Fresh Yet Familiar: The Pokemon X and Y Contradiction

Randolph Ramsay plays the first hour of the latest main game in the Pokemon series and is impressed by the visuals. But is there anything more underneath?

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It's amazing how exciting something familiar can become when seen from a different angle.

Pokemon X and Y is the latest in the long-running Pokemon franchise and is the first to land on the 3DS. In the last few months, Nintendo has unveiled a series of new features--such as mega evolutions, the Nintendogs-like Pokemon Amie feature, new battle types, greater customization, and more--but nothing that seemed like it would truly shake up the tried-and-tested Pokemon formula we've all seen and played before. Gotta catch 'em all. Again.

But Pokemon X and Y will also be the first time the main series has leapt into a full 3D world, which in and of itself is a major step forward for the franchise. And from the one-hour hands-on I had with the full game earlier this week, the visual upgrade alone was enough to put pause to my reservations that this would be just another typical Pokemon experience. It's the same old Pokemon all right, but it feels brand new.

That first hour of play consisted of the typical Pokemon starter experience. Waking up in your house, being summoned by a local professor, running into potential rivals, choosing from one of three starter Pokemon, and heading into some tall grass for your first few attempts at catching a wild creature. The actions were the same, but the new look made it feel more engaging.

From the very start, when the game's camera follows a flying fletchling through your house before landing in your character's bedroom, Pokemon X and Y makes a statement: this game has been built to take advantage of the better visuals the 3DS's technical capabilities allow. It's there in the battles, where fully 3D Pokemon models move and attack like they never have before. It's there when you move around Kalos (the region this game is set in), with the camera changing angles from high above to more cinematic views closer to your Pokemon trainer. It's there in the little details, such as the swaying of tall grass as you push your way through, to how your trainer hunches down when speaking to short non-player characters.

This fully 3D Pokemon experience makes the most routine actions seem exciting again. Consider the Pokeball. Catching a creature in a Pokeball is something anyone who has played a previous Pokemon game has performed hundreds of times. In Pokemon X and Y, the animation has been significantly improved--you now see your trainer throw the Pokeball at the weakened Pokemon, with the camera gradually zooming into the 3D Pokeball as it shudders and vibrates, struggling to keep your new ally trapped. It is, surprisingly, very tense.

When I ask if the updated visuals will be the key reason people will flock to Pokemon X and Y, game director Junicho Masuda demurs. It could be, he says, but there are also plenty of other things Nintendo and developer Game Freak are adding to the Pokemon experience with this latest game.

"Just like there's so many Pokemon, there are so many other elements to the game, so it’s hard to tell what each individual person will latch onto and get excited about. As long as there's something for people to get excited about, then I'm happy," Masuda said.

"In every facet of the game, but particularly with the camera angles, we worked to include what would make people the most excited, what would make them feel something here. With battles, up until now you've just been standing behind the Pokemon and seeing its back. But now the camera moves around a bit and you see the Pokemon from different angles. It's much more dynamic, and probably makes people feel a lot more excited about battles."

Updated visuals isn't the only thing the series' long-awaited move to the 3DS brings. Masuda says the 3DS's capabilities have allowed his team to introduce features that have previously been impossible to do.

"Obviously the 3D models was something we couldn’t do before. That allows for a variety of things, but one of the things it made possible was the new Pokemon Amie mode, which lets you reach out with your Pokemon and interact with them. I feel people probably always wanted to directly interact with their Pokemon, to reach out and pet them, so this is a feature I’ve wanted to do for quite some time," he said.

"Other than just trying to pet the Pokemon there are other interesting ways to interact with them. We use facial recognition tech--if you tilt your head one way they may try and copy that, or play little games where if you close your eyes they'll close their eyes too. When you deepen your relationship with Pokemon in this mode there are also several benefits in battle--they’ll dodge moves more often, or land more critical hits. Considering the vast number of Pokemon there are it was really difficult to make this mode work."

Pokemon Amie and the other new features being touted for Pokemon X and Y (such as mega-evolutions, sky and horde battles, customizable looks for trainers, and improved communication features) may seem like window dressing when you consider that the tried-and-true basics of Pokemon haven't changed since Pokemon Red/Blue. But for Masuda, it's these tried-and-true elements that define Pokemon--specifically, the mechanic of catching a Pokemon and the series' turn-based battles.

"It's a little like fishing, where you throw out your reel and have to battle with the fish before you catch it. So similarly, you have to lower the HP of the Pokemon and then you throw out the Pokeball to try and reel it in. That core gameplay is really something that's central to the Pokemon games," Masuda says.

"For the Pokemon games we always make sure they're less action focused. The gameplay is something where you can take your time, kind of like chess. That's why it's turn-based combat. But it also has quite a lot of depth there as well."

Would Masuda ever consider changing to real-time battles, similar to what PS3 title Ni No Kuni presented in its very Pokemon-like gameplay? Masuda, who has been with the Pokemon series since its inception and has worked in game design, music composition, script writing, and programming, has a simple response to this hypothetical.

"No," he says.

Near the end of my first hour with Pokemon X and Y, a Nintendo rep asked me if I had made it to the game's first gym battle. I was nowhere near, having spent the past hour simply exploring the world, impressed at how something so familiar could feel so fresh. I battled with every trainer I came across. I combed every patch of tall grass to find new creatures. I leveled up my Chespin to level 9. I even caught a Pikachu. With Pokemon X and Y, it looks like I will want to catch them all. Again.

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RandolphRam

Randolph Ramsay

Randolph is the managing editor of GameSpot, and needs more time to play games.
Pokemon X/Y

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160 comments
silvo16
silvo16

I dont know why Gamespot hates pokemon. Why they say, fresh yet familiar as if it is a bad thing. Every new installment of a franchise has to be familiar idiots. Every cod, gta game is familiar.

wizardboyus
wizardboyus

now if only the graphics didn't look like sega saturn...

mattie1984
mattie1984

Some of my thoughts;

In my opinion the battle system (when looking solely at that) is pretty crap and makes grinding tedious. But I do it for about 50 hours with every new Pokemon game and I'm still sooo addicted. :P It just love the games in whole. Since B/R/Y, there's simply so much to do in the world of Pokemon. For starters; you can pick a team from a about a couple ofhundred characters.. I never truly understood why I'm so addicted to these games.

I bougt a 3DS especailly for X/Y. The graphics are kindq crap, but I love having a second screen with touch. This adds alot for me in terms of player experience. All I really care about for this Pokemon gen are the 3D graphics (not the 3D the 3DS provides). This should make the gameplay feel fresh, especially for grinding. I always have the 3D on, but on minimum. That sh*t f*cks up my vision. But the minimal 3D setting does add for me as well.

Just 2 more weeks! *drewl*

mattie1984
mattie1984

I still don't quite understand how the distribution for the blazikenite will work. Can someone please explain this to me? Do you need a pre-order copy of the game for this? Can you download it manually? Will it be distributed randomly? Hope someone can clearify. Going for X btw. Te box looks more mellow. :P

Heroicline1988
Heroicline1988

Charmander is evolving too Greymon what. OOPS sorry forgot what game I was playing there for a second.

dbb00kw0rm
dbb00kw0rm

Is it bad that I'm more excited about character customization than anything else they've revealed so far?

ArcoJawa
ArcoJawa

A deer and an ugly Mewtwo....... good god...... nobody's gonna buy Pokemon X!

SadPSPAddict
SadPSPAddict

Never played Pokemon before until a couple of weeks back and am now playing through Soul Silver while my 13 year old (who equally hasn't played before) is playing Heart Gold. Loving it and am also going to play Black then get one of these (probably Y)

richa22
richa22

just went through all the games that are out for the 3ds. and decided i need to buy one on release day for this game aswell as like 5 other games....fml its gonna cost more then buying a console lol


Silverline62
Silverline62

And with this game the coffin is nailed. R.I.P PS Vita.

BLaverock
BLaverock

I love pokemon... I wish it was real :p

Daian
Daian

If only 3DS games came out on the Vita (or the 3DS had Vita quality hardware), they could push the game that much further and also make it look gorgeous (that OLED screen is incredible compared to the cheap, pixelated 3DS).

Voredor
Voredor

"if you close your eyes they'll close their eyes too" how would i know?

Shanks_D_Chop
Shanks_D_Chop

Great that the author was able to quickly get over the graphics so that they were able to focus on the actual gameplay mechanics and deliver to us a really informative article about the new features of these games...

komuchen
komuchen

So where is contradiction?

Pifaner
Pifaner

Gotta get this game.Have been playing pokemon games since i was 7.

Tixylixx
Tixylixx

Is there a 3DS emulator yet? I would like the 3DS but Nintendo's hardware is so cheap and poorly built. I just wish we had the PSVita hardware with the 3DS games...

starduke
starduke

Definitely need a 3DS XL for this.

HonorOfGod
HonorOfGod

ahh this is amazing its going to be so much fun.


toshineon
toshineon

I'm glad that they won't change the battle system. Pokémon is probably the only series to keep the battle system the same since the start, and I like it. I like the turn-based RPG style battles, it reminds me of old Final Fantasy titles.

johnners2981
johnners2981

This looks like it'll be disappointing for me, the changes seem to be only visual and some gimmicks. The combat has got stale and very repetitive so I was hoping it'd change to be more action orientated.

wizardboyus
wizardboyus

meh i may being a bit harsh, perhaps n64 level

itachi13080
itachi13080

@mattie1984 The Blazikenite distribution will be though Wi-Fi. So all you need for it is to have a Wi-Fi connection. You don't need to pre-order the games or anything. The Blazikenite distribution is going to be from the Pokemon X & Y launch day to January.

wizardboyus
wizardboyus

@Silverline62 how could the 3ds even compare to the vita? they are on completely different levels technically and mechanically...

Silverline62
Silverline62

@Daian Not really, in terms of size Pokemon X and Y is around 4 GB, just as big as any vita game. Meaning that they would have to downgrade the visuals in order to fit in the limited game card size of teh vita.

Skyt_Aura
Skyt_Aura

@Voredor Close your eyes, then wait 5 seconds. Take out the game card and the screen should freeze. Open your eyes to see if your pokemon's eyes are close.

Problem solved.

WolfGrey
WolfGrey

@Pifaner  

Haha i remember my giant brick of a gameboy. Got my green brick when pokemon came out. Was so addicted.

Anyone here remember trying to find pikachu in viridian  forest for hours thanks to the show at the time when it first aired?

Silverline62
Silverline62

@Tixylixx It won't have one for a long time but then again I would rather have a ''cheap'' and ''poorly built'' hardware that has games than some glorified piece of trash like the vita that has no games. I feel sorry for the idiots that wasted money on a vita, sony doesn't give a f*** about that system anymore, it's a failure.

WolfGrey
WolfGrey

@Tixylixx  

Not yet, well not a fully working one anyway. I am sure it won't be long though.

Tylendal
Tylendal

@johnners2981 Translation:  "I was hoping they'd make it not Pokemon."  At it's core, Pokemon is a battle system, it's what makes the game great.  The rest is nothing but window-dressing.  Heck.  Websites like Netbattle prove that many people think the battle mechanics are the only part of the game worth playing.

JOTLD
JOTLD

@johnners2981 *shrug* It's my opinion that all pokemon ever needs is a graphics upgrade and new functions, the combat is perfect, and I hope that they never abandon it

Master_Vexov
Master_Vexov

@wizardboyus They won't release it on a real system because what would help sell their handheld.
+ that would be Nintendo's life saver; to release a real pokemon game(not just some battle system) on a console.

Master_Vexov
Master_Vexov

@wizardboyus @Silverline62 Silver was talking about how Pokemon will sink the PS Vita, which will require a 3DS and thus diminish Vita's sales during this time and likely in the future(like xmas sales).

michyeosseo
michyeosseo

@WolfGrey Great memories!!! I played Pokemon Blue into oblivIion. I suddenly remember the original Legendary pokemon (Articuno, Zapdos, Moltres), the Team Rocket building with the arrows on the floors and the Missingno trick.

Coco_pierrot
Coco_pierrot

@Silverline62 I'm one of those "idiots" like you said and strangey I really do like my Vita, right now I have more games than time to play them and they made quality stuff. Soul Sacrifice, Persona4, Gravity Rush, Dragon's Crown, Killzone and Tearaway is coming somewhere in november. The system is alive and the games are fun. Sony is also releasing a new version of the Vita ... they also want to make every PS4 games linked to the Vita so yeah, not dead yet.

JOTLD
JOTLD

@Tylendal @johnners2981 You know it's funny, I never hear people calling character customization "window-dressing" or the all popular "gimmick"  in a MMORPG, which pokemon is slowing coming to be it seems (which would be awesome if they do so), point is, people need to stop labeling everything as "gimmicks" just because it comes from a long standing game, that they would like to see go away rather then improve

mariomaster16
mariomaster16

@mattie1984 There will probably be instructions in game on how to connect to the Nintendo servers like there was in B/W. 

richa22
richa22

@michyeosseo @WolfGrey pokemon was my childhood lmao i remember being 9 years old going to see the movie in theaters with my gameboy... my parent had a blast too.... hahaha not

wizardboyus
wizardboyus

@Skyt_Aura @Coco_pierrot @Silverline62 it took a long time for the 3ds to come out with decent games too, and correct me if i'm wrong but the vita came out later. all the games stated by coco are amazing games btw, and that's not even including the games that are gonna come out that were announced at e3/tgs. 3ds started out slow, and so did the vita, but they'll both be running in the end. looks to me like 3ds is for kids and vita is for older audiences

Skyt_Aura
Skyt_Aura

@Coco_pierrot @Silverline62 I've played and already beaten Soul Sacrifice, Persona 4 Golden (beat it 10 times), and Gravity Rush (Not much replay value).

I played Dragon's Crown and Killzone. They're good games, but not enough to convince me to keep my Vita. PS Vita just takes too long to come out with more good games. Selling it for my 3DS XL was the right move for me.

linkster362
linkster362

@Tylendal my only real complaint with the pokemon games is that I wish that the main story gets a bit more indepth someday, or there were some small side stories to help change the pace a little, from the basic grind phaze  each time you reach a new gym, like needing to stop pokemon poachers or having to save the safari zone.

you know the little things that have helped various areas standout thoughout the series i remember having to go through the safari zone in red/blue to find the warden's teeth or the bug catching contest in gold/silver

JOTLD
JOTLD

@Tylendal @JOTLD I'm sure it'll have a mouth...........somewhere, where that somewhere is, no one knows....yet lol

Tylendal
Tylendal

@JOTLD @Tylendal Okay.  It's the internet, so I just assume everything I see is a personal attack.  :p  Personally, I'm more hyped for Pokemon-amie more than anything else, finally being able to interact with all my favourite pokemon.  That being said, I have no clue how I'm supposed to interact with a Starmie...


JOTLD
JOTLD

@Tylendal @JOTLD I know, I was just saying so all the babies I mean *cough* people who would rather see it die then improve, or those who bash it every chance they get could see some truth, lol. And I agree, I play it for the battle mechanics, the other stuff is frosting on top of the cake (love the idea of character customization)

Tylendal
Tylendal

@JOTLD I was simply addressing the ludicrousness of people claiming that they need to "change the gameplay" or "bring in new combat."  They're failing to understand the true appeal of the Pokemon games.  And the collecting I guess... but the battle mechanics are definitely a HUGE part of the appeal.