Pokemon did an impressive job in the transition from 2D sprites to 3D models. The charming visual style hasn’t gone anywhere, and it even sounds like Pokemon, with its classic buzzy noises when you bump into things. This shows quite a bit of attention to detail. I skipped the last couple generations, but there are a number of interface and design improvements since the last one I got into, particularly where the touch screen is concerned. I’m a big fan of friendly features like infinite use of TMs and easy-breeding items, and happy to find that the hardcore competitive scene seems to still be alive. Even moving and skating around is pretty fun, which is more than I would have expected from a Pokemon game. The social O-power features were a pretty cool idea too.
The game’s shortcomings make for a longer list. It still feels slow, despite the speed increases over its predecessors. It’s a matter of tradition and some funny ideas about what really “makes” a Pokemon game. No new game created today would add a page of text to say that something was a critical hit, it’d just show it, with a flash and a satisfying sound effect. Moves like Fury Attack take forever, because one thing happens at a time. Show the hit, then drain the HP bar, then show the next hit, then drain the HP bar again, then comment that the hit was critical, then show a hit, and you get the idea. The 3DS also struggles with the graphics at times, causing another kind of slowdown. And these unnecessary screens and slow designs are prevalent outside of battle, too. Connecting to the internet in-game, done for any number of reasons, requires a long pause. If I so much as briefly close my 3DS, there’s going to be a full stop as I reconnect. You still get slowly asked by the nurse if you want your pokemon healed, as if there was any other reason I’d be there. You could skip that and make small talk while you stick the pokeballs on the tray, you know.
The trading interface is clunky, and everything locks up while you wait on the other person. You can’t communicate with them or put up several pokemon for them to examine. 16-character profile messages are nice in Japanese, but too short for English. The PC Battle Box shouldn’t be a physical box, it should let you tag a selection of pokemon that may or may not be divided between PC boxes and your current party, allowing you to quickly use them if challenged to an online match without barring you from using them in regular gameplay.
Lumiose is too confusing without googling for a fan-made map. There should be an activity log for O-power messages and other things that can easily be missed. On the story side, the rivals can’t be taken seriously and seem to just ride the player’s coattails. The plot is foolish, as the sunny world of Pokemon doesn’t really justify the ideals of Lysander and Team Flare when there’s no kind of scarcity or difficulty for humanity to be seen. And it’s still limiting and even unsettling how nobody in the world has anything to say that isn’t about their pokemon.
I got hooked on the original Red Version when I was 8 or 9 years old and can safely call myself fully a part of the Pokemon generation. But I got tired of the essentially unchanging nature of the games and never finished Diamond. That was the last one I played. I felt a huge gulf between the execution of the games and the promise of the old Ken Sugimori sketches of a living world, of what Pokemon was imagined to be. To this day, I feel like they’ve been conservatively copying what worked in Red/Blue and increasing the number of creatures, instead of trying to create the ideal Pokemon world.
We still haven’t come close to realizing that potential, but X/Y managed to bring me back to Pokemon nonetheless, and I had a lot of fun with it. I even came closer than I ever bothered in previous generations to really try and go wild with the eugenics to make some better pokemon, checking inherited IVs and keeping the best of a litter, although I didn’t really end up doing anything more than keeping them as trophies in the PC before I got burned out and stopped playing.
I hope to see the next Pokemon generation continue to take steps forward, to not only clean up the user interaction design and remember that sometimes, less is more, but also to think about what’s truly integral to the world of Pokemon, and to take more risks with the parts that are subsidiary to that.