Part 2: Violen's thoughts on the gameSimon has and will no doubt continue to handle the nitty gritty of stage design as we move along, so I'd like to focus on the other ways X6 screws the pooch, which is every way.
X6 is a jumbled clusterfuck that somehow manages to be more schizophrenic than X5 and the hardest game in the series for none of the right reasons. If you want real challenge go try the Zero games. If you want to see a shmup's approach to enemy clutter cross paths with two platforming characters equipped for none of it, by all means, keep on with this. It'll be refreshing to see a straight LP of X6 so we can really jump into the marrow of all the ways it sabotages itself from the core engine to the level 'design'. I can think of two stages in this game that approach well-made. That's out of 12. That's with misgivings. That's with ignoring everything inherently wrong with the game marring any baseline merits to said stages. On the flipside, I can think of two that are without question the worst examples of gameplay in a mainstream platformer that I have ever seen. That's up against some stiff competition even from within this franchise. But we'll get to that when we do.
It's baffling to me just how much is shoved into X6 and in such merit-free detail. Your alternate character choice is given a makeover in an attempt to make him less of an X clone all to the strain of uselessness because even with a more damaging saber, he's still a kitten as a leftover from X5 and is completely at the mercy of X6's C+P fetish for enemy layout. He's got so little afterthought put into actual implementation that some of the levels are almost physically impossible to tackle with him baseline, the others practically necessitate him, and he's got a move that straight out commits suicide on wires. What he never is, is fun. Outside of exploiting more of this three-games old engine in hilarious ways (which you should), it's a bum choice between getting annoyed with him or getting annoyed with Falcon X, unless you want to run through every stage ethereally laughing to the bank and back (which you should).**
**STAGE/BOSS SPOILERS AHOY IN THIS VIDEO:
In fact, people who like to soar through these games barebones are really going to be held in contempt by Capcom, because the considerations towards normal X, and his hilarious afterthought of a saber, versus Zero would make Mega Man & Bass blush for consistency. It's all Falcon all the way, and that armor's no prize itself outside of the defensive boost. It's more a necessary slog with poor weaponry. You have a pair of decently interesting armors to mitigate the doldrums, but of course like all things lifted from X5, X6 retains a game's worth of shitty decisions by locking you out of any whiff before you collect all four obscured parts, one set of which necessitates the other. Not to mention one of them is flat-out dead-ended by its game's own irrational design halfway through a nearly impossible stage it'd otherwise be ideal for. Count how many times I use the word 'impossible' in this rant.
Zero was supposed to get his own, but the game contradicts that inclusion with another idea. Collecting 3000 Nightmare Souls with either character immediately unlocks the endgame, denying you a fight with Nightmare Zero. You need to fight Nightmare Zero at level 4 to attain him with his Black Armor. You need well over 3000 Nightmare Souls to rank high enough to have bosses be level 4. Yes, X6 locks itself out of an armor already coded into the game. Yikes. You'd think this'd all be mitigated by allowing full access to the parts system unlike X5's asinine quantum physics approach to unlocking, but no, X6 shits the bed in dynamic new ways. The reploid rescue system and how it ties into all parts, half the hearts and all weapon increases is beyond the patience of mortal men. Integrating what has already become a convoluted mess of an approach to upgrades by this point in the series with one-shot gimmicks is inexcusably dumb. Especially since the aforementioned stage fucking over an armor fucks over X and Zero by their lonesomes without some obscure combinations of these goodies.
That critical reploids can be and almost invariably are permanently lost to simple mistakes (or in many cases lack of clairvoyance) eliminates the drive to bother. Not to mention shoehorning 128 of the bastards into the mix with no tells to the prizes within completely botches any idea of strategy with your arsenal. Yes, prizes do get shifted ahead to other reploids given a loss, but this hardly accounts for how intentionally dick the entire concept is. It's to the point where reploids are pasted on-top of Nightmares, and I do mean that quite literally. There's the stunningly dumb example in Infinity Mijinion's stage we've seen where your only feasible approach is to suicide over and over with the lives each reploid gives you, rescuing one per death leap, because being on screen longer than it takes to fall through will see one infested. That is the kind of thought we're dealing with in X6. Others are so isolated you need specific charged or giga weapons to even mandate their rescue, so I hope you were psychic enough to bring the right armor.
Not to mention your prizes for all of this hoop jumping are pretty woeful in and of themselves, with half the parts working obscurely, the other half contradicting the first, and only a select few finding themselves useful, usually in glitched ways. Half the stat-related wares are useless to attempt to collect with a given character anyway, so say goodbye to picking and choosing. The addition of a JRPG-style grinding system to equip the damn things that manages to be more tedious than its aspirations (without a painfully specific method) seals the nonsense. To have things done today, you need to find an optional boss hidden behind two other optional bosses, shoot him with an unspecified weapon, and shoot him again with your bog standard. What? I mean, what?
Bosses are their own tangent, and I have never seen such painfully specific and complex approach to AIs put to so pathetic an overall package in all my life. With X6's myriad self-customized approaches to its own layout and difficulty, bosses in the series have never seen so much complexity. Most have at least a dozen attacks and variations thereof, behaviors that shift in and out depending on level and mode, and countless minor tweaks to speed, health, aggression, and potency of attack between each of these. They will sometimes alter their behaviors mid-battle at increments of health. Some bosses even reserve distinct behaviors or attacks for X or Zero. Yet all of it goes to such stunningly thoughtless effect. It's like the kitchen sink that is X6 was developed in a vacuum separate from its level construction, because every last complexity serves to crossfuck the latter instead of bolster it.
This game has by far the hardest individual bosses in the franchise entirely by the design of your characters' inabilities to handle them. Absolutely none of it is inherent to any legitimate or naturalized difficulty. Vomiting an impossible amount of clutter into an arena and crucifying the player for bad dice rolls is not the way to solidify your sixth attempt at a formula. The remainder are hilariously castrated in every respect of their oversaturated arsenals, to the point where you can almost fire blindly and stall for ten minutes watching just how much time was put into coding so little a threat. Then there's the happy medium that manages to be unbearably tedious due to moronic defense gimmicks, like High Max, Rainy Turtloid or another mystery player who is his own odyssey in stage once we finally get there. Your rewards for the main eight are also jokes with either character, but that's been a problem going on 4 games straight by this point so it's not worth remarking much on. (Although, I will say Shield Sheldon's weapon is also shared between characters... as big a pain as it is to play with the controls for.)
Let's talk about X6's attempts to inject variability into its stage design. This comes in the form of the nightmare effects, and secondary areas. The latter is more immediate to bitch about, so we'll start there. In principle branching paths through stages can work as a 'choose your destiny' novelty to keep things from becoming too ho-hum, but this takes a considered hand and we already know X6 employs anything but. By mandating all but one of the 18 fucking variations just for collections' sake, X6 shoots its own concept in the foot by handing you a 'maze' where the solution is to double back to every choice. Then there's the completely limp areas themselves, which are never more than pure piecemeal gutted and regurgitated from their already haphazard native stages, like a bad romhack of a bad romhack. The designs of these can border on looking coded by an RNG. Not to mention just accessing half of them is so remote you usually need some bizarre combination of collectibles from other secondary areas (or otherwise) before you visit.
Once you're in, you're in, because you cannot for the life of you exit one of these depressing treks even if you've beaten its native stage. The game tracks secondary areas separately. So, without spoiling specifics, have fun fighting the same smug dickweed of a boss five times over on your merry way to 100%ing this product (never actually do this). Oh wait, this is the same guy you grind your beyond unnecessary experience points from. Tally that closer to fifty. You need 20 000 of the things to work this magic to its fullest, and bosses ain't gonna cut that (especially if you're too slow and win yourself a lowly purple soul instead of green). These also happen to tie into unlocking Zero, as we've seen, and an even more inexplicable shortcut that works toward getting this game behind you as fast as possible, but I digress. If you wanted to bring Zero back, just bring him fucking back. Don't send me on a wild quasi-Buddhist soul hunt. Not that I blame you for putting off Infinity Mijinion in any way possible, Ephraim. I'll get to him at the end of this before Simon sinks his teeth in, because good lord.
The nightmare effects probably served as a bulletin for all the ways not to colossally botch such an idea when Zero 4 rolled around. In principle it's a neat concept. The back of the jewel case certainly wants you to think so. Modifications to existing stages sounds like a nifty way to lend a bit of dynamism to the stale but inevitable retreading that's a component of any blind X run when it comes to rounding up collection. This is hampered extremely by two principles: one, 'modification' is an extraordinarily generous word to describe what amount to no more than one-note gimmick hazards spread uniformly across three given victims; two, they are godawfully cumbersome because like everything else inherent to X6's design, their implementations bear no thought to the stages they affect or their placement therein. Some stages are, without hyperbole, bordering on unplayable with their respective nightmare effects on. There's not even much consistency to which effects are in play once they start stacking and overlapping each other, as every stage has two. To really sink things, some nightmare effects are actually vital to item collection, so that same obscurity to the system becomes even more of a pain once you need to personally manipulate it. Between an army of missable idiots, convoluted lego armors, stingy limiting between characters and an unholy riddle of needing proper weapons, parts, armors, and fucking weather effects to collect other examples thereof, 100%ing X6 is how I envision Hell.
As a sort of crescendo to horrific execution, there's a stage we've yet to see that encapsulates the above to its natural limit. It involves a randomization algorithm LSD couldn't get me to dream up. You have eight distinct themed rooms separated between four teleporters. Four of these rooms are chosen from at random for the first two teleporters, the other four for the last two. Once you've entered the stage these selections are set in stone. There's no dying and reshuffling the deck. Within these eight rooms there is also slight randomization in terrain and blockades, not that'd you notice since the level as a native whole has the most thoughtlessly cluttered and incohesive layout I've ever seen, and I rightly mean that. It also has what amounts to its own internal nightmare effect and Nightmare effect, and yeah, there's a difference, but we'll talk about Nightmares with a capital N in a moment. It's an unbelievable pain to navigate and if you hadn't guessed, all eight rooms have something to collect (as does the secondary area, also hidden in one of the rooms). Expect to revisit this stage about a dozen times on average luck, and not know if you've got what you want until you beat 3/4ths of it each attempt. It's completely beyond me that this was passed. It is easily the worst level in the franchise.
Nightmares are, despite everything that's already been elaborated upon at length, the driving force behind X6's miserable quality, because they are the poster child for its thoughtlessness. These enemies are by a wide, wide margin the most common enemy in the game, accounting for probably 80% of its numbers. They are a completely unhindered free-floating tank with an obscenely small hitbox relative to their sprite, who can float through any and all surroundings and whose placement throughout every level in no way accounts for this. There are two varieties: ones who will float to a preset distance from your character and start firing fast projectiles at your position, and ones who will float to that distance, then teleport on top of you and continue tailing you like a lovesick puppy. They take two charged shots minimum to destroy (or a good slash from Zero, but facehugging a pile of Nightmares with his defense is suicide), which, since X5's influence, can no longer go through walls. They also regenerate if you don't collect their leftover souls fast enough, which are worth paltry amounts anyway. The way these monstrosities are strewn about in army-like numbers and configurations throughout the most claustrophobic of terrain, and are tied into two equally awful components (reploid rescues and character ranking), acts like a swan song for the experience playing X6 gives you. Namely, it sucks.
Simon's already laid into the complete travesty that is enemy layout and implementation in this game, and it ties back into my supposition that all standalone coding and creation in this was handled separately from its level design. Absolutely nothing interesting is taken advantage of, and all things painful or pointless are bursting from the seams. This failing, Nightmares themselves, the bosses I laid into earlier, and X6's directionless complexity in general are all brought to a summary head by its difficulty system. Easy, Normal, and Xtreme (yes, X without the E stream) have some of the most involved changes between them of any game I've ever seen. It's inexplicable how much effort was legitimately put into differentiating these settings from a game where effort is the last word on one's mind. But because X6 is so conceptually and executionally fucked, all these elaborate changes serve to do is exacerbate the game's inherent problems the higher you go.
Xtreme is on a level all to itself and completely transforms the experience, principally for the worse, almost impressively so in a trainwreck sense. You're left pondering how much further something can honestly be pushed, and it's a dulling sort of wonderment that takes the mind of a person experiencing a professionally released game that makes Kaizo-inspired romhacks look conservative. I make no exaggerations when I say that on Xtreme mode, there are individual moments where there are more enemies and hazards on screen than there is free space. Each and every enemy has modifications all to their own, either in speed, behavior, durability, output or breadth of attack, just like the bosses (and the minibosses, for that matter). The enemy layouts themselves are also altered, typically by shoving in twice as many as there were before.
Environmental hazards themselves are altered: crushers are faster, spikes are more prominent, lava rises quicker, ice boulders fall in faster succession. Find any stage-related obstacle and compare it between Normal and Xtreme, and you'll probably find it fucking you in at least some subtle way. There are even changes, though remote, to terrain itself.
None of this is rewarding or impressive outside of sheer technical detail, because it all serves to create moments entirely unsuited for anything you're given in X6; and to X6's credit, you're given a lot (of crap, mind, but a lot). Nightmares in particular come in clusters sometimes 20 strong per screen. It cannot be adapted to. Trial-and-error doesn't even begin to describe the amount of familiarity you need with every inch of a stage on Xtreme to make it through. There are no blind runs through X6, true, but there are no runs in the tens of attempts through Xtreme. There's no satisfaction akin to perfecting a gauntlet in Super Meat Boy or finally acing a mission on DMD mode in DMC3 to be found in successfully sleuthing your way through anything Xtreme has to offer, because it's all a rote memory exam, not a reward for your reflexes or quick wits.
Bosses themselves really take the cake where Xtreme is concerned, to the point where some can hardly be considered the same fights. Again, though, because they only come in three flavors with this game -pathetic, tedious, or ballistic- it only serves to lengthen or otherwise complicate already aggravating experiences to no enjoyable effect, and renders some legitimately undoable without spamming tools, tanking hits or exploiting parts and armors (and even then it's remote). This is complicated even further by X6's version of boss levels.
For those familiar with X5 from Zarah's LP, boss levels were a glorified health boost with a labyrinthine structure and an infuriating tie to upgrades. In X6, there's a bit more thought put into them, and by a bit, I mean any at all. Here, levels are tied into your character's rank. Go into a boss with a given character at a given rank and that boss will be anywhere from level 1 to 4, with all the variations that go between those. On Xtreme, in the refights, it's all level 4, all the time. Typically, these are the same sorts of changes that the differences in difficulty modes impart, to the same degree of variability, and yes, they stack together with the mode. Bosses will receive health boosts, increases in projectile numbers, new fringes to old attacks, new attacks outright, and new patterns or quirks to their AI. To even begin trying to dissect the specifics behind these two systems, their tiers and how they intermingle would take six posts full of info dumping. Suffice it to say, there's a lot going on with these guys. Very rarely does it service a fight, like making Commander Yammark last 30 seconds instead of 20. Mostly, it's just steroids being pumped into unsolved problems.
Infinity Mijinion is a great example of all these issues in detail, because he is without a shadow of a doubt the hardest boss in the X series and potentially the franchise if you consider a naked fight, and it's less to do with clever coding and more to do with enacting a Touhou game on a grounded character. At level 4, Mijinion and his clones can litter the screen with something in the upper limit of 16 bubbles, all of which take decent punishment, all of which lazily tail your position, as do the clones and Mijinion themselves when they aren't busy fucking you some other way. This is beyond unreasonable to handle, and there is zero rhyme or reason to what clone or bubble is where at any given time. You can honestly encounter situations where maybe 20% of the entire visible screen is free to you. Just to slam you harder, the bubbles get a speed and distance boost on Xtreme.
Mijinion himself would be a slog without any of this. He has an aggravating invincibility time, high defense, and a slew of pain in the ass attacks all his own. His eight-way spread gun is like some sick joke in conjunction with all the other clutter flying around you, since you'll likely be in some prone position on its account when he decides to start spamming the spread. His signature Ray Arrow doesn't seem so bad until you need to jump over it, where it will bisect your character almost instantly unless you time things well, which you won't with the mess around you. His charged version is also a pain due to such narrow spacings, and almost unreadable unless you're specifically against a wall you can do a dashless jump off of. Just to add more senseless insult, on Xtreme he has an 'attack' where he just freezes in the middle of the screen and starts regenerating about half his health volleying off spreads. Just because. No, you can't stop it. Even his fucking weakness is useless against him, and makes bizarre green orbs and bars they forgot to code in any way, shape or form, so they're just cosmetic. Rarely you can get one to slowly spit something back out at you. Oh boy.
Let's talk about the clones a bit to close this out. They are an inevitable component of the fight, as at increments of 1/4th, Mijinion'll turn invincible, slam a wall and leave one in his wake. These guys soak up loads of damage before they kick it, and if you're using Zero on Xtreme, and at level 4, you are just done. Slashing Mijinion with the saber at all will invariably spawn a clone, and there can be a max of eight of them on screen at once. X's saber will do the same thing. I want you to look at this picture and flip your monitor the bird. This right here is X6.
I'm going to be following this doggedly and I have a frankly embarrassing familiarity with the ins and outs of even the stupidly obscure parts of this game, so if you have any questions as time goes on, shoot 'em.
Oh, and to answer the first one, yes, everyone's right, it is still better than X5. Oh, X5.