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It’s been a long road for Pokémon. From humble beginnings to global mega-phenomenon, it’s a series that has always endured; keeping long-term fans loyal for decades and wooing new ones year after year. Now we’ve reached Pokémon X the 22nd instalment in the main series, one half of the 6th generation of Pokémon games and one of the series’ inaugural transfers to full 3D. For those willing to take the plunge it’s a whole new place, with a brand new attitude, you gotta catch ‘em all and be the best that you can be.
Before we get into the nitty-gritty let’s discuss the story. Like its predecessors Black and White, X continues the burgeoning attempts by developer Game Freak to inject a greater sense of narrative. It’s refreshing after the misstep of Black and White 2 to see them working to add a bit of meat to the standard bare-bones plotline. This time around you are joined on your journey by a gaggle of fellow trainers, whom you travel semi-independently from, meeting up with them at various points across the Kalos region. Each member of the group has their own personality, goals and even moments of character development. Admittedly it’s fairly basic stuff but it’s pleasing to see the attempt being made, beyond the standard rival being doled at the start of the game. Alongside this there is a story involving the usual evil team (Team Flare this time around, ready to mess you up in fabulously stylish red threads) doing evil things, hidden mythical Pokémon Xerneas and the mysterious new Mega-Evolution doing the rounds across the country. It’s definitely a step up from previous attempts but is still lightweight, leaning on one too many anime and JRPG clichés to ever impress.
However, it’s hard to dwell too much on the failings of the story when it makes up for it in so many other areas.
Graphically, the series has never looked better. With every aspect reworked from the ground up in full 3D, X brings an incredible amount of effort to the endeavour. The visuals are bright and chunky, giving things a real sense of vibrancy and life. Whilst the overworld may not push the envelope in terms of what the hardware can achieve it’s hard to deny that the art direction more than picks up the slack. Every area has a distinct feel and style, whilst the character models are both charming and feel like a natural evolution (el oh el) of previous 2D sprites.
Of course, Game Freak wisely chose to devote the majority of the visuals to the titular critters. All 700+ Pocket Monsters have been rendered in fully-animated 3D. Each one is given unique animations brimming with personality and charm. It must’ve been a task designing them in 3D and it seems to have paid off in spades. I couldn’t get enough of them and revisiting 2D entries in future will feel like a major step back.
Another area that X soars is in its audio. Consisting of over 200 new tracks the soundtrack for Pokémon X is some of the best work ever heard in the series, pushing the audio capabilities like never before X features stand out track after stand out track, from the unrelentingly upbeat and jaunty theme for Route 1 to the driving techno beat of the reworked Gym Leader theme, as well as reworked and improved monster cries Pokémon X is a treat for the ears from beginning to end.
Gameplay has always been the bedrock of the series, and what gives the franchise its lasting appeal. X continues this in fine form, in fact in many way it is the purest entry yet, not since the original generation of games has the emphasis been so much on the two core tenants of battling and catching.
Sadly, X features the smallest roster of new Pokémon with only around 65 new beasts appearing between it and its sister game. For some this isn’t much of a problem, with so many monsters to choose from not having an extra hundred or so to catch and raise will be a breath of fresh air, unfortunately I couldn’t help but be disappointed by the lack of what I consider a “full” generation. This is furthered by the awkward distribution of new species across the game. Staring areas provide a wide range of new Pokémon which become few and far between as you progress. Thankfully, this frustration is alleviated by each route featuring a unique selection of wild beasts, so at the very least you don’t have to worry about bumping into yet another Pidgey down the road in your hunt for new and elusive monsters.
On the other hand, what this generation lacks in quantity it more than makes up for it in quality. X features some of my favourite designs of any generation. With a host of cute and cruel looking critters-from the adorable dorkiness of Ghost/Grass type Phantump to the fearsome and mighty Flying/Dragon type Noivern, there is something for everyone to discover and love.
Other big changes are the new Fairy type and the Mega-Evolutions mentioned above. Both are an attempt to mix up the formula a bit and work to differing degrees. Fairy-type Pokémon both new and old make the biggest impact, suddenly creating opportunities for new strategies and match-ups both in the single player and multiplayer. I love the addition and feel that it really does inject new energy into a battle system that whilst strong hasn’t really changed for over a decade. In fact during play I wondered why Game Freak didn’t implement it years ago; it also helps that many Pokémon now either Fairy or part-Fairy are among some of my favourite creatures.
Mega-Evolution however is less of a success. How it works is that after a certain point in the story you are able to equip certain evolved species with special “Mega Stones” allowing them to transform in battle Digimon-stylee to souped-up Mega Forms that grant them a new look, as well as incredible strength and even new secondary types. They last only for the duration of the battle and are designed to add a new dimension to strategies as well as provide incentives for players to cycle certain neglected species into their rosters. Sadly, as fun as seeing the new forms is Mega-Evolution for the most part seems somewhat unnecessary, a fun extra but not quite the selling point Nintendo have been advertising it as. Hopefully if they intend to stick with it going forward it’ll improve but for now it’s an entertaining diversion at best that only adds to the battle system if you really want it to.
Similarly, previous game side-activities such as contests and PokéStar Studios have been stripped out in favour of ones that have an impact on battling. Found in the touch screen are Pokémon-Amie, Super Training and the PSS.
Super Training allows you to tailor the stat growth of your Pokémon through fun target-practise minigames. It’s a great way of demystifying one of the most complicated systems in the series by way of a graph that charts the development of the various attributes visually, letting you see the various ways your team can grow. It succeeds in bridging the gap between the obsessive hardcore online battlers and those looking to have a few fun rounds against people online and lets you have more control over your team without the fuss of spreadsheets and calculators previous games required.
Pokémon-Amie is probably my favourite addition. Letting you interact Giga-Pet style with your Pokémon you can stroke, feed treats and play fun minigames with them. This has the benefit of not only being fun but also giving you the edge in battle as loving Pokémon can deal increased damage, dodge attacks and even shrug off debilitating status ailments such as paralysis and poisoning. Rather disappointingly these bonuses don’t extend to the multiplayer but it’s understandable for the sake of balance.
Finally, the PSS (Player Search System) rounds out the main additional features. Accessible at any point it is Game Freak’s attempt at furthering the multiplayer component like never before. Rather than needing to access trades or battling rooms via Pokécentres, a constantly updating ticker of passersby (other online players) scrolls along the bottom of the screen, letting you access a plethora of battling and trading options instantly. Also you can use special O Powers on yourself or other players, granting temporary buffs and bonuses from increased attack power to making it easier to capture wild Pokémon. It’s a fun little extra that adds to the Dark Souls-esque asynchronous multiplayer that makes the Kalos region feel alive and buzzing. For me this is the best way that the series can handle multiplayer and I’m happy with it being the closest to the Pokémon MMO that some quarters are constantly braying for.
Online battles and trade are easier than ever, just a few screen taps away from engaging opponents from across the globe. Battles are just like the single player, except with the option to add a few rules and handicaps for flavour. Sadly, despite introducing two new battle types in the single player (Sky and Horde) the multiplayer maintains the old standard of single, double, triple and rotation battles as before. I can’t help but see this as a missed opportunity as the new modes could make for some interesting new spins on competitive play. Fingers crossed the inevitable Pokémon Z will correct this oversight.
Overall I can’t help but recommend Pokémon X. For die-hard fans I’m preaching to the choir, but for lapsed fans and newcomers it makes a great jumping on point; with plenty of Pokémon to catch and a battle system that has never been better there is a lot to enjoy. Those looking for epic stories on par with Square Enix or Atlus’ output will be left disappointed. However, anyone in the mood for a game brimming with character, featuring a deep and engaging battle system, a cast of hundreds of unique and vibrant characters to discover and bucket loads of fun then this is the Poké-Man for you.
Ultimately, as with any Pokémon game, the more you put in the more you get out and X is definitely a game worth putting a lot into. Whilst I’d hesitate to declare it the greatest Pokémon game ever it was most definitely born to be a winner.