Version – 3DS
ESRB Rating – E – Everyone
Price - $39.99 (3DS)
Release Date - 12/10/2013
Publisher – Nintendo
Obtained – Review copies courtesy of Nintendo
(For a more in-depth look at the games, please see my Pokemon X and Y Adventure Log. All the screenshots come from there, so please excuse their poor quality.)
What is the best Pokémon game? This question is incredibly polarizing, and it’s not too difficult to see why. While the core gameplay has always been the same, each generation has brought on new interface changes, minigames, stories, Pokémon and additional features like Secret Bases and the Entralink that give new entries their own unique appeal. These minor changes are what make each individual’s idea of the “best” Pokémon game so different, and X and Y only make finding an answer even harder.
The Pokémon series tends to feel iterative from generation to generation in almost every respect. The core gameplay remains the same, the stories are predictable, and most fans come in with specific expectations that are nearly always met. When Pokémon Black and White came around, the bar was raised significantly for the games’ narratives. While it was by no means an excellent story, it dealt with some very interesting issues like the morality of capturing and battling Pokémon. While X and Y’s plot isn’t any more exciting than that of the previous games, it is quite interesting by its own rights.
For the first few hours of the game, Pokémon X and Y immerse you in a world that feels both familiar and different at the same time. Your mother is still around, but this time she seems to have more character as you find out that she used to race Rhyhorns. You have rivals, but now there are four of them who set off on their own Pokémon journeys alongside you. The time gap between gyms feels longer than ever before, and it makes the Kalos region seem enormous and expansive. As you progress a couple hours into the game, however, you find that the gap gets smaller and smaller, the characters aren’t developing very much and it turns back into what you would expect from a Pokémon game. The initial potential for a huge world and interesting characters sets the player’s expectations high, but the games fail to deliver in those aspects and it’s a bit disappointing.
Along the way, the player gets glimpses into the main story which, predictably, involves a notorious group of individuals. Just like Team Plasma from the previous games, X and Y’s Team Flare is interesting in that they are fighting for their own ideology that slowly becomes clearer and clearer throughout the main story. Although there are no surprises as to who the team’s leader is, the action’s climax just after the seventh gym reveals some incredibly dark themes that make the story far more sinister than they have ever been in the Pokémon series before. In contrast to the generally upbeat and idealistic world the game presents throughout the majority of the adventure is the theme of death through mass genocide and war. While this revelation is interesting and quite frankly surprising, the bulk of the story seems to be concentrated in this one area, leaving far too many narrative “dry spells” between the second and seventh gyms, where you are essentially just collecting gym badges.
War? Death? Genocide? Not really subjects one associates with Pokemon.
The story in Pokémon X and Y is interesting, but unfortunately far too inconsistent to fully engage the player. The lack of characterization in many of the protagonists leaves many of the interactions feeling hollow. As a result, the feelings of freshness and expansiveness that open up the game slowly fade away over the 70-some hours of gameplay.
Gameplay & Controls
Long-time Pokémon fans won’t have any trouble familiarizing themselves with X and Y’s gameplay and controls because on the surface they appear unmodified, but will be pleased to find many changes that make the experience far smoother and more accessible than it has ever been before. Three of the biggest additions are Pokémon-Amie, Super Training and the Player Search System, and they are accessible right from the get-go via the 3DS’s touch screen.
Pokémon-Amie is a method of “bonding” with your Pokémon, in which you use the touch screen to feed, pet and play games with them. As you interact with your teammates more and more, your relationship becomes stronger. This affects not only certain attacks and Pokémon evolutions, but can also change the tides in battle: a Pokémon that is affectionate for its trainer may be more likely to land a powerful attack or dodge an enemy’s blow.
It’s also REALLY adorable.
Super Training has taken the long and tedious process of Effort Value training, in which the player controls the stat growth of their Pokémon by battling certain foes, and made it far more accessible. Before, these Effort Values were invisible and a slight miscount could lead to unintended results, but now the player can see these values and increase them through a very entertaining minigame. This game is somewhat similar to soccer in that you are trying to launch balls through various nets while avoiding incoming projectiles. The game is easy at first, but the player can unlock new and more challenging levels with slightly different challenges. Super Training is an excellent, progressive change as it turns a once-dreaded game mechanic into something enjoyable.
The third addition is PSS, the Player Search System. It serves as the hub for all your multiplayer interactions, both locally and online. You can check the online status of friends and strangers and at the touch of a button engage in a trade or battle. Battle Chat allows you to speak to your friends while playing, and is a handy feature. Gone are the days when players needed to run to a Pokémon Center to battle over the internet, as PSS makes Pokémon X and Y’s many multiplayer options run much more smoothly than ever before.
Super Training is way more fun than it looks.
In terms of combat, X and Y have added a new type of Pokémon, the Fairy type, and a mechanic called Mega Evolution. Before, a Pokémon could only evolve a certain number of times, but through Mega Evolution some of these “final forms” of Pokémon can undergo a new stage of evolution. In addition to becoming more powerful, some of them gain new typing and abilities. While they may seem overpowered, players are limited to one Mega Evolution per battle, the Pokémon must give up its held item slot to hold a “Mega Stone” and the creature reverts to its regular form right after the battle. Some competitive players would say that Mega Evolving your Pokémon isn’t always the best option, as that held item slot could be used for something that better-suits their strategy. In that way, Mega Evolutions are more of a strategic choice for your team than a means of overpowering it. Both of these elements add a fresh new layer of strategy to Pokémon battling.
While remaining relatively unchanged, the gameplay and controls of Pokémon have never felt better or more accessible than they do in X and Y. Both newcomers and veterans will find more depth than ever before, and tons of content to enjoy.
Visuals & Sound
If you rule out the nostalgic charm of pixel art, X and Y are the hands-down the best-looking games in the Pokémon franchise. Beautifully-animated 3D models are presented in a well-suited cel-shaded art style, weather effects make the world feel alive and there are tons of visually stimulating landmarks to gaze at. Pokémon-Amie makes excellent use of these models, as it allows you to get up close and personal with your favourite characters and shows them smiling, frowning, eating and reacting to your touch. The overworld’s 3D overhaul is emphasized by varied camera angles and the occasional area visible in stereoscopic 3D. These stereoscopic areas might be inconsistent, but when they appear they look phenomenal. There are some noticeable framerate issues when you turn the effect on in battle, but it looks so great that it leaves the player wanting more.
The game lets you take pictures in certain locations, and they really show off the game’s new visuals
The games feature both new tunes and remixes of old ones, and they all sound magnificent. A variety of different instruments bring the music to life and truly reflect the areas you’re in. A slow, delicate, melodious tune plays in a snow-covered town while big, grandiose musical numbers accompany some of the larger areas. As well, the sounds Pokémon make have been overhauled, and they are far more realistic and natural than the harsh, electronic-sounding ones from before.
Final Score: 9/10
What is the best Pokémon game? As aforementioned, this can be a very difficult question to answer. In terms of gameplay, visuals and sound design, X and Y are sure to be a strong contender for any Pokémon fan’s number-one game, but the story leaves something to be desired. If you’re looking for a game that dramatically changes the formula that past entries have followed, you’ll likely be disappointed by X and Y, but if you’re simply seeking some classic Pokémon fun, X and Y offer the most refined experience to date.
+ Gorgeous 3D Pokémon models and updated sounds
+ More accessible than ever before
+ Fully 3D world with varied camera angles to show it off
+ Pokemon Amie, Super Training, Mega Evolution and the Player Search System are valuable additions
+ Interesting narrative themes
+ The same Pokémon gameplay that has brought fans back for over 15 years
+ Stereoscopic 3D effect looks great (when it’s used)
- Poorly-paced story
- Framerate issues when stereoscopic 3D is activated in battle
Alexandre Trottier feels like he’s 6 years old again every time he boots up a Pokémon game, but without the bowl haircut and overalls. The same magic he experienced when he chose his first starter Pokémon so many years ago still hasn’t faded away, and likely never will. You can follow him on Twitter @NF_Alexandre, check out the NintendoFuse forums, and tell us what you think of the new games in the comments below!