Matthew Riley bio photo

Matthew Riley

Software Craftsman, Video Game Enthusiast, Critic


So, I’ve finally ‘beaten’ Pokemon X – run through the main campaign and tried to work through a lot of the extra content. I’m 80 hours in, with a few maxed Pokemon and a Pokedex of ~400 pokemon. Yet, after about 2 hours playing the game, up until my current 80 hours, I’m still wondering why myself or anyone else plays this game. I should qualify this by saying that this is the first Pokemon game I’ve ever played – Pokemon was too childish when I was a young adult for me to try it. I picked X up because of [very positive reviews] (, but the appeal so far has been lost on me. I’m going to break up this review into two sections – the first my response to what the game tries to be, and the second examining the player experience.

The main issue I have with the game is that I don’t understand the point. I mean, there is essentially no story or real motivation involved in the game. Far into the game, you become aware of a sort of ‘threat’ that you must take care of, but up to that point, you’re on your own to justify to yourself why you’re still playing the game. Granted, this isn’t the first game to have no story. I love the Mega Man series, and yet each one played out the same – Dr. Wily is taking over the world, kill all his robots and save the world. Not much meat to that story, but that was alright because the justification for the game was the platforming gameplay. According to reviews and friends I’ve talked to, this is presumably the case for Pokemon as well, except I still don’t understand it. You encounter hundreds of different Pokemon, who don’t pose much of a challenge in themselves, and who you have no reason to recruit other than that you’re an obsessive collector (like myself). I mean, I can understand that people have an addictive tendency to keep collecting, but at that point Pokemon becomes nothing more than a glorified slot machine. To me, Pokemon has become a flagship product for Nintendo, one it actively markets towards children. If the crux of the game is preying on our addictive tendencies without adding any real value, I wouldn’t want any children I know touching the game.

That said, the game does have some merit. There are a ton of uniquely detailed Pokemon, and they generally are colored and named in such a way that you can make educated guesses about which Pokemon/element should beat another Pokemon. And, after you’ve beaten the pokemon a few times, I could see there being an argument for the memory-building that this game creates; remembering the strengths and weaknesses for 600ish Pokemon is no small feat. For me, personally, I found motivation in trying to complete my initial Pokedex, meaning actually collect each of the Pokemon listed (yeah…I’m not there yet). Normally I’m an FAQ-type guy, but this time I attempted to deduce everything on my own. In doing so, I enjoyed trying to figure out how to evolve (or create) certain Pokemon. When the obvious evolution didn’t happen, I’d have to think outside the box for other ways; at one point my Flabebe (flower Pokemon) wouldn’t evolve, so I figured…‘Hmm, maybe I need to go and have it win a battle in the rain – it just needs some water!’ It’s a shame that, or other random evolution methods never actually worked.

As evolution was one of the main draws for me, it was also one of the main downsides. I’d grow attached to a Pokemon and work to level him up and evolve him; once I realized he couldn’t evolve any further (or I had recruited a Pokemon which simply didn’t evolve), I’d ditch him in favor of another low-level Pokemon who could. This kind of system does give some point to the hundreds of Pokemon in the game, but it felt really lousy to put time into a Pokemon and then have to throw him away. It also felt rather stupid for the item-based evolutions – I’d spend 5 seconds to use the item, and then put the Pokemon back in the bank in favor of another new Pokemon who wasn’t fully evolved. I realize you are probably meant to play with a ‘final form’ Pokemon at some point, but given the thrill I had of evolving my Pokemon, I’d be curious if there was a better way to have a more constant series of evolutions for a single Pokemon.

I was also rather surprised with how long the rock-paper-scissors system was enjoyable. I’m sure it was a combination of using the same group of 6 or so pokemon, and sticking with their limited types; because of the sheer number of different Pokemon; and in part because I didn’t necessarily need to exploit many matchups due to level advantage, but by the time I beat the game, I still didn’t have a firm grasp of how some element types fared against other types (I still have no idea what Dragon is weak against other than Fairy).

Unfortunately, the game suffers from having virtually no documentation. Perhaps everything was explained in previous Pokemon games, but in X at least, there is no explanation of most of the details of the game. Statistics are left unexplained, item values are hidden, and evolution possiblities are obscured (it would be nice to know if you could even evolve). It seems that a large portion of the effort for this game went into its ‘end-game’, which is unfortunate. For the main game, all that was necessary were a few bulked up Pokemon who used the appropriate counter element against enemies, one on one. In the end game, however, you start to realize the value of status effect moves, have to gain access to a wider variety of Pokemon/elements, and have to start understanding multi-Pokemon battles. All of these things are interesting, and its a shame that these elements weren’t somehow introduced better in the main game. Final Fantasy 7 did this too – where there are super-powered battles after the main story-line, where you can win extra prizes. For myself at least, the prizes lost all relevance because you had already beaten the game. With Pokemon X, there seems to be even more of this than in FF7, and I’d be very curious how many players actually hang around ‘after the credits’ to bother experiencing it.

All-in-all, I don’t think I could really recommend Pokemon X to anyone. I don’t think I came away with a sense of ‘time well spent’, and the story and gameplay I just didn’t find particularly engrossing. If you were already a fan of Pokemon, I guess there’s something to be said here, but I’d have to question why you liked the initial Pokemon to begin with.