Games of 2013: Pokemon X/Y

I’ve spent a lot of time in 2013 playing games, but not a lot of time writing about them. As I have been doing in recent history, I’d like to tell some stories or share some thoughts about the ones that meant the most to me this year. I’ll be posting about one a day until Christmas. See all Games of 2013 posts.

Pokemon X and Y

The night of the Pokemon X/Y release, I made the mistake of heading up near Nintendo World in Rockefeller Plaza, because the friends we had in town wanted to see what the line was like.

Here’s what it was like: west on 49th Street towards 6th Avenue. Up 6th Avenue to 50th St. All the way across 50th Street east to 5th Avenue. Down 5th Avenue to 49th Street. West on 49th Street back to the front of the Nintendo World store, then across the street and back to the East.

It encircled an entire block, filled with cosplayers and kids with various Pokemon merchandise. DS and 3DS handhelds everywhere. There was some sort of concert in the plaza by the Today Show studio, although it was impossible to see what exactly was going on there.

It was a brief and fascinating reminder about what a weird spectacle gaming can still be. Whether it’s console launches (even if we had two this year), or big conventions ala PAX or The International or Comic-Con, at some point over the last couple years, geek culture became completely mainstream.

Pokemon X/Y, like most Pokemon titles over the last 15 years, hasn’t changed much. (For games that focus on evolution, they tend to remain pretty stagnant.) But it is the first game since the original launch of the series to feature a truly new graphical engine; it is the first to present a world that’s kind-of sort-of 3D (even if the 3DS’s 3D feature is barely used); and it’s the first to take a very explicit step to reduce the RPG grind by providing experience sharing for all members of your party.

As the JRPG market dies out, it becomes increasingly hard *not* to recommend Pokemon to those people looking for an old-school RPG experience. There’s not much else out there that’s trying to do what it does. Perhaps that’s why the lines are still forming on launch day, I suppose.

Pokemon X/Y are available for the 3DS.


Tokyo 2010: A Scattered Final Day

We had held today as a final wrap-up day, mostly with the intention to clean up things we had missed, not found, or otherwise not gotten around to. This may be less interesting than the other days – my apologies.
After the Fukubukuro madness, we took a short ride up to Harajuku to grab a few additional gifts for people. Because of the proximity to the Meiji shrine, the area was flooded with people – as we would learn, Saturday foot traffic practically everywhere in Tokyo is about five times the volume of what we experienced mid-week.
We then returned to Shibuya once more to hit the Tower Records (or, as our bank transactions romanized it, “Towa Reko”). With the death of large-scale music shops in NYC – HMV closed around 2003, Tower in 2007, and Virgin Megastore in 2009 – I found it thrilling that Tower and HMV are not only alive, but thriving. More functional than any Tower I had ever been in previously, the store featured lots of listening stations, plenty of recommendations, and well defined floors. (Entertainment, unfortunately, is one place where the Japanese costs far outpace ones in the US – most Japanese CDs float between $20-30, tax inclusive. Games and movies run a similar premium. Strangely, American CDs tend to be about $15-20, even after tax.)
As far as pickups: the new Fantastic Plastic Machine album, “FPM”, just came out a week prior and was a no-brainer. Katie managed to find House☆Disney, a remix album by Japanese house artists. She also picked up the heavily advertised flumpool album.
After some more flitting around in Shibuya – visiting the Seibu and Oioijam department stores – we headed to the station to grab the train to the Imperial Palace. January 2nd is one of two days of the year (the other being in mid-December, for the Emperor’s birthday) that the inner gardens are open to the public. That was the intent, anyhow – due to an unspecified “accident”, train service would be suspended for about 45 minutes.
As Close As We Got To The Inner Garden
By the time we made it to the Imperial Palace, the large crowds coming back didn’t give me a lot of hope – and sure enough, people were being turned away at the entrance.
Imperial Palace Trees
Still, the parts of the grounds that are open to the public at all times are impressive and otherwise pleasant.
We then returned to Tokyo Station with the intent of finding me my bowl of ramen. But after searching around, we opted instead for Suginoko, an Udon noodle place (ironically, right next door to Katsugen from two days prior). I am not heartbroken over missing out on the ramen – the bowl of hot udon in a pork curry broth was fantastic. The Udon was served with a side of tempura fried mass of onions – not unlike an onion ring loaf, but about a thousand times better.

While venturing around the station, Katie got pulled into a mochi kneading demonstration. The crowd was very excited to see her whack the mochi with the mallet, and afterwords we were given some of the fresh mochi with sweet red bean paste. Delicious.
By this point, we had been out and active for nearly 12 hours, so we cut short the evening plans, but not before taking the train to Hamamatsucho for…
Pokemon Center Success
Yes, the Pokemon Center. Watching Katie’s eyes light up as she slid through the crowded store, grabbing nearly every Pichu-related item she could find was quite a sight. I opted for a shirt from the upscale/designer line, Pokemon151.
For the last time, we returned to Shinagawa – I managed to make it out of the turnstile with exactly 40 yen remaining on my Suica card – and returned to the hotel to begin trying to figure out how we’re going to pack all this stuff in our two suitcases.


My Pokemans. Let Me Show You Them.

My Pokemans.  Let me show you them.

Many gamers – the sorts of who proudly label themselves as gamers – snicker when the subject of Pokémon comes up.

Those poor souls are missing out. For Pokémon is the same kind of hard-nosed, level grinding RPG that so many people remember fondly in their more formative years. While the trappings may be cartoon, and the mechanics simplified, it is a good time that can be had by all.

The US release of the first true DS Pokémon games, entitled *Diamond* and *Pearl* (Prince must be pleased), hits US stores tomorrow. Buttons has connections, and thus we are currently cranking away on our respective games. I have Pearl, Katie has Diamond.

Everyone with a DS should buy one of the two games.

My WFC friends code is **0430 4738 4617**. (You won’t get your Wifi code until you reach the fourth town, where the first Gym is.) If you’re someone I know, or would otherwise recognize the name of, *please* leave your code in the comments, over IM, or via email.

Let’s catch them all.