Pokémon X & Y – Afterthoughts

This time last week, we talked all about Pokémon Diamond, Pearl, and Platinum — my favorite Pokémon games! It’s only fitting, then, that today’s post discusses my second favorite entries: X and Y! I’m aware that this might be an unpopular opinion, but I’ve got … decent reasons.

On that note, it’s hard to tell where exactly the Pokémon community stands regarding and Y. Near the time of its release, fans were enamored with its new features and changes… but it didn’t take long for that hype to fizzle out. At the time of writing, it seems they’re held in poor regard. The games definitely have weak points, as we’ll soon discuss, but it’s no secret that they’re kind of polarizing. Nowhere near as polarizing as Sword and Shield, though.

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Introduction

X and Y were firsts for the Pokémon series in many ways. First – and most obviously – its presentation evolved from 2D sprites to 3D graphics across the board. The overworld, battles, and even parts of the menus are now rendered with full three-dimensional models, which helps to create a stronger sense of immersion while playing. It introduced series staples, too: Mega Evolution, the Fairy type, changes to breeding mechanics, quality-of-life adjustments for competitive battling… it’s tough to deny that X and Y brought a lot to the table.

That being said, though, there’s one major problem that I have with X and Y. They were a slippery slope for the Pokémon series. Let’s take a look at the state of Pokémon games right now for a moment. Fans have many complaints with Sword and Shield, and many of those complaints started here. Kanto pandering, soulless animations, lack of difficulty, and little to no postgame, to name a few. Of course, these issues weren’t as pronounced in X and Y, but they did – for the most part – find their origin here.

This might have something to do with how much Pokémon Black and White did differently. Its regional Pokédex was comprised solely of newly-introduced Unova Pokémon. Long-time Pokémon fans may have found it jarring. Where were Charizard, Pikachu, and Eevee? In some ways, X and Y felt like the exact opposite of Black and White: sticking with what works instead of branching out and finding something new. That doesn’t mean X and Y didn’t bring anything new to the metaphorical table. Let’s talk about the “newest” thing it ever introduced: the Kalos region.

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Region Design

I’m going to come out swinging here and say that Kalos may be my favorite region from an objective standpoint. I like Sinnoh, too, but some of that might have to do with my irremovable nostalgia goggles. Kalos is extremely varied in its design. It’s got a desert, a power plant, snowy fields, mountains, forests, and much more. As we discussed in the last post, Sinnoh included both a volcano and icy mountains. There’s no way that part of the region can be super hot while another is ice-cold. Kalos is varied, but not unrealistically varied, which is something I very much appreciated.

Lumiose City, in particular, is one of my favorite areas in the greater Pokémon series. It has everything. You’ve got a Pokémon Center and Poké Mart, sure, but Lumiose City offers so much more. Cafés and restaurants that let you level up your Pokémon, the Pokémon Lab, the PR Video Studio, a hair salon, a boutique, hotels, herb shomps, evolution stone shops… there’s so much here, in fact, that there are taxis positioned around the cities that will transport the player to a specified location within the city. All in all, Lumiose City is clearly the heart of Kalos, and it truly lives up to its name.

The rest of the region is rather well-designed, too. Some areas that stick out to me are Geosenge Town, Dendemille Town, and Laverre City, among others. The Kalos region has a problem, though: there’s a huge gap between the first and second gyms. The first Gym Leader is located in Santalune City, which is accessible very soon after starting the game. The second Gym Leader is stationed all the way in Cyllage City – at the very left edge of the map – which is really far away. To get to Cyllage City from Santalune City, you have to pass through a town, several routes, and the aforementioned Lumiose City. It’s really a shame, because this large gap makes you think the game’s going to be long… and then the gap between gyms becomes much smaller.

I’d also like to bring up the Kalos Power Plant again. One of its sections was inaccessible, which implied there might be some kind of event or update that would allow the player to enter. This never happened, though, and it would’ve been cool to see the developers use this as an opportunity to catch the Mythical Pokémon Volcanion. Volcanion was simply gifted to players, which was a definite disappointment.

Overall, though, I liked the Kalos region. It was a bit linear at some points, but I appreciated its varied areas. If you’ve played X and Y, you might not remember much of Kalos, and I do think some places are just a bit forgettable. That’s nothing compared to Alola, though — we’ll get there soon.

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Presentation

Alright, time to start tearing this game apart. X and Y introduced full 3D sprites of all 721 Pokémon (at the time). They’re very hit or miss. Some hit their mark – the new Pokémon certainly look to be “in their element” – but others completely drop the ball. I’ve attached a few examples in the image below.

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Don’t get me wrong here: I applaud X and Y’s developers. Making just one render isn’t easy, let alone over seven hundred of them. But I feel that many of them, compared to their sprites, lack the personality and “soul” of that Pokémon. Look at Empoleon, for example. It looks washed out, for lack of a better description. Its royal blue wings are no longer colorful, and its collar is much shorter. Now Empoleon just looks like a lazy penguin instead of the intimidating one it used to be.

Have a look at Xatu, too. Many flying Pokémon just glide… even though they aren’t moving. Pokémon like Xatu, Tropius, and Swellow are rarely (if ever) seen flapping their wings. I think the problem with these models are mostly their animations, and this issue – which began in X and Y – would later become a subject of criticism in Sword and Shield.

I’d also like to add that Pokémon hasn’t really had an art style of any kind since X and Y. The same models are being reused over and over, which makes sense, but again, they lack the soul of the games’ two-dimensional presentations. This extends to the overworld, too, as characters’ models are rather generic and often use the same two or three animations (most of them consisting of waving their hands) in cutscenes.

I’ve heard varying opinions of X and Y’s soundtrack, but overall, I like it. Personally, I believe they have some of the best battle tracks in the series. The wild Pokémon, trainer battle, and Elite Four themes are just a few of many standouts. Many overworld themes – Lumiose City, the Friend Safari, the Power Plant, and some of the routes – were ones I found memorable as well.

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Pokémon Design

Pokémon Black and White introduced over one hundred new Pokémon to the franchise. X and Y added about seventy, a noticeable amount less. Black and White featured many hit-or-miss designs. Garbodor, Vanilluxe, Seismitoad… people tend to either love or hate them. X and Y’s designs are a bit less polarizing. Let’s begin with the starters, which… I’m honestly not the biggest fan of!

You’ve got Chespin, a small Grass-type chipmunk. That’s fine. Then it evolves into Quilladin and becomes circle-shaped… a bit odd, but still okay. Then it becomes Chesnaught. Terrible. Chesnaught is one of my least favorite designs in X and Y. Its colors – green, yellow-white, brown, and red – do not go together, in my opinion, and its body looks more like a weapon than a creature. I’m not sure exactly what it is that urks me about Chesnaught. Its design just doesn’t sit well with me.

Delphox and Greninja are alright, though Greninja is easily my preference of the two. I kind of like its tongue-scarf, though thinking about it too long makes it kind of strange. Can it taste the wind? In general, I think Alola’s starter Pokémon are actually worse than Kalos’, so I’ll give these three a pass for now. Let’s move on to some other designs.

My personal favorites this generation include Talonflame, Aegislash, Slurpuff, Dragalge, and Tyrantrum. Some of you might not care for Aegislash, given it’s another “object come to life” Pokémon, and that’s fine; I think its design perfectly matches its stats and general game plan, though, so I feel it comes together as a really cohesive Pokémon. Some of my least favorites include Diggersby, Barbaracle, and Dedenne. Again, hit or miss.

Diamond and Pearl and Black and White introduced a metric ton of new Legendary Pokémon. X and Y introduce Xerneas, Yveltal, and Zygarde. That’s it, and it’s not such a bad thing. I read an interview explaining how the designer of Xerneas and Yveltal had trouble coming up with their designs, and even suffered from artist’s block while thinking of ideas. With that in mind, I’m really impressed with how they turned out; Yveltal in particular is hands-down my favorite Legendary Pokémon of all time. It’s just so cool-looking! You can get a good idea of its abilities just by looking at it, and its battle cry lets its opponent know that destruction is coming.

Mythicals… this generation, we had Diancie, Volcanion, and Hoopa. I think Diancie’s alright, but I don’t care for Volcanion and I especially dislike Hoopa. None of these Pokémon had lore of any kind — they were simply gifted to the player via event distributions. At least Black and White gave players an opportunity to travel to Liberty Island and catch Victini. But X and Y really accelerated the trend of introducing Mythical Pokémon with no backstory. Previously, we saw this with Diamond and Pearl and Arceus.

X and Y’s Pokémon designs weren’t limited to new ones, though: it also introduced Mega Evolved forms of several existing Pokémon. Once again, these are hit or miss; I like Charizard, Aerodactyl, and Gardevoir’s forms, but others are a bit too much. Heracross becomes a walking horn, Tyranitar’s spikes go out of hand, and Mawile somehow grows a second mouth. I like Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire’s Mega Evolutions better, for the most part, but that’s for another time.

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Gameplay

Let’s talk gameplay now. We’ll start with the positives. X and Y introduced an additional way to move: the Roller Skates! You don’t have to move in a grid anymore; you can now use the circle pad for smooth movement. The skates are fast, too, which makes pre-Bicycle travel much faster. If you start using the D-pad to walk, your character will “jump” back in line with the grid. I never understood this; if you’re going to allow free movement, why have a grid at all? There’s probably some kind of development reason. All I know is that future games removed grid movement, which was a welcome change.

Character customizing has a lot of options. You can change your eye color, haircut, hair color, and clothes. Rather than look the same as every other player, X and Y lets you create a truly unique look for yourself. Problem is, I think too many players unironically went for the fedora outfit. Such is life, I suppose. It’s a shame that Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire didn’t retain character customization, but it did become a staple in future games.

X and Y made many quality-of-life changes regarding competitive battling and breeding. Poké Balls can now be passed down to Pokémon bred at the Day-Care Center, Hidden Abilities are more easily inherited, and you can ensure that several of the parents’ IVs are transferred to hatched Pokémon by having one of them hold a Destiny Knot. EV training is now much easier thanks to the addition of Horde Encounters and Super Training. It’s easy to see why so many players tried out competitive battling for the first time in X and Y. It made things much less of a headache. There’s Pokémon-Amie, too, which lets you pet your Pokémon, play simple games, and raise their friendship and affection through treats. It’s a nice time waster.

Here’s a huge quality-of-life change: the chance of encountering Shiny Pokémon has been halved from 1 in 8,192 to 1 in 4,096. This is a crazy reduction, and it definitely encouraged players to hunt for Shiny Pokémon more often. Speaking of shiny hunts, X and Y are absolutely the best games to hunt in. Hatching eggs is easier than ever, you can use Sweet Scent in the overworld to force Horde encounters, and you can run around in the Friend Safari for a flat 1 in 512 shiny encounter rate. If you’re looking to shiny hunt some Pokémon in your spare time, I’d recommend doing so via Hordes or the Friend Safari. They’re both great methods and it’s a shame to see that they haven’t been brought back (at least at the time of writing).

The game’s story is about what you’d expect from a Pokémon game. Sadly, it’s nowhere near in-depth as Black and White’s was. The antagonistic gang, Team Flare, is just okay in my opinion. The boss, Lysandre, thinks that humans make the world impure and wishes to create a new universe with the help of Xerneas and Yveltal. There was also a war and an ultimate weapon… it’s almost interesting, but doesn’t quite get there. That being said, I’m not sure anybody plays Pokémon for the story, so this might not be such a bad thing.

Where X and Y really shines, though, is its player communication. It introduces a new system called the Player Search System (PSS). The PSS allows you to battle, trade, or even voice call anybody nearby. When you connect to the internet, you have the exact same options available. The PSS made communication easier than ever, and the fact that it didn’t become a series staple is – quite honestly – appalling. Sun and Moon used the Festival Plaza instead, which was a huge downgrade; Sword and Shield later introduced the Y-Comm which is still a downgrade.

We’ll end with the negatives — as every good article does. As I mentioned before, X and Y were a slippery slope for the Pokémon series in many ways. First, there is almost no postgame outside of Kiloude City, which is a small town you can access after beating the Champion. There’s nothing to do in Kiloude City but take on the Battle Maison and hunt in the Friend Safari. You can still battle friends and hatch Shiny Pokémon, which admittedly is the reason I play Pokémon, but X and Y are definitely a bit light on postgame content.

It also “popularized” hand-holding in the series. Every Pokémon game does this, to an extent, but you can barely play the story for ten minutes without being stopped by a cutscene. You start your journey alongside four other friends, and they take turns stopping you to talk or battle. This became much worse in Sun and Moon, but the problem started here. And, as I stated previously, X and Y was also kind of the beginning of Kanto and general Generation I pandering. Charizard has three alternate forms at the time of writing (Mega Charizard X, Mega Charizard Y, and Gigantamax Charizard), and I’m sure we’ll only get more of those.

One last thing — it’s important to note that there may or may not have been a Pokémon Z in the works that never came to fruition. Sun and Moon introduced a new Zygarde form and Greninja’s Ash form… so you never know! It’s interesting that X and Y never received a third version, though. Who knows what went on behind the scenes?

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The Verdict

Overall, I liked Pokémon X and Y. I’m probably sounding like a broken record now, but they were a slippery slope for the series. Can we put X and Y at fault for introducing new issues? That’s up to you. But on the whole, I enjoyed X and Y’s new Pokémon and new features. Just like any Pokémon game, these ones had their strengths and weaknesses. If there’s anything Game Freak could take away from X and Y… it’s to bring back the PSS. Please. At any rate, thanks so much for reading! This was another really long post, so I appreciate you sticking with me until the end!

Regarding the featured image, I found it via a Google search (as we do) and really liked it. I couldn’t find an exact source on it, though, but I did do a reverse image search and the earliest instance of the image on the web was this Pixiv page. I’m not sure who actually drew it, but I’d like to properly credit the artist… so if you know anything about the picture’s origin, let me know on Discord — thanks so much!

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