Jumping into the world of Pokemon for the first time this late into the franchise’s life like I did is daunting. It immediately throws you into a world where you’re mom is totally cool with letting you travel across a giant city on your own by foot. It’s a world where everyone from toddlers to grandmothers are constantly picking battles with you for no apparent reason. Beyond trying to grasp the ridiculousness of its fiction, I found that Pokemon X/Y is a dense game that assumes you’ve already played every entry in the series before. While I’m sure that master Pokemon trainers would enjoy how this cuts to the chase, as a newbie I floundered through its first 8 hours and almost gave up on it.
Then, after crossing what I thought was the most frustrating stretch of the game, it suddenly clicked for me. I finally got a grasp on many of the RPG elements that the game doesn’t really teach. The path forward became clear…most of the time. Most importantly, I began having fun with it.
Even though this is my first Pokemon, its premise is a familiar one I’ve heard many times before from players of past entries in the series. You start out as a budding trainer with dreams of being the very best (the best there ever was…sorry). Over the course of the game, you catch Pokemon in the wild and defeat all 8 gym leaders until you’re the true master. Along the way, you’ll also have to stop a stylish group of adversaries from destroying the world. Just another day for a boy, right?
I can’t speak for how this campaign compares to the others, though I found it to be mostly window dressing. The story beats and dialogue aren’t entertaining and only serve as a means of telling you where to go next. However, the game even struggles at that. Most frustrating were the cases where people would randomly block off a pathway without giving you any sort of indication for what you need to do to get them to move. For me, this phenomenon hit its absolute worst at the beach. A woman wouldn’t let me pass because she was busy trying to find her lost fossil. I wandered around for awhile trying to help her find it, only to read later in a guide that I had to go to a completely different section of the world first to save an unrelated scientist from the clutches of Team Flare. Only then will she let you pass, give you a dowsing rod and never even acknowledge the fact that she was missing something in the first place. I wasted a good hour of time on this?
In the grand scheme of things, the story is nothing more than a backdrop for all of the Pokemon action, which is actually quite awesome. There’s a lot of nuance to the combat, as every Pokemon brings with it a set of strengths and weaknesses. Match-up knowledge is crucial in this regard, as picking the right tools for the job can mean the difference between winning and losing. Realistically, you don’t have the time and energy to catch and train every single one, so it’s on you to try and develop a team that can cover as many use cases as possible. Most of the game revolves around these concepts, which does help to compensate for many of the game’s faults.
Even within the meat of the experience, there are aspects of it that drive me nuts. Menus are intentionally designed in a way that ensures that you make the decision you meant to make, which means that everything requires more clicks than it really needs to. Some of the menus are just bad. Why can’t I swap Pokemon in and out of my rotation in one menu? Here, you have to switch between deposit and withdraw states separately to make any sort of substitutions. Using Pokemon moves outside of the context of a fight is confusing and varied depending on which specific move you want to use. Worst of all, the game does a poor job of teaching you how any of its awesomeness works. Outside of Mega Evolution, which is one of the big new changes to this game, it assumes you know everything. As such, I feel like I fumbled through most of the game while barely scratching the surface.
I actually really enjoyed my time with Pokemon X/Y. The core elements of training and battling are great. I can totally see how it’s built such a fanatical audience over the years. However, there are number of periphery elements that are sloppy, not fully baked or just bad. If you’re willing to work past its flaws or are already accustomed to the franchise’s quirks, then a trip through Kalos region may be well worth it.