Pokémon X and Y improves gameplay quality

Photo Courtesy of Nintendo

Great video game sequels carry a series forward while remaining true to its core tenets. Pokémon X and Pokémon Y for the Nintendo 3DS are such games; they provide a myriad of upgrades to the tried-and-true formula without dismantling anything that makes Pokémon tick.

For newcomers, the Pokémon narrative revolves around a teenager who sets out into the world to capture the eponymous creatures, train them and use them to defeat other trainers in creature vs. creature skill battles until he or she becomes the Pokémon Champion.

The region in X and Y, Kalos, is based geographically and culturally on France, complete with its own Eiffel Tower. The battles revolve around a rock-paper-scissors style of fighting using “types.” These types include everything from fire to ghost to steel, and learning the strengths and weaknesses of each type is a player’s highest priority.

Veterans of the game series will first note the drastic change in graphics with this new installment; X and Y leaps into a fully three-dimensional world, complete with fluid character and Pokémon animations. Battles are no longer fought between immobile sprites but 3D Pokémon models that stomp, wriggle, flap and swim their way to victory or defeat.

Of course the low-level attacks more or less involve Pokémon simply jumping and recoiling, but some of the late-game move animations are beautiful and belong in an anime.

Aesthetics aside, X and Y’s gameplay brings a few new elements to the series’ surprisingly complex battle system. For example, Fairy is introduced as the eighteenth type to balance the previous dominance of the Dragon type, and some of the older Pokémon, such as Jigglypuff and Gardevoir, have been retroactively fitted with a Fairy typing.

Veterans of the game series will first note the drastic change in graphics with this new installment

Equally as exciting are Mega Evolutions. Through the story, players gain access to stones which evolve final-stage Pokémon one more time. Only certain Pokémon have these Mega Evolutions and they only lasts for the battle; they are not a permanent improvement.

The lack of permanence combined with a limit of one Mega Evolution per battle emphasizes this new aspect as a strategy for players to consider, as opposed to just another evolution for older Pokémon.

Two other major changes to gameplay are Pokémon Amie and Super Training. The former is essentially Nintendogs for Pokémon.

Players can pet, feed, coo and play mini-games with their favorite Pokémon, with the goal being to increase said critter’s affection. This player-creature interaction provides practical bonuses as well, such as boosted experience and a greater chance of critical hits during battles.

The latter, Super Training, is an attempt to eliminate the guesswork with EVs. EVs are secret stat enhancers obtained when defeating Pokémon. The system is notoriously difficult to keep track of and requires extreme patience. Super Training helps by making this accumulation of points more transparent by supplying a mini-game and graph to mark a Pokémon’s EV progress.

This only sounds complicated because, in fact, it is. However, any prospective player who wants to assemble a team purely based on their favorite Pokémon are able to enjoy the game.

That is the true beauty of X and Y: casual players can have fun with no troubles and hardcore Pokémon Masters can sink dozens of hours into building a perfect team. X and Y ultimately follows the first law of video games: be easy to learn and difficult to master.

The only part of the game that falls flat is its story. The previous generation’s story, Black and White, hesitantly stretched out to touch the line of maturity but never managed to do anything with its ethical premise. Any hopes that X and Y will continue to grow story-wise is dashed.

Team Flare, the necessary organized crime syndicate in the tradition of the original Team Rocket,  is merely an excuse to give the player something to do besides collect badges. There is a half-hearted attempt at some Pokémon mythology, but it rapidly devolves.

Despite falling flat on story, X and Y’s excellent online options offer real incentives to add friends all over the world. Once players get pass the Friends Code nonsense, adding friends is as easy as connecting to a Wi-Fi source.

Connecting to the Internet allows players to see “Passerbys.” These are total strangers with whom players can offer to trade, battle or merely chat if the inclination arises. It is as simple as tapping on their avatar and selecting the appropriate option.

The only part of the game that falls flat is its story.

One of the more interesting online features added to this generation are Wonder Trades. Select a Pokemon from the PC box, ensure the 3DS, or 2DS, is connected to the Internet, and the selected Pokemon is blindly traded with a random player from anywhere in the world.

Essentially a roulette, Wonder Trades offer the possibility to obtain rare Pokémon early in the game or those not obtainable by usual methods.

Of course, it is also possible said random player will bestow the majesty of a Bidoof. However, that is the price to pay for entering an unpredictable Pokémon lottery.

Avatars are finally customizable. Initially, there are not many options beyond such RPG standards as gender and skin tone.

However, a few of the towns contain boutiques from which players can purchase articles of clothing ranging from hat accessories to shoes to shirts and jackets. Halfway through the game it is entirely possible to create a style unique to each player.

In many ways Pokémon X and Pokémon Y will be remembered as a large stepping stone for the series. This sixth generation is the first to introduce a new type since Gold and Silver, and the graphical upgrade sets a milestone fans have wanted for years.

Most importantly, above all the talk of balancing a complex battle system and introducing dozens of well-designed Pokémon and bringing a beloved series to the modern era in a single swoop, avatars can now walk diagonally and sit on benches. What more could a Pokéfan want?