A Discussion on Pokemon X and Y: Story

 

I have an… interesting relationship with Pokemon X and Y to say the least. I was a freshman in college during the year that they were released, and I had made friends with a ton of other Pokemon fans. So needless to say, the  hype was palpable leading up to release. Theories about the legendaries, excitement over the new region and Pokemon to catch and heated debates over which starter was the best, I have a lot of fond memories in regards to the anticipation for the 6th Generation of Pokemon games. While I’ve always thought they were good but flawed games, my feelings about them have changed considerably over the years, especially this past one. For context, I’ve replayed Pokemon X 3 times in the past year, (I’m actually writing this as I just finished my 3rd replay.) Something about these games keeps compelling me to come back and experience them again, almost like I’m missing something in them. So with the knowledge of 4 different playthroughs under my belt, I’d like to put my thoughts to paper, (or in this case, keyboard.) In order to keep this as short and concise as possible, I’m going to divide this into 2 separate posts, one detailing story and characters, and the other focusing on gameplay. Without further ado, let’s jump into the story of Pokemon X and Y.

Pokemon X and Y start off about the same as every other Pokemon game. You’re a new kid in the region of Kalos (France), and you immediately set off on a Pokemon journey with your new friends. And you’ve got 4 of them this time! Your friends for this adventure are Shauna, Tierno, Trevor and Calem/Serena, (depending what gender your character is.) The dynamic of having multiple friendly rivals has been in the Pokemon games since Generation III, and was done wonderfully in Generation V with Cheren and Bianca. Cheren and Bianca were both really interesting characters, with unique dreams and motives. XY attempt to portray a similar dynamic between the Kalos kids. Shauna is a cheerful girl who just wants to make fun memories with her friends and Pokemon, Tierno is a fun loving guy who dreams of having a Pokemon dance team, Trevor is a shy bookworm whose aim is to aid Professor Sycamore in the completion of the Pokedex and Calem/Serena, (I’m just going to refer to them as CS from now on), wants to be a strong and unique trainer. Having multiple rivals with varying goals outside of just Pokemon battles is a really cool idea. However, these cool ideas never really get much development past their basic premise. Tierno never really does much with his dream of dancing outside of having moves like Swords Dance. Though to be honest, there’s not much in the game that involves dancing. Trevor occasionally challenges the player to a Pokedex battle, which is a cute and funny concept, but that’s kinda it for him. Close to the end of the game there is a small hint of him having found deeper passions, but the game never follows up on this. Had XY gotten sequels, I pictured Trevor becoming Sycamore’s assistant. Shauna is similar to Bianca in that she leaves home with no real dream, she just wants to go on a fun adventure. But while Bianca leaves home not only to gain independence from her father, but to figure out what her dream is, Shauna never finds her dream. In fact, she never shows any desire to have a dream. She just wants to make memories. As much as I like Shauna, you could honestly cut her, Tierno and Trevor out of the story with basically no consequence. CS’s story arc is kind of interesting, but again, underdeveloped. From the beginning, we know that they want to be a strong trainer. This is partially due to the fact that their parents are veteran ace trainers, so CS is expected to follow in their footsteps. While CS has a dream similar to their parents, they strive to be a unique trainer who won’t  live in the shadow of their parents. CS is definitely the most interesting of the friends, but their development is just really shallow. There are hints of something really good there, and towards the end and in the post game you get a bit more development with them. But it is never quite enough.

Mega Evolution is the most notable addition that Generation VI adds to the Pokemon formula. Through strong bonds and the use of a Mega Stone, certain Pokemon can achieve a temporary transformation and boost in power, (and sometimes, luxurious hair). ME is somewhat of a recent discovery in the Kalos region, and is the basis for the start of the game’s adventure. Sycamore, whose area of study is ME itself, tasks the Kalos kids with exploring the region and uncovering the secrets and mechanics of ME. Along the way, they encounter various characters that know a bit about ME, specifically Korinna and the ME Guru, who are crucial in teaching the player how to achieve this power.. For as important as the concept is made out to be, it’s kinda underplayed in the main story. The only characters that ever use ME in the main story are the player character, Korrina, Lysandre and Champion Diantha.

In contrast to everything I’ve said thus far about the plot, the bulk of the game is actually centered around Team Flare and their attempts to uncover the ultimate weapon that was used years ago in the great war of Kalos. And what does this have to do with Mega Evolution? Practically nothing. I really feel like something went a little off during the writing of this game’s script. The early hours of the game tell us that the secrets of ME are the focus of the story, while later hours center around Team Flare’s scheme, relegating ME to a side plot. And again, Team Flare’s goal has nothing to do with ME. It’s almost like the game wants to tell its own story, but had to add in ME at the last minute. In regards to Team Flare themselves, they’re kinda all over the place. Team Flare puts a great emphasis on beauty, and constantly talk about making Kalos a beautiful place. However, their various schemes across the region don’t have much to do with beauty. Until you get close to the game’s climax and you find out everything they did was to power the ultimate weapon in order to purge Kalos of everything they considered not beautiful. Mass genocide, exactly what I need in my Pokemon games.

When I’m talking about Team Flare’s scheme, I should really be calling it Lysandre’s scheme. Similar to past evil teams, Lysandre is practically the only one who knows what he’s doing. The grunts and admins are all just kind of there, and I feel like they have no real stake in the team’s goals. While this has been true of past teams such as Rocket and Galactic, Magma, Aqua and Plasma showed us that even the grunts can be vaguely interesting. The people in these teams were really passionate about the team’s goals, almost to the point of being very cult like in obsession. With Plasma specifically, we get some members who are passionate to a fault, and others who begin to question the team’s motives after witnessing certain unethical events unfold. Conflict and character development was executed really well with Plasma, but not so much with Flare.

Ever since my first playthrough of Pokemon X, I’ve always associated the game’s story with one phrase, and that is severe mood whiplash. The bulk of the adventure is light hearted and jovial, with the Kalos kids exploring the region, deepening their bonds with Pokemon and stopping Team Flare’s plans. Immediately following the player character’s victory over the 7th gym,  Lysandre calls the player to inform them of Flare’s true goal of using the ultimate weapon. Up until this point in the story, it’s not really clear what Flare wants. We stop their plans at the Power Plant and the Pokeball Factory, but that’s about it, 2 harmless plans in the grand scheme of things. Then suddenly, mass genocide! I know I joked about it before, but I’m not really super adverse to this concept in a Pokemon game. But the problem here is that it was not done right. The game’s climax is in stark contrast the pacing and tone that was established early on. Heck, even Lysandre himself is a huge dose of mood whiplash. While he does have a look and demeanor that screams obvious villain, the game’s early hours paint him in a very different light. He is portrayed as a likeable and easygoing man who is passionate about the beauty of the world. He’s even longtime friends with Sycamore and Diantha. I get that the reveal of his plan is supposed to be a huge twist, but it is one that was not earned and is really offbase in regards to tone.

Earlier I mentioned that long ago, Kalos was the battleground for a great war. Many Pokemon and people died in this war, with the stones in Geosenge town being a Pokemon memorial. This is pretty much all we know about the war, it was deadly and it was a long time ago. The only other information we get is in the form of a character named AZ, the immortal king of Kalos. During the war, AZ’s partner Pokemon died, prompting AZ to use the power of the ultimate weapon to revive it. This act granted both AZ and his partner eternal life. However, his partner was disgusted with the amount of lives that were sacrificed in order to revive it, and left AZ alone to travel Kalos with his sins. Now this is a really cool backstory, but similar to the Kalos kids, it is really underdeveloped. While there are a handful of references to AZ and the war, he only appears to the player twice. The first meeting occurs at roughly the midway point of the game, and he doesn’t really say much of value. The second meeting occurs at the game’s climax, where he gives us the gift of a hefty plot info dump. My biggest question is why couldn’t his story be more evenly paced? With the exception of a few references from NPCs, all of the game’s plot occurs pretty much at once. Even worse, the tone shifts back to the way it was immediately following Lysandre’s defeat. Nobody outside of Sycamore acknowledges anything that happens in regards to the Team Flare plot. Story pacing, do you have it?

Let’s talk about the Kalos gym leaders. Short and to the point, the majority of them are really bland. The only exceptions are Korinna and Wulfric. Maybe Clemont, but I’m only saying this because he has an adorable little sister and both of them are in the anime. The rest of them are terribly forgettable, and none of the except Korinna have any impact on the story. To be fair, this has kind of been an issue in every Generation except Generation V. A lot of the memories that I have of the gym leaders of Generations I through IV stem from the anime. Inside the games, a lot of them don’t have very much character. I have great memories of Brock, Surge, Bugsy and Falkner, but they are all from the anime. This is not to say that all previous gym leaders are bad, as I feel the games did a good job of fleshing out a few of them such as Misty and Morty. This would pave the way for later Generations to give the gym leaders a bit more character, starting with a handful of them in Generation III, and coming to a head in Generation V. Every gym leader in the Generation V games has a large impact on either the game’s story or themes. They also have jobs and passions outside of being gym leaders. A few examples are the Striaton Trio being chefs,  Roxie being in a band and Clay being a mayor. In addition, the Unova gyms function as restaurants, museums, coal mines, etc. The gym leaders also take an active role in the fight against Team Plasma. Past gym leaders sat around and left the evil teams to the player characters, and that never made any sense. Gym leaders are supposed to be some of the region’s strongest trainers, why did it take the 5 generations to lend us a hand? Like I said before, a lot of the issues I have with the Kalos gym leaders are also true of many others throughout the series. I just feel that their flaws are so much more apparent coming off of the Unova games, which did gym leaders perfectly.

Well that was certainly a doozie of an article, I kinda feel like I just wrote a college essay. But I really had a lot to say about XY. I honestly could’ve devoted a whole other paragraph to the numerous characters that are under utilized such as Malva, Diantha and the Professor’s assistants. I know I spent the bulk of this article being very critical of the game’s plot, but I just feel that they really messed it up this time around. Also, throughout the article I made numerous comparisons to Generation V’s story, as well as comparing some of XY’s flaws to those of past generations. Generation V had such an amazing story. While the writing wasn’t always perfect, it was always consistent and well paced. The Unova games are full of interesting characters with unique motives and ideals, poignant themes and character development. Heck, even the games prior to Pokemon Black and White at least tried to tell a well paced and thought out story. XY wants to tell a story with the same level of impact that BW had, but does not put in the effort that those games did in regards to story pacing, lore, world building or character development. Now I’m not saying that every Pokemon game has to have a deep and complex plot, far from it actually. XY’s story would honestly have been much more enjoyable if it was a light hearted romp through Kalos, all while uncovering the secrets of Mega Evolution. Ya know, the tone that was established really early on in the game. The best thing I can say about XY’s plot is that a lot of the story issues I have with it were rectified in OmegaRuby and AlphaSapphire, which is a much more even paced and focused adventure. After all of that criticism, it must seem like I hate XY, but I really don’t. While I’m not exactly a fan of the story, I have a lot of good things to say about the advancements in gameplay. Be sure to check back to see what I have to say!

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