Published on February 2nd, 2014 | by Christian0
Pokemon X/Y – I Wanna Be Not Bad
Happy new year! A little late, I know, but I just haven’t had much time to write between traveling to LA and Japan over the holidays, catching up with friends, work, and of course games now that I’m back home. I’ve been gaming A LOT since the last update, and the time off has given me some time to reflect on what I’ve played over the last few months. When deciding what game to start a regular update schedule back up with, Pokemon X/Y sprang to mind immediately. Even though I finished it in November and haven’t really touched it much since then, I still feel like I have a lot to say about it so here we go.
As far as I know, there is no Pokemon continuity, so no prior experience with the series is necessary to pick this one up and immediately understand what’s going on. You should probably know that it’s a JRPG series about subjugating these little creatures that appear in the tall grass and forcing them to fight to exhaustion against other pokemon. At the start, you’re sent out from home to go on a journey: sort of a coming of age quest facilitated by Professor Sycamore, who gives you and your friends your first pokemon. After choosing your starting pokemon, you set out to defeat all the gym leaders, discover the secret of mega evolutions, “catch them all” and so on. Even though this is well trodden ground for the series, it still feels super refreshing to play a JRPG that’s just about kids doing kid stuff, and is not at all about being the chosen one and saving the world from some cataclysmic disaster brought on by a well-meaning but ultimately misguided villainous mastermind. Even though it eventually becomes clear that it actually is about all that bullshit, the simple story and setting are nice while they last.
Even at its worst the narrative isn’t all that terrible as far as JRPGs go, and really it’s just a vehicle to give you a tour of the world and some context in which to collect items, pokemon, and HMs/TMs with which to teach them moves. What is more troubling to me is that the story is more or less a 30+ hour tutorial for the real meat of the game: competitive pokemon battling. This is the part where people who are super into Pokemon will tell you that the game is deep as all hell, with an extremely complex meta game and a staggering variety of possible team compositions and strategies. They’re not wrong, this shit is crazy, and you can fall down a serious rabbit hole researching strategies and team builds. Just learning the typing and weaknesses of each pokemon is bad enough, but couple that with breeding, IVs, EVs, held items and the huge move list, and suddenly the whole thing becomes nothing short of overwhelming.
I think a lot of people would argue that the complexity of the competitive game is what separates the dabblers from serious players, but in my opinion the high barrier to entry is doing more harm than good. If the skill of the game is in team composition and decisions made during the match, why make it so that you have to sink hours upon hours into activities that take zero skill such as breeding and EV training? Anybody who is capable of following a guide can raise a team of pokemon this way with the requisite time and patience, and even though nobody is forcing players to raise a team of perfect IV pokemon with full EVs and good moves, I don’t see why one should bother to compete without them. The fact that so much of the online discussion about Pokemon revolves around these topics is proof enough that they’re absolutely essential to enjoying the competitive game, and it sucks because there is nothing fun or satisfying about riding your bicycle around for hours on end to hatch dozens upon dozens of eggs hoping for pokemon with good IVs (base stats). I should note that this entry has made it much easier to raise a team with the friend safari, EXP share, and super training all helping to lessen the drudgery of raising pokemon, but any way you cut it it’s still time wasted grinding in activities that are not the real game.
It would have been better if the pokemon you played through the story with were actually creatures you could expect to bring into a fight and do well with, but that’s absolutely not the case since their IVs will be trash and their EVs will be all over the place by the time you’re done with the game. After you’ve climbed to the top of the metaphorical pokemountain, take all those pokemon that carried you through hundreds of matches against CPU trainers and wild pokemon and just throw them in the garbage or bench them for use as HM slaves because they will be terrible. Wild caught pokemon will more often than not have terrible IVs, making them much worse than ones obtained through breeding and the post-game friend-safari, so you basically have to start from scratch once you’ve finished the game. For a series that has long had the catchphrase, “Gotta catch ’em all,” you would expect that you should catch the fuck out of every new pokemon you see, but doing this is mostly a complete waste of time unless you just want to fill out your pokedex.
So it probably sounds like I hated this game, but actually I didn’t. Even though are definitely parts of the design that are wholly incongruous with the moral of the game’s story, and even though you’re stuck playing a puppy-mill simulator for hours on end if you want to raise good pokemon, those things don’t change the fact that the game is complex, mechanically sound, and visually pleasing JRPG with a brisk story that doesn’t overstay its welcome. It is worth noting that the campaign is a little on the easy side, with a very sudden and unexpected difficulty spike when you’re facing the elite four, so keep that in mind if you don’t think you’ll be interested in the post game stuff and are just hoping for some kind of challenge from the main game. As a standalone single player JRPG it’s not the best thing out there, but you can do much worse and I don’t regret the time I spent with it. I thought I might be more up to the task of raising a team of bad-ass pokemon who were down to rumble, but with my limited time to game and extensive backlog, I couldn’t justify the time spent jumping through hoops for hours on end to get to the real meat of the game. There is so much to do in this game that it could basically be endless for the right person, and while I enjoyed my time with it, I’m not that person.