How Pokemon X and Y Ushered in the 3D Era

The launch of the 3DS provided Pokémon X and Y with a real chance to shine. Let's look back at the highs and lows...

This article comes from Den of Geek UK.

It may have only been six years ago, but it feels long ago. Pokemon X and Y were the first installments in the RPG franchise to launch on the 3DS, with Nintendo’s 3D-enabled handheld console having arrived on the market in 2011. The handheld’s ability to flick between a standard 2D display and battery-eating 3D visuals meant that X and Y could present pocket monsters in a more detailed and multifaceted way than ever before. These games really embraced the third dimension, and the resultant visuals set such a high bar that many of today’s Pokémon sprites look an awful lot like these 2013 versions.

The games were set in the Kalos region, which was based on France, meaning that players got to experience their first Pokémon adventure that had a distinctly European feel (the next one of these will be Sword and Shield, which are set in the UK-inspired Galar region). The French influence meant that Kalos was crammed with castles, and also played host to the most visually impressive Pokémon location yet: Lumiose City, which was an adaptation of Paris complete with its own Eiffel Tower equivalent (the Prism Tower). Put simply, Kalos was the most visually stunning region that the franchise had produced at this point.

Starting a new game on Pokémon Y in 2019, the first thing you notice is that the visuals totally still hold up. Especially if you play in 3D, your favorite critters all look great and the world itself remains one of the best-realized regions to date. The first time you walk/run/rollerblade into Lumiose City, you realize how far the franchise has come: the camera has moved lower, the characters look bigger and more real than before, the depth of field is impressive, and the circular nature of the city is also a neat touch.

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Another nice thing you notice early on in the game is that your character’s fellow youths are not being set up as rivals. Instead, they feel like actual friends that each have their own interests. Some want to battle you, others want to investigate the newly added Mega Evolution mechanic, and Tierno just loves to dance. This element of the game felt fresh at the time, and the lack of a rude rival means that the villainous strand of the game is left wholly to Team Flare and its leader Lysandre, a man with big hair who wants to destroy humanity.

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The main beats of the story are fairly familiar – leaving home, catching Pokémon, and training for Gym battles before eventually taking down an evil team and defeating the Elite Four – but the exciting new region and the visual upgrades make the journey feel worthwhile. However, there are some elements that make the game feel a bit too easy.

At the very start, it feels like this new game has retained the difficulty level of its predecessors: if you didn’t choose a fire starter Pokémon, you might find yourself grinding a little before you can topple the bug-themed first gym. Once you do defeat that first gym, though, something significant happens – on your way out of town, you’re given an EXP Share device that gives every single one of your party Pokémon a little dose of experience every time you defeat an enemy’s critter or catch a new Pokémon.

It doesn’t matter whether you only use one Pokémon in every battle, because all of the other creatures in your party will be levelling up in the background regardless. The result of this is that all your core Pokémon become quite powerful after a few hours of play – battles start to seem easy, and you might find yourself wondering if it’s worth turning the EXP Share off just to make the game more challenging. You probably won’t, though, because building a party of powerful Pokémon is quite fun in its own way. And the fact that you get to choose a starter Pokémon from the Kanto region, as well as a new one, ensures that you can engineer a powerful crew with multiple different specialities without too much effort. The EXP Share is a blessing and a curse, basically, which allows you to live out a Pokémon power fantasy without much in the way of hard work.

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As you travel across the land with your squad of strong fighters, you defeat eight gyms and take on Team Flare bases aplenty, building up to an epic conclusion that comes complete with a little history lesson about the region. All in all, the game is gorgeous to look at and all too easy to master. But for showing us how big and beautiful a Pokémon experience can be, X and Y still hold a special place in our hearts.

What’s new? As well as the huge graphics upgrade and the other presentational changes, X and Y also introduced Horde Encounters and Sky Battles for the first time. This generation also saw the addition of Mega Evolution, a temporary upgrade for select creatures, which happens during battles when the player-character uses a special Mega Stone. The minigames in Super Training and the touch-screen-assisted critter care of Pokémon-Amie were also fun additions. The Fairy type also made its debut here.

Weirdest thing: Players have a strange mystery to unravel throughout the game, which leads to the revelation that a 3000-year-old chap named AZ once used the same ancient weapon that Lysandre now seeks. The player meets AZ at Team Flare’s secret lab towards the end of the game, learning that AZ originally harnessed the power of a legendary Pokémon in order to end a war and bring his beloved Floette back to life. It’s all a bit much, to be honest.

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Cutest critter: 72 new Pokémon were introduced to the franchise in X and Y, along with loads of new sprites for the old ones. Out of the loveable starter options – Froakie, Fennekin, and Chespin – our favorite would have to be Chespin. A cross between a chestnut and a chipmunk, this grass-type wonder looks like it’s wearing a little hat. The Panda-based Pancham is also very adorable.

Poké-legacy: The franchise-redefining visual overhaul of X and Y continues to provide the baseline for what a Pokémon game should look like, and we mentioned already that the sprites of today aren’t that far removed from the ones introduced here. But it isn’t just the look of these games that made an impact.

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Fans continue to speculate about the mysteries of Kalos, for one thing, with a recent theory predicting that we could see the France-inspired Kalos connecting to the UK-inspired Galar in the post-game for Pokémon Sword and Shield. Could the closed train station in X and Y‘s Couriway Town potentially house a Pokémon version of the Eurostar that links up with Sword and Shield‘s Galar? We’ll just have to wait and see to find out, but it’s an exciting fan theory which proves that people are still thinking about Kalos. 

The Kalos native critter Greninja also showed up in the Detective Pikachu movie recently. On a less positive note, the notorious Klefki continues to be the butt jokes among fans (it looks like a bunch of keys). The legendary creatures Xerneas, Yveltal, and Zygarde are also still popular, and we’re hoping to see them in Pokémon Go soon.

Form-altering, mid-battle moves such as Mega Evolution have become a recurrent concept in the franchise, as well. Sword and Shield‘s upcoming Dynamax mechanic is intended as a successor to Mega Evolution, and Sun and Moon‘s powerful Z-Moves also fulfilled a similar purpose. With all of this legacy emanating from its big changes, you could even argue that this 3D-embracing generation served as a Mega Evolution for the franchise itself.