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It’s surprising that many people don’t think Pokémon is a big deal anymore. They think it was just a fad in the late 90’s that everyone up and left as fast as it arrived, like Pogs. Sure it may not be covered on your local news program anymore, but don’t doubt for a second Pokémon’s immense popularity. It’s the second biggest gaming franchise in history with over 245 million units sold and has been outdoing Call of Duty’s numbers before Call of Duty existed. With the advent of Pokémon X and Y, the series is taking some of the biggest generational leaps thanks to new hardware with the 3DS, new gaming trends like robust online features and an overall bump in storytelling; and these changes are enough to entice every faction of gamer to experience this excellent adventure.
With the added power of the 3DS, the mainstream Pokémon series - the characters, monsters, environments and battles – is finally realized in full polygonal 3D, and boy is it a great rookie effort. When the game loads up and the first cutscene plays, Pokémon fans can really appreciate this after almost two decades of static 2D sprites on their Game Boy/DS screens. While of course it’s not on a high-powered device, its visuals still deliver because of a crisp, clean artstyle mixed with a very dynamic camera that makes the experience more cinematic and action-packed. X and Y also feel more personal due to the ability to finally customize your trainer’s looks with boutiques and a hair salons all around Kalos; something I’ve personally been begging for years. And I kid you not I was more excited that I could move diagonal (or break the grid entirely with the rollerblades or bike) in a Pokémon game more than anything the PS4 and Xbox One can do. That’s a fact.
Despite the bump up on the overall production, Pokémon X and Y is still that – A Pokémon title. Like every other regular installment, you as a young adult this time (instead of a kid) get your first Pokémon, which allows you to capture wild Pokémon, raise them to become bigger and get the sensation to make it do violent things to everyone else’s Pokémon. Granted that doesn't make X and Y sound new, it really hits it out of the park since that same gameplay is now complimented by a more robust story.
The best thing about X and Y is its story, and that’s because it breaks tradition. Even though you’re going around the region getting badges and entering yourself in the Pokémon League, it’s actually an afterthought in with everything else you’re doing around the France-like Kalos region. You and your friends are traveling throughout the region on the behalf of Professor Sycamore to study Mega Evolution, and during your travels you find and catch Pokémon, encounter the dastardly Team Flare and learn the past of Kalos.
Those last two parts of the last paragraph really sets the theme of the entire game, and believe it or not, it is death. The series has some twisted things lingering in it despite the series’ aesthetic, like how some Pokémon are based on dead humans. X and Y throws those more mature tones into the limelight with consistent reminders of a horrific war that resulted in genocide, Team Flare’s Nazi-like intentions and if you have Pokémon Y, Yveltal’s way of living. While nothing goes overboard with it’s darker themes (it is rated E after all), it’s nice to see Pokémon go in a more grown up direction without doing anything needless.
Pokémon X and Y gained 69 new species to the Pokédex, fewer than any other generation, but less is more in this case. Most of these new monsters are so well designed, it is hard to not have some new favorites. In fact, I was conflicted that I decided against a few old-school staples because I had so many new favorites from the bulky Gogoat to the practical Aegislash. Yes, Game Freak did add a key ring Pokémon, but I kid you not Klefki can destroy dragons.
In every other generation of Pokémon, they always seem to add new evolutions to older Pokémon. X and Y breaks that tradition thanks to Mega Evolutions. Unlike normal evolutions which permanently changes your Pokémon into something else, these are strictly temporary and only last within battles. It’s neat since it makes some Pokémon usable like Mawile while making some favorites even more usable, like Mewtwo. These Pokémon change the competitive landscape because it makes you realign your team to focus on your Mega, since it limits one Mega Evolution per fight.
One of the major changes to the primary Pokémon gameplay was the first rebalance of the Pokémon attack chart since Pokémon Gold and Silver, mainly with the addition of the Fairy-Type Pokémon. These critters are immune to dragon moves, are strong against Dragon, Fighting and Dark-Types, and are weak against Steel and Poison-Types. In addition to nerfing Steel-Types by reducing what they’re resistant to and making certain types immune to certain effects (ex: Electric-Types are now immune to being paralyzed), the Pokémon balancing is better than ever.
Game Freak also made training you Pokémon a lot more mainstreamed with the additions of Pokémon Amie and Super Training. Pokémon Amie allows you to play with your Pokémon much like Nintendogs, by petting and feeding them. All the affection results in an array of benefits like some Pokémon to evolve like Lucario and Sylveon, or some more hidden perks like enduring a hit that’d normally KO it. Super Training, known as Effort Values to the community, are hidden stat increases gained by beating particular Pokémon. These stats are now in full view for the player and now you can do minigames to increase the growth in a particular stat like Attack, HP, or Special Defense. These are mandatory to learn in the competitive market because not focusing your stats will result in more well-rounded Pokémon, which isn't a good thing.
Pokémon X and Y also have one of the most ambitious online structures ever done on a Nintendo system. Veterans of the series will realize there’s no second floor to the Pokémon Centers, which were used for all your multiplayer functions. Instead, trainers can trade and battle anywhere they want thanks to the Pokémon Search System. In addition, you see tons of real life trainers on your screen from your friends to those you battled/traded and others who are online currently and you can interact with them with battles and trades and other nifty new features. One of these features is O-Powers, which allows you to give yourself and others a temporary buff either in Pokémon stats, money won, experience gained and more. This allows the community to interact and help one another without having to personally connect to them.
Another online experience that got me hooked was the Wonder Trade, which allows you to select one of your Pokémon and trade with a random person. Like roulette, the anticipation of what you’re getting is a thrill and several members of my party were gained via these trades. Sure you’re gonna get a bunch of easy-to-find Pokémon, but it’s all worth it when you get that Deino or Dratini in trade. It is just as good when you get a Pokémon that evolves during trade because it allows you to nail two Pokédex entries for the price of one.
Strangely enough, Game Freak hesitated to utilize two of the biggest features on the Nintendo 3DS, the stereoscopic 3D and StreetPass. While you’re exploring the Kalos region taking in the sights of the towns and trails, you’re doing it in 2D. The game only shows off the top screen’s optical sensation when you’re in caves, battles and cutscenes, and even then it’s not worth it since the framerate chugs when it’s on. When it comes to StreetPass, all you get from other local trainers are Poké Miles, which you can redeem for rarer items like Rare Candies and PP Ups. In comparison with games like Fire Emblem: Awakening, which allows you to fight the passer’s entire team, it is pretty weak for such a big RPG.
Pokémon has always had an issue going from generation to generation taking one step forward while taking one step back. Ruby and Sapphire brought better visuals and double battles, but didn't allow trainers to explore older regions after the Pokémon League and lost the built-in clock for day/night cycles like in Gold and Silver. Black and White brought a zooming camera in battles and new methods to encountering wild Pokémon, but lost the ability to have any Pokémon follow you around and hunt down gym leaders for rematches in HeartGold and SoulSilver. X and Y may have done a much better job in storytelling and production, but we also lost the ability to fight/refight very strong and popular trainers as well as have an extensive amount of new content once you become Pokémon League Champion. There is really not much to do after the credits roll, and it kills all the upward momentum the game was garnering since the first cutscene.
However, the biggest issue I had with this new sixth generation of Pokémon was with how easy it was. The culprit to this was the Experience Share, an item that you receive after the first Pokémon Gym. This overpowered gadget allows all the Pokémon you have on you to gain 50% of all the experience gained if they didn't participate in the battle. This makes raising your party during your adventure around Kalos a lot less time consuming and even made me overpowered throughout the entire game.
Sure Pokémon X and Y may not have the mileage as previous generations, but the $40 asking price and the amount of content you get is still more than what you get with most $60 games on the consoles. They still have the addicting gameplay, but now with an excellent new coat of paint and some amazingly fun new Pokémon to capture. While it's campaign may not be as long as Pokémaniacs hoped it’d be, it’s online features will allow the competitive ones to keep invested for months to come. Now that Pokémon finally feels like a console experience, I can’t wait to see where Game Freak takes the series next.