When a new Nintendo handheld drops, one of the most pressing questions on a lot of people’s minds is how long it will take for the Japanese company’s premiere handheld franchise to drop. As recent franchise history has shown, developer Game Freak tends to drop a new “generation” two years after a console launch. 2011 saw the release of the Nintendo 3DS and as recent patterns indicates, the sixth generation began in 2013 with Pokémon X and Pokémon Y.
Pokémon X and Pokémon Y introduces us to the brand new Kalos region, a region heavily inspired by the real world France. Kalos is a region known for its beauty and grandeur and despite the graphical limitations of the game’s art style and the lack of stereoscopic 3D in the over-world, GameFreak still managed to display grand mansions, vast flowing rivers and glittering caves through a mastery of different perspectives, which make them wow players without the need for a gimmicky third dimension. My initial reactions to sights such as the huge Parfum Palace, the intimate and foreboding Glittering Cave and the majesty of the Pokémon League building were on par with seeing Hyrule Field in 3D in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D for the first time.
The game isn’t entirely without its stereoscopic 3D though – single battles use the effect (Double, Triple, Rotation and Horde Battles are 2D only), as do cut scenes and some select locations in the game (such as some caves). It wouldn’t be fair of me to discuss this game’s beauty without looking at the 3D models that are now used for each and every species of Pokémon.
With the addition of 69 new species in this new generation, Pokémon XY features full 3D models for all currently known 718 Pokémon – as well as alternate formes, variations, Mega Evolutions and shiny versions of all of the above. That is one hell of an undertaking, which leaves me honoured to say that these 3D models are the most beautiful the Nintendo 3DS has seen yet. I previously hailed Dead or Alive: Dimensions and Fire Emblem: Awakening as the prettiest on 3DS, but Pokémon has jumped out at them from the wild grass and defeated them both – the 3D models are smooth and move in a realistic way (well, as realistic as a living keychain could be). The attack animations, while still not the direct contact many people would hope (Blastoise not shooting Hydro Pump from its cannons for example) are still elaborate – the animation for new move Flying Press being a notable example. Junichi Masuda and co have also pumped out a fantastic musical score to this game, which adds as the splendid, decorative ribbon around what was already a beautiful present – from the classic sounding route music, to the energy-packed battle music, the wait for the soundtrack release next month couldn’t be longer. The word “Kalos” is an old Greek word for “Beauty” and GameFreak have truly captured that core theme when making these games.
That beauty is not skin deep though. XY is similar to the previous generation’s Black and White in that while they remain games primarily targeted at children, GameFreak have given them an underlying theme that will resonate with the older players as well. The Unova region had Team Plasma, who on the surface had a goal similar to that of real life organisation PETA, which was a cover for the emotional manipulation of N (who I still feel uncomfortable calling an antagonist). XY on the other hand, while it has its illustrious buildings and nobility, carries a rather cynical tone to it, with the richer characters often being portrayed as idiotic or unpleasant; one line that sticks in my mind was said by a trainer I defeated: “What happiness is there in life other than money? Do you know? Can you tell me? I’m serious“. There are also certain areas that you will be prevented from entering until you have managed to fit into a certain group – such as the Boutique in Lumiose City that will turn you away for not being fancy enough until you have tried out every restaurant and facility the elite city has to offer.
The central antagonists, Team Flare, carry such an elite view of the world. Team Flare believe in making the world beautiful, by ridding the world of anyone not fitting their ideal of beauty (aka “Not Team Flare”). Without delving too much into spoilers, the game’s central antagonist is one who sees the world today and the corruption that has taken ahold of it and in desperation to rid the world of it, sees the only solution as a complete reset. This to me, seems heavily inspired by the global economic downturn which kicked off in 2008 – right in the middle of the development of Black and White. The story of Team Flare is also mirrored in an ancient legend of Kalos which when first introduced to us via a cut scene, actually reduced my older brother to tears. With N in Black and White we had a character who believed what he did because he was taught no better, who was introduced to the other view by the player character. In XY, we have a character who believes what they do out of being driven by the despair and resentment they held for the world around them – something which a lot of people now can relate to. One moment that strikes me as being deeply symbolic to this game’s message is when you are given the option of a Master Ball or a Big Nugget. The average Pokémon fan would clearly choose the Master Ball, so some may consider that choice rather pointless – except to me, I see it as a clearly loaded question aimed at us fans. If you think about it, a Master Ball is a single Pokéball with the amazing ability to capture without fail. On the other hand, a Big Nugget can be exchanged to buy many Pokéballs with a lesser quality – the choice could have been offered as a symbol of whether we would choose quality over quantity.
That is the most important aspect of this game’s beauty – that GameFreak have clearly channelled the emotions we are feeling in the real world and managed to channel them into a fantastical story, which allows us to maintain the escapism of a fictional world, but still keep an anchor of real emotion, while keeping everything at a level that is still appropriate for children.
Like the beginning of every other new generation, Pokémon XY introduce many new innovations to the 17 year old franchise – the most notable in this pair being the Fairy-type and Mega Evolutions.
The Fairy-type is the first new type to be introduced in over 12 years and was done so to help balance the the type chart – and in particular, to nerf the Dragon-type. As a competitive player, I can confirm that Dragon-types certainly have been a problem. Being weak to only themselves and the Ice-type (of which there aren’t many competitively viable options), your only real option was to have a dragon of your own…but with Dragon being weak to other Dragon-types, you can see how that can be a problem. Now, we have a type that not only seals super-effective damage against them, but also takes no damage from them at all! But other types have also benefitted from the addition of fairies. Poison-type Pokémon have generally been ignored, due to only being super-effective against the rather unseen Grass-types, while being weak to and resisted by a fair number of common types. Poison is one of only two types that can deal super-effective damage to fairies (the other being Steel); hopefully them being a counter to the dragon slayers should give them a rise, while the under-appreciated Fire-types can be brought in to deal with the other dragon slaying type. My only wish was that the Water-type was given another weakness (Poison maybe?).
The other main addition is Mega Evolutions, one of the biggest mysteries of the Kalos region. A select few notable Pokémon from previous generations have been given the ability to access a temporary next level, allowing them stat ranges previously only seen by legendary Pokémon. During your journey through Kalos, you will learn more and more about this phenomenon until you are entrusted with the Mega Ring. When a Pokémon is holding their specialised Mega Stone, it will resonate with the Mega Ring, allowing them to Mega Evolve for the duration of the battle before reverting to their previous stage. There is also another limit places on Mega Evolution – you can only have one Pokémon Mega Evolve per battle.
Personally, My opinion is still divided on Mega Evolutions. While I welcome some of the species that have been given a boost (such as Mawile and Banette) some of the other choices baffle me (like Alakazam and Scizor). While playing through the story, I found them so overpowered that I stopped using them unless I was confronted by another and when battling with friends, I have found that if you aren’t using one, you can find yourself struggling to keep up with some of them.
One thing that is annoying though, is that a lot of the Mega Stones can only be found between 8-9pm. Seriously?
There have also been slight tweaks made to some moves and abilities too, with some being increased in power while others have been slightly decreased. My favourite change though, has been to the weather summoning abilities Drizzle, Drought, Sand Stream and Snow Warning. In the past, those abilities automatically summoned weather that was permanent unless otherwise removed, which took control of the official competitive play scene. Now though, they have been limited in that their automatic weather only lasts 5 turns now, much like the regular Sunny Day, Rain Dance, Sandstorm and Hail moves. It is also worth noting that GameFreak seem very aware of just how popular rain is – every auto-weather ability can be accessed through a Mega Evolution, except Drizzle. Hurray!
You might have noticed that despite me having waffled on as much as I have so far, that I have only discussed what happens on one screen of the Nintendo 3DS – I have yet to talk about what the bottom screen is used for. The bottom screen is the home of Pokémon-amie, Super Training and the PSS.
Pokémon-amie allows users to interact with their Pokémon by petting them, stroking them, feeding them PokéPuffs and playing mini-games that will help boost their affection for you, which can affect your critical hit and evasion rations in battle and unlock the method to evolving an Eevee into Sylveon. It is beyond cute to be able to finally pet your Pokémon, Nintendogs style.
Super Training takes one of Pokémon’s hidden values and throws them out into the open. EVs have always been a staple of Pokémon stat calculation and the precise training of specific stats has always been something competitive players have done, but until now those values have been hidden. Now, a Pokémon’s EVs are shown on a chart and they can be increased through the Super Training minigames – where you have to move your Pokémon and hit targets in a style similar to Kid Icarus Uprising. The games are simple, fairly short in length (about 2 minutes each) and actually have quite a noticeable increase in difficulty, which all in all, makes for a very enjoyable experience. There have been concerns raised though about how the super training games do seem to be programmed with only right handed players in mind, making it very hard to control for lefties.
My favourite of the lower screen features though, has to the PSS (Player Search System). In the past, things such as trading and battling were functions that could only be done in a Pokémon Centre. Black and White tried to phase this out with the introduction of the C-Gear, but the Union Room and online battling were still tied to the buildings. Now though, they are strictly on the PSS. That means that wherever you are in a game (granted that you are not currently in a battle), you can now battle and trade with your friends, either via local wireless or Nintendo Network. Yes, Kalos has an internet signal even at the bottom of dark caves.
What makes the PSS truly amazing though is that it is fully integrated with your 3DS Friend List, automatically adding everyone on your list who has the game, as well as displaying when they’re online. Users displayed on the PSS are broken up into three sections:
Friends – These are well, your friends.
Acquaintances – These are people you’ve communicated with through features like the GTS.
Passersby – Random people.
To communicate with someone, you just have to click on their icon and the game will give you the option to propose a trade, challenge them to a battle, give them a “Nice!”, use Game Chat or see their “PR Video” (will get to that in a bit). Game Chat is essentially voice chat, but annoyingly, your character is frozen while using the feature, so you can’t play until you hang up.
The PSS isn’t just a social feature though – it is also now the home of the GTS (Global Trade Station), which now includes the ability to search for and request Pokémon you have yet to see by manually typing in their name. The new Wonder Trade feature adds a random spice to things too, allowing you to trade a Pokémon to a random person for a completely random Pokémon. Sometimes, you get dumped with a Scatterbug, but sometimes you can even score a Fennekin! This is especially handy when you consider how big the Kalos Pokédex is – so big that it is broken up into three parts! You definitely aren’t limited in your options this time around.
My favourite connectivity feature though, is the Friend Safari. Unlocked after you have defeated the Pokémon League, the Friend Safari is an area that assigns a type and three Pokémon to everyone on your 3DS Friend List. When you enter the area, you are asked to select a friend and that will determine what Pokémon you encounter, which can include Pokémon with their Hidden Abilities and starter Pokémon like Charmeleon and Braixen. It also encourages you to make more friends if you want more Pokémon!
Earlier on, I mentioned PR Videos, which are 10 second video clips that you can make in Lumiose City, choosing the background, your poses and basically every aspect of the video to show off your character, which can be shared via the PSS. My only disappointment is that these videos aren’t displayed at the beginning of link battles like the intros pro-wrestlers get – that would have been really cool. You can view my trainer PR video here. Yes, that is a shiny Aegislash and no, you can’t have her.
Unfortunately though, not every gameplay change was for the best. One of the changes made in this game is that the held item Exp. Share, which gives a Pokémon holding it half of the total experience pointe gained in a battle they weren’t present in, is now a key item very similar in function to the Exp. All from Generation I. Fortunately, it can be turned on and off, but leaving it on makes it far too easy to level up your Pokémon. This game does have a slightly different levelling curve than previous games due to the gyms being more spread out, but this did mean that I was a good 15 levels higher than the Champion’s Pokémon when I was battling the league, making the story mode an absolute walk in the park. Black Version 2 and White Version 2 introduced post-game difficulty settings, but these have been scrapped entirely. I would have loved to be able to play with a higher difficulty from the beginning, with a more challenging AI.
Also, there is a lack of backwards compatibility with the series for another two months. During E3, game director Junichi Masuda stated that they are still working on backwards compatibility, due to the DS and 3DS cartridges being unable to communicate. They later announced that this would be remedied by the Pokémon Bank service that will be made available in late December. That does however, leave me with two months of being unable to transfer my old battle-ready Pokémon over, or be able to trade my breeding tools over to breed new ones.
I do wish the game used StreetPass in a more effective way though. The game currently uses it to give out notifications via the Holo Caster. I would have preferred something like, exchanging player’s battle box information so they can be battled at a facility later in the game or something.
A word of warning though: make sure not to save outside in Lumiose City. As if that city wasn’t large and confusing enough, Pokémon XY have joined in on the latest hip trend and have a game breaking glitch. Nintendo and Game Freak are currently working on a patch, but if you save in one of Lumiose City’s avenues, the game could freeze up, requiring you to restart your game. Nintendo have released a map of where not to save in the mean time:
To end my review with a plus, Pokémon X and Y are the first handheld Pokémon titles to have character customisation. At the beginning of the game, you can choose from three character models (which have differing skin and hair tones), then as you progress through the game, you can visit Boutiques and buy items of clothing to customise your look. The items that are available a more limited than those in Animal Crossing: New Leaf, but it really is a nice personal touch that we have been waiting quite some time for.
And lastly, because I couldn’t find anywhere else to fit it, but we are finally free from the four dimensional grid! Viva la diagonal movement! I also love how GameFreak made the route with the Day Care Centre have the longest stretch in Kalos, allowing us to go back and forth on our bikes hatching eggs.
In conclusion, I would easily say that Pokémon X and Y are two of the very best games that the Nintendo 3DS has to offer. Pokémon has always been a socially driven franchise, but this games take that to the very next level. However, if you prefer a ore story-driven single player RPG, Nintendo still have you covered with the equally amazing Fire Emblem: Awakening. If you are an existing fan of the series, you will no doubt love this and if you are a newcomer, this is a brilliant starting point.