Aesthetic improvements for Pokémon X and Pokémon Y extend far beyond just the games’ battles, since the overworld is entirely modeled in much more detailed 3D now, too. With “beauty” being one of the main themes in X and Y, overworld appearances received the royal treatment. Every window in Santalune is lined with pink flowers, and fountains are intricately designed with Pokémon motifs.
In the Parfum Palace, the walls are covered with gold filaments lining them and the outside, providing a grandiose background for the multitude of golden Bisharp statues standing at attention, one after another, down the corridor. Meanwhile, out in the wild, instead of just having tall grass and very tall grass, you also have flowering grasses, where the tall grass is topped with purple lavender, red roses, or yellow Goldenrod flowers.
Changes have been made to the day and night cycle, too. The transition from day to night has been made real-time, making the switch between the two more convincing. Oddly enough, however, in the overworld it may be difficult to tell at times whether it’s day or night, just because the difference between the two is far more subtle for some reason. You may not be able to tell for sure until you run into a Pokémon battle, which have backgrounds to reflect the time, location, and weather condition. Additionally, backgrounds aren’t static. Wind will blow through the grass in the background, and petals will sometimes flutter across the screen.
Despite all of these improvements in appearance, though, the most noticeable enhancement comes from the change in camerawork. Previously, Pokémon has always used a top-down camera, making even the tallest buildings appear flat. Black and White tried to fix this with Castelia City, where the camera changed to a more dynamic side view depending on where you were, but somehow the pseudo New York-inspired area always managed to feel empty and lifeless. The camera showed that the city was big, but it didn’t feel grand.
With Pokémon X and Y, the camera is dynamic and accentuates the “wow” effect of everything you encounter for the first time. Just one minute into the game, as you leave your hometown of Vaniville Town for Aquacorde Town to meet your new neighbors, the wooden door of the gate swings open and the camera smoothly but swiftly shifts to sit behind your shoulder, as though you the player were taking the first step beyond the door with your character.
When you travel to Shalour City and see the Tower of Mastery for the first time, the camera sits low to show the scale of the structure in the distance. As you approach, you find that you can’t see the entire building because it just won’t fit on the screen.
The same holds for the Gyms. We’ve come a long way since the flat ground of the gyms in the previous generations (with some exceptions in Black 2 and White 2). In Pokémon X and Pokémon Y, the Gyms seem to focus on vertical height, with you usually scaling something or the other. For example, in one Gym you have to scale a tall pillar with rock climbing wall mazes. In another, you have to swing across and climb up vines to reach the top of a tower. Almost every puzzle—even the ones that can be carried out horizontally—have more verticality to them now.
And then there’s Lumiose, which brings everything to another level. Here, the game adopts a decidedly different method of gameplay and camerawork from usual. While you usually don’t have any control of the camera, in Lumiose the screen is always sitting behind the character and swivels to look whichever way the character is facing. All the buildings tower over you, but because you’re looking from the bottom up and not top down, everything feels overwhelming—awing and confusing, even, because you have to focus to get your bearings. Thankfully, you can always reset your camera by pressing B and facing a new direction, and a simple map appears on the top screen whenever you enter a new area. Plus, if you’re still getting lost, you can always either call a cab or ride the Gogoat to reach the destination of your choice.
Actually, a cab is a very good idea because, for a relatively small fee (compared to where you are in the game), the cabby will drive you where you want to go, which you select from a long list of names. I said that Castellia in Black and White felt empty with its couple of office buildings and endless stream of NPC who ignore you, but Lumiose doesn’t give one this feeling. While there aren’t NPC flooding the streets, there are still a sizable number. Some will chat with each other as you skate by, and others will challenge you to a battle when you talk to them. (And they come back!) Every main street and side alley has something of interest, and there are even small alleys that twist between the buildings where “punks” are lurking.
Almost everything you could want is in Lumiose. For starters, the Pokémon Lab is situated here. So are the hair salons for you and your Furfrou, specialty shops for Evolution Stones, herbs, berry shakes, a studio where you can film your Trainer PR video, restaurants where you can do Double, Triple, and Rotation Battles, a very expensive boutique (which you’ll get kicked out of in the beginning because you’re not “stylish enough”), and about 15 themed cafés dotting the circular city, each filled with people and Pokémon.
The feeling of scale isn’t just for appearances, though. Because we’ve accumulated quite a Pokémon roster, in the past many Pokémon were excluded from games, and it was relatively simple to capture every monster the game had to offer before having to resort to trading with friends. Here, however, every patch of grass is jam-packed with different species, and even after spending many encounters in one route, I still found new Pokémon when I revisited. Perhaps it’s because of this that you gain EXP for catching Pokémon—otherwise you’d probably be underleveled.
For example, in the very first patch, you’ll find the usual new Pokémon—the flying Fletchling and the standard mammal Bunnelby. You’ll find the games’ insect, too, which this generation’s equivalent of Caterpie. If you’re persistent, though, and you run around some more, you can find Zigzagoon, Sentret, and Pidgey. Some of these take quite a long time to find since they’re so rare, however. To help you along, the encounter rate in grasses seems to have been raised quite a bit. (Note that this isn’t the case in caves. Cave encounters are exceedingly low.)
A high encounter rate may not seem pleasing to everyone, but Game Freak have a way to deal with that, too. Almost every route in the game has the grass being optional. If you want to hurry through but not waste Repels, you can just avoid the grass almost throughout the whole Route. Never is this more evident than in Route 6, where there are three routes. The two on the outside are filled with tall grass and trainers, but the one in the center is a dirt path with only a few trainers.
While I certainly enjoyed scouring the grasses for Pokémon and watching the battles, exploring the world for the first time and marveling at its scale was my favorite aspect of Pokémon X and Pokémon Y.
Food for thought:
1. Perhaps I was just incredibly unlucky, but I feel like the catch rate for wild Pokémon has plummeted.
2. Every now and then, you’ll come upon a sign with a camera. If you press A at the sign, you are then asked if you would like to take a picture. These pictures, where you can manipulate the camera for your desired wideness and blurriness, can be saved to the SD card.