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XY Opening

This week, I watched a grown man struggle with Pokémon X, and it wasn’t his fault.

Pokémon X & Y, like the games that came before them, chart a different course from that of most other games targeted at kids and preteens. They’re a deep, mechanical sandbox. Battles are won and lost based on a player’s ability to understand and exploit things like type compatibility and move priority. If you talk to a lot of characters in the games, you’ll get hints about how to fight effectively, but you won’t have all of the answers just handed over. The type compatibility chart isn’t anywhere in the game, or even in the digital-only manual included on the cartridge. For someone playing for the very first time, the system is understandably confusing. Psychic hurts poison types? And poison trumps fairies? And something can be psychic and a fairy at the same time!? Many of the relationships aren’t exactly intuitive leaps.

On top of that, there’s no detailed in-game map of the numerous routes and caves. Forks and side tracks can lead to valuable treasure or defeating dead ends. Maybe both at once, as you’ll know all too well if you’ve ever found yourself gazing longingly past a smashable rock with no Pokémon packing the right move to clear the way.

And don’t even get me started on EV training, IV breeding, and egg moves. If you want to dig deeper into Pokémon’s competitive battling scene, the game rewards you with an opportunity to assemble teams armed to the teeth with clever combinations of moves. X & Y rarely ask you to fight double or triple battles as part of the main story, but you’ll find these scenarios force you to adapt to exciting new situations if you test yourself at the Battle Institute, or dare to face a one hundred trainer gauntlet at the Battle Maison.

And this game is targeted at kids?

The man who I watched struggle with the game was experiencing a gulf between expectation and reality. Here was a game marketed with a benign, friendly cartoon and images of a happy electric mouse forcing him to learn complex relationships of battle moves and navigate twisting tunnels under the constant assault of Woobats and Geodudes.

I think it’s easy to forget that Pokémon games aren’t intuitive. Many of us have been in the know for too long. I’ve been playing since the first games graced the olive-colored screen of the first Game Boy. I can recite about 80% of that type compatibility chart in my sleep. I know that bug types almost always gain experience more quickly than dragon types. After countless hours of play across six generations of games, the patterns and expectations are second nature to me.

If you’re completely new to Pokémon games, don’t let the complexities get you down. There’s a lot you can do to get the most out of your adventure.

Kalos Starters

Communicate: I’m not just talking about chatting up the characters roaming each of the game’s charming towns and cities. Talk to your fellow players! One of them may have even pointed you toward this article. If nobody else you know plays the game, drop in on a forum or a Twitch.TV channel. Exchange Friend Codes for your 3DS freely so that you can battle, trade, and support each other at a moment’s notice. Share your excitement when you make a fascinating discovery. (“Inkay evolves HOW!?”) Ask a friend how he or she beat a tough Gym Leader. You may be going through the game by yourself, but when you work together, you’ll enjoy a rich sense of a shared world, even if your characters can’t navigate the paths and caves side-by-side.

Research: Don’t run away! It’s fun research, I promise! I’ve spent entire afternoons reading up on move lists so I can figure out how to transfer unusual moves from one species of Pokémon to another. Breeding a Pokémon with the exact combat performance you want takes some time and effort, but the resulting pet is one you can carry on into post-campaign challenges or battles against friends with pride.

Discover: Are your friends vexed by the same problem that challenges you? Can’t find the answer you’re looking for on the ever-growing network of Pokémon wikis? Start experimenting! Some of the most obscure secrets in Pokémon games were discovered by putting vague hints dropped by many of the game’s characters to the test.

I think a huge part of what makes Pokémon special is that when you engage in these metagame activities, you’re doing the exact things your trainer would do in the game. Each time you seek out knowledge or support in any of these ways, you’re still playing Pokémon, even when you don’t have the game turned on. It’s this special relationship between the game and your real life activities that gives the Pokémon series its lasting appeal.

So don’t feel defeated. Get curious, and get the most out of Pokémon X & Y.

And make sure you grab Moomoo Milk from the girl outside the Pokémon Center in Dendemille Town. It’s cheaper than Super Potions, and twice as effective.

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