Be the Best Trainer You Can Be! – Pokémon X and Y Review
This game was reviewed on the Nintendo 3DS.
Are you ready to start your Pokémon adventure? Pokémon X and Y takes you to the region of Kalos, a vibrant and colourful country with conspicuously French tastes. Travel the land and discover the awesome sights and ancient monuments; visit cozy towns where you meet friendly folk; and trump the trials of the Pokémon Gyms!
There are many paths that you can take on your adventure, and your friends will share their ideas with you. Do you want to become Champion of the Pokémon League, like your neighbour? Will you tour the region, making memories and taking snapshots, like Shauna? How about studying all the Pokémon of the world, like Trevor with his Pokédex? You could take Tierno’s lead, and build a team with sweet moves that flow together like water. Whatever you do, you can take Professor Sycamore’s advice to heart: this is your adventure, and only you can decide what you want to do! There is one thing that you should watch out for, no matter where you go – the stylishly gaudy red suits of Team Flare, a mysterious and dangerous organization!
This generation of Pokémon adds some new ways to play that really enhance competition and level the playing field. Veterans of the series may know about Effort Value training, which increases the base stats of your Pokémon so that they gain even more power when they level up and evolve. In previous games, the Effort Values were hidden variables that had to be studied using game guides and research posted online by other players. By battling certain Pokémon, it was possible to increase one of your own Pokémon’s base stats, instead of others, and develop your team by careful action. The Super Training feature in X and Y does away with the need for EV training, and makes it easy and accessible to anyone, without needing to do research.
Super Training is a mini-game that strengthens your Pokémon’s base stats when you finish its challenges. In Super Training, you move your Pokémon around a 3D arena, shooting soccer balls at nets that appear in front of gigantic, inflatable Pokémon. When you earn enough points in the shoot-out, your Pokémon’s base stats increase. This can make an enormous difference in how you play the main game: after being fully Super Trained, Pokémon gain stupendous bonuses when they level up, and if your team is fully trained then you will start to brush aside opponents with ease. In competitive online play, it can make the difference between a tie and a decisive battle. Super Training isn’t necessary to play or compete, but it is a fun side-game that gives you really satisfying results.
Along with Super Training, X and Y introduces Pokémon-Amie, a virtual pet mini-game. In Pokémon-Amie you play with a member of your team; petting them, feeding them Poké-puffs, and playing mini-games with them. This is fun and charming, and it makes them feel more like friends than tools for winning battles! It does have a benefit for battling, too: some moves are based on the happiness of your Pokémon, and some Pokémon only evolve when they’re happy. Happiness did feature into previous games in the series, but it was a hidden variable. With Pokémon-Amie, you can have fun and see how happy your Pokémon are becoming.
The triple battles introduced in X and Y are very satisfying and have the potential to really change the game’s formula. They give Pokémon a new layer of depth, as they make team defense and combo moves much more valuable. For example, Light Screen may not seem very useful in a one-on-one battle; it raises your special defense, but if your opponent has a strong attack then they can still hit your Pokémon very hard. Using defensive moves like Light Screen can seem like a waste of a turn, when you could be striking back with your own super-charged attack. With Triple Battles, it makes more sense to have someone on your team that can buff up your stronger Pokémon.
There’s a lot of strategic potential here. For example, you could have a strong special attacker, such as Kadabra, teamed up with a powerful physical attacker like Lucario, and a defensive player like Mr. Mime, putting up Light Screens and Protect barriers. You can challenge other players to triple battles online. There are also new combo attacks, like Fire Pledge and Grass Pledge, which are very powerful on their own and get a boost when they are used by Pokémon on the same team. You can also combine moves with a Pokémon’s innate Abilities; Delphox’s Blaze ability powers up its fire attacks, an effect which is increased by the move Sunny Day. Sunny Day also allows grass-type Pokémon to charge their Solarbeam in one turn instead of two, using the devastating attack five turns in a row. With a third Pokémon to buff your power-hitters, you will have a fortified arsenal of light and flame, scorching the opposing team.
There aren’t many Triple Battles in the main game of Pokémon X and Y, but you can challenge other players to Triple Battles on the Player Search System, where you can encounter some very intense and talented players. There is a lot that you can learn from these experiences and apply to building your own teams. This is really the first Pokémon game in which team battles feel substantial enough that you need to build your six-Pokémon team around complementary, co-operative strategies.
Pokémon X and Y is the first truly 3D games in the Pokémon series, and they have made the transition in a spectacular way. Like Super Mario and Zelda before it, Pokémon has reinvented itself in 3D space, giving new life and beautiful visuals to a long-running classic.
Unlike previous games in the series, the characters in X and Y are rendered in full 3D instead of flat illustrations and simple, squat sprites. As soon as you start the game you are greeted by Professor Sycamore, resident Pokémon expert of the Kalos region. Ken Sugimori’s character designs are perfectly captured by the models in the game, which have precisely rounded forms and subtle black outlines to distinguish boldly-coloured shapes from one another. The Professor’s personality is immediately and easily expressed by his animated face and body language. This is the case for yourself, your friends, and the other major characters of the story. Outside of battles and special communiques, the characters are rendered with smaller chibi-style models that are still detailed enough to use body gestures and facial expressions.
None of that would matter if the Pokémon themselves didn’t look fantastic! In battles, the Pokédex, and on status screens, every one of the 718 Pokémon has a perfect, animated model. Take Goodra as an example: this slimy dragon Pokémon has little drips of mucus falling from its chin and arms. Pokémon have different animations for different styles of attacks, and some of these are personalized (and funny); when Gulpin uses Yawn, its pursed lips open as wide as its entire body and a snoring cloud wafts out. The backgrounds during battle show the landscape that you’re fighting in, and the time of day is shown in the sky. These backgrounds are all flat, probably to save processing power for the Pokémon models. The models seem to be really intensive on the machine’s hardware; there is a small but noticeable lag between commands and turns during some battles. It doesn’t ruin the experience, but it’s definitely not as smooth as the battles in previous 2D Pokémon games.
The backgrounds are beautiful and lush. The towns have different architectural and decorative styles, with impressive landscapes and landmarks, like the windmill of Dendemille or the giant sundial of Anistar. Where the backgrounds really shine are in the Pokémon Gyms and in Lumiose City, the capital of Kalos. The wide boulevards of Lumiose are lined with shops and institutes housed in long rows of tall, European-style buildings. At the centre of the city, and visible from every part of it, is the shining Prism Tower, which lights up the Lumiose nights. There are back alleys and hidden plazas with multi-coloured obelisks, giving Lumiose a sense of mystery and liveliness. Each Gym has an elaborate layout and unique environment that challenges you to find a way to reach the Leader. The first Gym is a giant spiderweb with dewdrops that fall from the thread when you run over them; a later, grass-themed Gym is designed to be a huge tree with vines that you use to swing between platforms.
Pokémon X and Y is really a Massively Multiplayer Online game. The core adventure, which takes you throughout the land of Kalos to win Gym Badges and become the Pokémon League Champion, is only a preparation for the real game.
From the beginning of the series, Pokémon has been a social game; trading and battling with your friends defined the Pokémon experience. Now, using the Player Search System built into X and Y, you can find your friends and make new friends through the internet. The PSS allows you to invite friends, acquaintances, and passersby to battle or trade with you. You can also use the Wonder Trade system, where you choose one Pokémon to be traded for another, random Pokémon entered into the system by another player.
Central to the online Pokémon market is the Global Trade System. This lets you deposit a Pokémon that you want to trade away, listing the name, gender, level and types of Pokémon that you want to receive in exchange. You can deposit one Pokémon at a time, and check back later to see if someone has accepted your offer. With thousands of players online worldwide, the market is always busy and there is always someone to trade with.
The PSS has other social features as well. If you activate the parental controls in your 3DS console’s settings, then you can enable Game Chat in the PSS settings. This lets you have voice chats with other Trainers on your 3DS friend list. You can also add players directly to your friend list from the PSS: when you finish a battle with another Trainer who is not already on your list, the game will ask you if you want to add them to your Friend List.
Another feature of the PSS is the Game Sync button. If you sign up for an account at the Pokémon Global Link website then this button allows you to send your game data to that account. Your Trainer Card, in-game photos, and a log of events in your Pokémon adventure will be displayed on your Global Link page. These updates can be shared on social networks like Twitter, so you can share your progress with your friends, or let them know if you’ve found a rare Pokémon that they might be interested in. Most importantly, the Pokémon Global Link website allows you to participate in ranked battles, earning points to climb the global leaderboards!
Of course, no online game would be complete without personalizing your avatar! Pokémon X and Y gives you two ways to really stand out on the PSS. First, and most fun, is your appearance. At the start of the game, Professor Sycamore asks you to choose a gender, skin tone, hair style and eye colour. In the beginning there are only a few standard looks, but in Lumiose City and the Boutiques around Kalos you can customize your look. The Salon in Lumiose lets you change your hair style and colour; the Boutiques sell you new clothes, hats, bags, and accessories; and Boutique Couture in Lumiose will sell you very exclusive items—if you’re stylish enough to be let in. You can even change your eye colour with contact lenses given to you at the PR Video studio.
PR Videos are another fun way to show your personality to people on PSS. They’re surprisingly flexible, letting you show off your Trainer and Pokémon from different camera angles, with a lot of visual and sound effects, and a variety of backgrounds and music tracks.
The game is receiving support from Nintendo after its launch as well. Promotional events will make rare Pokémon available to players, such as the Torchic that players can receive if they buy the game before January 31, 2014. There is also the Pokémon Bank app, due to launch next month on the eShop, which will let players send Pokémon to X and Y from their saved games in either version of Pokémon Black and White.
The soundtrack in X and Y sets the same moods as the music in previous Pokémon games. There are peaceful, bouncy town melodies which sound like small bands playing with their provincial flavour. There is Old-World charm in all of these tracks, from the subtle accordion in the theme of Camphrier Town, to the delicate waltz of Snowbelle City. Energetic modern sounds permeate the battle themes, especially when you challenge a Gym Leader: there, your regular battle theme becomes a tense, buzzing afterthought in the background, reminding you of past battles fought and won while you face off with the distortion guitar and hammering rhythm of the Leader’s presence. The theme of Team Flare is a sharp contrast to the discipline and control that a Leader has over their Pokémon: like the Flare grunts themselves, this track is wild and menacing, but much too showy and lacking in depth to be a real threat: their Growl is much worse than their Bite!
The only thing that I can say against X and Y is about the lag during 3D battles. It is especially noticeable in the double and triple battles, causing a slowdown between when you enter a command and when it is carried out, and sometimes in the animation itself. This is usually fixed by turning off the 3D feature, but considering that the 3D isn’t available in the overworld, and is mostly used during battles, it can be a disappointment.
In the end, this is likely the best Pokémon since the original Red, Blue, Green, and Yellow versions. It is beautiful and exciting, with many challenges and side adventures. There’s a huge amount of content in it, and you can easily spend more than fifty hours playing the game before you reach the Champion! Even after that, there is post-game content, obscure Legendary Pokémon to find, the Battle Institute to challenge, and the endless possibilities of Pokémon breeding and of online battles. The community is strong with this game, and the online world is always full of activity. The solidity of this game, the size and dedication of the community, and Nintendo’s own dedication to supporting it past launch are reasons to believe that X and Y will have great staying power.
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