"X and Y are the Pokémon games we could only have dreamed of in our childhood."
It seems like only yesterday that I was huddled under the blankets with a flashlight and my Game Boy Pocket, trying to put an end to my obnoxious rival's reign of terror as the Pokémon champion in Pokémon Blue, but as incredible as it may seem, it's been almost two decades and eighteen main series entries since the release of the original Red and Blue version Pokémon games stateside. Familiarity breeds contempt, as the old saying goes, and despite the changes Game Freak has made upon the Pokémon formula, Pokémon Black 2 and White 2 bored me nearly to tears last year. So much so that I was barely able to get past the first gym before other, more interesting games wrestled away my attention from my 17-year marathon with the Pokémon franchise. It seemed like I had finally reached a point in my life where I was too old for Pokémon.
Oh, how things change in one short year.
To say that Pokémon X and Y is a sequel to last year's entry is like saying Super Mario 64 was a sequel to Super Mario World. It is such a leap forward from previous entries and breathes so much new life into the series that to call it a sequel would be to downplay the improvements present in the game and do a disservice to the amount of work Game Freaks put into polishing this game to a perfect sheen. To longtime series fans, X and Y are the Pokémon games we could only have dreamed of in our childhood, while also being one of the best entry points to the Pokémon franchise for newcomers.
The story begins as any Pokémon game does, with the player character in their room, getting ready to leave on their journey to be a Pokémon master. The player meets with his or her friends and rivals before choosing one of the three starter Pokémon, after which all five of them set off on their journey. Each of the player's rival has a different reason for traveling, whether it's to catalog every Pokémon in the new Kalos region or to become the best trainer in the world. Eventually the story takes a detour into the standard evil organization plotline, which has some pretty dark elements for a game aimed at ten-year-old children.
The most obvious changes are to the aesthetics; X and Y are the first Pokémon games in full 3D, and it's obvious to see that Nintendo didn't want to make a haphazard foray into 3D graphics like many other developers did for the last generation consoles. The graphics in X and Y are excellent — static Pokémon sprites that barely react during attacks are a thing of the past, as all of the Pokémon and their attacks are now rendered and animated in impressive detail. This detail extends to the player character as well — while the player can only choose from preselected templates at the start of the game, options such as clothing stores, beauty salons, and more are made available to the player eventually, allowing for a simple but impressively robust customization for the player character. Aspects such as skin tone and eye color being changeable is very much appreciated, and players who are tired of the binary character selection of previous games will find a lot to like about this game.
The sound is much improved as well. Not just the music, which is some of the best I've heard from the series since the original games, but also small details like the Pokémon cries and attack sound effects. Those sound effects don't seem like much at first, but I found myself missing them when I went back and played White 2. Pikachu fans will also be pleased to find that the electric rat is fully voiced in the game, while everyone else will just be disappointed that the other 717 Pokémon are not voiced. Alas, maybe next time.
X and Y land right in the comfort zone of longtime players, maintaining the methodical turn-based battling of games past. Players can catch and train Pokémon to create their team of six, and most battles are one-on-one affairs that end when one side loses all of their Pokémon. Sometimes there are double and triple battles where matches become two-on-two or three-on-three, but in the single player game, they're not much different from the usual battles. X and Y add two additional battle types to the mix: sky battles, in which only flying-type Pokémon can participate, and horde battles, where players pit one of their Pokémon against a group of five.
The most important and long-lasting changes, however, are under the hood. Newcomers can feel at home learning the ropes with a battle system that's simple to understand and easy to pick up and play, while more serious minded gamers can appreciate the efforts Nintendo has made to streamline the more complex and obscure elements of the game, as well as the new changes that come with a new generation of Pokémon titles that balance the in-game battling environment.
Chief among these changes is the addition of a new Pokémon type: fairy. This is the first new typing to be added into the franchise since the original Gold and Silver on the Game Boy Color. This was done mainly to curb the overpowering might of dragon-types, which had been dominating the metagame of previous generations. However, the fairy type seems like a mere afterthought in comparison to the steel and dark typings that were added 13 years ago. Only a handful of Pokémon are fairy-type, and there are only around ten fairy-type attacks, half of which are status attacks that don't do any damage. Regardless, a new type is a welcome addition to the Pokémon formula that is sure to help keep the balance of the game in check. Other changes, such as resistance/weakness modifications (most importantly steel not being strong against ghost and dark type attacks) and fourth-level Mega Evolutions for earlier Pokémon that bring them up to become credible threats against some of the later powerhouses will have a rather profound effect on the battling scene. Veterans of the franchise will have plenty of things to catch up on and adjust to when playing X and Y.
It wouldn't be a Pokémon game without some mini-games, and X and Y include two; Pokémon Amie, a Nintendogs-esque activity simulator that lets the player interact with the Pokémon in his or her team by giving them treats, petting them, and playing games with them. At least one Pokémon requires some time spent bonding in Amie to evolve, so players who want said Pokémon on their team, or just to complete their Pokédex, will need to spend the requisite amount of time on the minigame. The second is a much more important addition: Super Training, which allows players to train their Pokémon in specific stats. Stat training has been a known concept in the competitive battling metagame for a long time now, but with the addition of Super Training, even casual players can train their Pokémon efficiently instead of going through the trouble and tedium of doing the research online and doing mind-numbing training on wild Pokémon. Super Training also provides difficult to find items as rewards, so it's very much worth the time and effort spent.
Pokémon X and Y have a completely overhauled online environment as well. Gone are the days of cumbersome in-game friend codes and Pokémon Center gates. Instead, the game employs a very user friendly online system that draws from the 3DS friend list. In addition, there are also random matchups and trainers that the player can interact with online, so the game's lifespan will far exceed its 25-hour story. The fact that the 3DS friend list can affect certain features in the game is just icing on the cake.
With Pokémon X and Y, Nintendo may have become their worst enemy; they've outdone themselves so much that it's difficult to see how the series could get any better. Pokémon was always a series that was friendly for both casual and hardcore players, but Nintendo has done a lot with this entry to simplify and streamline an incredibly complex battle system while also cleaning up some difficult to understand concepts and game mechanics. The addition of a new type and some balancing of others are also welcome changes to the formula. If ever there was a time to start getting into Pokémon, now would be it.