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Published:January 13th, 2014 12:23 EST
The logos of both versions of the new Pokemon game.  The source specifcally was the icon of a Facebook page called,

Pokemon X/Y - Biggest Handheld Game of 2013 - Worth Getting?

By William Giorgio

In 1995, Nintendo and Game Freak released unto an unsuspecting Japanese crowd one of their most successful franchises, Pokémon.  Inspired by creator Satoshi Sajiri`s hobby of bug collecting, the series has the player capture monsters inside miniature balls, battle them against monsters that other trainers have caught, and exchange them among each other.  The series is unique for having a high amount of team customization for a role-playing game through the various monsters you can capture, and for encouraging social interaction by making trading mandatory for those who want to complete the game`s ultimate goal of catching them all.    

It might seem silly that I`m reviewing a game in a franchise intended for a younger audience.  However, it has actually managed to keep many who played the games as a kid back in 1998 (the year it was released in America) hooked all the way up to this installment, similar to other Nintendo franchises like Mario and Zelda.

Like all of the previous installments, Pokémon X/Y has you on a journey to be the top trainer in the land.  To do this, you need to capture and train a team of Pokémon that are well-equipped to handle the other teams that come your way.  Your main goal is to defeat the eight gym leaders in the country and win badges from them by defeating their Pokémon teams.  Oh, and you also have the minor task of stopping a crime syndicate from unleashing chaos.

Now, keep in mind, I`ve never played Black/White or Black 2/White 2, so any comparisons I make only apply to games as recent as HeartGold and SoulSilver.  That being said, the country of Kalos has a lot to offer.  On an aesthetic level, the game designers went out of their way to design the country with both old and new types of territories to break up the monotony of green fields that many are used to.  Some may remember the sandy deserts from Ruby/Sapphire/Emerald or the deep snowy trenches from Diamond/Pearl/Platinum, which have been brought back and expanded upon.  You`ll also travel through autumn villages, high-class mansions, stonehenge, a 3D recreation of Viridian Forest from the original Red/Blue/Yellow games, and the largest city in the franchise`s history, Lumiose City.  The game is very beautiful on a visual level.

But the real action takes place on the routes between each city.  Like previous games, the routes aren`t terribly challenging, but they do their job by giving you plenty of Pokémon to catch and plenty of people to test your wits against.  While the game adds 100 new creatures to the series, the creators have also added various creatures from older games to give the game a sense of familiarity.  This was a good choice by Game Freak, as it introduces younger players to Pokémon that are likely older than they are, but also gives older players a sense of familiarity to go along with the new environment and Pokémon.  When it comes to this series, people tend to gravitate towards the Pokémon introduced/featured in the games they grew up with.  For those old enough to remember cloning Master Balls with the help of Missingno. To those young enough to remember beating the Elite Four for the first time with the help of their Serperior, the game has a good sample of nostalgia for everyone.            

When it comes to the routes themselves, they seem to be much more straightforward and streamlined compared to previous entries.  Most of the routes and dungeons in the game are extremely straightforward and are just there for catching and training purposes.  While these were prevalent in previous games, some of them would have obstacles and puzzles that would delay your progress.  Most of these involved the use of hidden machines, moves that you could teach your Pokémon that would work on the field as well as in battle.  The catch was that once you taught your Pokémon one of these moves, you cannot replace it with another move unless you asked the Move Deleter to remove it for you.  While these obstacles and puzzles still exist to an extent, they are optional endeavors that only serve to earn extra items.  You could say that the game tries to make you utilize the HMs through temptation, for who can resist leaving an item on the map untouched?  The game only really requires you to teach your Pokémon maybe two HMs.  Personally, I prefer the battling aspect, so it`s good that the game is less intrusive with how it injects field strategy into battle strategy.  The only real mandatory puzzle in the game is one where you and one of your friends have to trap a Furfrou in a hedge maze, and while it was frustrating, it only took me about 15-20 minutes to complete it.  While this does strip the series of its field challenges in favor of its battle ones, it never really broke me up, so I don`t mind it.

The game totes many new additions to the franchise.  The one most advertised is the introduction of Mega Evolutions.  Aside from the natural evolutions in the game, certain Pokémon can now temporarily transform into a stronger version of themselves through the use of Mega Evolution stones.  The player can use a device called the Mega Ring to activate the stone`s reactive properties and transform the holder into a beast.  More specifically, they will see an increase in stats and maybe even a type-change.  I did enjoy using them, as it often gave me a sense of power seeing my Pokémon transform into something that could crush the adversary (when it did, that is.)  However, I only really used it when I absolutely needed to.  I can imagine that using it too much would sap most of the challenge out of the game, and there would be nothing special about it.  It`s a nice addition when it`s not abused. 

There are also two new modes the game offers to help improve your Pokémon.  The first of which is Super Training, a mode that introduces more casual players to a previously "hidden" function in the game, EV training.  The basic gist of it is that for defeating a certain type of Pokémon, the Pokémon that defeated it gets a small boost in a certain stat.  This was something that was previously only really used by more dedicated players.  While this method is still in X/Y, the game has provided a much more fun way to boost the stats of your team.  The on-rails shooter mini-game where you take down giant balloons is a quick dose of fun.  It makes good use of planning your shoots to account for different targets and how long you can charge a shot for.  When you beat the game, you are rewarded with a punching bag that your Pokémon can hit to improve their stats, and these bags come in different sizes.  One thing I noticed was that the size of the bag would not really be influenced by how quickly I beat the game.  Sometimes I would do absolutely terrible and still walk out with a medium or even a large.  If they had given you a differing bag size depending on how quickly you completed the challenge, it would seem like a more fitting reward.

The other feature is Pokémon Amie.  This mode allows the player to interact with their Pokémon in a Nintendogs-like manner.  In the main hub of this mode, you can pet your Pokémon with the stylus, feed it snacks, and make facial expressions at it to make it friendlier with you.  You can also have them participate in three mini-games, which are not unlike the mini-games found in the Pokémon Stadium series for the Nintendo 64.  While none of the mini-games have as much substance as the Super Training regimens, they still serve as good time-wasters.  Now, you may be looking at this description and thinking that this is just a "fluff" mode, but it actually serves a purpose in the main game, for treating your Pokémon correctly can result in it dodging more enemy attacks and scoring more critical hits.  The only problem I found with the mode was that I couldn`t get the facial recognition system to work most of the time.  The game is very specific about what angle you hold the 3DS at and where your face is.  The game will sometimes prompt you to turn your head sideways, but when you do it, the game loses track of your face entirely.  It can be frustrating for those who actually get invested in this mode.

There are also new types of battles in the game.  One of the most common you`ll run into are horde encounters.  Much like how more traditional RPGs have you fight waves of enemies upon random encounters, you can now run into large groups of Pokémon, almost always consisting of Pokémon of the same species, in the wild.  Each Pokémon is at a lower level than the Pokémon you find in single encounters in whatever area you`re in, but they each get to attack your single Pokémon, while yours can usually only attack one at a time.  On one hand, it`s a nice addition because it allows you to catch Pokémon exclusive to specific areas at a lower level, because in the long run, it`s better than catching a higher-level Pokémon, since they`re able to gain higher stats than the wild higher-level Pokémon through training, and it`s a good alternative to breeding.  On the other hand, unless you have one of the few attacks that can attack groups, you might find these fights annoying, especially if you are used to other RPGs where you have a team of characters fighting hordes of enemies.  These fights are very slow, and if the opponents have attacks that deal status effects such as poison or paralysis, don`t bother using an item, because one of them will just use the same attack next turn.  I feel like this is a good direction for the series to go in, but I think it could be more developed.  Perhaps it can allow two Pokémon to fight the hordes, and the hordes themselves can have Pokémon at higher levels.  Sure, it would mean losing the potential of catching a lower-level version of certain Pokémon, but I think in the long run, it could lead to more strategic encounters, similar to what double, triple, and multi-battles have offered, and also serve as a good way to make level grinding less of a chore.

Speaking of level grinding, the game attempts to make this process easier by giving you an Exp. Share after you defeat the first Gym Leader.  Fans of the original Red/Blue/Yellow games may recall an item called the Exp. All, which distributed experience points among your entire team after a battle (and also forced you to rapidly tap the A button even through the individual messages regarding each Pokémon`s earnings.) Later games replaced this item with Exp. Share, an item that was to be held by one Pokémon so that it could gain experience after each battle, even if it didn`t participate.  This game gives Exp. Share the same function as its first-generation predecessor (now with 90% less button mashing.)  Personally, I didn`t like using it.  I understand that it`s in the game because many players generally don`t like grinding levels, but there was something about having my Pokémon gaining experience from doing nothing that rubbed me the wrong way.  My Torchic was at a higher level than the rest of my team, and at that point in the game, I barely used it.  There`s just something about the grind that is more rewarding than just giving my team free experience.  Having each member of your team defeat a bunch of wild Pokémon feels gratifying because you put in the time and effort to make them stronger.  The player generally wants to feel like they`ve earned the reward of a stronger Pokémon, and with the Exp. Share method, only one Pokémon is really earning the experience.  I turned it off fairly early in the game.

You may have noticed a recurring theme of streamlining and getting through the main game as quickly as possible in this review.  The reason for all of this is so that trainers can focus on the multiplayer aspects of the game.  For this installment, Game Freak has greatly expanded on options regarding wireless connectivity.  Let it be known that is the closest thing to a Pokémon MMORPG that has been officially released.  On a local standpoint, the game will alert you if there is someone in the area who has the game, to which you can then request a battle or a trade with them.  On a worldwide standpoint, you can connect to a Wi-Fi server and do the same with anyone in the world who is playing.  If you can`t directly get someone to battle or trade with you, there`s Wonder Trades and Battle Spots.  Battle Spots pit you against a random trainer, and Wonder Trades have you trading Pokémon with a random person, and not knowing what you`re going to get until you make the trade.  Battle Spots are good for a nice battling fix, though make sure to have at least one Pokémon capable of Mega Evolution, because your opponent will certainly have one of their own, and that`s not even including the Legendaries they may have.  Wonder Trades are fun because of the idea of gambling away one of your Pokémon in hopes that some generous trainer will give you a desirable one does make for a brief thrill.  I actually managed to get a Poliwhirl that knew several HMs through Wonder Trade, so I could just nab all of those extra items without having to sacrifice any of my main fighters` skills.  There`s also the return of the Pokémon Global Trade System, where people can upload their Pokémon onto the online server and name their price for whomever wants it.  You may find a good deal, but sadly, there`s still a lot of morons who will demand legendary or high-level Pokémon for their measly level 4 Pidgey.  While Game Freak can greatly expand on their social outreach, they still cannot filter out overblown expectations.

It`s safe to say that the game was more streamlined so that a higher emphasis on battling as opposed to field events could be created.  That is what people ultimately look for when using Game Freak`s revamped online system: to battle other trainers and trade Pokémon with them so that they can use them for battle (or filling the PokeDex.) And now, without the restrictions of Link Cables, handhelds with their wireless capabilities primarily turned off, or a limited online system, it has become easier than ever to interact with your fellow players.  The true focus that Game Freak wanted to emphasize on since the days of the Game Boy has been fulfilled, they just needed to wait for the technology to allow the social focus to reach its full potential.  In a way, they`ve taken what has made several console and PC online games successful, built it in a way that took advantage of the 3DS`s online and Streetpass capabilities, and changed the single player game to take advantage of it without completely overshadowing it like many console FPS games have done.  It`s less focused on single-player, but at the same time, it`s not something you can beat in a day.  Although this makes me wonder if Nintendo would attempt a more single-player focused game for the Wii U, sort of like the GameCube Pokémon games.

As for the story and characters of the game, they`re a mixed bag.  I found my main rival`s speeches of trying to constantly better herself to be more annoying than inspiring, and I honestly chuckled a little bit whenever I beat her (hey, when you barely change your team, and I can beat your Pokémon multiple times with the same strategy, you have no right to complain.)  There were also random times in the game where NPCs will just spout life lessons out of the blue.  I understand it`s a game for younger players at the end of the day, so I don`t expect a lot of subtly, but the game seems to try way too hard to have one of its quotes have an impact on you.  The game is practically begging you to take one of its quotes, make a picture out of it, and post it on Facebook.  Trying to reach out to the player is fine, but I`d rather have one good quote than 30 mediocre ones.  The only part of the game where I thought this was fitting was when you and your friends confront the leader of the Team Flare, which results in both sides arguing about global resources. Without giving too much away, the leader`s motivation for what he does is essentially linked to man caring more about himself than the planet and its inhabitants.  He`s essentially an extremist misanthrope, while you and your friends are well-intentioned optimists.  This was the only part of the game where I felt the messages the game was trying to send didn`t feel forced, because the messages actually push the story ahead instead of try to add meaning to basic conversations.  I did enjoy seeing just how insane the villain is, with his misanthropic view of the world driving him to absolute extremes.  Though his ideology is based on potential real-world problems, the over-the-top way he delivers his speeches of a beautiful world and his displays of how messed up his logic is actually entertaining.  I consider this to be a nice addition, not a necessary one, but a nice one.  It does get preachy at times, but the way the villain plays up his cause results in some good moments.

On the musical side, the game has some of the best music in the franchise`s history.  The music takes elements from classical, rock, and techno to give you tunes that are not only catchy as hell, but have a lot of scope and weight thanks to the awesome instrumentation.  My favorite tunes in the game are the Super Training theme and the Trainer battle themes because I love me some electric guitar.  You owe it to yourself to play the game with headphones, because the tinsy 3DS speakers don`t do this soundtrack justice.

Overall, Pokémon X/Y are good games.  If you`re looking for an RPG fix on the 3DS and are interested in the online features, this is a good game to have.

(Bulbapedia was used to verify some of the facts that the review is based on.)