Pokémon X and Pokémon Y are the arguably the best Pokémon games to date (though I’m sure the upcoming AlphaSapphire and OmegaRuby will happily claim that title soon enough). Why wouldn’t they be, right? They’re the most recent editions in the long-running franchise, so they obviously include the latest and greatest in all aspects. Well, almost all aspects.
The mechanics are delicately refined and revamped, particularly with the new Fairy-type inclusion.
Oh, and Mega Evolutions. The presentation is actually gorgeous – which I still surprise myself by saying, since I’m referring to a Pokémon game. There are new levels of character customization, new ways for obtaining and training Pokémon – everything feels better for a good while in the game. That is, until the villains show up and bring their plot with them.
I hate Team Flare. Team Flare is stupid.
A lot of you are probably nodding your heads right now. Some of you are wondering why I’m even bringing this up. “It’s a Pokémon game. They all have to have their useless villain team for you to defeat in order to advance the plot and learn the mechanics.” I would mostly agree with that statement. However, Team Flare wins the “Most Useless Villain Team” award too easily. Team Flare nearly pushed me to quit playing Pokémon X.
Let’s go back to some fundamentals about game design. Why do games have stories? To introduce the player to the world, add to immersion, guide the player, give context for events, create memories, facilitate emotional responses, and, sometimes, tell us something really excellent or profound – to name a few reasons. Most of those are pretty basic, some of them are unnecessary, and a few aren’t the goal of every game. I don’t expect Pac-Man, Super Smash Bros., or Pokémon to try and tell me something emotional and profound. I’ll leave that to The Last of Us or Journey. However, some of the points in that list, while not necessary, go incredibly far if delivered well.
Remember when you ran from a helicopter while charging down a wave of enemies on a train navigating the Himalayan mountain range in Uncharted 2? That chapter stands as one of my favorite moments in a video game.
Remember the opening scene in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time? The sky was dark; rain fell all around; a draw bridge lowered slowly. Suddenly, a horse bearing two riders dashed by. The mystery, the drama, the suspense! It was captivating.
Let’s try one a little less cinematic: remember the first time you entered King Koopa’s castle in Super Mario Bros., jumped over lava, evaded fire balls, and finally cut the bridge out from under the foe? That was thrilling.
One more: remember when Lance showed up while Team Rocket was harassing the Red Gyarados in Pokémon Gold/Silver? He summoned his Dragonite to use Hyper Beam on one of the grunts – on the trainer, not the Pokémon! Or how about this scene…
I get chills looking at that image. That was 15 years ago. I sort of remember Team Magma from Pokémon Ruby. I think the plot of Diamond/Pearl had something to do with creating a new world. Pokémon Black and White had a guy named N in them. That’s all I could tell you.
Then there’s Team Flare, and their ingenuous plan to wipe out all of humanity. Why? Because there are too many people in the world and making them all happy is too hard! So we’ll just kill ’em. That’ll solve it.
Oh, and if you’re playing Pokémon X, they decide to do this by revive an eternal life-granting legendary Pokémon. (A legendary Pokémon I caught with one Ultra Ball.)
Here’s my point: if you’re going to make me run through plot for hours, give me a reason to care. Sure, it’s written for younger kids: give them a reason to care. Make them feel like heroes. After beating any member of Team Flare, I felt I had only wasted time; after foiling their plans and decimating their leader, I felt like I’d accomplished no worthwhile feat. I got more excitement and emotion out of my first (and eighth) encounter with King Koopa in Super Mario Bros. because I felt like something was on the line: the battle looked perilous and there was a princess to save.
Team Flare even tried to up the ante by announcing their plot to the entire populace – and none of them really seemed to care. Where are the gym leaders? Where’s the Elite Four? Professor Sycamore takes pride in your accomplishment for “saving us all” but no one really seemed to be worried about it if they just assumed some 14-year old kid would handle it eventually.
Team Rocket was causing a mess and Lance, the Champion of the Indigo League, got involved. Even Stephen showed up from time-to-time to lend a hand and react to the goings-on of Ruby/Sapphire. That made those events feel important; it made me, the player-character, feel important. I was accomplishing something meaningful.
Team Flare bumbled around in dumb outfits with no real cause. If you’re going to give plot, make it worthwhile for the audience
Pokémon X and Pokémon Y were developed GameFreak and published by Nintendo and The Pokémon Company.
This was originally written and posted by me on a former site on November 8, 2014.