It’s hard to know where to begin when discussing the heralded arrival of Pokémon X and Pokémon Y. In the nine months that have lead to the game’s worldwide launch, we’ve learned so much beyond that which was shown in the early footage that had graced January’s Nintendo Direct.
Pokémon fans have since pored over every emerging detail, whether that be the new Kalos region itself, the interactive Pokémon Amie, Sky Battles and Horde Encounters, or the introduction of Fairy-type Pokémon. Whilst leaks soon threatened to derail Nintendo’s otherwise successful global marketing drive, the excitement still resulted in more than four million copies being sold in just two days.
That success is entirely deserved, but the uninitiated may still be left wondering what the fuss has all been about, especially for a series that has largely been treading the same water for the past seventeen years.
It begins as we’ve come to expect, with Kalos region Pokémon professor Augustine Sycamore welcoming you to the world of Pokemon, describing the importance that the creatures have on our daily lives, and asking reasonably forward questions such as “Are you a boy? Or are you a girl?”
Awkward introductions aside, an aspect the series has never excelled at, we initially witness a wondrously animated Fletchling as it flutters through your home to wake your character up by head-butting them, which isn’t standard Pokémon behaviour we can assure you.
Your character recently moved to Vaniville Town with your Mum, a renowned Rhyhorn racing champion, and along with your newfound group of friends – Serena, Shauna, Tierno and Trevor – becomes the unlikely candidate chosen to travel the region to fill the digital pages of your Pokédex, as well as to train towards conquering the Pokémon League. It’s the well-trodden Pokémon formula right down to a tee, but with an entirely new area to explore, and new creatures to discover, it feels just as exciting as it ever has.
You’ll have the always tricky early choice between the three new starter Pokémon, Chespin, Fennekin and Froakie, who are Grass, Fire and Water-types respectively, with your neighbour, and rival, Serena selecting whichever is strongest against your selection. After which, the early portion of the game covers the basics as you nervously begin your journey along Route 1 and beyond, initially looking to learn more from Sycamore about your task in the capital, Lumiose City.
That Sycamore greets you with the additional choice of selecting between original starters Bulbasaur, Charmander and Squirtle seems unbalanced in allowing you to easily cover the weakness of your Kalos region starter, yet neatly tugs at the nostalgic for those who have stuck with the series since its conception. This is further exemplified by the countless Red and Blue critters that you’ll meet in the grassy wilds.
Much of Pokémon X and Pokémon Y’s narrative stems from investigating the mysteries surrounding Mega Evolution, a new mechanic that sees specific Pokémon capable of temporarily evolving during battle into more powerful forms. It is known that the most important element for these are the trust between a trainer and their Pokémon, as well as requiring a Mega Stone and Mega Ring.
This broader plot device finds itself neatly tied to fashion conscious antagonists Team Flare, who are lead by Lysandre and seek to build a brighter future for the region. Such goals hide their true intention which emerges later on, yet still fails to provide enough of an impulse to drive you through the entirety of the game. After the engaging mystery behind Pokémon Black and Pokémon White’s N, it’s certainly a disappointment.
Thankfully, everything else falls in place relatively well. This sixth generation will largely be celebrated for marking the shift away from the sprite-dependency of previous iterations, now replaced by resplendent 3D animated models that more closely resemble the critters we fell in love with through the anime films and series. Their cries, Pikachu aside, would still benefit from being less digitised soundbytes, but there’s a lot of concentrated effort on display here.
Battles themselves are more visually engaging, a whir of blistering attacks that see you look to KO your opponent as quickly as possible. Those troubled by endless level grinding will rejoice that the Exp. Share item now aids all those in your current team, rather than whichever Pokémon was holding it as before, whereas purists have the option to turn it off entirely. Whilst the early provision of roller skates and a Bicycle expedite your traversal of the colourful lands that await you.
There are so many intricate touches that accentuate the quality of the experience throughout: photo spots where Phil the Photo Guy snaps you at memorable locations, Poké Miles reward you for your time spent travelling, Super and Core Training which increase a Pokémon’s base statistics, whilst boutiques and salons expand upon the newly introduced character customisation. Pokémon Amie feels a little more trivial in approach, but younger players will surely be transfixed by their beloved Pokémon responding to their affectionate interaction.
It is the new Player Search System (PSS) that easily becomes Pokémon X and Pokémon Y’s greatest asset, helping you locate players nearby that are similarly sinking time into Game Freak’s creation. This regularly flickers, displaying player icons Friends that are registered on your 3DS, Acquaintances who you may have traded with or battled, and the hundreds listed under Passersby which is perhaps the more random of the three categories.
Such tool allows you to perform Wonder Trades where you send a Pokémon to a random player with no clue as to what you’ll get in return, access the Global Trade System, enter Battle Spot to go up against players worldwide, and activate O-Powers which grant temporary bonuses either to your own party or a friends – be that discounting Poké Mart prices, increasing the chance of catching Pokémon, or restoring HP or PP.
It’s a game changer, with this social interactivity immediately making you feel globally connected with other wannabe Pokémon Trainers, allowing you to battle, trade, or aid one another at a mere whim.
Grandiose they may be, issues that have hampered the series still persist. One save file per cart belies families whose children may share a single cart, whereas endless menu screens become a laborious exercise whether you’re looking to use a Parlyz Heal or upgrade your Pokémon’s moveset with a TM. The adoption of 3D visuals also signals the appearance of framerate problems which rear their ugly head during battles – mainly seeming to occur when any flying Pokémon, feverishly flapping their wings, is in use.
And yet Pokémon X and Y’s journey is just starting. December will mark the arrival of the Pokémon Bank and Poké Transporter tools, whilst the ever evolving Pokémon Global Link is now live to expand upon player’s enjoyment of the games.