It is the dawn of a new era. An era of peace, hope, and French cuisine. As I slot my copy of Pokémon: X Version into my 3DS, a cry of “it’s about bloody time!” rings out across the hills and through the valleys. The fertile fields and shining cities of the Kalos region await – my conquest begins this day.
I’ve been playing for a couple of hours now, but moving slowly, so as to absorb and reflect on everything. It’s already clear that rather a lot of thought, work, and resources have gone into this – and not just into the graphics either, although that, of course, is where the changes are most obvious. I’m normally quite disdainful of effort spent on newer and shinier graphics (I was, by and large, satisfied with the quality and style of the graphics of the Ruby and Sapphire generation), but even I have to admit that the scenery of Kalos is surpassingly beautiful. Just looking around my bedroom delayed me for a few minutes. The first new feature you meet in this game, though, is something really quite small – there are multiple character models to choose from. Both the male and female player characters come in fair-skinned blond, medium-complexion brunette, and deeply-tanned black-haired versions. Not an especially notable feature in itself, but I’m picking up hints from some of the subjects of my new empire that suggest customisable outfits might become available once I have conquered more of France. Part of me thinks this is needless frivolity, but then, it could be fun – and more interestingly, I think it marks a shift in the way Game Freak are thinking about their protagonists. Pokémon games have always taken “silent protagonist” very seriously, and the words of the designers indicate that they want players to be able to fill in their own dialogue rather than having the games prescribe words for them, and I think the fact that the protagonists are fairly nondescript in comparison to many of the more extravagantly-dressed citizens of the world plays into this – the details of who your character is are left to you and your imagination. We now seem, though, to be moving towards showing more of who you are on the screen. Conceptually, I’m neutral on this, but I think it’s interesting.
On what will someday be remembered as the first day of my reign, I am rudely awoken by some sort of robin-like Pokémon belonging to Mother – doubtless the Kalos region’s Generic Bird Pokémon. Mother seems to be a Pokémon trainer herself – a quite skilled and very specialised one, in fact; she’s some sort of Rhyhorn jockey. That’s… actually kind of badass. Clearly she is deserving of the unprecedented privilege of having her own bedroom in the family home (albeit smaller and barer than mine). Mother promptly sends me to meet the neighbours – which doesn’t take long, as two of them are waiting outside to greet me. It seems that, like the protagonist of Ruby and Sapphire, I am a newcomer to the region and haven’t yet met the people of my hometown (which appears to be a hick town somewhere near Lyon), but they are happy to introduce themselves as Serena and Shauna. Apparently I, along with four of the commoner children of this area, have been selected for… something… by the local professor, Augustine Sycamore. Something which will involve receiving Pokémon! We just need to meet the other two kids in nearby Aquacorde Town.
Wait, how do we get there without Pokémon?
Turns out there’s not really much “getting there” to do. Vaniville Town is more of a suburb of Aquacorde Town than an actual independent settlement, and the two are connected by a very short, paved road. This is ridiculous; I’m going to have to conquer Aquacorde and put it in its place. But first, I have to meet the team. We apparently have four rivals – Serena seems to be the ‘cool’ one, the child of two powerful trainers, and the female counterpart to the male player (I suspect she’s replaced by a male counterpart if you play as a girl); Shauna seems to be ‘ditzy with flashes of brilliance’ although at the moment all I’m getting is ‘ditzy’; little Trevor is ‘the brains,’ and the nigh-spherical dancer Tierno is ‘the big guy.’ All the classic team roles in there; excellent. They’ll make perfect minions; I’ll just have to make sure Serena doesn’t try to stab me in the back. They immediately start wanting to nickname me – ‘C-meister,’ ‘Big C’ or ‘Lil C’ are their preferred options. I give them a cold glare, and after a brief period of negotiations I grudgingly permit them to address me as ‘Your Grace’ (‘Your Imperial Majesty’ being a bit of a mouthful for them). Tierno and Trevor have their Pokémon already, though their identities are undisclosed, and they have dutifully brought a set of starters for me and the girls. Trevor also presents us with Pokédexes (Pokédices?). With scarcely a moment’s thought, I select for myself the Grass-type, Chespin, while Serena takes Fennekin and Shauna chooses Froakie (and promptly challenges me to a battle – the starter Pokémon now seem to have elemental attacks from the beginning, which makes this a short and painful defeat for Froakie).
Chespin appears to be a slow-moving heavy-hitter with a physical bias, a Grass-type in the tradition of Tangrowth and Torterra, and has taken the interesting route of using a nut as the design base, with spiked body armour like the tough green coat of an unshelled chestnut. At the moment he seems to be a chipmunk, but I could see him going in more of an armadillo or pangolin direction quite easily, or maybe even a porcupine. Could be fun. Mine is named Pan, for the Greek god of the wilderness.
At the insistence of my new subjects, I deliver a letter to Mother from Professor Sycamore. The letter, according to its description in my inventory, is laced with a ‘faint but pleasant perfume.’ Mother immediately wonders whether it could be a love letter, and compliments Sycamore’s “lovely handwriting.” Hmm. I smell a romance subplot. Mother and her Rhyhorn, for their part, encourage me to go for it and conquer France, so I return to Aquacorde to begin exploring.
It is at this point that I notice the new buttons on the touch screen.
The touch screen is where Pokémon Amie lives. I’ve been aware of the existence of this mini-game for a while, but I didn’t realise it was actually built into the game; I assumed it would be some sort of add-on like the 3D Pokédex or the Dream Radar. I like that it’s integrated with the game itself, and I like that it’s right there in the touch screen, accessible and visible. I’m still wrapping my head around exactly what it does and how it works, but I can tell that what it’s supposed to do is make Pokémon happiness a more complex and interactive thing than it has been in the past, and I’m all for that. The other thing that lives in the touch screen is Super Training. This, again, is something I’m still working out, but its purpose, too, is readily obvious – Super Training consists of a set of Effort training mini games for specialising your Pokémon’s training towards specific stats. Mostly, they seem to revolve around throwing soccer balls at gigantic Pokémon-shaped balloons, but hey, nobody’s perfect. You can also get your Pokémon to train on their own as you get on with whatever it is you’re doing. The first time you access the screen, it presents you with a tutorial and walks you through a couple of rounds of training, and you can even use it to see approximately how many effort points a Pokémon has already accumulated. Pokémon Amie and Super Training seem to be exactly the kind of thing I made wishes for in my recent “If I were in charge” series – closer connections to individual Pokémon, and greater accessibility to the Effort system for new players with more transparent rules all around. I mean, obviously I like my own suggestions for how to approach these goals, but I’m nonetheless tickled to see that someone had similar priorities in mind during the design process for these games. It makes me optimistic about what I’ll find as I move on.
Miscellaneous note: there’s been a change to the experience system. Pokémon no longer seem to divide experience points when many of them are involved in a single battle. Instead they ALL gain the full amount. I’m on the fence about whether I like this. It seems like it’s intended to encourage training many Pokémon instead of focussing on just one (something Game Freak have tried and failed to do in the past, most notably in Black and White by having experience scale with the level of the victorious Pokémon as well as the defeated one), and I’m totally on board with that, but it seems open to abuse – it’s obvious that all Pokémon will just gain more experience under this system, especially if you consciously take advantage of it by switching often against powerful trainers like Gym Leaders. Then again, maybe the opponents in the game will increase in power more quickly as well, and it won’t matter.
I originally intended to catch everything I could find as I moved through Kalos, in order to study all of it, but I’m no longer sure that’s feasible. I’m writing this from the second area with wild Pokémon, the Santalune Forest (which, incidentally, appears to have an identical layout to the original Viridian Forest area from Red and Blue), where I am training with the assistance of Shauna (who has taken to her new role as my servant most admirably), and I’ve already caught a bewildering array of the blasted things – I think eleven, not counting my Chespin. Only three new species have appeared so far, but unlike in Black and White, older Pokémon have returned with a vengeance – Zigzagoon, Pidgey and Weedle all appear outside Aquacorde, while Caterpie, Pikachu and the elemental monkeys were present in the forest, rare but available (I’m guessing Caterpie is common and Weedle rare on Y). In general, I like having a good spread of Pokémon around – refusing to use any old Pokémon species forced Black and White to be annoyingly miserly about everything, with only five species available before the first gym, counting one starter. The lack of choice makes things a bit dull, especially on a replay. Something I should mention in connection with this is that several older Pokémon have had their cries updated, most notably Pikachu (who now makes an enthusiastic “PI-ka pi-KA” sound), something that was long overdue; the cries of first-generation Pokémon, meant to be playable on the very basic speakers of the original Gameboy, sounded tremendously incongruous next to the crisp and complex sounds of Unova natives. Game Freak are clearly playing to the nostalgia market on this one by giving a lot of attention to older species, which is the sort of thing that I used to argue for all the time. I like where this is going.
Anyway, the new Pokémon. All three are formulaic so far, which irritates me but is to be expected. The first is a normal-type rabbit Pokémon, Bunnelby, who is the local Normal-type Rodent permutation. Bunnelby does not seem to be simply Buneary with a new coat of paint, though; according to the Pokédex he is known for digging with his ears. This… is bizarre, but could be taken somewhere interesting, so I’ll give him a chance. Bunnelby appears to be a highly mobile attacker with a bias towards the physical stats (what a shock). The second is Fletchling, the Generic Normal/Flying Bird Pokémon also owned by Mother. She is a brightly-coloured robin-like Pokémon with no other distinguishing features whatsoever, and like Bunnelby is a fast-moving physical attacker (good to see they’re sticking to the template…). Third and finally, we have the extremely lazily-named Scatterbug, a hairy black caterpillar Pokémon who defends herself with bursts of toxic powder, and will doubtless evolve into a cocoon and then some sort of butterfly or moth (then again, they did surprise me with Leavanny, so I should give Scatterbug the benefit of the doubt). She was my seventh Pokémon and I still haven’t found a PC yet, so further investigation will have to be deferred.
Not sure what I’m going to build my team out of yet. At the moment my primary battlers are Pan and my freshly-evolved Beedrill, Melissa (named for the Greek word for, well, bee). I am contemplating the idea of an all-Grass team, but I have a deep-seated aversion to Pansage, so further contemplation will be necessary.
P.S. Saving takes, like, one second! This is the BEST THING YET
Ridiculous quote log:
“Bags are mysterious!”
…well, yes, random Aquacorde citizen, I suppose if you have the intellectual capacity of a three-year-old it is rather mysterious that you can make items vanish and reappear using only a folded and stitched piece of cloth. Those of us who have mastered the concept of object permanence will go and stand on the other side of the room now.
“Wow! The Pokémon went INSIDE the Pokéball?!”
…no s#!t, Shauna. You mean it did exactly what you’ve seen your Froakie do every time you finish battling with it? Truly astounding (props to Serena for calling her on this, but she missed a wonderful opportunity for epic snarkiness).