Welcome back readers to another review from the Masked Gentleman. This time I’ll be looking at a series that is very close to my heart and one that I have put an unholy number of hours into over the years. That series is Pokémon. The series’ blend of recognizable and likeable characters combined with fairly complex RPG mechanics has captivated me since a young age and I was as excited to play this generation as I was the five before it. Before we delve into this brand new Pokémon world let me briefly describe my experiences with the past generations and why a smile always springs to my lips when reminiscing the good times spent over the years.
The Masked Gentleman Used Nostalgia Attack.
If you want to look at things with a cynical, business-minded eye then you’ll see that I was in the exact catchment group that Pokémon was aimed at when it was released. I was still in primary school, I owned a Gameboy and the anime series was on the Television at almost the exact time that I arrived home from school. It’s that series that got me interested in Pokémon and it is with fondness that I remember the story of Ash the young trainer, on a quest to become the champion. When I eventually got a chance to play the game I did it almost religiously after school and on the weekends, working my way through the eight gyms and eventually facing off against that goshdarn rival of mine Blue, to become the champion of the Kanto region. I know for a fact that I wasn’t the only one and the lunchtime breaks were filled with kids bragging about their Pokémon or discussing which Pokémon they needed to complete the Pokédex. There was even the brief moment when the card game became immensely popular before it was inevitably banned (there was a videogame of this card game on the GameBoy Colour which was actually quite good with some really good music). The first generation games remain classics- with recognisable characters that are cemented into the psyche of gamers that picked up a copy. They weren’t perfect however with bugs a plenty and a lack of things to do after beating the champion. There was also balancing issues with psychic Pokémon being nigh on invincible. Despite the flaws these games were immensely popular, however as with all school crazes the popularity began to fade. It was at this time that the second game came out.
Gold and Silver added two new types of Pokémon as well as Genders and eggs and a wide variety of new Pokémon. These games rekindled the conversations in school playgrounds about the series and fixed some of the problems that the original generation had, with the introduction of post game content. The re-release on the Nintendo DS shows the large scale of the world portrayed, and this increase in scale helped increase the complexity of the game. These games were immensely fun and are regarded by some as the series high point. They has their own problems such as a lack of things to do once the Kanto region had been explored as well as the difficulties involved in connecting with other human players. My link cable was notoriously bad and would always lose connection at crucial moments making playing with other people frustrating. These games were followed by Generation 3 on the GameBoy Advance. These games added Pokémon Abilities as well as EV’s and IV’s helping to make each Pokémon feel individualistic and unique. It also had the Battle Frontier which had a wealth of challenges to attempt after completing the game. This game had far too much water however and the amount of time spent battling Tentacool whilst surfing was almost maddening.
The series resurfaced on the DS with Diamond and Pearl as I entered Sixth Form College and with a significant proportion of people still playing it. The art style had been improved on between generations but the game felt a little soulless, with a low number of new Pokémon and a return to the days of having nothing to do post-game. It did introduce some new evolutions to previous generations such as Magmortar, Rhyperior and Mamoswine (a personal favourite). The next games on the DS were Pokémon Black and White. These games restricted the player from accessing Pokémon from past generations until the game was completed; this helped give the latest generation of Pokémon characters similar to those in the original generation. Although these new Pokémon were memorable the games suffered from a lack of post game content (although the battle Subway was fun) as well as from the poor internet functionality of the DS with many features such as the C-Gear being unavailable if you couldn’t connect your DS to the router at home or find one of the rare places that the DS could connect to the internet.
Welcome to the Wonderful World of Pokémon
This brings us back to the present day. The Pokémon games have done well at keeping a loyal fan base as well as introducing the series to new fans with each generation. The combination of RPG elements with a range of unique Pokémon, based on anything from real life creatures, to myths and inanimate objects remains almost unique and so it was with growing excitement that I waited to play Pokémon X on the 3DS. I brought X primarily based on the legendary Pokémon Xerneas which looks suspiciously like the forest god from Princess Mononoke (which is without a doubt my favourite Studio Ghibli movie). The game started and the first aspect to impress me was how good the game looks- gone are the sprite of old, replaced with new 3D models. The 3D models help to make the Pokémon feel more realistic and weighty. The game starts as all Pokémon games do with a youth being sent on a adventure to become the champion whilst completing the Pokédex. As always you are given a choice of three starters. I went with Froakie, as he evolves into a ninja frog which uses its tongue as a scarf. Do I even need to describe how awesome that Pokémon is?
With Jiraiya, the Froakie, in tow I left to start my adventure. I wandered over to the nearest patch of tall grass and walked back and forth until a battle started. It is during the battles that the upgrade in graphics is greatest felt. The background is now fully animated and the new 3D Pokémon models are constantly active, performing animations reflective of the move that they are using. This upgrade makes the game feel more like the TV series, with Pokémon reacting to being hit; it is also feels similar to the Pokémon Coliseum games on the N64. With the battle over and Nightwing the Fletchling now a part of my team I continued onwards through the game. The story is similar to those of previous generations, and after defeating a gang of nefarious individuals and the 8 gym leaders I had a full team ready to face the Elite Four and the Champion. It consisted of Jiraiya, Nightwing, Amazon the Venasaur, Petite morte the Gengar, Blackeyes the Pangoro and Mandiblesaur the Tyrantrum. I find that naming your Pokémon is important when trying to make yours seem different to all the others available, it also allows you to make terrible puns, which is always good. Anyway as the new Champion of the Kalos region let me explain the new features available in this region and how useful they might be to someone else trying to become a Pokémon master.
… Your Game Series is evolving!?!
The first new mechanic to talk about is Pokémon Amie. This feature takes you to an alternate dimension of rainbows and bubbles where you’ll try to become friends with your Pokémon by playing with them, in a fashion similar to NIntendogs. You can also feed your Pokémon treats and compete in 3 different mini-games. A Pokémon that likes you will earn extra experience points in battle, be less susceptible to status effects and will have extra lines of dialogue appear during battle, similar to dialogue said by trainers in the anime. A slightly disturbing feature as it implies the only way to get Pokémon to love you is by cramming them full of sweets, exercising them to increase their hunger, only to cram them further with sweets.
Anyway, another new feature is the addition of Super Training. This allows you to see the EV’s (Effort Values) of your Pokémon and gives you a new way to train them, by shooting footballs at balloons shaped like Pokémon…. Whilst the mini-game is a little tiresome the addition of visible EV’s allows you to easily train your Pokémon so that they fight to the best of their ability. This mode also adds the ability to reset the EV’s of your Pokémon if you make a mistake with far greater ease than in previous games. The EXP share from previous games has also been changed with experience being given to all Pokémon in your team rather than just one, so make sure your Pokémon has the EV’s you want it to have before using this new feature to level it up quickly. These two features make it incredibly easy to make a strong team of Pokémon with relative speed.
The movement to 3DS has also improved the features that require an internet connection. When connected to the Player Search System you can see which of your friends is playing as well as other people from around the world. This feature allows you to start battles and trading sessions wherever you are in the game rather than having to backtrack to a Pokémon Center as was the case in past versions. The PSS is also used to Wonder-trade, another new feature. Wonder-trading involves giving one of your Pokémon to a randomly selected partner and usually results in being given your 666th Pidgey, but occasionally you will get something useful, so it is worth a try. Pokémon Amie, Super Training and the Player Search System are among the most obvious changes, but there are many more which I’ll touch on briefly.
The first small change is the introduction of character customisation; the player is allowed to change the cloths of their avatar which adds a nice personal touch which was much needed in the series. The next addition is roller-skates that are used when moving with the circle pad, these are faster than the running shoes of past generations and allow you to do back flips off ledges as well as other tricks. You are still given a Bike to ride in the story and will probably revert to using it, as the roller-skates can be a little difficult to control, and have the turning circle of a small barge. The other changes mainly affect the battles and they are the addition of the Fairy type and Mega-Evolutions.
The Fairy type is the first new type to be added since Gen 2 and turns the old balancing on its head. Yes, I have gazed into the jaws of the abyss and locked eyes with the pink fairies come to slay the monstrous dragons that haunted us in days gone by. The Fairy type is completely immune to the Dragon type and is super effective against it, they are however weak to poison and steel and not very effective against fire. Whilst on the surface the new Pokémon seem a little childish and girly I like to imagine this type as the evil faeries of myth, stealing babies by the light of the moon and with a childlike exterior that masks their natural aptitude for violence and spiteful trickery. The only thing that they fear is cold hard steel and the poisoning of the areas they live in.
Mega-evolutions allow the trainer to change the Poke-Ability and appearance of their Pokémon during battle, usually boosting its potential. For example, Venasaur changes from having the Overgrow Ability to the Thick Fat ability which nullifies two of its weaknesses and increases its use as a defensive tank. This change can only be used during battle and is only available if the Pokémon is holding an item, this helps balance the new feature as it restricts the use of items such as the Leftovers and berries. Most of these new evolutions look good at first glance however there are some which don’t and these may bug fans of the previous generations. The new changes are good and help inject new life into the series by helping to make what is at heart a very simple system, more complex and gives old fans something new to discover. It is by no means Pokémon nirvana however.
What isn’t very effective…
This generation has several major problems; the first is a lack of progression in story development. I feel it is time we moved beyond the ritual of sending the young on adventures and concentrated on the lives of other demographics in the Pokémon universe. The new evil group is also far worse than the one in Gen V, which started to touch on the ethical issues of Pokémon battles and to question the morality of trainers. The new cities are also quite small with little to do apart from Luminose city which is in fact a little too big and it is far too easy to get frustrated looking for that one cafe or building you need to enter to further the story. This city was also responsible for the corruption of save files, however this has since been fixed.
The next major problem is the how the new Pokémon have been introduced. Gen V only allowed you to use the latest Pokémon until you beat the plot meaning that you got to know the new Pokémon very quickly. In Gen VI the newer Pokémon are mixed with older generations making it difficult to recognize some of the newer Pokémon and leading to a situation where you may rely on previous generation Pokémon as you have no incentive to use the newer ones. This also adds frustration when you run into a Pokémon you have never seen before and have to make a guess at its type.
The final major problem and in my opinion the most damaging is the lack of post game content. The game only introduces one new city and a small selection of side quests after the champion is defeated. The new city contains the Battle Maison, which is similar to the Battle Tower/Subway from previous generations. It also contains the Friend Safari which is used to catch the Pokémon that are unavailable in this version. Apart from these two things there is little to do apart from train a team to fight online, which can get boring very quickly, with this in mind I have a few tips for what to do post-game and ensure you get the most out of Pokémon X and Y.
Helpful tips from the Masked Gentleman
#1: Take some time to EV a team and take them online.
#2: Use the Battle Chateau on Route 7 as often as possible, eventually gym leaders and the Elite 4 will make an appearance giving you a way to level up Pokemon quickly.
#3: Make your team more personalised by building around a theme, personally I am trying to build a team that consists of pokemon that are either wearing a mask or look gentlemanly (or ladylike)…. so far I’m up to Gardevoir and Aegislash, although I’m sure I will be adding more to the team in the near future.
#4: Similar to 3, Have fun, whether it be battling, or trying to fill up the Pokedex there are many different things to do and the game allows you to do what you find the most fun.
So there you have it Pokemon X and Y, a continuation of a much loved series that is inviting to both old and new players. Whilst having similar flaws to those seen in the previous games it has introduced some invigorating new mechanics that should help to keep you busy. The 3DS allows you to freely join with players around the world expanding the community from the playground conversations of old to something you can talk about globally. Join me, The Masked Gentleman, next time as I continue to get good use out of my 3DS and play something that I have been waiting for, for a very long time. A series that can be described in one simple elegant word, with three strong magnificent syllables…
All pictures used in this review do not belong to me, all rights belong to their respective owners.