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Pokémon X Review: An Added Dimension for a New Evolution

If you told a Pokémon veteran to list five things that he expected from a new Pokémon game, his list may look something like this: 1) a choice from three starters, 2) new Pokémon in a new region, 3) eight gyms, 4) a cool bike, 5) addictive gameplay focused around catching cute little monsters. Pokémon X and Y checks every box important to veterans of this series while creating a unique experience by making significant advancements in accessibility and graphical fidelity that can be enjoyed by veterans and newcomers alike.

Pokémon X, the first Pokémon title released native to the Nintendo 3DS hardware, takes full advantage of 3D capabilities and Wi-Fi connectivity. While the bulk of gameplay is presented in the classic top-down 2D view and battles are spent facing your opponent, you know that you are in for a surprise the moment that the camera view changes. Whether you are in the fully 3D environment of Lumiose City or you command Charizard to use Flamethrower, the various camera angles highlight the beautiful detail of the Kalos Region and the crisp battle animations that uniquely capture each Pokémon. Even in a more traditional view, Kalos consistently impresses with the visual diversity of deep forests, sandy beaches, and dark caves.

The multiplayer functionality of Pokémon X and Y is also properly integrated into the experience. While trading and online battles are not essential to completing the game, the benefits of trading and a little healthy competition do add value to the game. When acquired through trading, Pokémon gain Exp. boosts providing inexperienced players with assistance through the main campaign and creating an opportunity for competitive trainers to fill out their roster with a plethora of effective Pokémon.

Wonder trading is an especially useful feature for trainers early in the game. You simply throw one of your Pokémon across the internet to a random player who is also wonder trading. The Pokémon that you receive in return are completely random. A few of my Pokémon gained through this method include a Level 9 Plusle, a Level 21 Nidorino, and a Level 30 Shelmet. On my first playthrough, I received eight such Pokémon from three continents and three shout-outs from acquaintances immediately after the trade. Pokémon is about connecting with others through common experiences. This Shout-Out feature allows quick communication between players who have recently crossed paths. The PSS (Player Search System) is often displayed on the bottom screen and provides instant contact with friends, acquaintances, and strangers. Through this application, you can access the online features that I have mentioned and more without the added chore of going to the now-abandoned second-level of a Pokémon Center.

Many small changes to an already successful formula make Pokémon X and Y great. Exp. Share allows the Pokémon in your active party to gain Exp. points without entering battle, and this option can be turned off for purists of the series. You can customize your own avatar with various skin tones, hairstyles, and clothing options and create a short video depicting your awesomeness as a Trainer or your pride in a special Pokémon. Pokémon-Amie and Super Training provide options to interact with your Pokémon and boost stats in a simple and optional way. Mega-Evolutions, breeding, gardening, and a wealth of various challenges provide a worthwhile respite from the daily Pokémon grind. Despite a deep campaign and the wealth of side activities, Pokémon X and Y submits to its own desire to be accessible and falls flat in a few important areas.    

Throughout the campaign, I found myself waiting for the moment that the narrative would begin to catch my attention. The one positive that I took away from the narrative was the satisfying conclusion to an underutilized part of the plot. The game's narrative focuses on a group of friends trying to fulfill their dreams while on a journey with their Pokémon. You, the Trainer, wish to become the Pokémon League Champion. Along your journey, you will uncover a horrendous plot, foil said plot, and become a hero. The writing is very cliché, and the narrative suffers from pacing issues often associated with open-world games. The overall flow of the story is borderline non-existent, and this takes away from the moments that are actually enjoyable. The laughable dialogue is often reminiscent of single player modes in fighting games. Words are strung together for the sole purpose of starting battles without any relevance to the immediate situation or overall narrative.

Many of the new Pokémon left me scratching my head and feeling strangely uncomfortable. Strange character designs and odd moves run rampant throughout the Kalos countryside. While not every new addition to the Pokédex is disappointing, the designs of the Pokémon regularly feel dull or ludicrous. The Legendary Pokémon of the Kalos region are one of the saving graces of the new generation of Pokémon. Xerneas (X) is a Fairy-Type who resembles a mystical deer, and Yveltal (Y) is a Dark/Flying-Type who resembles a three-winged bird of prey. The opportunity to catch one of these two Pokémon will arise late in the campaign. This is a reward that you will certainly not want to miss.

Pokémon X - 9/10

"A Unique, Addictive Experience that Improves Upon the Pokémon Formula"

While the narrative has its shortcomings and the designs of certain Pokémon feel uninspired, the turn-based battles and monster hunting mechanics that you know and love make a triumphant return in 3D. The traditional menu systems for the single player game feel archaic and slow, but this is due to the streamlined nature of the online menu system. Pokémon X and Y is a natural evolution for this franchise. Many new features seem as if they were held back to keep from ostracizing those who have enjoyed this series for nearly two decades. The 3D environment of Lumiose City feels like the first step toward a fully 3D world, and as handheld hardware continues to improve, the limits placed on handheld games will disappear. Pokémon X and Y pushes the limits of the series as we know it, and soon, the walls will be coming down.

(Review written by Jeremy Sturgill using a retail copy of Pokémon X)

(Originally published by N00b Magazine)

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