Group Review: Pokemon X/Y

Editor’s note: I unearthed some reviews that we worked on a while back that never saw the light of day. They’re not exactly the most timely at this point, but here they are anyway!

THE GOOD

Jason: The move to 3D was a long time coming, and I’m glad we finally got there in X& Y. Why did it take so long? No idea. That one simple change though helped the game seem fresh and new. That Squirtle you’ve had for ages? Well now check him out in 3D! It felt like the magic of Pokemon Snap and Stadium all over again, only this time in a main title!

I’m also a huge fan of the training. As someone who can never be bothered to try and breed Pokemon (I get sad thinking about all the babies I’d have to abandon in a computer box), the ability to both see and influence the stats that have otherwise prevented my Pokemon in previous generation from being powerhouses was a more than welcome addition. While the mini-games themselves are a little repetitive and non-sensical, I’m willing to let it slide for what you get out of it in the end and how much easier it is.

Also, I’d be remiss if I forgot to mention Tyrantrum under the “good” category. For reals dawg; a T-Rex Pokemon. What more could you ask for? I named mine SirReginold.

Michaela: I like that the series finally decided to add a new type to the mix. The Fairy type is a fun addition to otherwise straightforward combinations previously seen. Also, having the option to choose a starter from the first games was a nice touch. My favorite part of the game, by far, was Looker’s sidequest. It was heart-warming, fun, and well-written. I appreciated its simplicity, and the lack of “the world will end should you fail” plot point was a nice change of pace, and I would love for future Pokemon games to have a more simplistic plot that meant something.

Chris: I’m with Michaela on the Fairy type. A new typing was a much-needed addition, especially considering we haven’t seen any since Gold and Silver. It helps balance the metagame a bit — Dragon, Fighting and Dark all take a hit (no more mindless Outrages!) while Steel and Poison become less pathetic offensively.

Nick: I like having a new type, but  I don’t like that they chose to call it Fairy.  I’m not sure why they couldn’t have chosen “light,” or “prism” or whatever is more appropriate – the word fairy is sometimes used as an insult here in the US, and off the top of my head I think it’s the only Pokemon type that has that characteristic.

I really liked the 3D, and also the stereoscopic 3D, but based on what a lot of people say in their reviews I’m probably an outlier.  It could be something like 1% of players like the stereoscopic 3D. Am I the 1%? Dave and I have something in common. It was exciting to see more life-like Pokemon, and I think the camera angles (while not exactly new) were well done.

The semi-party that is formed at the beginning of the game was a surprise to me, and I was happy to have it. It is a synthetic form of what I’ve been requesting from this series for some time, but I wish you traveled alongside them more frequently.  At least the less annoying ones.

I also liked the changes to the experience point system that makes it a lot easier to train Pokemon.  The Exp. Share is received early in the game, and with a huge bonus — it can increase the amount of experience received from a single battle by 250% (distributed through your team).  It’s also easy to turn off, so if you’re a purist who wants the classic experience you don’t have to use this.

Shaun: The good…does Glaceon count? Because other than the world’s most pleasantly smug ice Pokemon, X/Y is basically a shiny, streamlined version of every other Pokemon game to come before it. I guess…that’s sort of a backhanded “positive…“

And no, Nick, you’re not alone – I’m currently the only one in the house playing Bravely Default with the 3D on. It took a while to get used to, but I sort of love it. Does that make us bad people? Oh right, this is a Pokemon review…I also loved the Exp. Share system. Of all the streamlining design decisions in this game, this was the best I think. This way, I can use Glaceon the entire time, but still have a balanced party. Want to play like me? Turn it on. Think it’s cheating? Simply turn the sucker off. This has been one of the big things missing in Pokemon–it’s a very smart inclusion, and I don’t know why it took this long.

THE BAD

Shaun: Glaceon isn’t super effective against everything.

Nick: I didn’t like that there were only a few areas that you could ride Pokemon.  Before playing, I thought you’d be able to do it anywhere, and I had the idea in my head that riding different Pokemon might give you access to different areas (kinda like the Acro/Mach Bike in Ruby/Sapphire Emerald, or Rock Climb in Diamond/Pearl/Platinum, etc).  Part of me feels like Game Freak may have missed an opportunity, the other part hates the HM system and doesn’t like going back to the Pokemon Center to get an appropriate Pokemon that doesn’t carry its weight when it comes to battling since it is at a much lower level.

Chris: Folks will complain about the formula, I know. It’s still eight badges and it’s still an evil team and it’s still four moves per Pokemon. At this point, I think we need to accept that this series is what it is, although I certainly don’t fault people for some of their dreams (MMO, giant console versions, etc.). By the same token, I also don’t fault people for staying away from these games if they’re burnt out — but they’re missing out on some significant improvements.

Michaela: While super fun, this game made me realize just how stupid the plots have become over the years. At no point did the story make sense or make me care – there’s no form of pride to be found anywhere in the story-telling, and that frustrates me. This also extends from the fact that Looker’s sidequest was so good, and yet the main story was a dumpster fire.

Pokemon writers, take note; the story doesn’t need to be crazy and insane. As long as the characters are well-written and the plot is more simplistic, than you have the makings for a great game that people will take seriously. But since the story wasn’t taken seriously, it also led to the characters and their designs to being even more ridiculous than ever before. It’s as if they’re keeping to a status quo, and I’d much prefer these two things to return to more simplistic roots. You would think that the series would want to be known for fun combat and exploration or something rather than silly stories and character designs. I can only handle so much insanity before I stop caring.

Shaun: Okay fine, I guess I’ll actually try to give a critic not centered around my obsession with the Glac – “the smug master” – eon. But I warn you: there’s a rant, and it’s coming in hot…

While there’s differing schools of thought on this, I can’t just accept that “this is Pokemon” and that if I don’t want those staples, I shouldn’t play. Because don’t tell me what to do! I want to play the Pokemanz. I like the concept, which has held up great over the decade(s) since the series inception. But that doesn’t mean it gets a free pass to keep doing certain things badly. Like plot. And characters. And writing. And characters. And plot. And plot.

“But,” you say, “Mario doesn’t have a story either, and we give that a free pass.” Yes, that’s correct. However, Mario is built on a foundation of amazing gameplay and level design, his games focused on incredible news ways to navigate these expansive and amazing interactive worlds. Like porn, “plot” in Mario is simply to provide the barest of contexts so we can get to the action already.

Pokemon, on the other hand, is about immersion. It’s an RPG, after all. These are my Pokemon. This is my team. I want to care about what happens, and in order to do that, I need to have some investment in the world and what’s happening in it. So when there’s a bunch of generic bad guys doing a bunch of generic bad guy things, and gym leaders written more poorly and one dimensional than a first-graders Power Rangers fan-fiction rough draft, I take issue. I understand it has to be fun and accessible to all ages, so I don’t need plot points dealing with Glaceon’s history of sexual abuse, but come on. Someone needs to draw a line somewhere on what’s acceptable in these games.

And it’s not like Nintendo’s never an acceptable job on Pokemon plot before. Red/Blue, and even Gold/Silver, did a pretty nice job of creating memorable villains and gym leaders, and much of this had to do with scope. In these games, you were a prodigal kid trainer taking on a corrupt businessman who happened to be the head of a criminal organization. He was like the Al Capone of Pokemon. That was cool. You know what’s not cool? Having your prodigal kid trainer SAVING THE VERY FABRIC OF SPACE TIME.

Jason: I’m with Shaun on this one. I love the games and I applaud Nintendo’s desire to give Pokemon games a “plot”. But Pokemon has never needed a plot to be fun and frankly, I’d rather just see them buckle down and work on some heavier world building instead of saving the world YET AGAIN.

Just take the Skyrim approach. Screw the plot. Heck, I still haven’t finished the main story in Skyrim! Just make a big world and let players decide what adventures they want to have with their own Pokemon. That’s seriously all anyone really wants. Well, that and the ability to pick any Pokemon as your starter. You know I’m right…

Shaun: Any Pokemon? Eh, don’t know about that, but I’d LOVE more variety. Like how about not Grass/Fire/Water for once. Are you telling me these are the ONLY triangularly balanced types in the entire series?

The problem is Chris is totally right — why put in more time and effort into something that most people don’t clearly care about, or at least not enough. Somehow I think my threat of being done with the series after this point unless some changes are made aren’t going to be taken that seriously by Game Freak…

Nick: Actually, having read Dan Brown’s Inferno recently, I thought the plot was relevant to today’s real-world problems and helped me connect. But I do feel it’s a bit unusual that the only person in the world that could stop the world from ending is a fledgling trainer from a small town, regardless of how gifted he/she might be.

Chris: Look, you guys aren’t wrong. I agree that those ideas would be awesome. But it doesn’t matter for one simple reason: Game Freak doesn’t care. It keeps making money on these games hand over fist. We’ve been asking for these things for 15 years and clearly it’s not going to happen.

Nick: Oh, the sting of Chris’ words… I’ve previously  made it quite clear that I envision a Pokemon game that has a cooperative story mode (be it MMORPG, going on some side quests with a considerable task to accomplish, or even directly involved with the main story).  Both the anime and the game make a point of talking about the importance of teamwork, but the game has just never had any teamwork. If you look at it objectively, it can easily be compared to just one person arming him/herself with different weapons in battle.  That’s not teamwork, and I long for the day.

Joseph: Sadly, ladies and gentlemen, I have not had the opportunity to play several of the more recent Pokémon games. However, my objection to the series is still relevant. In any one game, there is no way to catch every single Pokémon. With every new release, the task of completing the Pokédex becomes astronomically harder, to the point where I have chosen to ignore the challenge. Upsetting, but if I were to have a question concerning overall experience, I would refer to the recommendations of my fellow reviewers.

Shaun: Yeah…this game tries to address that with the implementation of the Pokemon Bank. The problem? Who cares enough anymore to try?

OVERALL

Chris: I may score this a little differently than most because of my tolerance for the status quo. For what it is, Pokemon X/Y is a beautiful game with creatures looking like we’ve never seen before. Some of the access to previously annoying mechanics (EV training, for example) is welcome, and it does some very clever things with online battling. It makes very few advancements whatsoever, but at least I know what I’m getting myself into when I pick it up. I’d give it somewhere around a 4 out of 5.

Nick: I think the developers did a wonderful job with bringing the game up to what the average player thinks the game should be like, and made a few nice improvements to boot.  Since that is now out of the way, I look forward to the coming innovation of the series. 3.5 out of 5

Michaela: X/Y’s 3D graphics are bright, the new Fairy type Pokemon is a nice inclusion to the series, and many of the items have become easier to use. On the other hand, the plot is abysmal and the side characters are bland. I look forward to seeing future Pokemon games in 3D and what GameFreak will add, but I won’t accept any dramatic changes deviating from the formula anytime soon. 3.5 out of 5.

Shaun: From a game design standpoint, X/Y is the best in the series, and I’d give some other entries in the series an enthusiastic 5 of 5. Unfortunately, the ideas it’s doing so right are stale ideas, and this is easily the installment in the franchise that I felt like was the most of a chore to get through. The Mega-Evolutions? They were a gimmick, at best. Need more from the next installment, Game Freak, or I’m gone! And you can take that to the bank! 3 out of 5

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