As someone who has played Pokémon since its original releases, the first thing I noticed about Pokémon X and Y was something that might seem minor to the uninitiated – you can hold down B to run from the very beginning of the game, rather than waiting until you’re given a pair of running shoes. It doesn’t sound like much, but those who have slogged through the intros of Pokémon games time and time again while enduring your trainer’s languid initial walk speed will be as ecstatic as I was.
It’s these bits of streamlining that stood out to me the most in the preview session of Pokémon X/Y. I was able to go through the first hour or so of the finished ROM, and rather than bogging me down with explanatory text and justification for my trainer’s Pokémon journey, the game seemed determined to get me out and catching critters as soon as possible. I headed to town, met a group of friends/rivals, picked my starter Pokémon, took a letter from Professor Sequoia back to my mom, and I was running off with a satchelful of potions and Pokeballs.
The contrast between Pokémon X/Y’s first hour and those of previous games was so stark that I asked game director Junichi Masuda, who had flown in from Japan along with graphic and Pokémon designer Hironobu Yoshida, about the newly expedited startup process. “Throughout the development of previous Pokémon titles, we’ve had the philosophy that when you have something that increases convenience, you kind of want to make the player feel a little bit inconvenienced before that,” Masuda-san said. “When you do get that new feature, it feels even more convenient as a result!
“But this time, we have a new item – the roller skates – that yet you zip around quite a bit faster. So that’s why we gave you the running shoes right from the beginning. Of course, new players might not know that, but we didn’t really spell it out in an explanation… you find it out, along with other gameplay hints, by talking with NPCs – or talking to real-life friends.”
Pokémon X and Y is perhaps the most ambitious Pokémon title since the Game Boy original, and it’s filled with these sorts of changes, great and small alike, to a long-established formula. Perhaps most notably, it’s the first Poké-title to get a simultaneous worldwide release. “We had a much higher number of staff just on the localization side as a result,” Masuda continued. “We also had a specialized team of the Pokémon Company based in London focused on working on the FIGS (French, Italian, German, Spanish) language localizations. We brought on more staff there to translate the Japanese directly into those languages, rather than basing those localizations off the English script. It’s really exciting for players around the world to have the opportunity to finally experience the discoveries of a Pokémon game together.”
One of the themes of Pokémon X and Y is ‘beauty’, and I thought France fit that ideal.
Beyond the simultaneous release, one of the most-discussed changes to Pokémon X/Y is the shift to fully 3D visuals in both exploration and battle sequences. I was struck by how different many areas of the game looked from my expectations of a fully cel-shaded, cartoony world; many of the backgrounds have a visual style inspired by classic art landscapes. I wondered if the choice to base Kalos on France – a country known for its art culture – had anything to do with the new visual elements.
“One of the themes of Pokémon X and Y is ‘beauty’ – Kalos is actually the ancient Greek word for beauty – and I thought France fit that ideal. I’ve travelled in my own time to places for inspiration, and France really stuck out in my mind. One of the reasons we base Pokémon settings on real-world places is that we think it’d be fun for players to discover real-world similarities. It’s less about finding famous places and more about finding locales that would work well in-game.”
Was the shift to 3D a challenge? “Yes,” said Yoshida. “The biggest hurdle was translating the established 2D art style of (longtime Pokémon artist) Ken Sugimori into a 3D world. He has a distinct style of linework and shading that we wanted to faithfully translate into 3D. We didn’t want to go for a completely realistic style; instead, we wanted to convey the softness and warmth of these designs. I think it helps accentuate the aspects of the Pokémon.”
It’s the first Poké-title to get a simultaneous worldwide release.
But while there are some big changes, there are a few odd quirks in the design that seem rather out-of-place at first. Though you can control your trainer on the map using the 3DS Circle Pad, the character still moves – even diagonally – on a square-based grid akin to previous Pokémon games, making the movement take a bit of getting used to. “We always reconsider the movement for each game,” Masuda replied. “The grid-based movement is to allow players to better understand positioning in the world. That way players know exactly where they need to step to, say, begin a battle, or enter a house.”
There’s also the limited use of 3D visuals – most of the game, outside of certain cinematics and battle sequences, is displayed as flat 2D. “We chose not to use 3D in areas where we wanted to put more focus on the game’s beauty. We also felt that using 3D sparingly would make it have more impact when it did show up.”
Besides the starter Pokémon, I got to see (and catch) a few of the game’s new creatures. Besides old favorites Panpour and Zigzagoon, I was introduced to Bunnelby (a Normal-type rabbit Pokémon), Fletchling (your typical early-game Flying bird pokemon), and a buck-toothed insect called Scatterbug. With over 600 distinct Pokémon species, I wondered how the creation process worked, so I asked Yoshida – the designer of fan favorites like Darkrai and Celebi – for details.
“It’s extremely difficult to come up with fresh Pokémon designs each time,” responded Yoshida. “Usually we start out by focusing on the game’s setting – this time, it’s inspired by France, so we looked at things you could find in that area. We’ll also come up with ideas for new skills, and imagine the types of Pokémon that would use them. We might even have a new evolution method – like this game’s Mega Evolutions – and then come up with a design that would fit that evolution method. We’ve even had cases where we’ve thought of footprints first, and then brainstormed what kind of Pokémon would create it!”
We also felt that using 3D sparingly would make it have more impact when it did show up.
My time with X and Y, though brief, was enlightening. Yet one question still stuck in my mind. Pokémon generations have always featured naming schemes where the sets of games are “opposite yet complementary” – they are all sets of things, but they could be viewed as opposites to each other: Red, Blue, and Yellow; Diamond, Pearl, and Platinum. I had seen X and Y as following this scheme, with X and Y being the female and male chromosomes, respectively. The feminine grace of Xerneas and the fierce, masculine image of Yveltal cemented this association in my mind. But it turned out my assumptions were completely wrong.
“The names of X and Y represent the philosophy we had behind the two games,” explained Yoshida. “We’ve taken the idea of X and Y from the geometric X- and Y-axes. They represent two different ways of thought. At the same time, we want to convey a message encouraging people to find a common ground, where X and Y converge.”
When I explained my theory to Masuda, he seemed bemused. “Xerneas is meant to evoke imagery of eternity, while Yveltal is destruction. Perhaps you could see some ties between feminine and masculine qualities there!”
Heidi Kemps is a freelance contributor to IGN. It's best not to challenge her Japanese game knowledge. But if you must, you'll find her on Twitter.
Source : ign[dot]com