It only made sense for Pokémon to go 3D when it came out on the 3DS (though the use of stereoscopic 3D is actually very limited, which solidifies the theory that the coinciding release date of the 2DS and Pokémon X and Y was no coincidence at all). When Nintendo first revealed Pokémon X and Y in all its polygonal glory to the delight of Pokéfans around the world, I was actually a bit worried. The shift to 3D graphics may have felt like it was long past due, but I happen to like 2D games just fine, too. Especially in the case of Japanese roleplaying games with turn based combat, the change to 3D can have negative effects as well as positive ones. My chief concern was that it would slow down an already slow game.
As it would turn out, I had nothing to worry about. If the biggest graphical leap the Pokémon series has ever made had any ill effects on its gameplay at all, I was too distracted by the benefits to notice. The spritework in the Pokémon games has been exceptional after a few rough characters in the first generation of games, but in Pokémon X and Y, the new art style enhanced what has always been the selling point of each new generation of Pokémon games: the visual charm of the Pokémon themselves. Sure, graphically speaking, it can hardly be considered impressive compared to just about anything else, but the moment I saw Ralts sway back and forth adorably, I realized how big a change this was for Pokémon.
Perhaps realizing how big a step forward this was for the series, developer Game Freak decided to focus a lot of the rest of their efforts on paying tribute to Pokémon’s past. Excluding newly introduced “Mega Evolutions”, there are 69 new Pokémon in X and Y, which is by far the fewest ever added by a new Pokémon game. I typically try to use new Pokémon exclusively on my quest to become Champion, but found it very hard to do so this time around, in part because this game hands you some of the best Pokémon from games past early and often. By the time I beat the Elite Four for the first time, only half my team consisted of new Pokémon, a failing on both my part and the game’s.
It is hard to be too upset about it, however, because I ended up there after giving most of the new Pokémon a fair shot. For the first time ever, you are able to painlessly level just about any Pokémon you want to try out without feeling like you are wasting experience on it that will you will be forced to make up later through grinding. Pokémon games have never been hard, but they could get super grindy if you are indecisive and invest a lot of time and experience points in a Pokémon that doesn’t end up making your team. The Exp. Share item, which has existed since the first set of games, and has gone through a change or two over the years, made it easier to raise low level Pokémon, but at the cost of slowing down the development of everyone else. In Pokémon X and Y, Exp. Share has undergone a game changing redesign. Instead of dividing the experience earned from battles, it simply gives your entire party experience equal to half the experience earned by battle participants. Also, battle participants all get full experience points instead of splitting it. Basically, experience is no longer an issue. While this does make a game from an already easy series even easier (my team was consistently overleveled throughout the entire course of the game), playing through the story of Pokémon games have never been about the challenge, and the challenges that did exist were more often than not overcome through grinding, which most people do not find particularly fun.
This is an especially big deal, because one of the implicit, rarely pointed out “features” of Pokémon X and Y is that it is the first Pokémon game that was released simultaneously worldwide. There hasn’t been months of information from a Japanese release to inform other players of what stats a new Pokémon has, what moves they learn, and when, if at all, they evolve. For many veterans of the series, it is a completely new way of playing the game.
Pokémon X and Y also introduce a host of subtle and minor tweaks that improve and update the playability of a series of games that is somewhat notorious for some antiquated mechanics. You can hold down B to run as soon as you start the game instead of having to get running shoes (though even having to hold down B is a bit dated and inconvenient when trying to play with one hand) and about when you would get running shoes, you get roller skates. Later on, you get a bike, in keeping with tradition, but the addition of the skates as an intermediate speed boost is a nice little touch. Another nice little touch is that you now get experience points for capturing Pokémon. I never thought that the amount of experience lost from capturing a wild Pokémon rather than knocking it out was that big a deal, but it must have had some sort of psychological effect on me, since I felt like I was capturing more Pokémon than I have in the past (it could also have been that I could conceivably level them up without stunting the growth of my entire team).
Of course, it wouldn’t be a new Pokémon game without a tide of superfluous subsystems that are beyond optional, but never fail to fool new or lapsed players into thinking that Pokémon has become a super complicated game. I’m still not entirely sure what Pokémon-Amie is, but I know that I didn’t have to touch it to get through the game. The same goes for Super Training, but I was well aware of what it was. I just didn’t care, like with Contests, Pokéball crafting, and Berries in the past.
I did dabble a bit in O-Powers, and the Player Search System, both via the internet and during my morning and evening commutes. I basically handed out buffs to whoever was within range on the train to and from work in an attempt to bond over the fact that we’re playing Pokémon in the morning. I also got challenged to one battle, which I accepted, but the connection dropped, so my interactions were limited, but the potential is there. On the other hand, if you connect to the internet, there is an overwhelming number of passer-bys from around the world, which usually causes me to promptly toggle the internet connection off. O-Power buffs in particular are pretty strong, especially once leveled up a bit, but are a bit clumsy to access. Still, they grant powerful bonuses to just about anything you can think of, and even make some items almost obsolete. They are another addition that make the game perhaps a bit too easy, but again, it’s hard to be upset about massive experience bonuses and free, on the field PP restoration.
At its heart, Pokémon X and Y is very much the same game Pokémon has always been. The new aesthetic raises its already overwhelming appeal to a new level without negatively affecting the gameplay. It has new features and systems that are more or less in line with what any new generation of Pokémon games would introduce, and like any Pokémon game, you can choose what you like and ignore the rest. The one criticism I have with the game is that there doesn’t appear to be much of a post game compared to the ones that the very best games in the series have had, which is a bit of a letdown. This isn’t to say that the game is shallow, just that beating the Elite Four and becoming Champion this time around appears to be the peak of the experience, rather than opening the door to new challenges. As I entered each area that was previously locked away, one by one, I left wondering if this was it, and unless I’m missing something (which is perfectly reasonable, since I didn’t look that hard) it would appear to be so.
That being said, I couldn’t be more excited for what is coming next. Pokémon Z? Pokémon X and Y 2? A remake? I just finished the game and I’m already hungry for more Pokémon on the 3DS, something I couldn’t have said about any of the DS games. I was far from tired of the series to begin with, and even I feel refreshed by Pokémon X and Y.