Review by KeyBlade999
"Taking Pokemon one step forward ... and two steps back."
~ Review in Short ~
Gameplay: The additional additives to the Pokemon formula feel obligatory and overall make the game mind-numbingly easy. Most of the entertainment only comes out of the online aspects.
Story: Deeper than the typical mainstream Pokemon plotline, the plot takes on a number of angles and is rather dynamic.
Graphics: The environments are beautifully detailed and colorful, although the 3D disappoints in lack of usability and lack of actual "depth".
Sound and Music: By far the most impressive feature of the game, older themes are remixed and brand-new themes accentuate the game.
Play Time: Around 40 hours for a general playthrough; hundreds, if not thousands, to finish the Pokedex.
Replayability: Moderately low. The game is just too linear, repetitive, and easy to justify wiping the slate.
The Verdict: Pokemon X/Y are admittedly some of the flashiest entries into the Pokemon series, finally learning to use the various capabilities of the 3DS. However, this is only glossing over the fact that the game is still fundamentally the same as ever (if not changed for the worse), with the new add-ons only lessening the difficulty or inducing that "pay to play" feeling like with PokeBank. I personally didn't get a lot of fun out of it except when writing my FAQ for it. Ultimately, I'll recommend a rental: while only hardcore Pokemon fans will find their money well-spent, it's hard to say for others.
~ Review in Long ~
Perhaps one of the most prevalent outcries with the release of the four Pokemon Black/White Versions games was the question as to why the games were not released on the Nintendo 3DS. Black/White came out in 2011, and Black/White 2 came out in 2012, both for the normal DS, although the 3DS had been around for at least a year prior - Game Freak would have been able to add so many new things to the Pokemon formula with the 3DS's additional peripherals. It took them almost a year since Black/White 2 to do so, but it's happened: Pokemon X/Y are finally out, being the first mainstream Pokemon games on the Nintendo 3DS.
And, sadly, I cannot say the wait was worth it. Game Freak tried to innovate and change the traditional Pokemon formula into something that could stand alone from its predecessors; if they had simply stopped there, then perhaps the game would look a lot different than it does - not perfect, but more worth playing. However, Pokemon X/Y also changed a number of the fundamental concepts in such a way that the game became mind-numbingly easy to play: that joy you get from finally defeating the Elite Four and becoming the regional champion, after hours of grinding up the perfect six-Pokemon party, is no more.
Right now, Pokemon X/Y is game more about looking pretty than actually being fun to play - the only way I was able to glean some legitimate entertainment from this game was through writing an FAQ for it, since Pokemon is one of the most thought-provoking and enjoyable series to do that for. Beyond that, as far as playing for fun goes? I cannot say the same.
Generation I: The first Pokemon games to ever be released were for the GameBoy in 1995: they were Pokemon Red/Green in Japan, with the latter being released as Pokemon Blue elsewhere. (Japan eventually got their own Pokemon Blue as well.) These games later got a sort of "expansion" that eventually became near-traditional in the series with the release of Pokemon Yellow Version in 1999. Not very many side-series games are associated with Generation I except the Pokemon TCG game for the GameBoy Color, as well as Pokemon Stadium and Pokemon Puzzle League for the Nintendo 64.
Generation II: The second generation of Pokemon started with the release of Pokemon Gold/Silver in 1999 for the GameBoy Color. It was later followed by an expansion, Pokemon Crystal, a year later. While a generation not seeing many side-series games, it definitely was the final of the six-thus-far. Notable side-series games include Pokemon Puzzle Challenge and the Pokemon Mini.
Generation III: In 2003, Game Freak introduced the third generation of Pokemon with Pokemon Ruby/Sapphire on the GameBoy Advance, later expanded with Pokemon Emerald. Because Pokemon Gold/Silver were not compatible with these games, people were still effectively tasked with completing the Pokedex, and because these games did not have all then-386 Pokemon (namely the 251 from Generation II), Pokemon Red/Green were remade in 2004 as Pokemon FireRed/LeafGreen. (This did not solve the lack of completion problem, however, to be fixed in 2010.) Generation III is where Pokemon hit its stride in the spin-offs, including Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Red/Blue Rescue Teams, Pokemon Channel, Pokemon Ranger, Pokemon Colosseum, Pokemon XD, and Pokemon Pinball: Ruby & Sapphire, among others.
Generation IV: Starting in 2007, Pokemon moved to the Nintendo DS with the release of Pokemon Diamond/Pearl, later expanded upon with Pokemon Platinum. As the aforementioned release of Pokemon FireRed/LeafGreen did not solve the problem with the Pokedex in full, 2010 saw Pokemon Gold/Silver remade as Pokemon HeartGold/SoulSilver. The spin-offs continued to proliferate here with the releases of Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Time/Darkness/Sky, PokePark: Pikachu's Adventure, Pokemon Battle Revolution, Pokemon Ranger: Shadows of Almia, Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Blazing/Stormy/Light Adventure Squads, Pokemon Ranger: Guardian Signs, and My Pokemon Ranch, among numerous others.
Generation V: The previous generation of Pokemon began only two years ago with the release of Pokemon Black/White on the Nintendo DS in 2011. These two, rather than an expansion, got a sequel in 2012: Pokemon Black/White Versions 2. Aside from rather simplistic apps like Pokedex 3D and the Pokemon Dream Radar, this generation saw only a relative few spin-off games, including Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Gates to Infinity, Pokemon Conquest, PokePark 2: Wonders Beyond, Pokemon Rumble Blast, and a few others.
Generation VI: And so, we come to Pokemon X/Y. The first mainstream Pokemon games released on the Nintendo 3DS, they came out globally October 12th, 2013. No other Pokemon games are announced to be released for this generation, although it's quite likely.
The Pokemon Concept:
If you've played another mainstream Pokemon games, you'll probably understand what the point of Pokemon is as far as the plotline and general sidequesting is. You are an adolescent child who has just received his or her first Pokemon. A Pokemon (short for Pocket Monster) is a being like an animal, yet unlike one in that it is much more powerful: often physically, but also in ways one unfamiliar with the series with deem "magical", like the ability to eject jets of flame from one's mouth, or summon bolts of lightning down from above, right down to the ability to warp space and time. With your Pokemon, you are tasked with two primary goals. One is to go to eight Pokemon Gyms across the Kalos region, defeat the Gym Leader within, and claim their Gym Badge. After collecting all eight, you are to go to the Pokemon League and defeat the Elite Four and Champion so you can declare yourself the supreme Pokemon Trainer of the region. The other goal, which Pokemon is famous for (or sometimes infamous), is the documentation and capture of all Pokemon of the world: as of the release of Pokemon X/Y, there are 718 Pokemon to capture, 69 more than in the previous generation. Close to 460 of these are available in Pokemon X/Y alone.
It's admittedly not a unique concept: all twenty-one prior mainstream Pokemon games have relied on it, as have other popular games such as Shin Megami Tensei to some extent. It's not one of the main flaws of X/Y, though - sure, 69 is far less than what Pokemon normally adds, but with the massive region of Kalos to search, it's more about the hunt.
Battle System: The Old:
The battle system in X/Y is very much the same as previous games before it - veterans of the series know this because Pokemon is more additive rather than innovative, preferring to layer your entertainment than outright alter it. (Again, not necessarily a bad thing: it's the execution that matters.) The fundamentals have changed little since they draw very heavily off of Pokemon Black/White (although some mechanics from Generation V like Triple/Rotation Battles are not seen without sidequests or online play).
Pokemon battles consist of two-to-four people, each with up to six Pokemon. Of those Pokemon, one to three are active on the battlefield at a given time, with their turns being ordered partially by an RNG and partially by their Speed stat or alterations thereof. Each Pokemon has four attacks, or "moves", it can use: there are around 600 total with the release of X/Y. They differ in power, hit rate, critical-hit rate, and side-effects (such as causing certain ailments or raising/lowering certain stats or hitting multiple Pokemon). One of the most critical components of a move, though, its "type". Like Pokemon, moves have "types" that determine what a Pokemon is weak/strong to, and thusly how much damage a Pokemon takes. For example, Fire does extra damage to a Grass type, while it doesn't do much to a Water type. With 18 types, and thusly 324 possible type match-ups if you gloss over the fact that many Pokemon are dual-typed, you begin to scratch the surface of how deep a game Pokemon gets.
Then again, think about what I said earlier: "Pokemon is more additive [...] than innovative". That's remained true in the past 18 years for the most part. In that time, excluding what's new to X/Y (and will be detailed soon), we've seen two new types (1999), Double Battles (2-on-2; 2003), and Triple and Rotation Battles (2011), other than the myriad new Pokemon, items, moves, and abilities thought up since. If you played Pokemon Red/Blue, you can pick up Pokemon X/Y and quickly grasp it for the fundamentals are the same. Sure, you might have to look up the details of a move in the game, or perhaps do some trial-and-error on Pokemon types, but you'll grasp it. And therein lies one of my main qualms: if you can grasp it so easily by playing a game from eighteen years prior, if you can get the same type and same level of entertainment from one game as another, why spend money to try and buy it? Pokemon has relied off of these same concepts for eighteen years - twenty-one games - yet the fundamentals only get small, numerical change on the backend to the point of irrelevance - I, frankly, have grown weary of it.
Battle System: The New:
Still, I suppose it isn't fitting for Pokemon to get a few changes to the battle system to accommodate their release on the 3DS. These primarily include several new battle modes.
One new battle mode is aptly dubbed the Sky Battle. Sky Battles are played similarly to how they sound: only Pokemon that can fly in some form, such as Flying-types or those with the Levitate ability can participate, although there are some exceptions. This actually creates one of the hardest battle types in all of Pokemon by taking out a lot of the variation a Pokemon party can have: with only four to six Pokemon, a team can be ready for anything, but four to six Flying Pokemon really changes it up. Partly, this is because you will use land-based Pokemon as you play so you can progress through puzzles and the like; at least, so you can cover your weak points. Plus, most non-legendary Pokemon that can Sky Battle don't have the variety of moves necessary to cover their own types, much less those of their opponent: many Sky Battle Pokemon are Normal/Flying, weak to Rock, Ice, and Electric moves, and most Sky Battle Pokemon don't learn these moves. It takes very in-depth strategy to win most of these. It's quite a shame so few are given in the game, and you can't battle in this manner online.
The other new battle type is dubbed the Horde Battle. Players of Shin Megami Tensei are probably familiar with the concept of this battle type; those who are not can imagine it as an extreme form of a Triple Battle. Only found when battling wild Pokemon, it consists of five Pokemon against one of yours - obviously, these five are a bit weaker than normal to compensate. (Even five half-damage attacks can equal 150% more damage than normal if they all hit, after all.) It's hard to say I'd recommend them: while they're good for grinding, they easily drain your HP and almost require "hits everyone" moves like Earthquake and Surf to negate that. And yet, some Pokemon are only found in this fashion.
Level-Up and Evolution Systems:
As with most RPGs, Pokemon will involve a level-up system. This system is based on EXP., which is earned by defeating Pokemon: stronger Pokemon yield more EXP. (There are other ways to boost it, such as through having Pokemon from trades, or by holding items.) You are expected to use this system because Pokemon get stronger as time goes on. When enough EXP. is earned, you level-up - this, in turn increase your stats and learn new moves. For a large number of Pokemon, reaching certain levels causes evolution. Pokemon that evolve will have higher base stats (for the most part), but they learn new moves up to ten or more levels later than their pre-evolved forms, bringing in an element of forethought. Some methods of evolution are more unorthodox - for one, for example, you have to hold the 3DS upside-down while the level-up occurs to induce evolution.
The EXP. system has been revamped a little. For one, if you've played games from Generation IV or earlier, you'll notice that the EXP. system takes into account the user's level: therefore, it's difficult to grind through the final battles again and again to get levels because higher-level Pokemon earn less EXP. Additionally, you now get experience for capturing Pokemon.
One of the more critical components of the level-up system are the "hidden" values. One are Individual Values - IVs - which are set-in from when you encounter the Pokemon. They measure zero to thirty-one in each of the Pokemon's six stats, and the Pokemon will earn that many points in its stats by it maxes at Level 100. The problem is that this stat is truly hidden: you have to either outright guess, or get vague hints at them. Similarly, Effort Values - EVs - determine stat growth by Level 100: for every four points, one point is earned by then. These, however, are earned by battling Pokemon and by Super Training, the latter of which graphs and give values to them. So it is possible to train Pokemon for certain stats, which can cause variations by up to 94 points in any given stat -- very significant to online and competitive players.
Gameplay in the Field:
While you probably will spend most of your time in battles, a great deal of time is also spent in the field, traveling from town to town, Gym to Gym, as you try to become the Pokemon League Champion. Unlike most games before it, except perhaps the dual-regionality of Pokemon Gold/Silver and their remakes, Kalos is an absolutely massive region, large enough to the point that it warrants three separate Pokedexes. It's not simply an aesthetic thing: the Kalos region varies quite significantly as you travel; from the central plains to the western shores to the eastern mountains, each area presents its own unique environment.
And with each environment should come something new. Of course, there are the usual aesthetics, and some functional differences like having to Surf in the ocean or ride a Mamoswine through the deep snows, but not much else. I'm not saying I expected a new "puzzle" for every area in the game, but some variety would have helped. Most of the routes between the cities delineated to a simple "follow the road, beat a few trainers, battle Pokemon in the grass if you want" pattern. Some of the best entertainment in the between-cities areas didn't even come from the expected source: Pokemon battles, which is hardly entertainment in this game because of how outright easy they are.
One of the other tasks you can deal with in the field is the hunting of items - some more hidden than others. Some items you will have to go far out of your way for: I remember having to go through two or three areas in Victory Road (one of the last areas of the game) for a certain few items, although the paths there were quite linear and could make you think you actually weren't delving down a side-path but were on the main one. Veterans of the series probably recall another way of hunting down items, the "Dowsing Machine", which would ring when a hidden item was nearby. Starting in Generation IV, you were outright shown within around ten tiles where the hidden item was if you were near it, making the concept moot: you will likely pass within ten tiles of pretty much everywhere the game, so there's no point in making them hidden. That tradition somewhat continues with Pokemon X/Y; while you are no longer shown the exact spot, you are effectively given an actual dowsing rod, which will point towards the hidden item when near. It does bring back some of that nostalgia "scavenger hunt" feel from the first few generations, but not enough to really justify it.
New Concept: The Fairy Type:
Back with the release of Pokemon Gold/Silver - Generation II - we quickly got two new types (Steel and Dark) in addition to the original fifteen. Back then, the addition of these types, while it did not significantly change the present type-to-type relationships, did create a new element of strategy. Steel, as an example, is one of the most resistant types in the Pokemon series: at present, it is weak to three types, immune to one, takes normal damage from four (previously two), and resists the rest, which accounts for over half of all moves.
The addition of the Fairy type brought a number of things with it. For example, some veterans of the series such as myself could very well have trouble identifying Fairy types and remembering what they're weak to. It also ushered in a number of new moves, and a number of Pokemon from previous generations earned new type designations (such as Jigglypuff, Marill, and Mawile). It's a minor thing, but well worth noting.
New Concept: Mega Evolution:
For the most part, with the addition of each generation, Pokemon from previous generations have another link added to some of their evolutionary chains. Pichu evolved into Pikachu starting with Generation II; Azurill became Marill with Generation III; Eevee could become Leafeon or Glaceon in Generation IV; and so on. Rather than add a lot of such links into the chains with Generation VI - although it was done - Game Freak decided on another idea: Mega Evolution.
The concept applies only to Pokemon from Generation V or prior. Some Pokemon in X/Y have a "Mega Stone" associated with them; after a certain point in the game, holding that item will permit Mega Evolution if the Pokemon in question likes you enough and is fully evolved. Mega Evolution will you to evolve that Pokemon one more time, for the duration of one battle; this has a drastic effect on the Pokemon's appearance (imagine Blastoise having a third water turret!) and stats, making the use of these critical to competitive play. Only one Mega Evolution is allowed per battle, even if the first one is knocked out, so knowing when and where to use it is crucial.
Initially, this was one of the ideas I was most hyped for in X/Y - and, frankly, I still get a bit of a rush when I see the Mega Evolution sequence, for it is the definition of "wow" when it comes to the graphics in this game. However, from a strategic standpoint, it's almost over-powering to your Pokemon. I cannot tell you the number of times I have evolved Blaziken into Mega Blaziken, or Mewtwo into Mega Mewtwo, or so on, and absolutely obliterated other opponents' teams without even taking a hit. And that's online, against people who likely exceed the game's AI in skill - playing it in the game just makes it ridiculously easy. Once you get the Mega Stone, for numerous reasons other than Mega Evolution itself (because some in-game mechanics won't take full effect online), you can pretty much forget much of the rest of your party.
New Concept: Exp. "All":
Perhaps my biggest gripe comes in the form of the Exp. Share item. Most of you having played previous games in the mainstream series likely recall this item: you let a Pokemon hold it and gains about half the EXP. earned in a battle, letting you level it up without battling. This helped lessen the boredom of the tedious grinding in designing that "perfect" team. For the most part, it also helped retain a decent balance in the games: despite its use, you'd still be about the level or just a little about that the Gym Leaders' Pokemon were at.
Game Freak decided to do something to that system. The Exp. Share is now a key item, rather than a hold item. You can turn it on or off. Its function now is to give experience, not just to one Pokemon, but to the entire Pokemon party. That might not seem all that bad, but think of it like this. In previous generations, the creation of the "perfect" team required you to cyclically change which Pokemon had the Exp. Share, which Pokemon were in battle, and so on, so that everyone was on-par instead of two Pokemon being twenty levels ahead of the curve. It also made EV training a bit less difficult in that EVs were distributed among the Pokemon battling and the Pokemon with the Exp. Share.
The Exp. "All", as it were, of Generation VI basically skews that. Rather than needing to change it around, you can keep six Pokemon, pretty much since the start of the game if you're relatively lucky, and grind them using this. On my completionist playthrough, my Pokemon party ranged from a Level 90 to a Level 65 or so, with the average being in the low 80's. That wouldn't be so significant until you consider that the strongest trainers in the game max out around Level 65. I mean, sure, I fought every trainer and never ran from a wild Pokemon encounter - then again, I never dedicatedly grinded for experience. If I had to go through grass, I went through it; I wouldn't just stick around.
And this brings my entire party way above the Elite Four's Pokemon? The Exp. Share is probably the core of the lack of difficulty in this game. Another way to look at it is how it distributes EVs: to all. Now in X/Y, your Pokemon can max out their Effort Values without needing to enter a battle; sure, you could do that before, but it would be tedious on six Pokemon. Mine were maxed out before the third or fourth Gym, less than halfway through the game.
Of course, the simple solution would be to turn off the Exp. Share, right? You can do so, after all. But that itself poses a different problem for game balance: game balance before relied on the Exp. Share being used properly. If you get rid of the "only for one" Exp. Share, then you have to manually grind everyone as you near important battles just to be sure you don't lose, and the same will hold true here. The Exp. Share can either make the game mindnumbingly easy for you or tediously difficult. The only real use it has would be post-game when you're looking to complete the Pokedex by raising Pokemon and evolving them and the like.
New Concepts: Pokemon-Amie and Super Training:
Pokemon-Amie and Super Training are two minigame-like functions added into Pokemon X/Y but with a purpose beyond raw entertainment. Pokemon-Amie serves to increase the happiness of your Pokemon: some Pokemon moves rely strongly on happiness, as do some Pokemon evolutions, so management of happiness can be crucial. Similarly, Super Training is a great tool for beginner EV trainers: it lets you keep numerical track of the Pokemon's EVs as they level up and train in the game, so long as you keep strict track of them like you would a diet.
Pokemon-Amie, I have to say, is one of the features in the game I have some of the best feelings about. I mean, it's absolutely cute. The game basically allows you to interact, one on one, with a Pokemon: you can pet it, give it treats, talk to it, make faces back and forth at it, and even play minigames, all thanks to various functions of the 3DS like the cameras, mic, and touch screen. I suppose it sounds a bit childish to actually love this, but there's just some weird internal value in making your Pokemon happy beyond the functionality in the game. The minigames themselves - what you'll probably spend a lot of time on - are not exactly complicated. If you played Mario Party DS (or just can generally extrapolate such ideas to a 3DS format), you can grasp the idea. They're mostly games about speed, like dragging specific berries to Pokemon before they are dissatisfied, or solving puzzles, or timing when you tap the touch screen so that your Pokemon hits a ball of yarn with its head.
Super Training is also a bit cool, if repetitive. As I said earlier, it is used to track your Pokemon's EVs, as well as give them to the Pokemon. (Only the latter are given numerical values: you have to keep track of those from items and battles yourself!) You can earn EVs in Super Training - and thusly increase your stats - through minigames for the most part. These are minigames that rely on physics concepts: basically, your Pokemon is throwing balls at a small goal from a floating platform you can move around. Hitting these goals damages a Pokemon balloon which is trying to dodge around and throw gigantic soccer balls at you. Meanwhile, the goals are constantly moving, so you have to keep track of everything: a single blink and you could quite well mess up. It's a fun game to play and it does get pretty difficult in the later variations of it. It, at least, serves as a nice distraction from the game.
Renewed Concept: Berry Harvesting:
It's been a fair while since we've been able to actually grow berries. Berries are particular items that are used for a number of purposes in Pokemon in addition to the general healing and curation of status ailments. In Generation III, we saw them used for contests and Berry Juice making, for example. Other than Pokemon HeartGold/SoulSilver, the concept has largely remained absent since then.
That's kind of disappointing: while it still doesn't have much relevance in this game, it has its uses. I mean, the ability to create mass amounts of Lum Berries - which heal most negative ailments - can be critical, especially for online play. There's also the fact to consider that some places allow you to mix berries together to make certain curative juices, some of which can even boost your level! While this latter concept does further derail the gameplay into the realm of "too easy" again, it's an interesting trial-and-error concept nonetheless.
Berry harvesting is done similarly to previous generations, but more high maintenance. Before, you'd plant a berry in some soil, water it every now and then, and berries would pop up sometime in the next few days; then you'd pick them, plant them, and let the cycle of life continue. However, now you take in some of the aspects truer with real-life gardening: you have to regularly pick the weeds, or get rid of the Bug Pokemon eating up your berry trees, for example. You also can't just let the berry tree sit there and wait until you're ready for the berries; if you don't hurry up, the berry tree withers and dies off.
Perhaps the most intriguing concept is that of berry mutation, which results from the fact that not every berry is available in X/Y (and you're not supposed to be able to import berries from previous generations through PokeBank). Most of you are probably familiar with the real-life concept of cross-pollination: when the pollen from a plant helps another plant of a different species (generally) reproduce, the resultant plants are a hybrid of the two parents. Similarly, if two berry trees are close together in X/Y, and the berries are different, you could get different kinds of berries. It's a tedious trial-and-error process, but it's one of the better additions to the game.
Renewed Concept: The Friend Safari:
Veterans of Pokemon probably recall the Safari Zone from previous games: a specific, set area where you could, for an in-game fee, catch rare Pokemon that were difficult (if not outright impossible) to see elsewhere in the game. There hasn't been much of one in the series in Generation V, and people looking to complete the Pokedex need some place to go if they are unwilling to pay for PokeBank or play previous games. Thus, the Friend Safari!
The Friend Safari, unlocked after beating the game, relies on the Friend Codes concept of the 3DS: register other people's codes, have them register you, connect to the Internet to confirm the registration, and you're set! Each Friend will appear as someone in the Friend Safari. Each person's Safari will contain three Pokemon of a species. That might not be significant, but, when there's 718 Pokemon, the odds of two people giving you the same Pokemon species is close to 1 in 500,000. Thusly, your goal is to register a mass number of Friends and hope they have you want - this can even include starter Pokemon and Pokemon otherwise exclusive to Pokemon X or Pokemon Y. It's an interesting concept, and while many people just outright make "You give me your code and I'll give you mine" topics on the message boards, I can definitely see where this would encourage interaction.
There is a problem, though. Not everyone has access to the Internet, and it's erroneous to presume that we should, or that we can. (For example, if I want Wi-Fi, I have to go a lengthy way down to my school, or even further to a restaurant.) The very idea that having an Internet connection should subject you to extra benefits is just wrong to those of us who cannot do anything about our situation (financially or otherwise). There are other ways of going about this, if not just an outright roll against a random-number generator in the game.
Taking a cue from Pokemon Black/White Versions 2, a number of sidequests over the traditional Pokedex completion sidequest are implemented in this game. I name those two specific games for a reason: the Medals system. A relatively recent trend I've found in DS and 3DS games, particularly the big-name releases (examples: Kingdom Hearts 3D, Angry Birds Trilogy, Mario & Luigi: Dream Team), is an achievement system paralleling PlayStation 3 Trophies or Xbox 360 Achievements. The general idea is that meeting a particular (and fairly arbitrary goal) will get a Medal in this game. It has no function other than being there, but it marks achievements, such as having caught all Pokemon of a certain type, or having won this many battles, or having earned 1,000,000 experience points in a day. However, it does give you something to do, and they can be quite difficult. However, a particular problem in that relies, similar to the problem with the Friend Safari, the online requirement. You have to do a Game Sync on the Pokemon Global Link (an official website requiring you to make an account first) before it's allowed: again effectively screwing some of us without Internet access from the game's content.
Another few sidequests include the Battle Chateau and Battle Maison. Battling arenas are a familiar concept in the Pokemon series, ever since the Battle Tower. The Battle Chateau functions more of a "come and go as you please" area: you go there, fight people, raise your "rank" (like that in feudal nobility: Duke, Viscount, et cetera), and come back when you're ready for more. The Battle Maison is more like the Battle Subway and Battle Tower of previous Pokemon games (moreso the former): your goal is to last through a series of battles, and the more you finish, the better you have done and you get a better reward. These both are mostly "for fun" aspects, although they have Medals and items attributed to each, so they can make something nice to grind on when the game's done.
The Battle Institute is perhaps the most valuable tool for players planning to play online or in official competitions like the Video Game Championships. You will use a set number of Pokemon, at Level 50, excluding a number of legendaries, and face several trainers in a row. Your win or loss against them is irrelevant, though. The game's AI is a lot more intelligent here than normal, often using extremely in-depth strategies as time goes on to rate how good a Pokemon Trainer you are: obviously, the more matches you win, the better. It does serve to give you a rank, and it also helps to give you items, so your training isn't worthless. In fact, it could be among of the most valuable tools you have, especially if you don't want to read lengthy training guides online.
We now come to PokeBank. PokeBank is a planned application - in a sort of add-on to X/Y - planned to be released in late December 2013. As you may have noticed, I've yet to mention anything about bringing new Pokemon over from previous Pokemon games. From the information given to us, PokeBank is the reason. With each new generation, Game Freak has had to add in some funky new method to allow Pokemon to go from one game to the next short of remaking it every time: for example, Generations III to IV used Pal Park (putting a GBA and DS cartridge in the same DS or DS Lite, then migrating and recapturing six Pokemon daily). Generations IV to V used PokeTransfer, a similar migration process designed for 2 DS's or 3DS's to connect.
So, in other words, if you didn't own a particular DS model (Pal Park) or had access to two DS's (PokeTransfer), you were pretty much screwed on getting your prized Pokemon. PokeBank is sort of a quick-fix to that problem. For an annual fee, you can deposit your Pokemon online, into a massive storage of 3,000 Pokemon. This service would be planned to be compatible with future generations of Pokemon, allowing the work to be eased off of Game Freak and stopping everyone from needing to get other DS's/3DS's to get your favorites off the now-ten-year-old Pokemon Ruby/Sapphire.
However, this proposes a number of problems to me. Firstly, we come to the concept of the "annual fee". I'm not saying I'm against it, but then I'm not for it either. If I'm going to use it, it's going to be one, big, massive cleaning of my four Pokemon Black/White Versions 1/2 cartridges, then the Pokemon will be on my X/Y cartridges, and that'll be it. They may sit around for the most part until Generation VII, but I'll still have numerous specially-trained teams at my disposal, some that took years to theorize, create, and train right down to their EVs and IVs, and I could do a lot better in competition. In short, I'll pay my $5.00, do a transfer, and leave it at that ... for then. What if I want to bring some Pokemon to Generation VII? What if they prevent cross-generation trades (again) and thereby force us to pay again for another one-time-use of PokeBank? That adds up quicker than you think, especially when it comes to the one-time-use idea.
Then there's the whole idea that it requires an Internet connection. I have griped about it before in this review, and shall again - Game Freak again is restricting content to people who have an Internet connection. If you don't have Wi-Fi, you won't be getting any of your old Pokemon back unless you can find a place to use it and are willing to pay the fee. I get that it's a convenience in general all-around to stop the re-implementation of new transfer methods, both to the developers and to the consumers who would otherwise need to buy/borrow/rent other 3DS's, but that is not the way to go about it. The proper way would be to simply allow cross-generational trading. It's not the most convenient, and is prone to glitching (as Gold/Silver showed to some), but it's a hell of a lot better than screwing people based on unfortunate circumstances or using this "pay to play (with your old ones)" concept.
As we begin to wind down this section of my review, we'll come to the overall difficulty of Pokemon X/Y. To say the least, it's too easy. The fundamentals of battling are outright the same as ever; the Fairy type, Sky Battles, Horde Battles, and some of the new mechanics do little to change that. Some, like the Exp. Share as it is here, deface the challenge of the game to the point of either "too hard" or "too easy", with no middle ground. And some just don't help at all, like how the Pokemon by the end of the game are only in their mid-60's level-wise whereas you are likely in the 80's, or perhaps the lack of variation in game locales. While there are a number of good qualities to the game, a fair number also require online access or just don't actually help you play the game in any way. By the end of the game, you'll likely end up defeating most Pokemon - if not all - in a single-hit in the plotline. Battling with an actual human is different, but, again, not everyone has access to multiplayer functions, local or online.
One of the best features of the Pokemon series has always been the multiplayer functionality: there's nothing quite like running into a random person you don't know, who's obviously playing Pokemon, and challenging him to a battle. It's awkward, but fun, and definitely more challenging than the AI often offers in Pokemon X/Y. Offered in X/Y are a number of features you'd probably expect.
There are several battle options: those that let you play against someone you know through the Internet (Friends) or locally, and those that set you up against a random person who also wants a random battle. Both types do not restrict legendaries for the most part, and you can have Single, Double, Triple, or Rotation Battles - sadly, Sky Battles are restricted at the moment. Obviously, the thrill from this mode comes in from that the AI cannot just run complex strategies well enough to make them useful - it can probably initiate it, but what if you throw in something unexpected? For example, the AI throws out a bunch of Pokemon that are immune to, but can use, Earthquake. (You knew they were Flying beforehand, as that's what online battling allows if you know Pokemon types.) If you threw out Electric Pokemon, you would be dead fast. But what if you used a move like Gravity to remove their ability to fly? Then they would also be hit by Earthquake - it could end up a stalemate ... but what if your Pokemon has the Sturdy ability, preventing a one-hit-KO? That's how it goes with the AI. A human player could've probably anticipated this and just not use Earthquake, or at least use a Pokemon with the Mummy ability to nullify the Sturdy. That's the kind of complex strategy you should be able to leech from this game, not just other humans.
Another feature you can use with the multiplayer is, of course, trading. It works similar to the battling options: you can trade with someone locally or through the Internet (if they're your Friend). You can also do a Wonder Trade. This latter option basically throws your Pokemon into a vast pool of others, and you get another Pokemon another person owned. It's entirely random, and most people just throw crap Pokemon in there. Not all people are such jerks, though - I've seen and have received a Shiny Pokemon (Pokemon you only have around a 1 in 10,000 chance of finding; the only difference is the coloration), as well as female starter Pokemon (allowing me to breed more) and, once, a legendary who will not be named. But that took hundreds of Wonder Trades to work out; for the most part, I got random crap despite what Pokemon I gave.
We now come to the O-Power system. O-Powers work similar to the Pass Powers of Generation V. As you play the game, you will accumulate units of energy for your O-Powers. These can be spent to give you, or someone else (typically a Friend), the Power. The O-Power can do a number of things, such as boost EXP. earnings, make Pokemon appear more often, or let them be caught more often, among others. It's an interesting system that, while it does rely partially on online/local interactions, it is available for you to use as well, so you are able to help yourself.
My Overall Opinion:
Ultimately, when it comes to the gameplay, it can only be described as "poor" at best. While there are a number of good qualities to it - the Friend Safari, the Mega Evolution process, the tried-and-true Pokemon formula - these are overlaid by more critical problems. The difficulty of the game (or, more appropriate, lack thereof) will get you yawning by the game's end, if not before; the forced online aspects of the game severely damage the entertainment value for those lacking such connections; the locales feel indistinct and linear. Ultimately, you'll try forcing yourself through the game.
Overall, the gameplay of Pokemon X/Y did something I can't say Game Freak truly tried before - they tried to innovate - and that much alone was a step in the right direction. But fundamental aspects were often changed in the process, often creating logical or just detrimental errors in the game that fail to let the game be as fun as it could be.
Storyline in Summation:
As usual, with the additive nature of Pokemon, players of previous games of the series already likely have a firm grasp on this concept to some extent. However, when playing, the plotline in Pokemon X/Y had a different feel to it. While it had the traditional cliche feel, and progressed similarly, it felt like there was "more" to the plot than the usual "become Champion, save the world" plot we've come to know. Multiple parts of different stories are given in the game, fairly often in the plot, although rather at random. Most of the time, they consist of simple on-screen textual conversations, and others consist of beautiful cinematics.
It's pretty hard to describe it all without giving spoilers, but the general ideas are this. Part of the storyline relies on the usual "become the Pokemon League Champion" story; this aspect is typically progressed after beating Gyms and the like, nothing unexpected. A second part seems to involve the general journey you and your friends take as you each become your own person and learn to become your own person while also befriending your Pokemon. Another part involves a "save the world" plot, progressed at irregular intervals as you come into contact with the mysterious Team Flare. And a final, fourth part is relatively sparse in detail but concerns the search of a man for a Pokemon he lost long ago; a Pokemon who fled him because of the sacrifices this person made him were too costly and too evil in its own eyes.
For the mainstream Pokemon series, it's a rather complex plot, able to change angles on the turn of a dime, although not necessarily smoothly depending how you would prioritize these in your mind. (Despite that, the game is nonetheless linear and you will do whatever part comes up when it comes up.) It may not be the best overall plot I've seen from Pokemon - Mystery Dungeon still takes the cake for that - but it's by far the best, heaviest, and most complex plot of the mainstream series.
We begin with you, an adolescent child who has just moved with your mother to the region of Kalos. Kalos is a large region, large enough to warrant three separate Pokedexes because it's about as large as a continent and home to hundreds of species of Pokemon. As you become chatty with the neighboring kids, it quickly becomes apparent that the Pokemon Professor of the region, Professor Sycamore, has actually requested you, among four others, to become his disciples.
This quickly entails the gaining of your first Pokemon ever, as well as some of your first Pokemon battles. When you finally get to speak with Sycamore in person, it seems he has a task for you. It's no different that the one you're tasked with in other Pokemon games: he wants you to document and capture all of the Pokemon in the Kalos region, and eventually all 718 in the world - a daunting task for any teenager, but a doable one nonetheless. Internally, you also have your own goal: to become the Pokemon League Champion by defeating all eight of Kalos's Gym Leaders, then defeating the Elite Four and the Champion.
As you progress through your journey, you also become intimately acquainted with Team Flare, a mysterious group of people who task themselves with "making the world beautiful". And yet, they choose violence and misdeeds as their modus operandi for this; to each their own, yes, but what could their "beautiful world" really be? A verdant paradise free of corruption, or a desolate wasteland? And how and why are they linked with the Kalos legends?
Such and more will you find out on your journey.
The 2D Graphics:
We'll begin with the assumption that you either want to think about the simple color variations or the like, as if you were playing without the 3D (as you likely will anyways) or playing on the 2DS released on the same day as X/Y. To be brief, the graphics are absolutely beautiful, likely the best I've seen on the 3DS insofar. The region of Kalos is perhaps the perfect place to set such a picturesque game on one of the more advanced handhelds of the day, especially given the number of environments in the game. Most regions in previous games simply relied on one or two themes. For the most part, Generations I - III had a feel of "plains" and "ocean". Generation IV had something more akin to just a cold, northern climate theme. Then there's Generation V, which mostly placed itself in the big city (fitting, as Unova was meant to mirror New York City in some way).
Generation VI mirrors the country of France quite well - I mean, sure, it's not exact, but it's hard to doubt with the general shape of the land and an Eiffel Tower-like structure in the center of the region. France itself is varied in that it has mountains, plains, and oceanside biomes as well, further mirroring Kalos, and presenting a great place to set the game. The environments are colorful and vibrant and varied. The dynamic camera also helps to give a fresh view of areas, sometimes to the point of functionality in finding certain items: I remember that I once went behind a house once by accident, then the camera turned top-down and I found an item!
Perhaps one of the more notable changes is the inclusion of the 3D models over the usual 2D sprites we're used from the Pokemon series. While it's not significant in that it has no real use for the fundamental aspects, it just helps increase the appeal of the game. Additionally, Pokemon now have relatively unique animations for what they do - while it's not like an actual real-life fight, it's noticeable in that Pokemon don't just sit there and shift a few pixels when using Tackle or something. Their animations are especially dynamic in the course of Mega Evolution - it still gives me goosebumps every now and then when I watch my Pokemon Mega Evolve.
The 3D Graphics:
To be honest, the 3D disappoints if you're playing a normal 3DS or the XL model. For one thing, it's the availability of such: for the most part, it's only available in dynamic cinematic cutscenes and battles. In the latter, it's restricted to Single Battles. Think about that for a second: while a lot of the game will be spent in battles, many times more of the game's graphical prowess is spent in the overworld. Watching a Pokeball be thrown is one thing, but what about that dynamic field camera, being able to show off much of the environment? Some of the most impressive 3D on the 3DS has happened when something zooms up to the camera really fast, yet we can't have that?
It's hard to say that it would make a difference, though. Aside from the lack of availability - and therefore functionality - of the 3D, there's also the lack of "depth". Generally, the desired 3D effect arises from a "pop-out book" effect. For the most part, most games provide something that is akin to looking through a window: the only exceptions I've seen of the over twenty games I've played would be Crash City Mayhem and Mario & Luigi: Dream Team. Functionality is one thing - I don't really expect to see 3D puzzles like in Super Mario 3D Land because that some people can't see it, or it damages their eyes. Availability and a lack of quality are different: people do use it, and like to use it, and like it to be executed well. Sadly, the 3D pretty much fails on this game.
Keep in mind we're talking about actual hardware in regards to this, hardware that is not supposed to lag (significantly) during gameplay. While in the field, the game holds a steady 60 frames per second no matter what I've done; there are no "bumps" as it were. Battles contain a different story, though. In Single and most Double Battles, you won't notice any lag. However, if you turn on the 3D in Single Battles - or ever play a Triple Battle - you'll notice quite quickly a lot of lag: the game is obviously processing a lot to the point that the rest has to slow down to compensate. It's almost annoying to me, as it is the first 3DS game I've seen with significant lag. I don't mean a "one frame here, one frame there" thing (almost all games do that) - I mean that the game actually is slow and jumpy, especially with 3D. The lag is yet another reason against 3D, and perhaps a reason to stick to the main game rather than play online where Triple Battles are by far the most common.
SOUND EFFECTS AND MUSIC: 9/10.
Sound Effects, Clarity, and Volume:
For the most part, Pokemon X/Y have decent sound effects. The clarity is fairly consistent, and the volume is sufficient: it's not excessively loud like some other games (Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Gates to Infinity) often felt. Granted, the clarity is questionable when we come to one of the common things of the Pokemon series.
If you've ever watched the Pokemon anime, or perhaps played some of the side-series games like PokePark and Pokemon Channel, you'll notice how the Pokemon cries differ between the two mediums. In the mainstream games and some on the side, Pokemon games are restricted to a bunch of static sounds, sound that have no real meaning to the common player. However, the anime and some side games have the Pokemon with a different, generally more-preferred cry in that it says it name. For example, in Pokemon Red/Blue, Pikachu makes a bunch of staticky noises; in the anime, it says something along the lines of "Pika" or "Pikachu", depending on the general context of the conversation at-hand.
Pokemon X/Y change little of that, but I do it well worth noting that there is now an exception to this rule, with the very same Pokemon I just named. Deviating from tradition, Pikachu no longer makes those random static sounds, but rather says its name. To buffs of the side games and the anime such as myself, this can be a rather significant change beyond what most would think: it gives almost a new depth to playing Pokemon-Amie and interacting with your Pokemon (Pokemon-Amie and otherwise) that is just not possible to explain in words. Frankly, it is the one thing I love the most about this game, and something I strongly hope Game Freak will expand upon in coming generations.
Veterans of the series and greenhorns alike will be able to enjoy the music in this game. While it is not entirely new - a lot of themes are remixed, such as the wild battle themes and the rival themes - what is new is excellently done, as it the old themes. Most of these do quite accentuate the mood. While on Route 20, which is a maze similar to the Lost Woods in The Legend of Zelda, there is a light, yet ominous theme to it. The music from rival battles is really dynamic and almost "peppy", and there is a theme almost like windchimes for the snowy towns.
One of the things I've noticed about the music in 3DS games recently is almost a trend towards pop and rock genre themes. Whereas you'd have "orchestral" music as it were back as late as HeartGold/SoulSilver (most evident in the rival theme there), you hear a lot of bass, percussion, and electric guitar riffs in most of the battle music. Granted, a lot of the field areas still have those orchestral themes. This creates a nice variety that, on the whole, makes the auditory qualities of Pokemon X/Y perhaps the best part of the whole game - to me at least.
PLAY TIME: 9/10.
And, yet again, players of previous mainstream Pokemon games probably have a grasp on how long a playthrough will last. Given I was writing my FAQ and clocked in at seventy hours when I hit defeated the Elite Four, I conservatively estimate it will take closer to forty or fifty hours to finish the game; not necessarily in a completionist manner. In fact, there are multiple people who've posted videos online of having almost powered through the entire game in the weekend it came out.
Completing all of the sidequests and such will take a little longer. Discounting the whole concept of the Pokedex, it'll take closer to eighty to one hundred hours to finish everything on the side. Once you throw in the Pokedex, that's when heads (and clocks) start to roll. Generally, completion of the three Kalos Pokedexes could go from 150 to 250 hours, depending on how knowledgeable you are and how much you did along the way, plus including trades and the like.
Completion of the entire National Pokedex - 718 Pokemon - is more time-intensive than it sounds. Firstly, you'll have to wait until late December 2013 before PokeBank is even usable to bring Pokemon from previous generations to X/Y. Once you do, you need to take into account that you will have to play a number of other games to get the Pokemon needed (even sometimes just the one or two version-exclusives) - this means Pokemon Ruby, Sapphire, Emerald, FireRed, LeafGreen, Diamond, Pearl, Platinum, HeartGold, SoulSilver, Black, White, Black 2, and White 2 all have to be played at least once each to be able to get additional Pokemon exclusive to certain versions. (And we're ignoring Nintendo Event-only Pokemon like Arceus and Genesect.) So, that's fourteen games; at general prices, that's $200 to $300 spent, and easily 400 to 500 hours played since each playthrough is close to thirty or forty hours, depending on the game. (HeartGold/SoulSilver for example have you go through two regions' Gyms before the game is nearly complete.)
Ultimately, it's not even guaranteed you'll find all the desired Pokemon within that time interval: it could easily take you over 1,000 hours to complete the Pokedex without using external resources like trading, not to mention that you'll need a DS Lite and a 3DS at least. It is an expensive sidequest, but by far among the highest of pinnacles in video gaming: very few individuals can say they've collected all the Pokemon mostly because of the time-intensive effort that takes many times longer than playing the actual game.
The ability to replay mainstream Pokemon games has never been generally high unless you play just to play. Even then, there are factors to consider like linearity and sidequests, or just the general ability to fool around. Pokemon X/Y doesn't let you goof off much unless it's for completionist reasons (i.e. finding everything in an area). The Battle Chateau is the main exception to this, but you'll generally be overpowered by the trainers within before you can make significant progress: the only real non-linearity arises from multiplayer interaction.
And, honestly, I did not find Pokemon X/Y that fun to play. I would not personally like to restart the game and basically wipe my slate clean regarding the Pokedex completion quest just so I could play a game I could clearly remember. I mean, sure, it was fun to write an FAQ for, but I'm not going to rewrite my FAQ every time I want to play this. Ultimately, the linearity pretty much smothers this game when it comes to second playthroughs onward.
THE END. Overall score: 5/10.
In summation, Pokemon X/Y are more about flash than they are substance. Within the confines of this game cartridge, you will find one of Game Freak's first true attempts at innovation in the Pokemon mainstream series; however, you'll find a number of slip-ups. These can be relatively minor, like the implementation of the Fairy type leaving strategy largely unaffected, or quite major, as the use of the Exp. Share leaves no middle ground for the difficult, either forcing you to be overpowered or to grind. Myriad problems plague this game in ways not directly affecting the gameplay, but moreso in fairness, like the extra content available only to people with the Internet (Friend Safari) or the "pay to play" concept that is PokeBank.
I cannot say I liked Pokemon X/Y beyond FAQing it - it had nice aesthetics, great graphics (beyond 3D and lag), and one of the best mainstream Pokemon stories I've ever experienced, but the meat of the game, playing it, left me largely unsatisfied.
Ultimately, I won't recommend this game to the majority of you, especially if you're dissatisfied with the Pokemon formula already. Those of you who are hardcore Pokemon fans may find a rental of the game at least worth trying, but it's largely not worth the money to me.
Reviewer's Rating: 2.5 - Playable
Originally Posted: 10/23/13
Game Release: Pokemon X (US, 10/12/13)
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