By taking big steps in visuals and connectivity, it further illustrates the irresistable charm of the Pokemon world
After having two generations released on the very same portable - a somewhat rare occurrence for the Pokemon franchise, Pokemon X arrives on the Nintendo 3DS and marks, without any drop of doubt, the biggest leap the franchise has taken in more than six years. It does not rock the series' pillars to their core, neither does it need to do so, but it presents punctual innovations that are enough to draw back those who have been away from this wonderful universe, and please the dedicated loyal fans who have stuck with it since its early monochromatic days. It is addictive and delightfully engaging, making it easy to see how, after almost two decades, the Pokemon games are still able to immerse adults and enchant children with their magic.
By now, the core mechanics of Pokemon are well-known to anyone who is able to tell a Pikachu from a Charmander. Players take the role of a small-town trainer who, when gifted with his first Pokemon, sets out on an adventure that will have him traversing a continent on which the only worries are: training a strong Pokemon team to beat the eight gym leaders and gain access to the Pokemon League, and stopping some new sort of lunatic from destroying everything that is amazing about this virtual world by harnessing the power of a legendary Pokemon. It is a simple concept that is joined by gameplay that is easy to grasp, but that - at the same time - offers a ridiculous amount of depth for those who go looking for it.
The key reason the Pokemon franchise thrives, besides the fact catching those creatures and training them in battle is unreasonably addictive, is because of its feel-good beautiful world. It offers no major worries, no stressful problems, and everybody seems to be willing to lend a hand and words of advice. And, this time, that world is more gorgeous than ever. The smart use of the more advanced hardware that houses this sixth generation of games is first seen on its graphics. For the first time ever, sprites have been replaced by character models, and the Pokemon world has been finally revealed in its 3D form. The game is so aware of the beauty of most of its scenarios that moments on which the camera shifts to different angles to display the full beauty of what Game Freak has built are not rare.
If outside the battles the visual work is impressive, inside them the work of the developers is just flooring. The monsters are fully animated, moving naturally while waiting to attack, and the animation of the moves they perform is so nicely integrated with their models that it is impossible not to wonder the gargantuan hours that have been devoted to making every single Pokemon have a relatively unique way to deliver every single attack that is available. It is astounding dedication, and even it causes occasional frame-rate drops, it has significant results in the quality and excitement brought by battles.
Another new addition that spices things up within battles are the Mega Evolutions: temporary transformations certain Pokemon go through when carrying a special stone. They last as long as the battle does, but even if you have multiple Pokemon that can mega evolve, only one of them can do it per battle. Those evolutions drastically improve the Pokemon's stats, and while they are undeniably awesome, they shift the balance of battle so strongly that they create a problem on online battles, where carrying a Pokemon that mega evolves in your team becomes almost mandatory in order to achieve victory. All in all, it is a nice addition, but one that limits players' options when assembling a Pokemon team.
One of the main changes made to the game is the fact that the useful Exp. Share item now plays a significant role. This time, it is acquired very early in the adventure, and instead of only sharing the experience points only to the Pokemon that holds it, it now gives 50% of the points to all Pokemon of your party that have not participated in the battle. In a very wise decision, the game allows players to turn the item on and off at will, meaning that those who want to grind their way through the game can happily do so, and those who want some help when leveling up their monsters will leave it on and enjoy its amazing benefits. Its core positive effect, and a blessing to the franchise, is the fact training low-leveled monsters is no longer a grind, making it easy for players to increase the number of strong Pokemon they have available to use even when they cannot spend long hours playing the game.
Speaking of Pokemon variety, Pokemon X is able to please fans from all generations. These new versions only offer 68 new monsters, an all-time low, therefore forcing the game to make full use of the absurdly large roster of Pokemon presented by older generations. Consequently, the game is not economical when it comes to the wild monsters. Most of the routes, caves and water bodies have a very high amount of different species waiting to be caught, giving players an amazing number of options when it comes to building teams or simply experimenting with new creatures to see how powerful and effective they can be in battle. It is easy to lose track of time walking around the grass to discover if there is some unknown kind of Pokemon available in a certain area.
Bigger than the extra value brought by the game's graphical advances is how incredible its online features are. With a simple press of a button that connects the game to the Internet, a large number of online options becomes available. A large panel on the system's lower screen displays, through trainer avatars, the friends that are online or disconnected; the passers-by, who are players that are in the same area of the world as you are; and the acquaintances, which are the people with which you have battled and traded. By tapping any of the avatars, it is possible to gain access to other players' profiles, make a trade proposal, or challenge anyone for a battle. That seamless integration, that keeps players connected and the doors to the online world wide open in the midst of gameplay, turns Pokemon X into a deeply connected game with large possibilities for social interaction.
And that is not all. At any moment, it is possible to gift your friends through one of many O-Powers, which can temporarily increase one's Pokemon's stats, the experience points they get, and other effects. In addition, the already famous Global Trading System and Battle Spot are back and better than ever. The GTS now allows players to put their monsters up for trade and request, in return, Pokemon they have never seen by simply typing the name of the desired monsters. Meanwhile, the Battle Spot has pretty much all possibilities of battle setups and matches players up accordingly. Furthermore, upon registration on the Pokemon Global Link website, it allows Rating Battles, which keep track of players' battle records and awards a certain punctuation depending on one's numbers of wins and losses.
One of the game's few problems is how it lacks in post-game content. Although it is to be expected that Nintendo will eventually come up with some events involving legendary monsters, the game does not offer much to do after players have completed the main adventure. The online component addresses part of that issue, since it gives competitive players more than enough reason to improve their teams and train new Pokemon, but, other than that, there is little to no side content.
To those who are willing to gain an extra edge in a competitive environment, or within the game itself - even if beating a Pokemon game has never required a huge amount of effort and battle expertise - the training of Pokemon's EVs, points that increase a certain stat of your creatures, is now plain to see. By engaging on a touch-screen based shooting mini-game on which your Pokemon must avoid soccer balls while scoring goals by hitting certain parts of a giant balloon, it is possible to make your Pokemon more powerful in the areas you want to. It makes EV training incredibly accessible, as opposed to the obscure way in which it was implemented on past versions, while still requiring a good amount of effort to be accomplished.
Pokemon X does its job extremely well in most areas. It moves the series forward, especially on its visual and online department, and it brings new elements to the table that make high-level training easier to figure out. It comprehends and highlights the fact that Pokemon, almost twenty years after its original release, is still a global phenomena among people from all ages, and it brings them together in this extremely alluring virtual universe. After all this time, the franchise's basics are still as strong as ever, and the added touches of quality brought by this generation make it quite blatant that the series is more than ready to face many other decades of gaming evolution.