If any of you follow this site even semi-regularly, you’ll have noticed the lack of content in recent weeks. This deserves a mea culpa on my part – I’ve simply been very busy, forgetful and lazy in various combinations and I’ve let the website down. That stops here, you’ll be glad to know.
But one of my weekly obligations is a review, and it’s one I’ve found myself unable to fulfill recently. Partially this is for a lack of time, but mainly it’s because of the game I’ve been trying to review – Pokémon X Version.
I grew up loving Pokémon. In fact, it went beyond that – those little creatures, their statistics, the worlds I would discover took me on journeys, hours long, to Hoenn, Kanto, Johto and Sinnoh. I adored every minute. My devotion to the games was such that I actually broke the gameplay timer on Pokémon Diamond, which won’t go further than 999 hours. Oops.
The problem started with Pokemon Black 2, probably the last important game released for the DS. I started it up. I played through a few gyms. Then I stopped. I wasn’t having fun so much as going through the motions. It’s not necessarily an issue with the game – I’m sure it’s well built and fun for those who are still up for it, but I’m tired. After a decade of Poké-joy, there was no mystery left. Educating myself on EV training, IVs, Natures, movesets took any enjoyment or adventure from the games.
Gone were the days when I’d simply plough through the whole game in a few sittings, grinding my Pokémon up to level 100 so I could beat my friends as quickly as possible. No more could I ignore the competitive realities of the game and simply get lost in a vibrant world full of wonder. Instead I was scrolling up and down a virtual spreadsheet, inserting the odd figure here and adding columns there, but no longer gaming.
Pokémon X was the straw that broke the Numel’s back, and it saddens me in a way. I turned on the game, after a year of not having played Pokémon, and didn’t recognise the world with which I was presented. Every fibre of my being screams against judging a game on its graphical style, but I think it’s a symbolic change as well as a merely stylistic one. The slick, 3D presentational style stands at odds with an aspect which always made Pokémon’s runaway success even more astounding. It was ugly – and there wasn’t any doubt about that. It used a grid-based movement system way past the time it was necessary, used blocky, tiny sprites and poorly-animated representations of its titular creatures.
But that was part of the charm. In one sense, it may even have contributed to the appeal. As a child, I would imagine my own interpretation of the world I was exploring, and that imaginative element was almost certainly a factor in my enjoyment of the game as a whole. Now all I see is a weird, waxy, warped vision of an aesthetic I once loved. It’s soulless and lies at the heart of a bigger issue I think has to be addressed.
Yes, once again money has ruined everything. In the first eight years of Pokémon’s life, the number of creatures available increased from 151 to 386. In the last eight years, it’s gone from 386 to a fairly astounding 718. It’s one reason the games have got too confusing to keep track of – but it’s also symptomatic of the influence of marketing. The more monsters you have, the more you can sell on T-shirts, as plushies and on posters.
That’s not to say the original games weren’t heavily merchandised – they definitely were, as my box of Pokemon cards can attest – but I suppose the franchise has drifted further from the original spirit of the games – a child setting out on an unbridled adventure in a strange, new kind of land. Now, sadly, the emphasis is much more on being cool. The characters have attractive anime hair, the creatures have become outlandish and contrived, and there’s so much content I no longer feel a point playing.
So after half an hour of Pokémon X Version, I closed my 3DS, and never touched the game again. I just couldn’t muster the will to play. Maybe that’s a failure of adaptation on my part. Maybe if I’d played longer I would have enjoyed it more. But that’s not a point in its favour, really. I’ve never bought the argument that wading through a cesspit to grasp a golden egg is worth it when you can sit happily on the shore and play something much more fun and rewarding.
I know some of you may have wanted to know my opinion of the newest Pokémon games. Well, here it is in one short sentence. My childhood is dead and I’m intensely sad.