Pokémon X and Pokémon Y are a brand new beginning for the franchise. A bold step into a brighter, better future that bring with them a range of long-sought after game features including, but not limited to, completely overhauled visuals and deeply integrated online functionality.
There’s a lot of new ground broken in these sixth generation Pokémon games, that much is certain, but many of the core elements that make up any Pokémon game still remain. You still pick either a Grass/Fire/Water starter, you do battle with a themed villainous group of criminals, and you still collect eight Gym badges and go on to defeat the Elite Four. These, and many other series staples, all make up the successful pocket monster formula that Game Freak has been selling for 17 years. It would be silly to mess with it now.
The thing is though, Game Freak don’t have to. Pokémon X and Pokémon Y successfully avoid anything that’s come before from feeling stale, with numerous changes and improvements making the overall experience appear fresh and invigorating.
Where they excel is making the tried and true Pokémon formula feel fresh, new and wholly invigorated. After 17 years, that’s something that shouldn’t be taken lightly.
From the outset you’ll notice exactly how much impact these changes actually have. The most noticeable being the overhauled visuals; gone are the sprites of the last 16 years, replaced with full 3D character models. The much lauded character customisation hits you square in the face, allowing you to select different hair and skin colour — with more robust customisation options available later in the game.
The all-new Kalos region is a beautiful place to explore, and we’re lucky it’s the first to be realised with this new engine. Filled with bountiful fields of flowers and wonderfully varied terrain, it's — something that’s cemented further with the addition of Pokémon riding. When it comes to battling, the new engine displays all 718 Pokémon with their own individual animations. Couple this with the addition of a dynamic camera, and what we get are Pokémon battles that feel a lot more invigorating and a lot less sterile than ever before.
It’s not all about the cosmetic facelift the series has received, with a whole host of new under-the-hood features, improvements and tweaks to the successful formula being introduced over the course of the game, each one making you perk up to say something along the lines: "well I’m glad they did that!" In respect to the core gameplay, two of the most prominent new features are Super-Training and Pokémon-Aime.
The former enables you to engage in mini-games with your Pokémon, allowing you to boost their proficiency in a particular stat. Think of it as something like IV/EV training, only a lot more transparent. Pokémon-Amie, on the other hand, sees you rubbing your Pokémon’s stomach, feeding it treats or playing mini-games; all in a bid to raise its affections towards you. Raise them enough and you’ll begin to notice added bonuses like extra experience and a higher chance to dodge attack in battle
Both are surprisingly deep features, and while it’s certainly recommended you invest time in both, the game won’t punish you if you’d prefer to just stick with the core experience. Think of them both as extra candy toppings atop the Pokémon sundae Game Freak has whipped up. Only, neither will actually rot your teeth.
Speaking of that juicy, core Pokémon experience, it’s largely the same, but with one glaring exception: the Fairy type. While the addition of Sky Battles and Horde Encounters attempt to add an extra layer of depth to battling, neither radically change how we fundamentally engage with it. I take issue with Sky Battles/Horde Encounters, mainly due to them feeling gimmicky, underused and, especially in the case of the latter, clunky. I see where Game Freak was coming from, but both were resources better utilised elsewhere.
Fairy type, on the other hand, is brilliant. Its introduction has forever changed the type matchup charts, forcing veteran and casual players alike to once again second guess their strategies, attack plans and team lineups. A new type is definitely what Pokémon needed to shake things up a little; however I remain hopeful Game Freak doesn’t go overboard and introduce another new type in a year or two.
What I feel Pokémon didn’t need were Mega Evolutions. While somewhat pivotal to the game’s rather weak storyline, and undoubtedly useful in making badass Pokémon in looking more badass, its function is almost entirely pointless. The theory behind it is certain pocket monsters transcend to a temporary higher evolved state, wherein its stats are energised and, in the case of some species, its typing being altered. The crux of my issues with Mega Evolution stems from a question of balance; how can we be assured this will cause a rash of superpowered Pokémon in competitive battling?
Where Pokémon X and Pokémon Y truly excel, however, is in the new Player Search System — making all other new features pale in comparison. Accessible at any time from the touchscreen, you can instantly connect with other players from all around the world — not to mention those registered as friends. Battle, trade, voice chat, give/receive O-Powers (limited time bonuses)... there’s a whole lot the PSS can do, and it’s X/Y’s biggest leap when it comes to innovative.
Aside from connecting with a friend, or random passerby, to trade or battle, you’re able to take part in new features, such as Wonder Trade. Nothing more than a simple game of chance, Wonder Trade has trainers engage in a Pokémon trade with another randomly selected player. Neither of you know what you’ll get, making it equally incredibly exciting and horribly addictive. Perhaps more than anything, features like Wonder Trade, not to mention the rest of the PSS suite, help sell X/Y’s complete sense of social togetherness this series has always been about — and that’s something special.
The Final Verdict
I could write volumes on how, and why, Pokémon X and Pokémon Y are the best Pokémon games since generation two, but all you really need to do is play one of them for yourself. As a collective, they’re by no means perfect. The invent of 3D visuals reveals issues concerning visual lag and slowdown that need to be addressed in the future, while a clear justification of Mega Evolutions (outside of them just looking cool) is most certainly needed. Where they excel, however, is making the tried and true Pokémon formula feel fresh, new and wholly invigorated. After 17 years, that’s something that shouldn’t be taken lightly.