Leo M.R. asks:

I watched a Pokémon video on YouTube where the guy pointed out that, for all the hype Mega Evolutions got prior to the release of XY, you actually only ever fight three Mega Evolutions throughout the course of the main story: Korrina’s Mega Lucario, Lysandre’s Mega Gyarados, and Diantha’s Mega Gardevoir. He argued that 1) the first one doesn’t even count because it was just a Mega Lucario battle, and 2) this is a big reason why XY felt too easy, especially since you can Mega Evolve after the third Gym. He suggested that, since you fight Lysandre before the final Gym, Wulfric and the Elite Four should all have been given Mega Evolutions, something the anime actually does (sans Drasna). It’s an excellent point and I… don’t know why Game Freak didn’t do this in the first place, now that I think about it. The final rival battle at Victory Road should probably also have given them their eventual Mega Absol, if Wulfric should have a Mega. What do you think?

…huh

Y’know, I never really thought about that – when I played X for the first time, I never used Mega Evolution unless my opponent did as well, because it seemed “unfair,” so I guess I just wasn’t thinking about it very hard.  But yeah, considering that Mega Evolution is generation VI’s flagship mechanic, it’s… not actually in there very much.  Alpha Sapphire and Omega Ruby are kinda light on it as well, at least in the main story; there’s… what, Archie/Maxie, Wally and Steven?  But then there are a lot more in the postgame: May/Brendan, Matt/Courtney, Zinnia and all of the Hoenn Elite Four.  X and Y don’t really have that.  This seems doubly weird considering how much work must have gone into designing the Mega Evolutions.  Wouldn’t you want to show them off?  I can see a perspective where finding all the Mega Evolutions is mainly meant as an end-game side-quest for the player, a little challenge for the 100%-completionists, but a) the Pokédex already provides plenty of that, and b) it would make a lot more sense if Pokémon had, like, Final Fantasy-style “bonus bosses” where you really needed the right Mega Evolution to win.

I think the trouble – and where Game Freak might have written themselves into a corner – is that Gym Leaders’ and Elite Four members’ signature Pokémon are (from Ruby and Sapphire onward) always newly-introduced Pokémon in the current generation [EDIT: with the exception, in the most recent games, of Allister, Bea and Melony – and I wonder if this has something to do with these Gym Leaders being version-exclusive; that is, not all players actually meet them].  Mega Evolutions were overwhelmingly given to Pokémon from generations I, II and III – I guess to say “look, we still care about the old ones too!”  The only Pokémon from generation VI with a Mega form is Diancie.  So you have these “slots” that you could use for showcasing Mega Evolution… but you’re already kinda committed to using them for showcasing new Pokémon, and in order to do both at once, you have to pretty significantly change the list of Mega Evolutions you’ve decided to create. 

X and Y were also the first time Pokémon actually had a big flashy “flagship mechanic,” and none of the previous games had ever tried very hard to integrate their new mechanics into the story or use them for the important story-relevant battles.  Like, generation III had double battles, which we see in several ordinary battles but only one boss fight (Tate and Liza in the Mossdeep Gym).  Generation II had… I guess held items and weather?  There are barely any AI trainers who use either of those things in Gold and Silver.  Generation V had frickin’ triple and rotation battles, and we actually talked recently about how little those ever mattered.  Generation IV didn’t have anything comparable that I can think of.  So maybe it’s not actually surprising – cool new mechanics in Pokémon had always been scattered around the world without much rhyme or reason, and it was our job to go and find them and use them for ourselves.  I’m… not sure how convincing I find that notion as a general style of game design, but you can argue – I think quite convincingly, actually – that in this case it turned out fine.  I mean… players loved Mega Evolution.  Players still love Mega Evolution; I get the impression there are a lot of people who want it back.  The fact that it matters surprisingly little to the average playthrough of X and Y doesn’t seem to have dampened anyone’s enthusiasm for it as a concept (in stark contrast to… well… triple battles).

It absolutely does trivialise the game’s difficulty (even more so in Alpha Sapphire and Omega Ruby, where the game just gives you a Mega Latias/Latios barely halfway through the story), and while you can just choose never to use it, that doesn’t feel good – it’s the cool new shiny thing; you want to use it and be rewarded with an interesting gameplay experience.  But the difficulty of Pokémon games is… kind of its own larger problem, and I’m not even certain Mega Evolution is the biggest contributor to X and Y being pretty easy; the changes to the Exp. Share are also significant (I played with that switched off, as well as rarely using Mega Evolution, and found the game roughly comparable in difficulty to earlier entries in the series).

So I think in the end I’m… surprisingly ambivalent about this?  Once it’s been pointed out, I instinctively think the games probably would have been better with more liberal use of Mega Evolution by opponents, but I still have trouble seeing it as one of their major shortcomings.

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8 thoughts on “Leo M.R. asks:

  1. Gen IV had… the special/physical split? I felt like that was a very significant mechanic change but it would be hard to implement into big battles, as it just affects every Pokemon anyways.

    Still, I’m pretty sure some gen VIII gym leaders have old Pokemon as their “partners” (their g-max Pokemon), so I don’t see why gen VI couldn’t do that. In fact, despite its flaws (and while I loved them, they did have flaws), I think having g-max Pokemon in the boss battles did make them feel more intense – despite only having a dozen or so battles in the main story that allowed Dynamax. Mega evolution could have been that in the story. As it stands, I remember the least about the X and Y gym leaders. They could’ve used Mega partners, IMO.

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    1. Mmm, you’re right; Bea, Allister and Melony use gen-I Pokémon with Gigantamax forms. I suppose I would point out that this is in the future, with respect to X and Y – the designers could have changed their minds, in the intervening time, about how important that particular principle is.

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      1. True, and I realized that (probably should’ve noted that aloud). I do think adopting that idea sooner would’ve improved the games, even if only a little. As it stood, I rarely used Mega evolution and collecting the stones felt like a chore postgame. As someone who wasn’t into the competitive scene at the time, I was collecting them for completion and they may as well have been random mcguffins. They had no real functional use to me. And many mega forms I didn’t even see the looks of until later on.

        I’m also in the minority that prefer dynamax to megas, so maybe I’m not the best one to share my opinion there.

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  2. I was never a fan of Mega Evolution – the concept in itself is fair enough, but in practice, it’s part of what my paranoid genwunner brain has decided is a deliberate agenda on the behalf of Game Freak to refashion even the first-gen Pokémon into their current approach to visual design.
    However, I am definitely a fan of more difficult games. I really liked XY, and I would have liked it even better if the whole game was as difficult as I remember Grant being – more trainers with Mega Evolutions could have contributed to that. And as pointed out above, GF eventually decided that it is fine for Gym Leaders etc to have previous-gen Pokémon as their ace, something I’m all for. (I mean, it even started in Gen VI, with Diantha…)

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  3. “Gym Leaders’ and Elite Four members’ signature Pokémon are (from Ruby and Sapphire onward) always newly-introduced Pokémon in the current generation.”

    As my fellow linguist above pointed out, they didn’t keep to this in Gen VIII what with three Gym Leaders (and the Champion, mind!) G-Maxing Gen I Pokémon. Though yeah, Game Freak’s experience with Gen VI’s flagship mechanic may have informed their treatment of Gen VIII’s. However, it’s worth bearing in mind that even back in XY they forewent giving the Champion a Gen VI signature Pokémon (opting instead for a Gen III Mega), so I’m not really sure how much water this line of thinking holds. And while I know Game Freak doesn’t have anything to do with the anime, Wulfric and the Kalosian Elite Four are given Mega Pokémon there.

    But yeah, I think they learned from Mega Evolution and applied it to Gigantamax forms, seeing as how they gave every major boss battle in SwSh a Gigantamax partner, most of which are of Gen VIII Pokémon. It made Gym battles way more cinematic and thrilling experiences, coupled with that oh-so-memetic battle theme. In hindsight, Mega Evolution just seems like a woefully-underused mechanic from a narrrative standpoint, which is doubly sad when you consider discovering Mega Evolution was, like, half the plot of XY! So not only did GF miss out on an obvious opportunity for making the games just that little bit more challenging, they also fell short on spotlighting what was supposed to be a core part of XY’s story.

    Man, the more I think about it the more disappointed I am by this…

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  4. I also saw MandJTV’s video (linked below) & agreed with all of his suggested changes (summarized by Leo M.R. above). For context, this video was from a series commenting on the shortcomings of X&Y, namely in terms of scaling difficulty for players. In particular, why create a whole new gameplay mechanic & promote it as essentially game-shattering only for it to hardly feature in the main story line? Mega Evolution ends up becoming an afterthought in the same game it was introduced. Arguably, a better balance was struck for Z-Moves in Generation VII for Sun/Moon, etc.

    But it goes to a deeper issue with the franchise: its game designers can’t decide who the games should be designed around – young children new to the games or veteran players who grew up with the franchise. I for one think the games should offer a Hard/Master mode à la Challenge Mode in B2W2 from the get-go, but for some reason this is a feature GameFreak seems hesitant to keep (I doubt the issue is save file limitations).

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