Silly, pointless, spoilerific.
I beat Pokémon X on the train, as is tradition. I tend to grow reluctant when I approach the end of something—sometimes because I don’t want it to end, sometimes because finishing it feels like an obligation to write commentary (how apropos!), but take away my internet and give me a DS for three hours, and things get done.
My Elite Four team consisted of Delphox (horrendously overleveled, but you can’t not take your starter to endgame), Xernas (underleveled to balance its legendary status, because bringing it felt plot-appropriate), Meowstic, Gogoat, and Houndoom. Even though I brought some of my less-leveled regulars, it was a pretty easy fight.
My most successful Pokémon experience to date was with Black, where I went in with plentiful knowledge about available Pokémon, carefully constructed a balanced team, and intentionally kept myself underleveled so that every fight would be a challenge. I did almost none of that with X; combined with the ridiculous ease of leveling, the result was a more haphazard and widespread team (I rotated between ~9 regulars; I usually have a team of 5 plus an HM slave) and few real challenges other than affording clothes at the Lumiose Boutique.
I had a similar lack of investment in the plot. I loved the story in BW; see my rambles here (“I am prone to making silly emotional connections in ‘just a game.’ But Pokémon has always encouraged just that sort of thing, with its Pokémon walking behind you and happiness points and Silver’s entire story arc—and now it wants to know: do we really believe it?”) and here (“In many ways the game ends where it began: it validates the questions we’ve all had about Pokémon, but gives us no answer. But behind the inscrutability is something vivid and clear—something alive, which stays alive, even after the credits. N gives it to us, that unanswerable question; he asks us to solve it ourselves.”) I can tell you what BW was about: are Pokémon friends are tools; how must our view of them change our relationships with them; how do our relationships with them define us? The questions are sometimes simplistic and sometimes inscrutable but they’re substantial, and BW is a thematic whole—even silly Team Plasma, even enigmatic N echo these questions back to the player.
So what’s XY about? The contradictions between an individual’s selfishness and his dreams for the future, I guess—ironically, I’m reading the Fate/Zero light novels right now and Emiya Kiritsugu’s story is pretty well identical. But while the hypocrisy between Team Plasma, Ghetsis, and N actually become central to BW(2)’s plot, the fact that Lysandre wants to create a beautiful world by destroying everyone but … a group of selfish people in red suits?? is never addressed. Meanwhile, AZ’s hilarious character design constantly distracts from the fact that his is the only sympathetic or memorable story in the game—and so while the game’s final battle is strong, he’s still a 9 foot tall man.
I’ll admit that I found BW more successful because I put more effort into it, and because its story was a pleasant surprise—not only is it robust for a Pokémon game, it’s based on themes which are central to the franchise and have particular personal appeal. It may be unfair to expect XY to recreate that, but the fact remains that XY feels insubstantial in comparison.
Visually, the game is a revelation. It’s the first true redesign in the series, and takes an unqualified leap forward; I thought some of the views in BW were breathtaking, but in XY the entire damn game is. I welcome the addition of character customization and the return of direct interaction with Pokémon—it has the potential to make for a more immersive world, and that’s exactly what Pokémon should be. I admire the subtlety of the relationship between player and rival (the other three friends didn’t mean quite so much to me), and love some of the adjustments made to game mechanics, namely the addition of Fairy type and the accessibility of IV and EV breeding, bless—those were a long time coming. Wondertrade, likewise, and the general accessibility of online play are fantastic additions
But BW had heart, it was wholehearted, it won my heart. XY failed to do so. As much as I appreciate XY as an overhaul of the franchise, the fact that it did so much so soon after BW/2’s release makes it feel as though other aspects fell by the wayside. BW taught me I can expect strong storytelling from Pokémon, but I didn’t find that here.
I was going to write some early thoughts about Pokémon X, and then suddenly I was one gym away from the Elite Four. I’ll give it this, the game is evidently playable. Rarely has Pokémon been this immersive, and that’s saying something—it’s on par with, maybe even exceeding, HeartGold/SoulSilver; in fact it apes those games: the direct interaction with Pokemon, the number of repeatable tasks that encourage constant play without being damningly repetitive. France is a pretty exaggerated stylization but it’s beautiful, as is the game’s art design; generation six Pokémon are great (it’s a small generation, but as a result feels particularly well designed and competitive) and attainable Pokémon from previous generations are similarly awesome; and: clothes.
In everything from nicknames to wardrobes to Pokémon-Amie, XY is about avatars, not characters. As a silent protagonist RPG it’s always had the potential to be both, but XY emphases the player’s personal choice, how they present and interact; to say this is my weakness is a vast understatement, and I want all the pretty clothes.
But. The game is stupidly easy, because the constant grinding for money (in order to obtain the pretty clothes) combined with the experience boosts attained via friendship mean that Pokémon become overleveled, fast. (Gym leader AI also seems a little dumber than it did in BW, perhaps?) This has given me the opportunity to try out more Pokémon than my usual 5 plus HM-slave team, and the roster of available Pokémon is so fantastic that I can appreciate the opportunity. But any sense of danger disappears when your core team is frequently 10 levels above the competition.
And what is the danger, really? BW (and to a slightly lesser extent, BW2) had a fantastic plot; Team Plasma may have been as shallow as anything, but the forces behind them, and the conflict that resulted, said something substantial about Pokémon and their relationship with humans and, thus, about the world of the games. XY doesn’t say much. The character arcs for the player character and their friends are well-defined (nearly too much so, but the rival is still fantastic), but the central conflict, at least thus far, prompts nothing in me as either roleplayer or critic. It may not be fair to want a repeat performance of the exceptional BW storytelling, but we know now that Pokémon can do more—and here, it fails too.
So, a mixed experience: addicting, incredibly beautiful, Fairy type is a distinct step forward, but something lacks.
Favorites of Gen 6!: Espurr and Meowstic. Pumpkaboo, but I will probably only be able to raise one worth using in post-game (due to the added complexity of size varieties). Vivillion and Skiddo/Gogoat have both been strong teammates, and Klefki has potential for postgame breeding. I went with the fire starter and am glad to have done so.