You’ve got a new Pokémon that you’ve been training for a few days. You know it’ll evolve, but you don’t know what its final form will be. You grind away, knocking off paltry foes to harvest experience and you begin form a relationship with your Pokémon. You actually begin to like its underpowered form; despite its mid-evolution flaws, its certainly got its charms, and hey, you’ve had it for ages now. You eventually you come to love it.
Then, the screen goes white. ‘Huh? [Pokémon] is evolving’ appears, along with that old Safari Zone jingle. You watch, finger hovering precariously over the B button, tempted to cancel the evolution and keep what you know and love forever. But the white fades, and as the screen refocuses and your Pokémon’s new sprite comes into view, you nod to yourself and think ‘Yeah, that looks great. Everything’s going to be fine.’
That is Pokémon X/Y. If you think of the original Game Boy versions as the starters – the seminal child-friendly RPGs that introduced a generation of gamers into the world of the JRPG – then the DS overhauls were the difficult teenage years of the franchise. The Sinnoh and Unova regions received their fair share of criticism, but without their growing pains, we wouldn’t have the fully-rounded, formula-perfected Pokémon games that we have on the 3DS today.
Where better to lay the foundations for a new Pokémon era than Europe – a completely fresh location within the Pokémon world. Kalos acts as a toy-town France: replete with its own Eiffel Tower, miniature chateaus, run-down hotels and coastal villages. Every city has a boutique, where you can buy items to customise your trainer, and there are a variety of cafés to visit; some where you can battle, some where you can socialise. It’s all very Parisian, and it gives the world a sense of unity and cohesion that, oddly enough, reminds us more of FFX’s Spira than any other Pokémon world; it’s that sense of everything being relevant to everything else in a world teeming with life.
Where before you’ve had to wade through hours of early-game fodder to reach interesting Pokémon with varied typing, X/Y offers a plethora of beasts straight away. You bump into a level 11 Dragon type, and it fits in the world – ‘a dragon would live here’, you think. Every route feels like a genuinely different place- you’ll be scouring grass patches for hours, hunting for that rare Pokémon you know is on that route somewhere. With the introduction of Fairy type, Game Freak forces veteran fans to reconsider their teams – while Pokémon X/Y may be easier games than their predecessors, the titles introduce so much new content that you’ll never find yourself bored or wanting for something to do.
Game Freak has always understood how to push the hardware it’s using to the limit, and while the 3D elements of the games are underwhelming (no 3D in the overworld, frame-rate issues with 3D in battle), the graphics themselves are some of the best we’ve seen on the 3DS; you can clearly see why the 2DS was launched the same day as this game.
The thought of cel-shaded sprites had us wary – but, once more, Game Freak delivered, capitalising on the reinvention. There are now over 700 Pokémon (including Mega-Evolutions) and each of them has been attentively recreated in 3D, the quirks and subtle animations of each one ceaselessly entertaining. Every time we encountered a Pokémon we didn’t know was in the game, we were freshly surprised at how richly detailed the sprites and animations were. It compounded our latent compulsions to go out and, as they say, catch ‘em all.
Game Freak has always asserted that the Pokémon franchise is about socialising – about needing to trade and communicate with other trainers to forge your perfect team. Pokémon X/Y reinforces that point sublimely; whenever you’re attached to WiFi, there’s a constant stream of ‘passersby’ available to interact with. Trading, battling, passing over O-powers (renamed Pass Powers from the previous generation) and simply communicating is all there, available to you from anywhere in the overworld. Our story progression was substantially slowed by sudden urges to jump into online battles – either random or chosen – or search blindly for our favourite Pokémon to trade (sadly there were no Scythers available at the time of writing). This focus on the social aspect is perhaps symptomatic of the thinner end-game – where Black 2/White 2 had the most extensive post-game experience we’ve seen in the franchise, X/Y feel rather stunted. Considering how many Pokémon there are to train and catch throughout Kalos, though, this is a thin criticism (there are so many the region is split into three Pokédexes; forming the largest in-game bestiary to date).
Pokémon X/Y is the result of generations of refinements, culminating in the perfect Pokémon experience. It’s quicker, more accessible and has a lot more depth than past instalments. It’s a result of Game Freak thinking pro-actively; it’s listened to what fans want, and now they’re giving them all that and more. For the hardcore, the metagame continues, and the visibility of core stats actually improves the whole experience somewhat, too. Traditionalists can IV/EV train the old way, too – Game Freak has cautiously introduced features without treading on the toes of veteren players, and for that the developers have our immense respect.
We played Red/Blue at release, and they had a huge impact on forming how we perceive and think about games. It made us fall in love with the RPG. Game Freak has done young gamers a service with X/Y, laying the foundations to allow a new generation a taste of what emotive depth there is in this fantastic genre. The core formula has had slow refinements enacted upon it for generations, but X/Y feel like a triumphant return to the central philosophy that made Red/Blue great – these are games about exploration, and getting in touch with that childish joy of the undiscovered. A game that prompts that in both adults and children can be considered nothing other than a success.