A weaker Pokémon game is still better than most other games out there.
Pokémon X and Y are the first true Pokémon games on 3DS – a pretty big deal not only for us as fans, but for Game Freak and Nintendo as well. And while expectations are as high as ever and Nintendo has been releasing a constant stream of information for months, many fans still don’t quite know what to make of these games. For some very positive and somewhat negative reasons, defining X and Y is no easy feat even after seeing the credits roll.
Immediately apparent in my play through Pokémon X is that, regardless of its promises of series evolution, this is still very much a Pokémon game. It’s still a JRPG series in which you catch monsters, train them, and battle other monsters by abusing elemental exploits in a rock/paper/scissors fashion. Water beats fire, fire beats grass, and so on. Like previous Pokémon games, you’re a new trainer who starts in your hometown, you still aim to get the badges from Gym Leaders and become the champion, and you still go head-to-head with an evil team who wants to take over the world. The series is still as masterfully designed as ever and the story is just as good as it was in Black and White, but the core gameplay has experienced very little evolution. That is not to say these new games are totally barren of innovation, however.
Separating X and Y from previous Pokémon games are a few key updates to the gameplay mechanics. For instance, Pokémon now easily earn experience points regardless of whether they enter battle extensively or not. Using two Pokémon during battle originally resulted in experience points getting divided equally among participants, but now all Pokémon who participate, regardless of contribution, get what appears to be the full EXP bounty.
This might sound like it makes for an easier game, but making Pokémon training easier also gives Game Freak the opportunity to make a much more challenging game than Black and White ever was. It’s still nowhere near a difficult game, but I did lose several battles by the time I hit the credits (which is more than I can say for the last few entries in the series).
On a more practical level, Pokémon X and Y introduces two new battle types, a new evolution method, and a new Pokémon type. The new battle types, Sky Battles and Horde Encounters, are as simple and benign as Triple Battles and Rotation Battles were last time around. Sky Battles are optional trainer encounters where the only Pokémon who can battle are most Flying-type Pokémon and all non-Flying-type Pokémon who have abilities like Levitate that allow them to float in the air, and Horde Encounters are encounters with wild Pokémon in which you fight five low-level Pokémon at once. At best, these battles do a great job of not getting in the way of the experience. At worst, neither feature does much to improve the gameplay.
Mega Evolution and the new Fairy type are features that I have a much greater fondness for. Mega Evolutions are temporary evolutions that take place during battle and allow Pokémon to transform and change both physically and stat-wise. Charizard looks like a dragon, Blastoise gets three cannons, and Mewtwo has a form that simultaneously makes it both Psychic and Fighting type. Because only one Mega Evolution can be activated per battle and it’s only a temporary change, the new feature adds a brand-new layer of strategy without crippling the balance Game Freak has spent so many years achieving. Even better, there are plenty to find and they all look really cool.
This comment likewise carries over into the new Fairy type, a new type that acts as both a new threat to Dragon and as something new for Poison to be strong against. While some were right to be skeptical, I am extremely pleased to state that the type does wonders to balance the chart further. More important than that, though, it is populated by a healthy number of Fairy Pokémon (both new and old) to play around with. For the first time in a long time, a Pokémon game is forcing me to re-learn a small part of the rulebook, and for that I am extremely grateful.
Outside of battle, the rules of the game have also changed slightly with the introduction of new forms of movement. While old games force you to walk in four directions on a clear grid, the new games have updated movement to allow you to move in eight directions. X and Y also introduce rollerblades, which allow free (and fast) movement in most parts of the map. In addition to this, bikes return for super-fast speed, and you can ride certain Pokémon in certain sections of the game (though these are limited and mostly just act as a fun diversion). These new ways of movement have a learning curve that feels slightly awkward initially, but getting used to it makes for a traversal that feels far more fluid than ever before.
For those of us looking for some new things to do outside of battle, X and Y introduces Pokémon-Amie, Super Training, and trainer customization. Pokémon-Amie is a new Nintendogs-like feature accessed through the bottom touch screen involving a direct way to interact with your Pokémon. You can play basic mini-games with them, pet them, feed them, and more, all in the name of some basic effects (like a higher critical rate in battle). Also accessed through the main menu, Super Training allows you to boost and track hidden stat values in your Pokémon by playing a simple game of aiming and shooting balls at your opponent. Lastly, for the first time, your in-game trainer is customizable by skin color and by clothing that can be purchased at several stores throughout the game. Though a bit too expensive, there are plenty of clothing options to choose from in many different styles. The side stuff is well implemented, optional, and actually carries benefits into the main gameplay.
But perhaps the largest change in X and Y to be seen lies in the presentation. The music sounds beautiful and close to orchestrated, the cries are no longer aged Game Boy sounds, and most battles are in full 3D. The battles are extremely beautiful and look smooth, and they are also reminiscent of the old Stadium games on N64. Featuring the amazing spectacles that are attack animations in addition to fainting that looks almost identical to the old style, the only thing missing here is the announcer. I don’t know if the 3DS will ever have a game that looks better than these battles unless it’s another Pokémon game.
While moving around the world outside of battle, the game is almost entirely in 2D with no option to turn on 3D via the 3DS slider. When off, the game looks like a slightly smoother Black and White with character models that are human proportions – which is good, if unexciting. In certain situations, like in some caves and some interiors, the 3D turns on for effect. Because the game actually looks much better with the 3D on, it leads to inconsistent situations where the 3D isn’t quite on all the time and not quite off all the time either. And ultimately, this lack of universal 3D feels jarring and wholly unjustified. It still looks pretty good, but I feel like keeping the 3D on would make it look much better.
I wish I could say this is the only problem I have with the game, but there are two other substantial issues I have that keep this from being a game that stands above previous entries. While recent Pokémon games have had some major content to enjoy throughout, this one has a more limited longevity and replayability. Somewhat negatively, I would compare the amount of content you get in these games to Ruby and Sapphire.
My other complaint is that the game carries a greater reliance on repurposing old Pokémon rather than introducing new ones this time around. Game Freak tries to make up for this through cool Mega Evolutions, re-typing old monsters to Fairy, and re-introducing some forgotten classics like Deliberd and Granbull, but it was a bit of a bummer to see the full extent of what the Kalos region actually introduced. Far more importantly, the Pokémon designs introduced this generation are a somewhat noticeable step down in quality from past entries.
Pokémon X and Y is an odd pair of games to quantify because, on one hand, they are still solid entries in an incredible JRPG series and they offer some select new features that go above and beyond to make this feel like a brand new generation. On the other hand, inconsistent presentation, insubstantial core innovation, a low Pokémon count, and a minimal post-game keep them from achieving the total nirvana that this series has always been capable of.
We weren’t able to discuss the multiplayer due to certain review restrictions and the impossibility of finding anyone to play with, and as such this article did not contain any mention of it. Look forward to a post-launch article in which we discuss this heavily touted series evolution in detail. This review is based on the Pokémon X version of this software.