I've already showered the game with praise regarding the gameplay element, and didn't hesitate to refer to it as the definitive Pokémon game. Kalos did away with everything Unova did wrong, it's just a blast all around. One thing gen 5 excelled at, though (at least by Pokémon standards), was the storytelling aspect. Most of the characters (the Plasma sages notwithstanding) were given enough screentime for the player to understand them, and Ghetsis especially shone with the portrayal he was given over the course of both games. But I've already explained all that, so here's the question: how do X and Y compare?
First, let's take a look at the rivals. You have no less than FOUR of them, so clearly at least one of them would hit the spot, right? Well... they're better than Hugh (not that it's that difficult), for what it's worth. Unfortunately, it ended up in heavy dilution of screentime and significance. Tierno is especially guilty of this, as his goal is to assemble a Pokémon dance team. That... has ZERO relevance to anything in the game, and as a result I wouldn't even call him a filler character, because there's nothing to fill in the first place. One theory I've heard is that he may have been related to a feature that was axed in development (something I would get behind completely if it was the return of musicals), and simply removing Tierno would've altered the script too much. But how much could it be, though? He did absolutely NOTHING of note! Sure, you do fight him twice, but if fighting a character made him important by default, then every random trainer could be considered a major character.
Trevor... is better, but not by a whole lot. His dream is to fill the Pokédex, which you can actually relate to because it's one of the objectives you can choose to achieve. However, he still doesn't do all that much. Most of the times you encounter him you just compare Pokédexes, and it makes no difference whatsoever whether you win or lose. At least in previous games, when an NPC rated your Pokédex in such a fashion you'd get something for having a certain amount of Pokémon. Not here. Just a sentence or two, and that's it. So Trevor is one I would call a filler character. Shauna is slightly more interesting, as she actually does something every now and again. She assists you in Parfum Palace, and she's the one who saves the day in Team Flare's HQ with the deus ex machina Chekhov's gun she got from Clemont. In terms of screentime and purpose she doesn't suffer quite as much as Tierno and Trevor, though it would've been nice if you battled her a bit more often. I think axing Tierno completely and making Trevor and Shauna into one character would've been the best thing to do, honestly.
That leaves Serena, the game's main rival, the one who desperately wants to beat you and will challenge you at every turn. So if any of the rivals are going to be memorable, it should be her, right? Unfortunately, that's not really the case. Most of the time, she'll just arrive, challenge you, throw herself a pity party when she gets thrashed, then leave. She's just not all that much of a character. Sure, she's not as much of an empty shell as May (she actually lasts until the end of the game too, which helps), but in no way is she as memorable as Blue, Silver, Barry, Cheren or Bianca. At least she assists you against Team Flare, and doesn't act nearly as annoyingly as Hugh did, instead choosing to diss Celosia's math skills and the grunts' outfits. Shame she didn't have any more zingers up her sleeves, else she might have actually have gotten my stamp of approval. Oh well.
While we're on the subject of Team Flare... can you say, Team Galactic Redux? They are strikingly similar in a number of ways, chiefly how their god-complexed leaders aim to wipe the slate clean and reshape creation according to their selfish whims, simply because they're sick of certain aspects of human nature. Heck, their overall structure is nearly identical. Replace Mars, Jupiter and Saturn with Aliana, Bryony, Celosia and Mable, Charon with Xerosic, and Cyrus with Lysandre, and you basically have Team Galactic reborn.
With that said, there ARE a few differences. For all that Lysandre is the second coming of Cyrus, he is also a foil to him, in that whereas Cyrus is cold and emotionless, Lysandre is fiery and passionate. The latter also plays ball with his underlings, and has no qualms about telling them exactly what he plans on doing, whereas Cyrus uses Team Galactic as a tool to reach his ends, and no one else within it has any idea of what he really wants to do. While this makes Cyrus a more effective and despicable villain, the fact that everyone within Team Flare doesn't mind at all what Lysandre wants to do and will do everything to help him makes them scarier in a way.
Even scarier is the easily missed fact that if you want to enter Team Flare, you have to fork over some serious dough. If you try heading out to route 15 before doing the Pokéball Factory, one of the grunts tells you that only Team Flare members can go through, and that he'll charge you five million for that. I thought it was sort of a joke when I first saw that piece of dialogue, in a "I'll never let you pass" sort of way, but as it turns out, if you talk to certain grunts in Lysandre Labs after beating them, they will tell you that it really IS how Team Flare recruits members. You want to pass over into the next life? Then pay a shitton of money. In a way, they're like a really creepy cult for that reason. If Team Plasma was PETA, then Team Flare is Scientology.
So what about Lysandre himself? Surely someone who sets up that kind of cult and aims to destroy humanity and Pokémon is the worst scumbag ever, right? Well... no. That's because the game itself has no idea what it wants to depict Lysandre as. As I just said, you can't get much more villainous goals than his. However, other characters, especially Sycamore and Serena, try to build him up as a sympathetic character, who's more misguided than actually evil (like Archie and Maxie, in a way). After all, his whole diatribe against human greed and the notion of the planet having the resources to support only so much life are hard to argue against. But... come on, guys. HE TRIED TO KILL EVERYONE. How can that be sympathetic? Furthermore, he always goes on about how humans are terrible beings for seeking to take stuff from each other, yet he intends to take everyone's LIVES away. This... is as hypocritical as it gets. And, get this, NO ONE calls him out on this.
So ultimately, Lysandre's quality as a villain is done in primarily by haphazard writing. Not only that, but in the grand scheme of things he doesn't accomplish all that much. He causes blackouts in most of Lumiose, steals Pokéballs, and topples a few houses in Geosenge. Ultimately, he turned out to be pretty ineffective. Now let's look at what Ghetsis did in his own quest for power. He took in a child that was raised by Pokémon, and as such could make a bond with Reshiram/Zekrom, using him as a puppet to control them because he was too vile to ever do so himself. He subjected him to psychological abuse by surrounding him with Pokémon that were hurt by humans (and it can be presumed that Ghetsis did that too), lied to the other six sages and everyone within Team Plasma as to his real intentions, successfully stole an unspecified but presumably large amount of Pokémon from various people, and froze Opelucid City over. A lot more effective, wouldn't you say? But it's his relationship with N, and the way the whole thing was written, that firmly established him as the biggest scumbag to come out of the Pokémon series. Beyond just your intentions, you're only as good as the writing staff that made your script.
Another area where I think X and Y represented a step back from the gen 5 games is the fact that the gym leaders no longer have the increased presence they did in Unova. They're back to their roles of strictly being bland gatekeepers, to the exception of Korrina who makes recurring appearances and is bound to the mega evolution plot thread. But the other seven? Nope. Well, I suppose Clemont is responsible for thwarting Team Flare with the puzzle-solving machine he gave Shauna, and Viola and Wulfric have slight appearances outside of their gyms, but they're practically negligeable. Heck, they had an Elite Four member who was part of Team Flare, which could've been played up a lot more than it actually was, but no such luck.
So is there a saving grace at all? As it turns out, there is! And it comes from the most unlikely source - a returning character whose previous appearances have been very minor. I'm referring to none other than Looker, who in Platinum and BW1 did exactly what you'd expect of a Sinnohian, namely absolutely nothing. Here, despite the fact that he's featured in a single sidequest, said sidequest is heavily story-driven, so his screentime actually goes up greatly, and as a result he becomes a much more fleshed out character. Not only that, but he actively helps you this time around, despite the fact that he no longer has any Pokémon, with his Croagunk buying the farm at some point between Platinum and X/Y. Really, it seems like they decided to condense all the actual storytelling in the Looker sidequest, and it shows, because even Emma seems like a better character than most of the major ones you've met throughout the game. That part of the game represented a nice change of pace from the rest of the game, and I wouldn't mind seeing more story-driven scenarios like this in the future, as long as it doesn't end up disrupting the flow of the game. That coming from a guy who typically doesn't care much for story in a video game.
And for a guy who doesn't care much for story in a video game, that was a LOT of text. But hey, going on and on about stuff is what I do best. Besides, is it really a surprise after how I ripped FF8 a new one a few months ago? Either way, in no way do these minor flaws deter from the fantastic experience the newest entry to the Pokémon franchise delivers, and if you think they do... then maybe Pokémon isn't the game for you.