Pokemon X & Y Review – A Bold Leap Into 3D

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Pokemon X and Y have finally come and gone, the work of several years of development and hundreds of people within Nintendo’s internal development teams. Needless to say, the game has a lot riding on it, and quite a bit of hype. Despite this review coming a bit late, I hope I can help shed some light on why both Pokemon X and Y are easily the best games in the series, both for newcomers and old fans like myself.

Pretty much everything in Pokemon X and Y have gotten made over, most notably the progression of both the story and the world itself. Whereas most Pokemon games had a considerable amount of set up and preparation before you could really set out on your journey, Pokemon X and Y will have you rounding out your first party, getting your first gym badge, and flying around on roller skates within the first hour or so.

One of the more fun additions to the game is your band of merry friends, one of which is your rival, naturally. You just knew that your rival would show his or her face eventually, right? After you meet up with Professor Sycamore and the other kids, everywhere you go from then onwards will be accompanied by them, whether you like it or not. I personally thought that your group of friends added a nice feeling of camaraderie in an otherwise mostly single player RPG. I know that most of them are shallow, one dimensional characters, but it’s nice to see Game Freak trying to surround the protagonist with both a rival and friends.

For many older Pokemon fans, Pokemon X and Y are both an extremely exciting prospect – Nintendo finally gave the franchise the “modern look,” fully embracing 3D graphics and environments. The game definitely looks very snappy, both old and new Pokemon alike are a sight to behold, whether you’re in battle or just staring at them from within your Pokedex. One of the most notable changes is the ability to customize your avatar, whether you play as a boy or a girl. You can alter your skin tone, your hair color, and even change your clothes throughout the game.

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One of my main gripes was that despite everything being rendered in 3D now, if you’re in the overworld, you’re still getting the traditional top down view of your character. To further explain this, you’re getting the same camera angle as all the previous generations – the only time you can willingly move the camera’s position around is in Lumiose City, the largest city within the Kalos region.

I know it’s not a major negative to the game, but with how much hype I felt surrounding the fact that the series was finally getting the 3D treatment, the first thing I thought of was being able to feel more immersed by finally having control of the camera. There are some awesome set pieces that automatically pan or zoom the camera in/out, but outside of that, there were several moments (those flying trainers for one) that had me wishing I could just simply turn the camera a little bit.

One other thing of note – I experienced very noticeable framerate drops both in single one on one battles, and in horde battles. Naturally, I attributed the framerate drops to having more than two very detailed Pokemon on screen, but when I started experiencing it in one on one battles, it got a bit annoying. It wasn’t frequent enough to make me dock points from the review, but it was bad enough to where it actually got annoying to me. Perhaps it doesn’t help that my favorite Pokemon is one of the most animated – Crobat to be specific, but the fact that slowdown that noticeable was in the finished product left me a bit upset.

Despite this, the visuals definitely shine and have set a new benchmark for the series. Ken Sugimori’s designs have been transitioned beautifully into 3D. As a long time Pokemon fan, I couldn’t be happier with how detailed all of the little (and large) mons look. I’d even go so far as to say that the new 3D models and environments are simply adding more credence to the argument for the franchise being deserving of an MMORPG. When I send out a Wailord, I want it to not only be huge, I want its size to offend other trainers in the digital Pokemon world!

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The music and sound effects within the game definitely shine and each track, whether it be a town’s theme or a melody playing for a particular route, is definitely catchy and or memorable. Pokemon games have always traditionally had fantastic music, but one of the biggest complaints fans (including me) have had with the series has been the archaic sound effects, most notorious are the ones associated with the older Pokemon.

I’m not even joking when I say this but the Pokemon seen in X and Y that are from the original 150 have the exact same sound effects as they did when they came out fifteen years ago. To some this isn’t a big deal, but to a diehard Squirtle/Wartortle/Blastoise fan, I was excited to hear them realistically utter their new battle cry when I sent them into the fray. To my dismay, I heard that same screeching noise that I heard all those years ago when I played the game on my Game Boy. Oh I forgot, there is an exception in Pikachu, who actually says its name.

Another one of the bigger changes are the mega-evolutions that certain Pokemon are able to partake in. To briefly explain how mega-evolution works, you have to get a mega stone that allows said Pokemon to react to your trainer’s key stone. Mega-evolved Pokemon get big enhancements in stats, although their mega form only lasts for the duration of the battle you activate in, or if they faint. Some mega-evolutions even see the Pokemon change their type, like Charizard going from fire/flying to flying/dragon, which basically nullifies his weakness to water. Coming from this, a mega-evolution can basically be considered an extra Pokemon.

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Two on two battles return in Pokemon X and Y, although they’re nowhere near as frequent as they seemed to be as before. Overall the pacing of both dungeons, routes, gyms and major plot points seemed to all be extremely fast paced and quite a breeze to play through. Some small improvements have been made to battles, like being able to restore Pokemon before they’re switched into an active battle. I never once felt like I was being totally babied through any one particular section, although I do have to admit that exploration seems to have taken a backseat as compared to previous games.

I know that the secret bases haven’t been in the game since Black and White, but that ability to create your own home within the worlds of Sinnoh or Hoenn was definitely a neat feature that I will miss. Coming from that, I feel like the transition into 3D environments forced the team at Game Freak to play their hand at either focusing on the aesthetics of the overworld, or simply try to maintain that same amount of hidden areas and items. I just feel like there were nowhere near as many hidden items or areas, and generally I was done finding everything in a particular route or dungeon within a fraction of the time I spent in older games.

Please don’t let my nitpicking make you think I disliked lots of things in Pokemon X and Y, overall the games are definitely a huge leap forward into both visuals and gameplay aesthetics. Further tweaking and streamlining of the online features will make Pokemon X and Y that much more accessible to both old and new fans alike. The Player Search System, an online multiplayer tool that was added with Pokemon Black and White, see its return in X and Y, only now with enhancements that make it even more versatile. As long as you’re within wi-fi access, you can quickly trade or battle fellow trainers, or share O-powers, which are like buffs that can enhance stats like defense or evasion.

The last major additions to the game are the Pokemon Amie suite and the Super Training module. Pokemon Amie is pretty neat because it lets you release your Pokemon from its Pokeball, allowing you to pet it, feed it, and increase its affection. It’s not something huge, but it helps to further the immersion of being a Pokemon trainer and really caring for your team of Pokemon. The Super Training module basically replaces the tedious EV training of previous games – instead of trying to level up individual stats through Pokemon battles, you’ll be completing fun mini-games to level them up instead. Every stat is visible and different mini-games correlate to different stats, so overall the new system is a lot more friendly than EV training.

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Pokemon X and Y are easily two of the best Pokemon games I have ever played – every aspect of the series has been carefully looked at and mostly improved upon. It’s hard to find another series that has lasted for over a decade and still continues to innovate, improve upon itself, and satisfy its fans.

I’d say the only major gripe I have with the games is the lack of that feeling of exploration, but surely Game Freak and Nintendo are already at work on a bigger, better 3D Pokemon. Whether you’ve gotten jaded with the series, if you’re newcomer, or if you’ve just been holding off on getting the latest game – they are definitely worth every penny.

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Owner and Publisher at Niche Gamer and Nicchiban. Outlaw fighting for a better game industry.

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