Pokemon X: A certain je ne sais quoi ( a.k.a. the Delphox Solo Run )

Since Pokemon Diamond and its mellow, friendly gameplay had proven to be the perfect accompaniment to my 2014 summer holiday, I decided to reproduce the experience this year. No need to change a winning formula, right? As my Pokemon game of the summer, I elected Pokemon X, a game that has been sitting untouched in my collection since, well… last summer. 

First Pokemon iterations to grace the 3ds, Pokemon X and its twin Pokemon Y were developed by Game Freak and released worldwide in 2013, and were welcome by raving reviews. Critics celebrated the many innovations offered by the pair as well as the overall beauty of the game world—which was not based on a Japanese region like in most of the previous entries, but rather on the northern half of France. This, for me, was definitely the main attraction of Pokemon X. For, lo and behold, it is time to reveal another dirty little secret: I am actually of French descent, mesdames et messieurs. Although I’ve not been living in the country for a good number of years and only have the scantest knowledge of its northern half, I still know my way around more than enough to spot all things French in the vibrant world of Kalos. And boy, did I spot some! Kalos is more French than I had dared to dream of, to my utter delight—but also, occasionally, to my mild annoyance. I’ll expend on the overwhelming frenchness of Pokemon X later; for now, let’s start with a nice, juicy account of my run.

The Fennekin Solo Run

My solo run, should I rightly say. You didn’t expect less, did you? Although I had vaguely considered tackling a Nuzlocke run, I changed my mind when I discovered the starters. The little Fennekin was so adorable that I decided to play the whole game with her, and it succeeded beyond my wildest expectations. My Fennekin—affectionately renamed Fenny— soared all the way to Lv.100 over the course of my run, evolving from Braixen to Delphox. I was actually a trifle disappointed by this particular evolution process: I am not too fond of anthropomorphic Pokemons, and to see that lovely little fennec turn into a shabby-looking humanoid fox was really not to my retina’s liking. However, the unsatisfying looks of my Fennekin were more than compensated by her amazing fighting performances. She gained levels at the speed of light and no obstacles could stand in our way—to the point where the game actually became nearly too easy. By the time I reached Siebold, member of the Elite Four, wielder of Water Pokemons and thus only trainer who could have posed a serious threat, my Fennekin was so over-levelled that she could take down his ’Mons in one shot with fire moves. Talk about a serious unbalance of forces! Still, the overall experience was awesome, leaving me with sweet lingering feelings just like the Diamond/Pearl/Platinum trio did in its days. I get a warm glow in my chest every time I think about these eventful 20-or-so hours spent playing X, and it certainly won’t be too long before I tackle its twin Pokemon Y.

I only encountered a couple of minor annoyances during that delightful solo run of Pokemon X. First, I was sorely disappointed to discover that the famed Mega Evolution was not available for all Pokemons. Why introduce an awesome new feature only to dole it out to a precious few? My Fennekin was unfortunately not part of that lucky lot, hence the disappointment. Sure, the story forced on me a Lucario that could mega-evolve, so Mega-Evolution was available after all; but since I had decided to play solo, that didn’t change anything as far as my run was concerned. Another minor annoyance was that I couldn’t figure out for the life of me how the Pokemon-Amie feature worked. There was no tutorial whatsoever, and fiddling with the system didn’t yield any convincing result, so I quickly gave up and stopped touching the thing entirely. Not using Pokemon-Amie didn’t hamper my progression in the slightest, mind you; but if someone masters this puzzling application, they are more than welcome to enlighten me. Such knowledge could be put to good use in my future run of Pokemon Y! On a very trivial note, I was also disappointed by the absence of yummy treats to spoil ’Mons, such as Diamond/Pearl’s Poffins. This was a nice touch, and I would have loved to find it in X—all the more so as the French setting could have provided the most mouth-watering inspiration. How delightful would it have been to treat my ’Mons to sticky nougat bites or soft calissons! Now that’s a missed opportunity here, dear Game Freak. (Edit: after a bit of research, I discovered that there are treats after all, but you can only feed them to your 'Mons through the Pokemon-Amie application. Now that gives me a good incentive to learn to use the thing.)

On the narrative side, I was really not fond of the resident rival. Said rival is supposed to be my next door neighbour, a freak of sorts who decides on the very day of my arrival in town that we will be rivals in all things Pokemons. Well, excuse me, but who are you? And why do you antagonize me in such manner? Yet after that, they take that whole rival business so quietly and matter-of-factly that you’d swear that they are actually tackling an assignment for school. There is no passion, no fire, no competitive streak: it just feels like business-as-usual. Seriously, I’d have over-excited Barry from Diamond/Pearl ten times over this transparent X rival whose name I cannot even remember. I could also mention that bunch of useless kids that somehow ended up stuck to my soles like dirty old pieces of gum, stalking me from town to town during my whole run and ruining the thrill of exploring Kalos as a lone ranger. To close this litany of minor annoyances, I have to admit that I was somewhat disturbed by the fainting animations of defeated ’Mons, which were a trifle too detailed for my comfort. Granted, we all know that under the series’ cute varnish lies a brutal gameplay and that the road to the Elite Four is littered with Pokemons pummeled into oblivion, but was it really necessary to show the painful fainting of these innocent creatures in such exquisite details? I couldn’t help but feel a pang of guilt at the end of every fight—but maybe that was the purpose, after all. Maybe the game wants you to remember the price of becoming the best Pokemon Trainer ever, which is a lot of suffering inflicted on the very creatures you claim to love more than anything. Or maybe I’m just extrapolating wildly. Oh, well.

The unmissable Frenchness of Kalos

After this account of my run, let’s now fully explore the frenchness of Pokemon X, ladies and gentlemen. Tsunekazu Ishihara, CEO of the Pokemon Company, has stated in an interview that "France is one of the many countries that has a focus on the beauty, and beauty was one of the themes that we had with Pokémon X and Y, so we wanted to see how we could express that beauty in the games". Well, they certainly managed to convey beauty in a brilliant way in X. I was truly in awe more than once while discovering the game’s many gorgeous vistas, and it certainly dazzled me much more than Diamond/Pearl. From the Palace of Versailles to the Mont Saint-Michel, from the Eiffel Tower to the Jura Mountains, without forgetting a slice of palm tree-laced Southern France, many real-life locations were included into the game to great effect. I had never associated the Pokemon series with staggering beauty, but that certainly changed with Pokemon X.

Beauty aside, Game Freak definitely knew their France. They probably did an awful lot of research on the spot, for they managed to nail the French atmosphere quite perfectly. Pokemon X feels exquisitely, achingly French, from the many different architectural styles to the flora, from the emphasis on style and fashion—with the delightful option to change your trainer’s clothes and haircut—to the omnipresence of coffeehouses and restaurants. There is definitely a very French je ne sais quoi, a unique brand of sophistication that sets the game apart from its predecessors.  This French atmosphere was so pregnant that it generated in me an intense wave of nostalgia and a longing for all things French. Somehow, I’m glad that the game didn’t include French food after all, or the craving would have become unbearable. I wonder if Japanese players experience such intense feelings when playing Pokemon entries based on Japanese regions? They probably do, actually. Gee, what a treat it must be to play Pokemon when you hail from Japan!

That being said, injecting a hefty dose of frenchness into the Pokemon series didn’t yield only pleasant results. My main gripe with X and its French-soaked atmosphere is the fact that exploration took a serious step back in the process. There are more towns than in previous entries, and the wild areas spreading between said towns have been considerably reduced as well as substantially manicured, in the pure tradition of the French formal garden. As a result, Kalos appears as a mesh of cities separated by small patches of tamed landscape rather than a compact rural region with a handful of towns acting as welcome resting points. Visiting towns is not as thrilling as exploring wilderness, and I really missed the whole exploration factor in X. In fact, this overabundance of towns and the presence of many monuments inspired by their real-life French counterparts made me feel like I was touring Kalos rather than exploring it—a feeling reinforced by the new “Photo Spot” feature. Everything was so polished, so pristine, so manicured that even peaceful Sinnoh feels like a cutthroat untamed area compared to Kalos. This is not bad per se, it’s just… disconcerting. That feeling of being on a tour certainly fits the reality of France, which is no less than the most visited country in the world; but I am not too sure that I enjoyed seeing that touristic aura somewhat transposed in a Pokemon game. Oh, well.

Apart from that main gripe, a couple of details rubbed me the wrong way for being on... the dark side of France, shall we say. France is not all roses and sunshine, and whoever decided to include the most unpleasant aspects of French life in Pokemon X should be severely punished. Lo and behold, here is the list of offenders:

—Hotels and coffeehouses up the wazoo: The presence of hotels in every town certainly fits the touristic reality of France; as for coffeehouses, or cafés, they are pretty much the epicentre of French city life. This all contributes to the French touch of Kalos allright; the problem lies in the fact that apart from contributing that French touch, these places have no purpose at all. You cannot sleep in the hotels nor order food or drinks in the cafés; the only thing you can do is talk to the few patrons present, which is not especially thrilling. These cafés and hotels are but empty shells, and another missed opportunity to implement interesting gameplay features; and to add insult to injury, there are a ton of them in Kalos. Lumiose City alone hosts a good dozen of cafés! Jeez, what a waste of space.

—Tipping till you're broke: Oh, the horror of it all! Tipping is one of the most annoying French customs, a form of brainwashing so ingrained in the culture that most French people feel terribly guilty if they don’t leave tips in coffeehouses or restaurants—despite the fact that service charges are comprised in the meal’s price. Whoever decided to implement a tipping feature in X is not only downright sadistic, but overzealous as well: even French people do not tip outside of the food business. So why should I tip the butler that gave me a tour of a mansion? That’s not French tipping, that’s throwing your money through the window. And just like in real life, tipping doesn’t bring you anything apart from the supposed gratitude of the recipient. That may be fine in real life, but not in a video game: when I saw that tipping didn’t yield any discernable benefits, I stopped doing it entirely.

—Lumiose bloody City: Pardon my French, but… Quel bordel! Lumiose City is one hot mess, as pleasant to navigate as real-life Paris—that is, not quite. The similar looks of streets and the constantly shifting camera angles make for a really disorienting experience, and finding your way can more often than not turn into a full-blown challenge. That uncomfortable situation was probably noticed by the developers themselves, since they implemented a taxi service to drive you wherever you want in Lumiose… for a fee just as onerous as the ones charged by real-life taxi drivers in Paris. I swear that I wept inside every time I needed to set foot in Lumiose City.

That being said, I’m starting to wonder if these points may have irritated me precisely because I know France to some extent. I’d be curious to know if other players were annoyed as well by said points or if they find them charming and saw them as pleasantly exotic slices of French life. Feel free to share your feelings about the matter, dear fellow gamers! At any rate, although I blamed more than I praised in this post—in terms of number of lines, that is—I can assure you that I really adored Pokemon X. It has its flaws, but it was still a delightful experience through and through. It was actually more enjoyable than the Diamond/Pearl pair despite the relative lack of exploration, and I will certainly indulge into more strolls through Kalos sooner or later. Maybe before the end of the summer, who knows? And now, if you don’t mind, I’m going to indulge in a giant bite of smelly French cheese, along with fresh baguette, and daydream about my adventures in Kalos. Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!


  1. Isn't it fun to be able to immerse yourself whole in one particular game that can hold your interest all summer long? It's been some time since I played X, enjoyed it too. But I do agree with you about Lumiose City, I hated going there. Got lost all the time!

    1. Oh yes, it is! I find incredibly easy to immerse myself in Pokemon games in particular. The way I play them makes them rather short experiences, no more than 20 hours long; but they are pleasantly compact and enticing games, and I consider them perfect for the summer thanks to their relaxing gameplay.
      Gee, I'm so relieved to hear that I'm not the only one who got horribly lost in Lumiose City! :D

  2. The design of this game seems really nice !
    Is that the one you bought in the shop downstairs ? :D

    1. Yes, it's incredibly pretty!! It's lovely to rediscover French monuments and architectural styles in a video game. :)
      No, I bought this one brand-new during the summer 2014!! I think it was in Carrefour. ;)

  3. Oh OK !!

    I started a brand new "partie" of Animal Crossing this morning... because my previous town was a mess after months of absence :D

    1. Ah, I hate games that keep on evolving when you're not playing! You have to restart everything from scratch after each absence... On the other hand, Animal Crossing is the kind of game that doesn't have an ending per se, so restarting with a new town is just like starting a new run! Have fun! :D

  4. Really nice read. I guess Honestly, Kalos didn't cllick with me, but I'll try giving X/Y another shot since I was kind of burned out on Pokémon when I first played it.

    Also, I'll point out one thing: "which, in a bold and unusual move, was not based on a Japanese region like in the previous entries", actually Pokémon Black/White and Black 2/White 2 are based on New York.

    1. Thank you! Yes, I think Kalos deserves another shot. It has its flaws, but also a lot of charm! :D

      "Pokémon Black/White and Black 2/White 2 are based on New York": oops, my mistake!! I was totally unaware of that. I was not into Pokemon back then, but did they advertise it as much as the french origin of Kalos? At any rate, I'll amend my sentence ever so slightly. Thank you for pointing this out! :)

    2. There was some controversy about Route 4 being inspired in Ground Zero but nothing too big. The french origin of Kalos was more widely publicized, yes. Either way, I'm kind of curious if Game Freak's gonna continue this trend or go back to Japan inspired regions.

      Also, kind of unrelated but are you happy with blogspot? Is it easy to use/update/customize? I'm kind of thinking on making a blog since I have so much I could write about games but I never created any blog so I have zero experience.

    3. Yes, Blogspot is definitely easy to use and update! It may not have the widest choice as far as customization is concerned, but I think you can purchase access to more templates. I was also a total beginner when I started using it yet never encountered any major problems: the interface is easy to use and there are no restrictions regarding the number of pictures you can upload or the like. (There were such restrictions on Wordpress in 2013, but maybe that changed in the meantime.)
      Technical considerations aside, it could be an absolute delight to read your opinions about games! If/when you start that blog, you can definitely count me in as a faithful reader. :D

    4. Ahah, thank you for your kind words and for your input!
      I guess I'll poke around and think about it. Thanks once again!

    5. So you're "Sieg" from now on, heh? Nice to be able to put a name on your comments. :) Good luck for your future blogging endeavours!

    6. Yeah, I admit it was kind of off-putting keeping the anonymity under my comments, specially considering I've been lurking and posting on your blog for quite a while. Heck, it was probably you and Kina that inspired me in trying to make a blog for myself.

      Regardless, I'll be waiting for your next article as always!

    7. That's the way it often goes, isn't it? I was myself inspired by Kina and other game blogs before I started That Extra Level. Ha, the beauty of emulation! :D