For a franchise that’s continually berated for remaining the same over the years, Pokemon is wildly successful, having pushed forward, full speed ahead. It hasn’t needed to change much to sweep the nation with each new release, though critics and older players were becoming visibly frustrated with the lack of variety. Pokemon X & Y hit the scene after quite some time, haunting us with gorgeous new scenery, brand new monsters, and enough changes to attract a new generation of fans.
Does it succeed in changing up the game? Yes – but it also stays the same in many valuable ways. After having played through every installment of the franchise so far, I can safely say this is the most excited I’ve been about Pocket Monsters since its debut, and that’s saying a lot.
The setup is still the same. On one very special day, you embark on a journey to fill up your Pokedex, traveling around the land with the goal in mind of becoming a Pokemon Master. This time around, however, it’s a much more animated affair as Professor Sycamore bestows you and several other children with a Pokedex to complete and a special starter monster. The three starters, Fennekin, Froakie, and Chespin, represent fire, water, and grass respectively, and are versatile new fighters that get the show on the road much quicker than usual. From your introductions shared with the more personable NPCs and the lighthearted tone this story takes, it’s clear this is one of the most “human” Pokemon games ever, as it focuses on friendship and growth with your Pokemon.
This especially makes sense when you factor in the brand new ways the game shares experience with the other Pokemon in your party. No longer are you relegated to pushing along with your overpowered starter and hoping your weaker monsters eventually become stronger as you swap them in and out of battle. The swap method ensures party members receive as much experience as the monster in battle, and later on a valuable EXP Share that does not need to be held ensures that even when you have to keep your other Pokemon types benched, they receive as much experience as they need to level up at a rapid pace. With this method, you can truly utilize any Pokemon you wish, opening up a whole new world and whole new combination of Pokemon to rely on when taking on the Gym Leaders across the regions. It’s undoubtedly the greatest alteration to have been made to the game, and I found myself incredibly thankful for its presence.
But that’s not all. Your default method of movement is to skate, which is quick, efficient, and fun. You can, of course, still walk or run, but it gets you from point A to point B in seconds when previously the trek had been a slog. Other methods of transportation, like Pokemon, taxis, the quintessential Bicycle, and others make it easy to get around as well, ensuring the only time you’re forced to trudge around is when you’re in unsavory terrain like ice, mud, or sand, which are all included in different locations around the game, which bring some fun variety to the world, especially when many of the towns do tend to look the same. I especially appreciated the creative designs of the gyms and theming of their decor, particularly the seventh gym leader’s out-of-this-world motif – trippy, for sure.
The Pokemon are still center stage, with a wealth of new and inventive monsters that mesh well with a pot luck of classic monsters I grew up with. It’s not uncommon to face trainers with an Oddish, Throh, and a Pikachu to round things out, which is in stark contrast to previous games that put new Pokemon front and center, where you may as well have assumed that the classic set of monsters weren’t even around anymore. It’s refreshing to see an abundance of familiar monsters hanging around, both in the wild and on the belts of trainers everywhere. There’s a sense of balance that comes with this design decision, and it’s one I appreciate.
Pokemon X & Y offers a plethora of old and new ideas that work extremely well together, with online trading tools, mini games like Pokemon-Amie to endear your party members to you, and plenty of other reasons to keep playing long after you’ve become a Pokemon Master. It’s the best-looking and most accessible game so far, and this is the direction the series needs to go in in the future. We’re one step closer to Poke-Nirvana, and it’s time for people to stand up and take notice.