Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Pokemon X Animal Crossing

at 6:08 PM
See what I did there? Okay, maybe it was a little oblique. The newest game from the Pokemon series is called Pokemon X. There's also a video game series called Animal Crossing. Then there are a bunch of Namco crossover games which combine two different properties and join their titles with an "X", e.g. Street Fighter X Tekken and Namco X Capcom. What I've done with the title of this post is to subtly suggest a crossover of Pokemon and Animal Crossing, while also implying that Pokemon X is the fulfillment of said proposition. In short, it was a title, a metaphor, a homophone, and a tragicomedy in two acts.

The alternate title was to be "Pokemon Y Animal Crossing", for reasons so obvious they don't bear explanation. Well, okay, maybe it's a little opaque. See, the latest game in the Pokemon franchise is titled Pokemon Y. There's this other Nintendo property called Animal Crossing. There's also this thing called the Spanish language - or "Espanish" - into which the English word "and" translates as "y", e.g. "yo tengo rice y quesadillas". What I've done with the alternate title of this post is to plant the idea of a combination of Pokemon and Animal Crossing, while also insinuating that Pokemon Y is that very game. In short, it was the exact same thing as the other version, except with Mexicans instead of Namco. Can't say that about many things.

So Pokemon Y (which is the one I'm playing, because I'm a boy, duh!) clearly wants to expand the Pokemon experience into more of a lifestyle sim than just a monster-battling sim, which isn't all that surprising considering that the series has been lethargically inching in that direction since its inception. I have the sneaking suspicion it's never become full-blown Nintendogs/Second Life simply because GameFreak is incapable of programming gameplay other than Pokemon, but I'll get to that in a second. I don't super-remember Red/Blue and I didn't play Gold/Silver in their original form, but "other bullshit to do with your Pokemon" has been piling up at least since Ruby/Sapphire's "Contests", which allowed Pokemon to enter into competitions that I don't care about and that definitely didn't matter. From there we've seen the introduction of Poke-Dress-Up, Pokeathlons, Pokemon Walkabout (or whatever that Tamagotchi thing that came with HeartGold/SoulSilver was called), and a number of other things I'm sure I'm forgetting. Stuff that has nothing to do with collecting, raising, and battling Pokemon. You can probably tell I don't really like these elements of the games and I completely ignore them, as they have no impact on the main gameplay and are entirely optional.

Really the worst aspect of the Super Contests and Pokeathlons and shit is that they're a massive detour from the main game, to the point of being wholly independent side-games rather than side-quests. They're all or nothing - you're either dressing up Pokemon for the fashion show as they languish at level 10, or you're out battling and progressing through the game. Lord knows people love terribly unfun and pointless RPG side-games (Chocobo breeding has acquired a legacy almost on par with Final Fantasy VII itself), but they really don't do it for me. While Pokemon Y does expand the bullshittery, most of the elements it introduces (in the first ten hours at least) are organically woven into the core gameplay such that you can enjoy a taste without needing to divert the main quest for thirteen hours.

I searched for "Pokemon Y stylist" and THIS was, no joke, the very first Google Image result
The new side elements are really just subtle features like dressing up your trainer, getting a haircut, tending a garden (which grows berries to be used in battle), editing together a "PR Video" (if the 3DS had been made in the 21st century, I'd upload my PR Video here), taking photos of scenic locales, etc. It's minor, but it makes the game world feel more lively, like you're actually a human being inhabiting the PokeWorld. This feels extremely 'right', like everything the stupid side-games were failing to establish - Pokemon has always been about projecting yourself into the shoes of a basically regular kid in a basically regular world, so it's about time they introduced a bit more mundane simulation. Actually (if we ignore the direction they were taken in the past seven years), it seems like exactly the kind of game you'd expect to feature Miis. 

Since the sim elements are so light and the tone of the game so friendly, the overall feeling is reminiscent of Animal Crossing. Even the perspective feels more City Folk/Wide World than Pokemon, although as the first 3D Pokemon game, that's to be expected. But it goes further than that - if Pokemon X/Y didn't explicitly borrow code from the Crossing series, they at least modeled heavily off it. For instance: customizable hairstyles are hardly an innovation of Animal Crossing: City Folk, but I can say for a fact that there are only two games I've ever played that made me choose what kind of mood I wanted for my hair-style: "Something cool", "Something energetic", etc. The whole going-to-the-stylist routine is word-for-word cut-and-paste from City Folk, and considering that it's a completely new addition to Pokemon (and doesn't involve the Pokemon themselves), it seems pretty weird. It's like I'm walking into Animal Crossing for a minute and then I walk back out the door into Pokemon. A lot of little exchanges mirror exactly the feel and flow of Animal Crossing interaction.

Oh, I've been forgetting the little thingy on the "e". Here, let me fix that.

It's kinda wéird - on oné hand I liké that théy'ré playing up what aré osténsibly rolé-playing/sim éléménts, on thé othér hand, thé Pokémon colléction/téam-construction méchanic is alréady an éxtrémély robust rolé-playing systém in and of itsélf. It cértainly doésn't hurt for thé ovérarching journéy to réfléct somé of thé fréédom and intéraction of thé capturé/battlé gaméplay, so whilé I'll say it wasn't dirély nécéssary, it's also a wélcomé mové in thé diréction of a béttér-roundéd virtual world - a living Pokémon world whéré thé Trainér's vocation is only oné of myriad routés a playér might také.

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