Back in April I mentioned that I had picked up a Nintendo 3DS XL and a copy of Pokemon Y with some Amazon gift cards and credits I had.
I haven’t really said much about it for a few reasons. Mostly it my feeling that single player games don’t quite have the same “shared experience” potential as MMOs… and me being lazy. But, this blog being something of a gaming diary… as much as it is anything… I setup a placeholder post to write about Pokemon Y once I was done.
And I am done!
You can see the laziness factor, in that I finished up back at the start of the month. And, of course, “done” in a Pokemon game is open to interpretation. I completed the main story line, thwarted Team Flare, collected all of the gym badges by defeating each gym leader, and then went on the beat the elite four and Diantha, the regional champion.
That is, by about any measure, the minimum you need to do to say you “beat” or “completed” the game. I spent about 32 hours just doing that without getting into trying to complete the National Pokedex, explore every nook and cranny (there is always a lot of stuff hidden in the game), run through the battle mansion/tower/subway, pick up the Lumiose City side quests, get involved in battling against other players, or probably half a dozen other things I am forgetting.
Pokemon games are deep and getting deeper with every turn of the franchise.
If Nintendo did not see its mission in life as selling hardware, putting Pokemon on Windows as is… not even talking about making it an MMO… would kill. And the fact that Pokemon X and Y are 3D modeled, rather than being sprites as they have been in past generations, means that they could probably pull this off and end up with a game that looked pretty good on a big monitor.
But Nintendo sells hardware, something that is embedded in the culture of the company, and even disappointing Wii U sales won’t convince them to move off of the platforms they control ala Sega. Besides which, Pokemon is on the GameBoy side of the business, and the Nintendo 3DS hardware is selling well.
Anyway, that aside, I finished up the game, as defined above, and naturally have some comments to make.
Let me start with the good.
First, of course, is that it is a Pokemon game and delivers all you would expect from the series.
It also looks great. The update bringing Pokemon to a 3D rendering technology was a big move, but it paid off. It was completely natural, not a shocking change, because they got the “feel” of the graphics just right in my opinion. I had to go back and look at an older version of Pokemon to remind myself of the difference. (Comparisons with older version in a previous post.)
It let the game camera move, so that not every moment of game play was a top down view.
And, since the it rendered rather than being sprites, it scales up to the bigger screen on the 3DS XL hardware. This is a big deal for me. I am now at the age where I need reading glasses to decipher any small text, such as that on the screen of my faithful old DS Lite. But moving to the DSi XL meant I got bigger text, but the graphics just got blocky. But with Pokemon X and Y and the 3DS XL hardware, it scales up nicely and looks good.
I will say that the 3DS XL is a very nice piece of hardware and, in my opinion, well worth the price over the standard size 3DS. You get a bigger better screen and much better battery life, since they were able to fit a bigger battery in the unit.
But back to the game.
Connectivity to the internet seems to have been solved. Back with Pokemon Diamond and Pearl, it was something of a chore to get yourself hooked into the Nintendo WiFi network. That got better with Pokemon Black and White, but was still more complicated that it ought to have been. Now, with the 3DS hardware and Nintendo’s latest revision of its online presence, it is much easier to get online.
Being online is also a bigger part of the game. The 3DS hardware looks for other units in its area so you can see if somebody has their wifi on and is playing Pokemon in the vicinity. (I used this to catch my daughter playing Pokemon under the covers after lights out a few times!) One of the new features I like is the “Wonder Trade” option in which you just pick a Pokemon from your collection and offer it up for a random trade with somebody else in the world. I have gotten a few neat Pokemon that way and try to choose interesting ones to send out. This feature is on top of the global trade center, which is the Pokemon trading auction house serving the world.
The story is good. Team Flare and their leader are involved in a Bond villain conspiracy to protect the beauty of the world by destroying most of mankind.
The world looks great. The new region, Kalos, is based on France and includes a few cultural stereotypes. A new Pokemon that looks very much like a French poodle is conspicuous in the game, as is a high speed train that looks like the TGV and Lumiose City which is modeled on Paris.
The coveted experience share item, which was used to pass half of the experience gained by one Pokemon to another in your party, so you could boost up lower level Pokemon without having to go back to low level areas, now shares experience with your whole party. My daughter, rather than ending up with one high level Pokemon doing all the work and five more way below level Pokemon hoping that the big one would not faint and expose the rest of them to almost sure defeat, actually ended up with a pretty well balanced party. I know that it saved me from having to do a bunch of passing the item around to first level up one Pokemon and then another. In fact, I did very little grinding experience just for levels.
And then there is your avatar which you can now customize. There are clothes shops and items to pick up all over the game. When I look at the avatars in the Wonder Trade, they all look very different, not just a few variations on the same theme. It is actually quite impressive.
Finally, the game saves very quickly. Past versions of the game took a long time to save. But Pokemon X and Y save so quickly you might not notice it saved at all if you blink.
The Less Than Good
I don’t have anything hugely negative to say about the game, so don’t take these the wrong way. But they are part of the whole package.
The camera gets out of control at times. The thing with the 3D rendering and the camera being able to move can become a problem. There were a couple of times in Lumiose City, where I was trying to get to a specific location and the camera would just not point in the direction of the building I needed to see. To quote Yahtzee Croshaw, “The camera is like the working class: if you can’t control it, it will plot to destroy you.” I ended up having to go away and come back again at a different angle to see the right doorway. This feels like a rookie mistake, Pokemon never having been 3D before. I suspect it will be better in the next game.
I am still disappointed I cannot take screen shots whenever I darn well please in the game. Since the 3DS XL unit uses an SD card for memory, it seems like the hardware maker’s paranoia about memory usage ought to have dissipated. I can just get a bigger card… and the approved method for upgrading cards is literally “copy the files to your PC, then copy them to the bigger card”… if I run out of room. But having worked with the hardware team at various companies, I understand how deep seated that need to keep things in the smallest footprint possible is. But I was hopeful in that the game allowed you to take pictures at certain photo spots and save them off. Screen shots of a sort. And then I copied some of those photos off of the system and… they are tiny.
I expected a little more. And to take the pictures there is a whole convoluted camera interface where you have to focus and hold the 3DS just right and set the depth of field… all for a tiny screen shot. It isn’t like they couldn’t render the pictures bigger, they just didn’t want to. So 400×240 is all you get. Such is life. Better than nothing I suppose, but not close enough to my dreams.
Then there are 719 Pokemon. At some point more just is not better. But I do like the new ones with Pokemon X and Y better than some of the ones that game with Black and White. And if you play the “Name the Pokemon” category on QuizUp, you’ll find that the names mostly reflect what they look like. A friend who had never played Pokemon did surprisingly well just guessing.
The 3D effects work everywhere in the game, but you have to hold the 3DS unit just right for them to look good. I turned the 3D slider to “off” unless there was something I really wanted to see mostly because I got tired of holding the 3DS XL in exactly the right position. But the same goes for every other thing I have tried on the 3DS XL. Everything is good enough in 2D, except Netflix, which looks like hell on the small screen with lots of pixelation and artifacts. But that isn’t a 3D problem, that happens no matter where I have the slider. The hardware just isn’t up to decoding video.
But the biggest thing I can say against the game… which some will take as no insult at all… is that it is very much a Pokemon game and follows the set formula of all the games that went before it. Each game has some new bits and pieces… Pokemon X & Y have aerial battles and Pokemon you use as vehicles in a few special sections of the game… but the core structure remains the same. You are a young person in a land where everybody is obsessed about Pokemon. Your mother is surprisingly accepting of you traveling around the region at the behest of some professor of Pokemon studies in order to capture Pokemon, battle strangers, defeat the various gym leaders, and take down some criminal syndicate by defeating them in Pokemon battles. You then go on the challenge the elite four and the regional champion and enter into the hall of fame. There are caves, both rocky and made of ice, puzzles to solve, a bicycle to ride, a power outage to fix, random strangers to battle, and a legendary Pokemon to catch. Same as it ever was.
But that is not a necessarily a bad thing. A Pokemon game will never feel as fresh as after your first pass through, but the conventions are comforting in their way. You know, in a way, exactly what you are getting.
All in all, Pokemon X and Y reaffirmed my devotion to the series. I am looking forward to Pokemon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire coming out this fall. That will be just in time for my daughter and I to binge on over the break at Thanksgiving. I actually like the remakes quite a bit. Color me conservative. At least the remakes do not feel the need to include another 150 Pokemon.