Pokemon X And Y: The Kotaku Review

Pokemon X And Y: The Kotaku Review

It’s impossible to escape the influence of Charles Darwin: even if you’ve never paid attention in class, his theory of evolution has influenced everything from science to pop culture — including, yes, the highly popular Pokemon games.

You could say evolution is the backbone of the series: from its inception back in 1998, the idea behind the Red and Blue games was that of a world full of beasts that can morph into new creatures. This virtual version of humanity manages to tame some of these beasts and incorporate them into society by making friends with them, using them for labour, or even using them for cockfights. But most Pokemon seem to remain a mystery, if not the stuff of legend.

And that’s where you come in. You, young explorer, modern Darwin of sorts, despite being nothing but a preteen, are expected to dive into the wilderness to survey all the creatures you come across. You know, for the good of science. Initially, this seems like a bizarre coming-of-age ritual that requires kids to catch all the monsters they can for battling. If your Pokemon become strong enough in this journey, you can use them to take on bosses of sorts at ‘gyms’ and, eventually, a special league of master trainers called the Elite Four.

Regardless of plausibility, it’s proven to be a seductive premise — and it makes a return of sorts in Pokemon X & Y. Unlike previous games, you’re only encouraged to see and catch ’em all if you’d like to. Your real goal is to figure out the mystery behind “Mega Evolution,” a newly-discovered transformation that some Pokemon can undergo, provided the right conditions are met. Sounds important! So of course your mother doesn’t object to the idea of you exploring a rather tourist-y version of France, duking it out with strangers in turn-based battles featuring monsters you caught in the wild. In fact, she happily packs your bags with a set of clothes. Off you go!

You’re not alone: the game gives you a set of friends/rivals who embark on the same journey with you, though they all have their own special reasons for doing it. One friend, for example, just wants to be a good dancer. Maybe it’s not as noble as your mission, but hey! It’s the following of your passion that counts, right?

Pokémon X & Y: The Kotaku Review

Usually, when it comes to the battles, the franchise hasn’t provided much of a challenge in single-player — which doesn’t help with the perception that the games are for kids. While at its most basic, Pokemon still works the way it always has (you can hold up to six monsters at a time, each monster has an affinity type, certain weaknesses, and a set of four moves that can be used a limited number of times in turn-based battles), but the degree to which Pokemon’s monster compendium and ruleset have expanded has significantly complicated things.

Back when there were only a couple hundred monsters in the game, keeping all their strengths, weaknesses and moves in mind wasn’t particularly difficult. Now there are over 700 monsters, all of which could be leveled up a dozen different ways between different moves, affinities, and even special abilities. And even if you’ve done a good job of keeping up with all the Pokemon the franchise has included thus far, there are enough tweaks that even veterans will have to rearrange what they remember about battles at least a little. I say this as someone who stopped playing the franchise for only one generation.

Now there’s a new, deceptively adorable Pokemon type: fairies. The introduction of this species throws out the basic balance of some of the elements. In standard Pokemon tradition, each creature has weaknesses and abilities based on their elemental type. With a new species thrown into the permutation in X and Y, you’ll meet monsters with even more bizarre combinations of these strengths and weaknesses. Complicating things a bit more is the introduction of moves that can have dual elemental affinities, as well as Mega Evolutions change the elemental type of its Pokemon mid-battle. While much of the game still felt like putting on an old glove, and while I still found myself selecting moves to exploit the weaknesses of opponents — like always — I was also constantly looking up match-ups for Pokemon whose weaknesses weren’t immediately obvious based on their design. Once I figured that out and committed it to memory, battles felt like smooth sailing…but I still found myself researching my opponents and their abilities up until the very end of the game.

I suspect that, while the game does explain how battles work, anyone who is new to the franchise might feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of Pokemon. I don’t have a problem with the number of Pokemon that exist right now, but god damn, I’ve gotta admit there are a lot of them. That’s a good thing, though: the world feels alive, diverse, and genuinely full of mysterious creatures. A world I’d genuinely want to explore.

Pokémon X & Y: The Kotaku Review

Well, it’s not just newbies who might feel overwhelmed by it all. I constantly felt paralysed by choice thanks to the new Pokemon models, which are so gorgeously rendered that even the ugliest Pokemon seems like it belongs in your party. Just ’cause. And yes, this includes the new Pokemon, too. It was exciting to see new designs like a lucha libre hawk, and I’m sure that some of you have heard about that one keychain Pokemon. The new designs are fantastic, sometimes bizarre, but definitely memorable. Thing is, even Pokemon I knew were useless seemed desirable at times: that’s just how great they look in this game. Plus, it’s enjoyable to see the Pokemon in motion for once: the game has a ton of new little flourishes in battle animations. You can’t help but notice when your favourite Pokemon has a neat little detail, like casting spells with makeshift wands. And even the, uh, questionable animations are fantastic:

Pokémon X & Y: The Kotaku Review

….yeah. Some battle animations are cool, and some are just plain hilarious or silly.

Thankfully, it’s not just the Pokemon who get to look better this game. You do, too. Starting out, the game prompts you to create an avatar with your choice of hair and skin-tone — a first in a Pokemon game. As you travel across different cities, you’ll get access to a variety of fancy boutiques and shops that sell clothes and accessories, giving you a chance to customise your character even further. Here’s what my character looked like by the end of the game:

Pokémon X & Y: The Kotaku Review

Those are ripped jeans, I’ll have you know. So fashionable. Anyway, while I loved that the option to customise was there, compared to other games — like Animal Crossing — it felt kind of bare. Still, it’s better than nothing!

The world itself is gorgeous, and full of small details, too. A few of the things I noticed:

  • Piles of crunchy autumn leaves, waiting for you to step on them.
  • Splashing through shallow marshes.
  • Moving around in the snow means watching puffs of hot air leave you.
  • When it rains, water “falls” on the HUD.
  • When you speak to kids, your character crouches down. You know, so that they’re at eye level.
  • Idle animations! You stretch, you yawn.
  • Trainers aren’t just glued to the specific line of sight in front of them. If you get close enough, they’ll tilt their heads and look at you even if they’re not challenging you to a battle.
  • You can skate two different ways, depending on how much you tilt.
  • You can tip people, if you want.
  • The game’s version of France comes complete with back alleys to get around.

So many details come together to make a pretty-lookin’ game, I gotta say. One of the key themes in this game is ‘beauty,’ and its version of France has plenty of it. To be sure: this is France as an outsider would imagine it. Everyone seems to wear berets or hang out at coffee shops, and the big, central attraction is this game’s version of the Eiffel Tower (which is a gym!). I didn’t mind, but it might come off as cheesy. Then again, the game on the whole is rather cheesy: there’s lots of talk about friendships, bonds, and believing in yourself. The villains talk about destroying the world, but it’s somehow not particularly menacing. Must be the suits?

Pokémon X & Y: The Kotaku Review

It’s cute. Don’t think too much about it; the story is just kind of there to take you along for the ride. Big plot twists, if you could call them that, are often no more than a couple of lines long. This is a game that does not waste your time, and thank god for that. You’re always moving from one well-condensed area to the next, you’re always doing new things at a fast pace. The game even wants you to level faster, which is why it gives you an item that distributes experience from battle to even Pokemon who weren’t in the skirmish. Actually, it now even gives you experience for catching Pokemon.

The game feels breezy, and I mean that as a compliment — it wants you to keep going, to keep moving, even in areas that would normally be a drawn-out drag in previous games. Are you in a long cave? No worries, there’ll be someone that can heal you midway through. There’s no slog in this game, only more cool things to check out. And compared to previous games, your character can get around much faster on either foot, bike or skates. (I liked the skates best of all — seemed more natural, somehow, and plus, you can learn tricks!) It’s damned refreshing to play a game that has no fat in it, a quality that’s particularly rare in RPGs. I literally can’t remember the last time I’ve played a game that felt like this. For a franchise that supposedly barely ever changes, most games could learn a thing or two about pacing and fat from X & Y.

Heck…the only time this Pokemon felt like a drag was when I accidentally wandered into a cave that was meant to be accessed after you beat the game. Whoops, my bad. (Side-note: I didn’t get to try them out, but there are at least a handful of different areas that are closed-off to you until you beat the game.)

It’s not just exciting because it feels like it’s a game that respects your time, but also because it’s a game that tries its hardest to please you. The amount of fan service in this game is unbelievable. Normally, that might be cause to roll your eyes, but not here. To quote my earlier impressions piece:

In the world of Pokemon, people happily gift you all sorts of things, from rare Pokemon to cool moves and items, simply because you talked to them. I swear to god, Pokemon might as well take place in Canada. Thinking about it now, I can’t help but wonder if one of the common criticisms ofPokemon — that it’s a kids game — is less about its target demographic and more about how bafflingly sincere and friendly its society is.

Of course, that’s always been the case with the franchise…but it feels multiplied by an absurd degree in Pokemon X & Y.Everywhere you go, either people give you awesome stuff: from skates to bikes to gifting you Pokemon like the original starters. At first, I thought it was just a bit of fan service (not that newer fans won’t be able to enjoy being given some of the most memorable creatures in the franchise). But then it keeps happening. And it keeps happening. It’s almost over-indulgent, if it wasn’t that it’s incredibly exciting. Can you complain about being given the chance to soup up your Charizard via Mega Evolution? Or about riding around on a Rhydon? Or about how you can customise your trainer to look fashionable? At over 20 hours in so far, I’m consistently amazed that the game keeps finding new ways to make me feel giddy — and that’s not something I’ve felt in a long while.

It’s impressive, really — most of the time, when a game gives you rewards or prizes too easily, you lose interest. Here, you just get pumped to keep going and see how the game will one-up itself.

These trends lasts all the way through to the end of the game, and I’m pretty sure Game Freak realises how ridiculous it can get…there’s one NPC you’ll find in a town later on in the game that angrily informed me she had nothing to give me. As if I’m demanding all the free crap that her neighbours want to give me! Geeze, it’s not my fault everyone wants to give me their most prized possessions, lady.

Pokémon X & Y: The Kotaku Review

Let’s touch on the Megas a bit. At the start of the game, I didn’t really see a mechanical reason to power-up into Mega form, to be honest. Normal moves and strategies were enough to get the job done. That changes later in the game, when the difficulty ramps up. Then you’ll do the transformation less because it looks cool, and more because you want to survive. I can dig that, though I wish it happened earlier in the game. Still, since you can only have one Mega at a time in your team, I like that Megas further the idea of forming a team around a specific Pokemon. That’s how I usually think about team-building.

What’s unfortunate is that it seems as if most of the Megas are for already popular or powerful Pokemon that didn’t need the Mega treatment. I would have liked to see more unexpected or under-appreciated Pokemon get a Mega evolution, but even so, I can’t deny how awesome it is to see personal favourites like Gengar or Gyarados get a new form. I’ll take it. It’s also unfortunate that we never really learn much about Mega Evolution. Sure, I’m not really playing Pokemon for the story or anything, but still. the place where Megas will make the most difference and be the most interesting is in multiplayer.

Pokémon X & Y: The Kotaku Review

Speaking of… while I didn’t get a chance too try much of it out before launch, O Powers seem superbly cool. Basically, connecting with other players rewards you with special effects, like being healed mid-battle. It’s not something that gives us the Pokemon MMO we all clamor for, but it’s still nice to feel like there are other trainers out there, you know? That’s what the fiction says, but it’s never really felt that way until now.

Not all new additions to the game hit the mark, though. While I appreciate being given the ability to beef up my stats outside of battle, shooting soccer balls in Super Training often proved to be boring and repetitive. Granted, the old method of hulking your Pokemon up — namely, defeating specific Pokemon over and over again — wasn’t particularly exciting either, but still. Pokemon-Amie, a special mode you can access on the 3DS’ touchscreen, meanwhile, gives you the ability pet with your Pokemon ala Nintendogs, as well as allow you to play mini games with your team. It’s stuff that sounds good on paper — I want to be able to treat and think of my Pokemon as pets. And maybe one day, that’ll be a possibility. For now, Amie seems like it’ll primarily get used by folks who want to raise their Pokemon’s friendliness level to a specific degree, since that allows for special evolutions. Beyond that, it’s just a cool-sounding distraction as far as I can tell. Still, some misses are to be expected.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: between all the improvements and fan service, this is the Pokemon game many of us dreamed of when we were kids. And for those who are new to the franchise, this is the Pokemon you deserve to play. My hope is that the various nods to the original games are just an attempt to reward older fans for their loyalty, and not that Game Freak doesn’t have confidence in the modern Pokemon games it’s created — because after playing X & Y, I don’t think of the earlier games as the best Pokemon has to offer. Yet — and this is pure conjecture — I don’t see X and Y (or any other recent Pokemon games) commanding the same nostalgia that earlier games have over the years, despite being superior in nearly every way. I don’t know that we’ll see as many references or call backs to the modern Pokemon games in future generations, but I’d be happy to be proven wrong.


  • This game is fantastic, I definitely recommend to old time players and new

    Some of my favourite features are:
    – You can easily train your entire party at once with the new exp share
    – You don’t have to worry about those EV points when grinding any more (BIG PLUS – ev points systems now been changed into a minigame system)
    – Lots of different poke’s (You get two different start pokemon quite early in the game a, gen 6 and then a gen 1)

    That’s from just my early game experience at least, I’ll have to see how it goes mid to late-game.

    • You don’t have to worry about those EV points when grinding any more (BIG PLUS – ev points systems now been changed into a minigame system)

      Exp Share also works similar to how it did in Generation I. Pokemon used in the fight gain more exp, but the other Pokemon in your party also gain exp. It seems to be a better rate than just splitting half of it between the rest of the group. My team is growing pretty nicely rather than just having one cannon Pokemon.

      The other awesome exp feature is getting exp at the end of the battle even when you capture the Pokemon you’re battling.

  • If Darwin wasn’t such a nice guy he’d be rolling in his grave at the definitional crimes pokemon commits against his theories. I’m currently playing pokemon x to death and am loving it but I just feel the need to point out that what actually happens in pokemon is called metamorphosis in science and not evolution. The difference being, changes occuring within a lifespan compared to changes occuring over many generations. It’s a really unfortunate slip of the meaning considering that in 2013 a stupidly enormous number of people still don’t believe in evolution. The games are great but I can’t forgive gamefreak until they put a scientist somewhere in the game who when talked to explains the truth and points out how the media often forsakes accuracy for popularity. Until then I have been, and will continue to, steal things from scientist’s trash cans.

    • Wait, Pokemon ISN’T scientifically accurate?

      Someone call Plunkett. He needs to write an article on this!

      • Someone call Plunkett. He needs to browse Reddit and find an article on this!

        Fixed that for you.

    • I’m glad I’m not the only one who cares about the influence of games, potentially for good, in the world.

    • Honestly, pokemon isn’t about evolution at all, or the theory of it.
      They call it evolution, but I mean come on- don’t harp on them or assume they are thieves because of, what, a translation issue? Back in the 90’s they called it evolution recognizing it was in no way related to anything “real”. It was make believe, a game if you will.

      What bothers me is that pokemon would ever be related to Darwin’s theories, and that your character would ever be called “A darwin of sorts”.

      Thats downright idiotic and slanders the game and all of its integrity.

  • The only thing I really don’t like about the game is that I’m left handed, which makes the training mini games really painful. If they had of made it so that R and L shared the same functions, and Y/X/A/B acted as a d-pad, it would have cleared the whole thing up.
    I’m loving the hordes of Pokemon so much.
    Battles with the 3D functionality look really nice.

    Although there’s still room for improvement. If they’d make it so that you can enter your commands while the turn is playing out, rather than watching the turn and then entering your commands, it’d make battles faster and more fluid.
    I would have appreciated some sort of warning that later on you’ll get a nickname. I’m currently stuck with my nickname being the same as my my ‘real’ name, which results in some weird dialogue. “Hey DogMan! Oh, sorry, I mean DogMan”.

    Not being able to take your hat off is pretty weird. Especially since you can get different hairstyles. I’d love a bit more customisation. Although it seems like they’re introducing more as the game progresses. What’s with not being able to change your eye colours until later on when you get the contact lenses? Facial hair looks really creepy too.

    • Is it the facial hair itself that’s creepy, or is it the fact that the characters are 10?

    • I agree on several points here except the streamlined turns. Turn-based gaming feels a lot less stressful to me, when I’m playing an RPG and the idea is to select an attack as the enemy is attacking, that makes me flip out. I’m more likely to completely ignore what the moves and items do and just smash the A button as fast as I can to attack as quick as I can so that no cheap shots happen in the battle, or to prevent the rhythm of the fight being thrown off. It’s these silly ways of thinking that I have that truly makes me find that Pokemon remaining patient and turn-based is a huge plus, and I do hope they hold onto that.

    • Potential spoiler (nothing major, it’s not really tied to the plot, just something that happens)
      After you’ve had your Pokemon for a while you’ll go to meet the Professor, who will give you a choice of one of the three original starters and their Mega Evolution stone to help you in your quest to research Mega Evolution. So you get to choose between a Charmander, Squirtle or Bulbasaur.

      Anyone who has their heart set on a specific first gen starter should keep type in mind when choosing their sixth gen starter at the beginning of the game. You get to choose which one you want so you aren’t locked into anything, but it makes sense to not pick a Fennekin if you want to grab a Charmander.

      • Oh yeah. Also worth noting is that there’s a promotional event going on where you can connect via the Internet and claim a Torchic holding a Blazikenite (it’s Mega Stone). That covers you for a fire type Pokemon as soon as you reach your first Pokemon center, so you may want to go with Chespin + Squirtle or Froakie + Bulbasaur. Although one would assume once they’re finished with the Torchic promotion they’ll do one with Treecko then Mudkip.

  • I’m seriously thinking of buying pre-orders 3ds and picking up this game but I don’t know is 250 for a pokemon game worth it? lol but then their is Mario and monster hunter

    • I bought the 3DS XL just for this game and I have no regrets!

      Make sure you get an XL though.

    • I brought a 3DS XL for X/Y about a month ago along with Black 2. Black 2 was enough to get me up to speed with everything so now I’m really enjoying Y. There’s a lot to do in game and it really shows off what a 3DS is capable of. Whether it’s worth $250 really depends on how much money you have to spare and how much you like the series, but so far X/Y have lived up to my expectations as system sellers.

  • You can’t have more than one mega in your team? Says who? I have Lucario AND Charizard in my team..

      • Yeah I figured that much. But it didn’t seem that way in the article, lol.

        PS. Someone trade me a Charizardite X stone? #cryface

  • I’m finding the online superb in my play though. The ‘anywhere’ GTS function is awesome, I made sure I got a female fennekin, made two baby fennekin, now I have an Italian chespin and a Japanese froakie. I also did the same thing for the fossils, so now I have both. If you catch the version exclusives from one game and put them up on the GTS looking for the opposite one (eg skrelp/clauncher or spritzee/slurpuff), they will get snapped up fairly quick. Plus the fact you can battle passerbys online from anywhere is fantastic. I fought one guy and beat him, now he hunts me down for a revenge battle every hour or so, some dude from Iowa. So now you can be a man and still complete your pokedex when you have no friends that play pokemon!

    • How good is the GTS now? Is it still full of hackers? I don’t want to trade and find a pokemon that might break my game :S

      • I’m fairly sure no one has managed to hack the 3DS yet, so all pokemon up there are legit. The only annoyance is that you still have people asking for level 1 dragonites and stuff like that, I wish Game Freak fixed that. Other than that, muy beuno.

    • I want to get a Froakie and Chespin to complement my Fennekin, but everyone just wants to trade Starter for Starter 🙁

      How long does it take for them to breed? and the egg to hatch?

      • And also, is Ditto in this game? Can you still use the old trick of having Ditto as the other pokemon to breed with just about anything?

        • Yep, ditto is still a giant s/he-whore that will breed with anything and can be found in pokemon village, but I haven’t gotten there yet so I assume it’s post-game. Starter pokemon don’t take too long to hatch, only about 5 mins of biking around. If you have a male starter then you’re out of luck until you find a ditto because the egg pokemon only ever hatches into the mother. If you only have a male fennekin and need some starters for trading (obviously don’t trade your original one) then i’d be happy to give you two of my baby fennekin, they go pretty quickly over the GTS. My friend code is 5284-1639-5627

          • For reals? That’d be awesome. Which pokemon do you want in return for them? 🙂

            I am pretty sure my Fennekin is a female. I am a LONG way away from getting Ditto though. I just read from google that you dont get him until later on.

          • Yeah no problem, I’ve currently got a box of them (hoping for a shiny, I’ve already run into a shiny fletchling so i think my luck in that department has run dry but one can hope). I don’t want anything, unless you don’t want your Xerneas! I’m not fussed, just trying to help out. You’d have to be pretty lucky to have a female fennekin if you didn’t reset to get it, it’s only a 12.5% of being female

          • Really? Wow. Yeah I am pretty sure mine is female. I don’t have it on me to check, but I remember my whole team was female for a few hours ahaha. Sweet! Thanks a lot man. I will go on later today, no idea what my friend ID is, I am new to all this 3DS stuff ahaha.

          • From the 3DS home screen, in the middle top there’s a brown square smiley face. That’s your friends list, and from there you can add people etc. Be sure that you turn on the internet IN GAME for anything to work though

          • I would absolutely love to trade as well. I just joined the site for info and found you. I’ve added your friend code. May I trade you something for a fennekin?

          • She-she whore? Wow that’s funny coming from the massive attention whore. Why would anyone want to friend or trade with a trashy piece of turd like you.

          • Hey, I just got a ditto through trading (it is so easy to get Pokémon in this game), but when I put him in the daycare with a togepi I also got from trading (it is so easy to get Pokémon in this game…) the guy says they “prefer to play with other pokémon” …which is what he says when two Pokémon are incompatible for breeding.

            What gives? Are you /sure/ they didn’t remove Ditto’s ability to breed with any Pokémon?

            Edit: …problem resolved. Ditto is not a pedophile. This is good to know.

          • Can you explain what you mean by “Ditto is not a pedophile.” The daycare man is saying that with my Ditto and Nidorina. Any suggestions?

          • I believe he/she is referring to the fact that ditto will not breed with baby Pokemon.


  • Probably the best games in the series.

    I’ve sunk ~13 hours so far; I’m only just up to the 5th gym, I’ve seen so many different pokemon; I’ve not been bored…

    … and yes this is a big claim – It captures the nostalgia of the old pokemon games in a way that that Black/White never did. The world is massive, far bigger than the older games. The variety of pokemon both new and old. The sense of scale, the side quests, the locations to explore…

    • 13 hours and up to the 5th gym?

      i’m 8 hours into it and only up to the 2nd gym hahaha. I felt like I was taking my time to really enjoy the experience.

  • One thing I noticed last night, which I think is really cool, is that the Pokemon you see are very unique to that spot. For example, I seen a Ryhorn in Glittering Cave, then I looked into his Pokedex entry and noticed that he was unique to that one Cave. Checked a few other ‘mon and found they were exclusive to the places I found them as well.

    It is nice, since we are getting to over 700 Pokemon now, there is enough for them to include a huge diversity of Pokemon in the game, and it’s nice to know that the next Route I run through will have different ‘mon from the previous one.

    All in all, this game is amazing, best Pokemon game since SIlver and Gold.

  • So i’m not sure if it’s a hack or it’s legitimate but I was on the mystery trade thing and I sent in a level 12 Vivillon and I recieve a level 1 Absol. I can’t tell why something like that would happen. Anyone have any idea?

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