In Ruby and Sapphire, we say goodbye to Team Rocket and are instead confronted with not one but two villainous organizations vying for supremacy on the island of Hoenn: Team Aqua and Team Magma. Sapphire pits you against Team Aqua while Team Magma exists on the edge of the plot and doesn’t really do anything, while the situation is reversed in Ruby. The more complicated plot of Emerald tosses you into confrontations with both teams, because really they’re both pretty crazy. See, Team Aqua and Team Magma aren’t simple criminals like Team Rocket and, theoretically anyway, they aren’t in it for the money. Their plans revolve around the climate of Hoenn and of the rest of the world – specifically, how it might be improved. Team Aqua love the sea, because the sea is where life began, and want to deepen the world’s oceans, while Team Magma love the land, because the land is where more diverse and complex life forms arose, and want to expand the world’s landmass. Unfortunately, unlike the real world where such insanity would be beyond the realms of possibility anyway, in the Pokémon universe there really are ways in which one might go about doing this, and thus we have plot, so let’s have a look at it. There are a lot of minor encounters with Team Aqua/Magma over the course of these games, so I’m going to gloss over most of them and just look at the important stuff, starting with their leaders.
Archie of Team Aqua and Maxie of Team Magma are practically carbon copies of each other, which is probably intentional. They both spout a lot of inane rhetoric about how they and their minions love the land/sea and how everything they do is for the good of everyone, if only those short-sighted fools could understand that – because obviously if there were more land/sea, there would be more space for people to live/more habitats for water Pokémon! The grunts seem to be a mixture of people who are influenced by this rhetoric and people who are involved mostly because they want to be part of a group like Team Rocket. In short, they’re a little bit like a cult – a charismatic leader, his brainwashed pawns, and a few psychos who just don’t care. I actually think this is kind of fun. The premise does seem a little silly, but I can see a few uneducated people being sucked in by Archie or Maxie’s visions of a beautiful new world – although how the leaders themselves so completely failed to comprehend the dramatic ecological implications of their plans is beyond me. I think it might have been interesting to actually make these guys cultists, but then again I tend to think that everything would be better with cultists, so let’s put that one aside for now…
Your first major fight with either Team Aqua (on Sapphire) or Team Magma (on Ruby and Emerald) is at Mount Chimney, a volcano in the centre of Hoenn, where you interfere in a battle between the two groups. This is… kind of screwy. See, both teams want to use a special meteorite to control the volcano (with SCIENCE!) but neither of their plans makes sense. On Ruby, Team Magma want to make the volcano erupt so the resulting lava flows will expand Hoenn’s landmass. This is blatantly a plan which would kill hundreds if not thousands of people; there is a town on the slopes of this volcano – and this is Plan A. Apparently no-one in Team Magma thought to suggest that this might not be such a brilliant idea. On Sapphire, on the other hand, Team Aqua want to use the meteorite to render the volcano dormant so that the crater (currently filled with bubbling lava) will fill instead with rainwater, creating a new habitat for Water Pokémon, which… wait. That’s their evil scheme? To pacify an active volcano and create a lake for Water Pokémon to live in? Can… can we just let them do that? ‘Cause I’m totally okay with it. No? Well, fine, Game Freak, you fight Archie; I’mma go get some souvlaki. See… having recently studied geothermal ecosystems for an essay, I can think of reasons that this might cause a lot of problems further down the line, but it’s not exactly obvious; it’s the kind of thing that really needs to be explained or at least touched on, and even then we’re really looking at a pros-and-cons type situation, because not having an active volcano in the middle of your island sounds pretty good to me. I honestly don’t believe the writers even thought about any of this. In Emerald, thankfully, this sequence makes a lot more sense; you’re fighting Team Magma here and Maxie isn’t trying to make the volcano erupt; he’s using the meteorite to awaken something sleeping inside Mount Chimney. You don’t know what he’s trying to do exactly, but you do get the impression it can’t be good. Unfortunately, Emerald then has Maxie pull the same ridiculous stunt later on by attempting to steal a load of rocket fuel from the Mossdeep Space Centre. Yes, he wants to make the volcano erupt by dumping rocket fuel in it. What’s more, this happens while the game is trying to portray Maxie as starting to doubt his own motives.
I don’t know, just go with it.
You eventually learn that Archie and Maxie each want to resurrect an ancient legendary Pokémon with godlike powers in order to fulfil their goals: Kyogre, the embodiment of the ocean, or Groudon, the embodiment of the land. They achieve this by stealing one of two magical orbs, the inventively named Red Orb and Blue Orb, from the shrine on top of Mount Pyre, a Pokémon graveyard and one of the oldest holy places in Hoenn. On Ruby and Sapphire, one of the orbs is stolen and the other is given to you so you can bring them back together; on Emerald Maxie and Archie steal one each. The story behind these orbs is that Groudon and Kyogre fought each other in ancient times, the force of their attacks raising the continents and sinking the ocean basins, until the orbs appeared (from where, I couldn’t tell you) and calmed them down. Maxie and Archie each assume that possession of the appropriate orb will allow them to control their respective legendary Pokémon. This assumption… proves false. Dramatically so. On Sapphire, Kyogre summons a torrential downpour that threatens to flood most of Hoenn, while on Ruby, Groudon causes the sunlight to intensify and slowly begin to parch the land, and you have to take your orb down to the bottom of the Cave of Origin in Sootopolis City, where the blasted thing has decided to make its lair, and deal with it. The orb apparently convinces Groudon/Kyogre to settle down long enough to have a proper battle and give you a chance to catch it (which suggests that maybe the real problem with Maxie’s/Archie’s plan was that they each stole the wrong damn orb, but I can’t say for sure).
On Emerald, the situation is more complicated. Both Groudon and Kyogre are awakened and decide to have a massive brawl in the middle of Sootopolis City, throwing Hoenn’s weather patterns into chaos in the process. Maxie and Archie realise their mistake and go there with their orbs to try and sort things out, but the two Pokémon are so engrossed in their duel that they just don’t care anymore (note: one-on-one, Kyogre would almost certainly wipe the floor with Groudon in an actual battle because of the whole Water-beats-Ground thing, but again, just go with it). You have to go to find a third legendary Pokémon to settle things: the sky dragon Rayquaza, the embodiment of the upper atmosphere. Finding Rayquaza… is extremely easy and settles things immediately. You don’t have to fight it, reaching it is much easier than finding the damn thing on Ruby and Sapphire, where it’s not part of the plot, and its presence promptly cows Kyogre and Groudon into submission. There’s a nice cutscene, the only one of its type in the whole game, which shows Rayquaza flying to Sootopolis and ending the battle, but Pokémon is, with good reason, not exactly renowned for its graphics; I really don’t think this was the right thing to place at the climax of the game’s main storyline because it is not – and, realistically, was never going to be – spectacular enough to carry it. The result is something of a let-down and leaves me preferring the Ruby/Sapphire version, which is sad because Emerald is an improvement over the original plot in so many other ways – fighting both teams in the one game is more interesting and more effectively drives home the point that they’re really pretty similar despite being mortal enemies, and the sequence on Mount Chimney really makes a lot more sense (even if the game then proceeds to give us the same nonsense later). In both versions of the story, if you ever happen to return to Mount Pyre later on, you will see Maxie, Archie, or both returning the stolen orbs, having come to regret their mistakes. I like this; the games don’t make a huge deal out of it, but it’s there and it fits the characterisation that they’re trying to give these men.
Summing-up time. Team Magma and Team Aqua are kind of interesting ideas, but I think in many ways they’re kind of overdone. They’re supposed to be misguided but (on some level, anyway) well-intentioned radicals, but a lot of the time they just come across as being completely insane, and the fact is, I’m not sure I understand why they would act as criminal groups in the style of Team Rocket except in order that the games could have criminal groups in the style of Team Rocket. In short, I like them but they should have been entrusted to a… well, I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings but it’s not like Game Freak reads this blog anyway… well, a halfway competent writing team.
See you next time, when I’ll be talking about the maddest criminal faction yet: Diamond, Pearl and Platinum’s Team Galactic.