Blast from the Past
Pokemon X/Y Keeps Old Flavor With New Spice
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Pokemon is one of the most beloved and hated franchises in video gaming, right next to Call of Duty in terms of how polarizing it is among the, "Hardcore" gamers. The largest reason is most likely due to the fact that even while various and plentiful mechanics of the game get overhauled, the core systems of the game stay intact and have changed little, from Red and Blue all the way up through to the new iterations, X and Y. Being the first handheld title to feature fully three-dimensional battles as well as the largest number of catchable Pokemon in any of the games thus far, Pokemon X and Y bring a lot to the table even if it does seem like more of the same on the surface.
Pokemon X and Y is the version of Pokemon we were all dreaming about 17 years previous: Recycling of mechanics or not, with each iteration of the games there always tends to be some sort of vast improvement that makes playing the title worthwhile, and the X/Y games are no different. While the core mechanics of Pokemon battling haven't really changed from day one, the game is always expanding in a multitude of complexities that makes forming a strategy even more entertaining with each new title.
The aesthetic improvements were, personally, one of the most needed improvements to the franchise: No longer is a console game like Pokemon Stadium necessary to see your monsters battle in full three-dimensional glory, you can now view that right on your 3DS with nothing additional required. Nintendo and Game Freak didn't just stop there, as the overworld has been drastically revamped as well, boasting well-rendered 3D models, rather than sprites, for the time spent between battles exploring. The 3D feature of the system does not translate well into the game - much of Pokemon X/Y does not utilize this feature, leaving it almost exclusively to battles where it tends to create a pretty decent frame rate drop. Whether 3D was left as an afterthought due to the release of the 2DS or due in part to the lack of processing power of the 3DS, the title is still very much enjoyable even without the 3D feature front-and-center.
Of course, the battling is only one of the many addicting concepts in Pokemon, another of them being the, 'Catch 'em all" concept that used to be featured primarily with the games. X and Y only introduced about 69 new Pokemon, the lowest of any generation, but the game more than makes up for this with the fact that X/Y has more catchable Pokemon that any other Pokemon game thus far, with three separate areas of the new France-inspired region, Kalos, each with their own 150-entry Pokedexes, with even more you can catch beyond that in Safari.
Having to combat the same Pokemon over and over again, something that plagued a lot of the previous generations, can get boring quickly but is thankfully subverted in X and Y due to the large number of new and old favorites the player can catch, and there's always 5-10 new Pokemon available for capture in each area rather than just running into the same ones time and time again, so whether you're new to the series or a veteran is can be extremely nice to see a hearty variety of Pokemon on each route of types, generations and more. It's not uncommon to see players who have just reached the third gym with over a hundred or so Pokedex entries. You seriously run into tons of different types of Pokemon and have a myriad of options available right in the early parts of the game.
Of course, with all these Pokemon running around for you to catch, a lot of the additions for X and Y work toward reducing a lot of the senseless grinding from the previous games. Players are given their initial starter Pokemon from a set of three almost immediately, and given the opportunity to select a starter Pokemon from Red and Blue before even hitting the second gym, and further streamlining continues from there since players get access to the EXP Share which gives 100 percent EXP to the battling Pokemon, and then 50 percent to each Pokemon on the bench without having to force a hold item (this item has been revamped a lot but it is now in its most convenient iteration yet).
Catching new Pokemon yields EXP for the first time in the series too, making even catching 'em all a viable method of training. Another fantastic addition is the fact that Super Training, a new addition in the form of stat-boosting minigames, helps make all the headache of training effort values for Pokemon go away- effort values are probably the singlemost complicated and overlooked thing in the Pokemon franchise, with the bottom line is that the more a Pokemon fights or Super Trains it can increase its stats up to a total cap, and the Super Training minigames make it easier to raise only the stats you want raised.
Super Training works in the form of balloon-busting minigames which reward punching bags that can also be used to increase specific attributes as well as rewarding the player with rare evolution stones and other items later on. Speaking of mini games, Pokemon Amie is a solid new addition because while the games always talked about befriending and being good to your Pokemon, it always felt flat and vapid. Never before had raising a Pokemon's affection actually culminated in anything useful aside from one or two evolutions per generation. Pokemon Amie, however, changes this because increasing affection with a Pokemon can give a variety of bonuses, such as a higher chance of critical hits or hanging on at 1 HP to an attack that would have KO'd it. Watching your Tyranitar hang on at one health point against a super effective fighting type attack that would have otherwise KO'd him because he just likes you so very, very much is a kind of a big deal, and it helps a lot with the whole, "Use the Pokemon you like, not the highest tiered ones" concept that the games have been trying to instill in players for quite some time.
Of course, the aforementioned minigames are not going to be the main allure of the game, and even more has been added along with those, as well. Mega Evolutions are among the most talked about addition to the Pokemon series, allowing certain Pokemon to Digivolve (sorry, had to) into a temporary, powerful evolution with higher stats and different abilities that fundamentally change the entire dynamic of Pokemon battles. The thing about Mega evolution is that only one is allowed per team at a time, meaning that if you decide to Mega Evolve your Charizard and he takes a super effective rock-type attack to the face, you'll be without a Mega Evolution of your own for the rest of the battle.
Mega evolutions also come at the expense of the hold item, which allowed Pokemon to carry various things that could increase their attack output by an additional 30 percent at the expense of losing some health each attack, or have items that increase the Pokemon's speed or attacking power by 20 percent but lock them into performing only one move until they switched out. Basically, Mega Evolutions come at a hearty cost of losing access to other hold items, and you can easily psyche an opponent out, or be similarly tricked yourself, into thinking that a Pokemon has a hold item it does not and trying to play around it accordingly. Of course, very few Pokemon actually have access to Mega Evolution but these new forms do go a long way into making older Pokemon viable, and seeing old favorites transform into mighty forms with new abilities does actually go a long way.
Now, while Mega Evolution may be the new big thing, two more types of battles were introduced in X/Y as well. Horde battles send numerous lower-leveled Pokemon to attack you at once, and the Pokemon in battle have the added benefit of sometimes having their hidden ability, not to mention hordes being a great way to train effort values if you deem that Super Training is boring or takes too long. Sky Battles are another addition, but it feels significantly more flat: Only flying types can partake in Sky Battles, so you'll need to carry at least one of that type with you in order to even take up the challenge. Unfortunately, the rewards and experiences of Sky Battles differ very little from a normal Pokemon battle, so unless you're also wanting to battle 'em all, if you're not leveling up any flying types then there's no real reason to go and level one up just for the sake of doing the Sky Battles.
After having spoken on the various new mechanics, it's probably time to speak about the storyline. The plot for Pokemon games is usually pretty simple, and the sixth generation games are no different: A group named Team Flare is trying to create a world free of the overuse of resources and survival at the expense of another by using a superweapon to wipe out anyone who isn't part of their group. Outside of the addition of a new Team, you basically go from city to city, defeating the gym leaders (experienced trainers who essentially play the role of bosses) and progressing to the Pokemon League to battle the Elite Four trainers and become the champion. Of course, the plot isn't the reason why anyone should pick up and play a Pokemon game, but the story is a little more involved than the first three or four generations, which is a welcome addition to the series overall.
Pokemon X/Y are probably the best looking Pokemon titles to date - The new battles look amazing on the 3DS screens, an ambitious display of fully-animated Pokemon that easily makes a person reminisce of the best from Pokemon Stadium on the Nintendo 64. The attack animations look superb, and it's easy to see that the specifications of the 3DS are being pushed in battle. Outside of battle the game looks a little less impressive, but still solid enough that you always know what is going on at all times.
The sound effects in the game are fantastic, with some great new tracks as well as remixes of tracks from previous Pokemon games that are good enough to give experienced players a nostalgiagasm.
Outside of the graphical and sound effect improvements from previous games, there are tons of backend tweaks to various systems that experienced and new players alike will enjoy, such the simplified breeding mechanics with hold items or access to a new type of Pokemon safari depending on the people in your 3DS friend list (which allows catching of Pokemon not in the main game of Pokemon X and Y, as well). Beyond the safari and breeding, there's the Battle Maison that's available once players beat the Pokemon League, and largely the Maison functions like a trimmed down version of the Battle Tower from the previous Pokemon games.
Unfortunately, the Battle Tower variants are a lot less involved than the Battle Frontiers from Pokemon Emerald, Platinum, etc... Still, the Battle Maison provides a very good post-League challenge for those who want to experience more of what the game has to offer or purchase new technical machines to teach new moves or hold items with pretty amazing effects, each of which can be used for online play.
To summarize: Pokemon X and Y is another step in a very popular formula, and it's done a fantastic job of making the newest iteration worth a play. The fully realized 3-dimensional battles have been a long time coming and can be a joy for anyone who enjoys turn-based combat or addictive collect-a-thons. There's a large amount of content for newbies and seasoned players both, though the end game can be a little lacking if players were expecting a postgame experience on part with the Battle Frontiers shown a few times before. The main game seems to have a hearty length to it, and the online capabilities can keep players occupied like none of the iterations before it: Wonder Trades are a Pokemon trade lottery, and players can now trade and battle with randoms that they come across online with ease. Overall, Pokemon X and Y are worthy additions to the series and most certainly worth a play unless you hate turn-based combat or games whose entire purpose is to collect and try out new things.
Vincent is an RPG lover and masochist who constantly gets beaten in online fighting games. When in doubt, Shoryuken or Megidolaon. You can write him at : PookandPie@gmail.com.