[Author's Note: This review was originally posted on EGM for DigitalNoob, by myself, James Conrad.
Pokemon is a Nintendo franchise that has quickly become one of the best and easily the most recognizable out of all Nintendo’s franchises. Hard to believe it all began almost 20 years ago with a simple turn-based RPG on the GameBoy. Since then, Pokemon games have been on every single Nintendo portable system, with the exception of the failed Virtual Boy, but let’s just pretend that never happened. With every new system, Pokemon games took the genre of collection-based turn-based RPGs another step into the future. The original games on the GameBoy introduced us to the franchise with some naive 10-year-olds striving to defeat the nefarious Team Rocket and become the world’s best Pokemon trainers. On the GameBoy Color was the direct sequels. Team Rocket had returned and once more it was up to some meddling 10-year olds to put the villains in their place, and also become Pokemon Masters. These games were intended to be the end of the series, however with skyrocketing popularity spurred on by spin-offs on the portable systems and N64 and the anime TV show, GameFreak decided to take another crack at it and released another set of games on the GameBoy Advance. These games are considered by many, myself included, to be the low point in the series, with a story that seemed to have a lot of missed potential, and the removal of the day/night system which was previously introduced in the GameBoy Color games. Remakes of the original GameBoy games also appeared on the GBA, revitalizing many fans love for the series. And then there was the DS and the 4th generation. Generation 4 saw the advent of Pokemon Gods and a much-needed overhaul to the battle system, making special and physical moves no longer type-specific. A slightly graphical update also happened, switching from full pixel-based graphics to isometric 3D, battles, though, remained sprite-based. Then came the 5th generation, making the DS to be the first system to host more then one generation of Pokemon games, however being close to the end of the system’s life, the 5th gen ended up being one of the shortest generations in the series. The 5th generation only had minor changes to the series, such as slight alterations to core mechanics like changing how certain abilities, a mechanic introduced in the 3rd generation, worked. The main draw of the 5th gen was the story, something I have always felt was overlooked in many Pokemon games. Whereas previous games tended to keep the quest for Pokemon Master and the quest to defeat the main villains as almost entirely separate, 5th generation seamlessly fused to two quests together, with even the gym leaders playing roles in the storyline which was extended over the course of two sets of games. Generation 5 was also the first to have a region not inspired by Japan, but instead by New York of the USA. And now, finally, that brings us to the 6th generation. The first generation to see a simultaneous international launch, full 3D graphics, character customization, and a lot of Frenchies.
Pokemon X and Y is set in the Kalos Region, the second region in the main series of games to not be based on Japan, the first of course being Generation 5′s Unova. Kalos draws its inspiration from France and little bit of other European cultures thrown in for good measure. The inspiration shows in the graphics, which are simply stunning for a 3DS game. The architecture and culture of the region is very European, which shows in the various castles that dot the region, the high-class hotels and boutiques in almost every other town, and the fact that ever single town has at least one cafe. As result of all this, “beauty” is the primary theme this go around. Even the main villains, Team Flare sport some very stylish threads in their attempt to make the world beautiful by wiping all life from it, but more on those crazy bastards later.
The story has our young heroes scouring the world to become Pokemon Masters once more by earning the region’s 8 gym badges and then defeating the Elite Four and finally the Champion. Ah, memories. The main conflict arises when some idiots named Team Flare happen get in the way of the heroes. Team Flare is obviously up to no good and any sane person might call the authorities, but this is Pokemon and trainers solve dangerous legal situations by battling it out in true vigilante fashion. The player progresses onwards, battling the villains at every turn. Team Flare believes Humanity has ravaged the planet for too long and will eventually destroy it. After kicking their asses enough, it is revealed Team Flare’s solution to the problem is to use an ancient weapon to destroy all life, leaving behind only the plants, animals and Team Flare, thus wiping the proverbial slate clean. In other words, Team Flare wants to KILL ALL HUMANITY. So instead of calling in the country’s military force, the good people of Kalos leave this problem up to the young heroes to solve, because there wouldn’t be a plot otherwise.
The story of X/Y isn’t nearly as complex as Black/White‘s story was. Team Flare felt more like they were a constant minor inconvenience rather then the the hero’s bane. The group of heroes never actually make a point to track down and defeat Team Flare unless Team Flare happens to be doing something that stops the hero’s own progression towards earning the 8 gym badges, unlike in Black/White, where the player was constantly hunting down the dubious Team Plasma, only collecting badges along the way to keep the story going. In fact, Team Flare never once mentions their actual goal in life until the bitter end. Up until then they only say things along the lines of “we want to make the world more beautiful!”. That’s great, but how the hell is that a bad thing? Why am I wasting my time kicking your ass? It felt like Game Freak was attempting two stories as they usually do: become the Pokemon Master and defeating the Evil Team, however the transition between two storylines didn’t feel balanced. Additionally, there was no postgame quest. Just one extra Legendary, and two Kanto Legendaries to go after, plus an extremely short sidequest in Lumiose City. That’s it. Possibly the shortest postgame for any main series Pokemon game. My biggest gripe though, was that these games had the same glaring flaw that Generation 3 had: awesome legendaries with really baddass concepts, yet a story that did nothing to build off that. In this case, the two main legendaries are based off Creation and Destruction. The story, however, only concentrates on the Destruction part.
So the story had a bit of missed potential, like what happened with the 3rd generation, but that’s not the only reason fans have continued to play the games for over 15 years. It’s because the series is famous for solid mechanics and epic battles, backed by an excellent turn-based battle system. Just like with every other new generation of Pokemon games, X and Y has updated some of the mechanics and added in a few more. First of all there’s the brand new Fairy Type and the introduction of Mega Evolutions.
The Fairy Type is the first new type to be introduced since the 2nd generation’s Steel and Dark Types back in 1998. Conceptually it more based in fairy tales, rather then the pixies and sprites most think of when told about fairies. With a new type comes an update to the type chart. Fairy types take no damage from Dragon type, and take half damage from Fighting and Dark Types. Fairy types are super effective against Fighting, Dragon, and Dark types. They are weak to Steel and Poison, and resisted by Fire, Poison and Steel types. Additionally, Grass Types are no longer affected by Leech Seed, and Powder and Spore moves. Electric Types cannot be paralyzed, Steel Types are fully immune to Poison moves, and finally, Ghost types are no longer affected by moves and abilities which prevent escape.
When the new Fairy type was first announced, Game Freak mentioned they added it in to help balance out the Dragon Type, which they have always felt was a little over-powered. A fair point considering a lot duel-type Dragons are able to cover their weaknesses leaving only one or two types that few people ever include in a team. Having an additional weapon against Dragons was nice, but I found Fairy type be more balancing as a means of taking down Dark Types. Dark Types are traditionally only weak to Fighting and Bug moves, two types that are not often used in single-player teams, so having a third type to use against them was nice. It also means Sableye and Spritomb, two Pokemon once infamous for having no weaknesses, now have a single weakness: Fairy Type. There was however one problem with the Fairy types, and that was the lack in moves. I didn’t expect there to be a lot of moves for the new type, but Game Freak only came up with 6 damaging moves out of 16 total fairy moves. That’s really not a lot to work with. Additionally, only one of those moves is available as a TM.
When Mega Evolutions were first announced, a few criticized Game Freak for taking an idea straight out of Digimon. Game Freak claimed the idea was not inspired by Digimon but instead by taking Evolution to the next level. Honestly, I forgive Game Freak for hijacking an idea from another franchise, even if they don’t want to admit it. Pure originality is hard to come by, especially in the video games industry, so it really should not be so surprising that a veteran developer like Game Freak might take a few cues from other series. Mega Evolution is a temporary evolution, changing the stats, aesthetics and sometimes type and ability of the Pokemon. To balance out Mega Evolutions, Game Freak did do a few things. First of all, only one Mega Evo is allowed per trainer per battle, even if their Mego Evo happens to faint, tough luck. Secondly, the fact that some Mega Evos change types also balances it out. For instance, Mega Gyrados becomes Water/Dark, meaning it regains Water Type’s Grass weakness and also gains all of Dark Type’s weaknesses. Also, currently, only a handful of Pokemon from across the first four generations have Mega Evolutions.
In addition to the Fairy Type, type chart changes and Mega Evolutions, the online system, first introduced in Gen 4 received a massive update. The system now goes by the name of Player Search System (PSS) and appears on the touch screen for the player to use at anytime. When connected to the internet, players can easily interact with other players by tapping their icons on the touch screen, then set up trades, battles and view their stats. There is also a new type of trade called a “Wonder Trade” where players can basically put up a Pokemon and be then given any other random Pokemon in return. The GTS and Game Sync still exist, and of course have received minor updates. The Battle Spot is the new battle match system allowing players to go up against random players from around the globe. And if you just want to fight your friends, the game automatically uses the 3DS system’s friends list for that purpose so you can battle and trade with your buddies at any time, so long as they’re online.
Next there’s Pokemon- Amie, which allows for players to more easily create bonds with their Pokemon by treating like them like the pets they are. Players can feed and pet the Pokemon and also decorate its area. Honestly, the system isn’t that useful unless one is trying to evolve an Eevee into a Sylveon.
Another new mechanic introduced was the Super Training system, which uses mini games and a stats gauge to make EV training infinatly more easy, meaning there now no excuse to not EV train. EV stands for “Effort Values”, basically when ever fighting Pokemon, magic numbers are added up, allowing for extra stat bonuses at the next level up. I am aware that is an extreme simplification of the process, but bear with me here. EV training has traditionally been an obsessive process to ensure Pokemon get near perfect stats by only fighting certain Pokemon and constantly keeping a close eye on the stats as they rise. Super Training eliminates much of the obsessiveness, making it more much easier to manage, even for beginning players. First of all, the system displays a stats spread, allowing players to see where their EVs are going. Secondly, a meter on the right side lets players know relatively how many EVs they’ve used up. When the meter’s full, then the Pokemon’s EVs are maxed out, taking out all the guess work. And finally, the system lets players use mini-games to hand-tailor their EV spread how they want, without having to fight Pokemon or worrying about Exp Share screwing up the spread. I’m sure some hardcore competitive players might find some fault in this and complain to no end, but for the rest of us normal people, the Super Training system is a welcome addition, and I highly recommend taking advantage of it.
And there’s the Roller Skates. I have mixed feelings about this new feature. It makes you go about as fast as the bike and that’s nice, however they are also permanently equipped and the only way to turn it off is to get out the Dowsing Machine or using the D-pad, which I have always disliked because of its awkward placement. And also the fact that it does make you about as fast as the bike and with a lot more maneuverability, pretty much renders the bike useless, yet you still get a bike for the hell of it. And as always, it’s free, because bike shop owners give away free bikes all the time. The only other thing I like about the skates was the ability to do tricks, but even then you had to unlock them by talking to certain people. And the player isn’t given a helmet, because Kalos and every other region in the Pokemon world is too cool for Helmet Laws. Way to promote safety, Nintendo.
And then there’s the character customization options. At the start of the game, the player is given a choice between Male or Female, a standard since Crystal version in Gen 2, but then they are also given a choice between 3 shades of skin color. After progressing through the game a small amount, the player is introduced to Boutiques, where additional clothing can be bought, and using changing rooms, players can change their outfit. After getting the Lens Case, players can use contact lenses to change their eye color. After reaching the Kalos capitol, Lumiose City, players can go to the Hair Salon and change their hair style and color. All of this allows the player to fully personalize their character allowing for a much more immersesive experience with the game.
Last, but not least, let us discuss the new Pokemon. Anyone who follows me on Twitter has a rough idea about my feelings on the subject. Don’t get me wrong, there’s quite a few I really liked, such as Greninja, water starter Froakie’s final evolution which is a freakn frog ninja, and is a Water/Dark type. There’s Inkay and its evolution Malamar, which are Psychic/Dark and designed like evil Squid witch things. They almost remind me of Ursula. There’s a jack-o-lantern set of Pokemon called Pumpkaboo and Gourgeist. And then there’s some where one wonders if Game Freak was on crack when designing them such as Diggersby whose ears are on steroids and other drugs. There’s Goomy and its evolution of chain of blobs which are somehow Dragon types. And as always, there are some new Pokemon where you wonder if the designers were even trying, such as the key chain Pokemon, Klefki.
All in all, Pokemon X and Y are excellent games, all things considered. Like with all Pokemon games, they have solid gameplay, an awesome battle system, which at its core, has remained unchanged in 17 years, and a decent story. Though some parts of the story were lacking, and a one or two mechanics were a bit iffy, it was still a very enjoyable game, and possibly one of the best RPGs on the 3DS.
Summary: It’s freakin’ Pokemon. On the 3DS. Hell yes.
- Pro: Solid game mechanics which have stood the test of time to this day. Minor changes have been for the better. Story was… acceptable. Character customization was pretty well done for a first in the franchise. Updates to the online system were very welcome and well-executed.
- Cons: There seemed be a lot missed potential with the story. Conceptually, the Legendaries were based on Creation and Destruction, yet the story did little to build off that, concentrating only on the “beauty” and Destruction parts. The villains were very forgettable, with only their fancy suits to differentiate themselves from past Pokemon villains.