Saturday, October 19, 2013

Pokemon X/Y is/are candidates for Game of the Year

Since the middle of the 1990's, Game Freak and Nintendo have been bringing the Pokemon franchise to adventurous gamers around the world. While their work has extended into things such as Pokemon Snap, Pokemon Coliseum and even hit movies, the core of the franchise has been their line of handheld games. In the beginning--and I'm sure we all remember--you roam the Kanto region with your trusty Bulbasaur/Charmander/Squirtle/Pikachu as you level up Pokemon, defeat Team Rocket, and collect the region's eight gym badges as you pursue victory over the Elite Four and the region's Champion.

A lot has changed since that original version--including the games evolving into an international competition that requires heavy investment and strategy beyond the main story line. While many positive--and admittedly negative--aspects have been added to the franchise in what is now nearly two decades, the games between the first and fifth generations remained unchanged enough to have the same general feel. They feature poor graphics, two-dimensional movement, and images of Pokemon that would produce lazily-developed attacks.

With the sixth generation, the franchise all but hit the reset button as it undertook its own evolution.

Introducing Pokemon X/Y

The first and most obvious change here is the change in the way the games are titled. For the first time since the original Red and Green were released in Japan, the franchise abandoned colors to use for names--and yes Pearl, Diamond, and Platinum are colors. As insignificant as this may seem, the change in title scheme matches how drastically the games have changed.


Welcome to the third dimension, Pokemon. Since the games are on the Nintendo 3DS--an investment I suggest if you are a big fan of gaming--the franchise made the obvious move to introduce a third dimension to all aspects of the game. Buildings and landscape have been in 3D--thanks to shadowing--for a while, but now they have more depth, and you can physically see the back sides of some buildings. More importantly the game has added another dimension to movement--so no more strict x/y coordinate movement--and a third dimension was added to Pokemon battles and moves as seen in the video below:

The Three Starters

Outside of the Legendary Pokemon, each generation is most easily defined by its starters--like Cyndaquil, Chikorita, and Totodile from the 2nd generation.

The starters--listed from left right--are Chespin, Fennekin, and Froakie. If you're new to the series and reading this out of interest, the types are grass, fire, and water--obvious to anyone who has played the series before. In their most basic forms, these are somewhat creative--especially Chespin as it is the first non-reptilian/alien grass starter. While a fire fox (Vulpix) has been done before, Fennekin brings a refreshing look to fire types--which have been getting increasingly negative reviews since the days of Torchic in the 3rd generation. Froakie comes across as perhaps the most intriguing option--especially since a frog waited behind a turtle, alligator, swamp alien, penguin, and otter to be the base for a water starter. At first glance, these starters are great.


Where this group of starters is made/broken is in their latter stages of evolution. I'll start with the one I first chose: Froakie.

Froakie's Evolutionary Path

The first two stages of Froakie's evolutionary path are fairly simple: a water frog that goes from small to slightly bigger and more menacing. The type doesn't change from first to second stage, and the moves are pretty typical--basic offensive water moves paired in with random stat boosters/diminishers. Where Froakie's evolutionary path becomes frustratingly annoying is in the last stage: Greninja. As a concept, Greninja is fascinating--a ninja frog sounds like a great concept for Pokemon--especially on the basis of moves unique to the Pokemon. Outside of a rapid, multi-hit move known as Water Shuriken Greninja's base of moves is very lackluster. Frogardier--the second stage--gains the dark type when it evolves into Greninja and gains very little from it. Greninja learns moves you might expect from a ninja-based Pokemon: substitute, double-team, haze, etc. While these moves are interesting and useful in strategy, none of them are powerful enough outside of the standard Hydro Pump--and maybe night slash which it doesn't learn until level 70.

Fennekin's Evolutionary Path

If you think Fennekin will follow the same kind of standard path that Vulpix followed in the first generation, you are dead wrong. The creators were more creative when they had Fennekin's second stage--Braixen--evolve into a Fire/Psychic type--Delphox. With the introduction of a wand in the second stage, this evolutionary chain is fun to use in combat. Better yet, Fire/Psychic is a very unique paring in the realm of Pokemon. With moves like Psychic, Flamethrower, Fire Blast, and Sunny Day Delphox is a powerhouse when it comes to special attacks. The only problem with Fennekin is that fire types are not uncommon in this generation--in fact they are frequent early on. Picking Fennekin as a starter makes building a more well-balanced party more difficult.

Chespin's Evolutionary Path

Chespin is the best starter to start out with and here's why: grass types are few and far between in this generation--at least in terms of new Pokemon added in the sixth generation. However, that's not just what makes Chespin great. Chespin's third evolutionary stage--Chesnaught--learns some of the strongest moves in the game: Body Slam, Woodhammer, Hammer Arm, and Giga Impact. It also learns strategy-based moves such as Pain Split and Spiky Shield that make it a terror to deal with in battle. Chesnaught's only problem is that Hammer Arm is the only fighting move it learns--which comes with the downside of lowering the user's speed. As a result, the type addition to Chesnaught becomes nothing but a negative until level 60.

A splendid surprise


One of the best aspects of Pokemon X/Y is that the game turns back to its original roots in that it is littered with throwbacks to the first generation of the game. The first of which comes just about an hour into the game when you fight the Pokemon Professor. His party includes a Bulbasaur, a Charmander, and a Squirtle. After you win the battle--which you might not if you haven't done a good job of adding Pokemon--you get to choose to take one of the three along with you! This basically makes it so you have two starters: one from the sixth generation and one from the first generation. The game also has many more throwbacks--a Snorlax blocking a route, the ability to extract an Aerodactyl from an Old Amber, etc--and these keep things increasingly interesting and fresh.


Party Selection

Another A+ move from the creators of this game is that the Pokedex is far more expansive than it has been in other games. There are Pokemon from all six generations present, and it's really easy to assemble a party that is exceptional for use. While there are many different combinations, I'll introduce you to the combination that I found to be best for use on my second play through.

X/Y Gen Starter: Chespin
1st Gen Starter: Squirtle

I mentioned before that grass types are rare, but good water types aren't exactly common, either. To me that makes the decision to pick these two really easy, but I digress. Since you already know these two, here's the rest of the party I developed:


Meet Fletchinder, the Kalos region's most common bird Pokemon--other than Pidgey, of course. Fletchinder is a great addition to a party because it evolves into a Flying/Fire combination of destruction and death. Fletchinder's third evolutionary stage is Talonflame, a Pokemon based in speed and attack that learns moves such as Steel Wing, Flame Charge, and Brave Bird.


I linked to the third evolutionary stage because--like with most bug Pokemon--evolution occurs at early stages and a huge portion of the Pokemon's levels happen when it is Vivillon. Usually I stay away from bug Pokemon, but I figured I'd give Scatterbug a shot. I was glad I did, and you probably will be, too. Armed with Bug Buzz and Hurricane in its later stages, it is a powerful and unexpected addition--after all, the game still isn't good at preparing for the user to use bug Pokemon.


After waiting years, we finally get a Pokemon based on the dinosaur many of us associate with...well....dinosaurs! Tyrunt and its later evolution Tyrantrum are based on Tyrannosaurus Rex--the dino that has been most prevalent in Western society's cinema. As a Rock/Dragon type, Tyrantrum poses a big problem, especially when it learns Head Smash, Rock Slide, and Giga Impact at later levels.

And for now I'll break, as the last Pokemon in my ideal party will be discussed later. For now, let's get back to some of the new traits in the game.

Mega Evolution

At long last, a fourth evolutionary stage has been brought to the Pokemon franchise. Actually--if I'm brutally honest--it isn't really another evolutionary stage. First off, you have to have a special ring and stone to make a particular Pokemon Mega Evolve. Second, the evolution only happens in battles and is more like a power up. Essentially, Pokemon can now go "beast mode" for a short time in battle--which serves as an easy way to zip through tough battles later in the game. If you wish, you can look up some of the Mega Evolutions online--and as a reference, all three first-generation starters can mega evolve in their last stages of evolution.

Fairy Types

Introducing the Pokemon type that has officially turned the game on its own head. Like chess, the types--pieces--have been established in Pokemon for a while. After dark and steel were introduced in the second generation, the only major change in battle strategy was interesting combinations--like Spiritomb, a dark/ghost combo that has no weaknesses. As a result, Dragon types reigned supreme as their only weaknesses--ice and other dragons--were extremely uncommon. Fairy types--quite frankly--don't give a shit about Dragon types and have changed battles forever. Imagine this:

Meet Flabebe--an accent on each "e"--the first Fairy type you meet. This Pokemon has a few unique traits when it comes to battle. Most noticeably, it has only two weaknesses--Poison and Steel--both rare. More significantly, Dragon types are WORTHLESS against Flabebe as Dragon moves have to effect on Fairy types. In the meantime, Flabebe is also resistant to Bug, Fighting, and Dark types. When a Fairy move is used, it is super effective against Fighting, Dragon, and Dark types--though it is weak against Fire, Poison, and Steel. So there you go--Fairy types have dynamically changed the game.

*Note: as a result, Poison types are that much better and Dragon types are not as rare or powerful.

Legendary Pokemon

Xerneaus and Yveltal are the two legendary Pokemon from this generation. The former is a Fairy type and the latter is Dark/Flying. Both are powerful, but only one actually impacted how I chose/played the games. I chose Pokemon X because Xerneaus is a beast and is a Fairy type. Its weaknesses are rare, it learns a vast array of attacks, and it looks really cool--if you ask me. Quite honestly, Yvetlal is a very disappointing legendary Pokemon, but Xerneaus makes up for it by being in line with the originals.

Speaking of which, Mewtwo is back and can Mega Evolve into different forms based on the version of the game you pick. The only other legendary--other than the traveling Legendary birds from the first generation--is Zygarde, which is a hopelessly ugly Pokemon with no real appeal to me personally.


No spoilers here, because I don't want to get too in depth with the story as I think everyone should experience it on their own. All I'll say is that it's the deepest story any Pokemon game has seen, and it actually adds juuuuuuust enough to the experience to make it matter--something not necessarily true with other games. The ending feels a lot like the third generation--which is a good thing.


I really am not kidding when I say that these games are GOTY candidates. This generation has evolved an old franchise so much that it's almost like the franchise is starting over. Most of the Pokemon through history are present, things like Exp. Share make the beginning of the game go much faster--which means more time spent with cool moves at higher levels--and the addition of Fairy types makes combat much more complex. Add in the third dimension to game play and picking up one of these games is a real no-brainer. Whether you haven't played since the first generation or just finished White 2 and Black 2, this is something worth picking up.

Now hopefully they do the right thing and use this model to remake the 3rd Generation.

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