Pokemon X Review
I've been waiting for this one for a long time. A Pokefan ever since Nintendo Power sent me the VHS of the first three episodes of the Pokemon anime when I was in high school, I've followed the series from day one, though my interest never branched out much further than the video games. The show and collectible card game are neat, I'm sure, but the video game side of Pokemon is what has kept me coming back for what will soon be two decades. Pokemon X and Y, the latest in the series of monster battling RPGs, bring us the Pokemon games we always wanted, with full 3D graphics, a huge world to explore, over 70 new Pokemon to catch and all the online and multiplayer options you ever dared dream of. Pokemon X and Y aren't quite the Pokemon MMO so many seem to want, but they are the best the series has ever seen, and that is truly saying something.
If you don't know, the Pokemon RPGs all play basically the same way. You choose either a boy or girl character and are given a choice between three starter Pokemon. From there, it becomes your job to capture wild Pokemon in Pokeballs, build a team and capture eight gym badges in your quest to beat the Elite Four, a team of Pokemon battlers better than all others in the region. All this is done through turn-based battles, where Pokemon types and moves have different strengths and weaknesses, and figuring them out and exploiting them is basically the meat of the game. It's a formula that works, and all the little additions and spins on it since Pokemon Red and Blue have only served to improve an already near-perfect experience.
The story this time around struggles to remain relevant throughout the adventure, but just like almost all the other Pokemon RPGs, it takes a backseat to the gameplay. The tale in X and Y revolves around a group of friends' (a first, in past games it was you and your rival) journey and the exploration of a new Pokemon wrinkle, the mega evolution. Team Flare, the newest Team Rocket iteration, complicates things but plays a somewhat minor role. I never once felt the need to progress in the game to get more of the story; my whole "push" forward was discovering and leveling new Pokemon. So, yeah, the story is there if you want it, but most probably won't.
Before we get to that all-important gameplay, we need to talk about presentation. This is really the star of the Pokemon X and Y show. For the first time ever, individual Pokemon are 3D models with attack animations, whereas past titles have only had static pixel art of the Pokemon. As a longtime fan, seeing this is just jaw dropping. Some, not all, Pokemon have also graduated to actual noises (Pikachu says "Pikachu," like on the show) leaving behind the robotic, dial-up modem sounds they've had in the past. The overworld, this time called Kalos, mimics modern day France and offers some stunning visuals. The world really does feel alive, and its expansive size never fails to impress. The only drawback is that the game only partially capitalizes on the 3DS' 3D visuals. The overworld is flat 2D, with only the Pokemon battles being presented in 3D. If you have the new 2DS or just never use the 3D function, you'll barely notice. If you are a 3D die-hard, then you should know that not everything is as three-dimensional as you'd like. Fans have been waiting a long time for a Pokemon game that looks and sounds this good, and they certainly won't be disappointed.
As I said before, Pokemon's gameplay was never broken, so there is no need to fix it. The main additions this time are the introduction of the Fairy-type Pokemon and the relative speed at which the game plays out. The new type will be important to competitive battlers, but to more casual players it won't make much difference at all. The speed is a far more important feature. In past games, you often spent an hour or two screwing around at the beginning, talking to folks for a bit before being awarded the running shoes and your first Pokemon. In X and Y, you get your first Pokemon, Pokeballs, and Gym Badge inside of an hour. Not long after, you'll get the roller skates (to move even faster) and a second starter Pokemon. It feels like a lot of the fat has been trimmed, even though your quest will probably be the longest in Pokemon history.
From there, the Pokemon you know and love remains the same. You wander around in tall grass, waiting for that certain Pokemon you need to attack and battle. Side note: Pokemon is the only gaming series left where random encounters are acceptable and necessary, other lazy games and lazier developers sadly still use the mechanic from time to time, and it is just not ok anymore. Anyway, you'll also been battling other trainers along the roadways, which helps level up your Pokemon and adds entries to the Pokedex. And finally, you'll have gyms to battle through and gym leaders to best. These gyms are the most creative in series history; a particular favorite is a giant tree with Tarzan rope swings and lots of climbing. Again, this is Pokemon by the book, but it is as fun and addictive as ever.
If I've got one complaint with the gameplay, it is the aforementioned roller skates. Once you've got them, you can never take them off. If you want to use the skates, you control your character with the analog pad. If not, you must use the d-pad. I eventually got used to switching, but being able to remove the skates and control with the analog pad would have been much more intuitive. This didn't really affect my enjoyment of the game, it just felt a little weird and, for lack of a better word, stupid.
The part of any new Pokemon game that interests me the most is the additions to the Pokedex. X and Y add 70+ Pokemon to the National Pokedex, bringing the total number of species to 718. Having caught one each of the previous total of 649, my reaction to the new species was mixed. Sure it's great to have new ones to hunt down, but why so few? Past games have added 150+ to the roster, and X and Y come in with less than half that. Returning species make up a majority of the Pokedex, leaving those of us who have caught 'em all with comparatively very little to accomplish.
Which brings me to my next point - the Pokemon Bank and Poketransfer apps. The bank allows you to store thousands of your Pokemon in the cloud, and the transfer app will allow you to bring into X and Y the Pokemon you collected in past DS games. Sounds awesome, right? Um, not quite. Neither of these services are available until December 27, 2013, meaning that while I'm playing X and Y, I'm essentially just wasting time by catching any Pokemon that isn't a new species. I've already got them all in my copy of Pokemon Black 2, and now I'm forced to wait until after Christmas to access them? When considering the pains Nintendo went through to make X and Y a simultaneous release across the entire planet, you can understand why they wanted everyone to start at zero. But c'mon, guys, why bother going through the pains to level and evolve species when I know I've only got to wait two months until my full roster is at hand? Lame.
The absent bank and transfer apps brings me to my final bullet point - the online functionality. Pokemon X and Y make better use of the ability to connect to the Internet than any other game in history. Not just any Pokemon game, but any game. Ever. It's the best, no questions asked and no debate necessary. You can hop in and out of battles with other trainers quickly and easily, with strangers and friends alike. You can do the same with one-on-one trades. The Global Trading System has been upgraded so you can search for any Pokemon you want, not just any one you've seen in-game. You can even attach messages to your offered Pokemon for other would-be trade partners to see (my message remains the same with every single trade - NO NICKNAMES). You can send little power ups, O-Powers, to people all over the world whenever you like and you can even voice chat with other players. The best part? You can do all these things at ANY TIME, meaning you'll no longer have to hoof it back to a Pokemon Center to have a battle or make a trade. Awesome. The online suite is downright amazing, and hits no missteps; it is perfectly implemented and a blast to explore.
The best part of online, though, is the addition of Wonder Trade. This neat little mode might seem silly at first, but it proves to be one of the most addicting mechanics I've ever seen in any video game. To participate, you select any captured Pokemon and you do an anonymous blind trade with another person. You never know what you'll end up with, and I found myself making trade after trade, just to see what others were offering up. The random nature of it ensures no one feels slighted when they complete an unbalanced trade, it's a gamble and the community understands this. I've gotten everything from a mighty Xerneas (one of the three new legendary Pokemon) to a lowly Fletchling, and I just can't stop trading just... one... more... to see what will come to me from the other side of the globe. Whoever came up with this idea is a genius, plain and simple.
If all this sounds great, you're right - it is great. And I've barely scratched the surface of what you'll find in this adventure. You've got rideable Pokemon, the Pokemon-amie and Super Training features and minigames, new evolution methods, new styles of battle and tons and tons more stuff I'm forgetting. Pokemon X and Y are the biggest, most complex handheld games of all time, and seeing and doing it all could take hundreds, if not thousands, of hours. The absence of the bank and transfer apps, the small number of new Pokemon and the bizarre design decision with the roller skates hurts the game just a little, but even with those minor blemishes this is still the one of the best handheld games available on any system ever released, and my runner up for Game of the Year 2013 (just behind The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD, a true masterpiece). This year, you won't find too many games better than Pokemon X and Y, and you are doing yourself a disservice if you haven't bought it yet and/or aren't planning to do so. Go get this game today. No matter who you are, you'll love it.
Final Rating: 97%. Go get this game today.