When Pokemon Red & Green launched in Japan in 1996 (and Red & Blue in the US in 1998), they were instant successes. The unique combination of solid RPG gameplay, and the 'Gotta catch 'em all' collection & training mechanic was found to be a highly addicting combination that has sold many millions of copies over the years. Pokemon X & Y is the start of the sixth generation of Pokemon games, and the first version for the Nintendo 3DS. The original Game Boy hosted the first two generations, the Game Boy Advance the third, and the Nintendo DS the fourth and fifth. X & Y are a large step forward for the series, while at the same time keeping true to what made the series so popular in the first place.
For those not familiar with the series' gameplay, Pokemon at first glance appears to be a rather simple RPG with an overhead view, and turn based battles. You, as a trainer, are being encouraged by your mom to explore the world and gather new Pokemon along the way. As you meet Pokemon in the wild (usually in tall grass), you can try to catch them inside of a little ball, called a Pokeball. Once caught, you can being them out of their ball at any time to battle for you, or also play with them, depending on the game. They level up as they gain experience, and learn new moves through leveling or via a TM or HM. Many Pokemon also evolve to a higher form when various conditions are met, like gaining levels, using items, and many more. This constant catch, train, learn, evolve (and breed!) cycle can go on as long as they player would like to keep playing. Your end goal is usually to become the best trainer in the region by defeating all of the gym leaders and the Elite Four, along with other goals like completing your Pokedex, which is a list of all Pokemon in the region or world.
Often in the history of Pokemon, Game Freak has been accused of being too conservative in between each game generation. For example, there was very little 3D rendering of the game world until generation five, despite gen four being on the same capable hardware. And now, after all these years, X & Y finally has 3D animated battles. The home console games have had 3D rendered battles since the original Stadium on the Nintendo 64, so having this on a main series portable game has been a long time coming, and it's finally here. Not only that, but you can battle in stereoscopic 3D as well, if you can tolerate the massive frame rate drop when doing so.
Despite being the most technologically advanced Pokemon game, this is also a game that in many ways is a return to the series' roots. While you do get a new starter like in every other new generation, you also get a second starter from the original Red & Blue: a choice of the classic Bulbasaur, Charmander, or Squirtle. Not only that, but the original legendary bird trio, and even the iconic legendary Mewtwo makes an appearance here. In my mind, this game is not only targeting long time fans or newcomers to the series, but it's trying to reach the older lapsed fans as well. I personally know of several who haven't touched a Pokemon game in ten or more years who grabbed this one, or even bought a 3DS for it. I can easily be included in that statistic (though I already had a 3DS).
I played a fair amount of Pokemon Red/Yellow as well as Crystal, both for Game Boy and Game Boy Color. But I never did complete them, and took a long, long break from all things Pokemon. So, when my nine year old daughter picked up Pokemon X with her birthday money (my wife let her do this without my upfront knowledge), I decided that since the cat was out of the bag, that I would grab a copy of Y for myself, and turn this into an opportunity for father/daughter bonding. Well, as you can imagine, the two other kids all wanted copies for themselves, and by January, we had four copies in our house (Wife/Mom was the only one who abstained). It didn't help that some of the kids' friends have the game, as do other adult friends and family members.
Given this unique situation, I got to see first hand not only a few differences in my children in how they approached the game, but also how they reacted to it, in both expressing their personalities, and it's potentially addictive qualities. My oldest, who got the game first, didn't really pick it up heavily until her brother and sister got into it; she was content watching Dad play for a long time before she really started playing, even though she had it first. She still plays occasionally, and she did beat the game, but she is definitely not the collecting type; she found a few that she liked, and stuck with them.
My other daughter is quite the opposite, and vigorously tries to collect them all (like Dad does). She also gets really excited about helping others get to the end, and she loves to battle (despite not having the best winning streak). My youngest is my son, who is somewhere in the middle. He really likes it a lot, but he is younger, so he doesn't get all of the nuances as well. He should beat it soon, and I think Poke fever should die down in our house soon after that.
So, what have I learned seeing this at work in my home? Well, a few things. Firstly, it is an extremely addicting game. Everyone in my house (except for my youngest, maybe) has put over one hundred hours into this game. There is always something more to do, or some new Pokemon to train. My kids also like to play with their Pokemon, which is a feature where you can tickle, pet, and feed your Pokemon, just like you might do with a pet. And, with the Internet features built in, it can be very social as well.
Another thing I have learned is that children are introduced to occult concepts through this game. Now, I am not going to say that all Pokemon games are bad for everyone, or that all parents should ban their children from playing this game, but be aware that if you are not equipped to deal with this, like I believe that I am, it might be best to stay away.
There are a few things in this area to be aware of. First, is that the trainers bring in other creatures to fight for them. Some may view this as analogous to summoning in the occult realm. Another aspect is dualism, or the idea of light vs. dark, with neither being inherently better or worse than another. For example, there is a complex rock/paper/scissors system with eighteen different types of creatures and attacks, with different strengths and weaknesses of each. Certain types, like psychic, ghost, dark, and dragon, are not considered by nature any better or worse than fire, water, bug, normal, or the new fairy type. This is unfortunately an occult concept.
There is also the concept of evolution, though to be honest, I feel that this issue is somewhat overblown in some circles. Yes, many Christians do not believe in 'molecules to man' evolution, and I count myself among them. But changes within a species, or complex adaptation, is observed in nature, and many of these changes are more like this, or more simply growing up into adulthood, and then are called 'evolution' to make them more dramatic. In this instance, I don't think it's a huge deal, but it's something to be aware of, and I understand why some may disagree with me.
So, with such a large explanation above, why did this game get such a good moral score? Well, the thing is, for an older gamer who is more mature, this series of games really is harmless. So, for parents of young children, caution should be exercised. But the game does have some reasonably positive moral content as well.
For example, people are encouraged to live life to the fullest, and to help others. There is also a strong emphasis placed on the value of friendships. One particularly touching example is when an old man, whose wife had recently passed, asks you to borrow a Pokemon to keep him company for his remaining years. Upon his passing, he leaves you a note thanking you for allowing him that blessing. Another aspect of the story talks about what lengths people can go for the love of another (in this case Pokemon), and how hurting others for the selfish desire of keeping oneself and his friend together is never worth the cost. Other plot lines are not always this deep, but the important take away here is that there are some good things here to go with the bad.
And, as for the game itself, well, it is a lot of fun. As previously alluded to, this is a great re/starting point for the series, and the gameplay is as solid as ever. The overhead world map, the turn based RPG battles, the collection aspect – these all work as gameplay mechanics as well as they ever have. And there is no doubt that this game is extremely polished, and a lot of thought was put into it. My only complaint, other than some patches that were required to avoid game breaking bugs, is the low frame rate for battles when stereoscopic 3D is used. But if you turn that off via the slider (or use a 2DS), that is not an issue at all.
There are also some new gameplay mechanics, like the new fairy type, as well as new sky trainer battles, where only your flying Pokemon can participate. There are also a ton of very impressive Internet features, including not only online battling and trading, but plenty of opportunities to do so against both your friends and random people online. You can also use game chat with your friends, which is basically an embedded VOIP (Voice Over IP) system built into the game. I was pretty impressed with what social features are included, though I can't really say which of these features is new since I have not played Pokemon Black or White.
I could easily double the size of this already long review by diving into each of the aspects of Pokemon X & Y, from it's apparently simple but deceptively complex battle system, to the farming, breeding, training, and many more systems and features that I have undoubtedly skipped. But when it really comes down to it, if you are looking for a strategy and gameplay driven RPG experience, this game can definitely deliver. If you play RPGs mostly for the story, then you might be disappointed. If you plan on getting this game for young kids, proceed with caution. If the cat's already out of the bag in your home, you could do far worse. But think long and hard before being the parent, grandparent, etc. who introduces a family of young children to Pokemon. While it's not all bad, there is definitely enough here to give responsible Christian parents pause in considering how they will deal with the candy-coated occult-like influences contained within.