This is the main word to use when describing Pokemon X for me. The graphical style takes center stage in this sixth generation of Pokemon games, and there’s no lie there. It’s clear that Game Freak put their heart and soul into the look of this game, and it pays off. The style is colorful and smooth, designed to look good no matter what frame you’re in. It marks the perfect transition from 2D to 3D for the series, evolving the look but still leaving in enough visual cues to give the player a familiar experience. Despite the ability to move diagonal, the world is still based on tiles and simple architecture for the most part, and covers up the tilework to create nice changes in scenery. It’s one of the best looking games on the 3DS thanks to the well-chosen style.
Unfortunately, this seems to be the only real evolution in this generation, though. Okay, besides the obvious mega evolutions. While there are plenty of little tweaks to the formula, X and Y plays things rather safe, in fact. The story has gone back to simpler routes that fit right into the formula set in all previous generations but the 5th. No longer does the bad team control the plot and hound you at every turn. No longer do the gym leaders become plot relevant. In this story, it’s largely just you and your “friends.” These friends just didn’t strike me like the ones in Black and White did, and Team Flare didn’t bring out their characters like Team Plasma did for Cheren and Hugh. Maybe that’s just me. I think the best interaction between the player and Serena/Calum. I laughed out loud a few times at the end of rival battles because of the way Serena looked despondent and I looked just happy to be alive. There’s got to be some kind of UST there.
If it isn’t clear already, this game hasn’t torn White from its spot as my favorite game. My theory as to why it didn’t work is pretty simple. With Pokemon Black and White, they were creating a new generation on old hardware, and this forced them to innovate. They had to give the Pokemon personality through animations, pushing the 2D sprites to their limits, and they had to create something visually dynamic. They could do this because they now had a mastery over the DS technology, and thus made a game that soared on things the series hadn’t seen yet. X and Y simply focused on its visual style. Moving to 3D was a big deal, and X and Y plays on that very well, it just sacrificed a lot of the last generation’s awesome additions in the process.
I’m surprisingly not as bitter about the inclusion of older Pokemon as I thought I’d be. The new visuals and Mega Evolution mechanic help to make old Pokemon feel new. I personally stuck to new Pokemon aside from Venusaur and Scrafty, but it was cool to see some old favorites given new life. The Mega Evolution mechanic is pretty cool. Some look better than others, and it’s pretty fun to hit that button and watch the sparks fly. Considering they give you a generation one starter that will have this ability, there’s not a whole lot of room to play around with it during the main story, but it’s a fun option to have and explore.
Kalos as a region didn’t strike me as overly fantastic. Again, the strength here largely comes from the visual style, though there are plenty of fun twists on getting around. As nice and large as Kalos is, it does suffer from some pacing issues. Routes feel very, very short somehow, maybe due to the new perspective. Yet I remember it being four hours between my first and second badges. I felt like I’d traveled halfway across the world, and there was no plot going on to keep it interesting or tell me I was headed in the right direction. This was especially jarring when I found out the other gyms came and went super fast. Perhaps due to the nature of this generation’s EXP Share, my team leveled up incredibly fast. By the end of the game, my team had higher levels than some of my Pokemon from older games do after many hours of post-game content. Yet my opponents didn’t reach levels higher than they did in Red/Blue. Higher than most games yes, but still enough for me to wipe the floor with most enemies just with experience gained by searching routes for all the Pokemon in them and battling all the trainers I could find. Very little grinding involved. For the first time, I challenged gyms with no clear advantage…and I still came out victorious every time.
I didn’t have too many problems with the game, per se, just that certain parts of it weren’t that great. In Black and White there was an interesting plot driving you forward all the time and a world full of unfamiliar creatures. It felt like a real adventure. X and Y always felt like a safe world (even though in some ways it was the least safe world yet). Sure, it was a beautiful world, but not consummately.
Okay, spoiler time.
Honestly, the story got really good for a few minutes. Of course, this happened after the 7th gym, where Lysandre, and unfortunately underdeveloped villain, revealed he was the Big Bad (shocker, by the way) and was planning to destroy Kalos. Okay, destroying Kalos does indeed one up Ghetsis’ plans (though Lysandre is nowhere near as evil), but it gets even heavier. As it turns out, Kalos was the center of a great Pokemon war, during which a King decided to Fullmetal Alchemist his dead Pokemon back to life…and then use said same technique in reverse to destroy everything. …Why couldn’t the whole game play off of this? One of the best parts of the game was actually activating the Ultimate Weapon yourself. Like, Oh shit! The story has it’s moments indeed, but they’re largely all in this one place. Oh and in the parade at the end of the game after you think it’s all over.
Which brings me to the aftergame. I’m kind of lost here. There’s really not a whole lot open to you. You find a few places that aren’t open to you until you become champion…but they’re incredibly disappointing, only containing a legendary Pokemon and nothing else. There’s nowhere to go to have casual training battles for EXP and money. You’ve explored pretty much all of the map by the end of the game, so there’s nothing new there. Unless we’re missing something huge here, I don’t see too much that will keep me coming back to this game for hours and hours. It’s quite disappointing that there’s not more happening in Kalos now.
In all, Pokemon X was a good experience. I loved marveling at the world Game Freak built this time around, but I couldn’t shake that feeling that these visuals weren’t accompanied by equally compelling gameplay. The story was largely weaker this time, and the pacing was quite wobbly, especially when it came to leveling. The world felt a bit smaller than usual (again, perhaps thanks to perspective) and yet more leveling up happened in it. It felt incongruous. Nevertheless, I’ve enjoyed my time with the game, and I do appreciate features like Pokemon Amie (tedious though it seems) and Super Training (which still has a bit much science to it to be fully enjoyable and beneficial at the same time). The soundtrack here is also pretty good, though some of the more intense battle themes rely on too much ambience (though the Xerneas/Yveltal theme is very badass). If nothing else, Pokémon X gets me excited for what we will see in the future on the 3DS. This feels like just a taste of the raw potential of Pokémon on the system, and I'd love more.
Edit: I forgot to mention trainer customization. It's about damn time! I'm glad to see it in, but after playing Animal Crossing all summer I was very very underwhelmed by it. Yes, I can dress myself pretty much exactly like I do in real life (sans glasses), but I was kind of hoping for some really exciting costumes and combinations and whatnot. Also, why can't I take off my hat? The hatless model exists in the game for when you get your hair cut...so why cant I just take it off? This is another thing I'm looking forward to being expanded.