Playing Pokémon X
brings me back to a simpler time. And no, I don't mean the days of drinking Surge and watching Nickelodeon.
I'm talking about the years after studying for weekly spelling tests and before Steam sales flooded our game libraries. A time when you'd do chores and save allowance for a month because there was that one game you really
wanted. A time when playing a game and finding all the secrets wasn't about getting an achievement or a trophy, but because that was the one game
you were into. You'd want to play the game slowly, take in the sights to savor the experience, and only put it away once you got all the entertainment that you could get out of that $50 investment.
Not only does Pokémon X
recapture this long lost magic, but it was a potent wake-up call to the flaws of my gaming habits. Maybe they don't make 'em like they used to, but I haven't been playing 'em like I used to either.
Pokémon X (and Y) gives the player so much to do without ever making demands.
When we think of what makes a "nonlinear" game, we start to think of terms like "sandbox," or "branching narrative." Pokémon X
's nonlinearity is the opposite of these things, yet there is so much to see and do that no two playthroughs will be alike. I've yet to reach gym seven and have run my game clock to nearly 80 hours by breeding Pokémon, planting berries, treasure hunting with the dowsing machine, and trying to catch as many Pokémon along the way as I possibly can. The funny thing is, it's not like I'm doing everything I possibly could be doing either. Pokémon X
gives me plenty to do when I stop to smell the roses, and the main quest is always there whenever I want to get back to it.
I like to call Pokémon X
a "funbox" game. Whereas sandbox games give players a plethora of toys to make their own fun with in a massive world, Pokémon X
gradually provides the player small individual areas that are loaded with secrets and/or introduce new subsystems or gameplay elements. Whether you spend hours exploring a new map or race through to the next area is completely up to the player's choice, as both are equally viable options. Fighting trainers in the battle chateau or even trying to "catch 'em all" are systems designed solely to entertain the player, and there is never a sense that the developers intend for players to do everything in order to "100%" the game.
This "funbox" theme is reinforced by the gang of friends the game introduces to the player near the beginning. While each character is (supposedly) traveling the same path you are, each of them have different objectives they hope to accomplish along the way. Trevor is interested in filling out the Pokédex, while your rival represents the player who wants the strongest team and probably battles competitively (even though (s)he only uses three Pokémon most of the game but that's a detail). Shauna wants to enjoy the ride without thinking too much about it, and Tierno... okay I actually don't know what Tierno represents but just bare with me on this. My point is, Pokémon X
isn't a game that has a best way to be played. The game can be a shallow experience if so desired, but there is enough depth under the surface to provide the player with countless hours of entertainment. The point at which Pokémon X
is "finished" is completely on the player's terms.
Pokémon X doesn't have an achievement or trophy system, and I think it's much better off for it.
Now, I don't inherently oppose achievement systems. In fact, games like Mega Man 9
and The Binding of Isaac
intelligently incorporate achievements into the game's design to promote replay value. Yet in general, achievements have undeniably changed the way I play games. Even when I specifically tell myself to ignore these metagame statistics, I can never shake the nagging feeling that I haven't truly beaten a game unless I fulfill a bunch of arbitrary requirements dictated on my system's dashboard. Conversely, when I consider, say, playing a game on a higher difficulty mode and there isn't an achievement for it, my accomplishment feels less significant. Maybe I'm just insane, but I do think that there's a mind game at play when a looming progress bar indicates to your friends that you've only obtained 50% of a game's achievements, even if you've played it for 50 hours or more.
With games being so cheap and plentiful thanks to Humble Bundles and sales, I've grown to rush through games without stopping to enjoy them. There are so many games I want to play, and now they're all more obtainable than ever. This makes achievements become my personal indicator of "beating" the game, regardless of how accurate an indicator they are for getting the most out of the experience. Seeing the little bar of completion read "100%" lets me breathe a sigh of relief, as it means I can finally move on to the next game I've been wanting to play. At some point, I stopped having fun while I gamed. I played games and beat games, but I simply wasn't enjoying games like I used to. Pokémon X
made me finally open my eyes and realize the errors of my ways.
I love you Persona 4 Golden, but there are some trophies that you can't rationally expect me to enjoy getting.
Had there been achievements like "Herbivore: Plant 100 berries" or "I caught 'em all!: Fill the Pokédex," I honestly don't think I'd still be playing Pokémon X
. These subsystems wouldn't feel like fun things that the developers created for my amusement. There would be that same nagging voice saying that I've only "beaten" the game after doing what the metagame stats tell me to do. It is because it's my choice
to deviate from the main path and smell the proverbial roses that I'm able to find the game such a joy to play. No one is telling me to do everything; my journey through Kalos is going to be played however I want.
The fact of the matter is, Pokémon X
's very design would make an achievement system redundant. Everything you do has a direct and rewarding impact on your options throughout the game, so no side mission is a waste of time. Petting your Pokémon in Pokémon-Aime can give bonus EXP and stat boosts, and even catching a new Pokémon means a new option for battling or breeding. Very little - if not nothing at all - feels like filler, and this is Pokémon X's
greatest strength. Being fun
is all the motivation the player needs to explore.
It's easy to get lost in Pokémon X's world, yet hard to ever feel lost.
There are enough short term goals in the game to make me go "ehh, just five more minutes," and then hours pass by before I even know what happened. That's the gaming experience I grew up with that has kept me at this hobby decades later, and it is my goal is to keep this mindset of "just have fun" alive as I go forth into my backlog.
isn't going to win any awards for innovation. In fact, I wouldn't even consider Pokémon X
to be my favorite entry in the series. But I know that, years from now, I'll be looking back on this game nostalgically for all the joy it has brought me. I'm glad I didn't pick it up in a bargain bin during a sale, because Pokémon X
is easily worth a month of washing dishes.