Developer: Game Freak
Publisher: Nintendo of America
Genre: Turn Based RPG
Release Date: 10/12/2013
I had no intention of picking up Pokémon X. I stopped picking up a Pokémon based paycheck because I was disappointed (and a little disgusted) by the forced mandate regarding a yearly turn based Pokémon game instead of letting the games come at their usual pace. I wasn’t the only from Game Freak, TPC, Hal Labs and the like to leave because of this decision as we had all seen what happened when a yearly release schedule was forced on a franchise. Look at Yukes and the WWE games. Every year, it’s mostly the same with a slight roster change and a TON of bugs that could have been fixed had they been given time to clean up the poorly coded engines. My fears were proven right by Pokemon Black and White 2 which was a little more than a face lift and the throwing together of modes of play from older games in order to say, “It’s different” rather than give us something new. I wasn’t the only one to have this problem with the game. Long time Pokémon fans considered it the worst in the franchise (check multiple polls) and even here at Diehard GameFAN, where we are unabashedly pro-Pokémon, there was nary a kind word about the game. For the first time in the ten year history of the site, a core Pokémon game wasn’t even mentioned in any of our year end top ten lists. Thankfully Pokémon fans had Pokemon Conquest that year.
So here we are now with Pokémon X/Y. I had made it clear I wasn’t going to purchase it or review it. Even when asked by friends back in the land of Pokémon, I said no. I was told Lucario would be available early on. I said no. I was told they slipped in one of the things I had pushed for over many years – getting some voice acting from the anime in the game. I said no. I was told there would be a strong emphasis towards the original 151 (a movement both within the company and in Japan especially). I said no. I was called repeatedly during the naming aspect of this generation’s Pokémon – something which more than one staffer told me drove them nearly insane – to give suggestions towards the newest batch of toyetic cock fighting seizure monsters. I said no. So on and so forth. Besides, I had other ways to get my Pokémon fix. Chunsoft put out a decent Pokemon Mystery Dungeon game this year (although the weakest in the series so far) and Pokemon Rumble U quickly became one of the Wii U games I have spent the most time with. Both were okay, and gave me my Pokémon fix, but were nothing incredible. Still, I didn’t want to pick up Pokémon X/Y and be so utterly disappointed as I was with Black and White 2. So of course Nintendo sent me two free copies of the game and asked me to review it. So I gave one copy (Pokémon Y) to Aileen (who will be reviewing it shortly), and I kept X to review. The good news is that the game is far better than Black and White 2 and even Ruby/Sapphire/Emerald, but it’s not as good as RGBY, Gold/Silver/Crystal or Diamond/Pearl/Platinum. The game is unpolished, with some game crashing bugs (a first since some of the MISSINGNO. based issues from Gen 1) and as a whole you can tell the game would have played a LOT better if given more time to clean up the code. Still, it’s a step back in the right direction and even though the game has only been out since Saturday, there are only five games on my Nintendo 3DS I’ve logged more time with, and aside from Gates to Infinity those other three (Pokemon Rumble Blast, Shining Force: The Sword of Hajya and Fire Emblem: Awakening) will easily be surpassed by the time this goes live. So let’s take a look at all Pokémon X/Y has to offer.
Like all core turn based Pokémon RPGs, Pokémon X/Y has you as a young child who gets a Pokémon and then is allowed to travel the region unsupervised, getting into battles with strangers, collecting eight Gym Badges, facing the Elite Four and Pokémon Champion, all while stopping a nefarious plot by some evil wide-reaching power mad organization. This has not changed in a decade and a half and it probably never will. It’s the same core cookie cutter plot that has turned Pokémon into the biggest gaming franchise in the world (although the card game and anime definitely helped with that) and Nintendo titles stick to the “If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it” adage. After all, how many times has King Koopa/Bowser kidnapped Princess Peach/Toadstool? The good news is that just because they aren’t allowed to change the story, doesn’t mean Game Freak couldn’t radically change how it progresses. So while you still pick from a Fire, Water or Grass Pokémon as your starter, you actually get TWO this time around. At the beginning of the game, your friend gives you one and later, when you travel to Lumoise City, the game’s Professor will give you one of the Kanto starters – Charmander, Bulbasaur or Squirtle. Technically you can get three starters if you buy the game before January as you can download a free Torchic from Gen 3. This means that within a few hours of starting the game, you can have a Water, Fire and Grass starter in your possession. I ended up choosing Froaker for my starter even though I liked the fox better because I was definitely getting Charmander as my Kanto starter and I didn’t need THREE Fire starters (Queue up some Prodigy?). This is a small but very dramatic and welcome change.
Another change to the plot is that instead of having a rival, or as in later games, a rival and a friend, you have a core group of four friends (two boys and two girls) that you will interact regularly throughout the game. Again, it’s not a big change, but it’s something. Other than that the storyline is very similar to every other Pokémon core release. Even your main character is ripped straight from Gen 3 as your character has moved to a new town. The only difference is your mother is a Pokémon racer instead of your father being a gym leader. So for those looking for something new and exciting storywise, you won’t find it here. I enjoyed seeing the changes and twists given to the same old plot, but for those looking for something dramatically different…well, you don’t really play Pokémon for the story. At least not anymore.
Graphically, Pokémon X/Y looks amazing. The game is the best looking game for the Nintendo 3DS and is a huge visual shake-up from previous editions. The visuals look almost like they were ripped from the anime series, especially the Pokémon themselves. Both the general and attack animations of your Pokémon are extremely well done and I was consistently impressed by what I saw on the screen. I honestly don’t think I’ve been this impressed by a 3DS title and it’s going to be hard to top what’s here. The only thing I can think of is to have a more fluid constant battle between the Pokémon instead of an attack and return type approach that we’ve see in turn based RPGs since the NES days.
One area where I am not happy with the graphics, though, is when the game moves from a top down to a behind the shoulders approach. It does this in certain locations and you simply don’t have a choice in the matter. When you’re in this viewpoint you have little to no camera control and as such it’s hard to see doorways and entrances that would otherwise be blatantly obvious in top down. I get that they did this to showcase the 3D power of the Nintendo 3DS, but it puts style over substance and I’d rather be able to see where I am going. I don’t need crappy camera angles in a turn based RPG – I get enough of those in third person shooters and action games. So while the game is gorgeous at a level you have to play to understand, bits like this disappoint me.
In terms of sound, Pokémon X/Y is like every other core Pokémon release out there. You have a lot of great music tracks, many recycled and/or remixed from the earliest games. The tracks are catchy and stick in your brain quite easily. X/Y also becomes the first core Pokémon game since Pokémon Yellow to have voice acting. That’s FOURTEEN YEARS. It’s something I’ve pushed for constantly throughout the game’s evolution as the acting is already done and there is more than enough room to replace the MIDI style squarks that the Pokémon make with snippets. Alas, it hasn’t happened due to the ever shortening time between games, but Game Freak did through us a bone by having Pikachu’s (yes, just Pikachu) voice actress (Ikue Otani). Of course she did a great job and it is wonderful beyond description to see this in here. Now will Game Freak go the distance and deliver full voice acting in the remix of this game or even the next generation? We can certainly hope so, as little touches like that show that Game Freak is still trying to give the fans (and their own staff) what they want to see in a Pokémon game while balancing out the fact they can’t make too many changes at once lest they have nothing left for next year’s model to satiate the disenfranchised.
Gameplay-wise anyone reading this knows what to expect. Pokémon is a rock/paper/scissors style turn based RPGs. Some attacks can do extra or less damage based on the type of attack and the type of the Pokémon getting hit by it. Bug is strong against Psychic which is strong against Fighting which is strong against Bug. Stuff like that. The game introduces a new Fairy type, which adds a new dynamic to the game – not just because it adds a new Type, but because some Pokémon are remixed with the Fairy type, totally changing how you will use them (or if). Oddly enough the Clefairy family didn’t get this new type but Jigglypuff did. I mean, it has the word Fairy in the name, right? Well truthfully Clefairy was supposed to get the change but as Clefairy was the original mascot for Pokémon before the anime series showcased Pokémon (Think Alex Kidd to Sonic), some higher ups (read: its creator) wants to see Clefairy left alone. Out of respect, it was. Now you know!
So what is different besides some new Pokémon and a new Type? Well a lot actually, but most of it is superfluous. You have Mega Evolution which gives a select few Pokémon a new temporary evolution during battle- as long as they are holding the right item, your Trainer has found the correct items to help trigger this and you activate the command. It’s a neat idea and some of the Mega Evolutions are really cool looking (while some are creepy), it’s something that will basically be a fad, ala Apricorns or Pokémon surges. What will happen is people will load up their party with Mega Evolution Pokémon and use them for a while, so that tournaments and online battles will be rife with the current flavor of the week. Then people will start to build teams specifically designed to counter those few Pokémon with Mega Evolutions and the whole thing will fall apart. It’s cute, but it’s basically the Magic: The Gathering effect where a new ability gets really popular and then disappears as quickly as it hits. Now that doesn’t mean Mega Evolution will only be in this generation – merely that it will be huge for a time and then subside much like Psychic heavy teams in the Kanto generation or the crazy love Steel got in gens 2 and 3.
Another change is the ability to customize your Pokémon Trainer. You have limited options at first, but as the game goes on you can buy new hairdos, clothes and accessories for your Trainer so that it stands out from the standard default models. It costs in-game money, though, and I’d rather use that on TMs and Poke balls as I care more about improving my Pokémon (and catching as many as I can) over what my character looks like. Still, this is a nice option and something a large group of fans have wanted for a long time, so it’s nice to see this implemented.
There are some neat online changes to. You have O-Zones, where you can gift a friend with an enhanced ability for a brief time, and Wonder Trade, where you and another Trainer from around the world can be paired up for a random trade. You pick what Pokémon you want to give up but you don’t know what you’ll get in return. For example, I traded a Furfrou and received a Japanese Farfetched. Neat!
Some of the biggest changes come with the new mini-games available to you. Pokémon-Amie lets you interact with your Pokémon Tamagotchi style, where you can pet them, feed them or play one of three mini-games with them. You have Super Training, which is a series of unlockable mini-games that increase your Pokémon’s Effort Values aka the onetime behind the scenes algorithm that determines how your Pokémon will grow in each of the six stats. You start off with six mini-games, one for each stat. After you beat all of those, you unlock another set, up to Level 3 challenges. All of these challenges revolve around kicking soccer balls at Pokémon balloons, but you also have to avoid attacks, break barriers and aim correctly. These are far more action oriented than anything in a Pokémon game previous to this point, so you may have to practice a lot if you really only play turn based RPGs. If you get frustrated or lack the hand-eye coordination, just do the lower level Super Trainings of that type over and over until you get better. If you can get a Pokémon’s EVs maxed out, you can unlock twelve more Super Training exercises that net you items like evolution stones. You can also earn punching bags for completing Super Training which further increases the EVs of your Pokémon. Different Pokémon have different effects here. I was shocked that Beedrill just might be one of, if not the best, for the high level training sessions. He’s crazy awesome with his rapid fire attack.
There are lots of other subtle changes. The Friend Safari is this generation’s Safari Zone and it reacts to how many friends you have connected with on your 3DS as well as if they too have Pokémon X/Y. Get your friend code out there people! You have a Battle Tower equivalent in the Battle Maison, the Battle Chateau which lets you gain titles like Baron, Viscount and Duke along with helping you to fight randomized trainers (along with the Elite Four and Gym Leaders on occasion). You now earn battle experience points when you catch a Pokémon. Before it was catch or knock them out and get XP. You can maintain a berry field ala a winery. You can ride certain Pokémon (ala your mother) and there are two new kinds of battles: Sky Battles (for Flying and levitating Pokémon only) and horde battles where you can fight five Pokémon of one type. This is just a sample of what awaits you in Pokémon X/Y. There is a ton to do and see. Yes, most of the changes are subtle or minor, but the fact there are a LOT of these changes really add up and make the game feel incredibly fresh.
Basically, Pokémon X/Y is essentially the same game you’ve been playing since the mid 90s, but with a lot of subtle changes, both cosmetic and mechanical and the end result is an extremely fun game to play, although there are noticeable bugs, from the game crashing save destroying one in Lumiose City (It appears to be triggered by saving in or around the city when the song loops around) to a few minor blurps in the system here or there. There are more bugs in X/Y than any game since Generation One, which is understandable due to the decreased time in which Game Freak had to develop the title, but that doesn’t make it acceptable.
In terms of replay value, it’s hard to think of another franchise other than Disgaea that gives you so much content for your hard earned dollar. After you beat the game, you’ll discover you’ve only tasted a tiny bit of the content Pokémon X/Y has to offer. You can continue to do battles with your friends, explore the entire region, try to complete the Pokedex and more. More than likely you will put over 100 hours into Pokémon X/Y. Hell, a dozen hours in I had only earned a single badge because I was too busy exploring and catching as many Pokémon as I could, leveling up the low level evolution Pokémon to add more entries into my Pokedex. The game can be a quick forty hour generic RPG or an expansive world that will take you months to fully explore. It’s up to you.
Balance-wise Pokémon is hard to top. Any team of six Pokémon can be beaten. Any team of six Pokémon can beat the Elite Four if you try hard enough. There are countless strategies and combinations for players to try out and eventually you’ll decide the perfect team for you and your play style. Sure this isn’t universal. A Magikarp will always be weaker than a Gyarados for example and your team of Level 50 Pokémon will never beat a team of Level 100s, but those are common sense exceptions. I’m especially happy to see what Pokémon have risen or lowered a tier. I’m still shocked at how crazy good Beedrill is in this generation! Bumblejumper (Transformers reference) is one of my go-to Pokémon for a lot of situations. Before he was only good at the early stages of a game or in Gen 1 as a Psychic stopper that wasn’t Jolteon or Parasect. About the only place where balance is out of whack is with the Special Training where you might not have the hand-eye coordination for the Level 3 or bonus sessions if all you play are turn based JRPGs. It’s also worth noting that X/Y is a harder game to plow through than Black and White 2, which just might have been the easiest turn based JRPG ever. It’s good to see the difficulty raised up a bit.
So we’ve seen that while not the most original or innovative game ever made, Game Freak has tried to make X/Y stand out with a ton of little changes. Sure the game won’t be getting a ton of points in the originality column, but the changes are noticeable and wide-spread throughout the game. That counts for something.
As we’ve seen, Nintendo moved four million physical copies of Pokémon X/Y in two days. That’s $160 million dollars (at the minimum) for just the carts. Add in the digital and you can see why Pokémon prints Nintendo money, even more so than the Zelda and Mario franchises. In fact, only Grand Theft Auto V will probably outsell Pokémon X/Y. That’s a huge fanbase. It’s also worth noting a lot of people are returning to Pokémon with this game. Staffer Hubbs? Returning to Pokémon after a long absence with this one. Dave Olvera? He HATES Pokémon and yet went out and bought this day one because it intrigued him. Hell, I had no plans on getting this and I’m not only devouring but enjoying it. So odds are unless you work yourself up to hate Pokémon X/Y, you’ll find yourself enjoying this game. It’s a vast improvement over Black and White 2 and although it’s not as good as some previous generations, it’s still an extremely fun game.
Of course, we do have to end this review with a look at what’s bad about the game. I did mention the game crashing, save erasing bug and that those raised and reared on turn based RPGs might have trouble with some of the mini games. Two other issues are worth mentioning as they might be kind of big depending on your preferences. The first is that the story piece of Pokémon X/Y is the most linear I’ve encountered in a Pokémon game. Even in Gen 1 you could do a few Gym Leaders out of order if you chose. Here, the game regularly forces you to follow the same exact path, blocking off routes or locations until you do what the game wants in the order it wants. That’s kind of lame. Another big thing worth mentioning is that you have less than half the amount of Pokémon storage boxes you have had in previous releases. It’s not that the game is too big for them. In fact at only 1.7 gigs digitally, there is obviously room on the cart for a lot more content. No, these boxes were cut out so that you would have to partake in a cloud version of Pokémon Storage which will end up costing you a regular fee (exact amount not determined for North America yet). The problem is that means you’re now paying a regular charge to play Pokémon if you want to have a lot of Pokémon and if you’re in an area without internet (say traveling or visiting a foreign country), you can’t access the Pokémon. This is worse than DLC because a standard part of the game has not only been cut out, but you have to pay to get it back AND you don’t have the same level of access you would to those Pokémon. That’s just unethical in my book. It’s unfortunate that Nintendo mandated this on Game Freak because this is not an idea they championed or even welcomed and it shows just how bizarre the ways to nickel and dime consumers are getting.
I digress. Yes, Pokémon X/Y has its flaws and it’s obviously less polished than it should be, but Game Freak is never going to be given the turnaround time it had between says, RGBY and GSC or Gens III and IV. That’s how business is done these days and consumers suffer for it. The good news is that the game is a vast improvement over Black and White 2, there’s an insane amount of content to keep you busy, the game looks phenomenal, they’re finally putting voice acting back in and while not the best Pokémon game around, X/Y is the best Pokémon game released this year and regardless of generational comparisons, it’s a good game guaranteed to make most gamers that pick it up more than happy. In the end, I guess that’s all we can ask for. I’m pretty happy with the end result and you probably will be too.
Short Attention Span Summary
Pokémon X/Y is the latest game in the Pokémon franchise and while it may not be the greatest, it’s a step up from Black and White 2 as well as sure to entertain nearly everyone who picks it up. The game is easily the best looking title currently available for the Nintendo 3DS with battles and animation that seem ripped from the cartoon. The game plays like any other core Pokémon title with some new mechanics which will help things to see a bit fresher than they really are. The game does have some issues, such as having a far more linear storyline than usual and some noticeable bugs due to the drastically reduced development time this game received. It may be unpolished, but it’s still a mostly solid experience. It just makes you wonder how amazing the game could have been if Nintendo let Game Freak spend a little more time on it before releasing it.