Okay, everyone, take a deep breath because this one’s a doozy. Team Rocket’s evil plans threatened first a major corporation and then an entire nation. Team Aqua and Team Magma’s climate shenanigans threatened the whole world. When Game Freak went to make Diamond and Pearl, they looked at the villains they had written in the past… and apparently thought something along the lines of “now, how can we top that?” Answer: a villainous team whose evil schemes threaten – I kid you not – reality itself. And they plan it all whilst wearing the kind of bizarre silvery jumpsuits you expect of aliens in dated sci-fi movies and sporting ridiculous turquoise bowl-cuts.
This is going to be great.
Seriously though, by this point I’ve come to expect weirdness from these games, and besides, Team Galactic are in some ways much better at what they do than their predecessors. The important point is that the general populace of Sinnoh are largely unaware of the fact that Team Galactic are criminals. Anyone who has been directly affected by their activities knows they’re up to no good, but they openly maintain two large offices, in Eterna City and Veilstone City, and look for all the world like a legitimate scientific organisation at first glance, albeit a slightly sinister one. Team Galactic claim to be researching sources of energy – and that part is actually true, since their plans demand a great deal of power. In fact, the first couple of times you encounter them, they seem to be looking into harnessing the energy released by Pokémon evolution (this sounds extremely interesting, helps to explain their predilection for stealing Pokémon, and might even have gotten into how Pokémon evolution actually works, but disappointingly it doesn’t go anywhere). Later, in Floaroma Town, they take over a large wind power plant with the intention of siphoning electricity – and, according to the leader of this initiative, an androgynous redhead named Mars (who is apparently female, though I for one only learned this in the epilogue of Platinum – I mean, yes, she wears a skirt, but let’s be fair here; that means nothing), succeed in collecting quite a bit before you manage to drive them off. After that, the energy theme fades away rather harmlessly; you learn what they’re using the stolen power for, but they apparently have enough and lose interest in stealing more or finding new sources of energy.
So what are these sinister plans? There’s a fairly nondescript sequence in Eterna City in which Team Galactic are stealing Pokémon for extremely vague reasons, leading to a battle with the second commander, an unambiguously female purple-haired twit named Jupiter. Although Team Galactic are making a nuisance of themselves in Eterna City by stealing Pokémon, you learn from Jupiter that this is not their real purpose there (which raises the question of why they would attract attention to themselves by doing it at all, to which the obvious answer is “because they’re the villains, damnit”). They’re actually in Eterna to research the town square’s statue of a mythical dragon Pokémon, since their leader (like Maxie and Archie before him) is enamoured with the idea of using legendary Pokémon to gain power. You actually meet this leader, Cyrus, independently while traveling and don’t immediately learn his affiliation. Upon your first meeting, Cyrus explains his belief that the universe was once perfect, when “only time flowed and space expanded” but has become imperfect because of the creation of living beings with emotions, and that this is the cause of all suffering in the universe. He later tells you that he wishes to create a new world, and that he believes the legendary Pokémon of Sinnoh can help him do that. Shortly afterwards, Team Galactic plots to capture three legendary Pokémon that live in three lakes around Sinnoh: Lake Valour, Lake Acuity, and Lake Verity. These are not the Pokémon Cyrus is interested in; they are in fact the personifications of the three aspects of spirit, the thing Cyrus most despises for being “incomplete”: Uxie, the embodiment of knowledge, Mesprit, the embodiment of emotion, and Azelf, the embodiment of will. Although you do get a chance to kick the snot out of the third commander, a pompous git named Saturn (whose hair is blue and forked, because the rules of Team Galactic absolutely forbid normal hair), you and your friends utterly fail to prevent the three diminutive Psychic Pokémon from being captured and hauled off to Team Galactic’s office in Veilstone City. Being the glorious ten-year-old hero that you are, you bust in and release them, giving Cyrus himself a stern talking-to in the process, but for the umpteenth time you are too late to keep Team Galactic from doing what they set out to do – in this case, siphoning the powers of the lake spirits to create an artefact known as the Red Chain. With this chain in his possession and accompanied by Mars, Jupiter and a number of grunts, Cyrus sets off for Mount Coronet in the centre of Sinnoh.
At the summit of Mount Coronet, we get to meet the Pokémon with which Cyrus intends to create his new world, using his Red Chain to enslave them (he notes that capturing either one in a Pokéball of any sort would somehow seal its powers, hence the need for the chain). On Diamond Cyrus summons Dialga, a dragon with power over time, and on Pearl he summons Palkia, a second dragon with power over the spatial dimensions. On Platinum he goes all the way and uses two chains to summon both. In any case, Cyrus commands the dragons to begin unraveling the universe to make room for his new world, “pure” and devoid of emotion… and it would work, too, if not for something Cyrus did not anticipate. Uxie, Mesprit and Azelf arrive and attempt to contain the dragons, and on Diamond and Pearl they succeed and effectively ruin the whole plan, allowing you to deal with Cyrus and capture or defeat your legendary dragon to keep it from causing any more harm. That’s more or less the end of it. On Platinum, however, the lake spirits aren’t powerful enough to stop Dialga and Palkia at once and you watch on helplessly as the dragons begin to destroy the universe… until a third dragon appears through a dark portal and drags Cyrus into hell! No, really, that actually happens! The third dragon is called Giratina, and as far as Platinum is concerned it has power over antimatter, but I have a suspicion that this was a quiet retcon, since everything we are told about Giratina in Diamond and Pearl seems to imply that it’s basically the ruler of the land of the dead. Anyway, for some bizarre reason you follow Cyrus into hell. What follows is an uneventful sequence in which you must navigate the twisted geometry of Giratina’s dimension, where time and space are vague and inconsistent, and your character can walk up walls or upside down without difficulty. This sequence annoys me because I am convinced that it is only here to show off the graphical capabilities of the new game engine, which Diamond and Pearl did not exploit to their full potential. It’s cool, certainly, but nothing really happens other than a bit of exposition from Cyrus explaining what he thinks this world is and that he intends to defeat Giratina so he can complete his plan without interference. I wouldn’t have ditched it entirely because, again, it is cool, but I think it needs to do more than just be there saying “look at me, I’m 3D!” Anyway, in the end you beat Cyrus and then fight Giratina because… you know, I don’t actually know why; you just do. This is the end for Team Galactic proper; as in Diamond and Pearl, Cyrus disappears and vows that someday he will create his new universe, but Platinum adds a little epilogue involving the rest of the team, which frankly I don’t like very much.
The epilogue to Platinum is mostly about a scientist named Charon, Team Galactic’s fourth commander, who doesn’t appear in the other two games. He shows up multiple times over the course of the story but has little impact on the plot; he mostly just talks about how great a genius he is and talks down to the other commanders. We also see that he is responsible for much of Team Galactic’s technology, including the Red Chains, but I really don’t think the character was necessary to explain this stuff – it’s heavily implied that Cyrus is of genius-level intelligence as well, and he explicitly has an affinity for machines and technology, so Charon doesn’t really do anything that I wouldn’t have been perfectly happy to attribute to Cyrus. Charon’s real purpose in the story is to take over the remnants of Team Galactic and make use of them in a new plan, “one befitting the genius of Charon.” What is this wonderful, genius plan, you ask? He wants to capture a legendary volcano Pokémon called Heatran and use it to extort loads of money from people. As it turns out, although Charon was vaguely interested in Cyrus’s whole “new universe” thing, he only really cared about money and power… hence this plan, which, frankly, Team Rocket could have come up with. I was hoping for more from a lauded scientific genius. The plan fails utterly; Mars and Jupiter abandon Charon when you defeat them again (Saturn is already back in Veilstone rebuilding Team Galactic from the ground up as a legitimate research group) and Charon is eventually arrested by a tremendously annoying Interpol agent codenamed “Looker” – without a fight, since Charon doesn’t actually seem to own any Pokémon. I’m not even totally convinced your participation as a player is really necessary for this plot; it just… happens, and then it’s over. In short… I don’t think Platinum is worse than Diamond and Pearl, mainly because several people, especially Cyrus, do get a lot more characterization… but my gods they did some stupid things with the plot.
So anyway, Team Galactic in a nutshell. They look absolutely ridiculous, but I think once you accept that, let’s be fair here, this entire universe is pretty campy, I think they’re alright villains. The premise is similar to that of Teams Aqua and Magma, with the charismatic leader whose promises of a grand new world convince many followers of various stripes to join him and commit terrible crimes in order to bring about the fulfillment of their vision, but I think Diamond, Pearl and Platinum do it much better. It’s easier to believe that people could be taken in by Cyrus’s rhetoric than by Maxie’s or Archie’s – because his dialogue is just better-written. The issue with this plot is one that’s been gradually creeping up on Pokémon since the beginning: scale. Mewtwo had phenomenal psychic power and could shred most other Pokémon in battle with ease. Lugia could cause hurricanes with a single flap of its wings and Ho-Oh could raise the dead. Kyogre and Groudon could alter the very structure of the earth’s surface and Rayquaza was more powerful still. Dialga and Palkia take the cake, though, with the power to unmake the universe by dissolving space and time themselves. You fight these Pokémon and win. Then you stuff them into tiny little balls and make them do your bidding. I love Pokémon, but… this is getting ridiculous. That’s not entirely Team Galactic’s fault, though; as I said, I think they’re better-done than their immediate predecessors and pretty good as Pokémon villains go. As for the new content in Platinum… throw out the whole Charon subplot because it’s stupid and spend the time and money making the Distortion World a bigger part of the game. That is all.
I’m on the home stretch now… only one villainous team to go; the new kids on the block, so to speak: Black and White’s Team Plasma.