To be blunt, I don’t think past Pokémon games have had very good narratives. The conflict that occurs between the protagonist and team of antagonists is usually dulled by the lack of characterization, which in turn fails to emotionally attach me to the story. I’ve never once felt like my character was at a disadvantage, even though I’m taking on teams of villains in every game, sometimes fighting for the fate of humanity. Sure, I can be defeated, but after a quick trip to the Pokémon center I’m right back where I was before. There’s no narrative consequence for failure, and no unexpected twists along the way. However, the true appeal of the games has never been in the story itself but in the world the games create and that’s where Pokémon X and Y truly excel.
Over the years players have heard theories as to where Pokémon came from, how they have affected the world, and even had the morality of capturing Pokémon brought into question in Black and White. The latter brought forth some dark tones and themes that fans of the franchise became enamored with because it was something new and different. For once, there was some essence to the games beyond becoming the Pokémon champion and defeating a team of gangsters driven solely by greed. The same holds true in the latest iterations of the series. While you’re doing a lot of the same things previous Pokémon games have offered, the theme and tone are far more menacing than they have ever been before. When I had a choice between two buttons, one to save the world and the other to destroy it, I knew that there was something a bit different about X/Y’s story, even if both options ultimately led to the same conclusion. Pokémon X and Y’s stories are different, and even ingenious in their own way.
” I think anyone who has the capacity to play the game will inherently be in a privileged position; they are above a certain level of poverty to even own video games. This means they might be in a more favourable position to change the world when they grow up. In Pokémon, we present an idealistic world. That is there deliberately, in the hope that it inspires our players to be positive influence on their own world”
This is a quote from Junichi Masuda, one of the directors of the Pokémon franchise. I think that it’s great that the employees over at Game Freak are approaching the games with this mindset. Another interview with a Game Freak employee (which I couldn’t find, unfortunately) mentioned that X and Y are supposed to represent diverging ways of thought. One of the ideas that left a particularly large impression on me was “accept the way of living and thinking that sometimes conflict with your own”, which Professor Sycamore says early on in the game. It’s a step above the standard “I won because of the bond I share with my Pokémon” message previous games have left us with. There’s nothing wrong with that message, but this new one is far more applicable to daily life.
Even though the idea that Pokémon is set within an idealistic world may be apparent on the surface, what with all the cute creatures and happy non-playable characters, X and Y’s Kalos region has a dark past that bleeds out over the course of your adventure. At one time, a king ruled over the land during a time of war. With the majority of his soldiers defeated, he had no choice but to send his beloved Pokémon into battle where they, too, perished. Remember the mysterious stones I mentioned on the fourth day of my adventure? It turns out they are the graves of Pokémon.
As I mentioned before, Lysander is fixated on beauty. To him, ugliness is not only physical but also represented by the ever-increasing population of both humans and Pokémon which will eventually become unsustainable. In his eyes, this issue can only be solved by mass genocide. He claims that survival will only be granted to members of Team Flare, and boots up a sinister device to execute his plan, powered not only by the power he siphoned off from the Power Plant but also by the essences of the deceased Pokémon around Route 10. Yeah, Pokémon X and Y are dark. The themes of death and destruction that are present throughout Pokémon Y are what make the story truly engaging. I haven’t gotten up to the same point in Pokémon X, but I assume it will be very similar.
After the player has taken down Team Flare, they encounter Professor Sycamore once more, and he says “maybe someday the population of people and Pokémon will actually increase to where resources become very scarce…””… But what I really wanted was for [Lysander] to put his ego aside and lead everything to greater heights”. Sycamore doesn’t deny that what Lysander believes could be true, but approaches the issue from a different light. Thus, the diverging paths of thought come into play. X and Y.
I still don’t think that the new Pokémon games have amazing stories. The things you do over the course of the adventure, and even the final conflict, do not have any true weight to them. Sure, your rivals have more personality and Team Flare’s plot is incredibly sinister, but as I mentioned before your decisions and failures are inconsequential. You always know that you’re going to win. However, the underlying themes and tones are surprisingly dark and incredibly powerful for a Pokémon game, and that’s what will leave a lasting impression on the player. It certainly left an impression on me, hence this thousand-word rant on the subject.
Tomorrow I’ll return to my account of what happens after you defeat Team Flare, Terminus Cave and the eight gym badge. I really hope you enjoyed this extended analysis of the story, and if it left an impression on you I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below. There are other sites that didn’t enjoy it quite as much as I did, so I’m certain some of you have very different opinions that I am very interested in hearing.