It’s hard to believe that Pokémon is almost 20 years old now. Released back in 1996, the series has come a long way from it’s first two games and it’s first 150 cuddly little creatures everyone was clamoring to catch and raise. Pokémon has ballooned into an international phenomenon, and it's gotten even bigger now with the newest installment: Pokémon X and Y. It may not be enough to change the minds of the Poké-naysayers out there. But for the fans, it’s the perfect excuse to “catch ‘em all,” all over again.
This review will be focusing on Pokémon X, but it should be noted that Pokémon Y is basically the same game. The only difference is that there are some Pokémon that can only be caught in X, and some that are only available in Y. So anything brought up in this review is applicable to Y as well.
These new entries takes place in the Kalos region, a region based heavily off of France and other European locals. The story is what you’ve come to expect out of a Pokémon game. It follows the exact same formula as all the previous games before it: receive your first Pokémon, use it to catch other Pokémon, defeat the Gym Leaders and Elite Four, all while stopping an evil organization from taking over the world with a legendary Pokémon. There are also the usual tropes of friendship and effort and living in harmony with Pokémon, and it’s all stuff you’ve heard before so there’s really no need to go into it. As with all the games, a new region means new Pokémon. X and Y introduces 68 brand-new Pokémon, which when added to all the other critters already out there, brings the grand franchise total to 718 Pokémon. If you’re aiming to “catch ‘em all,” you’re in for a long ride.
But there’s more to X and Y than simply some new Pokémon. There’s also a brand new type of Pokémon: Fairy-type. This new type is very powerful against both Dragon and Fighting-type, both of which are usually considered to be some of the strongest types in the game, but is also weak to Steel and Poison-type, considered to be two of the weakest types in the game. X and Y also introduce a brand new mechanic in battles: Mega Evolutions. Once you obtain specific items in the game, you can cause certain Pokémon to Mega Evolve into even stronger forms. These Mega Evolutions will add improved stats, new abilities, and even new types to your already powerful Pokémon, and as with Fairy-type, offers a whole new level of strategy to battling.
Along with the 70 or so new Pokémon and new Fairy type, there are two additional new features in X and Y, both of which are available right from the start. The first is Pokémon-Amie, which allows you to interact “directly” with your Pokémon by using the stylus to pet your Pokémon and feed them sweets. You can also play mini-games with your Pokémon to earn more sweets. All of this raises your Pokémon’s affection towards you, which will in turn improve its performance in battle. For example, a Pokémon with maxed-out affection has a much higher chance of landing critical hits, ridding itself of status ailments like poison or paralysis, and even withstanding a blow that would normally knock it out.
The second new feature is Super Training, which allows you to play a soccer-style mini-game with your Pokémon to increase their Effort Values, base stats such as Attack, Defense and HP. Completing these mini-games will award your Pokémon training bags, which can then be used to increase your Pokémon stats even further. There have been ways in past games to affect these stats, such as giving your Pokémon vitamins or battling certain kinds of Pokémon. But the new Super Training allows players a more direct way to monitor their Pokémon’s Effort Values. Both modes are a fun little diversion form the main game and help to add new levels of training to the game you can’t get in previous installment.
Speaking of previous installments, one of the highlights of the series is the ability to battle and trade Pokémon with your friends. In the older games, this had to be done at a Pokémon Center and the person had to be in the same room with the two system physically connected to each other. Not anymore with the Player Search System (PSS). This completely new system allows players to use the 3DS’s wireless Internet function to instantly connect with any player anywhere in the world for an immediate battle or trade. Also introduced in this game is the Wonder Trade system, in which you can trade your Pokémon for a random Pokémon from anywhere in the world. There’s also the new O-Powers system, in which you can trade special powers, like increased attack or increased defense with other players. All of these new communication features are fantastic, and something the franchise has sorely needed: a simple and hassle-free way to connect with other players.
Graphically-speaking, X and Y are by far the best looking entries in the series. All 700+ Pokémon look stunning in full 3D and the battle animations have never looked better. All of the trainers received a facelift as well, and for the first time, you can customize your Trainer’s appearance, hairstyle and clothes. The majority of the game is presented in the classic overhead view, but there are a few “cinematic” moments where the camera will zoom out or pan out to show an important landmark or a location of great significance to the story. It’s a trend that started back in Pokémon Black and White and helps to add those little “Whoa!” moments in the game. There are also a few instances where the camera switches to a third person, behind the character view that looks cool, but can make it hard to navigate certain areas, most notably Lumiose City, the largest city in the game. You can also play certain portions of the game in 3D, but it doesn’t really add anything to the overall experience other than novelty, plus it can also cause the frame rate to grind to a halt, so you may be better off just sticking to 2D.
As far as audio, it’s what you’ve come to expect from a Pokémon game: light-hearted and cheerful when you’re traveling, and exciting and upbeat when you’re battling. All the classic Pokémon jingles and tunes, such as the Pokémon Center and Gym music, are present, and they mix in well with the new songs. It’s nothing too spectacular, although there are one or two tracks that do stand out from the rest. As for the characters themselves, the trainers all remain mute and each Pokémon has their own unique cry. In fact, Pikachu is the only character who says anything at all: it’s own name.
All in all, Pokémon X and Y is the best installment the series has to offer. Granted, if you’re not a fan of the series, there’s probably not enough new content to change your mind. But for all the other Pokéfans, the new additions, new modes of gameplay, and the new Pokémon will keep them playing for a long time to come, at least until Pokémon Z comes out.