There's a lot to love about Pokémon X and Y, released last weekend for the Nintendo 3DS, but I have to admit that the thing I love most isn't something I expected to find in any Pokémon game, ever. In a game where I'm training my stable of adorable creatures to utterly destroy other adorable creatures, what sticks out the most to me might seem rather out of place.
... And yet, I just can't get enough of Pokémon X and Y's ridiculously adorable virtual tourism.
Although the game follows the same basic formula that has made the series a success for a decade and a half, there are plenty of superficial and not-so-superficial changes that make this latest iteration feel almost like a reboot. It's a surprisingly pretty game, taking place in a Pokémonverse version of France filled with castles, landmarks, and fields of lavender that break up the monotony of tall grass. In many places you'll find Photo Spots, marked by small grey signs bearing a camera icon, and when you interact with them a man will emerge and offer to take your picture. You can even leave him a tip afterwards, which is a standard interaction with the various service workers and performers in the game's world, and definitely helps contribute to that touristy vibe.
He's not doing all the work, though. You're given control of a virtual camera that you have to position, while also allowing you to tweak the zoom, the brightness, the focus, and even the aperture as much or as little as you want to get that perfect shot (or that perfectly imperfect shot, in the case of this pretty great post on GameInformer), which the game then saves to your SD card. It's far from the unlimited screenshots offered in Animal Crossing: New Leaf (which I wrote about back in June), but it's still a pretty neat little tool.
In some ways it makes perfect sense to include tourism as a big part of any Pokémon game, not just this one in particular. After all, in nearly every core title you play as a child spreading their wings and leaving the nest for the first time, essentially backpacking around the country. They've taken a lot of liberties with PokéFrance (a.k.a. Kalos) of course, and you won't find anywhere near the same kind of recreation you would in a more detailed open-world game like GTA V, but even so I've had more than a few uncanny moments. Last Sunday, during a car ride north for my family's Canadian Thanksgiving get-together, I found myself handing my 3DS over to my mother to show her the tree-lined approach to PokéVersailles gilded golden gates, eerily similar to an approach we've both made in reality.
The weirdest thing about many of these landmarks, especially in the context of a Pokémon game, is that many of them simply exist. Alongside the hotels that dot each town, most of the landmarks I've seen so far didn't have trainers lining up in the corridors to challenge you. They're still lurking outside, of course, but what kind of idiot battles in the beautiful mirrored halls of a centuries-old palace? You go there to talk, to observe, to soak in the environment's surprising beauty, and maybe find someone's dog when it gets lost in the manicured gardens. You are often purely a tourist, exploring and taking pictures of yourself standing in front of landmarks to show off to friends and family once you're back home.
Though I suppose it might feel a little pointless to many fans, I find it strangely sweet.
You're also not the only tourist. There are slews of NPC tourists around these landmarks as well, many of whom will challenge you to a battle in appropriate locations (this is still Pokémon, after all). Interestingly enough, many of these tourists are also clearly Japanese, standing out from most of the other NPCs (including a fair number of nose-in-the-air aristocrats) who have some of the most European-sounding names you could imagine. It's an interesting representation of the strength of Japanese tourism in France itself, though you have a good chance of running into a couple PokéGerman visitors here and there as well.
But of course you're not really on vacation. You're still a Pokémon trainer, out on a difficult journey with a strict training regimen, aspiring to be the very best and leaving a horde of defeated opponents and gym leaders in your wake. It's hard work, which makes it that much sweeter when you can take a moment to stop and smell the lavender.
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Iris Ophelia (@bleatingheart, Janine Hawkins IRL) has been featured in the New York Times and has spoken about SL-based design at the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan and with pop culture/fashion maven Johanna Blakley.