In Defense of Pokémon X and Y, Five Years Later
Five years after their initial release, I look back and defend what are considered two of the weaker entires in the Pokémon series, Pokémon X and Y for 3DS.
I still remember my brother waking me up one morning in eighth grade because he was super excited to show me something: a reveal trailer for a new Pokémon game. Since our hearts were captured by Pokémon Sapphire and Emerald, my brother and I had followed each new entry as it came out in Japan and then the US. But this trailer was different. It showed that the Pokémon series not only that it had shifted to a simultaneous worldwide release, but that it had gone 3D for the first time ever in the mainline series.
We were immediately elated and excited, following every bit of news we could find on the topic. The entire community was almost just as excited as we were before release as well. While Pokémon Coliseum and XD Gale of Darkness are good in their own right, they didn’t feature the series’ mainline mechanics, so this was really our first true look at what a traditional Pokémon game could be like in 3D. Then, the exciting announcements kept piling on, with the new Fairy type and the introduction of Mega Evolutions making the biggest splash of all.
All eyes were locked onto Pokémon X and Y when they released, and at first, people seemed to really like the games. They reviewed well and the community seemed to latch onto the titles just as they did with past generations. That being said, as time passed, that excitement interestingly transformed into disappointment for many, and they are now considered the weakest mainline titles by many of the series’ fans.
That being said, Pokémon X and Y are some of my favorites in the series, so I wanted to analyze some of the common criticisms leveled at the titles in defense of the games, and show that they may not actually be as bad as you may currently perceive.
Complaint #1: Kalos is a Bland and Boring Region
The region that Pokémon X and Y take place in, Kalos, was quite different than anything that had come before it. While Generations I-IV all had regions based on Japan and Generation V’s Unova was based around New York, a city within a country where Pokémon is massive, the developers opted to base Kalos on France. While this was a welcomed change, many still found the region bland and linear.
While cities and towns in Pokémon X and Y may not be as flashy as in some other titles, I still found most of them to have their own unique identities. From the interesting architecture of Aquacorde Town to the medieval feel of Camphrier Town or the Paris-inspired vastness of Lumiose City, pretty much every town in the game was memorable to me in its own right. Of course, not all towns were created equally, and there is a surprisingly long gap between the first and second badges, but I really enjoyed the European vibe that Kalos gives off.
As for linearity complaints, this has been a broader issue that the series has tackled as it has progressed, and it actually isn’t as bad in Pokémon X and Y as in some other recent titles. While the story will tell and point you in the exact direction you need to go frequently (I’ll go more into that later), it does reward exploration with unique Pokémon and side activities, especially in places like Lumiose City. As a large city, Lumiose served as the focal point of a “pinwheel design,” which helped keep progression in X and Y fresh by visually indicating new areas for players to explore inside and outside of the city.
Pokémon Black and White, which came a generation before and are generally considered by fans as some of the best games in the series, and follow-ups Pokémon Sun and Moon actually have a much harder time dealing with linearity. Unova’s design, in general, was fairly straightforward, pretty much being a straight line with just a couple turns, while Alola’s a bit too small and Sun and Moon are a bit too story-heavy to make the region feel open.
While Kalos is more linear than some earlier regions, it isn’t egregiously so, and each new place you visit should be interesting enough to sidestep the issue for most. As I’ve mentioned, the series as a whole has become more newcomer-friendly and more linear as a result. Pokémon X and Y may have just been when people started catching onto this, which is why much of the hate towards linear design in the Pokémon series as a whole is thrown at the game, even though it existed in worse forms both before and after.
Complaint #2: The Story Isn’t Very Good
The weak story of Pokémon X and Y is a big point that a lot of people point to when discussing their dislike of the game, and I’ll be frank, it is really that good. Team Flare is pretty underdeveloped (unlike Team Skull) and Lyssandre is one of the most obviously telegraphed and philosophically annoying of the Pokémon villains. The game does put quite a noticeable amount of time into developing these things, so anyone with a semblance of knowledge on plot structure or character cliches won’t be impressed.
Pokémon X and Y also puts a major emphasis on the group of trainers that the player travels with: Serena (or Calem), Shauna, Tierno, and Trevor. While the rival character (Serena or Calem) and Shauna do get some basic depth and story arcs, Tierno and Trevor are fairly one-note and often only exist for superfluous gags or needed story catalysts. Pokémon X and Y was never able to nail the group dynamic, so this aspect winds up coming across as very undercooked and isn’t helped at all by the bad villains and some slow pacing.
That being said, I don’t think this aspect of Pokémon X and Y is completely irredeemable and it certainly isn’t enough of a reason to completely ostracize the titles. The late game twist concerning the AZ’s use of the ultimate weapon was interesting, and really impacted me the first time through as Route 10 (which turns out to be a Pokémon graveyard) was one of my favorite routes in Kalos during my initial playthrough. I also liked traveling with a group of partners; it was interesting in concept, even if it wasn’t implemented amazingly.
While this isn’t an excuse for bad storytelling, the Pokémon series as a whole also has never been that amazing from a writing or storytelling standpoint. To me, Pokémon games are titles that I like due to the gameplay and replayability of them, and Pokémon X and Y‘s plot isn’t really much more egregious than other titles up until this point in the mainline Pokémon series. We should vocalize our critiques of the story and writing so the developers know where they need to improve, but it isn’t a good reason not to play the game.
At this point in the series, the story is still mostly harmless to the overall game-flow and is something that can be mostly ignored. Again, Pokémon X and Y was pinned with the blame for story and writing problems that have been there since the days of Cyrus and N, and while it doesn’t justify its disappointing plot, it shouldn’t be pinned on just these titles, especially when it tried to add to do new things and add to the history and lore of the world of Pokémon.
Complaint #3: The Graphics and Presentation Don’t Hold Up
Pokémon X and Y were the first 3D mainline games in the series, so their presentation isn’t flawless (especially coming from the 3DS). This left many yearning for the more polished and gorgeous sprite-art of the previous games, leading to them revisiting those titles over Pokémon X and Y. Again, like with the story, this may be a slight turn-off to some newer players, but it’s not something that ruins the game.
To me, the most disappointing part of the presentation was how it didn’t really take advantage of some of the 3DS’ cool capabilities. 3D is only used in a couple of the game’s rooms and in battles, and when it is on the game’s frame-rate frustratingly drops. From a wider perspective, I like to describe Pokémon X and Y for the most part as 2D Pokémon games presented in 3D, whereas titles like Pokémon Sun and Moon are clearly built from the ground up for 3D.
Visual design philosophies from previous generations stick–hence the big heads–along with some rough and janky animations, and standardized towns. 3D games will always age worse than 2D ones, but I still find the game’s animations charming enough to not be an eye-sore. As I mentioned in my section about the Kalos region as a whole, I was also impressed by the varied visual design of pretty much every town in the game, and some of what they did could not have been done if the games were in 2D.
I also prefer the more chibi look of these games to the realistic style of Sun and Moon, so I’m glad to see that the upcoming Pokémon Let’s Go games have an art style closer to X and Y. It may have not been the most graceful jump to 3D, leading Generation VI to probably have the worst Pokémon game on a technical level, but Pokémon X and Y are far from looking ugly. It’s an impressively large 3D game for the 3DS, and will likely be looked back upon as one of the most important entries in the series for bringing it into 3D.
Complaint #4: Gameplay has Some Noticeable Problems
Those previous complaints did sway opinions on Pokémon X and Y, but ultimately, gameplay is king. The Pokémon series’ refined turn-based battles and “catch ’em all” premise were the driving force of its success, and each new title’s iterative take on the formula is what helps them stand out. Some problems do become clear once the meta-game level is reached, but for the most part, the games introduce a ton of new features that changed things up in a noticeable way.
I won’t bore you with an in-depth Pokémon X and Y metagame analysis, but it just needs to be clear that is the community that will be sticking by the games the most for the long-term. Generation V before this was widely considered to be the pinnacle of gameplay for the series by many, so any sort of follow-up would have a ton of expectations put upon it, and Pokémon X and Y sadly didn’t meet many hardcore fans’ expectations.
That being said, the games did take several steps to improve the online experience with the PSS, Pokémon Amie, and Personal Training features, which made it easier to connect and IV/EV train than ever before. From a gameplay perspective, the Fairy type really shook things up as it knocked the usually powerful Dragon types down a peg. Mega Evolutions, on the other hand, were a double-edged sword. They gave some Pokémon the boost they needed to become viable competitively, but many of them wound up being ignored in favor of a couple favorites.
Ultimately, a weak-post game was the biggest killer of long-term enjoyment for many in Pokémon X and Y. Outside of a brief, story-focused investigation with Looker, the post-game doesn’t offer much from a gameplay or competitive standpoint unlike Generations IV and V. This was definitely the weakest the series had been post-Champion in quite some time, which makes things much less appealing to someone who plans to spend hundreds of hours on a single save file.
Personally, I’ve gotten the most enjoyment out of Pokémon X and Y by replaying it several times. It is my most-played 3DS game due to the amount of playthroughs I have done, and while the game can be considered “too easy,” it also gives you tons of Pokémon to choose from. If you opt to play with or without the EXP Share and go for an interesting team composition that takes advantage of the new Fairy type and Mega Evolutions, you will get the most out of the game. Call it casual, but it’s the way I’ve come to love Pokémon X and Y.
Pokémon X and Y is where the series clearly began appealing to more casual players with things like Pokémon Amie, extra experience for capturing Pokémon, and the overpowered EXP Share. While how much that shift was necessary is a debate of its own, it’s another series-wide issue commonly pinned on this game. The community has still found ways to respond, as this is the Generation where things like “the Nuzlocke Challenge” skyrocketed in popularity. Pokémon X and Y may be the easiest games in the series, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing depending on how you look at it.
I’ll admit that Pokémon X and Y aren’t flawless: I’d even call them very inconsistent in some areas. That being said, five years after launch I’m am returning to the games time and time again, and it still hasn’t gotten stale. If it’s just the games’ story or graphics holding you back, I’d definitely give the games another shot and focus on building an interesting team.
If Pokémon X and Y’s easy difficulty and gameplay changes aren’t your cup of tea, I still understand and respect your opinion, but I hope you know get why people like me still like to return to these games many years after release, and we even put it on our list of the Top 10 3DS games.