For quite some time, Pokémon has been a fascination of children and adults alike, wrapping its oily tendrils around society’s impressionable population at an early age. Like a parasite embedded in their brains, it demands the host satiate it every couple of years with the release of each new game in the series. This process ensures those captivated are never able to break from the cycle, even as they grow older, creating a snowball effect in the number of infected players. This generation, the sustenance comes in the form of Pokémon X/Y, and is once again just enough to satisfy the appetites of those who follow the cult of Pokémon.
Make no mistake, anyone who’s played even a single entry in the main series of Pokémon will recognize that the core experience of X/Y is largely unchanged and has been reluctant to do so for over fifteen years’ worth of releases. The thing is, most fans seem content with the similarity, and for good reason: no other game has shown it can do what Pokémon does while still retaining the same level of enjoyment and charm, meaning its monopoly on monster collecting is well justified. Statements on how each installment is similar to the last are par for the course of every new release of the series, but it somehow seems less redundant given the new coat of the paint with which Pokémon X/Y have been slathered.
The graphical style of X/Y is the most apparent step up from the last entry, Pokémon Black/White. With full 3D models for the battle sequences and overworld alike, X/Y offers a monumental leap in visual fidelity and animation quality over the previous games. During battles, Pokémon models are smooth and look strikingly similar to the source art. Better yet, each Pokémon has a similar amount of care put into them regardless of their popularity, so you can enjoy your virtual Kecleon just as much as your Pikachu. Animation, though better than it’s ever been, is usually not very stimulating with most Pokémon bobbing lazily and showing little reaction to being set on fire. In context this is something of a minor complaint though, as the game is impressive enough considering its bestiary of monsters now exceeds seven hundred.
Graphically, the overworld is an entirely different story and there is a sharp contrast between battles and segments of the game where you control your character. Towns and routes connecting them consist of rudimentary polygons complemented by scarce character animation; it actually seems almost archaic compared to what other games have done on the 3DS. Players are likely here for the battles, but the disconnect is noteworthy. Worse yet is the way your character controls through these areas. Though at first you are able to move in eight directions as opposed to the four that previous entries offed you, there are aspects of delay and messiness to the movement. Fortunately this is remedied by the option to use roller skates or a bicycle, both of which allow for full analog control and are granted early on in the player’s journey. All in all, the overworld is handled sloppier than it usually is in Pokémon games, with this title’s flagship town Lumiose City being particularly cumbersome to navigate due to its large scale and unwieldy camera angle.
With the main difference is mostly visual, as there are very few changes to the formula that made up the original Pokémon Red and Blue releases over fifteen years ago. Players pick a gender, one of three elemental-themed animals, and use a team of monsters to battle their way through forests and caves in hopes of becoming champion of the France-inspired Kalos region. All the familiar elements return: Pokémon level up by fighting in turn-base encounters, the player can carry six Pokémon with four moves each, and progression is barred by obstacles that dissipate only after defeating the next gym leader. Though familiar, the campaign is as pleasant and functional as ever, and the battles are made all the more enthralling by new 3D world. It’s resounding that Pokémon remains to be as blissfully fun as it’s always been, and it’s made all the better with its new-found style.
Despite the similarities between games, progress has been made to smooth over some of the wrinkles the formula still has. Improvements from last generation, such as TM items not disappearing after being used and trainers that heal your Pokémon in wilderness areas, do wonders for streamlining the experience. One addition that is sure to please fans is Super Training, a minigame that allows bonus points to be allotted to any of a Pokémon’s stats. In previous games these bonus points were hidden and involved a lot of time and research on the part of the player to fully utilize them, but Pokémon X/Y is up front with this mechanic and offers a faster, more enjoyable route that can be easily appreciated by both casual and hardcore players.
Another difference comes in the form of the much-advertised mega evolutions. These battle transformations allows certain Pokémon to assume a powerful new form which can grant them anything from higher states, to new types, to the hair of a 1980’s power metal star. The mechanic offers an accessible way to invoke some powerful monsters, and the repercussions on the metagame are yet to be seen. Regardless, the designs are very cool for the most part, though not the traditional evolutions many fans were hoping for. Speaking of designs, the new batch of Pokémon is exceptionally good, boasting the same level of quality that last generation had (bear in mind that this review comes from a person who thoroughly enjoys both the garbage Pokémon and the goth girl Pokémon). If there are any problems in this department, it comes from the fact that there are fewer new Pokémon than usual this time around.
Other additions are less concerned with the battles themselves and instead act to make the experience more customizable than ever. The new Pokémon-Amie feature allows the player to pet, play minigames with, and feed cupcakes to their Pokémon. It’s a cute distraction, and gives you an excuse to view your favourite monsters up close. Straying further from the battles, this time around player characters have fully customizable clothing options; an appreciated change given the direction Pokémon X/Y’s online functionality has taken.
Players are encouraged by the game to constantly play online, where the new Player Search System will tag dozens of other players across the globe. After, you can read their bios, check how many hours they’ve sunk into the game, offer to trade Pokémon, or challenge them to battle. You can even grant tagged players special gameplay bonuses, and getting them yourself always feels good. All these elements combine to make an atmosphere where the player can feel connected to everyone else’s journey, with interaction being no more than a tap away.
Like the gameplay, the stories in these games hardly differ: on the way to becoming the Pokémon Master, your character encounters a team of self-aggrandizing lunatics hell-bent on using Pokémon to achieve whatever obtuse goal their leader happens to be obsessed with. It’s no different this time, and is actually something of regression considering Black/White attempted to cover the ethical issues of forcing magical dogs to zap each other. Even though the plot is largely uninspired, there are still some worthwhile bits of dialogue, a surprise twist or two, and at the very least the villains are so out of touch with reality that they can stir some amusement. Thankfully, this game’s team isn’t very active until later in the story, and never truly threaten to drag the pacing.
Unfortunately, I can’t give as much praise to the music as I have the gameplay of graphics. The tracks are generally relaxing, but outside of some of the town themes, there are hardly any noteworthy songs or catchy tunes. This is especially sad, considering the Pokémon game have come up with some of gaming’s most iconic scores. Though not bad, the music is simply there and will pass by unnoticed for the most part.
There are other minor complaints to be found sporadically throughout the game. For example, endgame content is pretty light. After the main campaign, little more than a battle frontier and a cave-dwelling legendary await. This seems an odd choice considering the last iteration: a large portion of the Unova region was inaccessible until you received the title of champion. There is also a point between the first and second gym where the pacing comes to crawl, but it resumes a fairly brisk pace after the dawdling. For the most part though, X/Y doesn’t have many problems that weren’t present in previous entries (random encounters reappear in full force, but are often handled more intelligently than in previous entries), and despite moments of frustration navigating the overworld, it’s thoroughly enjoyable.
There is a recurring part at the end of every Pokémon review – much like the recurring part at the end of every game where you face the Elite Four – where I must tell you there is nothing in the new Pokémon to convince you otherwise if don’t see the appeal of the franchise. Pokémon X/Y follows suit. On the opposite end though, X/Y is an easy recommendation to those who love the games. In fact, given the new graphics and subtle gameplay tweaks, I would say it’s an ideal jumping in point for those interested, and a perfect re-entry point for those who may have missed out on a few generations.