A Year in Games: Pokemon X/Y

10:31 AM

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Ah Pokemon. The game that literally prints money for Nintendo. For years it's been the handheld juggernaut, rivalled only by Monster Hunter and more recently, Puzzle & Dragon. The latest title in this beloved series brings big and welcome changes to the game, streamlining and simplifying some aspects, and adding in new features for that extra little fun.

Pokemon is one of the only game franchises that I've seen from beginning to the present. I began the game back when Red, Blue and eventually Yellow were out. I didn't have a GameBoy back then, but my cousin had a Colour (GBC) that we played Pokemon on. Then came Gold and Silver which I played a bit of, but again, lacking a GB, couldn't really join until later. Once I got my GameBoy Advanced, I jumped on Silver (I didn't have Gold), and then Ruby and Fire Red when they were out. By the time Diamond and Heart Gold / Soul Silver were out, I was dedicated to the PSP, spending my time on Monster Hunter and other games. Missed out on those games, but I picked the series back up at Black-White, and have stuck with it since then. 
Throughout the games, Game Freak has continued to evolve the series, albeit at a cautious and very slow pace. Each game introduces one or two new ideas or features. Gold/Silver brought (limited) colour, Pokemon gender, berries, time of day and external device connectivity, as well as the only example in the series of travel between different regions (though there's a very good reason as to why that is the case). Ruby brought a whole slew of changes, bringing many of the features we know today, like weather, abilities, the EV/IV system, etc. Diamond brought online functionality, move designation (special, physical or none), gender differences in Pokemon, among others. Black-White brought more changes, like the Entralink and more animations to the battles. 
X-Y brings about the largest visual change to the series, moving from that familiar 2D sprite on a 3D rendered world to a beautiful fully rendered 3D models. Character models are detailed and diverse. Cities are the usual, with the small beginning town, and the huge, expansive central city, except now they're beautifully rendered in 3D, even better than the cities in Black-White which looked great. Pokemon now have fully animated 3D models, the first time they've been 3D in a main game. Attack animations have gotten revamped, with more individual graphics, though models still remain in their little section of the screen. 

EV training is streamlined, giving you the option of doing it the old way, or using the Super Training function, which allows you to do the EV training via mini-game rather than the old battle grinding. This shows the Pokemon's base stats, as well as stat growth on a graph, making it considerably easier to track your progress in training. Training comes in doses of 4, 8 and 12, with punching bags as additional rewards allowing for extra training in similar doses. IV remain the same, and are still as hard as they were to get all the "right" ones. 
Ever think to yourself "I wish I could actually play with my Pokemon!"? Well now you can! Pokemon-Amie lets you do just that. You can pet and feed your Pokemon as if they weren't enormous creatures, many with the strength to crush every bone in your body to a fine powder. Petting them helps increase affection, feeding them fills a hunger bar and playing the minigames, simple little tapping games, increases their enjoyment bar. They all add to how much the Pokemon like you, and is an easy way to increase happiness. Playing the minigames nets you Poke-Puffs which you use to feed your Pokemon. How some Pokemon eat is beyond my comprehension, but it should be noted that Shedinja, the discarded husk of Nincada, does not have a hunger bar and thus does not eat. 
Other Pokemon from passer-bys and near-by's will come into your Pokemon-Amie screen and have a chat, usually leaving you with a little gift of a background or a furniture which you can use to deck out your Poke-Room. 

Returning are the double, triple and rotation battles from the previous titles. In the wild, you might find yourself up in "group" battles, called Hordes, which pit your lone Pokemon against a group of 5-6 wild Pokemon. It's a pretty neat battle type, though I'm still waiting for full 6 on 6 mayhem battles. Another new battle type are Sky Battles. Only flying Pokemon and ones with Levitate can join these, and even then only ones that can actually fly make the cut. Sorry Doduo! The Sky Battles also prohibit a bunch of moves that wouldn't make logical sense in the sky, like Body Slam, and Spikes, so many of the competitive strategies won't work in these. Unfortunately, I don't think you can challenge other players to Sky Battles, which is a shame because it would have brought a whole new competitive "class" to the game. I'm hoping water battles are next! It'll be applied to all swimmers in the ocean and will prohibit the use of Pokemon that don't have levitate, or aren't Water or Flying Pokemon, with some exceptions. I never understood how I could send out Venasaur out in the middle of the ocean.
The newly added "Mega-Evolutions" give the series a completely new mechanic, allowing certain Pokemon to briefly gain large stat boosts, new abilities and typings. Most of the Pokemon are some of them most popular in the franchise, like Scizor, Gyarados, Blaziken and Mewtwo, while others are less used Pokemon and gain more utility, like Mawile maybe Ampharos? I originally thought Mega-Evolutions would work like X-Factor in MvC3, but it's more like a buff than a "last restort" kind of thing. Unfortunately, it does nothing to remedy the very clear hierarchy of Pokemon, with obvious top tiers and even more obvious "do not use because they're more or less useless" ones (almost anything cute is useless). Pokemon like Garchomp will continue to dominate the ranks, as their mega-evolutions only serve to increase their already impressive stats, making it difficult to take them down. 
The addition of fairy types shakes up the typing metagame, giving the powerful Dragon type another weakness, while making the unfortunately terrible Poison type slightly more viable (only slightly). A lot of the fairy types moves have terrible names, like "Play Rough" and "Baby-doll Eyes", though "Fairy Wind" and "Moon Blast" aren't bad. While the new type does certainly make running dragon types a bit more difficult, most fairy types have pretty terrible stats, perhaps balancing their resistances, though generally makes them harder to incorporate into competitive play (mainly against those pesky Garchomps). 
Mobility is a lot better in this game that previous titles. I've always wanted to move faster in Pokemon games. Getting around can be a real hassle, but this title remedies that by giving you running shoes at the beginning, and roller blades not long after that, letting you zip around the world like never before. And just wait until you get that bike - you'll be a speed demon! 
Customizable player avatars! To start, you can choose gender, and skin colour, which can't be changed. However, hair, eye colour and clothing can all be changed at a whim in game, allowing you to really personalize your character. You unlock more clothing and hair styles the further into the game you get, as well as by completing certain objectives. 

You can show off your character and Pokemon in the newly added Movie Maker, where you can make short promotional videos which are shared on the network. You can make neat little clips to show off you and a Pokemon or two, and it's packed full of neat looking effects, shots and sounds to help you do that. I personally just have a bunch shots of Bisharp's sillhouette laughing like a hearty laugh like a cocky super hero or villain. It's pretty great.

Unlike the previous games, X and Y introduced very few new Pokemon, 69 to be exact. My guess is that they spent a lot of time modelling the previous 649 Pokemon that adding another 150 new ones wasn't feasible for Game Freak, which isn't a very big studio. The addition of the PokeBank at the end of December would have given the developer much needed to time to finish modelling the remaining Pokemon not included, and allows players to gain access to their Pokemon from previous games as well as those not obtainable in X and Y.
The story of the game (who plays Pokemon for the story anyways?) isn't nearly as "good" as Black-White's, but it's a heck of a lot better than the older titles. Essentially the same as previous titles, Team Flare is up to no good, and similar like Black-White's Team Plasma, are in it for self-righteous reasons (the reason is actually pretty similar to Plasma's). Az brings some mystery and touching moment after the story part of the game wraps up, but the story remains fairly one tone, playing out kind of like a Scooby Doo story. Another nice touch is that you are joined by a group of characters throughout your journey. Story sections of the game will often bring all of the trainers together, before dispersing them throughout the general area. You battle all three of them, but only your actual rival (the opposite gender model) will pose much of a challenge. Of your friends, Sana brings the most emotional impact, with little touching moments dotted throughout the story. 
There's also a pretty good post-game quest, involving a certain detective who makes a return from the previous titles. I don't think it's nearly as meaty as Black-White's (not BW2) post-game Sage witch-hunt, though it's brings a bit more narrative to the game.

Pokemon X-Y brings some of the best integration of Street Pass in any game. Street Pass tags aren't super useful, as they'll just get you PokeMiles, which can be exchanged for little items in game. However, the coolest part is that you can see anyone playing nearby (so long as their WiFi is enabled). You can send nearby players O-Powers, power ups that effect various things in your game, like increased rewards from battle, increased EXP rates, or brief stat boosts to anyone nearby on the game.You can also challenge them to battles or even trade with them this way. I've used this feature a bunch of times on my commutes to my university and it always impresses me how well the 3DS's wireless systems work for this game.
The online functions, using WiFi, allow you to trade and battle anyone in the world, as the game is compatible with all regions (world wide simultaneous release). Your "Friends" list is split into three categories - Friends, Acquaintances and Passer-Bys. Friends are people on your 3DS friend list with the game, Acquaintances are any players you've traded or battled with, but aren't on your friend list. Passer-Bys are any players on the network. They'll often quickly scroll by, usually with a little speech bubble saying something like "Hello!" in various languages. If you're not connected to WiFi, Passer By's shows any player nearby. You can give anybody online O-Powers and vice versa.
The Wonder Trade is a new addition to the games and can be a fun way to find new Pokemon. You're essentially trading with random players on the network, meaning you could get anything. You'll usually get low level, extremely common Pokemon, though every now and then you'll find something worth keeping. 

Pokemon X and Y are probably the best games in the franchise, combining all the classic elements of the games with a gorgeous new look and innovative uses of the 3DS's wireless systems. With the story and characters in this one, you could say that X-Y is the most RPG-ish of any of the main Pokemon titles.
I'd recommend it whether you're a new comer, long time player or just coming back to the series. It's streamlined to be more accessible while still keeping all of it's appeal in the number crunching for competitive play.

Pokemon X and Y were released October 12th, 2013, and is only on the 3DS.

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