Pokémon X and Pokémon Y are the friendliest Pokémon games ever, both to new players and to jaded old-guard types like myself. The series has never been easier, and at the same there are more options than ever before. But there's one tiny change in the new Pokémon games that has the hardcore competitive community of players dancing for joy—and it's something average players may never know or care about.
Not that this change doesn't affect casual players. It actually affects anyone who uses the games' surprisingly accessible online features. It affects trading or battling with strangers, even if the player doesn't devote hundreds of hours to it like some do. In past games, casual players who dared to venture online faced hordes of artificially created, hacked-in Pokémon with perfect stats that were never earned. But this one change has essentially eliminated the need for players to cheat to get competition-grade Pokémon, making the online landscape a safer place. And all it took was a slight alteration to the function of a single item.
It has to do with the way that Pokémon parents pass their stats down to the baby monsters that hatch out of eggs. But hang on—some of you might be lost already, especially if you haven't played a Pokémon game since Red, Blue and Yellow.
If you're up to speed on breeding and IVs, you can skip the next section.
Starting in Pokémon Gold and Pokémon Silver, players could leave two Pokémon at a time in a "daycare" located in the game world. It seemed innocent; your Pokémon would gain levels while you were off seeing the world. But the daycare turned out to be more of a honeymoon suite, as two Pokémon of the same "egg group" will eventually start producing Pokémon eggs if left there together, and the eggs can be hatched into new Pokémon.
There are all kinds of advantages to breeding Pokémon. They can inherit moves from their parents that they would never be able to learn on their own; you can breed Pokémon with specific natures, which affect their stats; and they also inherit something known as Individual Values, or "IVs."
IVs are essential to understanding Pokémon, but they're well-hidden from the average player. The games only hint that they exist, whenever they remind you that no two Pokémon, even ones that look identical, are alike. IVs are what make that possible: they're a Pokémon's DNA.
Each Pokémon has six IVs, one for every stat, from HP to speed. But when you breed two Pokémon together, only three of those IV numbers—out of a total of 12—are selected from the parents and passed down to the baby. That means that even if both parents have six perfect IVs (and thus, perfect stats), the new Pokémon will only inherit three perfect stats, and the other three will be determined randomly. These factors make breeding competitive-grade Pokémon (as in Pokémon with perfect or near-perfect stats) extremely challenging.
The games only hint that IVs exist, whenever they remind you that no two Pokémon, even ones that look identical, are alike.
Having a few imperfect stats may not sound like that big a deal—nobody's perfect, after all. But in hardcore player-to-player Pokémon battles a single stat point can make all the difference. One point in speed, for example, can determine which player's 'mon moves first, and thus which player ultimately wins. Thus, breeding perfect or near-perfect Pokémon is essential for anyone who wants to battle seriously, and since breeding has always had that inescapable element of randomness, many, many players turned to cheating instead.
Breeding is different in Pokémon X and Pokémon Y, and the biggest change is thanks to a single item (and not even a new item): the Destiny Knot. It's simply been given a new wrinkle, and it makes it much easier to pass down perfect stats when breeding Pokémon.
The Destiny Knot was introduced in the 2007 games Pokémon Diamond and Pearl. In battle, it can make Pokémon fall in love, but only under specific circumstances. It was essentially useless in past games. But in Pokémon X and Y, giving the Destiny Knot to a breeding Pokémon ensures that not three out of 12, but five of 12 stats are passed down to the baby. This is a game changer, and combined with a few other new features it's all but eliminated the need for cheating.
You see, the competitive community as a whole doesn't want to have to cheat. Hacking has been generally looked at as a necessary evil, because breeding near-perfect Pokémon was far too random and time-consuming. But now seriously players no longer have to resort to hacking to get the 'mons they want.
In the past, the large and fervent Pokémon community has spearheaded efforts to hack handheld Nintendo systems. But hackers have yet to permanently crack the 3DS for cheating purposes, and without pressure from this community they may never do so at all.
This change is like the ultimate gift from Pokémon developers Game Freak. But for the first week that X and Y were out—remember, they're the first Pokémon games to launch simultaneously around the world—hopeful hardcore players were holding their breath waiting for someone to discover a change to the tedious breeding system. Some important new features were evident from the start, like "Super Training," which makes it much easier to train Pokémon in specific stats. But for that first seven days players scoured the game and converged on message boards and Reddit, discussing various theories and discoveries and waiting for a sign.
Hacking has been generally looked at as a necessary evil, because breeding near-perfect Pokémon was far too random and time-consuming.
And that might have gone on for a long time, if not for Game Freak's Junichi Masuda, the games' director, who revealed the change on Twitter one week after their release.
I found out from a thread in the forums on the competitive Pokémon fan site Smogon. A user had translated Masuda's tweet from Japanese (and done a much better job than Google Translate, which turned it into gobbledigook). The message read, "I heard from battle director Morimoto-kun [Shigeki Morimoto, another well-regarded Game Freak designer who's worked on every major game in the series] that if you have your Pokémon hold the item 'Red String/Destiny Knot' and bring it to the Day Care, FIVE of your two Pokémons' innate 'Abilities' are passed down!"
Here's what the change means: with five of the parent Pokémon's collective 12 IVs being passed down to the baby Pokémon, only one stat is left entirely to chance. If both parents have a few perfect IVs on them—and Pokémon with a few perfect IVs are now much easier to get, thanks to a new endgame area called the Friend Safari—then there's a decent chance of five perfect stats being passed down to the baby. Over a few generations of smart breeding (incest is not just encouraged in Pokémon breeding, it's required—a quirk, to be sure) 'mons that are for all intents and purposes perfect can be hatched.
The beauty is that the vast majority of competitive Pokémon only really need a few perfect stats themselves; a dedicated physical attacker needs perfect Attack and Speed numbers, for example, while perfect HP, Defense and Special Defense are nice but unnecessary. And the Special Attack stat doesn't matter at all, so if the other five stats are inherited and S. Attack happens to be left to chance then you've effectively got a perfect Pokémon. Similarly, a defensive Pokémon meant to withstand a lot of punishment needs perfect HP, Defense and Special Defense, but Speed and the two attack stats don't matter as much.
In the past players who wanted to battle competitively but didn't want to spend dozens or hundreds of hours breeding would use a device like an Action Replay to create Pokémon with across-the-board perfect stats and insert them into their games. Alternatively, some players would use something called "RNG" manipulation, the Pokémon equivalent of counting cards in Blackjack, to game the system from the inside and produce Pokémon with desired stats. The community is split on whether RNG abuse is cheating, but it's certainly frowned upon by many.
That meant that anyone who didn't cheat or use RNG, but who also didn't put in the time for breeding, had to face unnaturally strong Pokémon any time they wanted to battle online. It really wasn't fun for anyone. But now that won't be necessary, since with the right preparation perfect Pokémon can be obtained in just a few hours, and hardcore players seem excited to do things legit for once.
Posters in the initial Smogon thread were overjoyed, expressing love for Morimoto and Game Freak. "So awesome not having to put so much effort in to get good mons bred naturally, but the effort you do put in seems much more satisfying," wrote one. "I could seriously hug Morimoto right now," said another.
The math-minded in the thread did calculations and posted equations detailing the chances of getting different combinations of stats, natures and moves on hatched Pokémon. Eager players started posting their results, confirming the change. A separate thread was created to document all the details.
Here's my favorite quote: "Amazing news, i have been disappointed with the fact there were no IV improvements in X all week and woke up to find this wonderful news. Being a person with no interest in RNGing pokes or hacking ones but still having a need to satisfy my inner power gamer this made my life x1000 times easier." I think that pretty well encapsulates how a lot of Pokémon players are feeling right now.
"I could seriously hug Morimoto right now."
There are so many great new features in Pokémon X and Pokémon Y. They combine the best of the classic Pokémon games with enough freshness to get even jaded players hooked yet again. And with additions like Super Training, the Friend Safari, and the improvements to breeding Pokémon, Game Freak has shown that they finally understand exactly what it is their most dedicated fans desire.
If I'm right, and fewer players turn to cheating this generation, then casual and hardcore Pokémon players alike will be able to battle online without having to face teams full of completely perfect, artificial monsters. Players will be able to trade their Pokémon online with strangers, using the new, weird Wonder Trade or the Global Trade Station, without fear of receiving hacked Pokémon that they won't even be able to use in online battles because the game detects that they're illegal. And, most importantly, players who only dabbled or played casually before can now try their hands at breeding, a process that's been made infinitely more manageable.