I’ll start by giving you the short version.
There’s this group of hardline animal rights activists who dress up as mediaeval knights and-
Yeah, you’re right; that does sound stupid.
The truth is, just like Team Galactic, Team Plasma are pretty silly. The grunts wear costumes that look like mediaeval tunics and chainmail (and yes, I’m pretty sure that’s what they’re meant to look like) and they don’t help matters by using “Plasmaaaaa!” as their battle-cry (it gets worse when one of them decides to coin an adjective to describe anything bad for Team Plasma: “Plasbad”). As for their leader, Ghetsis… well, he looks like he’s accidentally stumbled in from a high fantasy setting, wearing an enormous blue-and-yellow robe with huge eye-like patterns embroidered on it and some kind of angular monocle made from red glass; the whole ensemble simply defies description and is lacking only a ludicrously ornate sceptre to complete the image (his colleagues, the other six of the so-called “Seven Sages,” wear mercifully plain clothing which, while very old-fashioned, would not seem horribly out-of-place on oriental wise men). The only explanation I can think of for making Ghetsis so ridiculously over-the-top is that Game Freak wanted to make absolutely sure that the kids would know when playing the game that he’s the bad guy – because, believe it or not, if you don’t already know that anything called a “Team” in Pokémon is a bad guy, you might not immediately realise it.
Team Plasma and Ghetsis appear far earlier in Black and White than any previous Pokémon villains ever have, turning up in the very first town you visit after leaving home, Accumula Town. Ghetsis is here to drum up support for Team Plasma – and it’s working. Team Plasma preaches that capturing Pokémon and using them to battle is wrong and that all trainers should release their Pokémon back into the wild so that they can achieve their true potential, which is stifled by being subject to the selfish desires of humans.
…this is what the whole damn series should have been about!
I mean it; this is possibly the most obvious conflict inherent to the setting of Pokémon and I can hardly believe this is the first time it’s been addressed in the games, but I’m glad Game Freak have finally gotten around to it. Team Plasma steal Pokémon from trainers, but most of them appear to genuinely believe that they’re doing it for the good of the Pokémon themselves. They seem like hypocrites for using Pokémon themselves, but in fairness they wouldn’t exactly get very far without any and they sincerely intend to release their Pokémon once their cause gains momentum and public opinion is on their side – a couple of them mention feeling conflicted, since they’ve grown attached to their Pokémon but believe that freeing them is the right thing to do. On the other hand, the typical Team Plasma grunts are single-minded zealots who will quite happily take away the Pokémon companions of very young children, secure in the belief that the Pokémon will be better off in the long run, and the dialogue tends to emphasise their callousness – again, I suspect this is so that the kids don’t get confused about who the bad guys are. While clearly villains, they’re villains you can understand, at a stretch maybe even empathise with, to a far greater degree than is possible for any of the previous antagonists. The things Ghetsis says at his rallies are actually rather convincing and it doesn’t feel forced or unbelievable when people in the crowd start asking each other whether he might be right – even the Castelia Gym Leader, Burgh, although he doesn’t agree with Team Plasma’s position, concedes that Ghetsis has a point and is persuaded to give serious thought to his relationship with his Pokémon. This sort of thing doesn’t just make for a better story, it’s exploring an issue that sticks out like a sore thumb to anyone unfamiliar with the series and I like it.
Team Plasma proper don’t really exploit the potential of this concept as well as they might – as I said, the writers seem to have wanted them to be unambiguously villainous – but there is one character who absolutely does: N. N is a profoundly strange teenager whom you meet several times throughout the game. He claims he can understand the voices of Pokémon, and indeed he does seem to be able to get a fair bit of information out of your Pokémon when you let him speak to them. He makes a point of referring to Pokémon as his friends, and although he battles you no fewer than five times over the course of Black and White, he doesn’t appear to be a trainer in the normal sense of the word: he doesn’t retain any of his Pokémon from one battle to the next and seems to call wild Pokemon from nearby areas to help him each time. N, like Team Plasma, believes that Pokémon suffer from being with people and wants to free them from human oppression, but intends to do it by convincing the people of Unova of his point of view and doesn’t “liberate” Pokémon by force. In your third meeting with N, he reveals that he is what Team Plasma refers to as their “king” – he doesn’t really “lead” them in any meaningful sense, or take part in their activities, but they all call themselves his subjects, and he is at the centre of all their plans, having been groomed for the role for his entire life (it is heavily implied that N is Ghetsis’s son, but even Team Plasma’s sages don’t know whether this is really true). N was raised with Pokémon who had been hurt by humans in the past, and knew nothing else of the relationship between humans and Pokémon for most of his life, hence his jaded view of the concept of Pokémon training. After meeting you and speaking to your Pokémon for the first time, however, he is consistently friendly towards you, viewing you as a rare exception, and is fairly open about his intentions.
N believes that he can bring the people of Unova around to his point of view by befriending one of the two legendary Pokémon that created the region: the white dragon Reshiram, who represents truth, or the black dragon Zekrom, who represents ideals (the game is extremely vague about what sort of “ideals” are meant by this, exactly; I suspect a translation hiccup). Supposedly two heroes, brothers, were once the companions of these dragons, until the brothers fell out with each other, leading to a catastrophic battle that devastated the region. N intends to take the place of one of the heroes at the side of one of the dragons so he can win the hearts of the people of Unova and remake the region according to his vision, with humans and Pokémon living separate lives – black and white divided. N decides that he needs another hero to oppose him at the side of the other dragon in order to test the strength of his beliefs – and what’s more, he thinks you would be perfect, because you care for Pokémon as much as he does but stand for a totally opposite set of values. When Team Plasma break into the ancient Dragonspiral Tower so that N can awaken one of the dragons (Reshiram on White, Zekrom on Black), he tells you to find the other and befriend it so you can face him as an equal, then leaves immediately for the Pokémon League to defeat Alder, the Unovan Champion, with his new friend at his side. The other dragon, it turns out, is actually kept in the Nacrene Gym-cum-Museum in the guise of the Light Stone (on Black) or the Dark Stone (on White). You are given the stone, but no-one has any idea how to turn the damn thing on, not even Drayden and Iris, the Dragon masters of Opelucid City, so you just carry it with you and hope it will start responding to you. When you finally reach the Pokémon League and defeat the Elite Four, you learn that N is just ahead of you and has already beaten Alder, so it’s time for you to fight. N has decided, however, that the Pokémon League just isn’t epic enough for your battle and that you should challenge him in his castle (because the king of Team Plasma has to have a castle). Luckily, this castle is a marvel of engineering and, at N’s command, rises up out of the ground to surround the Pokémon league buildings completely. Like the sequences from the climaxes of Emerald and Platinum, I’m pretty sure that the castle is only there because it looks cool; very little happens there that couldn’t have happened at the Pokémon League and it really strains my suspension of disbelief to accept that Team Plasma could build something like this, but the cutscene in which the castle emerges from the ground is admittedly pretty awesome and N is right in that it makes one heck of an epic backdrop.
Ghetsis ushers you into the hall where N is waiting with his dragon. You still haven’t managed to wake yours up, which seems to disappoint N. He is on the point of telling you to either challenge him and get curb-stomped or just go home when your stone finally gets the idea and your dragon bursts out to appear before you. You have to capture this one; if you knock it out, N will just tell you to try again, and if your party is full you will be given the option of sending one of your Pokémon back into storage to make room for it. All this sets us up for an epic battle between Reshiram and Zekrom, which is exactly what happens. N has a full team of five other Pokémon to back up his dragon too. All in all, I think this is the most effective way Game Freak have yet chosen to handle a legendary Pokémon, which are a little bit anticlimactic under normal circumstances. When you defeat N, he admits that he has been starting to doubt his beliefs for some time, after seeing that your treatment of your Pokémon seems to be the norm rather than the exception… but then Ghetsis storms into the room, furious, and explains the truth about Team Plasma. All along, Ghetsis has been manipulating everyone – his followers, the other six sages, N, the people of Unova – because although he does want all trainers to release their Pokémon, he doesn’t want that so the Pokémon can reach their true potential, like he says: he wants it so that he’ll be the only person left in Unova with Pokémon, allowing him to take over the region effectively unresisted. Ghetsis berates N for encouraging you to become the other hero and then losing to you, but is determined to keep his plan on track. He decides that N can still be the hero he groomed him to be if he squashes you at once, and challenges you himself – and damn, he’s tough; after all he effectively takes the place of the champion in the game’s structure. He doesn’t have N’s legendary dragon, but his Pokémon are at a high enough level to make up for it. When you defeat Ghetsis, he is arrested and dragged off, while N flies away with his dragon to travel the world – and one hopes that would be the end of it…
…but Game Freak have left themselves some plot hooks to work with when they make the inevitable third game (Grey, one presumes). Ghetsis, you learn, has been broken out of prison by the Shadow Triad, a group of three teleporting ninjas who show up a couple of times at Team Plasma operations but don’t actually do anything other than be sinister; they’re like the Boba Fett of the Pokémon world. I don’t think they’re really part of Team Plasma per se; they seem to be more like Ghetsis’s personal bodyguard and I suspect their loyalty is to him rather than N – certainly they’re the only ones who stand by him after the fiasco at the Pokémon League. The Shadow Triad appear to you, explain that Ghetsis has disappeared (instructing them not to look for him), give you a few items from the previous set of games that wouldn’t otherwise be available on Black and White, and vanish. You hear nothing more from them, Ghetsis, or N, ever. I expect that this will be built on in the third game (if it isn’t, Game Freak will incur my wrath for introducing these superfluous characters and this pointless subplot), but for now this is where the story ends.
In case you couldn’t tell, I really like what Game Freak have done with Team Plasma. The bad guys kind of have a point. The primary antagonist is a nice guy who genuinely likes and respects you, but there’s a true villain behind him for you to hate properly. In my opinion, this is the most interesting story the main series of Pokémon games has yet produced, no contest. There are occasional moments of jarring silliness (okay, yes, it’s supposed to be a kids’ game, but “plasbad”?) and I get the feeling that at least one person at Game Freak wants to toss the franchise headfirst into high fantasy (which, truth be told, I would not be wholly opposed to, but let’s do it properly, no?) but overall I think these are good villains with a good story. And now you know why I’m still playing these damn games even with all the complaining I do about the crazy new Pokémon.
And speaking of crazy new Pokémon… now that I’m home from Greece I’ll be returning to my regularly scheduled quest. There are some excellent designs in the Pokédex that I still need to recognise… and some real shockers that desperately need to die in a fire.
Here goes nothing…