If there’s one thing Nintendo should be commended for its the strength of their exclusive franchises. From The Legend of Zelda to Super Smash Bros to Mario Kart and beyond, Nintendo almost always seems to find a way to modernise these flagship series’ without losing their retro, nostalgic appeal. However there are exceptions to every rule and up until now the long running Pokémon series has been a prime example. Sticking firmly with many of the aspects of the franchises debut titles from 1996, it could be argued that the series had begun to stagnate a little in recent times, with new Pokémon and some adapted features being somewhat overshadowed by similar game mechanics and outdated elements from the older entries. However, luckily for both newcomers and long term fans, Pokémon X/Y is the evolution that the series has been levelling up towards.
Right from the offset it is clear that developer Game Freak has listened to the criticisms of the old formula here. Gone is the long opening chapters and convoluted dialogue, instead replaced with a streamlined and slick opening act that sees you not only attain your starting Pokémon but also your first Gym Badge and a mode of transportation within an hour of play. This faster pacing is not only a welcome change for long term fans but also for newcomers to the series who are in no danger of feeling overwhelmed here.
However, it’s not just the pacing that has been overhauled in X/Y. Almost every aspect of this latest entry has been rebooted or refreshed from the original formula. Of course the basic structure is the same as ever. You catch Pokémon, level them up in turn based combat and use them to win battles and eventually Gym Badges in order to progress. But nestled comfortably in between the series’ staple, JRPG underpinning are many new features and refreshing changes that only serve to improve the experience.
At the forefront of these changes is the new Mega-Evolution system. This allows certain Pokémon to take on new, more powerful forms during battle, adding yet another layer to the already incredibly deep battle system. The addition of a new Pokémon type (Fairy) as well as the new, stat boosting mini games (Super Training) augment this even further, allowing X/Y to boast the most in depth combat system of all the entries in the series to date. These are just a few examples of the many new additions on show here and all should be commended for only improving the overall experience.
For many long term fans however, the most obvious change here will be the games new and much improved aesthetics. Pokémon X/Y is by far the best looking game in the series thus far, balancing increased camera movements and fully rendered areas perfectly with a vibrant colour palette. This level of high quality re-design can also be seen in the games sound and music. Pokémon now all have different sounds for their deployment and defeat and the games score is possibly the best in the series’ history. When it comes down to it the mini games, exploration and Pokémon Battles have never looked or sounded this good and Game Freak should be commended for a great update to a sturdy but somewhat outdated system.
However, despite all the improvement to the games visuals, there is a strong lack of 3D focus in Pokémon X/Y. Some of the games cut scenes and all of its battles can display in 3D, however the majority of the game does not share this feature. For many this won’t matter however it is interesting to consider Nintendo’s motivations for this. It is no coincidence that this latest addition to the long running flagship franchise was launched on the same day as Nintendo’s new 2DS and one has to wonder if this will signal a less 3D focused design strategy in Nintendo’s future. Nevertheless, interesting observations aside, the lack of 3D in the games majority is in no way a negative feature here and it is clear that it was not a focus in the games design or creation.
One thing that has fallen a little flat however in X/Y is the story. Despite the series never really setting the world on fire with its narrative prowess, there are some ideas here that could have blossomed into much more had the same level of redesign been applied from other areas of the game to its story. The tale will be familiar to any Pokémon fan. You are given a starter Pokémon and sent out into the world as normal, however this time you are accompanied (at least in part) by a group of friends. Unfortunately this idea of camaraderie and exposition never gets past the level of a tutorial device which is a real shame as many characters introduced here could have shown other dimensions if more time had been spent on the narrative. However, for the most part Pokémon has always been about other things and it that in turn means that this flaw is actually much more inconsequential than it initially appears.
Another major aspect that has kept fans returning to this series is the multiplayer and this is once again something that has been improved a great deal with X/Y. Not only are you able to battle and trade wirelessly as per normal, you are also now able to buff other players to increase aspects of their game or stats. This coupled with the new 6v6 addition to the random battle system makes X/Y the most complete online Pokémon experience so far, adding almost limitless replay value to the package.
But for all the massive improvements and overhauls, it is possibly the little things that make Pokémon X/Y such a special and personal experience. Taking inspiration from the likes of Animal Crossing, players are now able to change the look of their trainer with new haircuts and clothes as well as a larger opening level of customisation. The new Amie System also allows players to interact directly with their Pokémon, as if they were actual pets. Although small and possibly completely inconsequential to the hardcore fan base, these minor additions should not be underestimated when it comes to gauging the games appeal. In the end they can always be ignored for those not interested but for some these personal touches are just what the franchise may have needed to keep them immersed.
Pokémon X/Y is the evolution that this series so desperately needed. Gone are many of the outdated ideas and elements that have marred the series’ progression in recent times making it feel like a leap rather than a step in the right direction.