By now we are all familiar with the cycle Nintendo has created for their franchises, but with Pokémon in particular the pattern has been set in stone since Gold and Silver. While generation 6 comes with the usual array of expected features, including 63 new Pokémon, the last thing you could describe it as is predictable. Nintendo and Game Freak have clearly put a lot of effort into ensuring that this is the newest, greatest Pokémon yet and the results do not disappoint.
The first big change you will notice about Pokémon X and Y is the graphics. Game Freak have finally switched from using 2D sprites to fully rendered 3D models, complete with individual animations for different varieties of attack. The style is reminiscent of the acclaimed Pokémon Stadium and Coliseum games and just like those games the 3D extends to the game world also. However Game Freak decided to stick with the art style of previous generations instead of going for the more realistic look of its predecessors. The result is a beautiful and brilliantly realised world, with cel-shaded sprites and character models more akin to Capcom’s Okami then any previous Pokémon titles. The other major additions in X and Y are to the mechanics of battles. I am speaking, of course, about Mega Evolutions and the Fairy type. First things first: Mega Evolutions have caused quite a stir in the Pokémon community owing to the fact that they are quite unlike anything we have seen before and many were worried that they would break the delicate balance that is the meta-game with the over abundance of power. Now, while it is the case that the Mega Evolutions are very powerful, I am happy to report that the accounts of the meta-game’s death were greatly exaggerated.
Mega Evolution works is as follows: a limited number of Pokémon (28) are capable of Mega Evolving, and even then only if they are holding the correct ‘Megastone’ for their species (Examples include Mawilite for Mega Mawile, Venusaurite for Mega Venosaur and Gengarite for Mega Gengar), the Evolutions itself causes the usual form change but is accompanied by a really impressive looking animation complete with flash of light and roar from the Pokémon upon completion. Mega Evolution also changes the Pokémon’s base stats, usually making it vastly more powerful, as well as changing its ability and sometimes type too. However a Pokémon may only evolve during battle and once out of battle the Pokémon reverts to its previous stage. These two limitations lead to Mega-Evolutions actually being an interesting new challenge in battles, both to face and to master for yourself. Firstly the fact that you have to use up your hold item slot for the Megastone places a difficult question of whether to use it at all, for example a Choice Band held by Absol will give it far higher attack then its Mega Evolved counterpart. furthermore the type change that some Mega evolutions have brings with it new weakness which your enemy may exploit, this means even the question of whether to use Mega evolution when your Pokémon is holding the correct item becomes a tactical one. Mega Evolution then, brings a whole new, awesome looking tactical challenge to the Pokémon mechanics and gives the tired system a much needed shaking up.
Speaking of shaking things up, the other new addition to the mechanics, Fairy type, does that in spades. Marking the first introduction of a new type since the excellent Gold and Silver versions, Fairy brings with it an array of new Pokémon, attacks and most importantly strengths and weaknesses. For those who are unfamiliar (where have you been for the last decade?) Pokémon battles work with a delicate mix of rock/paper/scissors like matchup, with some types of attacks being strong against other types of Pokémon and vice versa. For the most part these are intuitive: fire beats grass but is overcome by water and so on. However some seem to make less sense (I’m looking at you Psychic type?). Fairy type is unfortunately in the latter camp, being strong against Fighting, Dark and Dragon and weak to Steel(?) and Poison. Naturally an equally large fallout to the Mega Evolution catastrophe in the Meta-game crowd after the announcements of Fairy’s strengths. Intellectual debate ensued with such gems as “Waah Fairies shouldn’t be able to defeat my big, strong dragon, Fairies are for girls!” and this video. But once you get past the less than stellar aesthetics of the type matchups you realise that they make perfect sense in terms of balance, and isn’t that what the meta-game is all about anyway? What I mean is that the types that Fairy is strong against are the types that needed to be weakened, they were overused, overpowered and the reverse is true of the types it is weak against. Poison was super effective against Grass only for 5 generations and most grass Pokémon are also poison type. Where is the justice in that? I’ll tell you: Fairy type is that justice, Fairy type is Poison’s retribution.
There are in fact so many new features that it would be impossible to get to them in one review (although that didn’t stop this guy trying) so I will give a brief rundown of the remaining few:
Trainer Customisation – Exactly as it sounds, you can finally change how you look. This extends to clothes, shoes, bags and hats as well as hair length and eye colour too. You can even get a haircut if you are so inclined.
PR Videos – A certain studio in Lumiose city (Poké-Paris) will allow you to make your own trainer PR video. This is a simple video creator which sees you utilising camera angles, animations, sound effects, captions and music to create the perfect summary of you as a trainer. These can then be shared online with whomever you choose.
Super Training – Remember when EV training meant hours of repetitive battles against particular Pokémon? Well not anymore (although you can still do that if you like, you masochist). Super training is a moderately amusing mini-game compilation that allows you to quickly train up your Pokemon’s effort values by having them compete in sport-like events. Like Poke Amie you can access it from the bottom screen at any time from the very beginning. What are effort values? For the uninitiated (I’m not being funny but have you been in hiding since the 1990s?) the game quickly elucidates you, telling you how effort values directly increase your Pokemon’s base stats.
Poke Amie – A fun, intuitive way of interacting with you Pokémon on a more personal level, accessible at any time, right from the beginning, from the bottom screen menu. Playing with your Pokémon increases their happiness stat so it has practical implications too. It is quite literally Nintendogs for Pokémon and I love it!
Horde Encounters: Like the double battle wild battles from the DS generations, only they happen when you are on your own and there are 5, low level Pokémon to deal with, not 2. Good luck, I hope you know Earthquake! To be honest they are more gimmicks then a good new addition, and serve little practical relevance.
Sky Battles – Or as I like to call them ‘stuck up flying trainers think they’re better than me battles.’ They can only be fought between Pokémon who are ‘able to fly in the sky’. This translates to a very specific list of mainly flying-type Pokémon who are legitimate entrants with all other Pokémon barred. Needless to say my Hawlucha was not on this elitist list, despite knowing the move ‘Fly’. I’m not bitter or anything. fortunately when using other boxed Pokémon it became apparent that Sky battles are gimmicks also, using one recycled background of green fields no matter how hard it may be snowing in the overworld. This smacks of cut content if you ask me and is a missed opportunity.
Experience Alterations – Experience points dictate the rate at which a Pokémon grows. In previous generations experience was garnered by defeating opponents in battle and was divided evenly among combatants. Now however things have changed. First of all catching a Pokémon now gives the same experience as defeating it, this is a brilliant way of rewarding to fill out their Pokédex faster than ever before and encouraging casual gamers and newcomers to give it a go. Another alteration however is my only major gripe with the game: experience is no longer divided between Pokémon. This means every Pokémon that enters battle gets the full amount of experience. The reason this is such a problem is that it encourages switching every Pokémon into battle before launching the first attack in order to maximise experience which flies in the face of the delicate, tactical battle system it is meant to be supporting.
About the only thing that hasn’t changed much is the story, you start in a small town in the Kalos region (loosely based on modern France) and are tasked by Professor Sycamore to go on a Pokémon journey and fill out the Pokédex along with your rival and you are also tasked once again with defeating the 8 gyms before moving on to the Elite Four. However even this formulaic story is given some surprising moments and bolstered with the addition of a few new ideas. Instead of 1 rival, you have 5, a group of friends from your home who all set out on the journey with different goals in mind. Trevor wishes to fill out the Pokedex, Shauna just wants to have an adventure and Tierno wants to create the perfect Pokemon dance troupe of all things! The only standard character is your friend Shauna/Calem (always the opposite of your gender as with previous rivals) who wants to defeat the 8 gyms and take on the league like you. Even this character is subtly different though as they have the prior relationship of friend and their rivalry with you is respectful and friendly as a result rather than angry or bitter like oh so many rivals before them (Gary Mother Flipping Oak). the only real let down is this gen’s Team obviously-the-bad-guys, Team Flare. Although they have an intriguing, culturally relevant goal, their leader wants to kill everyone except Team Flare in order to prevent war and overpopulation, the execution of the story is done horribly. You don’t bump into them until the 6th town and even then it is only grunts who don’t even give you so much as exposition. From then you run into them, very occasionally, until a moment after the 7th gym when suddenly the entire plot is rushed through in the space of an hour. I get what they were trying to do, leave nuggets of information for the player to guess at what was really going on but the eventual reveal is so far off base that you would have to be Mewtwo himself to have such Future Sight (see what I did there? Fine, no more puns). it really is a shame because the story elements are far better than usual and even incorporate the legendary in a not entirely stupid way so I wish they had put it together in a way that let it shine. Grumbles aside the story is serviceable despite this and even a great deal better than previous instalments with numerous cool ideas thrown in that even caught me by surprise a few times. Also for the first time in a Pokémon game, you are rewarded and recognised for saving the entire world with more than a pat on the back, and it feels great![tabgroup][tab title=”The Good“]Beautiful Cel-shaded graphics and 3D engine revolutionise the way Pokémon looks
Mega Evolutions and Fairy type add a much needed new tactical layer to the battle system
New features add variety and maximise the time you spend playing and ending grinding for good
[/tab][tab title=”The Bad“]Story is much better than previous games, but sloppily executed in areas
Differences in experience accrual encourage endlessly switching Pokémon
Is such an improvement that it instantly makes every previous Pokémon game unplayable