Probably the biggest system-seller for the 3DS in the near future, Pokémon X & Y heralds in the sixth generation – a franchise that has not only made Nintendo a modest fortune, but has one of the most dedicated fan-bases to date. The notion that this is a franchise that is child friendly is a welcome one, but there exists a competitive meta-game that has fascinated the older fans. Balance is precise, meaning that not every Pokémon is created equal. Pokémon X & Y introduces a lot of new features, but will the new type and Mega-Evolutions upset this delicate balance?
Right off the bat, you can see that the game has not only taken steps to leap into 3D textures, it also looks remarkably similar to Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King. On the 3DS, this is an astonishing feat, but it has come with a couple of small drawbacks. Frame-rates drop significantly in places, particularly when the 3D slider is turned on. 3D functionality is limited to battles and mini-games as well, making it a largely pointless feature.
But again it must be stressed that these are so minor that most probably not even care. Fundamentally, this is the best looking game in the franchise – period. It is also worth noting that the musical score is still fantastic, but certain tracks are significantly better than others. Even the classic Pokémon sounds have seen an upgrade to a better frequency, resembling later generation Pokémon’s calls in terms of quality. Pikachu even talks for the first time since Pokémon Yellow!
With barely over 60 new Pokémon, X & Y plays the usual trend of adding new Pokédex entrees cautiously. The “Gotta catch ’em all!” mantra seems to take a bit of a backseat as a result; but then again with this being a worldwide release, it is entirely possible that some secrets haven’t been revealed. The brand new Fairy type not only brings new complications to the meta-game by adding new threats to various types, but it also retrospectively updates older Pokémon typing where required.
While we’re on the subject of features that have an impact on your Pokémon, there are three touch-screen features. The first allows trainers to expedite the development of what have been previously been known as Effort Values (EVs) by allowing you to train your team using punching bags and football (soccer) mini-games. While using the punching bags is a hugely mundane endeavour, the football mini-game is a nice break from the grinding of the past games – even if it isn’t left-handed friendly. Pokémon-amie on the other hand focuses on how your Pokémon feels about you by playing games with it, mimicking their faces, petting it and feeding them sweet treats – because nothing says you care like giving your party tooth decay.
But if the new type complements the existing mechanics, Mega-Evolutions break them slightly. The idea is that one Pokémon per battle can evolve beyond their ultimate form by wielding their own specific stone mid battle. Not all final forms can, though the choices Game Freak have made about which ones can and can’t are frankly startling when you consider that some are considered broken in meta-game standards. There isn’t anything wrong with that if you are merely interested in seeing cool new takes on old designs – the two variations of Charizard are both awesome to look at, with the Pokémon X exclusive Mega-Evolution transforming his type to Fire/Dragon – but it seems that new lines need to be drawn in the competitive scene. The new battle encounters – Sky Trainer Battles, Inverse Battles, and Wild Horde encounters respectively – largely come across as a diversion but have their uses.
Perhaps the most relevant and useful mechanic is the PSS – the natural evolution of the C-Gear from Black & White. You can now access all the multiplayer functionality without having to first visit a Pokémon Centre. Access is also not limited to just friends registered, but everyone across the world. Proper online functionality has finally been achieved, with proper steps taken if someone rage-quits a battle. Wonder trades allow you to trade with a stranger to obtain a random Pokémon in return, which sounds great on paper, but could mean that what you get is an utterly pointless Pokémon.
Like Kanto, Johto, Hoenn, Sinnoh, and Unova before it; Kalos is a gigantic ecosystem where all kinds of Pokémon and the humans who inhabit it coexist. What is obvious is that Kalos based on France in the real world, not just its geographical shape but the massive trend in fashion and café culture that has gameplay implications. For the first time in series history, you can customise your own trainer to your liking, from your hat to your clothes. You can even select the colour of your skin, making this the most inclusive and personal game in the series to date.
Cafés have less of a gameplay significance compared to the fashion boutiques, but are a nice touch. On your Pokémon journey you will come across magnificent sights and a campaign that may feel familiar at first, but it quickly becomes a unique tour. There isn’t quite as much to do post-completion as there has been in the past, but what is offered should keep you entertained.
This leads us to the only major problem with Pokémon X & Y – its diabolically bad pacing. Early on you obtain the Experience Share that shares experience evenly after battles are over – meaning your team may never see action but level up alongside your powerhouses. Experience is now also obtained whenever you catch a Pokémon. It’s likely that this is the product of making the game more accessible than ever to young people, but I never felt particularly challenged.
Also, while the narrative of Pokémon Black & White might have brought something fascinating to the table with Team Plasma’s initial stance on trying to be misguided Pokémon liberators, Pokémon X & Y‘s antagonists Team Flare have a misguided agenda altogether. Perhaps this is because they’re not given a lot of time to establish their motives, transitioning from one set-piece encounter to the next with only the final encounter giving context for their actions. That aside, there seems to be an underlying theme of the discovery of Mega-Evolutions and their connection with an event happening with a legendary Pokémon, but this is never fully explored meaning that certain characters have a greatly diminished role in the proceedings.
Verdicts on Pokémon X & Y all depend on what you want out of each iteration. The lack of brand new Pokémon is somewhat disheartening as imaginations can run amok, but the brand new type and Mega-Evolutions work to at the very least expand on an already successful formula. A host of new features that work intelligently with series convention make this the best game in the series for years. It helps that it is a real looker, where the whole package feels accomplished in more ways than ever possible. Its terrible pacing is the only major crime that Pokémon X & Y have committed. Yet another noteworthy addition to your 3DS library in a year that has been kind to Nintendo’s handheld offerings; but despite some sweeping changes to the formula, it keeps its fundamental identity.