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Review | Pokemon X/Y

by on November 13, 2013
 

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A game like Pokemon is a tough task.  On the one hand, gamers have very clear expectations for the series and changing any of its core tenets would lead to huge backlash.  On the other hand, as we saw with last year’s Pokemon Black and White version 2, sticking too closely to the formula can result in disinterest from the fanbase.  Thankfully, Gamefreak has managed to find a great balance with X and Y.  There are new features both large and small that help make X and Y a fresh experience for veterans.

This review is made with competitive players in mind.  I will mainly be discussing changes made in the franchise, with a particular focus on changes that effect the competitive metagame.  If you’re a newcomer to the franchise, this review may not be useful for you.

Art Style

Pokemon has finally moved on from its traditional top down perspective.  The camera is angled further towards you to create a game that feels more like a standard RPG.  Due to this change, your main character can now move in 8 different directions, something not possible in past games.  Strangely, the 3D feature of the 3DS is only implemented in a few dungeons, cutscenes, and in battles.

More important than the changes to the overworld are the changes to the battle system.  Sprites have finally been replaced with 3D models for each and every Pokemon.  While these models are not incredibly detailed, which is reasonable considering the sheer volume of monsters, they are clean and attractive with a good deal of personality.  This personality is shown off in new attack animations.  Unlike the almost completely static sprites in previous entries, Pokemon are now far more lively.  For the most part in Pokemon X and Y, Pokemon look like they are involved in an actual fight.  When Squirtle uses his bubble attack, he actually spits out bubbles, which actually make contact with the opposing Pokemon who winces visibly.  When Raichu uses his tail whip attack, he actually turns around and whips with his tail.  Furthermore, Pokemon moves are, to a degree, individualized.  When Charmander uses Ember, he fires a small ball of fire from his mouth.  Newcomer Delphox instead fires a ball of fire from a staff.  Small touches like this help give each Pokemon a unique personality.

Pokemon X/Y certainly doesn’t push the 3DS to its limits.  It is reasonable, considering the number of Pokemon and attacks, that animations and models are kept to a relatively basic level.  The end result is a game that looks fresh and attractive, but still feels very much like Pokemon.

Fairy Type

One of the most obvious changes to the game is the addition of a new type of Pokemon.  Fairy type was created as a counter to Dragon type. Previously, Dragon types were only vulnerable to Ice type Pokemon (a generally weak type) and other Dragons.  Furthermore, only Steel type Pokemon could resist Dragon type attacks.  Fairy types completely resist Dragon type moves, which helps put a stop to the dominance of Dragon type Pokemon, and particularly shut down the popular Dragon Dance/Outrage combo.  Unlike Steel types, Fairy Pokemon also have an offensive advantage against Dragons.  Hopefully, these changes will help balance out a metagame that has been increasingly dominated by Dragon types.  Previously, a Dragonite, Salamance, or Garchomp with a Yache Berry could shred an entire team.  Now, Dragon types have to think twice before unleashing their more powerful attacks.

The addition of Fairy type also inadvertently helps make Poison type Pokemon less awful, as Poison types are super effective against Fairy Pokemon.  Fairy type also adds a new weakness for Fighting types (who previously only feared Psychic moves and the occasional Aerial Ace), and grants Fire types a useful resistance.

The addition of Fairy type certainly changes things as it shuts down one of the most common types of Pokemon in the metagame, while it’s rare to come across its weaknesses (Poison and Steel) in the current metagame.  It will undoubtedly take competitive players a bit of time to adjust to this new wrinkle in the metagame.

Mega Evolutions

Arguably the biggest change to the Pokemon metagame is the presence of Mega Evolutions.  At the cost of a held item, certain Pokemon can mega evolve.  Mega evolution powers up a Pokemon for the duration of a battle, granting them a new look, buffs their stats, and often gives them a new type or ability.  For example, Charizard (in Pokemon X) will transform into a Dragon/Fire Pokemon with a new ability that buffs up melee type attacks like slash.

Mega evolutions are exceedingly powerful with stat totals that can rival legendary Pokemon.  This certainly throws a huge wrench into competitive gameplay. However, Mega Evolving requires a held item.  Sacrificing a held item can be a huge disadvantage in Pokemon, which helps balance out the power of Mega Evolutions.

Mega evolution has the potential to completely turn the Pokemon meta game on its head, which is a great thing for a venerable franchise where established strategies have dominated for years.  With that being said, it awaits to be seen if Mega Evolution is balanced enough to be a part of normal gameplay or if the presence of Mega Evolutions will overcentralize the gameplay of Pokemon.

Super Training

Expert trainers have known about EV training for years.  To sum it up for the unaware, which Pokemon you defeat in battle will determine how your Pokemon develops.  For instance, defeating Zubats will cause your Pokemon to develop higher speed, and defeating Machops will lead to higher attack stats.

This aspect of Pokemon has always been invisible, but with Super Training, it is now easier to keep track of this enigmatic element of Pokemon.  Super training gives you a rough idea of how your Pokemon is developing, and allows you to play a (fairly dull) mini game to encourage growth of certain stats (functioning essentially like Carbos or Protein).  This new aspect of Pokemon serves as a great way to ease newer players into the complex realm of Pokemon and allow more casual trainers to fine tune their Pokemon’s performance.  Super training is a great bridge to lead amateur players to the more nuanced elements of Pokemon.

Weather

Weather is an important element of competitive battling, and adjusting the terrain to your favor can cripple your opponent.  In particular, Pokemon like Kyogre, Hippowdon, and Politoed became incredibly powerful for their abilities which enacted a weather effect for the entirety of a match, unless cancelled out by another Pokemon.  The drizzle ability was enough to turn the feeble Politoed into one of the most potent non-legendary Pokemon.

Weather abilities have changed, and now abilities like Drizzle will only lead to five turns of rain.  This small change will go unnoticed by most Pokemon players, but makes a huge difference in competitive play.  The fact that Pokemon like Politoed and Hippowdon need to spend a move slot and one out of every five turns to keep their preferred weather in effect means adverse weather is far easier to overcome than it has been in the past.

Sleep and Paralysis

Speaking of minor changes, adjustments have been made to status conditions which have large ramifications on the metagame.  For one thing, Electric type Pokemon can not be paralyzed ever, which allows Electric type Pokemon to keep the speed that they typically rely on in all circumstances.  This also means that Electric Pokemon are free to switch in you predict that your opponent will use Thunder Wave.  On a similar note, Grass type Pokemon now resist the move Spore, which helps to keep Pokemon like Breloom in check, as well as Poison Powder, Stun Spore, and Sleep Powder.

On a somewhat related note, Steel types have been weakened considerably, as they no longer resist dark type or ghost type moves.  This will certainly make life a bit tougher for Pokemon like Jirachi and Metagross.  Taking away two resistances makes it harder for Steel type Pokemon to switch in, and it makes it harder for them to survive and stall.

Pokemon Amie

Pokemon Amie is a change that is more geared towards single player gaming than multiplayer, but is still worth mentioning.  Pokemon Amie lets you pet, feed, and play minigames with Pokemon.  The feature is similar to the Dream Eater raising feature from Kingdom Hearts Dream Drop Distance.  Using Pokemon Amie will make your Pokemon like you more, and will have various effects in battle such as allowing your Pokemon to survive a hit that should have knocked it out, or boosting exp.  There isn’t much to Pokemon Amie, but it’s a fun little feature.

Online

One of the bigger changes to Pokemon is its new online capabilities.  When you activate the PSS (Player Search System) you’ll see a swarm of faces on the bottom screen of your 3DS, each of which represent players who are online.  You will be able to see friends, acquaintances (people you’ve interacted with recently), and random people.  From this menu, you can easily challenge players to battles, trade with others, or just check out other players progress and stats.

The process is far more seamless than it was in Pokemon Black and White 2.  At any time, unless you’re engaged in a battle, you can pull up the PSS and challenge anyone you wish to a battle, offer a trade, go to the global trade station, and so on.  Likewise, you can be challenged to a Pokemon battle at any time as long as you have the PSS open.  This means no more backtracking, heading to a Pokemon Center, or otherwise interrupting your single player quest to have a few battles.

Despite these changes, your options are still frustratingly limited in many ways.  For some bizarre reason, I can only select between a few predetermined rulesets when challenging a random player.  If I want to have a 6 on 6 Pokemon Battle with no legendary Pokemon, I’m out of luck.  While the new PSS system is a huge step in the right direction, there are still some frustratingly arbitrary restrictions.

Story

Although I wanted to focus on the more competitive aspect of Pokemon, I suppose I have to touch on the story.  Frankly, it’s weak, even for a Pokemon game.  Coming off the surprisingly decent story of Pokemon Black and White 2, X and Y’s story is a bit of a letdown.  The game’s main villains are Team Flare, who want to destroy most of the world and Pokemon for… some reason.  Team Flare’s motivation is just that they think the world is a rotten place and people are awful.  I can relate to this sentiment, but it doesn’t make for a compelling antagonist.  Team Flare exists simply because this is a Pokemon game and there needs to be some sort of evil Team.

In addition to the antagonistic Team Flare, there are a group of friendly NPCs to interact with your character on his journey.  Pokemon X and Y has a larger supporting cast than previous games, but each character has exactly one personality trait worth noting.  Tierno likes to dance, Serena always wants to battle you, Shauna acts like a ditz, and so on.

In short, if you’re looking for an epic and unforgettable story, then you’ve come to the wrong game.  Of course, if you’re a longtime fan of the series, you probably knew that going in.  Still, Pokemon White and Black 1 and 2 each showed that the franchise is capable of better stories than what we see in Pokemon X.A

The Verdict

Do you remember when people were sure that Pokemon would be a fad and would be a distant memory long before it reached the 5 year mark?  Well, that wasn’t exactly the case.  The Pokemon franchise has lasted a long time, and has earned legions of devoted fans who have dug as far into the game as possible.  These fans who have stuck with Pokemon throughout the years and fallen in love with the formula will find a great sequel in Pokemon X.  Gamefreak has added a slew of new features, too many to cover in this review.  Some of these features are impossible to miss features that have a huge and immediate impact, and others are smart and subtle features that only the most ardent fans will appreciate.  Pokemon X/Y isn’t a revolution in the Pokemon franchise, but it does exactly what a sequel should by updating the classic formula with well thought out additions.  If you’re a fan of the franchise, there is no reason to miss out on the latest adventure.

Final Score: 4.2 out of 5

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