Review: Pokemon X/Y (Nintendo 3DS)
by Aileen Coe on November 8, 2013

Pokemon X/Y
Developer: Game Freak
Publisher: Nintendo of America
Genre: Turn Based RPG
Release Date: 10/12/2013

While the core Pokemon RPGs have gotten new Pokemon and features, they’ve followed the same basic formula. The latest in the series, Pokemon X/Y, is the first to be released on the 3DS. Alex reviewed Pokemon X, and I got Y to review. Let’s see how this iteration fares.

The basic premise of the game is like previous iterations, wherein catching Pokemon is your real test and training them is your cause. You’re a young trainer and a professor gives you a starter Pokemon and a Pokedex to fill out. You then go to eight Gym and earn badges in order to take on the Elite Four and the Champion. This time you’re traveling through the Kalos region, which is permeated with a heavy French influence (this is especially apparent in Lumiose City). There are minor variations, such as a group of friends to interact with in addition to a rival character and the fact that you receive a second starter after beating the first gym. Otherwise, the general structure of the plot resembles that of its predecessors, villainous organization included (Team Flare in this case). It doesn’t really break much new ground, but it works for the purposes of providing an excuse to travel around capturing, raising, and battling Pokemon.

Pokemon X/Y are the first of the core RPG games to make the full transition to 3D. While walking around the game world, you can see details like rolling grass and ripples and reflections in water. When talking to kids or small Pokemon, your character crouches down to their eye level. Another first for this game is being able to customize various aspects of your trainer’s appearance, from choosing skin tone at the beginning of the game to various clothes and accessories and even colored contacts. During battles, weather effects also apparent on bottom screen (e.g. drops of water in rain, everything shiny in sunny weather). Pokemon have their own little idle animations during battles, and attacks are more animated, which makes battles less boring to go through. Size differences among them are also readily apparently, which shows attention to detail.

Not all is rosy with the graphics, however. During battles, there is occasional slowdown during battles, even with the 3D turned off. While the changing camera angles does let you see more of the environment, they can be disorienting, especially when the camera suddenly shifts from being somewhat behind you to facing you or overhead. I particularly noticed this when going through a large area like Lumiose City, and an option to recenter the camera behind me would’ve been helpful (I actually tried to do that at first before realizing there was no such option). For all the toting of 3D graphics, some trainer portraits in 2D before and after battles, with select few Trainers in 3D. I can kind of understand why random NPCs might not get 3D models, but I don’t get why Gym Leaders or the Elite Four and Champion wouldn’t merit any. Even random Team Flare grunts got 3D models. Backgrounds are not always proportional to Pokemon (such when you fight on the bridge on Route 19), though given how many Pokemon of varying sizes and how many possible combinations there are, it probably would be hard to account for all that and make everything perfectly proportional.

The music is overall aurally pleasant. The regular battle theme in particular has gotten stuck in my head, though that’s probably as much as a result of hearing it so much as how catchy it is. The tracks that play during major battles made me want to prolong the battles a bit just to hear them longer. There’s bits of voice acting during battles, but only for Pikachu; all other Pokemon have the same midi cries as previous games. Voice acting for Pokemon was last seen in Yellow (though the fact that Ikue Otani also voices Sachiko of Corpse Party causes some cognitive dissonance for me). While it’s nice to see it again, it would’ve been more consistent if all the other Pokemon could’ve had voiced cries too. As is, it’s a bit odd to have Pikachu voiced but no other Pokemon – surely voice clips aren’t that much larger than the midi cries.

The basic flow of gameplay remains much the same as previous iterations in the core RPG series, with the large scale rock-paper-scissors battling still in place. Speaking of, a new type was introduced in this game, the Fairy type. Like the Dark type was made as a counter to Psychic, the Fairy type was put in as a counter to Dragon types (which were only weak to Ice before), and is also super effective against Fighting and Dark. Some older Pokemon have been retroactively given this type.There’s also Mega Evolutions, which require a Mega Stone for that Pokemon and boost stats and can change its types and abilities. You can only use one Mega Evolution in a battle, even if you have more than one Pokemon that has a Mega Evolution.

There also also a couple of new battle types. In Sky Battles, battles take place in the air, and only a limited number of Pokemon (only Flying types or those with Levitate) can even participate. Ground type moves and Gravity aren’t usable in these battles. A bunch of flying types which you think would be eligible aren’t (Pidgey, Spearow, Farfetch’d, Doduo, Dodrio, Hoothoot, Murkrow, Delibird, Taillow, Starly, Chatot, Pidove, Ducklett, Fletchling, and Hawlucha), which I thought was strange and makes picking Pokemon for those battles even more limited. They can only be fought once, but you get a medal if you beat them all. Given how limited it is, it seems a bit pointless, but…yay variety? Another new battle type are Horde Encounters, wherein one of your Pokemon faces off against five of the same Pokemon. Horde Encounters occur either randomly while running around in tall grass or using Honey or Sweet Scent. You can’t catch any Pokemon until you’re down to one Pokemon left. While they’re a boon for EV training, it can get a bit tedious to wait while all of them act and trying to whittle down the group to one if you’re trying to catch one.

There’s also a bunch of new features that have been introduced in this game. The Player Search System serves the functions that C-Gear did in the Black/White games wherein you can deposit a Pokemon for trade or find trades. The GTS works much like it did in the B/Ws and D/P/Pt, but you can also now search for Pokemon not registered in your Pokedex by typing in its name, which saves you from having to find someone to trade you that Pokemon just to have it in your Pokedex. Wonder Trade involves putting up a Pokemon for trade, but you don’t know what you’re getting until you actually get it, and you have to accept what you’re given. It’s a gamble, as it’s possible to get a foreign Pokemon or something good, but also possible to get a bunch of Bidoofs or something else undesirable. It can be kind of fun if you have Pokemon to spare, but not good if you’re looking for something specific. O-Powers let you give power-ups to yourself or others, though it costs more to use them on yourself. You can also make PR videos in Lumiose City and share them. It also lets you battle and trade online or locally without having to be in a Pokemon Center.

Pokemon-Amie is another new feature wherein you can pet, feed, and play games with your Pokemon, as well as make faces at them (yes, really), which raises their affection. There are certain spots Pokemon will like being petted, while petting other spots will make them mad. Higher levels of affection grant more benefits, such as higher chances of landing critical attacks and avoiding attacks and enduring hits that would otherwise knock them out. It also affects in-battle dialogue and Pokemon animations. Affection is separate from friendship, so Pokemon requiring maxed friendship and a level up (such as Espeon and Umbreon) still need to have their friendship raised in other ways (having them in your party, massages, and so on). Pokemon-Amie effects don’t carry over to online play, however.

For those who EV (for the uninitiated, EV stands for Effort Values, and they affect the stats Pokemon gain when they level up) train their Pokemon, Super Training is a godsend since EV distributions (as well as whether EVs are maxed) are now fully visible and you can EV train without having to hunt down and defeat heaps of specific Pokemon, though you can still do that if you prefer doing it the old fashioned way. Super Training consists of Super Training Regimens and Core Training. In Super Training Regimens, the Pokemon you choose faces off against giant Pokemon-shaped balloons, and you have to shoot balls into goals and accumulate a certain number of points before time runs out. The balloons will shoot balls at you also, and if you get hit by them you’ll lose points. It can take getting used to if you don’t play a lot of twitch based games, but you can keep trying over and over until you succeed. Core Training involves punching bags, which can be acquired thought Super Training Regimens, to boost growth in a specific stat. Smaller bags take less time to break, while larger ones take longer. You can also use a Reset Bag to reset EVs if you’re not happy with the current distribution.

While the core RPG Pokemon games aren’t exactly known for hardcore difficulty (in the main game, at least), the game leans even more on the easy side, especially with the changes to how EXP Share works. Pokemon that participate in battles all gain the same amount of experience instead of splitting it amongst themselves. With EXP Share, Pokemon that don’t participate in battle still get half experience. In addition, when you capture a Pokemon you get the same amount of experience you would have had you defeated it. I made changes to my roster depending on the next gym to tackle (and also which Pokemon I liked and wanted to try out), and I still found myself over leveled. You’re unlikely to ever get stumped on where to go next because the game is also quite linear and steers you rather firmly to where it wants you to go at the time. There’s this whole world modeled out for you to explore, but within the main game you’re mostly confined to exploring it on the game’s terms. Money becomes very easy to come by after you acquire the Amulet Coin and the Prize Money Power O-Power, which makes it easier to not only stockpile Pokeballs and such, but also buy clothing and accessories to dress up your trainer in. The Elite Four and Champion do not get powered up Pokemon for rematches. There’s also no adjusting difficulty levels like there was in Black/White 2, so anyone who was hoping that would be a recurring feature is out of luck this time around. Another thing that was in the B/W games that’s not present in this one is seasons.

I’ve sunk a lot of time into this game, and it’s likely not leaving my 3DS anytime soon. I’d switch up my team not only according to what gym was next, but also which seemed like they’d be good once built up. I also tended to try and catch all the Pokemon in an area before moving on (which helped fuel the aforementioned), even though I’ve never been quite as much of a completionist in regards to the Pokedex (which has gotten rather unwieldy in that aspect). However, after you beat the main game, there’s not a lot to do in the post game. You can do Looker’s requests, hunt three Legendaries, and go through Battle Maison and try to earn enough BP for items there. Friend Safaris, which are generated from friend codes you have added, also become available. Each Friend Safari has a specific type and two Pokemon, with a third being unlocked if that friend has beaten the Elite Four. You can also rechallenge the Elite Four and Champion as much as you like, but since they don’t get any stronger, that would likely get boring after a while (not to mention diminishing returns if you’re trying to max level your team). I did find myself wishing the option to turn on auto run like in HeartGold/Soulsilver was there, though the rollerblades did sort of make up for that (except in tall grass), as did the bike (unless indoors). But that’s just a small niggle.

It’s apparent that just about anything Pokemon tends to print money, as does the 3DS (compared to the beleaguered Vita, at least). As you can imagine, when you combine the two, the money really comes rolling in. There’s also appeals to nostalgia for those who played R/G/B/Y (or Fire Red/ Leaf Green) sprinkled in, such as a mention of Bill in Kanto when you meet the guy who runs the storage boxes in this game and the NPCs extolling the virtues of shorts and how comfy and easy to wear they are. There’s also the fact that you get to choose a Kanto starter after earning your first badge and the fact that a number of Pokemon that were in the original 151 get Mega Evolutions (including the aforementioned starters) – two of them (Charizard and Mewtwo) even get version specific Mega Evolutions.

However, X/Y did not escape unscathed programming wise. There was a save glitch that people encountered wherein if you saved in Lumiose City and then quit the game, the file would lock up when you went to reload it. I didn’t run into this myself, thankfully, though I made sure to save inside Pokemon Centers (or at least inside a building) while there just in case. A patch was recently released to address this, and while it’s good that efforts have been made to fix it, this shouldn’t have been a problem in the first place. The patch also fixed a GTS bug in which if you tried to use a filter (e.g. no special Pokemon, only trades asking for something you have), an error message would pop up. Issues can also pop up when you put the 3DS in sleep mode or go to the home menu while connected to the internet. One time when I put it in sleep mode, it said there was an error and to turn off the 3DS, then it told me the SD card could not be detected (I didn’t drop my 3DS or take the card out), so I turned off the 3DS again, took out the card and reinserted it and then it worked again.

Two new apps are being introduced next month: Pokemon Bank and Pokemon Transporter. Pokemon Bank lets you store 3000 Pokemon (30 to a box, like the boxes in-game) for an annual fee of $4.99, starting December 27. If you download the app on or before January 31, 2014, you get a pass for a 30 day trial. Pokemon Transporter works much like Pokemon Bank, except it lets you transfer Pokemon from the B/W games (Bank only works with X/Y). On the one hand, the idea of being able to store more Pokemon and easily transfer a bunch to another game at a time instead of transferring them one at a time (either with two systems or someone helping you out) sounds good. There’s also the added security of being able to retrieve those Pokemon even if you lose your game. However, this sets a bad precedent where in-game storage can be reduced in future games to force people to use this service. There’s already one less box in XY than there were in the B/W games (not counting the Party and Battle boxes), and if that trend keeps going as the number of different Pokemon increases, that would make it harder to fit everything into just the in-game boxes. Granted, $4.99 a year doesn’t sound like much, but the idea of charging for something that’s always been just another part of the game sort of rubs me the wrong way. It’s also somewhat worrisome that there’s no answer in the official FAQ as to what would happen to the Pokemon stored in the bank after the free trial runs out or if you don’t renew your subscription. I can’t imagine they’d go as far as to go and delete them so that you can’t get them back even if you do pay again, especially given there’d be children partaking in the service that wouldn’t necessarily have a reliable way to pay (or parents willing to do so after the free trial runs out), but then the lack of any confirmed details on that part means that that possibility can’t be fully refuted yet.

One last thing: you get another free starter in Torchic if you purchase the game and collect the Mystery Gift by January 15, 2014. It comes holding a Blazikenite, which is required for its Mega Evolution, and its hidden ability, Speed Boost so be sure to grab it if you get the game by then.

Short Attention Span Summary:
Pokemon X/Y introduces a bunch of new features, some of which help streamline some things that took longer to do in previous games (such as Super Training), all wrapped up in a 3D package. However, the use of 3D is limited, and there’s framerate issues if you try to use it during battle. Even without 3D on, there’s slowdown in places, which is too bad since the graphics themselves look good. There was also the save glitch (and GTS filter bug), which were at least patched relatively quickly. There’s also not all that much to do after you beat the Elite Four and Champion. Still, overall X/Y is a solid entry and a good entry/reentry point for those who either haven’t played a Pokemon game at all or skipped some generations.



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