Review: Pokémon X & Y
Posted 05 Oct 2013 at 13:03 by Ashley Jones
After 15 years and five previous generations, Pokémon X & Y has the challenge of providing a fresh experience for veterans while not overwhelming newcomers. Black & White took a bold step and ensured you couldn't catch any old Pokémon for quite some time and while X & Y doesn't go this far, it does offer a refreshing mix of old and new.
There are elements of new and old in X & Y that will help veteran Pokémon players feel like they're not treading old ground, or have been flung into a scary new world. For the first time in the franchise, you're not given your first Pokémon by the local Professor (at least not directly). This time he's sent someone to give you and your four friends Pokémon and at this point you get your Kalos starter. A little while later you meet the Professor, and after a Pokémon fight you can choose one of the Kanto starters.
This isn't the only difference though. While Black & White held off old Pokémon, and previous games threw the same Pidgeys and Rattatas at you, X & Y feature a surprising mix of Pokémon early on. You'll come across new Pokémon such as Fletchling and Litleo, but you'll also find Pokémon from previous games that were a bit more difficult to come across. I won't give details about which Pokémon these are, but the mixture certainly surprised me.
Other changes to the usual storyline include having a group of friends, including one person who is really into dance, and you give each other nicknames. It seems to be based on whatever name you put in, so I ended up with options of Lil' A, A-meister or Big A. Thankfully they let you choose your own. I found this whole thing a bit strange, but I suppose the Pokémon franchise is aimed at younger audiences that are likely to use nicknames.
One other new feature that struck me is that if you catch a Pokémon, you still get experience points. It makes sense, as your Pokémon still fought for it, but up until now you didn't gain anything from catching a Pokémon, other than the Pokémon itself obviously. Similarly, a new experience share item will allow all your team members to get experience with every fight, helping to ensure your team is level and you don't rely on heavily levelled-up Pokémon like in previous iterations.
Battling itself feels very much the same as previous games, other than the Mega Evolutions that we will come to, but there are some small changes. When you start and end a battle with another trainer, an anime-style picture of said trainer will pop up with their usual witty and scathing comments about how rubbish you are. It's a small touch, but weirdly it adds to the visuals of Pokémon X & Y. Another minor, but interesting, change is the fact you can now face hordes of Pokémon, which makes the game feel more like a traditional JRPG.
When it was confirmed a few weeks ago that the overworld wouldn't be presented in stereoscopic 3D it kicked off a lot of fuss amongst fans. Only battles and cut-scenes are viewed in stereoscopic 3D and whether or not you think this is gross negligence or nothing to bat an eyelid over, the 3D light on the Nintendo 3DS does light up when you can view it in 3D, so you know when it is in effect. Personally, I tend to flick 3D on at 'big' moments (typically cut-scenes) anyway, so I can't say it made much of a difference to me but it's bound to upset some people. Speaking of visuals, this is of course the first handheld Pokémon game that has been presented in 3D. Just like the previous games, it doesn't push the console (due to all the other stuff the game has to do, understandably) but it does have a nice look about it. The France-inspired backdrops are great to wander through, and Game Freak has done a good job of recreating the feel of the French countryside (although city-lovers will be pleased to hear there is a Paris-inspired location too).
The battles are certainly what Game Freak has thrown its weight behind. That's not to say the Kalos region isn't picturesque, it certainly is, but seeing the Pokémon rendered in 3D for the first time battling it out is a great delight. In many ways it feels like Pokémon Stadium has been expanded into a proper game, and thankfully without the commentator. The animations, while still relatively simple (i.e. Pokémon still don't physically interact), are a nice touch and really help make the game feel alive. Even the backgrounds, which vary depending on location, help bridge the gap between anime series and games.
Fans of the series will be pleased to hear that the same level of attention and detail went into the music as in previous games. The sheer volume of songs and soundbites is astounding, and the tunes we've all grown up hearing have been tweaked and given some finesse thanks to the Nintendo 3DS' greater audio capabilities.
Whilst traversing the overworld, the bottom screen can be used for a number of things. There is a communicator device, known as the "Player Search System", for interacting with others playing the game, either your friends or random individuals, and two different mini-games. The first, Pokémon Amie (noticing that French vibe yet?) is a Nintendogs-lite pet simulation game. You can stroke your Pokémon to make it happier, and give it treats. The other allows you to play some kind of football game with your Pokémon to improve their stats, or let it attack a punching bag.
The mini-games are best described as 'fluffy' as they're not as fun or challenging as those that were found on Pokémon Stadium, but they are nice additional ways to improve your Pokémon. Plus I'm sure there will be plenty of people out there that love Pokémon Amie as it provides the pet-like element that until now has only been demonstrated in the anime series.
For fans that grew up playing Pokémon with friends, only to get old and find all your friends are too busy to meet up to trade, the Player Search System helps bring the social element into the 21st century. While you've been able to trade online in previous titles, it now feels much more integrated and easier, which can only help gamers collect 'em all. You can even record a 10 second video, complete with costumes, to introduce yourself to your opponents. This definitely falls into the 'nice idea, but not going to set the world alight' category alongside previous ideas such as Pokémon dancing. Similarly, you can pose for photographs in front of certain locations and save them to your 3DS. Again, this is fun to try a few times but unless you want to be Kalos' Next Top Model it's not something you'll come back to often.
Of course, one of the biggest additions to Pokémon X & Y is the Mega Evolution, a gameplay mechanic that is also heavily intertwined with the storyline. While some of your friends go out to become the best, be that Pokémon trainer or dancer, you are sent to discover more about Mega Evolutions. As fans we know that this allows for certain Pokémon to temporarily evolve within battle to a more badass version of themselves. Once you get your Kanto starter you'll be given their Mega Evolution stone, but there are plenty of other Mega Evolutions to be found along the way. When it was first announced it seemed a bit gimmicky, but it has been incorporated well and really does teach the old dog some new tricks. Thankfully Game Freak has implemented it well to ensure battles are balanced, and you don't find yourself with a Pidgey versus a Mega Charizard, although the latter Pokémon will undoubtedly be popular at Pokémon tournaments for some time.
Pokémon X & Y makes the franchise feel fresh again. It was what Game Freak was aiming for with Black & White, and achieved to a degree, but it feels much more accomplished in these newer games. The graphics will probably be what most people remember from X & Y, but the small changes to the story, the new features and the pure joy of the unknown (as Nintendo really has kept a lid on what to expect) really makes Pokémon X & Y a joy to explore. I'm may not be the optimistic child I was when I played Blue & Red for the first time, but X & Y provide a similar sense of joy and wonderment.
The game is not without its faults, but these can be overlooked as it provides a fantastic experience. If you've not played Pokémon for a while as you thought it got stale some years ago, I would recommend X & Y. Furthermore, I'd recommend you try and go into it as spoiler-free as possible. Remember what it was like to find a Pokémon in the wild and not know what it was, when it evolved and its stats? Do yourself a favour and put yourself in the shoes of your somewhat-customisable avatar and go and explore the wonderful world of Pokémon.
N-Europe Final Verdict
This is the fresh new experience that Game Freak has been aspiring to for some time. New and old Pokémon coexist in a wonderful location, allowing for a fresh gameplay experience unlike many of its predecessors. A Pokémon game for gamers that became cynical and jaded.
Mix of old and new components make the game feel fresh yet familiar
Online communication is much easier than ever before
Mega Evolutions provide a new challenge
Still as deep and time-consuming as ever
Annoying problems such as depositing and withdrawing Pokémon still exist (with moving hiding in a submenu)
Lack of stereoscopic 3D throughout whole game