Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Pokémon X & Y - First Impressions

The following post includes some spoilers, no story spoilers though.

It must've been around 1998 that I first got my hands on a Pokemon game. Because I was a bit late onto the scene, and thus had a general idea of what to expect, I wasn't blown away by it in the sense of discovering just how awesome the game was - I already knew how awesome the game was and all the fun I had lying in store for me. It did not let me down. It was only the beginning of a long love story to a game franchise that has managed to keep me entertained throughout the years, I don't think there is any Pokemon game (in the original series) that I dislike and I couldn't even say which one I like the most (although of course the first one has a special place in my and many other peoples heart for many good reasons). I bought, traded and played with the TCG for years (and only really stopped because I didn't have anyone else to play with). I bought the stickers, the plush animals, went to the cinema to see the first movie (and get my promo card) and bought many of the spin-off games as well. Naturally, when I first heard about Pokemon X & Y, the first real 3d pokemon game, somewhere this spring 2013, I was very, very excited. Partly because it was another pokemon game, and the news of that alone would have me jumping with glee, and partly because of the prospect of maybe getting to experience what pokemon fans over the world have been asking for ever since the first game was released (and games like Pokemon Stadium showed us the potential of) - pokemons fighting it off in actual 3d graphics.

Soooo pretty... - se.ign.com


During what felt like an endless wait, I had a lot of time to think about the new game. I intentionally and intently tried to avoid any and all information about it, eventhough my curiousity got the best of me a few times (I just had to check out what the Megavolutions to Venusaur, Charizard and Blastoise looked like). Still, in the world of global information it is almost impossible to not get at least small scraps of information forced onto you every now and then, and so screen shots and trailers soon found their way to me. I definitely liked what I saw, and had no doubt in my mind it was going to be yet another awesome Pokemon, but I didn't get the feeling it was going to blow my mind in the way some people were hoping for. In all honesty I didn't think what little I saw seemed all that different from Black & White, where they also played a bit with perspectives, and so I prepared myself to be swept away as always, but not enraptured.

Now that I've had a chance to actually try out the game that I've been waiting for most of the year - what do I think? Is it everything it promised? Is it "just" good or completely awesome? Was I wrong to doubt it, even a little?

Interestingly enough, after ~20 hours and three gyms of gaming (which would've been more had I not had a 24 hour work shift this weekend!), this experience so far is very similar to my first experience with the first game. Back then I too knew already roughly what to expect and how good the game was. I was still blown away by how much fun and how much cooler the game turned out to actually be when I started playing it. My short review of Pokemon X (which is the copy I have) would be to say about the same thing. After five generations I had a pretty good idea of what the game was going to be and how much fun I was going to have. And with previous games Pokemon has always delivered pretty much that. But this time around I was amazed and thrilled at how much better than my expectations the game turned out to actually be. Eventhough it is basically exactly the same as it has been since the first game 17 years ago, Pokemon still manages to surprise me. That's not to say it is perfect. Pokemon is delivering the same experience it always has, only prettier and a little bit better, but everything good that comes with that (why change a winning formula) means whatever annoyed you about the old games probably still is around to annoy you. I use the word "annoy" very lightly however, as even the things I dislike the most in the game (I'll get to that shortly) never get distracting enough to take away any of the fun of the game as a whole.

Not everything is better in 3d - tv.com


First of all, the game is pretty. I had my doubts about how cool and aesthetically pleasing the new 3d graphics could possibly be, but let me tell you that they are definitely a lot better and awesome than I at least had assumed. Everything from the crisp Pokemon 3d models, the pretty colors of the different skills the Pokemon use (which, of course, are almost entirely same old as previous games) to the fact that people in the world around you now have some moving animations, are pure eye candy. Just the fact that the battle screen now has some sort of background makes me care less about the fact that there still is practically as little interaction between the pkmn as in the first games. I thought the difference between Black & White and X & Y wouldn't be big, but going back to the previous generation now you see just how big the differences are - Black & White, which I when I first played it thought was beautiful, looks boring in comparison. I'm the last one to say that graphics is a particularly important part to the fun of a game, but with X & Y I can say it is definitely enhancing the experience. And I do feel, at least so far, that they've done a good job getting the most out of it, the areas you walk through feel varied and don't feel like "just another patch of grass or cave", waht could quickly be the case in older games. The 3d effect isn't in use everywhere in the game, and that doesn't bother me as I at the moment play with it off anyway to save on battery time. I can only imagine with Nintendo launching their 2ds almost at the same time, the idea isn't to play with much 3d effects in any case, but where it is active it does a good job further enhancing the beautiful graphics.

Random Snorlax to brighten your day - aliexpress.com


So let's talk a bit about what's probably the most important aspect to the game - the gameplay. Of course, even without having to go into any details regarding the story line, old players will know exactly what to expect. This to me doesn't have to be a bad thing at all, and in pkmn we know it to be a winning concept. I am sure more people would be outraged about any changes than there are whiners out there at the moment complaining about pkmn never changing. As usual, the differences and betterments lie in the details instead. One of the first thing I noticed, and am really happy about, is the sheer amount of different pkmn that seem to be present in the game. Something that used to annoy me in older games was that the starting areas always had the same two-three pkmn to encounter, and overall I always wanted more of the total amount to be easily available in the game (by easily I mean without having to trade and the like). X & Y seem to have taken this to heart, having me almost wish instead that there were less pkmn in this game (!). If you're a collector or completionist of any kind, which I'm fortunately not, you'll have your work cut out for you. It feels like every new grass patch I come to holds at least five pkmn I haven't even seen before and reaching the goal to "catch em all" has never felt as fun, at least to me. The best thing about it is that it allows you to start out with a varied group of pkmn right from the start, whereas older games only offered you so many - I feel like the replay value is possibly the highest in this game, a lot because of this.

Pkmn has never been as online as it is with this installment either, allowing easy access to other pkmn players all over the world, or just your neighborhood friends if you prefer, for trading, fighting and comparing of pkmn. Some features are truly fun to engage in, like Wonder Trade where you offer any pkmn for trade and get a random unknown from someone else in the world in return. Completely relying on the generosity of other people I've been unlucky enough to get Weedles and lucky enough to get Froakies, it's a lottery that's easy to get stuck in.

Pokémon have dabbled in 3d before - jogospokemon.wordpress.com


The new o-power system is another feature that I'm having a lot of fun with. O-powers can be anything from a temporary bonus to attack power to extra catch rate that you can either give to yourself or anyone else in the world. Each power takes some energy to give, of which you have a limited amount that slowly recharges over time, and giving to yourself costs a lot more than giving to someone else. It has made me and the bf shout out requests to eachother and allowing the other person to save you in a pinch - I'll ask for some healing when I am in a gym and close to death for instance. Every now and then you'll receive a power from some random stranger in the world, and I do occasionally throw out some powers, since using them is the only way to level them and thus increasing their bonuses. The cooldown on the powers makes them just the kind of fun bonus without being overpowered that I think the developers were after, and it is extra fun that the function promotes generosity towards others rather than hogging.

This game does of course, as the other games in the series, have a couple of mini games to engage in and throw time into. For the first time ever I can say that these are some that I am actually interested in and have fun with. In earlier games I would always try them out, be it beauty contests or poké blocks, but they were never anything for me. In this game we've got features that not only are more fun, they can actually affect your pkmn in game in a way that make them a lot more interesting, at least to me, than previous mini games. Through Pokemon-Amie you can pat, smack (yepp, you can be a cruel pkmn trainer too), feed or play mini games with any pkmn in your party in a sort of Tamagotchi style feature. Other peoples pkmn can come visit in your decorateable pkmn room and leave you more gifts to further decorate your room with. In the Super Training you can have your pkmn complete different training mini games that actually affect its stats in game. I am not sure how "game breaking" this could be, but I know there are already lengthy discussions on forums all over the internet on how to best do your training, where to put your points and other things that makes me think of Elitis Jerks. Just as with pvp in a game like World of Warcraft, this is entirely optional and nothing you have to put any time into if you don't feel like it to enjoy the game, but I feel like they make more sense and more worthwhile the way they have been implemented in this game than in previous games.

We're still waiting for this though - ign.com


You can now also change the way your character looks. So what, was my first thought, since I normally don't put much effort into what my avatar looks like in other RPG-like games. I'm one of those people who clicks "randomize" a couple of times to get it over with. Never would I have thought that it'd be this much fun to play dress up doll with your own character in X & Y however. At first I didn't think I'd ever want to spend money on the clothes and accessories that are available to you in different clothing stores, because they don't actually make any difference. Except it is so much fun to try out clothes, and I instantly turn into a 5 year old playing with Barbies again when I enter the stores. The new pretty 3d graphics definitely add to the fun of this and especially it will turn out to be a great thing to use your money on later in the game, since piling money usually turned out to be a "problem" in older games.

Before I say anything else, because now I'll be saying a word or two about a couple of things I like less about the game, I would like to emphasize just how awesome and fun X & Y has turned out to be to me. The following things I'm mentioning now are to considered minor issues, things I simply wish they would've done a bit differently. They're still not bad enough to actually ruin much of the actual gameplay.

Firstly, this game probably has the worst music out of all the games in the series. That's not to say that it is in any way bad, just not as good as it could've been or as some tunes in the older games. Of course I love just about every tune in Red & Blue for nostalgic reasons, but even Black & White (and all the other older games) had at least some tunes I really loved. Especially battle tunes need to be good, since you get to hear them so often. X & Y are not delivering the same great and fun tunes that older games did, unfortunately. One tune in a city I've just come to even made me nauseous (!) so that I felt like I had to mute the game for the duration of my stay. That's an extreme example and I could still come across something great since I have a lot left of the game. So far however they're mostly just bland and a bit boring. Sound effects are great however, and the differents sounds the pkmn make have never sounded better while still being true to the original.

And with the new "Live Competition" come the people who take it way too seriously - reddit.com


Secondly, the pkmn games have always suffered from being a bit too easy. I think most people can recognize themselves in being able to burn through most gyms with just one or two pkmn one shotting every competition. This is how things like the Nuzlocke challenge came to be, basically putting restrictions on yourself to up the challenge of the game. To me this has generally not been much of a problem. I usually play with and try to level six different pkmn already from the start, which has kept me fairly close to the levels of the people I am encountering. Pkmn has never been challenging to me until perhaps Pokémon League, but challenging enough. What I have a problem with however is the AI of the trainers, which I've always wished would've been at least somewhat better. When a trainer uses the same worthless skill twice or more it makes me sad, and I feel like it would've really upped the fun of the game if trainers actually seemed to have some sort of tactical thinking. I'm not sure why Game Freak has decided to let every trainer in the pkmn world remain a block head, but they still pretty much are. Why couldn't at least the gym trainers be a bit smarter?

Thirdly, I really wish they would've implemented more than one save by now. Or at least some way to allow you to save pkmn from an older playthrough. I don't know how many times I've picked up an old pkmn game, started it up and decided not to play it after all because I couldn't find it in my heart to delete the pkmn that were on it, and all the memories of the playthrough with them (or so it feels). Don't underestimate how much you emotionally invest yourself in those little pixels (now polygons), just erasing them is such a difficult choice that I rarely have the strength to take it. This, and only this, has removed a lot of the replay value of the games to me, and it feels like a simple thing to solve. With X & Y, Nintendo have promised a sort of cloud save feature which will allows us to upload our pkmn to their servers. This way I can store whatever pkmn I want to keep after I'm done with my current playthrough, keeping them safe while I erase the other data. The problem with this is that it comes with a fee, admittedly quite a low fee, but still nothing I might want to pay for years to come (and will the feature even be available for that long?). It can go five years before I decide to pick the game back up to play again, and I just wish Nintendo gave me a simpler way to store my pkmn in the long term. The solution they have now is great for the actively playing, but I don't think it's a good solution for the future. It's a minor issue, admittedly, but also one I think they could solve pretty easily, and it would really make a nostalgic sod like me incredibly happy if I could store the pkmn in my gameboy (NDS), or something along those lines.

I'm not sure much more needs to be said about this game, I am certain most of you are playing it already. If you aren't and have any interest in the pkmn series, this game will definitely give you many hours of fun and is definitely worth the money. So far I think it's great, it has been surprising me around every corner and the gameplay is every bit as familiar but improved to make it an awesome experience. Now if you excuse me, I need to get back to playing, I've been spending too much time writing this post already.

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