Oct 16, 2013

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Pokémon X/Y Review

Pokémon X/Y Review

Pokemon-X-Y-LogoWhen I finally looked away from my 3DS and took a break from the French-inspired land of Kalos, I was stunned to see that the sun had disappeared outside my window. Startled, I reached for my phone and was stunned to see that I had been playing my copy of Pokémon X for 8 straight hours. Without a doubt, developer Game Freak has crafted a phenomenal installment in the 17-year old franchise, one that lovingly embraces longtime fans while boldly bringing the series into the future. Pokémon X/Y is as much a well-crafted role playing experience as it is stunningly inclusive. And, in terms of its wonderful level of connectivity, Pokémon X/Y is Dark Souls for all ages.

After five successful generations of complementary Pokémon titles, each book-ended with a third version – Yellow, Platinum, Emerald, etc – developer Game Freak was faced with the tremendous task of making a franchise feel fresh after 15 installments. Their decision to take advantage of the Nintendo 3DS and bring the RPG series to new life and three dimensions paid off. Pokemon X/Y is an absolutely gorgeous game, pushing the 3DS to its limits. From the moment the enigmatic Professor Sycamore introduces himself, it’s impossible for longtime fans not to feel like kids again experiencing Pokémon for the very first time.

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The world feels alive, and Game Freak takes full advantage of the graphical boost, with sweeping camera angles giving cutscenes, battles, and exploration a cinematic flair. Pokemon in battle move and twitch and blink and animate with far more detail than you’d expect would be given to a roster of over 700. Flying Pokémon flex their wings and hover elegantly, while bizarre creatures like Mr. Mime and Klefki each have their own idiosyncratic movements during the battle. Mega-Evolutions, essentially a new, temporary mid-battle strength boost, turn already impressive Pokémon like Charizard into extremely imposing powerhouses through a brief, vibrant transformation sequence that frankly never grows old. The attention given to each of them extends to the environments as well. The very first route outside the starting village is highlighted by an amazing camera pan behind your character as trees rush by and the town beyond gets closer and closer. The 3D effect is used quite effectively here and throughout, drawing you in without screaming for attention.

Much praise needs to given to the environments and new cities, each of which look fairly stunning, especially on a 3DS XL. The region’s largest and grandest city, Lumoise, stands out significantly, with its looming tower in the center and the many cafes and shops drawing immediate comparisons to the Eiffel Tower and Paris in general. Even caves, often a bit of a Zubat-infested slog in previous titles, are often presented in unique ways. One is filled with mirrors that allow other trainers to challenge you via reflection. Another is navigated entirely from an over-the-shoulder point of view, lending its exploration an exciting sense of dread and tension I’ve never felt in a Pokémon game before. The game makes quite a few bold graphical flairs – and succeeds in mostly all of them – but occasionally ends up taxing the hardware a bit. Slowdown occurs from time to time. Though it’s never very extreme, it is noticeable and a bit regrettably frequent. Nonetheless, the sights, aided by a far more grand and bombastic soundtrack than ever before, propel you forward.

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And yet, there’s so much to discuss beyond the graphics and sound. Pokémon X/Y has almost too much content to offer the player, and thus tends to zoom through the rather simplistic narrative. You begin, as ever, waking up after recently moving to a new town. You meet four new friends and rivals, receive one of three starter Pokémon, and set out to be the very best, the best that ever was. And of course, there’s a new criminal syndication to battle, made up of a ton of amusingly incompetent grunts and their flamboyant leader. That hasn’t changed and, in spite of the slight disappointment that Game Freak couldn’t add a plot twist or two to the narrative formula, it’s hard not to be strangely comforted by the familiarity of it all. Ultimately, the story is just a means for the player to be introduced to all the cool new things they’ll be doing long after the 30-40 hours it’ll take to beat the Elite Four. And, thanks to the incredibly natural MMO elements of the title, there will certainly be no shortage of things to do.

Earlier I compared Pokémon X/Y to Dark Souls, and while this installment is nowhere near as bleak or brutally difficult, it is undoubtedly just as well-connected. There’s a degree of persistence, and a level of connectivity you really only see in most MMOs that permeates every aspect of the game. From the second you begin your adventure, you’re given the choice of gender for your avatar, and – as a series first – the choice of three basic skin colors. This is merely scratching the surface of the game’s much-welcomed embracing of customization. Game Freak smartly realized how personal these Pokémon journeys can be, and has given the players a stunning amount of clothes, hats, haircuts, and all manner of accessories to deck their characters out in. For the first time ever, your trainer is a completely unique person in this game world, an individual Pokémon trainer. It’s a phenomenal, incredibly satisfying bit of wish-fulfillment. Of course, all the customization in the world would be meaningless if there weren’t others to share your Pokémon and your styles with. Pokémon X/Y does not disappoint.

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The above screen of the 3DS is taken up by a number of apps. One is Super Training, allowing players to boost the stats of their Pokemon with oddly fun mini-games. The other is Pokémon Amie, a Nintendogs-like experience that allows you pet and play with your Pokémon via the stylus. The final – and by far the most interesting feature – is the Player Search System. Once you turn it on and connect to the Internet, you suddenly become connected to anyone else in the world with a Wi-Fi connection. 3DS friends you’ve already made get their own section, while strangers, labeled as either Passerby or Acquaintances can be found on a row of their own. It’s an amazing feeling to see players from the Netherlands, Japan, and the United Kingdom endlessly scroll by, and to know that all you have to do is tap their avatar to instantly trade, battle, or interact. The incredible simplicity of the system is perfect for the Pokemon universe and effectively guarantees your journey in Kalos will never be a lonely one as long as you have a Wi-Fi connection.

Pokémon X/Y is an absolute must-buy. Game Freak has crafted a wonderfully immersive, imaginative installment that breathes new life into the franchise. The game smartly walks the line between nostalgia and innovation, rarely ever slipping too far to one side. The few faults in its armor have more to do with overreaching and pushing the system’s limits  rather than poor design. But even the slowdown and a handful of somewhat uninspired Pokémon designs do little to diminish its successes. Pokémon X/Y is a near perfect romp into an endlessly fun new land you’ll share with hundreds of thousands of fans as you each spend countless hours trying to catch them all. Just make sure you warn your friends and family that you’ll be occupied for the foreseeable future.

Pokemon X/ Y
Platform: 3DS
Genre: RPG
Release Date: October 12, 2013
Developer: Game Freak
Publisher: Nintendo
ESRB Rating: E for Everyone
MSRP: $39.99


9.5