We’ve seen a lot of Pokemon games come and go in the last 16 years, but most of them haven’t been as drastically different as their predecessors. Alongside of the sprite based models and the 8-bit tunes, most Pokemon games tend to feel the same, for better or for worse. But Pokemon X and Y is the first to real attempt to move away from sprites in favor of fully 3D models, with an orchestral soundtrack and a few other major changes in tow.
Although it may have a few minor technical missteps along the way, Pokemon X & Y shakes up the franchise mostly for the better.
For those of you who haven’t played a Pokemon game in ages, this one is designed with you in mind. There’s no lengthy intro, or steep learning curve involved — it’s all pretty much a brand new experience like the first time you ever picked up Red or Blue. There’s a massive amount of streamlining initially, in a good way. For instance, you’ll get your first Pokemon in a matter of minutes, plenty of tools to capture some pretty great starting Pokemon with a ton of variety, and you’ll have your first Gym badge in less than an hour. After your first conquest you’ll be graced with the brand new Experience Share item, which is vastly improved from past entries, and allows you to level up all of your active Pokemon with ease.
In case you couldn’t tell, the game is still about catching creatures at its core. You’re still going to trek through eight gyms, besting each one, and tackling the Elite Four with its Champion at the end. Along the way you can catch 454 Pokemon indigenous to the Kalos region, which consists mostly of old Pokemon from the first to the fifth generations. It’s still as fun and addictive as ever, but this time, it has the new 3D sheen that almost makes it feel like a completely different franchise.
Through the new polygonal lens, I was able to see familiar faces and creatures in a brand new way, but with the same rock-solid gameplay as before. X and Y‘s new orchestral soundtrack is probably my favorite to date. It ranges from remixes of old tunes, to familiar sounding remastered 8-bit tracks, to completely new music that almost feels like it’s not even Pokemon related. But that’s a good thing, as the new tracks are unique in their own way, and do a good job of forging a completely new identity for the franchise.
The aforementioned missteps that are made in X and Y don’t really hinder the experience in a massive way, but they are there. For starters, I hope you don’t like 3D, because the game’s framerate is absolutely crippled with the 3D slider on — not to mention that many parts of the game don’t even feature 3D, which is a huge shame. For all of its advancements of streamlining, making the player feel more welcome and at ease, the HM system remains as limiting as ever. Considering how many options the game allows you for customization, it’s strange that Game Freak would still impose forced abilities on you.
There also isn’t a whole lot of new Pokemon — only 69, in fact. This is a major step down from Black and White, which was mostly a brand new endeavor in terms of the creature roster, but the good thing about X and Y is that it makes all of the original 649 feel fresh — for instance, there’s nothing more awesome than watching Mr. Mime try to constantly get himself out an invisible box. For animations like that, I’ll take polygons over sprites any day.
Besides the lengthy and satisfying questline, there’s also online battles to partake in, as well as the massive trading community, clothes shopping, picture taking, Super Training, Pokemon Aime, and plenty of post-game content to explore. Although the post-game isn’t nearly as satisfying as past games (massive surprises like replaying the entire game in the Kanto region immediately come to mind), the robust online components, and the vastly improved GTS (Global Trade Station) more than make up for it. Small additions like Sky Battles, Horde Encounters, and riding Pokemon are very small distractions, and don’t really add or takeaway anything substantial — but the effort to mix things up is appreciated.
Not to mention, when the Bank and Transfer App hits on December 27th, you’ll be able to bring back all of your past Pokemon, and race to fully complete your Pokedex at 718. Multiplayer in general is highly improved from past games, as the new PSS (Player Search System) tool allows you to easily trade or battle at any time without the messy Pokemon Center syncing.
Pokemon X and Y feels like the freshest take on Pokemon in over a decade. The sheer amount of content involved, as well as the amount of effort that went into remastering all of the original 649 monsters is evident after playing the game for a few hours. I have no doubt that Game Freak will learn from the small mistakes they made in their first foray onto the 3DS, and will one day offer up yet another amazing entry in a franchise that is still very much relevant almost two decades after its inception. Whether you’re a new or old Pokemon fan, X and Y is one of the best offerings from Game Freak yet, if not the very best.
This review is based on physical copies of the 3DS games Pokemon X and Pokemon Y.