A Discussion on Pokemon X and Y: Gameplay

Pokemon X & Y are the first set of  main series Pokemon games to fully explore the third dimension. Previously, we had Generation V which dipped its toe into 3d, and the Generation III spin-off games, Pokemon Colosseum and Pokemon XD: Gale of Darkness. It’s kinda crazy when you think about how long it took Pokemon to make the jump to 3d, but I’m not here to talk about that. I’m here to discuss how I feel about the gameplay changes that were made to the classic Pokemon formula.

Let’s start with the presentation. Graphically, Pokemon XY is really pretty. All of the character models for the humans and Pokemon look nice, and Pokemon’s anime art style translated fairly well to 3d. But while the game does look nice, there are much prettier 3DS games out there. Kid Icarus: Uprising, Kingdom Hearts 3D and Resident Evil Revelations are games that came out a year prior to XY, and are of much higher quality when it comes to graphics. This is not to say that XY look bad, I’m just saying that they are not the end all be all of 3DS graphics.

The music is pretty good stuff, but very few songs were particularly memorable for me. I’ll never forget Lumiose city and Professor Sycamore’s themes, but that’s about it for me. In spite of the game’s good graphics and sound, the presentation leaves a lot to be desired. Outside of a few sweeping camera angles, the game never really does anything with the third dimension. Or with the 3d function of the 3DS. Let me just say this right now, I don’t think that a game has to take full advantage of all of the 3DS’ functions to be great. It’s just weird that Nintendo’s flagship handheld franchise does basically nothing with it. 3D is disabled in the overworld, and makes the frame-rate chug during battles. Heck, even having more than 2 Pokemon on the field makes the frame-rate chug. Now this isn’t really a big deal as 3D does very little to enhance Pokemon’s turn based gameplay, but it is worth noting.

Every Pokemon region has its own unique thematic motif. Kanto’s was genetics, Johto’s was tradition, Kalos’  is…. beauty? And even that’s kind of a stretch to say. Previous regions used not only the region itself, but its inhabitants to drive home their motifs. For example Johto’s culture is much more in line with old Japanese culture, right down to the architecture of certain towns, (special mention to Ecruteak). The citizens are much more easy going, and pass down stories from the past. Johto’s three starters are the only starter group to maintain their mono-typing for their entire evolutionary line. Even the legendaries are based on old Japanese tales. Examples like this can be found for each of the previous five regions, but not so much for Kalos. The only real elements of  beauty in Kalos are the fact that the citizens are much more stylish, including your trainer who is now fully customizable, and Furfrou, a Pokemon who can be given different haircuts. Kalos itself isn’t particularly beautiful. There are cities that look nice such as Lumiose, Shalour and Anistar, but that’s kinda it.

Speaking of the towns and cities, they’re kinda bland. Most of them have no real identity,  memorable landmarks or interesting people. They’re honestly just places you visit to either battle a Gym Leader or advance the plot. Kalos has no real sense of culture, which is really sad considering the place it’s based off of. In spite of all these complaints, I did have a genuinely fun time exploring Kalos. I liked that most of the towns had their own unique cafes with their own personalities. I also loved the fact that you could ride certain Pokemon in the overworld, (special mention goes to Skiddo).

Not counting Mega Evolutions, Pokemon XY only introduces 69 new Pokemon, the smallest of any Generation. But XY is definitely a case of quality over quantity, as the majority of the new Pokemon are really cool and unique. The flying wrestler Hawlucha, the blazing Talonflame, the awesome new Fossil Pokemon, and of course the adorable Pancham, XY’s batch of new critters are absolutely brimming with charm and personality. And while I’m not the biggest fan of this Generation’s Starter Pokemon, I’d be crazy to not admit that they are cool in their own special way. In spite of this cool group of new Pokemon, XY places much more emphasis on older Pokemon. The game even gives you one of the Kanto Starter Pokemon really early on!  XY has what is perhaps the most diverse regional dex of any Pokemon game, even Black and White 2. While the early game routes feature familiar Pokemon such as Pidgey, Caterpie and Pikachu, it is not long before you can add Pokemon like Staravia, Absol, Axew and Riolu to your team, (alternatively, you could just wait until the game gives you a Lucario). As awesome as the new Pokemon are, it is admittedly really hard for me to not use at least a few of my old favorites.

Not much has changed in regards to the overall gameplay. It’s still the classic turn-based formula with the Physical/Special split that was introduced in Generation IV. EVs and IVs are still intact, as well as Natures and Abilities/Hidden Abilities. Also, no major changes were made to the way you catch Pokemon. However, Pokemon XY do introduce a new type in the form of Fairy. In the same way that the Dark and Steel types were introduced in Generation II to counter Psychic types, Fairy types were introduced to counter Dragon types. To put it bluntly, Fairy types are incredibly strong, and their impact on the competitive scene cannot be understated. Whether it’s Pixilate Sylveon or Geomancy Xerneas, Fairy types are a force to be reckoned with. In addition to being immune to the Dragon type, as well as being super-effective against them, Fairy is also super-effective against Dark and Fighting. The Fairy types only 2 weaknesses are Steel and Poison, which are the worst offensive types in the game. XY tries to make up for this by making most Fairy types really frail, but their lack of significant weaknesses is still a huge issue.

Mega Evolution is the second of the significant changes to the Pokemon formula. Mega Evolution is a temporary transformation that is available to only a few Pokemon. Mega Evolution changes a Pokemon’s base stats, ability and sometimes even their typing. Much like the Fairy type, Mega Evolution has had a significant impact on the competitive scene. Kangaskhan, a Pokemon who previously had very little competitive history, is currently one of the most dominant Pokemon in the game, all thanks to Mega Evolution. Pokemon like Mawile, Manectric and Charizard have enjoyed similar resurgence thanks to Mega Evolution. Personally, I’m a really huge fan of Mega Evolution. It gives older Pokemon a chance to shine again, and adds an interesting dynamic to team building. But it is not without its issues. Mega Evolution is a classic example of the “If You Give A Mouse A Cookie” syndrome. Every Pokemon fan dreams of their favorite Pokemon getting a Mega Evolution, (I’ll wait forever for Mega Raichu, Typhlosion, Floatzel and Staraptor. And Luxray). While it is obviously unrealistic to expect every Pokemon to be given a Mega Evolution, it is hard not to dream.

Let’s quickly talk about Super Training and Pokemon Amie. Super Training is Game Freak’s way of introducing new players to EV training. The Pokemon can participate in a mini-game in order to obtain EVs in any given stat. While it’s not perfect, I do think it’s a great concept, (it’s actually the way I train my competitive team). Pokemon Amie is a way to for the player to interact with their Pokemon. Any of the hundreds of Pokemon can be played with in Pokemon Amie. You can pet them, feed them or have them participate in one of three mini-games. The more time you spend with your Pokemon, the more you grow their Affection stat, (Affection is completely distinct from Happiness). Pokemon with a high Affection stat gain various benefits in battle such as boosted experience and a higher chance of surviving critical blows. Pokemon Amie is a small addition, but a welcome one that I hope sticks around for future Generations.

Pokemon XY is not the grand debut in 3D that some might have hoped for. While it doesn’t have the most interesting region, I do think it is fun to explore. There aren’t a whole lot of new Pokemon, but the ones they added are all really unique and charming. Generation VI is definitely a step in the right direction. I can only hope that Game Freak acknowledges what did and didn’t work with XY, and make the appropriate changes to the Generation VII games, Pokemon Sun & Moon. Sun & Moon look to be the series true dive into the third dimension, so let’s hope that they result in a grand splash as opposed to a sad and hard to watch belly flop.

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