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With X & Y - the sixth generation of Pokémon games - the massively popular series finally makes the jump to 3D, and the results are beautiful.

Posted by Staff on Nov 8, 2013 10:59 (245 days ago)

Written by: Joe
Sixth-Gen Monster Hunting:
Pokémon fans have been asking for a 3D iteration of their favourite series since Red & Green hit Japanese shelves back in 1996. It's taken developer Game Freak nearly two decades to answer that call, but with "Pokémon X & Y", the latest entry in Nintendo's flagship series, they've delivered a beautiful, Parisian-inspired 3D world that begs to be explored.
Refusing to stray from tradition too much in one go, X&Y returns to the simple narrative the series has enjoyed in the past. You play a youngster who has recently moved to the Kalos region - a sprawling world map given early in the game shows just how big this new landmass is - who sets out with a group of friends to travel, capture Pokémon, battle gym leaders, collect badges and eventually face off with the aptly named Elite Four. Meanwhile Team Flare - the regional Team Rocket variant - are out to destroy the world, and whilst you journey towards Victory Road you'll come across them and have to thwart them at every turn.
The story never really gets any deeper than that, and it's admittedly a little disappointing after the introspective turn the previous generation of games- Black and White - took a few years back. After drawing attention to the fact we're enslaving hundreds of critters to fight for us and being asked to question the morality of our actions as Pokémon trainers, touching on themes such as slavery and equality whilst arguably playing a villainous role to the unquestionably heroic and enigmatic rival N, returning here to the vanilla bad guy wants to destroy the world theme that X & Y offer is a definite step in the wrong direction.
What I really liked about the story, however, is the journeys your friends take as you follow your goal to be the Kalos-region Champion. Introducing themselves early on and reappearing consistently through the forty hour campaign, they all want different things from their adventures. Shauna is a little undirected, interested in having fun with her friends whilst raising and breeding her Pokemon, the studious Trevor wants nothing more than to fill his Pokedex and learn about Mega-Evolution, and Tierno, who just wants to dance. Watching them all get something different out of the journey promotes you to seek the same diversity, and whilst there isn't an option to dance with your Pokémon you can do pretty much anything else.
Pokémon X Y screenshot #1
For the uninitiated, the Pokemon series plays host to some of the most addictive gameplay around. The series Catch 'em all! moniker serves it well, as the most important element to the game is catching Pokemon and training them up through battle. The seventy or so new Pokemon to be found within the Kalos region bring the overall tally to a mind-numbing 718 monsters to catch and collect, with a few more sure to be found in the coming months. It's mere minutes into the game that you're able to catch them too, with Pokéballs given to you before you ever step foot in Pokémon infested grass and fan favourites such as Pikachu, Riolu and Psyduck all appearing within the first hour alongside the new pocket monsters.
Despite my initial reservations, by the time I'd finished my tour of Kalos I found myself impressed with nearly all the new additions. There are some very original designs I found myself instantly gravitating towards when I saw them for the first time, such as Honedge, essentially a ghostly sword who carries his sheath around, or Pancham - a deceptively cute baby panda who really packs a punch. Even the designs I didn't like at first, like Klefki - a keyring Pokémon who is as plain as it sounds - I warmed to. This is thanks in no small part to the new 3D battle system, with fully animated, polygonal Pokémon that has allowed Game Freak to imbue their creatures with so much more personality than ever before.
The battles themselves are very impressive too, with attacks no longer being stock effects that drift from one side of the screen to the other, but fully animated affairs with Pokemon winding up for attacks, reeling from blows, and calling lightning from the skies above. It's a great improvement on what has come before and really makes the most of the games new third dimension.
The three main changes to the battle system are the EXP share, which makes sure your entire team is balanced, levelled and fight-ready at any time, the new Fairy type, which evens out overpowered Dragons and makes a nice addition that really mixes up the meta game, and finally the much touted Mega Evolutions. These are temporary evolutions that boost a Pokemon's stats or change its type entirely. It's a really neat idea that again defied my expectations. Instead of feeling tacked on or overly important, Mega Evolution hits the sweet spot of being cool, useful but not game changing. I only ended up using the mechanic once throughout the entire game, simply because none of my team had a Mega Evolution available to them. Instead it's more a fun case of fan service, giving certain popular Pokemon another form to play around with.
Pokémon X Y screenshot #2
Outside of battle there are new ways to interact with your team, such as Pokémon-Amie, where you can pet, feed and play to increase your relationship with your Pokes and Super Training, a repetitive but helpful set of minigames that make your Pokémon stronger. These new systems really build upon the idea that these Pokémon aren't just tools - they're your friends and allies. Being able to play with them outside of battle is a great addition for anyone willing to invest in such distractions, and really give more emotional heft to the team that you build. I was fairly attached to my six main Pokes by the time the credits rolled, and seeing them appear in the Hall of Fame brought no small amount of pride to this grizzled Pokémon veteran.
The endgame content - a traditionally full affair with hours of extra content - feels paltry in comparison to past offerings, but is somewhat made up for in the sheer amount of content you can get up to before the finale. Breeding has become easier and more accessible than ever, with elements like EV training that were previously only for the hardcore promoted for the casual player too. If you'd like to battle instead there are plenty of spots to test your prowess. Superfluous activities like the Pokémon Contests have mercifully been cut and in their place is a whole host of things to do that are best discovered yourself.
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