Every Pokémon generation has given us something new, not just with the Pokémon themselves or with gameplay, but also in terms of visual quality and the effects that can have on the game. This generation’s Pokémon X and Pokémon Y have made the most enormous leap of all—into 3D—and this brings its own set of improvements.
The Kalos region in Pokémon X and Y is beautiful. The world really comes alive with the new 3D approach in how it’s presented, which feels like quite the step up from previous games. In addition to the gorgeous overworld, though, I feel that the most unique aspects of Pokémon X and Y can be found in the caves, dungeons, and Lumiose City itself, all of which seem to have been turned into experimental playgrounds for techniques never before employed in a mainline Pokémon RPG.
For starters, a lot of the caves in the game are displayed in stereoscopic 3D. While this doesn’t sound earth-shattering, keep in mind that the rest of the environments cannot be viewed using the 3D effect on the Nintendo 3DS. In fact, the 3DS disables it most of the time, reserving it for use in battles and cutscenes… and of course, in caves. The caves in particular use the stereoscopic 3D very well—and yet, the 3D effect is the tiniest of differences between the caves and the rest of the overworld. While the 3D is nice to have, it’s the other little details that really make the difference.
For example, there is a single smaller cave out in the middle of Pokémon X and Y’s ocean called the Sea Spirit’s Den, which consists of just one room. Presumably, this room will be of importance later (you don’t just leave a blank, open space like that for nothing), but what struck me when I entered this space for the first time was just how moody it was. The complete silence, and then the drip-drop sound of water droplets, creating their own music.
Then there’s the Reflection Cave, which doesn’t employ stereoscopic 3D. True to the creators’ vision, though, this cave exploits the beauty of the 3DS’ graphical capabilities as much as it can. Usually in Pokémon caves, you find the standard puzzles—pushing rocks with Strength, making your way through mazes, using Flash (which, by the way, has a completely different effect in X/Y), and, if you count dungeons, being shoved through the floor by transporters that work like conveyor belts. These may or may not have tickled your brain cells in past games, but regardless, all of these puzzles could be done using simple, Game Boy-style graphics, and we haven’t moved from that since, even as Pokémon found its way to better hardware over the years.
Until now, that is. In the Reflection Cave, visuals enhancements are used as part of puzzle-solving, and it works beautifully.
The Reflection Cave is a cave with the walls coated with glass-like sheets, allowing you see your reflection almost perfectly. This, in combination with the new camera that sits lower than in previous Pokémon games, allows you to see the reflection of the ledges present in Pokémon caves that are usually blind to you as the player, and this mechanic is what you have to use to get through the cave. That’s the kind of detail we’ve never seen before and it brings something new to exploration.
Another of the most unique areas in the game is the Glittering Cave, which can be separated into two sections. The second section isn’t very unique—it serves as a Team Flare stomping ground so the focus is on them, and it doesn’t try anything particularly innovative. (The 3D option is still present, though, so you can view the glowing blue and green walls in all its glory.) The first section, however, consists of a long, tubular cave, barely wide enough to fit your trainer.
In this section of the game, the camera sits right behind you at eye-level, making you feel like you yourself are traveling down the meandering path. There are a few branches, and should you decide to take a turn, the camera swivels around to keep up with you. Viewing this portion of the game in stereoscopic 3D is a real treat. There are also no random encounters here. Instead, at intervals, you’ll see a dark patch ahead of you, blocking your way. Approaching the patch causes a wild Pokémon to leap out at you and draw you into battle.
This new “symbol encounter”-style of meeting wild Pokémon is also present in the badlands that sit outside of Lumiose City. The badlands are similar to a desert area in that they’re completely barren. There are skate rails and cliff drops to add some variety to the area, and sometimes the wind will blow hard enough that you’ll have difficulty traveling by rollerblade or bike in one direction. The most interesting aspect of the badlands, though, is the Pokémon. Here, too, there are no random encounters.
Instead, you’ll see shadows burrowing around underground. Unlike the stationary black patches that await you in the Glittering Cave, though, these mounds of dirt will actively hound you and even follow you for some distance if you approach them. And these are just the things I’ve seen relatively early on in the game.
Pokémon X and Pokémon Y may bring us new Pokémon and graphics, but they also take advantage of these to incorporate new ideas to the Pokémon series and experimenting in terms of how they work with what is traditionally “Pokémon”. While these caves and experiments are short and trivial in the grand scheme of the game, they certainly provide a window of insight as to what Pokémon can accomplish in the future.