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Pokémon X & Y - Review
What's most impressive about Nintendo's long-running, and incredibly lucrative, series of Pokémon games is that they take what is an incredibly niche genre: the hardcore, grindy RPG, and make it accessible. Behind all the cute, fluffy monsters and smiling Pikachus is a game that's essentially a huge maths challenge and an elaborate game of Rock, Paper, Scissors rolled into one.
Despite being almost two decades old, Pokémon's core gameplay has changed remarkably little during that time. You still catch Pokémon, train them up, and eventually take on the Elite Four, whilst also stopping some shadowy crime syndicate in the process. It's a tried and tested formula, and Game Freak are loathe to alter it all that much.
In this regard, X and Y are no different, although the improvements are perhaps a little more noticeable, especially in terms of upgrading the visuals. The first time you encounter a Pokémon out in the wild is a thrilling experience, even for those who can remember venturing out of Pallett Town and into Route 1. Flying Pokémon in particular, show off the additional power of the 3DS, as they calmly hover above the battlefield, beating their wings to stay aloft. It might be purely superficial, but this is arguably the most significant visual upgrade for the series since Gold & Silver on the Gameboy Colour.
It's not the only changes to the series formula though, Game Freak's tinkering with the type set up is likely to appeal to older players more than Pokémon neophytes. In particular, the introduction of Fairy types as an answer to the ever potent Dragon Pokémon will be a welcome addition to the tournament scene. Meanwhile, Steel types have been weakened; losing two of their resistances to make them slightly less effective damage sponges.
Nintendo's response to Pokémon's competitive scene goes even further. IVs and EVs, (look them up), those invisible numbers which influence your Pokémon's stats, can now be improved by playing a series of mini-games. It's a smart move by Game Freak, the competitive side of Pokémon battling is something that is capable of evolving (no pun intended) well into the future, and by nurturing it now, will ensure it remains strong for future instalments.
That's not to say that more casual players have got left behind. Nintendo seem acutely aware that Pokémon is one of those rare franchises that manages to bring the hardcore gamers, and the casual crowd, together. First on the agenda is character customisation, like with the graphical improvements it may not have any impact on the overall gameplay, but it still remains a fun aside that you can sink time into.The introduction of mega-evolutions, the focus of the game's adverts, also seem targeted towards newer players, in particular the younger generations that may have not grown up with the '90s iterations. Some Pokémon are now capable of evolving into an additional form whilst in battle, improving their stats and occasionally altering their types too. It's flashy, and maybe even slightly gimmicky, but does have some strategic implications too.
The game's online applications have also seen an overhaul. The DS was rather finicky when it came to connecting to a wireless modem but the 3DS doesn't suffer from any such issues. In fact, X and Y almost feel like MMOs considering that you can trade with other players, pretty much at any moment by accessing the GTS or "Wonder Trade" system. Wonder Trade is essentially a blind trade with another random player and is another attempt by Game Freak to ensure that people constantly trade Pokémon. Usually you'll get some chaff from other players but every so often you'll end up trading with someone a little more charitable and get a more valuable creature, I certainly did.
Despite all of the tweaks, nips and tucks, the series' problems still remain the same. The main issue being that the plot is still paper thin, and rather forgettable. This one at least takes a earnest anti-war stance, and explores how, in the past, Pokémon were used as weapons. It's a nice sentiment certainly, but the characters are poorly established and the story kind of pops up to interrupt your Pokémon-catching quest only to disappear again. Some would argue that Pokémon doesn't require a plot, and there's certainly an argument for that (the series has done fine without much of one so far) but it would help differentiate each instalment from the other.
Similarly, the game's difficulty level could do with some tweaking. X and Y are by far the easiest games in the series. This coming from a franchise not particularly known for being all that challenging. Part of the problem is the way that the game is laid out, which will almost always result in you being over-levelled at each gym. When I made a concerted effort not to level up, I still remained around 5-10 levels higher than most gym leaders, and even the Elite Four are a minor speed bump, rather than a serious test of your skills. On the other hand, the ease at which your Pokémon grow in experience will encourage you to experiment with your team composition more, it's just a shame it's come at the expense of any real challenge.
Taking around 15-20 hours to play through the main game, the combination of a weak story and a low difficulty can make the later sections a bit of a drag. Pokémon trainers will be confronting you all over the place, with their woefully under-levelled pocket monsters that you'll likely be able to take out in one hit. Once the gloss has faded and your team established, parts of X and Y can settle into a workmanlike routine, which is disappointing, considering how much fun certain parts are.
As the first Pokémon games to hit the 3DS, X and Y are solid editions to the long running franchise. Considering the fact that Diamond and Pearl; the series' debut on the DS, were arguably the weakest additions to the series, X and Y cleverly sidestep those game's flaws by focusing (mostly) on adding elements that players will care about, whilst changing the game enough that it actually feels somewhat different. With the foundations set for the 3DS's Pokémon games, we'll have to see whether future instalments attempt to expand things a little more. Pokémon fatigue, however, seems to have been staved off, for now.
Pokémon X and Y were released on October 12th for the 3DS.
© 2013 LudoLogic