Full Force: Pokemon X/Y Review

Full Force is GFN’s weekly look at some of the biggest news in geekdom, from video games to anime to movies and everything in between. We also welcome your comments below, if you want to join the conversation. This week, our panelists give their thoughts on the most recent entry in the juggernaut that is Pokemon.

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Pokemon has a familiar formula by this point, and not much has changed in X and Y. What did you think about the newest entries from a gameplay standpoint?

Chip: To be honest, the core gameplay has not changed too much in the new versions, but that doesn’t mean there haven’t been significant upgrades. The updated visuals alone have really impressed me, particularly in the little flourishes (first-person Pokeball throws, new animations for every Pokemon, etc). The addition of the roller blades is handy as well, although I am still trying to get used to the timing for stops.  My biggest complaints are the unskippable tutorial battles and dialogue throughout the game (come on Nintendo, it’s the seventh generation, we know how to play), and the linearity of the game. I know that there has to be an order of sorts, but closing off entire areas with arbitrary, “You’re not ready for this place yet,” characters/dialogue breaks immersion hard.  I would have preferred areas with significantly stronger Pokemon and trainers to subtly guide me rather than blatant barriers.

Chris: I think Link Between Worlds taught us that even old series can use a breath of fresh air — one of the best features about that game was the nonlinear dungeons, and Pokemon could do something similar even without adopting some of the more drastic changes that people always clamor for. For example, every gym leader has three Pokemon, and the order in which you tackle the gyms determines their level. Wouldn’t be too tough (although wild Pokes in the grass is another issue). Still, Chip’s right about the little touches. Some of the neatest moments are when the camera pans to give you a look at the view, like a giant crystal or an expansive bike road or a giant Lucario statue.

Shaun: I mean…here’s the thing – the gameplay is solid. I would argue, from a “streamlining” standpoint, it’s the best it’s ever been. Battles are faster, EV training is faster, there’s more to the gyms, there’s more types of battles, so on and so forth. The problem is, I think the base game is getting stale. I’m as fine with the formula as the next guy, but when you can almost literally copy and paste one game’s plot and gym progression over another’s, and not tell any difference, it starts to feel like I’m just going through the motions.

By this point, I’ve played, what, six generations of Pokemon, not to mention all the updated versions in each gen. I enjoy the game, but much like my burnout with Grand Theft Auto, I can safely say this is the last one I’ll play unless there’s some sort of change to the stagnating formula.

Murf: As someone who has only recently returned the series, my level of burnout is probably far less than the next guy. That said, X/Y did a phenomenal job of cutting a lot of the fat that frankly hindered the game in the past. Less grinding is good.

That said, I agree with you guys that the rest of the formula needs some fundamental change. The gameplay is down to a science, so maybe it is time to make two vs two battles the default throughout the next game’s region to liven it up again. I am fairly certain that’s the format for more serious play, so it stands to reason that they should incorporate it evenly throughout the game.

I think that alone would do the trick with improving some of the difficulty that the series has always lacked. While it was never about challenge, the single-player campaign has largely become an excuse to stretch out the game for artificial reasons. I miss feeling a sense of accomplishment when it came to beating a new gym. I think making the game about duos would make gym fights interesting again.

Evo: I’m going to just get this out of the way right now; I’m a Pokemon addict. At current time, I’m just above 300 hours into Pokemon X and I fully plan to keep on going. Granted, in true Nintendo fashion, it’s a borderline tired, old IP that’s been given a glossy new paint job and thrown back out to the masses, which is not to say that this is a BAD thing. Pokemon sells like hot cakes and attracts fans and players of all ages, so clearly something is working properly.

The progression through the story, the quest for badges, Pokemon League glory and of course, to “Catch ‘em All” are all intact and present just as well as ever, so in that respect, it’s more or less the standard Pokemon fare. Like Murf said, it feels a lot less “grindy” and more conducive to players who want to just play through and not get blocked by seemingly unbeatable odds that are only surmountable by stopping your forward path for a while to power up.

I personally play the game at what some would consider a “competitive” or “advanced” level, in that I pay attention to things like IV’s, EV gain, Egg Moves and Natures and their impact on battling other players. I’m happy to see that a lot of these aspects have been simplified and streamlined as Shaun put it, which not only makes it a lot easier on us grizzled, old veterans of competitive Pokemon battling, but also makes the barrier to entry for new players who want to try their hand at the scene seem a lot less daunting.

Now if they could only make all that Hidden Power malarkey a lot easier on everyone. That being said, Shaun and I need to have a battle for all to see. Just saying.

Shaun: You’re on. I hope you’re ready for a team of six Glaceons. Your worst nightmare, here we come…

Every generation creates controversy when new designs are introduced. What were your favorite (and least favorite) new Pokemon that showed up in Kalos for the first time?

Chip: All of the new ghost-types are excellent designs and fit classic horror tropes into the Pokemon universe (haunted sword, evil tree, and possessed pumpkin). Since the new region (Kalos) is based on France, I would have liked to see more Pokemon that fit the mythology and culture of Europe. The poodle, Norse-inspired legendaries, and fairy-types in general are nice, but everything else seems like updates of old Pokemon standards (oh great, more three-evolution birds and bugs).

Chris: I was a little torn on the idea of a keychain at first, but it’s a useful typing (Steel/Fairy) and it’s kind of adorable. It’s certainly nowhere near as bad as an ice cream cone, am I right? I was also a fan of Skiddo because it was cute and Fletchinder because it broke down the 10-character barrier.

Shaun: Glaceon. New Pokemon are irrelevant.

Seriously though, I appreciated the call backs, but I wish X/Y did what Black/White did and made it so only new Pokemon showed up for the main game. Of the new ones, I have yet to find one that I really love. The search continues.

Murf: As much as I liked the designs, I really felt like mega evolutions were a missed opportunity. Their temporary nature makes the Pokemon seem less real (if that makes any sense).

Despite that, I love seeing older Pokemon re-imagined in new forms. The best thing about the mega designs was the addition of new life to old designs without resorting to making them babies or taking on an extra evolution at the end.

I would’ve preferred older pokemon with newer evolutions via region specific items though. I think that would’ve been the perfect way to expand the roster without having to come up with another hundred members of the cast. New designs could play off old ones with a decidedly more European or French aesthetic.

Evo: I’m a Dragon guy all the way. So I thought Noivern and especially Tyrantrum were pretty awesome… and then there’s Goodra. Yikes. As a side note, Mega Blaziken’s transformation animation and battle cry are ridiculously hype-inducing.

What did you like or dislike about some of the side elements of the game, such as music, graphics, mini-games, presentation, etc.?

Chris: The soundtrack is full of a bunch of solid tracks as usual. I wasn’t a huge fan of the Team Flare battle music at first, but I learned to appreciate it more — especially once I heard the Lysandre version. That’s good stuff. The graphics, as mentioned before, are a huge step up for this franchise. It’s hard to imagine ever going back.

Chip: I love that you can change the main character’s race, style, and fashion.  It makes the game much more personal and helps with further engagement.  This sort of change seems like a natural progression of the series.  I like that there are some places you can take pictures of your character, but I would have preferred something like Animal Crossing:New Leaf’s photography system, where screenshots can be captured at any time.

Crystal: I can haz Pokemon, plz? I WANT POKEMON! *sobs*

Shaun: Other than a single song in the game that plays for the professor and is the most delightfully French sounding tune in existence, I thought the music was meh. But the graphics were sharp, and like I said before, the presentation was the best it’s ever been. I just wish what was being presented was…better…

And you can have my Pokemon, Crystal. It’s either that or euthanization at this point.

Murf: Everything was great except berry farming. I hate berries.

Evo: I’m with Murf on the Berry Farming. I rarely do it and whenever I DO remember I have one, everything I planted has withered and died. As weird as it is, I’m agree with Chip on character customization. I will literally grind as much money as I can out of the Battle Chateau and diners of Cafe Le Wow on a regular basis to afford that sleek Black Trenchcoat dress for my character. Yes, I play a female… WANNA FIGHT ABOUT IT?

Chris: I play a female too. I thought the guy looked dorky. And while I have no interest in berry farming either, I will say this: for people who care, it must be pretty cool to have like a million spots to plant them now, all in one place.

Murf: I love inclusiveness, but not when it comes to people who like berry farming. Just no.

We’d like to hear your thoughts as well, so sound off in the comments below!

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