Review: Pokemon Y

Pokemon Y Boxart

Initial Release Date: October 12, 2013

Developer: Game Freak

Platforms: 3DS (reviewed)

Publisher: The Pokemon Company

Introduction

Pokemon Y reinvigorates the series by adding much needed quality of life improvements, while also utilizing the vast library of Pokemon now established.  The game follows the same formula of Pokemon past, but finally adds a real Wifi multiplayer function to allow for competitive, or player to player battles in the post game.  While the improvements create a solid game for veterans, and a great starting point for new players, the game fails to bring any true innovation to a series that could really use some.

Narrative/Story

Pokemon Y follows the tried and true poke-formula when it comes to story: young, small town trainer sets out with a fresh new Pokemon to explore the world and achieve Pokemon prowess.  This time, the player is accompanied by a group of friends, one that focuses on battling, one on Pokemon collecting, as well as one that focuses on dancing.

Y also brings in the traditional villainous group with grand ambition.  Said group is headed by an enigmatic leader who has grunts galore to deploy against the player.  The baddies this go-round do have a more interesting angle to their ideology – they want to obliterate the world and have only Team Flare members left to rebuild.  Like I said, ambitious.

Team Flare

The story is generally weak overall.  If you’ve played prior Pokemon games, this tale will not bear any real surprises.  The friends that accompany your journey have their moments, but failed to draw me in to care about their interests.

The world contains come interesting locales that vary with terrain.  Again, nothing monumentally different from past titles.  Most cities have the generic buildings, with the Pokecenter, Mart, and homes with random citizens to chat with.  There is one large city that has much more to offer, although navigation is a bit of a pain.

While the story, characters, and locations are nothing exciting, the Pokemon titles were never built on the narrative.  However, it is still disappointing to see that the formula has hardly moved the needle in 20 years.

Gameplay

As with the story elements, Pokemon Y faithfully follows its predecessors in its game play offerings.  Y continues the formula of turn-based battles of teams of Pokemon, with a focus on matching strengths and weaknesses.  Y offers up some helpful quality of life improvements, as well as some desperately needed multiplayer.

Pokemon Y Electric City

Y is based on the same Pokemon you’ve known since Blue and Red – you have a team of 6 Pokemon you hold as you explore and travel, with the extras shoved into the PC in the Pokecenter.  Each Pokemon has a set of moves they learn either through items, or natural level growth.  At certain intervals, the Pokemon evolve into their more powerful forms.

Using your team, you must navigate the world and collect 8 badges from Gym Leaders.  You can walk, bike, or run through different terrain, with the high grass containing wild Pokemon that you can choose to capture or defeat to help level up your Pokemon.  You arrive in one of the towns, deal with the inevitable issue the town has with the aforementioned villain group, and then seek out the Gym Leader.  The Gyms in Y have environmental puzzles to unlock to get to the leader.

While that description may not seem all that exciting, there is something about the Pokemon formula that just works.  The whole experience is very familiar, but the depth of the Pokemon abilities, moves, and combinations makes for an addictive experience.

Pokemon Y Torchic Battle

With over 400+ Pokemon available nowadays, and the new Pokemon Bank which allows for transfer from previous generations, there are endless combinations (along with a whole new Fairy-type).  I was actually overwhelmed in trying to decide which Pokemon I wanted to train.  Further, Nintendo has been running promotions that have released rare Pokemon every month as free downloads, so I had Celebi as part of my team.

With such a vast library of Pokemon, Y finally mixes all the generations Pokemon into each area.  For example, in the traditional starter areas, there is always the generic Normal-type Pokemon such as Pidgey, or Tailow.  Y makes sure to blend all of these types, along with a few more interesting ones, into each area.  So you can avoid the repeated Zubat encounters in caves, for instance.

The biggest additions that appealed to me were the quality of life improvements.  The game gives you Amulet Coin and EXP Share early in the game.  These items grant you double money from victories and bonus experience respectively.  EXP Share was a stand out in particular.  It has the ability to be turned on or off, and when on, it doesnt split the experience between the Pokemon, it gives every Pokemon a certain amount of experience.  No longer must you throw your level 10 Pokemon out against level 45’s and switch.

Pokemon Y Route 6

Further, the game gives you roller skates, which allows for quick travel earlier in the game.  TM’s are also treated as HM’s, as in you get unlimited uses for each TM to teach a move to a Pokemon, compared to some earlier titles in the series where you had to buy each TM or find it (and maybe only get one use out of it).

The game was not very difficult.  With EXP Share, you can quickly and easily train up your lower leveled Pokemon.  Money is never really an issue, and the Gym Leaders are easily typed against.  The Elite Four was also disappointingly easy, although they do pack some Full Restores that can make things dicey if you dont strategize correctly.  However, my level once I arrived at the Elite Four was more than enough, and it only took me one try to get through them.

Overall, the deep and engaging gameplay, while possibly obscure when simply reading about, is the key hook for any Pokemon title.  Y continues in this vein, with the vast library of Pokemon incorporated, and the quality of life improvements that make the capturing and battling the focus, not tedious PC and grinding requirements.

Additional Factors

While the music, growls, and sounds can’t measure up past the nostalgia of Pokemon past, they are still there and add to the charm the series has always had.

The graphics are much improved, with the introduction of 3D battles, with full animation.  Instead of just static pictures of the Pokemon doing “moves,” the in-battle screen now shows fully animated Pokemon performing the moves, similar to Pokemon Stadium.  It makes everything much more interesting to watch, and brings some life and character to the Pokemon.

Pokemon Y Crossing Bridge

The overworld is generally static as has historically been the case, but there are now more environmental hazards.  Nothing really groundbreaking or exciting, but nothing that detracts from the experience.

The game offers tons of replayability.  Besides the fact that every new game can be unique based on the Pokemon you choose, the game adds an adequately robust multiplayer over Wifi that the series has really needed.  You can now connect to the internet and battle strangers from across the world.  This is a great addition for those that want a challenge – wifi battles can get very difficult.

In addition, there are now wifi trades.  Most notable is the wonder trade, where you pick a Pokemon that will be traded randomly to someone else, in exchange for a new random Pokemon.  Some people will throw out some low level generic Pokemon, while others will put in something good.  Its a fun system.

Conclusion

Pokemon Y refines the tried-and-true formula of Pokemon that has been successful for 20 years.  With helpful improvements that reduce tedious management aspects, along with a new slew of Pokemon to evaluate, the game gives quality content for fans of the series, as well as newcomers.  However, the story, challenge, and uniqueness are sorely lacking, which ultimately fails to add a definite WOW factor to the game.

Pokemon Y Battle

The Good

+Huge library of Pokemon to pull from

+Quality of life improvements that refocus the game on battling, and less on tedium

+New multiplayer/wifi functions that add additional content

The Bad

-Same formula, without much innovation

-Lackluster story

-Not challenging (although self-imposed restrictions could help here)

 

Final Score: 6.6/10

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6 thoughts on “Review: Pokemon Y

  1. The double-edged sword of static improvement. One could accuse Pokémon of never taking risks and only evolving very slowly if at all. Then there is the “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” crowd that would play the same game till the end of time. I think your review captures this essence quite nicely, walking the line between addressing one side as well as the other.
    I had a lot of fun with Y simply due to the Wi-Fi features and even though I generally regard graphics as the least important bit of any game, seeing wild encounters in the new design always got me excited.
    Team Flare’s ideology is pretty dark if you ask me, starting with the team leader channelling Hitler at some points and resorting to genocide near the end.
    All in all a fun experience and a fun read.

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  2. I have not played this game. I was interested to see a 3D Pokemon game which animates the fights. The story does sound similar to the first game, but I suppose it must be difficult to create a new story considering the game revolves around training a team of Pokémon to become the champions. Some of the side plots were interesting though, like the siege of Saffron City and the tower filled with ghosts in Lavender Town. I did find it a little annoying when wild Pokémon would attack constantly while travelling between towns. The EXP seems useful, rather than sending out inexperienced Pokémon during fights in a desperate attempt to level them up.
    How do the team members fit into the gameplay? Can the player play as them? Or do they provide story elements? Where is this set? Is it a new location? Or is it one of the locations from the previous game? What are the environmental hazards?

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  3. The foray into 3D and “quality of life” improvements that you mentioned made Pokemon X/Y a standout for me. While I can’t disagree over the formula and story staying largely the same over 20 years, I think that’s something you know and accept going in. Compared to previous Pokemon games, X/Y are pretty stellar if you ask me.

    And if you’re looking for a challenge, which it sounds like you may be, check out the Nuzlocke system or impose other restrictions on yourself (only visit a PokeCenter once every so often, can’t use certain types, etc.).

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    • I definitely agree with your point about knowing the formula before going in. I would like to see something new, but I bought the game with some expectation that I knew what I was getting. I’ve seen nuzlocke but have not yet tried it – it should satiate those looking for a challenge. I’m excited to see what happens with Sun/Moon!

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