The Best & Worst of Pokémon: Generation VI

Games
Pokémon X
Pokémon Y

Platform
3DS

Region
Kalos

New Pokemon
72
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+7. Sweet divergence

The mantra of the development team behind Pokémon X and Y was simple: Bring back lapsed Pokémon players from different generations by capitalising on the headline that the Gen VI pair would be the first Pokémon games to be rendered in full polygonal 3D. To maximise this, an intimidating number of new Pokémon was not necessary – instead the developers decided to give special attention to older generation Pokémon wherever possible, while introducing fresh ‘mons at a nice steady rate. And they started to put this design decision into action very early on in the story. On the first long grass route in the game, you can catch an astonishing six different Pokémon, both old and new, and by the time you hit the first Gym, that number has almost tripled. While this may seem unremarkable to some, it means that Gen VI achieves the exact opposite of the problematic situation I outlined in my Gen IV post – odds are your team will be different from those of your friends in the early game. Ergo, early multiplayer encounters are exciting. And that is a titanic plus in my book.

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+6. Customise!

A feature that had existed within the wider Pokémon universe for a while, most notably in Pokémon Battle Revolution for the Wii, visual trainer customisation finally hit the flagship main series in Gen VI. And it hit hard, adding richness to the traditional Pokémon experience in a whole heap of ways. Suddenly Poke-dollars meant more than they ever had before, because they could do more. Each town you discovered on your journey held more promise, because you were no longer just monitoring better Poke Mart inventories, talking to new people, scouting for gym badges and fishing for story beats – now you also had boutique catalogues to browse! Pokémon trainer models became more like personalised avatars than ever, and showing them off to passers-by and friends was a handy bonus. But more on that shortly.
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+5. A new lease on life

Despite all the massive, noticeable changes and advances brought on by Pokémon’s sixth generation, I found tremendous excitement in one of the under-the-radar ones. In an unprecedented move, a smattering of Pokémon from Gens I-V actually had their base stats increased, which was a bit of a big deal considering Game Freak’s previous M.O. for improving older Pokémon almost always involved giving them new abilities and/or moves. This made Beedrill surprisingly usable, at least in-game, and gave formerly overshadowed Pokémon like Pidgeot, Seismitoad and Unfezant a new window into competitive consideration. That wasn’t the only way older Pokémon were improved in Gen VI, of course. The advent of Mega Evolutions – uniquely restrictive mechanics and all – turned Pokémon like Kangaskhan, Pinsir and Mawile from curiosities into top-tier behemoths. And then, of course, there was the fairy type, which may not have had a particularly strong showing in terms of representation among new Pokémon, but certainly added viability to a handful of veteran monsters, most notably Azumarill, Clefable, Whimsicott and Gardevoir. Then grass types were given a huge boost in the form of immunity to “spore”-related moves, electric types could no longer be paralyzed, the list goes on…
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+4. Musical magic

The 3DS’ sound chip allowed Game Freak’s composers and sound designers access to much richer, orchestral-quality music for the first time in the main series’ long history. Nintendo’s track record would indicate that orchestral music doesn’t automatically mean more memorable music – just ask The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword – yet in my esteem, Gen VI’s soundtrack is bested only by that of Gens I and III. Not only do series staples like the evolution music, the “hurry along” tune and the Poke Mart jingle sound amazing with their fuller X and Y interpretations, but the new music continues to deliver in ways that complement the visuals of the games immensely. The wild Pokémon and trainer battle themes are on point, the drastically different approach to gym leader music works surprisingly well, the recurring “friends’ theme” is used and re-used effectively and the connecting house music, of all things, is jammin’. Nearly every town and city has an atmospheric, wonderfully appropriate backing track, from the echoing guitar and piano of Geosenge and the half playful, half creepy strings of Laverre, to the eastern vibes of Shalour, the Persona-esque technological stylings of the Kalos Power Plant and the majesty of Anistar. It’s all good, people. It’s all good.
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+3. Yes, Pokémon is competitive

For the longest time, it seemed like Game Freak treated the competitive battling segment of its audience like an afterthought, a group to be tolerated and appeased rather than openly embraced. But all that changed in Gen VI. Pokémon X and Y were the first Pokémon games to make EVs (“Effort Values”, or previously hidden, trainer-directed points that directly influence a Pokémon’s stat growth) visible, even offering an EV training minigame accessible at any time right there on the 3DS’ bottom screen. It also cut down on breeding tedium significantly by simplifying and streamlining the process by which Pokémon passed on strong IVs (“Individual Values”, or mostly non-controllable stat influencers) to their offspring, allowing for the much easier creation of competition-ready Pokémon. This pulling back of the curtain coincided with the worldwide expansion of The Pokémon Company’s competitive tournaments, tearing down several of the barriers that had formerly stood between casual Pokémon players and one of the deepest, most rewarding multiplayer experiences in gaming.
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+2. A world to savour

Kalos really is a spectacular region to traverse. Sure, it may have the benefit of releasing on the most powerful piece of hardware yet to house a Pokémon game, but it really makes the most of the 3DS’ comparative heft. Loosely inspired by real-world France and other parts of Europe, Kalos repeatedly serves up slices of aesthetic variety awash with deep colours and bold, eye-catching lines. Early on the game plays with the series’ visual traditions, presenting towns and cities that barely look like locations in a Pokémon game (in the best way possible) while the ridiculously gigantic Lumiose City is a real treat for fans of exploration. Then there are pretty waterfalls, lush plains, vibrant beaches, breathtaking gem-rich caves, misty forests and moonlit ocean auras. Even the games’ version of a marshland area is draped in atmosphere, and unlike in Gen V, the varied camera movements and perspective changes don’t look hacked together by a poor editor. At least while the story lasts, Kalos delivers consistently as a region.
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+1. People-powered

Without question, Pokémon X and Y are the most social main series Pokémon games ever to have existed. Since social interaction is the number one reason I play – and love – Pokémon games, this is a huge, huge plus for me. While prior generations had some very cool ideas for player-to-player contact, they were often unwieldy, hidden or unnecessarily gated. In Pokémon X and Y, all the best ideas are almost always with you, a tap or two away from access. Thanks to a bafflingly simple three-tiered friend system and an always-online-if-you-want-it-to-be infrastructure, your friends always seem to be within reach. From the simplistic, endlessly exciting mystery of Wonder Trades, to the interlinked, all-around benefits of O-Powers, to the shockingly brilliant conceit of the Friend Safari system, Game Freak got it oh-so-right on the social side with Pokémon X and Pokémon Y. What other 3DS game can you think of that actually got you and your friends to exchange friend codes?
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-3. Pacing? What pacing?

Pokémon X and Y certainly delivered some amazing locations and visually striking moments throughout the length of their story, but my oh my, were there problems with the way some of them were strung together. At times throughout the games it really does feel like the individual developers in charge of different corners of Kalos missed one or two get-togethers. The most glaring example of this problem has to be the comically long marathon between the first and second gym badges, which took up just over six hours of game time for me personally. Yes, it’s unique among the Pokémon games, but it negatively affects momentum when you are forced to go so long without an obvious touchstone of your progress. It doesn’t help that the game’s villainous team, Team Flare, goes even longer stretches without showing up, at times even making you forget they exist. There’s no build-up to their final confrontation, no foreshadowing to speak of. Then there’s the very strange visual inconsistencies littered throughout the game when it comes to use of stereoscopic 3D, which seems to follow a set pattern only to abandon that pattern, then pick it up again. If there is indeed a “Pokémon Z” or something equivalent, in the works, this is the first thing I’d like to see done better.
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-2. Postgame? What postgame?

For many Pokémon players, the 2013 version of myself included, the term “postgame” pretty much just means “The story is over, now its time to start the breeding/training/team-building/battling”. However, I’d wager that isn’t quite true for the majority of Pokémon players. In a post-Pokémon Gold/Silver world, there is a certain level of expectation that people are going to get at least a few more hours of objective-driven gameplay after the Elite Four have been taken down. The Gen VI games seemed to disagree with this expectation, offering up very little in this area. There is just one postgame city that unlocks after the credits have rolled, and though that city is the home of some cool pastimes, at the time of release this relative puddle of content did not sit well with a lot of folks. Even though it didn’t affect me all that much when I first played Pokémon X, it’s hard to deny that the deficiency was a pretty big minus against the game’s name.
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-1. Story? What story?

This one is especially disappointing, considering it came so soon after the storytelling advances made by the Gen V games. Very much tied up with the games’ pacing problems, the story of Pokémon X and Y leaves much to be desired. There are kernels of very interesting stuff buried within the Gen VI games, especially wherever the ancient Pokémon War veteran character AZ appears (one very brief part even made me tear up). But these are by no means plentiful. While the decision to use several multi-disciplined “friends” in the place of one or two traditional rivals is good in theory, it falls flat in practice due to a lack of equal attention to each. Then there’s Team Flare, who are just kind of lame even without bringing in the poor way they are handled pacing-wise. And, yes, the aforementioned sparse postgame content robs X and Y of a chance to redeem themselves in this area. The next major Pokémon games need to look at Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire for narrative inspiration more than X and Y, methinks.

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