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Review: Pokémon X and Y

I was not a fan of the Pokémon games from the start. I owned all three US-released Gen 1 games and could not enjoy them. I loved the anime for a time, but I got off the Pokétrain relatively early. I got back on with the Soul Silver, and have been sucked pretty deep into the series since. I was skeptical of Generation 6, however, because I feared it would focus too much on superfluous visual changes and not enough meaty improvements. I’m very happy to say I was mostly wrong, and Kalos is a place well worth visiting.

pokemon-x-and-y-pikachu-screenshot-646x484

Pokémon X and Y [X Reviewed] (3DS)
Developed by Game FreakPublished by Nintendo

I’ll get the bad out of the way, since there’s not much I don’t like. The one big beef I have with Pokémon X is that early on it tries too hard to be a big nostalgia trip. On one of the very first routes you can catch the Pokémon I think has the most boring design, Pidgey. Very early on you get your choice of a Gen 1 starter, all of which are among the few Pokémon known to have Mega Evolutions(Charizard even gets two!) Postgame you get Mewtwo(also two Mega forms) and a roaming Legendary Bird determined by the type of your starter. A total of three youngsters before the second gym make reference to Joey from Gen 2’s comment about how comfy shorts are. Pikachu stands out as the one Pokémon with voice acting(which actually makes sense, in older games it always said its’ name in a dialogue box as opposed to a growl or roar). What I’m getting at is Gen 6 wants to remind you of the older games, and if you didn’t really like them you won’t like that about these games.

Fortunately, once the game picks up the experience becomes far better. It’s going to take a good 6 hours for things to stop being a nostalgia fest completely, and at least 10 before the pacing really picks up. This would be annoying but the sheer amount of content dumped on you at the start takes that long to get used to. From the first few minutes you’re going to be passing by other online players in an almost Dark Souls-esque asynchronous multiplayer, as soon as you get your starter you will have everything you need to train for competitive play, and you’ll be able to rub their perfect little faces all you want. It’s tough to adjust to, especially if you’re used to the more rigid, delicate online interactions of days gone past. One you get the hang of it, though, it’s easy to see that from a gameplay perspective this is the most enjoyable Pokémon yet.

The most basic elements are the same, and serve as your anchor as you navigate this drastically improved game. Almost everything is streamlined, with the exception of registered items. In Gen 5 you could customize a mini-menu for easy access to many items and pockets of your bag, including a pocket that is completely customizable. Now you’re limited to 4 registered key items, but on the upside the bag is much easier to get to. With one press of a button on the touchscreen you can easily and quickly swap between menus. In addition, all hold items and medicines can be accessed from your party screen thanks to the new “restore” option when selecting a Pokémon. The entire menu system is easier and faster, meaning you’ll waste less time doing stuff besides living the glorious Pokémon life.

Here's me outside of a castle early on.

Here’s me outside of a castle early on.

Mechanically you’ll find things work quite differently. The 50 new moves, 21 new abilities, and the new Fairy type give you plenty to work with. Fighting, Dragons, and Dark types have a new fear, with Fairy hitting them all hard and being totally immune to Dragon attacks. It’s unclear yet how drastically this will change the metagame, but Gen 5’s mighty Dark Dragon Hydreigon has got a big weaknesses now, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see some Fairy type walls out there.

There’s also Mega Evolution; the ability to have your Pokémon do an amazing anime power-up sequence that typically results in longer hair and altered coloration. Some changes are drastic, like Mega Gengar becoming a white explosion ghost. Others are honestly boring, like Mega Lucario getting some red coloring and long hair. Once you’ve progressed to the little Mega Ring sidestory you can start using these new evolutions. If your Pokémon is holding a species-specific item (like Lucarionite or Blazikenite) you can activate Mega Evolution at any time during battle, with the animation taking place at the start of that turn, still allowing you to attack. The main point of this is to get boosts to your stats. Unfortunately, at least one is pointless for competition. Mega Lucario’s stat boosts are actually lower than if you just give it a life orb. Mega Evolution doesn’t hurt you like a life orb, but in a competitive battle that’s not really going to matter. In the main game it looks cool enough, though, so it does that job well. On the opposite end of the spectrum is Mewtwo. Mewtwo was already possibly the best Pokémon out there, only Arceus really being better, and Mega Mewtwo Y gets an enormous Special Attack boost, giving it the highest in the series. A properly trained Mewtwo with this Mega form can take on nearly anything. I had one solo my entire team, including the new legendary Xerneas. Mega Mewtwo X, on the other, hand now has access to STAB(Same Type Attack Bonus) for fighting type moves and has a physical attack that matches its’ special, making it even more dangerous. Mega Evolution is unlikely to change the competitive capabilities of a few of those who have it, and there aren’t going to be huge upsets, but it will change the dynamics of the higher tiers of play just a little.

Way back in Gen 2 friendship, introduced in Yellow, was implemented across all Pokémon. Beyond a few attacks and a handful of friendship-based evolutions it hasn’t been a huge deal. Generation 6 does a fine job of changing this, completely reworking the stat and giving it greater effects. From the start you’ll be able to go into “Pokémon Aime,” a minigame collection and virtual pet simulator. Friendship is now split into 3 stats: Affection, Fullness, and Enjoyment. Enjoyment is raised by setting one party member as your Pokémon Aime partner and simply walking around. Playing with them allows you to change the other two stats. Affection is raised by petting and playing the three available minigames with them. You can try an image-swapping puzzle, timing hits at balls of yarn falling from the sky, or matching berries to what Pokémon want to eat. Each has three levels of difficulty and an endless mode, with your efficiency graded on a five-star scale. Higher grades will give you better poffins to feed your partner. Feeding them raises the Fullness stat, and generally looks adorable. Pokémon will either let you feed it to them normally or, if they have them, raise a hand to hold it as you feed them. Once they’re full they won’t want them anymore, of course.

Having high friendship with a Pokémon can still give you those same evolutions it used to, but now there are unique in-battle effects. Your Pokémon will occasionally turn to look at you during a fight, the text about them waiting for orders is slightly different, and they’ll sometimes endure hits that would otherwise knock them out. Besides being plain old handy, it creates this feeling that your Pokémon really is your little friend. Honestly, having little Pokémon friends is what I’ve always wanted, so I’m thrilled to be able to rub and play with them like little pets.

I'm not dressed for this kind of weather

I’m not dressed for this kind of weather

The other big new feature relating to battle is Super Training. First, let me give you a rundown of how training for competitive battling used to be. It starts with breeding, which is very complicated and I don’t really know it all that well. Basically, each Pokémon has a set of stats from 1-31 called Initial Values(IVs for short). Determining the IVs of a Pokémon can be tough, and is usually vague, but through breeding you can eventually get a Pokémon that you know is at least close to perfect. After this often long process is done, you can begin working on Effort Values(EVs for short). Every single Pokémon has a yield of Effort Values after a battle that correspond to different stats. Bidoof, for example, gives off one EV in HP. You can have up to 252 EVs in any stat, and a total of 510 across all stats. Having more EVs in a stat will make that stat grow more, allowing you to specialize your Pokémon for the role you need it to fill in battle. As an example: if you raise a Pikachu to level 100 using rare candies it will be weaker than one raised normally with the same IVs, as rare candies give off no Effort Values. This normally raised one will likely be no match for a Pikachu that was specially EV trained to maximize certain stats, and has been bred to have better IVs. This was a long and difficult process of planning, breeding, and battling. Getting an entire team together was tedious, and not as rewarding as it should have been. It still felt great to get your favorite Pokémon and raise it to the greatest potential possible(I love you, Garbodor), but it took way too long and way too much practice.

But YOU, dear reader, don’t need to worry about that anymore! Super Training let’s you gain EV’s from the comfort of a menu. By playing one of six minigames on one of three difficulty levels you can raise EVs to max in no time, and there’s a convenient bar telling you when you’ve done all you can. It’s way more fun, way faster, and way easier to understand. Forgive me for getting a bit technical there, but to understand just how great Super Training is for the series you’ve got to understand what it was like in the trenches of EV training.

So you’ve got your Super Trained Pokémon, you’ve played with them until they love you, but what about YOU? Yes, you, the trainer, now get to do fun stuff with yourself! Right off the bat you choose race and hair color. A few hours in you can change hairstyle(including color) and eye color. As you play you’ll run across various clothing outlets that will allow you to customize the way your trainer looks. Once you’re decked out in the clothes you want, you can make a short video of you and one Pokémon called a Trainer PR video. Maybe you want yours to be dramatic and cool. Maybe you just want to show the Pokémon staring at the screen. Maybe you just want things to be a silly dance party! The results are more often than not humorous and cute, giving you yet another alternative to battling. With all the friendship and customization it’s like the line between Pokémon and Animal Crossing is blurring in the best possible way.

Speaking of battling, you’ll notice from the moment you get your starter you can battle online. No longer are online functions locked behind story progress. Battle Spot and Wonder Trade allow you to, at any time, battle and trade with a totally random partner. You’ll also see people from around the world in the same game area as you pop up as “passerby” on the bottom screen, and you can challenge any one of them. The “pass powers” from Generation 5 make a return as “O-Powers.” With these you can give friends and strangers temporary boosts to capture rate, any stats, friendship, experience points, or even restore HP and PP. How many you can give is based on points of energy, and once you’re out you’ll have to wait for them to regenerate in real-time. Use them often and they level up, lasting longer than before. This is a vast improvement over Gen 5, where these powers were limited to just people in very close proximity. You can also share PR videos with anyone you pass by, shout out a short phrase of your choosing, use a buggy in-game chat system, and flash the word “nice” at people. The Global Trade Station is now available in the menu at any time as well. The online features of  X and Y are simply amazing, turning your journey into as much of a group experience as it is a solo one.

The last thing you see before blacking out

The emphasis on story is far diminished from Black 2 and White 2. The plot comes in very small bursts throughout. Team Flare pops up a few times to cause trouble, but their intentions are kept a secret until much later in the game. Between the 7th and 8th gym the bulk of the story hits, and though it is relatively brief, it hits hard. You’re introduced to the most tragic character in Pokémon history, and the past of the Pokémon world is hinted at in some pretty dark sequences. I don’t want to spoil too much, but things get pretty…genocidal. After you’ve beaten the Elite 4 you get a final battle that wraps the story up nicely, coming to a conclusion that legitimately had me choking up.

Once you’re done with the story there’s still plenty to do. I’ve seen some reviews saying there isn’t enough postgame, but I finished the game a week ago and I’ve still got plenty to do. While not exclusively postgame you can farm berries in a Harvest Moon style fashion. It’s actually sort of a replacement for Generation 5’s Dreamworld berry farm. Here you can crossbreed berries to get rarer ones, grow them for battling and trading, and find a few Pokémon who want to steal your crops. Just down the same route is the Battle Chateau. Here you’ll fight members of Kalos nobility, becoming a noble yourself and ranking up. In the postgame you’ll eventually be able to fight gym leaders here as well. In the final town you unlock you can go to the “Friend Safari,” the new version of the Safari Zone. Based on the friend codes of people on your 3DS friends list a type is generated. You select a friend and can catch Pokémon of that type in their Safari Zone. Normally there are two kinds, but if they have beaten the game there is a third species. If they are online you get a greater chance of finding the super-rare shiny Pokémon and they may have their hidden ability. Unfortunately the species in the zone are static, and if you don’t have any friends with certain types you’re just gonna have to add more people. The nice thing is it still generates Safaris from friends who have not played the game, but you’ll only ever get two species from them. In that same town you can challenge the Battle Maison, the newest Battle Tower-type place. Here you go for big streaks to earn Battle Points that let you buy special items you cannot get anywhere else. For the first time you can stop at any point and not lose your streak, letting you continue later with a different party at any time.

Mega Charizard X had a cameo in the recent anime special "The Origin"

Mega Charizard X had a cameo in the recent anime special “The Origin”

Beyond that you’ll have a few legendaries to catch and an optional story with a familiar face, which is not bad for the first games of a new Generation. Typically there’s a lot less content in the first two versions, so the amount of things to do is a pleasant surprise. Considering 718 Pokémon had to be given 3D models and unique animations and an entire 3D world had to be made for the first time in the series, it’s a pretty good deal. It’s a shame not every trainer gets a 3D model, most simply being static artwork, and activating 3D on your 3DS does nothing on the overworld, but considering how many new features are included I’m willing to accept these concessions.

Most interesting of all is what’s only been hinted at. There’s still secrets yet to be discovered thanks to the worldwide release. Usually there’s time for Japanese players to find everything so we in the west know all of what we’re in for on release day, but now we’re all on the same level. Still, one has to wonder about a few things. The power plant seems to hint at a legendary trio appearing there, there’s a specialty Pokéball store with Master Balls on display that you cannot buy, and a few characters from other generations are mentioned as having visited Kalos. There’s even a town you can see from Victory Road that is shown in official art, but there is no known way to get to it! The most notable hint is an NPC who says you should visit his home region, but stops himself and says “you’ll see soon enough.” Is there a way to get somewhere else we haven’t found, are remakes of another Gen on the way, or will the third version include a second region to explore? Anything could be possible at this point, and that possibility is incredibly exciting.

The Elite Four have a big castle

These are like photos from my Pokémon vacation.

If you’ve been out of the loop on Pokémon for a while it’s always good to jump in. Anywhere is a good starting point, really, but if you’re a 3DS owner X and Y are the way to go. This is the kind of game that has almost everything you could want it to have and more, and believe it or not there’s a bunch of stuff I never even got to in this review because THERE’S TOO MUCH STUFF!!! Now I’m going to go rub a T-Rex’s face so hearts come out of it.

Final Score: 10/10

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