Pokéémon X/Y is the first game in the series that I’ve played in a long time, so it’s something of a relief that it’s a great jumping-on point.
Having spent the last three years living in Japan, if there is one thing you do not want to do in Japanese, it’s play Pokémon. However, now that I’m back in merry ol’ England, I have returned to being the very best, that no one ever was, starting with one half of the new dichotomy, Pokémon Y.
Now that you have the theme tune from the animated series stuck in your head, I must admit that not having played anything in this franchise since Pokemon Sapphire. I was a little worried that I may have been diving in at the deep end and drowning in Pokemon I neither knew nor cared about. I’m pleased to say that I was wrong.
The new games (Pokémon X and Pokémon Y) feature 171 new Pokémon to catch between them, in addition to most of the ones you could catch in the previous games. There are a couple of hundred which you cannot find on the island of Kalos, but with the addition of the PokeBank next month, catching them all in one game will be a lot easier, as you can move your missing monsters from previous generations into your latest edition. On top of this, you no longer need to physically catch a monster to have it ticked off on your Pokedex, as long as you have encountered it, the Professor will take note.
Truth be told, I don’t like the new Pokedex at all. It was a little irritating at first, being handed a new Pokedex and being told that #1 is not Bulbasaur; but this was only the beginning. The new Regional Pokedex is split into three, the Central, Coastal and Mountain Pokedexes. Each pokedex represents one of the three areas of Kalos where you can catch specific types of Pokémon. At one point in the game you do get the National Pokedex, but you can never compile the three previous Pokedexes into one singular Kalos Pokedex, and this annoyed me. It just feels sloppy, as if a game is about catching and collecting new Pokémon, you would expect there to be one place you can look at all of your new monsters, without cycling through every monster since 1996. This however, is probably my biggest complaint with the game, and having spent a good 80 hours playing, I can certainly guarantee that it is a worth your time in a world where most games cost £50 and only lasts about 12 hours.
There have been a few changes to the battle system since my last stint in the Pokémon universe, with two improvements standing out in particular. First up is the mega-evolutions, which Nintendo promised would “change the way we battle”. The idea here is that you raise specific Pokémon to their highest evolution, and make them hold a specific item. Let’s take Mewtwo as an example; you make it hold the item Mewtwonite before going into battle and go looking for a fight. The battle starts, and you have your usual options of attack, use item etc., but you now get a magical 5th option. You activate your magic bracelet and Mewtwo evolves mid-battle into Frieza from Dragon Ball Z (or a very suspiciously close looking relative), doing a lot more damage with each attack. Generally speaking, you dominate the battle with this overpowered beast, and the battle ends with your Mega-Mewtwo devolving back into Mewtwo. This is certainly an interesting feature, but it does not change the way you battle in the main game. What I did was make my Charizard hold Charizardite and flambé anything which made it look like I might lose a battle. 80 hours in and I have not lost a single fight. In online battles, this feels a lot less like cheating as there is a good chance that your opponent is thinking the same as you, but what the hell – watching Charizard become a Mega-Charizard is still fun. Some of the mega-evolutions are a little weird, though. I can’t say I will ever see the point in a Mega-Absol, personally…
Our second battle-changer is that in a constant effort to balance the game, the Dragon Type has been nerfed and been given a new weakness: Fairy Type. Admittedly it feels like simply an excuse to add a range of new Fairy Pokemon added to the roster, but we do see old favorites like Jigglypuff make a comeback with a real attack bonus when taking on some of the more daunting looking monsters. You’ve probably guessed it by now, but Eevee gets an eighth evolution, a fairy type called Sylveon, which you get by evolving Eevee with maximum “Like” rating.
This brings us to another new feature: your 3DS is now a Poke-Tamagochi where you use the touch screen to stroke, feed and play mini-games with your monsters. The idea is simple enough – play with your monster to get food, and then feed it until it likes you and wants to play some more. The bonus here is that if your Pokemon is about to faint, it will cling onto dear life, because it wants you to be proud of it. Likewise, if it gets burnt or paralysed, it can shrug off the ailment in the spirit of hard work. It was a cute little addition, but to be honest it was so boring raising them like this that after about 20 minutes I gave my console to my little sister and got her to do it in my stead. The other new way to train your monsters on the touch screen is a really lackluster tool called Super Training. These mini-games, which you can play to raise the attack, defence etc., of your monsters is so boring that I couldn’t even bring myself to ask my sister to do it for me – it felt far too like the development team were trying too hard to make use of the tech.
It’s not all Houndoom and Gloom – the amount of post-game content and support is staggering. Having beat the infamous Pokemon League, certain aspects of the game open up to you. You gain access new areas, take part in new competitions, and catch new Pokemon such as the aforementioned fan-favourite Mewtwo (conviently holding the aforementioned Mewtwonite). Not only does the game receive bug-fixes when things break (such as the infamous game-destroying bug at release where saving outside the capital, Luminoise City, broke your game), but there is free DLC which you can get if you keep your eyes open and pay attention. There is a feature in this game before you load your save file called “Mystery Gift”. If you got your gift before Christmas you got a free Torchic with the item Blazikenite, which made the game very easy. It seems that if you access the PokeBank before September 2014, you also get a free Celebi, even if you just go for the free trial. There haven’t been any announcements about the next mystery gift, but I’ll be sure to let you know when I know.
The thing I liked most about this game, to be honest, was the triple-battles. Like the double-battles of old, you can now pit three of your monsters against three of the opponents, and have them attack whichever you choose. This added far more tactical thought than the mega-evolutions or fairy type did, on my part, as your monsters will take more or less damage depending on what they are attacked by. You need to be wary though, as some of your attacks like Surf will attack all Pokemon on the screen… It’s all fair and well having a Lv 100 Mega-Blaziken out, but when the Lv 100 Blastoise next to him uses Surf, your Mega-Blaziken is going back to the Pokeball with 0HP. This battle system is taken one step further in the rotation-battle system, where once again you pit three on three, but only one Pokemon can attack or be attacked, depending on which one you rotate to the front. The best fights in the game were done like this, and sadly they were all done via an online battle. It was a real shame to see this mechanic laid to waste, as even the triple battle is rarely used.
All in all, Pokémon X/Y is another strong entry to the series. It is by no means my favorite in the franchise (I finished Pokémon Sapphire in 16 hours on my last speed play), but I’ve been playing these since 1996 [Editor’s Note: Dear lord, that makes me feel old]. While it doesn’t revolutionize the series, it remains firmly traditional, there are enough nips, tucks and additions to the gameplay that it holds your attention even if you’re a series veteran. It is certainly worth a look is you like RPGs, or games where you can simply collect stuff. Now I’m going to go buy Black/White and Black/White 2 so I can finally finish my collection!