Review by BringerOfPie
""Hi, I'm Fennekin! I'm cute! Buy my merchandise!""
Pokemon is too complicated for me. It's not that I have any trouble learning the new Pokemon each generation or ploughing through any of the adventures. In fact, I have been playing these games since 1998. Rather, Pokemon has become such a complex community of number-crunching and weighing the exact match-ups of different moves and abilities and natures (hell, I still do not understand what the point of a nature actually is) that I suddenly feel like one of my parents back in 1998 who could not understand what the word Pokedex meant. I am into Pokemon for the journey, but at the end of the day, I go back home. Even for a feeble casual playing style as my own, however, each generation of games has made clear improvements upon the last. Types have been balanced, regions have gotten larger, side-quests have increased, and even the stories have improved. Yet graphically, this franchise has always felt a decade behind. Pokemon X and Y finally makes the long overdue visual overhaul to 3D, although in other ways, also moves the series backwards.
The moment Professor Sycamore greets you in the opening cinematic, you know this is a new beginning. If the move away from color and gemstone-themed game titles was not enough indication, the characters have full models, finally doing away with those 16-bit sprites that looked horrifically out of place in the DS Pokemon titles' 3D environments. Even in your humble starting town of three houses and nothing else resembling modern civilization, you will see the camera is no longer restricted to a top-down view. While Black and White dabbled in varying camera angles, it looked more like a Minecraft world than a lush, lively one. Though your character at first resembles prior protagonists, he or she is customizable. In addition to choosing your skin tone (of which you have a whopping three options), you are able to purchase new clothes and accessories as you progress. Especially as you begin playing with other players around the world, this really helps you forge an identity that you could not in previous titles.
The formula is almost no different than it was 15 years ago, though, which is why Pokemon X and Y is a success on the surface it's the exact same addictive game, but it both looks and feels different. You get your starting Pokemon, battle trainers, gain experience for your Pokemon to evolve, defeat eight gym leaders, and become the champion. But suppose you are not one of the 500 trillion people who played one of the previous Pokemon titles. If that is you, then congratulations on finally waking up from your coma, and in further good news, X and Y is probably the most accessible Pokemon title for newcomers in quite some time. The game is very tutorial-heavy in its first few hours, though this will be an annoyance to veteran players since there is no option to skip most of them. But for the truly bewildered, the battles are very forgiving to begin with, as you encounter faces both new and old, and you will quickly gain roller skates and further transportation to speed your character up, saving yourself from the slow slogs of early routes in previous games.
While the overworld enhancements are extremely welcome, your movement is essentially locked into an 8-way movement and you don't actually have control of the camera, and while the game uses this to show off visual flair in the background, there are a few places where the constantly shifting camera becomes an annoyance. The 3D is not even enabled on most routes, which is just weird as hell for an in-house Nintendo title. In battle, on the other hand, is where the eye candy shines. The battle scenes of Pokemon Stadium all those years ago have at long lasted translated themselves into the RPG adventures. Everything is fully animated in a a clean cartoon fashion, more closely resembling the style of the Pokemon anime than the ugly block polygons of the console Pokemon spin-off games (let's be honest, those games are all hideous). There is some semi-frequent lag, usually with larger Pokemon and larger attacks, but it's mostly positive progress.
While the past several new generations of Pokemon have introduced over 100 new critters each, X and Y only introduces a little more than 60. This may disappoint some fans, but I feel there are acceptable reasons for this. With a few exceptions (like a damn keychain Pokemon), these are the best designs in a while. Believe me, I hate the purists who worship the original 150 as much as anyone else, but Black and White's creatures were the first generation where I felt the new Pokemon were legitimately stupid. Luckily, the few new catches here are awesome, like a fiery fox wizard, a luchador hawk, and a dragon-type slug that is basically a homicidal Barney the Dinosaur. But perhaps the main reason for fewer new critters is the addition of Mega Evolution to enhance older Pokemon. Once the player obtains a Mega Ring, you can make certain Pokemon that were previously fully evolved, like Charizard and Lucario, and make them grow one step further temporarily.
Mega Evolution is brilliant because even though it sounds like it would be cheap as hell, its limited properties merely make it an added layer of battle strategy. It can only be used in battle, and once the battle ends, your Mega Pokemon will revert back to its original form. Additionally, you can only activate one Mega Evolution per battle, so your party will not suddenly depend on only having these specific Pokemon. However, it does give you a reason to revisit some old forgotten friends, and with so many new creatures being added each time, some like Absol and Mawile who never got the light of day to begin with are suddenly viable. Expanding on its old field of assets instead of just adding new ones makes X and Y's combat system a perfect blend of old and new strategies. This is without also touching on new moves, new abilities, and even a new type Fairy to balance out Dragon and Dark-type attacks.
Even though the camera makes the world of Kalos looks more vast than anything before, it actually feels more confined in parts. For those of us exploring types, there is not much to do off the beaten path, nor are there many areas to revisit and reach new places once you obtain later abilities. There are some, but it's significantly less than previous Pokemon games, making the adventure feel far too linear. In fact, this is not the only area that X and Y seem like a step backwards. Diamond and Pearl introduced a competent villain team and gave you a reason to care about the characters for the first time in the series, and Black and White went even further with a legitimately thought-provoking story and had the gym leaders play an active role instead of staying penned up in the back of their gyms waiting to get spanked by the next 8-year-old with a Pidgey. X and Y has very little story. The villain group, Team Flare, might be even less interesting than Team Rocket in Red and Blue, while the antagonist reveal is so predictable it's actually hilarious. The characters have also jumped back several generations, with gym leaders doing nothing, and your traveling friends/rivals give you no reason to care about them.
These shortcomings are masked by a massive step forward visually, of course, but it's almost an illusion, as aside from Mega Evolution, this is the first time a new generation of Pokemon has not made steps forward in terms of gameplay. Even the post-game is almost nonexistent compared to the previous few games, as while I continued playing prior titles for weeks or even months after conquering the region, X and Y gave me no reason to keep playing unless I wanted to heavily invest in the online community. Mind you, the required portions of the journey are wonderful. You will see new types of terrain not seen in other Pokemon titles thanks to the added depth, and there are even parts where you get to ride a Pokemon's back to cross treacherous areas you could not by foot. These parts of Kalos do show a series with plenty of freshness still in the tank. Even the cities are really creative this time around, with my favorite being mushroom-filled fairy tale town at the edge of a haunted swamp. It's just the optional portions of the region that are lacking.
Each DS Pokemon title has smartly used the touch screen as an easily accessible inventory and radar system, and X and Y goes even further than before. The touch menu encompasses your inventory, the Pokedex, and a bunch of extra features. One of the coolest new features, the PSS, lets you detect other players to communicate with, both locally and via Wi-Fi. If that bratty little punk-ass kid in the restaurant booth next to you keeps making obnoxious faces, your PSS will let you know you can humiliate his Pokemon team right then and there and send him crying to the bathroom. There are also two mini-games you can play at any time on the touch screen to boost your Pokemon's power. Pokemon-Amie is like a petting zoo to increase friendship. Super Training is a game of soccer/football against giant balloons to increase specific statistics. Like I said, I know absolutely nothing about competitive play and still have no idea what EV or IV' even stand for, but Nintendo figured the meta-game was now mainstream enough to open up to everyone. I'm sure some dweeb 20-year-olds with no girlfriends and no jobs will cry foul, but I'm glad I can finally last more than one turn in a battle thanks to this system.
Pokemon X and Y is both a massive step forward and a few steps back for the franchise. The visuals have finally caught up to the current day and age after perpetual baby steps, being one of the better-looking 3DS games in spite of the mysterious lack of 3D in many areas. The battle system is even better than ever, not only finally having fully animated battles, but the Mega Evolution system is carefully implemented to be an extra strategy and not a necessity. The new Pokemon are quality over quantity, while even newcomers to the franchise will have no problem figuring out their way. The region, story, and characters are unfortunately a step down from the last several installments, as is the post-game content, but even if you only play until the end and not beyond, there are dozens of hours to invest before you get there. If you play online consistently, you can probably last until Generation 7, and features like Super Training and streamlined trading and battling now make the online community more accessible to anyone. X and Y are not the best Pokemon games, but they were a necessary overhaul for a franchise that now feels as rejuvenated as ever. And hey, even if they were terrible, they would still print mansions made of money for Nintendo.
Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 01/10/14, Updated 07/23/14
Game Release: Pokemon X (US, 10/12/13)
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