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?
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.
[This question was promoted to the front of the queue because the submitter is supporting me for at least $4/month on Patreon! If you enjoy my writing and like getting my answers to cosmic dilemmas like this one – or just think I deserve something nice for my work – consider visiting https://www.patreon.com/pokemaniacal and signing up!]