Pokemon Y: beauty in motion

I wouldn’t classify myself as the type of person who feels graphics make or break games, but one of the best things about Pokemon X/Y is how the upgraded visuals and changes to visual style make the game feel so much more alive. Don’t get me wrong, past Pokemon games always had their own cute touches, but for all of those touches, lately they were still DS games shoved on to the 3DS’s screen. There’s only so much you can work with there, even with the expanded real estate of the 3DS XL.

After the jump, switching systems and switching styles.

If Game Freak had done nothing more than use the extra processing power in the 3DS to upgrade the models in Pokemon Y as well as show battles in 3D, most people probably would have been satisfied. Just being able to play the game in the system’s native resolution would have been enough for me. Instead they took some some time to flesh out everything from how the world looks to how battles play out.

Take your character. For the first time you can pick skin color and some basic hair colors. At first the hair style and color selections are limited but soon enough you can drop three grand on a new cut and color. Yeah it’s pricey but you’re worth it. You can also buy new clothes and accessories to personalize your trainer. I named my trainer “Beaners”, as I always do, and when I first met up with the other teenage trainers, they started throwing out possible nicknames, one of which was “Big B”, one of my nicknames IRL. Between that and the ability to pick hair color and clothing it’s hard not to feel connected to your trainer. Past Pokemon games always allowed you to name your captured Pokemon, thereby giving you a small bond between you and your creature but the game has never allowed you to personalize your character as much as they do here.

When moving about the town, either via thumbstick controlled rollerblades or d-pad controlled walking shoes, the whole world is alive with little touches. Cabs drive from here to there, Pokemon romp in the street, cafe visitors chat things up. Towns are filled with people to talk to, with many of them giving you new TMs and items, as well as the usual mix of fellow trainers looking to take on your team of monsters.

Battles are where the game’s new visual style really shines. For one, it’s one of the only places in the game that uses 3D. I’m not sure if this was a decision made out of fear that children would melt their eyeballs if they played dozens of hours of three dimensional Pokemon or if Nintendo didn’t want new 2DS owners to feel like they were being left out. Whatever the case, I typically play with 3D turned off, but in this game, the battle perspective is a natural fit for the enhancement. 3D aside, for the first time you can actually see what happens in battle when you’re popping off all of these awesome powers.

I always thought that ember, a basic fireball spell was thrown like a fireball or like a hadouken. Not so! They breathe those things out! Also, did you know that Endure bathes the Pokemon in this awesome magenta glow? Neither did I! When you use Vine Whip and actual vines whip out towards your opponent battles become more than just a numbers game and instead become a real fight between creatures. When the inevitable fainting occurs, even that’s done well with the monster looking just like fainting should, collapsing in a tired little heap. Whereas before I’d gloat over my victory, here I kind of feel bad for the tuckered out little monsters. Nighty night Fletchling. Things will be better in the morning.

There are so many little touches in the game that make the whole thing feel so alive. Like when you go to get your Pokemon revived at the Pokecenter, little pictures of the Pokemon appear on the display of the reviving machine. When a Pokemon appears in the long grass you see it’s silhouette for a brief second before it appears, giving you a heady moment to try and guess what it is. Sometimes when you get into battle the top screen will be replaced with a full on picture of the battling monsters, complete with the slash down the middle of the screen that just screams “It’s about to go down!” You can run through flowers of different types and colors. The color of Flabebe’s flower changes as you come across different ones. When you throw a Pokeball the view changes to first person and you see your arm hurl the ball over your Pokemon towards the opposing creature. The list goes on!

Graphical upgrades for the sake of utilizing new, more powerful hardware are all well and good but when those upgrades go hand in hand with visual design choices that flesh out the world for the player, well that’s just super-effective.

Monday: the review
(Click here for the previous entry.)