What? Pokémon is evolving!
Pokémon X and Y bring aging series to next level
Published: Monday, October 21, 2013
Updated: Monday, October 21, 2013 00:10
For over 15 years, Pokémon has reigned as one of Nintendo’s signature cash cow franchises. In the beginning, there were a mere 151 of these Pocket Monsters, and many of them became iconic, cast in the iron-clad childhood memory of a generation.
There were coloring programs, guide books and aisle upon aisle of merchandise. There was a movie that had the confidence to title itself the first in a series.
There was even a Pokémon cereal, and nostalgia is probably the reason I remember it being so delicious.
The fad may have ended a decade ago, but unlike its late-’90s contemporaries likes Tamagotchi or Furby, Pokémon never disappeared. In fact, it never even stopped being successful.
Nintendo released the newest games in the franchise, Pokémon X and Y for the 3DS, on Oct. 14.
These titles have done more to evolve the franchise than any in the previous five generations of titles.
Game Freak, the developer of the main series, found a formula that worked. You always play as a kid, setting out on an ill-defined “Pokémon Journey,” the purpose of which is ostensibly to “catch ‘em all.”
Along the way, you meet a slew of one-dimensional characters, living and interacting in a world where Pokémon is seemingly the only thing that matters.
It’s always been a game that anyone could play, from the youngest child, to the armies of college students you’ll see walking around ETSU with it right now.
To that end, the world and its people have never been the focus, and X and Y don’t change much about that.
The world is entirely polygonal for the first time, and to that end far more detailed than before. It’s wonderful to look at, but no more engaging or believable.
But that’s OK. Because Pokémon games have always been more about emphasizing their mechanics than weaving an intricate story.
Pokémon is an incredibly deep game, but it was never, by any means, necessary to know much about those underlying mechanics in order to enjoy the game.
Pokémon has always been accessible, first and foremost, and it owes a lot of its success to that.
You can play it, have fun, beat the game and maybe even catch ‘em all without knowing a thing about complicated topics like “base stats,” or “IVs.”
For me, it was always more about the fun a role-playing game can bring (battle strategies, the feeling of growing stronger, long-term mechanical decision making), without most of the irrelevant stuff I tend NOT to like about Japanese-style RPGs (dramatic plotlines, complex characters, having to talk to everyone in town twice.)
“Fun” is what most video games are made for, but what individuals consider fun can vary. Some people find it fun to get lost in the lore of a believable world. Some enjoy the mechanics and strategy of a game. Some find it fun to play the same Sonic the Hedgehog zones for decades on end, to the point of muscle memory.
I fall very definitely on the side of “games as games first,” and that’s why I enjoy Pokémon. It doesn’t matter if the story is paper-thin and the world severely undeveloped. That’s not why I’m playing it, and in fact, most other RPGs tend to obfuscate that reason.
To that end, X and Y trim the fat like no RPG I’ve ever played. So many long-standing complaints about the series have finally been patched up.
Previous titles struggled with an extremely boring and repetitive early game, as the first few hours would see you facing a cavalcade of two or three weak Pokémon and lacking any flashy or fun attacks.
X and Y move at a blistering pace. Those original 151 have grown over the generations to a stable of over 700 monsters, and the new titles put them to immediate use.
By the time I reached the first gym, I had encountered perhaps 20 different Pokémon, and it had taken less than an hour.. This immediately emphasized the fun, interesting choices that can make every team unique.
Even those complex mechanics have, for the first time, been made into an accessible and understandable format. Once upon a time, you’d have to peruse guides on the Internet to find out about things like “effort values,” a hidden stat that only the most competitive players would go out of their way to train.
Now, effort values are right there on the bottom screen, in plain sight. There’s even a mini-game you can use to train them.
And that pace never lets up. Throughout the whole game, nary a minute goes by when it’s not delighting you with new items, giving you access to all kinds of Pokémon, from old favorites to the wonderfully-designed brand new ones. There’s a possessed demon sword. A POSSESSED DEMON SWORD. And you can feed it cupcakes.
In fact, if I had to level a single complaint against X and Y, it’s that they’re too easy.
Early in the game, you get an item called the Experience Share, which awards each Pokémon on your team 50 percent of the experience in battles they didn’t otherwise participate in.
It can be turned off, and I would argue it should be. I’ve constantly found my Pokémon at least 10 levels higher than just about everything I’ve run into, and while breezing through the journey might appeal to some players, it would be a more fulfilling challenge without it.
Overall, it seems X and Y were built to accentuate everything the series has ever done well, while cutting everything that didn’t work in the past. If the series never appealed to you before, the new games will do nothing to change that.
For the rest of us, X and Y is the best Pokémon has ever been.