We all know the drill by now. You want to be the best like no one has ever been, so you embark on a journey across the land to catch and train adorable monsters and climb the ranks of Pokémon Master. It’s a tale as old as time, or at least as old as 1996, and Pokémon games rarely venture outside of that comfortable template. It was all the more surprising as Pokemon Scarlet really interested me and was looking forward to two of its three main stories.
spoilers to follow.
If you’ve followed Pokemon Scarlet and Violet, you know that the game consists of three main stories that you can progress through in any order. Victory Road is the traditional quest for a Pokémon master as you battle your friendly rival, Nemona. Starfall Street is also a take on the classic Pokemon formula, as you invade and bring down the bases of this game’s supposed antagonists, Team Star. And in Path of Legends, venture into the wild to battle massive Titan-type Pokémon.
None of them seemed particularly interesting to me prior to publication. Victory Road and Starfall Street were the same old story we’ve seen multiple times, while the Path of Titans seemed like a way to wring out a different quest type by adapting Sword and Shield’s raid battles. I don’t exactly come to Pokemon games for their stories, so I assumed they would be okay and serviceable at best. But while Victory Road is still the same old traditional story, Starfall Street and The Path of Legends are actually engaging, fun, and heartfelt.
In Starfall Street, it quickly becomes clear that these aren’t your usual Pokemon villains with designs for world domination or even Pokemon liberation. Instead, these bases are filled with kids and teens just like you. It feels more like a goofy club or non-violent gang than a villainous menace. Adding to the intrigue is the appearance of “Clive” – obviously the headmaster, Principal Clavell, with a bad wig – who has shown a keen interest in breaking up the Team Star bases and getting the kids back on track – and-narrow. You can choose to summon the disguise or play along every time he appears, and I’ve chosen to play dumb. It’s a hilarious nod to a story that ultimately revolves around social outcasts and how school failed them. These aren’t bad kids or villains – they’re just misunderstood – and it’s cute that director Clavell cares so much about the kids (bad wig and all).
A similarly heartfelt undercurrent runs through the Path of Legends quest line. When you start the Titans questline, Arven is essentially an annoying lunatic who randomly comes along. After completing the first Titan quest, however, you discover what really motivates him: his beloved Pokémon, a Mabosstiff, is very sick, and the Titans feed on special herbs that he believes can heal the frail Pupper. From the start, you see Mabosstiff barely moving except for his labored breathing, and you can’t help but want to do whatever it takes to heal him. As you’d expect, Pokemon isn’t the kind of game that has a tragic ending, so it’s not too much of a spoiler to say that you’ll see Mabosstiff slowly recovering as you track down more herbs.
I fully appreciate that a story revolving around nursing a sick dog back to health is emotionally manipulative, but damn it if it didn’t work for me. Mabosstiff just looked so helpless despite his size, and the cutscenes made sure the camera was on his big, sad eyes. Pokemon don’t delve into mortality often – the monsters are more likely to pass out than die, for example – but this story was different because Mabosstiff was ill in a believable and relatable way. Anyone who has ever had a pet that has passed away knows what it feels like to see their companion slow down with age or illness. I wanted to track down the titans because their traversing skills were extremely helpful, but I also had a story that really drives me. I wanted to help Arven and his dog.
Both stories came to satisfying resolutions, making Victory Road pretty boring in comparison. Nemona is a good rival and there are some great personalities scattered throughout the eight Pokémon Gyms, but it just didn’t have a consistent line that felt as cute and fun as the other two. The main draw of Pokemon remains catching and fighting monsters, but this time around there are also some fairly engaging story hooks to pull through.
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