Another Pokémon game, another journey to catch 'em all. Only this time, Nintendo puts the technology of the Nintendo 3DS to work in order to give the series a much needed overhaul. Everything about the presentation, from the 3D graphics to the musical arrangements, has finally brought the title into the modern age.
But, is it enough? Behind the facelift sits the same core mechanics which have pushed the series for nearly 15 years. Newcomers and veterans alike will play the same game, and obviously some will react differently than others.
Tired of mechanics and wanted something new? Like the formula and don't want it to deviate? Think it does enough differently from the past to call it a true leap forward?
Reactions to this game have covered a huge spectrum of the Pokémon audience, and before we talk about what we felt, we think it's best if we dive into our history with the series.
Growing Up With Pokémon
I've played most of the generations of Pokémon games, but can only claim to have reached the level of Pokémon Master in the first generation, back in the Pokémon Red and Blue days. I created countless powerful teams, played the games multiple times through, and could rattle off all original 151 in order at the height of my Pokémon Master reign.
Since then, Pokémon has been a bit more of a casual experience for me and mostly for nostalgia's sake. I do enjoy each mechanic each new iteration has added, but have not really found that many Pokémon I've cared for beyond the originals. Pokémon Red, or the FireRed GBA remake, has been my go to game for a Pokémon fix.
Pokémon Y, the half of this generation I am covering, is my biggest step into the series for quite some time, and the first in a long while that I have given any depth to.
Joey DavidsonSenior Editor
I've managed to conquer the Elite Four from each generation of Pokémon. However, my knowledge of Pokémon doesn't extend beyond the games themselves. I was never a fan of the anime, and I've only barely dabbled in the trading card game.
I've been with this series since the beginning, something I'm sure a lot of Pokémon fans can own up to if they want. It's one of the games that I dumped a lot of my youth into growing up, and I've managed to keep friends who played the franchise through both high school and college. Yes, these same nerds still get pumped about the newest release right along with me. Most of us are married now, which is even scarier.
I think it's safe to say that you and I, Ron, have a bit of nostalgia working alongside these games. That could be good or bad, depending on what we love and hate with this new effort, but our Poké Pasts (yep, I went there) have a heavy influence on this franchise.
There is definitely a lot here for the old timer Pokémon fans to enjoy. The original three starting Pokémon making an appearance was huge in getting me excited for this game, but even smaller subtle hints like cutting Veridian Forest from the first game tile-for-tile and pasting it into this world should spark those memories of your first Pokémon journey.
In fact, I went about this game just like I would have in Pokémon Red. I fired up a new game and selected my first Pokémon. Almost immediately, I ran into a Pidgey and caught it first. Then, I went through the forest catching a Pikachu and Caterpie, I set about evolving the Caterpie into a Butterfry and taking on the first Gym Leader, already having a series of super effective moves to hit him with.
I would say my first three hours with the game had zero difference from my older days.
Pokémon has come a long way since those days with breeding, EV Points, personalities, gender, etc. When looking for a perfect Pokémon team, do you focus on the finer details within the cracks?
Not at all. I'm a really standard user when it comes to building Pokémon teams. I cover the basic types–Water, Grass, Fire–and then I focus on nabbing nothing but Pokémon I enjoy using. By the end of the game, I can typically roll the Elite Four with one or two Pokémon, and then it's all about filling my Pokédex and exploring the region.
I agree, though. There's a lot of nostalgia built into this adventure right from the onset. Game Freak is clearly aware of this series' roots, and they do a lot to make sure that old players feel welcome as they tilt the perspective on the world. But I think this is a great opportunity to transition into whether or not enough has changed for our liking, and I have a feeling you and I might be split on this…
Has Enough Changed?
Right off the bat, I love this entry in the series. For me, it never really got much better than FireRed and LeafGreen, the Game Boy Advance remakes of the originals. The formulas from the first games returned, but Game Freak added convenience tweaks to make the world more interesting and easy to explore.
X and Y are, by and large, the same Pokémon campaigns we're used to. Catch, train, battle, explore, Elite Four… There's really not much they can do to change the core formula within these titles. The things they did add and tweak, though, are almost universally wonderful.
We'll dive deeper into our opinions in this section of the review, but, for me? X and Y are different enough.
Same here. Each jump has felt like the series progressed naturally with new ideas and mechanics, but at a snail's pace in the presentation realm. The graphics are gorgeous and the music is top notch.
Beyond the "catch, train, battle, explore" formula, plenty of other great smaller adjustments have been made as well, like assigning four items to a speed menu, simple switch to rollerskates with the analog stick, or simply streamlining the menu system with convenient touch buttons.
It's hard to tell which is more impressive graphically, the battles or the world. The Pokémon have never seemed more alive than they do in this generation. They are fully animated, brimming with character, and I even felt a twitch of guilt watching them go through the faint animations time and time again. It's not easy knocking out Eevee and calling yourself a nice guy.
The world is essentially laid out the same way. 3D environments can't hide the fact that this is still an overhead game, but some caves and towns change up the camera angles and give a decent glimpse of what a fully 3D Pokémon world might look like.
Yes, the animated Pokémon look much better than just swaying sprites. And the looks of the scenes, complete with falling leaves and dynamic cameras that swept around before, during and after attacks all look great. In fact, this was the first Pokémon I played all the way through without turning off battle animations.
However, that all said, there were times, especially when the top screen was split with a vertical slice, when the battle scenes would chug down with lag. Even the menu lagged a bit! So annoying. Aside from that, yes, these new animations were great.
I loved every bit of the world, though. I suppose the only genuinely annoying part of exploring was being forced to mount and ride a Rhyhorn for a quick stint. Sure, it was short, but good grief was it one of the slowest and stupidest moments in the game!?
Lumiose City, the fake Paris set in a circle featuring 3D buildings, was pretty cool. Those camera angles made it easy to lose direction and get lost. But, again, Game Freak was forward thinking enough to include taxis that let you hit any destination in the city for a small fee.
Let's talk about the actual process of battling, though. Game Freak added and changed stuff to make that bit interesting and new, too.
Mega Evolution, Mega Convenient
Pokémon X and Y's story revolves a lot around uncovering the secrets of a new force called "Mega Evolution." Supposedly, some Pokémon can push the limits of their normal final evolutionary stage with special stones and an additional mysterious requirement of the trainer.
Much of the game features the protagonist and his friend's searching for the final clue to this century old mystery. It's already well known that Venusaur, Charizard, and Blastoise can become even more powerful with this new mechanic, but they are not the only ones.
We don't want to spoil which can and which can't, but putting a stop to these powerful beasts is no easy task.
Yep, and they add a new layer of learning and surprise to the game. Old Pokémon that you thought you knew inside and out may have an extra link in their evolutionary chain, and that's really cool to see for the first time.
One of the most brutal types of Pokémon leading up to X and Y was the Dragon type. Get a good one, and you could roll through pretty much the entire game without ever being taxed. Game Freak added a retroactive type of Pokémon to the game, Fairy.
There are new Fairy type, but some old Pokémon gained the classification as either a primary or secondary role. Mr. Mime, for instance, is now part Fairy…who didn't see that coming?
It doesn't really present much cause for concern until you hit the Fairy gym. Then you'll be sifting through your party for something capable of one shotting an entire horde of Fairy trainers.
Again, Game Freak found a way to introduce something new and meaningful to a formula that's seen its age grow larger.
I also wanted to hit on two new convenience and fun tweaks that make battling and levelling that much easier and more rewarding. The new Exp. Share and what happens when you actually catch wild Pokémon.
Game Freak has decided to make grinding less of an ordeal in these new games by showering Pokémon with experience points.
For example, it has done away with the idea that capturing a Pokémon can't reward experience points as well. No matter how a battle wraps itself up this time around, it will grant experience points as a reward.
Experience Points are also not divided evenly amongst the contributing fighters. In the older games, if three Pokémon took part in the fight, the experience points were divided into thirds and shared. This time around, every Pokémon who participates gets 100% of the share.
Plus, the addition of the new Exp. Share item grants an extra 50% to each Pokémon who did not participate in battle, meaning your squad should improve at roughly the same rate, unless the machine gets voluntarily shut off.
I might not be in the majority on this one, but I still prefer not sharing my experience points. The convenience is nice, but I always found that shuffling through my team and balancing how much time I put into each of them was half the fun of the original games.
With the new addition, I can just throw out an overpowered Snorlax and level up an elite squad without barely touching them.
Well, you can just as easily turn the Exp. Share off. Register it to the quick select menu you mentioned before, and turn it off whenever you like. Personally, I like the convenience additions. It places more emphasis on selecting Pokémon rather than slaving over levelling them up. Levels come much easier in this game, I agree, but that just means I'm more focused on levelling the best Pokémon in my collection.
It does feel a bit like cheating, though, doesn't it? I'm of two minds about it. I like the convenience and focus shift Exp. Share and Experience gain after catching bring to the table, but I do feel that they've made the life of a trainer a bit too easy.
The good news is that now, with roughly 700 Pokémon to find, the end-game content is nearly infinite here.
What about battling friends and random folks, Ron? Let's hit that before we wrap up.
Battle Anyone, Anywhere
The PSS, or the Player Search System, is a shoulder button tap away from the bottom screen of your Nintendo 3DS at all times. You be able to battle or trade with anyone else connected to the game the world over whenever you want. No more trekking to a PokéCenter in order to connect after engaging in a conversation with a receptionist.
What'd you think of this system, Ron?
I mostly played Pokémon Y while riding on the train to work out here in Japan, so naturally my passersby column was overflowing with fellow trainers such as myself. I haven't battled or traded with any of them yet, but I do enjoy sending them a new feature called O-Powers.
O-Powers are special power-ups which you can pass onto total strangers at the touch of a button. If it's someone's birthday, why not give them an attack boost? Or if you are simply feeling generous for some random reason, you can give them the ability to make more money.
Asynchronous multiplayer, interacting with other gamers online in a more indirect fashion, has been taking off in Japan recently, and I prefered this social aspect of helping other gamers than to interrupt their experience for a fight.
Talking, sending a Thumbs Up, watching 10 second PR videos, checking out mixed fashions from the purchasable clothes. I really got a lot more out of this than the actual battling mechanic.
I'd probably just turn down any challenge to duel at this point in my gaming career. Competition is not my style these days, unless it's against someone I know personally.
Honestly, I'm pretty much in the same exact boat. I really don't get a kick out of battling complete strangers online. It's never that much fun. But the asynchronous stuff, like you said, is great.
The convenience of it all is really what sells me with X and Y. It takes no effort at all to interact with others on a minute level. Even if you like playing these games completely alone, you still have tiny social interactions that connect you to others without really interfering with your play.
Yes, you can go nuts and battle or trade with the world. But, you don't have to, and the online system in X and Y still manages to keep you connected.
It Wants to Be the Very Best
Pokémon X and Y is a stellar entry in the series. Get it.
In the grand scheme of the series, this is by far the biggest, most complex, and most convenient game to ever come out bearing the name Pokémon. Everything from the graphics to the music and simple tweaks to the formula make it a package that long time fans and newcomers alike can enjoy.
Sure, this is still the same formula with tweaks, new Pokémon and new evolutions to consider. The storyline, as is always the case with this series, is little more than an excuse to get from one town to another. If the Pokémon formula has never done much to get you to buy into the franchise, X and Y really won't rock the boat.
Series fans, though, will probably call X and Y one of the best in the franchise. We personally put it right next to or approaching FireRed and LeafGreen in terms of quality, though our nod might go to the older entries thanks entirely to our age and nostalgia.
Pokémon X and Y will continue to sell a metric ton of copies around the world. It will solidify the Nintendo 3DS's stance as one of Nintendo's best portable platforms. Both results are completely warranted given the quality of this title. Pokémon X and Y is a stellar entry in the series. Get it.
Disclaimer: We received download codes for both Pokémon X and Y for the Nintendo 3DS from Nintendo. They showed up on launch day. We completed the title and went on trying to fill our Pokédex before starting this review.