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For a game that grew from its creator's love of collecting bugs as a kid, and the game rock-paper-scissors, there's an incredible amount of depth to Pokémon. From its beginnings — Red and Blue was released in the west in 1998, two years after their Japanese release — it's grown from a game that was straight up about pitting monsters against each other to something that's nigh on impossible to see the entirety of without hours upon hours of gameplay.
That core gameplay, so engrossing in and of itself, has expanded to include a game that has something for pretty much everyone. I've invested over 72 hours in Pokémon X, and, while I'm reaching the end of the main storyline, I feel I've only scratched the surface of what the game has to offer.
The Pokémon stock-in-trade storyline remains in place. You play a young man or lady embarking on your Pokémon quest after receiving your first Pokémon. The aim is to travel around to all the Pokémon gyms in the Kalos region to receive the eight gym badges and become a Pokémon master — something that seems to be a bit of a rite of passage in the Pokémon universe (and which leaves the small children standing by the roadside waiting to battle passers-by something of a mystery).
Of course, no Pokémon game would be complete without a nefarious team of ne'er-do-wells with a secret plot to ruin Pokémon for everyone; so, while you're out and about collecting badges, you'll also run into members of Team Flare and their leader, Lysandre, who all claim to just want to make the world beautiful. It's certainly a curious goal; and, without spoilers, their plot is a lot more ambitious than any Pokémon villains to date. Future iterations of the game will be hard pressed to top it.
So the basic set-up remains the same, even down to choosing one of three Pokémon from a nutty professor (who your in-game mum seems to think is pretty hot. Grossssss). This serves to make returning players feel at home in Kalos, with the familiar set-up like a warm blanket.
Core gameplay remains the same, too: you travel around battling wild Pokémon in random encounters, as well as the people who loiter around the roads trying to put together the best elemental team for any other Pokémon the game can throw at you. For Pokémon newcomers, this means that each Pokémon has an elemental type; each of these elemental types have strengths and weaknesses against other elemental types, and the idea is to match them up so that you, as often as possible, have a strong elemental advantage over your opponent.
In and of itself, this makes for some pretty compelling gameplay; but Pokémon X and Y have a few new tricks up their sleeve.
The first big change you'll notice when you load the game is that it's had rather a significant graphics overhaul. It still looks kind of the same — an isometric-ish view (with a slightly lower camera angle) for the most part, switching occasionally to third person in the giant capital, Lumiose — but everything's been given a bit of a polish, with tighter shading and colouring and some subtle animations that really make the world pop: wind blows over grass, waves on water and character animations, such as idle stretches, the way your avatar crouches to talk to small children and Pokémon or tilts their head up to talk to taller characters. You can also visit in-game clothing stores and salons to change the appearance of your character.
Battle animations are likewise impressive. However, after looking at them for an hour, we did what we always do in Pokémon games: we turned them off. Not because they were boring to watch, but they just take up a lot of time and drag out the battles. Switching them off keeps random encounters from getting too cumbersome. We did, however, like that environment changes — such as rain, snow or sandstorms — induce a subtle animation on the lower screen: as you battle, snowflakes or raindrops fall across your UI.
Because X and Y are the first Pokémon games to be made specifically for the 3DS, as well, there is a 3D element. This is available in battle and cut scenes, not the open world, and it's very basic; the elements on the screen look like paper dolls at varying depths rather than a full 3D environment, so we mostly left it off.
Experience points work a little differently in Pokémon X and Y, meaning you need to think a little harder about how you play. Firstly, when encountering random Pokémon in the wild, you get more XP points if you catch the Pokémon than if you knock it out, encouraging you to catch rather than beat completely. (Incidentally, this encouragement seems to be reinforced by the new fainting animations and the new positive adjectives describing Pokéballs as "comfortable".)
Secondly, the XP Share has had a small but significant change: rather than equipping it to a single Pokémon, you activate it from the Key Items pocket, allowing your Pokémon to hold other items, such as special boosts or berries. All XP is then shared between all six Pokémon in your party, with the Pokémon that participate in battles receiving full XP (that is, if an opponent gives 1000 XP, all battling Pokémon will get 1000 XP — the number of points isn't split), and the rest of the passive Pokémon will receive 500 XP each.
This is great for levelling useless Pokémon, such as Magikarp, but it does have its drawbacks. Well, one, really: none of the gyms so far have been a challenge. You can choose to switch the XP share on and off if you find the combat boring and easy. If you don't mind, carry on.
For Key Items that you use regularly, you can register them to the Key Items button — your 3DS' Y button. These include the Dowsing Machine, for finding invisible items, your bicycle and fishing rods. The Key Items button can have four items registered — you press the button, and then press the relevant direction on the D-pad to choose from the menu that pops up. This is deeply convenient.