in Review

Pokémon Y

Pokemon turned 15 this year. There are now over 700 different pocket monsters, divided over six generations of games. I’ve played one of the first in each generation: Blue (and Yellow), Gold, Ruby, Pearl, White, and now Y. In all that time, I’ve changed quite a bit. I’ve gone from being massively obsessed with the series, desperate to see it’s characters rendered in their full 3D glory on my Nintendo 64, to accepting the series as a constant. One that changes only enough to stay relevant, but keeps a strong tie to its roots. Pokemon games have a formula that really works, and by tweaking it in a few meaningful ways, Pokemon X & Y stands as the best game in the series yet.

Handheld technology finally got to the point that Pokemon couldn’t just be sprites anymore; the 3DS is powerful enough that this is the first main entry in the series to be rendered in polygons. But GameFreak only went just far enough with this fidelity upgrade, leaving all Pokemon (except Pikachu) still making weird screeches instead of sounding anything like their TV show counterparts, as well as drastically limiting the 3DS’ 3D technology. The game only works in 3D in battles, and even there it is so detrimental to the framerate that it’s best played with 3D turned off. So no coincidence that Pokemon X & Y came out the same day as the new Nintendo 2DS.

That said, the game looks great. It clearly is pushing the 3DS to its limits and it strikes the right balance between looking flashy and nostalgic. In battle, Pokemon seem very alive, especially since the camera moves around and switches angles, making everything even more kinetic. And attacks look really great. Moves like Draco Meteor and Oblivion are expectedly epic, while something like Swagger is just goofy enough to work. In the overworld, GameFreak made sure to make everything pretty and slightly more interactive, and even switch to a behind the player camera in the huge, Paris-inspired Lumiose City.

That’s right, the new region is the Pokemon world’s version of France, Kalos. Once again, you start as a young boy or girl who lives in the smallest, crappiest town on the continent who decides to go on a Pokemon adventure. You don’t meet the professor for a while, instead you’ll be greeted by and get your starter Pokemon from your four “rivals.” Like Black and White, your rivals aren’t actually antagonists, they’re just other kids from the same town going on the same adventure. Having four of them gives the game an opportunity to show all the options available to aspiring trainers: One wants to be the best trainer, another wants to complete the Pokedex, yet another likes to explore and solve puzzles, and then there’s one who wants to put together a Pokemon dance team – so he’s kind of like a breeder I guess.

Pokemon X & Y adds 69 new Pokemon and one new type (fairy) to the growing pool of monsters for you to catch. Your first choice will be between Chespin, a sort-of hedgehog; Froakie, a frog; and Fennekin, a Fennec fox. Soon enough you’ll be catching Pokemon new and old and start putting together your dream team. I could complain about this game introducing the fewest new Pokemon so far, but I don’t really care. There are so many now, and I honestly had a hard time remembering if many Pokemon who debuted after the original 150 were new or not anyway. I don’t use nicknames either, it’s my only shot at learning who everyone is, it seems.

The pacing of the game is also massively improved thanks to some tweaks to how XP works. Now any Pokemon that participates in a battle gets 100% of the possible XP for taking down an enemy. Plus, there’s a new XP sharing item that you get really early in the game that gives the rest of the party 50% XP. This means it’s easier than ever to keep a team leveled evenly, meaning less grinding and more freedom to experiment with different Pokemon. This, coupled with the quick doling out of key items like roller skates, the bike, and the best HM moves, made this the most exciting and fun game in the series in a while… I don’t remember having such a consistently good time with Pearl or White, the two games from the last generation.

There’s something that’s just amazingly fun and addictive about catching and training Pokemon. Something about going from 700-odd Pokemon to the six I like, and then choosing just the four moves I want each of them to have, is extremely satisfying. Of course I kept my starters in my party, only a madman wouldn’t, but it makes the whole game exciting when a random encounter might result in a new party member who will grow and evolve along with you on your journey. Early on I caught a Fletchling and a Pikachu who were both staples of my party all the way through the Elite Four, but the last two spots were constantly changing between a few very viable and fun options. Catching and training Pokemon, you guys, that’s what I really like. Everything else, even battling, in a way, is secondary to me.

It helps that much of the online functionality is built right into the 3DS’ second screen. It’s easy to keep track of friends and hop into battle anytime, anywhere. But it is really nice to be able to check into the GTS and trade for Pokemon I think would make interesting additions to my team. Trading online has been a feature for a few games now, but it’s never been this easy, and this is the first time I felt really motivated to use it. I especially liked a new feature, the Wonder Trade, which gives the ability to randomly trade a Pokemon with anyone in the world. That means you’ll get a lot of crappy Pokemon no one wants, but it also meant not that long after I started my journey I already had all six starters from X and Y and the original games.

Other new features strike a shocking balance between young child-friendly and super-deep adult cool. For example, “Pokémon-Amie” lets players interact with their Pokemon Nintendogs-style: you can pet them and feed them cupcakes and play little minigames. That’s great, but it also allows you to boost your friendship rating with a Pokemon, which effects certain stats and enables some evolutions, for people who care more about that sort of stuff. Super Training, the third option on the touch screen, lets you play another set of minigames with a Pokemon, which experienced players will appreciate, as it enables them to bypass the complex and confusing EV training process of old. Both are great new additions, although I have to admit the minigames did nothing for me and I lost interest in them immediately. But that’s OK! As neither a hardcore Pokemon battler or a small child, those features aren’t for me!

While I might not care about IVs, EVs, and breeding, I did care about seeing the words “super effective” as much as possible, and that leads to a few of these games’ most glaring omissions. As far as I can tell, you can’t make the game tell you what an attack will do before you use it. Sure, you can check out of battle, but even there, it’s hard to guess how the numbers associated with attacks actually correlate with battles, especially since you can’t see the actually numerical value of enemy HP to judge exactly how hard you’re hitting. Also, there are a lot of Pokemon types now, and they are all strong and weak to each other in different ways. It would be great if the game would tell me the type of the Pokemon I was battling, and also if they didn’t make it necessary for me to look a type chart just so I can figure out how to beat them. It’s not all as intuitive as “water beats fire.”

Also, the post-game is kind of underwhelming, as far as I can tell. You unlock a new town where you can battle people and also go on something called a Friend Safari. Basically, everyone on your 3DS friendlist accounts for a patch of grass in your game where you can catch up to three Pokemon of a certain type. It’s an interesting alternative to traditional safaris, which had a limited set of Pokemon breeds available. Now, you’re only limit is the number of people you know who 3DSs. So in my case, four people. Yeah, I think I lost out on this one.

But seriously you guys, this is a really great game. I’ve liked ever Pokemon game, but it’s been a while since I liked one this much. The new graphics, slight but meaningful gameplay tweaks, and massively improved online interaction make this easily the most streamlined, epic game in the series so far. It’s taken a lot longer than I hoped it would, but the 3DS is finally a purchase I’m really happy with, even though now the obviously way cooler 3DS XL is around. Anyone wanna trade?

  1. Out of curiosity who was your lineup when facing the Elite four? I wanna know who made your dream team.

    • I think it was Chesnaught, Blastoise, Talonflame, Pikachu, Gardevoir, and Tyrantrum… Although the last slot might have been Aegislash or Yveltal. But those were my main eight up through the Elite Four.

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