Analyzing “Pokemon Y” (by way of FireRed)

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Right before the realease of Pokemon Y, I played through about half of FireRed, while trying to catch all of the Pokemon for the first time. I decided to shoot for the same goal in Y, and in the way that this playstyle forced me to explore all of the game’s systems, as described in my Pokemon Retrospective video, I got to see how the series had evolved over time.

FireRed is structured in such a way that if you keep catching Pokemon as you go and levelling them along the way, you can usually level them through evolution in the time it takes to reach the next area. For instance, if I caught a Venonat, Doduo, and Cubone in one area, then by the time I fought all the trainers and beat the gym in that area, I’d probably have a Venomoth, Dodrio, and Marowak.

Pokemon are strategically placed so that most of them evolve in a level range that reflects the place where they’re caught. Early areas have Pokemon that evolve around level ten, and the levels scale by area, so by the time you’re around Koga’s gym, the Pokemon you catch will all evolve around level 30.

In that game, there are only 16 Pokemon with third-stage evolutions, and of those, nine of them reach that stage through either stones or trading. This means that only the starters and super early Pokemon that either evolve very quickly, or are meant to be in your party for a long time, have a third stage of evolution. The only exception is Dragonite, for whom training is supposed to be a big difficult ordeal.

All of this suggests that the structure of the original game is made for catching and training new Pokemon at a regular rate, while keeping a couple more powerful monsters in your party for support. Towards the end of the game, you start getting more type-specific Pokemon that don’t evolve so that you can prepare a balanced team for the Pokemon League, and you can also hunt down the legendaries by exploring the game to the fullest.

As the years have marched on, however, Pokemon has become a much more expansive, and much less linear kind of game. More and more Pokemon have been added that aren’t caught in the wild, or don’t evolve by levelling. More things are added to the game to give it an open adventurous nature, so that the player doesn’t feel as pressured to march constantly between goal posts, and can take their time playing around with other systems.

The storyline in Pokemon Y actually commentates on the different ways that the game can now be played. Each of the player’s friends have a their own goals within the game, be it filling the Pokedex, making fun memories and enjoying the journey, checking out Pokemon moves, or playing through the proper adventure. While the game rather firmly nudges you in the direction of playing the campaign and learning about Mega Evolutions, it at least suggests that Pokemon is no longer a game series with a specific set of goals.

And this is both a strength and weakness of Pokemon Y. There’s plenty of fun stuff to do in the game, but it comes at the cost of lackluster pacing and a game experience that feels like chaos at times.

The player is given an EXP share item that makes it incredibly easy to level up an entire party at once, which ends up being a necessity if you’re trying to catch all the Pokemon, because the game is constantly throwing Pokemon at the player. By the time you reach the first gym, you can have around 20 Pokemon in your possession already, which is way more than you could possibly have time to train with the number of trainers and gyms in the area.

As a result, every individual Pokemon ends up leaving less of an impact than they did in FireRed, because you can level them up through evolution without ever using them in battle. Sure, you can turn off EXP share, but trying to catch all the Pokemon this way would take hundreds of hours, and you’d have to do most of it in the Battle Chateaux, which you’re already going to have to do even with EXP share because again, there aren’t nearly enough trainers in the game to battle.

The problem here comes from cramming three games’ worth of Pokemon into a game that’s no bigger than any other in the series. The solution would be to make the main storyline three times as long, but then you’d alienate anyone who ISN’T trying to catch all of the Pokemon with an overlong campaign throughout which their Pokemon are insanely overleveled.

However, while the overall design of Pokemon Y is sloppy in comparison to FireRed, I don’t know how bad that really is. After all, I still enjoyed the challenge of trying to catch all 450 of the game’s Pokemon, and exploring the enormous number of ways that they all had to be obtained. It changed the nature of the game from one about training Pokemon, to one about being a mad collector with a cutthroat regard for party organization—but it was still a fun game in its own right, and it’s not like FireRed is going anywhere.

There’s no question that in spite of the overall experience being messier, the main features that the series is known for have been polished to perfection. While the selection of new Pokemon isn’t that large, I would argue that it’s the most consistently excellent set of designs in the series history, and the game’s aesthetic has translated perfectly into 3D. If you’re playing to see cool monsters, explore diverse and interesting locales, challenge interesting gyms and battle memorable adversaries, then you’re going to get your money’s worth as much as you ever have.

Being able to ride on Pokemon and customize your character were both fantastic new additions that really need to be explored further in the next games in the series, and little touches like being able to style your Furfrou are genius. The routes and caves in this game are unquestionably the coolest and most memorable in the franchise history. Some of the new stuff, like the cafes and restaurants, are a bit more questionable, but not unwelcome additions.

Pokemon Y is a game whose whole is lesser than the sum of its parts, but there are so many parts, that their sum is abnormally high. It still has the hypnotic rhythm, adventurous spirit, and wealth of adorable monsters that give the series its heart, and these make it a highly enjoyable experience, in spite of the mechanical uncleanliness.

Incidentally, I’ve written a post on my blog about the ten things that I want to see changed in the next Pokemon game. I’m not planning to make a video about it, but if you’ve played X and Y yourself, it should certainly be worth a look. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m about to go full horse again. Stay tuned.

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