[This is my first post in a loooong while. Hello again.]
I’m addicted to Pokémon. Again. Just when I thought I was out…
Pokémon X and Y marks Game Freak’s first foray into AAA development for the 3DS, and they’ve entered with a bang. Much of the game will be very familiar to anyone who’s played a Pokémon title before: you’re a boy (or a girl) that’s new in town, gifted a ‘mon from a friendly professor, and sent out into the world to do battle and ‘Catch ‘em all!’ You’ll journey from town-to-town challenging Gym Leaders, solving various problems hindering your progress, and—spoiler—fighting a nefarious ‘team’ bent on doing something really awful. X and Y do nothing to change up the existing formula, but, honestly, that’s okay. The plot, structure, and gameplay are nigh-on identical to previous titles (save for Black and White, which actually attempted an engaging story—in a way, X and Y are a return to form), however Game Freak have added and refined enough features to keep the game feeling fresh.
Battles are now fully realised in 3D. Every one of the 718 Pocket Monsters have been modelled in, frankly, wonderful 3D (complete with idle and custom animations for certain moves). Generation 5 was a massive step-up with including fully animated sprites—this is even more impressive. The battles are still static and turn-based, but they feel much more engaging with the camera flying around the arena, providing close-ups and panning shots of the ‘mons in all their 3D-modelled glory. A lot of the moves have been animated in such a way to take full advantage of their new 3D arenas, with many of them looking stunning. The overworld has gotten the 3D treatment, too, with all of the environments being fully modelled. Areas are vivid and lush; they feel alive, rather than dull and flat. The art-direction is wonderful, too, with Kalos—the game’s new region—being inspired by France. Players will travel across meadow and snow, rustic towns and metropolitan cities.
Though the amount of new Pokémon introduced is a little disappointing (only 69, versus the usual ~150), the new designs are mostly pleasing. The starters are based on the fantasy archetypes of fighter, wizard, and rogue—each of which has a new typing, never before seen in starters. The selection of monsters is quite broad, though many designs are predictable: a butterfly, a bird, a bat, a mouse; while others can be seen as quite weak and uninspired: Klefki, a keyring; Honedge, a sword. Mostly, though, it’s nice to see some new designs while playing through the game (due to the middling size of the new roster, many familiar faces punctuate the new ones—Pikachu, for example, is in one of the starting areas).
X and Y’s new mini-games are—dare I say it?—worthwhile. Past games have been plagued by pointless and often embarrassing distractions such as Gen. 5’s ‘Pokémon Musical’. Gen. 6’s new additions are actually very fun, and also very rewarding. ‘Pokémon Amie’ is essentially Nintendogs crossed with Pokémon. It sounds just as dumb as Pokémon Musical, but seriously: it’s great. Basically, it tasks players with petting their Pokémon and feeding them cakes to raise their affection—this works surprisingly well with the new models. Once they’re all tired of being felt-up, you have to play various mini-games to refresh them. Certain bonuses are unlocked for battles, too, such as increased evasion, critical hits, and the chance of surviving a fatal blow with 1 HP—all very useful stuff. The other new distraction is ‘Super Training’. It essentially gives a new way to EV (Effort Value) train Pokémon through a football mini-game. Players fly around a gigantic balloon ‘mon and fire footballs at certain spots on its body. When it’s taken enough hits, it will fly off into the sky and reward players with a punching bag. Said bags will award various amounts of EVs to certain stats when used on a Pokémon. EV training is in no way essential to play the game—it’s practically reserved for competitive play—but it’s still nice for Game Freak to finally acknowledge fans’ pleas for a better way to train their EVs. It is not the most efficient method, however, with the fastest way being held by the new feature of ‘Hordes’—randomly encountered groups of 5-or-so Pokémon.
X and Y bring with it a major shake-up to the metagame with the introduction of ‘Mega Evolutions’ and the Fairy type. ‘Mega Evolutions’ are facilitated by giving a Pokémon a ‘Mega Stone’ corresponding to its species, allowing it to evolve—in battle—past the ceiling of its normal final form. This is quite a big deal, as it allows previously non-viable Pokémon to be considered for competitive battling. Charizard, for example, was not viable due to his Fire/Flying typing (Stealth Rock being his downfall), but one of his ‘Mega Evolutions’ gives him the vastly superior Fire/Dragon types. There is not a huge selection of ‘Mega Pokémon’ (28 available at launch, to be exact), but most of them are fan-favourites and sport decent—yet perhaps overly busy—designs. ‘Mega Evolutions’ won’t completely turn the metagame on its head, though, as they are quite balanced: only one Pokémon can ‘Mega Evolve’ per match, so having a full team of them would be a complete waste of item slots. Fairy type, however, will surely make a splash. It was presumably introduced to balance Dragon, gaining immunity and a super-effectiveness to it. Considering a lot of top-tier play revolves around Dragons, this will certainly be a shock to the system for many players.
Perhaps my favourite new feature in X and Y, though, is the ‘Friend Safari’. It’s the replacement of the familiar ‘Safari Zone’. While feeling quite familiar, it’s also very different. Each friend on your 3DS friends list will have a type generated from their Friend Code. Three Pokémon from said type will appear in their zone when their safari is selected. The more friends you have, the bigger your safari. One of the best parts about it has to be that every Pokémon caught in the ‘Friend Safari’ is guaranteed two perfect IVs. Again, this isn’t something that most players should be concerned about, but this is a very welcome gesture for those that enjoy breeding and competitive battling—it’s never been easier to breed the perfect Pokémon (a pursuit I’ve sank many hours into).
Not everything is Roselia (heh) for X and Y, though, as the titles have their fair share of technical problems and oversights that stop the titles from being the perfect Pokémon games. The 3DS’ famous feature of 3D is curiously absent from the overworld—only battles and cutscenes are graced with its presence. This is quite strange, as the game is a first-party Nintendo title—surely they’d want the game to make use of the console’s flagship feature? I can only assume that the ambition of the highly-detailed overworld outstripped the need for the feature. Another niggle with the engine lies in framerate drops during battles: whenever two ‘mons are on screen at the same time, there is a noticeable drop in framerate. This isn’t a huge deal in a turn-based game, but it definitely seems sloppy and should have been addressed before launch. Another thing that most definitely should have been addressed is the bug in which savefiles are corrupted if the player saves in the main area of the central hub of the game. The hub, Lumiose City, is also an absolute pain to navigate. The layout is overly complicated and the camera angles are absolutely hideous. Another, perhaps entitled, complaint is the lack of any substantial post-game content. There is very little to do except the bare-bones equivalent of the ‘Battle Frontier’, catching a few Legendaries (only one of which is new), and the ‘Friend Safari’. Maybe I was spoiled by Gold and Silver, but I was at least expecting some more challenging story content after the credits rolled. Trainer customisation is lacklustre, too (for males at least)—there really aren’t all that many new models of clothes; most are just reskins, which is very disappointing.
X and Y aren’t a departure from the typical formula, but enough has been added to keep the series fresh to appease long-time fans, and also perhaps draw new ones in. It does what it says on the tin: Pokémon; no more, no less (well, maybe a little bit more if you want to 'Touch 'em all!').