While I am a huge Pokémon fan, the last generation of Black and White felt like the formula was getting stale. Many of the newly designed Pokémon felt unoriginal (a chandelier and an ice cream cone? Really?) and there seemed to be part of the soul of the series that was lacking. Fortunately, Game Freak has evolved (that pun had to happen eventually) the series in areas where it was becoming too iterative and refined systems in place to create the best Pokémon games since Pokémon: Gold and Pokémon: Silver.
One thing that Game Freak tried to improve and failed was the story which did not work very well. At the beginning your character sets off with four friends to explore the Kalos region. It feels like the game attempts to build them up as friends who you should care about throughout the entirety of the story, but they are one dimensional and luckily are not with you the majority of the time. Later on the overarching story attempts to make be somewhat darker and more serious only to fall flat. However, the story is not one of the more important aspects of Pokémon games.
What is important is the gameplay, presentation and features which these games deliver. Some of that refinement mentioned earlier is the opening to the game which is not only faster to jump into the action but makes a wider array of Pokémon types available from the beginning. Within the first hour, there are wild Pikachus and Fletchlings (a new Fire/Flying type). A couple of more hours in and there are wild Eevees which is a first. Another refinement comes with the expanded Exp. Share which is no longer a holdable item, but more of a switch that you can turn on and off. What is more game changing is that instead of affecting only one Pokémon in your party, it affects all five that are not battling which makes keeping a balanced team much easier. It also makes the game incredibly easy for the most part since you will never really need to grind out levels anymore. If this sounds like it takes away what many consider to be an integral part of the game, it does. However, as stated before it can be turned off.
Another major edition to gameplay is the all new Pokémon type, Fairy. This new type is a Dragon killer and can be very strong. To try one out, I raised a Sylveon (the new Eevee evolution that is Fairy type) and not only was it a tank but made short work of every Dragon type that I came up against. It was a balancing tweak that needed to happen and it is good that Game Freak is listening to criticisms and suggestions.
The last big addition is mega evolutions. Certain Pokémon who are holding specific stones can mega evolve in battle. Not only does this change their appearance but many times changes their type as well. For example Gyarados goes from a Water/Flying type, to a Water/Dark type reducing his four times weakness to Electric-based attacks in half. This is not a permanent evolution, however. Once the battle has ended, the Pokémon will revert back to its normal form. It can be activated with every battle you encounter.
One thing that many fans (well at least my friends and I) have wanted over the years is for portable Pokémon to look like their console counterparts i.e. Pokémon Stadium. In the past, we have had static sprites change into small movements to fully animated polygonal models for every single Pokémon with unique animations for each. In fact the entire world is now is completely in three dimensions with the camera many times opting for a side view rather than completely overhead one. The game looks fantastic from the small starting Vaniville Town to the massive Lumiose City with the imposing tower looming in the center of town. In terms of 3D usage of the 3DS feature, only battles utilize it while everything else is only shown in 2D. That is not too much of a problem whatsoever. Also this is the first time that your in-game avatar is customizable with jackets, bags, hats, pants, shoes and more to buy along with hair salons as well. This is a major step forward for the series to make you feel like not one of the millions of carbon copy character models out there.
Beyond the visual upgrade, the online component has seen a major update as well. Online features that were introduced in Pokémon Black and White have been largely expanded for X and Y. Here is a list of options available with a short description explaining each one:
Battle – gives the option to battle someone locally using infrared, Wi-Fi, or someone online that you choose on your Friends, Acquaintances or Passerby lists
Battle Spot – this will either automatically set you up with someone random to fight or join online tournaments
Trade – option to trade using infrared, Wi-Fi, or someone on your Friends, Acquaintances or Passerby lists
Wonder Trade – If you do not want a random Pokémon that you have caught, you can put them up for trade here and you will automatically be matched up looking for someone who is doing the same thing with a different Pokémon. You don’t know what you’ll receive in return until it happens so be careful!
Global Trade System – here you can search for specific Pokémon and can see what people are requesting for it. If you have the Pokémon, you can perform the trade. You can also put up your own Pokémon and make requests as well.
Those are the main options and they are all implemented very well. I Wonder Traded away a Pokémon I did not want and received one that was not in my Pokédex so it worked out well. All of these definitely show that Nintendo is beginning to look in the right direction in terms of online features.
Beyond that there is not much else to say. Finishing the main story took me 22 hours not deviating from the main path to explore all too often or level grinding. After you beat the game, there is a Friend Safari which acts as sort of a Safari Zone where you can go to catch Pokémon that do not usually appear in the wild. Also more legendary Pokémon appear as well. After beating the Elite Four and the Champion, I walked into a patch of grass only for Articuno to randomly appear. However, it was quite sad when it fled before I could catch it. Anyway, if you have loved Pokémon in the past, buy this game. If you are new, this is a great jumping on point as well with the overhaul of the graphic, robust online features and tight turn-based gameplay. This is the definition of a system seller.
NOTE: The gameplay was conducted on Pokémon Y.