Evolution has always been an integral part of Pokemon. Almost every single one of the series’ now 700+ monsters have had some sort of higher form to be achieved, bringing with it greater power, new design, and most importantly, a broader range of potential. And potential bleeds profusely from Pokémon X and Y, twice-evolved plus a Mega evolution for good measure. However, a Pokemon can have lots of potential, but all of that is squandered if you don’t give it the right arsenal of attacks. Are Pokemon X and Y optimized for combat, or a jokingly easy beast to defeat in the wild? Let’s talk pocket monsters, folks.
Pokemon X and Y are the first main series Pokemon adventures on the 3DS. The games set the player in the brand new Kalos region, based off France, and gives them a lot of terrain to explore. From the tiny starting town of Vaniville to the giant, Paris-inspired city of Lumiose, Kalos is a region with wings spread wide, inviting you to take a ride upon its back. And what a ride it will be. You’ll travel to dark forests, mesmerizing caverns, sand-ravaged badlands, and unique towns and cities. Kalos is a truly grand place to explore, filled with vibrant design and excellent music.
This presentation does, of course, translate into the gameplay, which has finally been given the facelift fans have wanted for years. Pokemon in 3D isn’t entirely a new concept, as the Pokemon Stadium games started doing it back on the Nintendo 64, but these animations bring life to Pokemon like never before. Each monster, new or old, seems truly like a living thing, and finding personal favorites from older games rendered as such is a pure joy. Tied to this is Pokemon Amie, a touch screen-based feature allowing you to pet your Pokemon, feed them, and play minigames with them. In addition to being a completely adorable way to spend an hour, raising their Amie levels high enough through giving them love actually gives them perks in battle, such as higher critical hit and dodge rates.
In talking about presentation, the only real downside to be mentioned is the lack of 3D. I’m not one to suggest that 3D is essential, far from it, but the fact that it’s not implemented at all half the time is still notably disappointing. The 3D does not function at all outside of battle, save for three or four areas, the supposed reason being that it would slow the game down too much. It does work in battle, but at the cost of the frame rate. Leaving that feature switched off is the best way to play, without any really substantial loss. 3D or no, the game itself is pristinely beautiful and never tiring to look at.
So what makes X and Y different mechanically? The series isn’t exactly known for constant changes to its gameplay, and while the same does, more or less, remain true here, there are two additions that are actually very substantial game changers. First is the addition of the Fairy type, the first new type since Dark and Steel back in Gold and Silver. This new type has been added to a bunch of previously-introduced Pokemon, such as Clefairy and Gardevoir, as well as several new Pokemon, including Sylveon, the newest Eevee evolution. The new type brings a much-needed type advantage against the Dragon-type, as well as an equally necessary weakness to both Poison and Steel. These stats balance the necessity of type coverage in a whole new way, and bring some truly welcome balance to competitive play.
The second big addition comes in the form of Mega Evolution. These have gotten a lot of attention among both new fans and old, and no wonder, as many of these new forms are evolutions of Pokemon from days long past. The maximum number of evolutions a line of Pokemon can have has always been two, but this new mechanic gets around that in that Mega evolutions aren’t a traditional form of evolution. These superpowered forms can only be activated in battle, with a limit of one Mega Evolution per fight, and wear off again once the match has ended. Think of them as a sort of bezerker mode, giving the Pokemon amplified stats and new abilities, as well as a change in type in some cases. Ampharos, for example, is normally pure Electric-type. Given its power-sparking Ampharosite, however, it becomes Electric/Dragon. We currently know of 28 Mega Evolutions, but due to the way most of them are found, it’s possible for more to be discovered as time goes on. Choosing your Mega Evolution trump card monster can add both advantage and vunerability, and is an awesome strategic addition.
Story is very hit-and-miss in Pokemon. The first games in the series to have a really defining story were Ruby and Sapphire on the GBA, and even then, they were pretty weak. More recently, Black and White became known for having an excellent story at the cost of gameplay, while the opposite occurred in its sequels. Here as well, X and Y seems to have learned from its predecessors. The cast of characters include a charismatic and admittedly badass villain, and a group of rival characters who feel more like friends and colleagues than opponents. The game’s obligatory evil organization is the extremely classy Team Flare. This group is a bit reminiscent of Team Rocket, feeling less like a bizarre cult and more like a simple group of criminals. Things get more intense though, and the story that unfolds by game’s end combines the quality of writing from Black and White with a superior balance, coming into play just enough to be enjoyable without taking over the entire game. It gets clever and surprisingly dark for a moment, adding memorability to the already fantastic Kalos region.
Probably the biggest draw of X and Y for veterans is the innovative connectivity. The bottom screen features the PSS, a sort of re-imagining of the C-Gear from previous games, but worked to fullest potential. The PSS is a godsend, showing all nearby players, friends online, and even people you’ve traded or battled with. You can hop into a battle with a friend in seconds, without any hassle. I’ve actually made a couple friends through playing against strangers I found playing near me. You can also customize your trainer with different hairstyles and outfits, making yourself unique among friends. Black and White’s Pass Powers return in the form of O-powers, allowing trainers to send each other temporary perks to use in the game. This is the closest to an MMO Pokemon has ever gotten. There’s also the Wonder Trade system, a sort of random trading service where you could potentially get any Pokemon at all. I hope fellow players enjoy the dozen or so Squirtles I sent out, all named YOLO. I have no regrets about this. Also notable is the Super Training feature, making EV training a competitive team finally comprehensible for more casual players. The gates have opened.
Pokemon X and Y host the smallest number of new Pokemon to be introduced in one game – 70, including the Mega evolutions – but never feels empty. Each area and route is full of so many monsters to choose from , and trying different critters out with the reinvention of the Experience Share. This classic item used to be an equip item that you would give to a single party member, sharing experience with it when not actually using it. Now, however, it has become fore reminiscent of the Exp. All from Red and Blue, spreading experience to all members of your team. Between this and the ability to gain experience from catching wild Pokemon, raising a large group of critters has never been easier, if committing to only 6 isn’t your style.
Pokemon X and Y is the answer to the prayers of Pokemon fans. Reviving a series that was starting to stagnate in its inability to evolve further, the series finally feels truly new, energetic, and more fun than ever before. The PSS functionality gives us what is essentially a Pokemon MMO, allowing trainers to interact like never before. The gameplay is still the same, but new complexity in the form of Fairy-type and Mega Evolutions have changed the competitive scene forever. The game’s only area of disappointment is its inability to use 3D properly, but this gripe is honestly too trivial to carry any real weight. No matter if you’re a superfan, a veteran returning after putting the series down for a while, or brand new to the series, Pokemon X and Y are essential 3DS titles that you will absolutely love, and keep playing for months. Proving that the old can evolve into the new, Pokemon X and Y get 5 Mega Evolutions out of 5.