As enduring and successful as the Pokémon franchise is, it’s been a while since I can say that the concept felt new and fresh. A few years back, I didn’t even pre-order Black and White because, some new additions aside, it didn’t feel like a sufficiently new experience to me. But as X and Y got closer and closer to release, I felt a very different wave of energy coming from them. Nintendo was really pushing the idea that X and Y were going to be brand new adventures in the Pokémon universe, and boy, let me tell you–they nailed it this time.
The Pokémon series is one that is hallmarked by familiarity and continuity. And indeed, all the elements that fans have come to know and expect in a Pokémon game are all here. From the very beginning of the game, you’re thrown into a familiar setting with your mom downstairs and you on your way to meet a Professor who is supposed to give you a Pokémon and get you going on your journey. There are so many new things to be had in this game, and yet, everything feels warmly familiar, welcoming to both new fans and veterans.
The first thing veteran fans are sure to notice is how quickly the game gets you moving, collecting, and battling. It didn’t take even five minutes for the game to give me my starter and get me battling and collecting. This is a definite improvement over the meaningless introductions prior entries have provided. And indeed, this is the fastest pacing the series has ever seen. Rarely did I feel like I was just hanging around without purpose. The expedited pacing is not just limited to story progression, however; the entire game moves fast. Simply moving across maps is incredibly speedy, boasting a variety of different methods of locomotion like walking, running, rollerblading, biking, and even riding your Pokémon. Everything feels so fluid, no movements feel clunky, and even though you have the option of moving in quadrants, it truly feels like Pokémon has transitioned into a 3D-rendered world.
I can’t let a discourse on movement and pacing go without mention of saving. Saving in this game is so fast. It takes maybe one second, max, for your game to finish saving once prompted. This, my friends, is a true point of celebration for all RPG fans and gamers alike.
But the logistic improvements don’t end there. This is the first time the handheld, main entry titles have made their way into fully 3D rendered designs, and they look phenomenal. The overworld looks just as crisp and vibrant as any of the best-looking titles the 3DS has to offer. Cities and regions are brightly detailed and each area stands out as an entirely distinct area. Likewise, battles look incredible. Every Pokémon is fully realized, and even the slightest differences, like differences between genders of the same species, are represented vividly. Even the animations of moves are all actualized and serve as evidence of the time and effort that went into it all. And, as a side note, the actual 3D effects in this game are great. Though only select parts of the game can be viewed in 3D (like battles), they aren’t overbearing or irritating.
And, for the first time in the series, you are finally able to customize your character! I remember when choosing whether you wanted to play as a a boy or a girl was a big deal, and this feels like the next big step in making Pokemon an even more personal experience. At the outset, you can choose your character’s skin tone to more greatly reflect a particular race or ethnicity. As the game progresses, your options widen and you gain access to all sorts of varying articles of clothing. The abundance of hats, pants, shirts, bags, shoes, and accessories in a variety of different colors and designs is actually pretty fun and something worth wasting your in-game money on. Whatever changes you do choose to make are accurately reflected in all sorts of gameplay, including while you roam the overworld and while you are in battle. My character right now looks nothing like the stock character I selected at the beginning of the game, and is something I find myself wasting time on every so often. More importantly, this feature finally matches the emphasis that the game places on your ability to choose and play with any combination of the hundreds of Pokemon that exist, deepening a system that already tailors to your personal preferences and biases.
The most notable additions to the gameplay can be found in the new Fairy-type Pokémon and the Mega Evolutions. The Fairy types were created in order to balance out some of the strengths and weaknesses of various types in the metagame. In particular, the Fairies help curb the overcentralizing powers and abilities of Dragon-types. As a competitive battler myself, the new checks they afford against Dragon Pokémon are huge, as Dragon types are always difficult to deal with. But the Fairy types also help add some merit to using Fire-types and Poison-types (among others), two types of Pokémon that have some crippling inabilities that limit their usage. The advent of the Fairies is cause to reevaluate the types and weaknesses chart. And while much remains the same, there is also plenty to reconsider, as all of a sudden Pokémon who were once regarded as harmless may now need to be treated as threats in the battling world, effectively shaking the foundations of battle as we know them.
Arguably the most popular and well-advertised additions to the game are those of the Mega Evolutions. These new evolutions perpetuate the theme of familiarity and innovation coursing through X and Y. Mega Evolutions are upgraded, significantly more powerful and redesigned versions of many familiar Pokémon. Charizard, Lucario, Mewtwo, Blaziken, Ampharos, Gyarados, Gengar, and many others have received Mega Evolutions. These new evolutions look great, as all the Pokémon who have received them look far more wild and powerful than their originals. The advent of these new evolutions takes many of our known and loved Pokemon and breathes new life into them. Again, making things feel both familiar and new at the exact same time.
Regrettably, the introduction of these Mega Evolutions seems to have led to a reduction in the amount of brand new Pokémon released. No prior installment has introduced fewer than 100 new Pokémon. X and Y, however, introduced only 69 Pokémon. While 69 is still a significant number, it’s definitely fewer than what has been brought to the table before, which is both disheartening and understandable considering how many new things have been brought into the games. And yet some of these new Pokémon seemed like lazy or otherwise just weird designs. The whole thought of sword and keychain Pokémon admittedly put me off a little.
Going through the main game seems to be a bit more challenging than other installments. Generally, the AI in other games have been brainless, making for quick and easy play. This time, however, I feel as though the computers are smarter and more responsive to the player’s actions. In past games, your computerized opponents had extremely little, if any concept of switching. These computerized opponents now seem savvy enough to switch frequently in order to counter your strategies and to take advantage of your moves. I can hardly even remember how many times my opponents have switched in a Pokémon with Sap Sipper to absorb my Grass-type attacks or how many times they have switched in Flying types at the realization that I’m attacking with Ground-type moves. Similarly, in Double battles, my opponents seemed to have strategies and would generally focus their efforts on a particular one of my Pokémon, picking them off individually. While some may view these changes to make the game more difficult, I find it far more satisfying to consider this an increase to the game’s challenge levels.
One last final note that I want to touch upon are the improvements made to multiplayer and networking. Gamefreak definitely tapped into the 3DS’s emphasis on playing with friends. The Global Trade Station, or GTS, feels much more efficient than its induction years ago, and finding and offering Pokémon is easier than ever. Finding opponents to battle is a much more streamlined process that allows you to specify exactly under what rules and conditions you want to play your match, easily finding you an opponent within a short time span. As long as you have access to WiFi, you are never alone when playing X and Y, augmenting the emphases on trading and battling that have been at the core of the franchise since its link cable days.
I can’t stress how much I’ve enjoyed the new Pokémon games since they were released just a short few days ago, and I urge all fans, both old and new, to get out there and join the party. Pokémon X and Pokémon Y are available worldwide right now and you can buy your copy of either Pokemon X or Pokemon Y right on Amazon.
[+Graphic Improvements][+Mega Evolutions][+Logistic Improvements][+Character Customization][+Familiar Innovation][+Improved AI]
[-Fewer New Pokemon]