Pokémon X and Y
The World of Pokémon has never felt so alive, even if things seem very familiar on the surface. Pokémon X and Y starts off just as every Pokémon game before it. Young trainers say goodbye to their mother and set off on a journey to become a Pokémon master. They will fight gym leaders, catch new Pokémon and stop an evil organization along the way.
Except this time trainers can move freely in the new three-dimensional French-inspired region of Kalos instead of being locked to a 4-way grid. Pokémon are fully animated in battle, they move and attack in ways that are unique to their species. Trainers with an internet connection can instantly trade and battle with players around the world via the 3DS’ bottom screen. Traveling about and catching Pokémon has never looked or played better. Unfortunately, all of the good things brought into the fold by Pokémon X and Y are nearly overshadowed by a tired story and endgame that remains virtually unchanged since the days of Red and Blue.
While it might feel like a long time coming, fans of the series will appreciate the effort that has gone into overhauling the visuals. Kalos is bright and full of variety. Trainers will have to traverse swampy nature trails, sandy plateaus and snowy passages, all of which look great with the added power of the 3DS. Lumiose City, Kalos’ version of Paris, is a lively metropolis the likes that have never been seen before in a Pokémon game. Cafés, shops and all kinds of distractions and attractions fill the city’s streets and alleyways.
To 3D or not to 3D?
Much like the history of the 3D slider itself, the 3D effect in Pokémon X and Y is hit and miss. 3D is used intelligently here; instead of wearing out player’s eyes by having it on all the time, the effect can usually only be activated during Pokémon battles. When it works, it enhances the already improved look of the battles considerably. However more often than not, the 3D effect lags the game a great deal and because of this, it isn’t worth keeping on unfortunately.
Pokémon battles have also benefitted from the graphical overhaul. Instead of standing static, Pokémon juke, jive and move in ways that reflect the personality of their species. The spiny haired Chespin charges in head first to attack. While Delphox, the final evolution of the starter Fennekin, waves a fiery branch that it uses to help channel its power. It’s neat to be able to catch a Pokémon, check its Pokédex entry, and actually see some of what you’re learning about that species be reflected in battle.
Not to be outdone by the Gold and Silver generation which added the Dark and Steel types, Pokémon X and Y does some major gameplay shaking up of its own with the addition of the new Fairy typing and Mega Evolutions. Fairy types serve a very specific purpose of being Dragon killers, a type that has had very few weaknesses going all the way back to the original games. The other big change, Mega Evolutions, allow certain Pokémon through the use of a held item to evolve mid battle regardless if they already have a complete evolutionary line. Because of how powerful some of these mega evolutions are, trainers are limited to having one mega evolved Pokémon in their party at a time.
Both additions are welcomed not only as a change of pace but also because of the new life it breathes into older Pokémon that has seen their usage decrease with each passing generation. For example, Clefable, a rather bland normal type Pokémon, has been retconned to pure Fairy. This gives Clefable an immunity to Dragon moves and a resistance to Fighting and Dark moves, three of the most powerful move types in the game. Ampharos, a largely forgotten electric sheep from Gold and Silver, receives the much more interesting Electric/Dragon typing when it mega evolves. Competitive Pokémon communities such as Smogon will have their hands full weighing the impact these changes will have on what were formally well-established strategies.
While the graphical overhaul and the new gameplay additions will probably get most of the glory, Game Freak’s biggest accomplishment is how effectively they have integrated their online and social features seamlessly into the main game. Found on the bottom screen is the Wi-Fi powered Player Search System (PSS). With the PSS turned on, a constant flow of friends, former trade/battle partners, and online passersby appear on the bottom screen and can be battled or traded with instantly. If you are just joining us from the Red and Blue, the days of hooking up with a link cable are long over. In Pokémon X and Y, a Wi-Fi connection is the only requirement to being a member of the interconnected global Pokémon community.
Also accessible on the bottom screen are two new mini-games, Pokémon Amie and Battle Trainer, which offer alternative ways to build Pokémon friendship levels and train Effort Value (EV) base stats. Both mini-games become a bit dull after extended play. However, when coupled with the changes to breeding that make it easier to pass beneficial stats and natures, they are part of a much appreciated trend towards making the tedious parts of raising Pokémon more transparent and accessible to the average player.
“Pokémon X and Y’s endgame just isn’t beefy enough to justify its pedestrian story”Despite how impressive Pokémon X and Y is on almost every front, the uninspired story acts as a wet blanket and almost drags everything else down with it. Aside from a subplot of an ancient king trying to find a long lost Pokémon that abandoned him once he became corrupt, the heart of the story is almost exactly the same as every other main Pokémon game. Game Freak probably just doesn’t want to fix what commercially isn’t broken, but there needs to at least be something more to the endgame that rewards returning players for having to slug through yet another journey to the Pokemon League.
Unfortunately Pokémon X and Y’s endgame just isn’t beefy enough to justify its pedestrian story. A post-game surprise like in Gold and Silver where players were allowed to revisit the Kanto region would have gone a long way. Instead, there isn’t a whole lot to do after completing the main story that is any different from previous Pokémon games. As in the past, trainers can return to previous areas to find new National Dex Pokémon and take part in various challenges or battle competitively online.
The only new endgame feature worth mentioning is the Friend Safari, which has players going on mini safaris to catch 2-3 Pokémon that are tied to other player’s friend codes. Unfortunately it requires a lot of effort outside of the game (in online forums and the such) to gather enough friend codes to make it worthwhile. Some people’s safaris lack Pokémon that can’t already be found natively in Kalos (read: are duds), and since a large number Pokémon can only be found within the Friend Safari, it makes catching it all that much more difficult.
For the first time in a long time, Pokémon has taken a real step towards pushing the series forward. Changes both big and small across the board make Pokémon X and Y the most polished Pokémon game to date. The only thing that stands in the way of this generation from achieving Pokémon perfection is the unwillingness of Game Freak to deviate from the basic story structure that has existed in every Pokémon game to date. This combined with a thin endgame means that the journey through Kalos, while enjoyable, will likely be a one-way trip for all but the most dedicated Pokémon fans.