Review: POKÉMON Y is Nintendo’s Return to Good Storytelling

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Pokemon X BoxartPokémon Y
Written by Toshinobu Matsumiya, Masafumi Nukita, and Suguru Nakatsui
Developed by Game Freak
Published by The Pokémon Company
Distributed by Nintendo
Available on Nintendo 3DS
Released on October 12, 2013

Now here’s something I thought I was done with.

I had punched in my time with Pokémon Red/Blue/Yellow/white/black/diamond/pearl back around when I was in middle school and high school. I stopped playing the franchise around Pokémon Diamond for the DS. For me, the franchise seemed too large and diluted with merchandise, card games, television, and film. So large that it lost focus somewhere between the merchandise and the trading card game and the Pokémon stores in Japan that they forgot that they had a game to make.

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After I had put down the series, several iterations had gone by and I was pretty sure that the target market was now only vying for young children, generally of the middle/high school age. I did my hard time, I was a free man.

And then a 3DS lands in my lap with Pokémon Y. How wrong my assumption was. As it turns out, Pokémon, specifically X/Y, is marketing itself in a way that many recent cartoons are doing these days. The marketing is aimed primarily at young children while the game itself is marketed at a much older audience.

For instance, one of the main non-spoiler themes of Pokémon Y is genocide, a theme that many of the franchise’s games and some of their movies touch upon quite often. The nuance of genocide is not something I would expect a young 7 or 9 year old to really understand. Sure, the little cartoon critters are cute and everyone knows the iconic smiling yellow marshmallow Pikachu mascot, but there’s a lot of high level strategy needed to play an 18-way game of Rock-Paper-Scissors. With the innovations in the game’s mechanics and the intricate story telling, I don’t think a young kid would really grasp the full gravity of the game.

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With that all said, I’ve never understood why companies like Nintendo don’t capitalize on the market that actually plays games like this: college students. For many Nintendo games, the college market is never really reached with any of their marketing campaigns. While I was at the University of Kansas, nearly every student had a 3DS. Now that I’m a couple towns over picking up yet another degree at Johnson County Community College, once again, it’s the same story: nearly every student has a 3DS.

My Street Pass function on my 3Ds constantly procs with the Pokémon Street Pass tag meaning that, like my own, these other DS’s have a recent playing of Pokémon in their software list. I saw a joke meme with this same notion about this and another game: Call of Duty. The image read “target audience: college students, actual players: twelve-year-olds”. It makes me wonder what the disconnect in the focus group for marketing actually is to produce this massive of a gap.

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Moving on to game play, as far as Pokémon Y goes, the aspect of 3D was not something I was expecting to add anything to the game play, but once again, I was quite wrong. There were many good visuals and instances where having the game portrayed in the 3DS’s innovated 3D technology enhanced the experience a great deal. The level design is modern and makes a lot of sense. Characters are all modeled out in 3D and have pretty decent animations to them.

And the building models; when the Pokémon devs wanted you to notice “Hey, this building is important”, man do they make you take NOTICE! The architecture is wild and over the top like you would expect in any RPG that comes from Japan.

But even more noticeable is the fact that they put a camera “photo opportunity” function in front of all the special buildings. When you click on a sign, you then use the 3DS like a Polaroid camera, even taking your hand motions into account with positioning, to take a picture of your character in the game in front of a photo opportunity in front of some structure, like the awe-inspiring swirling orrery style building that shoots lasers out of it’s roof, so you can then go and tell your friends “Going to attack the top 5 now, brb, #beatDown, #Charizard, #MegaLucario”.

The mechanics of the game are pretty traditional to the series. The turn-based combat was still a little trite yet still true to the original Pokémon”battle system”, but what was there made sense. It sort of lacked depth. You choose from several options then they choose, rinse and repeat. Moves lists are limited to 4 per Pokémon so it can get crazy repetitive after a time.

Leveling can be a chore as well, especially if you need a certain type for the Rock-Paper-Scissors (the next gym I’m on is all fire and my level 50 grass line up won’t cut it … gotta go level my level 1 water types for the next 3 hours to get them to level 30 to proceed…).

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One thing that I really liked was the level of player customization. The game has clothing shops dotted throughout many of the towns where you could buy clothing and stylize your character. I do, however, wish there were more extravagant costumes for your character, but was there is nice.

Minor Plot Spoiler

The story was long and multi-layered. I rather enjoyed frantically waiving my arms in panic going from one crisis to another. The writers did a great job in escalating the scale of crisis in good proportions making the game feel like it was progressing at a very acceptable and pleasing pace.

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The structure of the game was set up to be kind of a mix between nostalgia, a throwback to the original Pokémon adventures (collect badges by beating up important people, then go beat up the most important people to bite and claw your way to the top), but mixed in with quite a great deal of new ideas and innovations in the Pokémon world. One thing that they did really well with the story though, is that they made the bad guy relatable.

What he is doing is wrong and obviously evil, but at the same time, it makes sense and it’s for all the right reasons. Sadly, you don’t have any sort of “choice” in the game, but it does create a fun little scenario of ambivalence towards the antagonist. That, and it made me always feel a little bad for mopping the floor with the Team Flair mooks ….

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If you have a 3DS, or a “New 3DS”, I would recommend picking up a copy of Pokémon X/Y. It’s been out for about a little while now and a new one has come out, so you should be able to find it cheap on sale or used. This game is quite worth it, even at full price. Plus, if you get Pokémon Bank, a $5/year app on the 3DS market place, any Pokémon you get from previous or later Pokémon games (down to White/Black to the future on) you can pass along to this or any new title.

I have recently picked up the newest Pokémon game since I enjoyed Pokémon Y… so far, I’m a little disappointed. While with Pokémon Y, I wasn’t able to put it down due tot he wonderful and captivating story, Pokémon Ruby (Nintendo’s re-release) is… kind of hard to swallow. There’s a lot of innovation in Y that is severely lacking in Ruby, and the roll-back is pretty devastating.

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I’m starting to wonder if the company, Nintendo, just doesn’t have any new ideas left due to the massive up-swell of re-releases in the recent years. All in all, Pokémon games (non-card) are alive and well, and Pokémon X/Y is a clear cut direction that I hope all new pocket monster games run with and build upon it’s ideas.

Be sure to check out our review of Nintendo’s re-release of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds.

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