I was a fan of Pokémon as a child, back during the original Pokémon era… I watched the original show and played Blue back in the day. I lost interest when the show started having Pokémon talent shows and other utterly ridiculous concepts… but I’ve always hoped for a game that allowed me to truly get that Pokémon battle experience. It’s one of those childhood fantasies that just won’t go away – right there with the old 90’s movie style VR. It’s unlikely to ever become a reality, but Pokémon X is trying to take us one step closer to it.
A Whole New Breed
Speaking as someone who was largely divorced from Pokémon for around a decade, coming into this one meant familiarizing myself with a whole new array of Pokémon, types, and other facets… this would’ve been a good thing, If the new Pokémon weren’t so utterly stupid. Looking at this generation’s Pokémon, with a few exceptions, it feels like the design team literally came into a room and said ‘What haven’t we done yet?’ and whatever someone said, they put in. A flying sword, a keyring, a weird blob that was somehow a dragon, and it just gets worse from there. I ended up using a team of Pokémon to ‘beat the game’ that was predominately composed of this generation’s starter Pokémon, who were among those exceptions, and Pokémon from the first few generations, aka. before they went completely bat-shit insane.
And I’m not referring to the 3D provided by the 3DS. Like with most games, the 3D use is extremely minimal and doesn’t really add anything to the experience. What is really noteworthy is the added layer of visual depth to the combat. In stead of just seeing vague silhouettes of the Pokémon you use like it always has been, you actually see your Pokémon’s full form, even partially animated. It sounds like a small step forward, and in reality it is… but it has a pretty significant impact on the feel of the game. It takes the game from feeling almost like a turn based strategy game and makes it really feel like Pokémon. It has taken them forever to reach this point, but I’m glad they have.
Social, Multiplayer, and Anonymous Interaction
First and foremost, outside of direct competitive play, this game is almost entirely antisocial. The interactions you can have with other people are so shallow, so faceless, and so hands off that it doesn’t really even count. Even things like trading, which could be a very social component, are handled almost exclusively anonymously. For something that could be such an interesting social experiment, it’s kind of disappointing to see how conservatively they went.
The being said, many of these shallow, faceless systems are designed in a fairly interesting way. Wonder trading allows you to make a completely random trade, and is almost addictive in a way. You select the Pokémon you want to send in the wild, and you get randomly matched with another person who sends you their Pokémon. There’s also a trade network that allows you to pick and choose what you want and what you’re willing to give for it, and if there’s a match the trade will happen. It’s still very hands off.
They also added a series of abilities you can use that buff yourself in various ways, but you can only use them so often. However, if you use those on people over the internet (either people you know or just random other players), they can be used far more often. This adds a completely harmless way to help others, and if you’re connected to the internet occasionally you’ll get a random buff from someone else doing the same.
The sad part is that they’ve implemented a system that seems designed to punish people whose friends don’t have 3DS. There’s a feature known as Friend Safari that allows you access to some Pokémon that cannot be found anywhere else as well as easy access to some difficult to find Pokémon. Sadly, which Pokémon are available are dependent upon how many friends you have and who they are. Each person’s Safari has a few Pokémon in it, so if you don’t know people with 3DS, you’re out of luck unless someone happens to be trading one of these on the trading network. Given how incredibly awkward it is adding friends on the 3DS, this is a really stupid decision, and one that I find a little bit mindboggling.
Don’t Mess With Success
Clearly the Pokémon model, with it’s Rock-Paper-Scissors style balance and turn based gameplay, has been a glowing success so there’s no reason to change much. And they haven’t… they’ve added a new Pokémon type and that’s about it. The new type, Fairy, cements a type of ability that has been in the game for a long time and fits into the style and concept of the game. It’s a good addition, but a small one.
The game’s difficulty in the single player is absurdly easy. Trainers seem to always only have one Pokémon, which seems so ridiculous to me, and even your rival never carries a full belt. Now, this might have been a recent trend – as I mentioned above the last Pokémon I played was blue – but it seems like such a bad idea. By dropping the difficulty so much, it takes all the satisfaction out of getting gym badges and winning fights. I did not lose a single battle throughout the entire game – and I didn’t even use any of the permanent boost items.
Making matters worse, the game’s triple-threaded story is overwritten and lacking almost any interesting content. The ‘Team Flare’ story is really cliché and awkwardly written, featuring quite possibly the most pitiful villain I’ve ever seen, the main character’s personal story feels contrived and lacking in realism… the characters involved are just oppressively sweet and it just feels fake. Now I get that this is a fantasy world and realism doesn’t matter overall, but making your characters at least behave in somewhat understandable ways is important to a game’s overall fantasy. Lastly, the legendary Pokémon and ‘ancient war’ story arc… it just didn’t fit. It really feels so opposed to ‘Pokemon’ that it seems as though someone felt like Pokémon needed some more mature story content and it just didn’t work. At all.
Now, I understand that Pokémon is predominately about the competitive aspects, so the single player experience is largely seen as unimportant. But why make the single player so unsatisfying and unrewarding? It’s just disappointing.
Killing You With Cuteness
One of the few redeeming qualities of the single player is not even a core part of the game, it’s a minigame. The Pokémon-amie minigame set are adorable and addictive. The small games are fun and playing with your Pokémon is charming. Especially with Eevee, which the entire thing seems to be designed for. But almost any Pokémon, save the humanoid ones, make this minigame fun and adorable.
If all you’re interested in is the competitive aspect, the multiplayer or even just a Pokémon Battling simulator… Pokémon X is a great game and you should try very hard to just completely ignore most of the single player aspect. This game is a fantastic Pokémon game if you ignore the attempts at a story and the low difficulty of the core game. It makes some very interesting uses of the internet, and features some fantastic and long overdue improvements to the Pokémon franchise. It is just so unfortunate that they went so conservative in the social aspects, and that the story is so atrocious.