The Y edition was played for this review.
Review Context: My experience with RPGs at large may be a bit limited, but I’ve been playing the Pokémon series since the beginning and it ranks among my favorite game franchises.
Date Playthrough Started: October 12, 2013
Publisher: Nintendo, The Pokémon Company
Developer: Game Freak
I’ve been a fan of the Pokémon franchise since all but the beginning. It was the overwhelming hype behind Pokémon Red and Blue that led me to rebuy a Game Boy after selling my original in a fit of youthful indiscretion, and since then the games have only sunk their claws into me further with each successive release. Like so many others, I’ve watched the series grow – or should I say evolve? – from a sloppily coded but promising underdog to the powerhouse franchise it is today, some small sensation of kinship accompanying it.
That said, I found myself considerably disappointed with Pokémon X and Y.
Now, don’t get me wrong, these latest installments in the series are by no means bad games. In all honesty, a series that adheres so closely to the formula it’s established for itself would have to go to some serious effort to make an outright bad product. That’s just the problem, though; X and Y play things too safe, and what results feels less like a culmination of everything that came before it and more like a simple collection of it.
You might think that a healthy level of familiarity might not be just a good idea but the preferred one when you consider the significant visual overhaul the series takes with these versions. Pokémon X and Y represent a tentative step forward into modern RPG conventions with the shift from 2D sprites to 3D models (amongst many other things), and while those who know me are all too familiar with my love for sprite art I have to admit that outside of a few hiccups the transition was handled very well. It’d be nice if this didn’t force the framerate down to half of normal and drain the system battery even with the 3D forced off in most cases, though. Seriously, what is it about this game that pushes the portable hardware harder than the likes of Resident Evil: Revelations or Dead or Alive: Dimensions?
But for as nicely as it’s dressed up, little can disguise the fact that, more than ever, this is another lap around the same monster battling track we’ve been running for almost two decades now. More than any other Pokémon game I’ve played before or since, completing my copy of Pokémon Y felt like a task, monotonous for its lack of distinction. Even those who revile any given iteration of series could tell you exactly where they felt the experimentation went wrong, and between the smattering of available monsters from across the generations, the largely forgettable characters, the sparse story delivered in infrequent bursts, and the mostly unchanged mechanics (outside of the addition of Fairy type and mega evolutions) there’s little to X and Y that makes them stand out from the crowd outside of aesthetics.
Thankfully, though, this is decently mitigated by the introduction of a series of features making the nuances of the game’s competitive component more accessible than ever. Want to train your EVs without hunting down specific enemies and spending hours grinding? Super Training lets you do it through an engaging minigame and in a fraction of the time. Want to up happiness to speed up an evolution or to power up Return? Pokémon-Amie gives you a series of activities to do that through, not to mention increasing crit chance and resistance against status effects. Want to breed for IVs? Friend Safari guarantees that any creature you catch will have a few at maximum value (so long as you have friends registered) and a handy NPC nearby will tell you exactly which ones.
Where Pokémon X and Y succeed most is in tweaking the finer details, and the focus on detail versus overall quality ends up harming just as much as helping. As far as I can tell, these games were made with the primary intentions of patching older content for the current generation and roping fans from the early days back in with a shamelessly blatant amount of Gen 1 pandering. If you’re the type of person who buys and enjoys Pokémon regardless then you’ve probably already made your purchase, and if you never found the prospect of Pokémon appealing nothing here is going to sway you. However, if you fall into the magical middle ground where you’re legitimately interested in the series but aren’t frothing at the mouth to get to it, wait for the inevitable third title to flesh things out.