|Dev: Game Freak|
|Release: October 12, 2013|
|Players: 1 (2+ Online)|
|Screen Resolution: N/A||Comic Mischief, Mild Cartoon Violence|
There are a few new combat elements in X/Y. Players can encounter hordes of enemy Pokémon that are best tackled with moves that target multiple enemies, although the game doesn't provide an easy method for players to determine which moves do so. There's a new Pokémon type, Fairy, which is strong against Dragon and meant to counter the dominance of the Dragon type in the multiplayer community. Fairy is also weak to Poison, a much-needed boost to that neglected Pokémon type. Many combat moves have been altered or balanced, and other minor changes (such as making all Electric Pokémon immune to paralysis) will keep hardcore players busy for some time.
The biggest change to the battle system is Mega Evolution, a system that allows certain fan-favorite Pokémon to temporarily evolve into super-powered forms during battle. This transformation not only temporarily ups statistics, but also it often gives the Pokémon a new elemental typing that has fewer weaknesses than its original. Some of these new forms look quite cool, and some, like Mega-Absol and Mega-Mawile, give players a use for Pokémon that were formerly underwhelming in battle. Others, like Mega-Charizard, Mega-Lucario, and Mega-Mewtwo seem rather unnecessary considering the power of the originals. Players can only have one Mega Evolution per Pokémon party, and no doubt the competitive battling scene is already devising rules for the usage of these monster Pokémon forms.
Finally, the Super Training mini-game, available from the very start, brings a formerly hidden element of Pokémon training into the light. Competitive battlers know that Pokémon earn specific statistic bonuses (Effort Values) based on the foes they encounter while leveling up, and that controlling which bonuses they earn (known as EV training) is an important part of raising the strongest Pokémon possible. Now, all players can see these statistic bonuses and can fully EV-train a Pokemon via mini-games instead of using the old system of grinding them up via battles against specific Pokémon. Super Training is completely unnecessary for the single-player adventurer, although it can help make weaker Pokémon species more useful to players who enjoy their look and want to use them in battle.
It's unfortunate that most of the battle-system improvements only matter on the competitive scene, since the single-player campaign is extremely easy. That's been the case for a while now, and in some ways, the game's difficulty level has been sacrificed at the altar of usability. For instance, the Experience Share item, given to the player after the very first Gym Battle, now gives experience to the player's entire party regardless of their participation in battle. This is great for avoiding grinding, but it also has the effect of making the player's party vastly over-leveled for most of the game. Gym leaders are complete pushovers who seem designed more to stroke the player's ego than to provide a challenge designed to shape the player into a champion. I get that Pokémon is meant to be accessible to kids, but I don't think Game Freak gives kids enough credit here.
Those looking for a challenge won't have to look far. Pokémon has finally entered the modern age of interconnected gaming, in which multiplayer interaction is available at the touch of a button on the 3DS touch screen. Once enabled, the touch screen shows a list of registered friends, acquaintances with whom the player has interacted before, and “passersby” from anywhere in the world who happen to be in the same area of the game as the player. That's right, friend codes are no longer required to instantly battle and trade with others; though, of course, they're needed when looking to connect with a specific person for the first time. While additional tools such as the ability to create custom friend groups could improve the experience even more, this is a huge step forward for the series. The only issue I had with the way it's set up is the fact that the game disconnects from the Internet and gives an error message every time the player closes the 3DS lid. I'm hoping that will be fixed in a patch sometime down the road.
A host of other new features and improvements round out this re-invigorated Pokémon experience. Pokémon Amie is an adorable Tamagochi-style set of mini-games that allows players to interact directly with their Pokémon (with dodgy facial recognition and everything) and receive some small single-player battle buffs in return. Several of the gyms have neat new gimmicks, especially the “Quiz Gym,” which actually challenges players to “What's That Pokémon?” Players can fully customize their character with clothing that can be purchased throughout the game world. The interface finally looks clean and modern, with plenty of thoughtful shortcuts included. Overall, it feels like the game's developers carefully considered most of the game's many interlocking elements and put an emphasis on the player experience, both when interacting with Pokémon and with each other.
Having taken huge steps forward in graphical, world, and interface design along with connectivity, Pokémon X/Y is a refreshing game to play. It's the perfect place for old fans to return to the series and for new fans to discover why Pokémon is so beloved by gamers of all ages. This feels like a new dawn for the Pokémon series, which will hopefully continue to grow and evolve now that it has re-introduced itself as a contender in the modern era of gaming.
Date: October 14, 2013