbies and veterans. Truthfully, some of it hasn’t worked. I’m not one to customize my character and take photos. But I can still appreciate the work they’ve done to create a more personalized aspect of the game. GameFreak has struck a balance, offering powerful tools to ramp up competitive play but also simplifying the game for new entrants. Whether you are playing for the first time or competitively the game is flexible enough to deliver. If you are anything like me, trying to reenter the series, this is also the game for you.