What kind of Pokémon trainer are you?
Are you a Pokémon Master, a veteran of the competitive metagame who knows exactly how to optimize your monsters to get the most out of them? Are you a hobbyist who just enjoys the experience of collecting the monsters, but who doesn't delve into the competitive arena all that much? Or are you a newcomer to the series wondering what the appeal might be?
As luck would have it, we had one of each type of player on hand to share their thoughts on the new Pokémon game from their own unique perspective. We have Kat, who has been battling Pokémon both on and offline for years; Jeremy, who played a number of the previous DS games but explains he has little interest beyond collecting and training odd teams of Pokémon; and Pete, who hasn't played a game in the series since the original Red back on Game Boy.
What, if anything, do Pokémon X and Y have to offer to each of these three types of player? Read on to find out.
My attachment to Pokémon has been well-documented over the years, but there have been times where it felt almost like an abusive relationship. There was even a point where I wondered if it was time to retire from the series.
The thing is, kid-friendly as Pokémon might be, it can also be an absolutely brutal grind. Between breeding for perfect stats and training my monsters up, I've put hundreds of hours into exploiting mechanics that have been oblique and difficult to access. It was a process the had left me feeling burned out until Pokémon Black 2/White 2, which was home to the outstanding Join Avenue and all of its time-saving training services. Now with Pokémon X and Y, I'm all in again.
One reason is that this is by far the most accessible the series has ever been. Obviously, it still has some problems with overly oblique or confusing mechanics, such as the Pokémon Amie and the effects of the PokéPuffs. But for the first time, it's possible to see the hidden EV stats, and get a real sense of what they mean for a monster. Not only that, but it's cost effective and relatively painless to properly train a monster. It's even possible to reset EVs and start from scratch. As someone who has been around the series since its inception, this is all mind-blowing.
"This is the console Pokémon that we all wanted back in 2003, only with the portability and online functionality that makes it about a hundred times better than it could have ever been on the Gamecube."Kat
I'm also thrilled by the new online services, which represent a huge leap (or evolution, I suppose) over what's come before. The other day, I had the quintessential Pokémon experience with a random user name "Zelo," who challenged me to a battle out of the blue, then traded with me afterward. I sent a Fennekin that I had recently hatched, and he reciprocated with a Gible. All of this happened without a word spoken between us.
Up until now, such exchanges have been conducted via online chatroom or message board. The functionality was there, but the fact that it could only really be accessed via the Pokémon Center severely limited its appeal. Pokémon X removes that barrier to a completely seamless online community by connecting everyone via the touchscreen. All the sudden, there's this massive community with me every time I start up the game, which does a lot to improve the moment-to-moment experience. Put it this way: Even If I'm not in the mood to hit the Battle Tower, I can always trade or battle with someone in Zurich, or indulge in a bit of trade roulette with the ingenious Wonder Trades. If I turn on Pokémon X and connect to the Internet, there is always something to do.
As a longtime fan, I feel like these sorts of improvements mark a coming of age of sorts for the series. Pokémon has always been a great multiplayer RPG, but it's largely succeeded in spite of archaic graphics, limited user interfaces, and hidden stats. That's no longer the case in Pokémon X. It's still obtuse at times, but I don't feel like the game is actively fighting me. There's less guesswork, more positive balance changes, and lots of cool new features like trainer customization. And my God is it ever pretty. This is the console Pokémon that we all wanted back in 2003, only with the portability and online functionality that makes it about a hundred times better than it could have ever been on the Gamecube.
What I think is really important for people to understand is that Pokémon isn't meant to be just a one-and-done RPG. In many ways, it's a platform that's meant to endure over the course of hundreds of hours, and a lot of Pokémon X's improvements are with that goal in mind. I've compared it to an MMO in the past, and with the online improvements, I feel like that comparison is more relevant than ever. Even after the Elite 4 is defeated and the legendary Pokémon sidequests are all finished, there are Pokémon to be trained, battles to be fought, and collections to build.
In that sense, I feel like I've only scratched the surface with Pokémon X, even after more than 30 hours. In December, I'll be importing my collection, at which point the real training will begin. The competitive battling community will be getting in gear soon, and I still have plenty of trades to make. It sure is good to be back.
As the "casual fan" here, X & Y leave me feeling like there's not much left for me to do here. Pokémon, I think, is at its best either when you're a novice coming in completely fresh or commit yourself wholly to its intricacy. For the users in between, who know the rules, mechanics, and general formula to the adventure but don't have much interest in becoming a serious competitive player, what X & Y have to offer is mostly nostalgia.
I'm not suggesting X & Y don't include any new content, because that's not the case at all! By and large, though, the new material feels like filler -- minigames and bonus events designed to provide a diversion rather than improve the adventure. I don't care about perfecting introductory videos for my trainer. I have zero interest in pretending to feed pretend cream puffs to a pretend monster so it can be my pretend friend. And I certainly don't want to do hardcore stat training on my creatures, since I don't intend to compete online.
I guess that's problem, right? Competitive Pokémon doesn't particularly interest me, since I'm not a particularly competitive person -- and competitive Pokémon tends to polarize like the rest of the game. You're either a novice or a deeply invested hardcore player, and my competitive experiences have seen me either slaughtering some inexperienced child's team or else being utterly brutalized by someone who's invested 1,000 hours into EV training.
Really, I'm the sort who plays Pokémon for the collecting aspect. I'm more interested in the creatures for their own sake than in putting together a powerful team. And I'd like to be interested in the story, but there's usually not much of a story to draw my interest. Team Flare has a good sense of style, but theirs is really just the same old spiel as ever, which means that X & Y's story mode boils down to "fight through gyms, occasionally thwarting bumbling villains, become the champion." Same as usual. That's why I enjoyed Black 2 & White 2 so much, actually -- the gym sequence really became secondary to the more interesting plot of sorting out the aftermath of the previous game. Without that hook to keep me motivated, X & Y just feels like more of the same... and when it was a pretty rote adventure to begin with, I have trouble staying checked-in.
"The simultaneous, global aspect of X & Y marks a welcome change of philosophy for Game Freak -- but the online trading features and filters still need a lot refinement in order to make things a little less tedious."Jeremy
And I'm of two minds about the game's new Pokémon. There are a few newcomers I like, but the excessive variant designs of individual creatures (especially that stupid butterfly!) seem like they'll just make for a lot of mind-numbing busywork. Hey, it's cool that they're trying to encourage people to trade around the world -- the simultaneous, global aspect of X & Y marks a welcome change of philosophy for Game Freak -- but the online trading features and filters still need a lot refinement in order to make things a little less tedious. "Less tedious" seems to be the overarching goal of a lot of X & Y's design, but it's baby steps, I suppose.
Highlights of the new bestiary? Well, I'm a big fan of Aurorus, simply because I think Tropius is the bee's knees, and Aurorus seems like it's meant to be that Pokémon's direct counterpart. Even the names hint at this: Auroras are usually seen at arctic latitudes, far from the tropics. Both somewhat resemble dinosaurs, but where Tropius is grass- and flying-type, Aurorus is ice- and rock-type. It's not quite a perfect match, but it's close enough. And unlike Tropius, Aurorus is the second step on an evolutionary chain, which means maybe they'll eventually give poor Tropius a pre-evolution one of these days. Still, the simple fact that they based a new creature after a member of the Pokedex that no one but me cares about is a lovely treat.
At the other end of the spectrum, we have a bunch of new creatures that I like for their sheer awfulness. Klefki is probably the worst of the lot; it's based around a keychain. If there was ever any doubt that Game Freak's designers sit around looking desperately for any inspiration, no matter how mundane, well... here you go. But the great thing about Klefki is that its typing makes it a real pain to destroy. Unless you happen to be sporting fire or ground attacks, any fight with Klefki will be a huge chore; its makeup makes it resistant to something like nine different attack types. That's so delightfully spiteful (creating an awful monster, then making it difficult to simply breeze through) that I can't help but admire the pettiness behind its creation.
I also have to give props to Slurpuff for just being absolutely stupid-looking. Apparently the designers decided that the best way to sell the world on the new Fairy type was to make a brain-damaged cupcake its ambassador. Barbacle also deserves a nod, just because every time I saw one I thought I'd stumbled into a battle with Search Man from Mega Man 8.
Now, if for some reason you take this to mean I think X & Y are terrible, well, read again. Mine is what's known as a "mixed opinion." Pokémon is, at a base level, a really strong RPG. But the games tend to offer a repetitive, formulaic core experience, and while Game Freak does a great job of pulling in new players and keeping things lively for the pros, I really wish they'd make more of an effort to mix up the core game a little more so it doesn't feel like I'm just playing through the same story with a different assortment of Pokémon every single time. I've compared Pokémon to Shin Megami Tensei, and I think Game Freak could do well to look at how Atlus manages to create so many games based around the same mechanics and bestiary yet rarely seem to be caught in a rut.
First, some context, if I may. When the original Pokémon Red came out in Europe back in '99, I was curious to give it a go. I had only recently become enamored with Japanese role-playing games thanks largely to the PlayStation 1 installments of the Final Fantasy series, and I was intrigued by the prospect of one that I could take on the go.
Actually, to be perfectly honest, I didn't really know that Pokémon was an RPG when I first heard about it. I just knew it as "that weird Game Boy game where you collect monsters" and was pleasantly surprised to discover that yes, indeed, it appeared to be a member of my favorite genre.
My love affair with the original game was relatively short-lived, however; while I could see the appeal of travelling the lands and collecting the various available Pokémon, the main reason that I still play JRPGs to this date -- story and characterization -- simply wasn't there to a strong enough degree in Red to keep me interested. There wasn't enough of a plot driving me forward, and without it I certainly didn't feel inclined to level-grind my Pokémon for the sake of it. I eventually abandoned the game, never to return -- though I do still have the cartridge and a Game Boy to play it on.
I didn't return to the series at all until the most recent installments on 3DS. My distinctly "meh" experience with Red had soured me on the idea of diving back into these games, but when Pokémon X and Y came along and people I know and trust said that it was a good place to come back in, I was intrigued. I was skeptical too, of course -- once bitten and all that -- but I was willing to give it another go. It had, after all, been nearly 15 years, and I was hoping a popular series like Pokémon would evolve at least a little in that time.
"There are still things that irk me about the game, but I am enjoying myself more than I thought I would be."Pete
First impressions of X and Y... weren't great, to be honest. Despite the admittedly lovely cel-shaded 3D graphics, the battle system felt pretty much identical to that seen in Red, with all the same frustrations. Why can't I see how long a stat-down condition lasts or what effect it's had? Why doesn't the "pick a move" menu allow you to check the descriptions of what said moves actually do? Why can't I see exactly, numerically, how much damage I'm doing? What the hell are TMs and HMs and why won't anyone tell me what those abbreviations stand for?
Other, new frustrations reared their head early on, too. I acquired a pair of roller skates, which replaced the usual Circle Pad controls for movement with erratic high-speed skidding around the environment, forcing me to use the 3DS' uncomfortably stiff D-pad for normal movement -- except indoors, where I could once again use the Circle Pad to just walk. I reached Lumiose City, which features some of the worst movement controls I've seen in any game ever -- controls that are inexplicably inconsistent with the entire rest of the game -- and I frequently found myself bewildered by menu options that are visible and usable in the game from the very beginning, but which aren't explained until several hours in, and which also aren't explained in the manual. At all.
I persevered, though, and about five or six hours in, things started to click into place a little. I gave my Trainer a haircut, bought her a new hat and shot a PR video. (Actually, I shot several. And got her hair cut enough times to unlock the Pigtails hairstyle.) I played with my Pokémon in that strange little "Super Training" minigame and boosted their stats. I started figuring out what types of Pokémon were strong against others, and what a well-balanced "hand" of Pokémon to carry around would be. And, with the new EXP Share system, growing and evolving Pokémon that are nigh-useless when you first acquire them has become a painless experience.
There are still things that irk me about the game, and if you look past the pretty graphics it's clear that the map design is still using the same tile-based layouts from the Game Boy originals, but I am enjoying myself more than I thought I would be. The small cast of characters -- your "party," if you will -- are fun to be around, and there's a strong enough sense of structure to keep me playing. I can see the "collection" aspect becoming very addictive, and I'm intrigued by the prospect of the online facilities, though I'm yet to actually battle or trade with someone else.
In short: I'm in. For now, anyway. Whether I'll stick with it in the long term remains to be seen, but for the moment, sure; Pokémon X and Y do indeed seem to be good games with which to pick up or rejoin the series.