Pokemon Y Review: A Mega-Evolution
Nintendo are responsible for many long standing and beloved series, and my personal favourite one is the Pokemon games, even over Mario and The Legend of Zelda. Pokemon is long running and is a series which has often stood accused of failing to change with the times, of being stale or lacking imagination. These claims have some truths behind them but Game Freak have refined the formula of a Pokemon game for years into satisfying and charming games that stay true to what makes them fun, and this has kept me interested since I played the original Red and Blue. Now Pokemon is stepping into a new era on the 3DS in Pokemon X and Y, and Game Freak have not only stayed true to their past work but they have managed to bring the game forward by leaps and bounds in a range of areas as the series enters a 6th generation.
Pokemon X and Y are the first games in the core series to enjoy a full 3D graphics boost, and for a series that has never had much ambition with visuals or graphics this game is visually fantastic. The world is fully filled out and coloured, with different looks for diverse routes as one would expect from a Pokemon game. X and Y take place in the Kalos region, which is the Pokemon version of France, and Game Freak used this transition combined with the change of platform to create their largest city areas to date as well as some genuinely attractive sky views, waterfall areas and just a world that is filled with colour and charm. The titular pocket monsters themselves are all rendered and animated in full 3D in a way that directly reminded me of Pokemon Stadium from the N64, a game I have fantastic memories from. X/Y use this visual boost in the battles very effectively, and many moves are animated incredibly effectively, adding a lot of extra satisfaction to battles.
The music has also been given some great new work, with some very easy and endearing tracks for some of the Kalos regions towns and settlements. Unfortunately the game is still not voice acted, but the sound design is overall excellent, and the Pokemon cries have been reworked to have a sense of their origins from whatever generation it may be from but with a feel that is fitting for a modern hand-held game.
The storyline of X/Y is broadly the same as it has always been in the series: fill the Pokedex for the regions Professor and stop a criminal team of evil-doers from completing their diabolical plot. There are some twists in the storyline but overall it is a step back from the advances that Black/White made in the narrative department, and things are generally extremely light with characters relegated to exposition spouters and peripheral figures.
The turn based combat is back and despite the initially daunting new graphical style of the game, the core gameplay is identical. This is still the Pokemon that you played in the past at its heart, and anyone who has played one of these games before will quickly fall back into the familiar pattern. This may be a problem for some, but Pokemon has an excellent, approachable and fun battle system for my money so I am delighted that X/Y retained this while also dramatically speeding up combat and refining the improvements made during the Black/White and Black/White 2 games. Even with the familiar mechanics and face-value identical appearance of combat, Game Freak have added some major changes in X/Y that have greatly altered the balance of the Pokemon game. For the first time since the second generation Pokemon games, a new type has been added: Fairy type Pokemon. Immune to Dragon type attacks, Fairy's dramatically change the meta-game and end the dominance of the Dragon type in competitive play. There are also the much touted Mega Evolutions, which dramatically improve a creatures abilities and stats but are balanced by only allowing one use per battle. This feature is not as overpowered as I feared it would be, and contributes to the strategies of battle in a meaningful and interesting way.
In addition to the new type, Game Freak have added super training, which is a faster and far more simple means of ev training Pokemon for online battles. This won't make any difference to the more casual players, but for anyone who wants to play online in a serious way this is a gift from above and saves players so much time. Speaking of saving time, there are several other measures which change the pacing in X/Y to make things faster. The sluggish and slow intro section that every Pokemon game goes through is much faster here, and the game has roller skaters as well as running shoes and the traditional bike. X/Y is the fastest game in the series to date, and bemnefits greatly from this in its feel and pacing. Going back to online, the improved functionality of the 3DS allows X/Y to take full advantage and have a range of new additions and improvements in the online department. Random "Wonder" trades, battling, normal trading and player interactions are all made completely simple, and the only problem with the online is Nintendo's silly friend code system.
So with a great sense of pacing, a huge variety of Pokemon to catch and forge teams from across the adventure and huge improvements in function and access to the online this is a powerful Pokemon game, but there are some problems that I did not expect. The biggest issue I had with my own playthrough was that the game is also the easiest in the series. This is largely due to the way the new experience share works. It is now a key item, granting half of the experience earned in battle to each of the creatures in your party. Leveling up is much faster but as a direct consequence I was over-leveled and crushed every gym leader and the league without losing to any in-game character. The online is as tough and competitive as ever, but the lack of challenge was a disappointment. The weaker story was another issue, and I also experienced frame rate drops at times due to on screen activity. I assume this is as a result of the new graphic style but I would have expected the issue to be less of a problem than it is. Finally, the pokemon storage system on the PC and the interface is as clunky as ever, not making good use of the touch screen and generally not improving on an old formula, but is is a relatively minor problem when considering the range of improvements.
Despite these problems Pokemon X/Y is a fantastic RPG with huge charm and is so much fun to play. I have thoroughly enjoyed my playthrough of it and have yet to complete all of the post game content after over 60 hours. Game Freak brought the series multiple steps forward with this entry while retaining everything that makes it so great and enduring, and I really feel that is is a dramatic improvement for the series that has infused it with a fresh sense of energy and excitement. I would call Pokemon X/Y a game worth buying a 3DS for, and along with Fire Emblem Awakening is my favourite game on the platform, inclusive of Super Mario 3D Land. This is still a game about catching monsters, exploring a wonderful world and getting progressively stronger, and it is exactly this same formula that Pokemon does better than any other game out there, bringing me the same joy to play that it always has.
- Huge selection of Pokemon and addition of a new type positively changes meta-game
- Deep combat balance and faster pace
- New graphics are gorgeous
- Greatly improved online functionality
- Weaker less interesting story
- Too easy
- Poke-puffs must result in diabetes
- 9/10 - Amazing