Pokemon X and Y – When Graphics Make All the Difference

Pokemon X and Y were released over the last weekend, and I thought it would be an injustice to not cover it in any way considering that the Pokemon series is one of the biggest in the entire world (Although that didn’t stop me from completely ignoring Grand Theft Auto). The biggest change in the new Pokemon games is clearly the fact that it is the first 3D game in the main series. So I thought I would look at how graphical, and aesthetic changes that have greatly improved games. Gamers often argue that graphics don’t matter in video games, and that gameplay is the all important factor in determining whether a game is good or not. This is a partial truth. The fact of that matter is that graphics and aesthetic choices can significantly improve your enjoyment of a game, even if they don’t add a single thing to the gameplay. Today, I’d like to look at a few examples including the newest Pokemon game.

It’s exactly the same except totally different.

There are definitely games where graphical changes aren’t noticed. These games are ones who mainly ever tweak the game, or whose subject matter is such that there isn’t a massive leap between bad graphics and good ones. A great example of this is modern military shooters. Call of Duty, Battlefield, and countless others might as well be the same game. Even though the latest Call of Duty game looks infinitely better than Call of Duty 4 Modern Warfare, nobody is going to give the team credit for it because it’s been so gradual that, truthfully, few people have noticed. It’s hard to wow people with graphics when they’ve seen it all before. Borderlands is a good series for looking at how aesthetic changes can carve out a niche in an overcrowded market place. While many factors come together to explain Borderland’s success, the cell shaded graphics definitely set it apart from the throng of identical first person shooters on the market today. Halo, similarly, often shirks traditional browns and greys in favour of larger brighter and funkier levels. Due to this, many people remember more Halo levels than any Call of Duty or Battlefield ones. This isn’t to rag on the modern military shooters, but I want to highlight how changing aesthetics can set your game apart and make gamers far more interested in your product.

Could be twenty different games released in the last year or coming up.

Pure graphic enhancements make a difference as well, because, as much as many old school gamers hate to publicly admit, a wow factor does improve people’s enjoyment of a game. The immense scope of the now dreadfully dated Final Fantasy VII did something for gamers that no Final Fantasy had before. Gamers like to call this fluff, but it works plain and simple. The best games don’t have to be the most graphically intensive ones, but pretty and impressive pieces of work attract people plain and simple. It’s naive to believe that they don’t. Some games go to far with this, however. Crysis was a bad, generic game that had nothing going for it aside from being obscenely pretty. It hid all of its incredible weak points behind a veneer of polished graphics.

Laughable now and not long after even, but this was one of the most impressive games ever to a whole generation of gamers.

As part of this is the dating of games. What worked ten years ago may look horrible now. This is due to the progression of graphics and gameplay enhancements. For example, System Shock 2 was a massively impressive game when it came out, and, in many ways, it stands superior to Bioshock. However, few gamers playing now would be able to get into the cumbersome, and unfortunately ugly game. Many older PC games are held back by today’s standards because of poorly designed, overly complicated gameplay. However, the changing standard in graphics also plays a part in fewer gamers going back. I don’t want to derail this post by continuing to far down this path, but my point is that people care about graphics, and they can actively shape which games they play or not. And it’s not a new phenomenon. It’s existed throughout the medium with slogans like “Blast Processing,” being thrown about in order to entice Nintendo gamers to the Sonic fold.

Sonic – the original graphics whore.

So graphics matter and aesthetics matter, but what does this have to do with Pokemon? The reason I’m lumping these topics together is because it is important to note how important graphics are to a game before I tell you how pretty Pokemon is. We’ve seen Pokemon in 3D before, but never like this. Pokemon X and Y is a complete breath of fresh air, and much of that can be attributed to its graphical overhaul. Some reviewers have noted that the feeling is mostly superficial and the core Pokemon experience has changed very little in the generation jump. They don’t understand the importance that graphics have on the consumer. The core game is more or less the same as it was when Pokemon Red and Blue hit the western shores, however, to say that the graphical change is superficial is underestimating how much people care about the visual component of video games. Gameplay is king, but visuals can enhance and excite ways that pure gameplay cannot do. And in this way, Pokemon X and Y’s major graphical overhaul has been a massive success.

Don’t forget about how fabulous Mega Ampharos looks.

It’s easy to dismiss Pokemon’s graphical enhancement as being nothing more than 3D Pokemon, but it goes much deeper than that. The world feels considerably more alive than it ever did. Journeying long distances actually feels like a journey instead of simply moving from one screen to the next, even though that is exactly what you’re doing. It’s immersion which this jump has helped the most. Sure the 3D Pokemon models and the battles look better than ever, and are surprisingly also the fastest they’ve ever been, but its the world that really jumps out. Character models, though wasted a bit with forgettable rival designs, make characters jump out instead of being relegated to a scrunched collection of hard to see pixels without any character whatsoever. What is more impressive with the game is that Game Freak did all of that while making the game definitively feel like a Pokemon game. For all of the differences, I never once feel like I’m playing something different even though I am. This is a person who criticized Black and White 2 as overstepping it, and expressed a worry that Pokemon was growing stale. Only a few months later and I’m convinced that Pokemon is as strong as it’s ever been. Why? Graphics to back up the already strong gameplay.

It may not look impressive on your monitor, but it certainly is in-game.

I can’t pretend my opinion on the importance of graphics in video games is a popular one nowadays. The people who follow the prettiest game are often dismissed as casuals by gamers as if that were an insult. However, even hardcore gamers follow the allure of graphics even if they don’t notice it. Aesthetics and graphics go hand and hand, and when a gamer talks about the charm of an old school-looking game, they are making a judgment based on its aesthetics. Not everyone is going to jump to the most graphically powerful game, but to say that graphics don’t change one’s enjoyment of the media at all is short sighted.

– Mistranslations for the Modern Gamer


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