It has now been about five months since Pokemon X and Y was released across the world, spurring on millions of gamers to make a return to the franchise, some for the first time in over a decade. During those five months, I’m both proud and ashamed to admit that I’ve put in nearly 600 hours of play time and came to learn that I hadn’t really understood the true complexity of the games before playing Pokemon X. I’ve always been a Pokemon fan, ever since that fateful day that I picked up my copy of Red version all those years ago. As a kid, playing Pokemon was far more about experiencing the adventure and using your favorite Pokemon rather than the competitive battling, especially because of the hardware’s limited connection capabilities. I think that an awful lot of people who played Pokemon as a kid simply grew out of being able to appreciate the game for its single player experience, which was created to be easy enough for even the most casual Pokemon player to beat. On one hand, I’ve always known on some level that I was only scratching the surface of Pokemon, but it never really occured to me that the parts I was missing could actually be more fun than what I already had, so I never really bothered investigating. Man, am I glad that I did.
Part of the reason that I got into the competitive battling scene is because I had heard that Pokemon X/Y had introduced a lot of mechanics to make breeding easier. This is important because when it comes to fighting online, a Pokemon without perfect or near-perfect genetics simply cannot compare to one that does. These Pokemon genetics are referred to as individual values (or IVs) and determine the rate at which a Pokemon’s six primary stats grow, with a value of 0 to 31 assigned to each. Previously, an item called the Destiny Knot was used to help breeding parents pass on their IVs, allowing exactly three IVs to pass from the breeding pair to their offspring. In Pokemon X/Y however, the Destiny Knot allows for exactly five IVs to pass from parents to child, making breeding for five or six IV Pokemon far easier than ever before. On top of the ability to breed IVs more reliably, Pokemon X/Y introduced a new category of passive abilities called hidden abilities that are much rarer than their regular counterparts. Most Pokemon have one or more passive abilities available to the species in addition to the hidden ability, but an individual can only have a single ability. Encountering a wild Pokemon with a hidden ability is much more difficult than finding one with a standard passive ability, as they can only be found in rare horde battles or in an endgame area called the Friend Safari. As well as letting trainers catch Pokemon with hidden abilities, the Friend Safari provides access to species that can’t be found in the main game and guarantees that every Pokemon encountered will have at least two perfect IV values. Though the Friend Safari helps massively with breeding, the downside is that you only get one safari area with three species of Pokemon per friend code registered.
Pokemon X/Y also introduced some changes to how Pokemon train their effort values (or EVs), which represent physical conditioning, such as strength or endurance training. When EVs are combined with IVs and the Pokemon’s nature, the range of possible stat spreads for a single species of Pokemon is huge, allowing for many different builds and strategies. Training EVs can be tedious, as gaining a few EVs in the wrong stat will force you to start over. To streamline EV training, Pokemon X/Y introduced two features that are useful for different reasons. The first feature is Super Training, which lets the player gain EVs by playing a mini-game rather than battling so that they are always getting the EVs they want. Super Training isn’t really faster than just battling wild Pokemon for EVs, but it ensures that you won’t have to start over part way through due to a mistake. Super Training also makes counting the EVs that have been gained much easier, as it actually displays the numerical values, unlike in battles. The other feature that was introduced to make EV training easier is horde battles, which face the trainer off against five wild Pokemon at once. By fighting five Pokemon at once, the player is essentially gaining EVs at five times the rate that they would have in a regular encounter. When combined with power training items and Pokerus, horde battles make EV training far easier than ever before.
With Pokemon X/Y drastically reducing the legwork required before a trainer can get involved in the competitive battling scene, having strong online functionality was crucial to the game’s success. Despite the limitations imposed by Nintendo’s friend code system, finding opponents to battle online is a breeze due to the Pokemon Global Link matchmaking system. Players can choose either a free battle or a ranked battle and then select from one of four battle types: single, double, triple or rotation. Unfortunately, Nintendo decided not to include the classic 6v6 battle type in their matchmaking system, which is a major pain in the ass if that’s your favorite battle type like me. Instead of simply entering a matchmaking system, players looking for a 6v6 battle have to challenge random passers-by, which fails more often than not and involves a lot of waiting around. This is the single biggest criticism that I can conjure up for the game and if Nintendo managed to somehow fix it, I wouldn’t hesitate to give Pokemon X/Y a perfect ten out of ten rating (something I’ve never done). Of course, many players have found a way around this by joining internet forums in order to find opponents more easily, but I think this is something that could be incorporated into the game with ease.
If you’ve been a Pokemon player in the past, but haven’t yet gotten your hands on a copy of Pokemon X/Y, then you’re really missing out. Hands-down the best game in the series so far, Pokemon X/Y caters to rookies, veterans, hardcore gamers, casual players and everything in between. If you do own a copy of the game but haven’t beaten it yet or just gotten bored with it, I strongly recommend giving breeding a shot, as the Pokemon that result from it are often on another level entirely. Once you’ve seen the results, don’t be surprised if you can’t stop. For those who think that beating the Elite Four or any other trainers in the single player portion of the game is comparable to fighting even an inexperienced human opponent, you really haven’t even begun to experience the game at its finest. When two trainers who know their stuff face off in battle, it becomes all about who has the superior prediction abilities, almost like a game of chess.