The Pokémon games have been around for nearly 20 years with the original game dating back to 1996 in Japan. Since then, new instalments have been developed and published every few years, including remakes of the original titles for newer Nintendo handheld consoles. The games fall into generations by release of new “pocket monsters”, explorable regions and playable character designs. Aside from the original titles Red, Green, and Blue and their remakes in 2004, most new generation of Pokémon games are released in sets of two with an enhanced remake added later. As with earlier titles, the new two games do not differ greatly in terms of plot or design, but rather in which monsters are available to the player and such similar detail, and thus I occasionally speak of them both despite having only played X.
Earlier generations have borrowed their titles from various colours and precious stones, but the brand-new sixth generation set has broken the tradition, changing into simply X and Y to represent the new “evolution”. And boy, an evolution it is.
To the Pokémon veterans, the storyline does not bring many surprises, but while new fans will enjoy the simple novelty, most older players will most likely treat it as yet another walk down the memory lane.
The player takes the role of a character who has just moved to a new town with his or her mother. As usual, the player gets to choose their character’s gender and set a name, but for the first time, players can also choose from a few hair colours and styles and skin tones at the beginning of their adventure. The Kalos region’s very own Pokemon professor, Sycamore, has chosen the player and his or her four friends to travel the region with their brand new Pokémon companions, and as usual, the excited mother lets her offspring go. Kalos as a region is based on France, which is obvious by features like a copy of the Eiffel tower and various characters randomly speaking French from time to time. Comparable to some earlier titles introducing multiple regions, Kalos is divided into three parts. During the course of the linear plot, the player catches and trains various Pokémon while clearing boss battles, and faces the enemy, this time called Team Flare, who intend to do great evil to the world. Of course, the player with his or her Pokémon companions are the only ones who can put an end to their plans while preparing to take on the ultimate challenge to become the Pokémon Champion.
A small addition to the plot is that the player is also required to learn the mystery of the brand-new Mega Evolution. This non-permanent evolution applies to 28 Pokémon – out of the 700 or so -, and can be unlocked by collecting mysterious stones and a special item for the player. Out of the total number of Pokémon included, 69 are completely new, while the rest are familiar from the previous games. Players even get to choose two “starter” Pokémon – one of the all-new starter Pokémon at the beginning of the story, and one of the original three, Charmander, Squirtle and Bulbasaur, a little later during the plot.
Gameplay itself has not been changed terribly: all the basic interactions and selections are made with the A and B buttons, while X and Y buttons open menus. One can register four key items under the Y button – such as the town map and a bicycle -, and use the directional buttons to choose between these while the key menu is open. The 3DS Circle Pad adds a lot to moving the character around on the map, but it does not only work as another directional pad. In previous versions, the player has been left walking until given the Running Shoes, but in X and Y, the shoes come as a default and the character can run when the B button is held down. The player receives a pair of Roller Blades early in the game, and the Circle Pad is used to control the blades, while the D-pad works for walking and running! The Circle Pad can be used as a directional control pad for menus, battles, and while riding the bike, and it certainly adds to the ease of moving around in case of the latter.
The most exciting change to the game are the graphics. They’ve been entirely revamped. The camera angle changes depending on the player’s location, even offering close-ups; Pokémon battles have a moving camera, and the characters are animated, moving around as they attack, get hit, or faint. Attacks come with effects – in case of the attack Bite, for example, the Pokémon launches forward, and animated teeth chomp at the enemy. Different Pokémon execute similar attacks in different ways: for example Braixen (the second form of the Fire type starter Pokemon) uses one of its Fire type moves by pulling out a branch and spinning it in the air like a sword, while another Fire type shoots the blaze out of its beak. The human characters are also better animated with their hair and clothes moving, and main characters perform various moves when they win or loose battles.
The 3D display adds a nice touch to the 3D battle scenes, giving the animation noticeable depth and a vivid feel, and some dungeons also come with 3D available. To those who do not like the 3D display, Pokémon X and Y allows the player to turn the 3D view off by adjusting the 3D slide on the side of the display. Especially if playing in the dark or when tired, it is nice to turn the feature off – as pretty as it makes the scenes, sometimes the opponent’s Pokémon are so small that the 3D distorts their appearance. Still, screenshots do not make much justice to the feature. It has its own appeal, but saying the 3D view is the only great new change would be an exaggeration. Personally, I found myself turning it back and forth a lot: on the one hand I greatly enjoyed the depth and touch it offers, and on the other hand, having to adjust the slide every time I’d change seats or the position of the display was occasionally nerve wrecking.
Other changes include riding certain Pokémon in certain areas: not only does the game include areas where riding a Pokemon much like a horse is mandatory, but special moves affect certain Pokémon differently on the map. For example, using Surf on a Lapras allows the player’s character to actually hop on the back of the monster rather than float on a black blob in the water. The move Fly comes with a fancy cutscene. Enhanced detail also includes seeing a reflection every time the character passes by a mirror! The list is endless, and even includes the main character turning his or her head to the direction of doorways and hidden items, and crouching to talk to children and Pokémon.
As far as training and breeding Pokémon goes, there are two big (and in my opinion, very welcome) changes. Now, even when the player catches a Pokémon, the Pokémon who have been in the battle gain experience points. This means you do not have to choose whether to take those points to level up your active Pokémon or whether to catch the wild Pokémon: every Pokémon you have switched into battle will gain experience even if you catch the wild monster. The second change deals with the Exp Share machine, an item used to distribute experience points. Previously, the Exp Share has been an item one can give to a Pokémon to hold, and that Pokémon would gain experience without having to be switched into battle. In X and Y, however, the Exp Share is a key item and can be turned on and off from the Bag menu. While on, the Exp Share distributes experience points to every Pokémon in the team. It also seems Pokémon level up much faster in X and Y compared to previous games.
It seems every Pokémon game has seen its own version of a mobile phone, and X and Y are no exceptions. The player goes around carrying a holographic phone of sorts, and gets calls from his or her friends from time to time. (Mum does not call. Ever. Seriously. I was almost disappointed after constant calls from Mum telling me she’d used my savings in an earlier game.) However annoying you might’ve found the telephone calls from random people in SoulSilver and HeartGold, though, if you’re the type to like breeding Pokémon to gain access to various evolutions or details like nature and moves a Pokemon can learn from its parents, you’ll hate to hear the news: the Day Care people won’t bother to call. You’ll have to stop by to see if you’ll get an egg.
Like in the earlier generation games Black and White, so-called Technical and Hidden machines to teach moves to your Pokémon can be reused. The changes in the menu also allows you to view all the Hidden moves your Pokémon knows under a little dropdown menu, so the screen won’t be cluttered with various moves available.
A feature that is less involved with the gameplay and plot, but comes as a nice addition, is that now players can customise their character more than ever in the history of Pokémon games. As I mentioned, previously the player has only been able to choose the gender and name of their character. X and Y include three “default” looks the player can choose for. The player is given the chance to style and dye their hair in salons, and various boutiques found in different cities sell clothes the player can mix and match freely. One can even change the eye colour of their character once they get a hold of some contact lenses. When I said the list of details is long, I meant it!
So, you’re been given the chance to make your main character look just the way you want them to look (with some limitations, of course; more styles and clothes come available as the story processes). One might argue this is an addition only girls will enjoy, but I personally know loads of male players who like the little feature. Besides, the game includes a hidden scale of Stylishness: the more the player knows and has achieved, including whether they’ve taken the taxi or cut their hair, affects the places available in the region capital. Certain boutiques only offer their services to a very stylish character, and, well, let’s be honest: the male playable character looks silly in the default blue tracksuit. (I’m joking.) What makes it nice is that the game offers a sense of involvement. Players can make their characters look as they please, see the look on the map and in cutscenes, and then present this personal look to other players via little icons visible on one of the online features.
Black and White transferred item shops into the same building with Pokémon Centers where the player can restore their Pokémon’s health, and X and Y follow the tradition. Products available vary depending on how far in the game the player is. Every Pokémon Center also includes a changing room for the style-savvy. It seems every home is equipped with a TV – those familiar with the series know the programs can get from wacky to crazy and sometimes actually useful. The Dowsing Machine used to search for hidden items has been revamped and works poorly in comparison to older versions that allowed searching for items on the touch screen. There is a reason for this, though: the contents of the touch screen have been changed some.
In addition to the option to view your friends and other people on the touch screen while exploring the map, or opening the Bag to see your belongings, the touch screen comes with various new features.
Firstly, and perhaps the most useful, every screen you open on the touch screen (save for the contents of your Bag) includes quick menu buttons to open your items list, to view your Pokémon team, save the game, and access the settings amongst the rest. These are displayed as tiny round blobs with pictures corresponding with those of the full-screen menu available under the X button. In the topmost left and right corners one can see little arrows: by pressing these, the player can open sorts of mini games to the touch screen. All mini games can then be opened to full screen for complete features. The first one is the new Pokémon Amie, where the player can feed their Pokémon and play with it. Using the Amie system will increase the Pokémon’s Fullness, Affection, and Enjoyment, which are all necessary when evolving certain Pokémon. The feature also affects the Pokémon’s behaviour in battle.
The second one is the Super Trainer system. While Amie has fairly little to do with the overall game and is only useful in the case of certain Pokémon that require strong bonds with their trainer to evolve into new forms, Super Trainer is much more useful when wishing to build the best Pokémon team ever. The system includes various games that build the Pokémon’s base stats. The base stats or Effort Values are bonus points gained in addition to what points a Pokémon gains when levelling up. There is a maximum to how many bonus points a Pokémon can gain. Basically, a Pokémon will receive bonus points for defeating other Pokémon with certain attributes, such as speed. It is a mathematical equation, and previously, players were required to do a lot of research and keep track of their efforts when trying to max a Pokémon’s base stats. However, with the Super Trainer, bookkeeping is no longer necessary, because it’s all visible on the touch screen.
The Super Trainer mini games are simple: all you have to do is aim for the goals to gain points and avoid being hit so you won’t loose points, and complete the game before time runs out. There are six base stats to build (Attack, Defence, Speed, HP, Special Attack and Special Defense), and games of different difficulty level for each. As one completes all games of a level, they will unlock harder levels. By completing mini games, they will also win punch bags that they can use in the touch screen: the chosen Pokémon will occasionally kick and punch the bag as one moves on the map. For quicker kicking and hitting, one can tap the touch pad with their stylus while focusing on the top display; poking the Pokémon while biking around the city is possible, which obviously speeds up the process as you don’t have to stop to play the mini version of the training game. Punch bags offer points just as the full-screen mini games, with some exceptions: various bags will offer temporary double points or similar effects, and the Reset Bag allows the player to completely reset the stats of a chosen Pokémon to zero. Don’t freak out – this can be a good thing if you’d rather your Pokémon excel in a certain field. Personally, at first I regarded the Super Trainer sort of useless, but after giving it a shot once or twice I became so hooked I have my character sit in cafes just so I can tap the punching bags.
Other new features include the PSS, or Player Search System. This feature allows players to keep track of others online while on WiFi, and sometimes even share “O-Powers” with them to offer, for example, store discounts or increased catch rate for wild Pokémon. There is also the possibility to make blind trades via Wonder Trade, use the Global Trade System to trade Pokémon with people all around the world, and so on. As usual, it is possible to challenge other players into battles, and you can also view your friends’ character promotion videos and voice chat with them. Other online content related to the games are occasional events where special Pokémon are available for download via WiFi; this system works like with earlier games and is available via the opening menu of the game.
While the Western world still has to wait for a while to use the following system, there is also a cloud storage application called Pokémon Bank where one can store their monsters from Black, White, Black 2 or White 2, and then move them to X and Y. X and Y are not compatible with other games in other ways beside this, though. Pokémon Bank is currently available in Japan, and to be announced for download elsewhere. A version of it was briefly available, but was drawn from the eShop – if you have downloaded a trial or paid for the service, you will not lose it, but it is currently unavailable for new customers. Since Black and White can receive Pokémon from SoulSilver and HeartGold, it should be possible to transfer Pokémon from other games into X and Y by first trading them into these two, then to Black or White, and then finally X or Y via the Pokemon Bank. It’s a long route, but if you want to complete your library of Pokemon, it might be necessary.
What else is new? There’s a whole new Pokémon type available. The last new type added to the games was the Dragon type, but it’s been years since then. Now, the game also features the Fairy type, which is super effective toward the previous – some players might agree that the Dragon type was rather dominant against other types, and the developers of X and Y have said the Fairy type was added especially to balance this detail. The addition of a new type means changes to some of the old Pokémon: many previously known Pokémon have been changed from one type to the Fairy type. These include Snubbull, Clefairy, and even Arceus. New Fairy type Pokémon include Flabébé, the new Eevee evolution called Sylveon, and the legendary Pokémon Xerneas. Some old moves have also been made Fairy-type, such as Charm. Don’t worry if this is all new to you. In fact, the addition is so new that some characters in the game will specifically stop you to tell you about it.
Other type-related changes and additions include many more, interesting type combinations. X and Y include a completely new dual type Pokémon, Inkay, which combines Psychic and Dark types. All the new starter Pokémon become dual types in their final forms: Fire-Psychic, Grass-Fighting, and Water-Dark, to be precise. While this makes it possible for Pokémon to learn a variety of attacks that are not tied down to a single type, it also exposes them to many weaknesses.
Perhaps not worth mentioning, but small changes that make the experience smoother include mad fast saving and the choice of language. The game saves in a blink – the difference to previous games is definitely noticeable. In the beginning of a new game, the player can choose from a variety of languages (but cannot change mid-game). The seven languages available on a single cartridge are English, French, Italian, German, Spanish, Japanese, and Korean. Yes, even Korean. As a majoring student in the language I was positively surprised. This is certainly nice for some as the game is suitable for younger audiences just as much as the older players, and not everyone knows English. It appears the choice to include so many languages on a single cartridge has to do with the simultaneous worldwide release of the game, but while the plot and interactions are not difficult per se, I can imagine many children whose native language is not English enjoy the experience a lot more. Language choice does not affect the regional settings of your 3DS, though, so you’ll still catch a certain Bug type Pokémon in the colours supposedly representing your region.
So, are Pokémon X and Y worth the hype? If you’re into the series, certainly. Generation six brings wonderful new additions in terms of graphics and monsters. It is difficult to put down, for sure. It is a solid heir to the legacy of the series, and remains true to the original idea of the games: it is a game of strategy more than plot, and with the additional types and the new Mega Evolution, players will find themselves having to think some. Even the addition of the Super Trainer system will require players to plan ahead and figure what do they want their monsters to be good at. At the same time, it is not a difficult game, and can be enjoyed even without being completely serious about it. As with the previous titles, X and Y offer a lot of new features like the mini games, but this time it is also strongly renewed on the graphics field. The gameplay has been kept simple and easy without the necessity of learning a million button combinations, and the touch screen and different control pads remains versatile, allowing the player to either use the stylus or the button controls. The only difference are the mini games that require the use of a stylus; from time to time this gets exhausting, because the default stylus is not awfully comfortable to hold for hours on end. The simple, linear plot makes the game easy to follow – and easy to complete also if you are not interested in saving the world but would rather just collect and train monsters. The game is social: not only is it fun to talk about with friends, it allows wireless communications of many kinds.
If you’re into trading Pokémon, though, the fact that you can only trade with other players of X and Y (at least until Pokémon Bank is available elsewhere in the world) might be something of a letdown. Also upsetting about this new cloud feature is that full access to the service costs extra. Surely enough it allows you to store 3000 monsters, but considering the developers were able to overcome the limitations of trading between older generation games and the previous Black and White series, it is surprising that no such option was added to X and Y. This might all be due to the fact that the new titles were made for a new platform. Of course, cloud services are hip and up-to-date, and paying customers are given so much space that they can easily store monsters from more than two games. But trading Pokémon with friends and strangers is one of the major features of the game and has always been so. Every time two new titles come out, the other one features monsters not available on its twin and vice versa. This can be overcome by trading between X and Y, of course – but the two titles also introduce a selection of Pokemon from older titles that are not available on either one. Trading is necessary if you want to complete your collection of Pokemon, and it is now impossible without the cloud service. This feels like a major letdown and sounds just too complicated to seem like a pleasant, easy option.
+ an authentic Pokemon game true to the originals in story and gameplay
+ whole new, beautiful graphics and animation and the option to switch off 3D features
+ simple mini games that make training your Pokemon much easier than before
+ customisable characters
– hyper linear plot that feels shorter than before
– trading Pokemon impossible between game generations without an extra application
– 3D feature has to be adjusted quite often when on