A man stands over the charred remains of his gargantuan purple beast, his perfect suit is the only thing he has to his name. Over decades he’d managed to build up the most ferocious and feared underworld organization, stealing the most powerful creatures from the very people that trained them. Nothing was out of his reach, even the president now cowering behind his desk looking at the aftermath of two titans clashing.That ambition, that drive, is all but in tatters, brought down by a mere child.
It was the second time the two of them had faced one another, and the second time the well dressed mafioso had been bested. The boy stood at the end of the hall, overshadowed by his gigantic dinosaur, and with a final roar it returns to the container in the kid’s outstretched hand. He adjusts his cap, as the man finally barks out in anguish:
This child’s actions had saved not only a city, but all the citizens of the country from the shadowy grip of this crime syndicate. What motivated this child to take down the most feared crime boss in the region? Money? Fame? Sheer altruism? Nope. Badges. Fucking badges.
Pokémon‘s rather strange with its story, it never lines up with its ultimate goal. When the fresh faced trainer decides to lace up their running shoes (thanks mom) they’re never stepping out of the front door to save the world, that’s never the goal or mission you wish to achieve. Your real “goal” in Pokémon is to be the best, like no one ever was. Your real test is to capture all of the colorful critters and train them up to be the champion. Maybe it’s because I grew up with the cartoon series as a kid, but none of the moments in the actual narrative have any weight to me. Instead, everything that diverts me off this path to be the champion always feels more busywork than something of value.
It’s a trend that seems unlikely to ever change. Much like the majority of Nintendo titles, Pokémon has fallen into a narrative formula that’s set in stone. We’ll always have the same new coming-of-age protagonist, the wiley rival you’ll keep clashing with and some shadowy organization that only serves to slow you down on the route to the Elite Four.
Remember that RPG storytelling 101 problem? Where you go somewhere and then you’re told to do some arbitrary second task in order to complete the quest/grab the item you want? Pokémon is the poster boy for this. Every single gym leader you encounter will be facing some form of bother, usually in the form of some shadowy organization (Team Rocket/Plasma/Magma/Aqua/Galactic/Flare), and it’s up to the player to stop that tomfoolery.
These clashes with Team [insert random element here] become more of a pain in the arse than something actually threatening or engrossing. For me they’ve always been Pokémon‘s equivalent of “your princess is in another castle, bugger off”. It’s by no means padding the already large and expansive games, but these arbitrary objectives always comes across as a lazy excuse to me. Regardless of the threat of Team [what have you], regardless of the impending threat of the world being destroyed, or the god of all creation rampaging across the universe. All that matters is beating all the gym leaders, becoming the champion and then watching the credits roll.
For me the biggest draw of Pokémon isn’t catching them all, but exploring the world. There’s so many amazing little critters running around these incredible areas of exploration, we all remember our first venture into a cave and getting swarmed by Zubats. But in terms of exploration, Pokémon only really lets us sightsee, personally speaking I want to learn about the history of this place. Pokémon has more interesting tidbits and lore tucked away in throwaway comments made by NPCs or one sentence in a book than the main overarching storyline itself does. We’ve seen loads of fan theories crop up surrounding the franchise but it’s a series that’s so bare-bones in story I’m left begging the game to do something interesting and give me some background into this world.
Nintendo have attempted in the past to shake up the storyline with Pokémon Black and White, but it was such a misguided attempt bringing in princes from other dimensions and teleporting castles into the middle of the Pokémon League and… and I need another whisky after that last sentence, Jesus. It was misguided because it attempted for the side story to overtake the main show. It’s more of a hassle when the game fakes you out with another villain and threat throwing away the formula you’ve turned up to experience.
Like many Nintendo properties the story always takes a backseat to the core experience. While Pokémon is never going to really win any literary awards, at least it should have a plot that ties the core elements into a coherent story. Something to at least push the story along in a coherent manner.
Why can’t we have the protagonist be a rookie Team Whatever member tasked with taking down the Pokémon League? The player would have to slowly infiltrate and still get all the eight badges, you’d get to learn about the evil organization’s motives and they’ll play a more integral role in the story as opposed to being a side attraction. The protagonist could then turn on his own organization after all the other people he’s met on his journey have shown him the light.
In summary, Pokémon’s plot perpetually places plebeian protagonists plodding the planet picking up pets. Precisely the purpose of Pokémon is the protagonist to procure their prizes from peers. Periodically, problematic persons pop-up who’s Pokémon-pilfering plan our protagonist must prevent. Predictably our protagonist prevails proving Pokémon’s plot is pointless.
But people still purchase the pissing products.