…and oh, how it does need defending. I’ve discussed all of Pokémon’s past villains before, long ago, but it can’t hurt to summarise… The scale of villainy in the Pokémon universe has swelled considerably since its early days in Red and Blue, when Team Rocket’s dastardly plans nearly brought down one of Kanto’s most important corporations, Silph, to give them control of the prototype Master Ball and its blueprints. Their return in Gold and Silver nearly reduced all the Pokémon of the nation to servitude through the mind controlling radio signal developed by their scientists. Ruby and Sapphire saw Teams Magma and Aqua send the very balance of nature into chaos, risking the safety of the whole world to bring about their utopian visions. Things came to a head with Diamond and Pearl, when Cyrus’ machinations nearly wiped out the entire universe, before Black and White (very sensibly) took a step back and a deep breath, thought about it, and toned it down. As I am fond of saying, I think Black and White have, hands down, the best plot of the core series so far (and that includes Black and White 2), primarily because of the somewhat ambiguous nature of the villains. Team Plasma’s stated goals – the goals which most of their members believe they are working for – can conceivably be seen as perfectly noble. N is a genuinely good person, in spite of his somewhat… unusual upbringing, and he has one of Unova’s legendary dragons to prove it. Many, if not most, of the Seven Sages are similarly enlightened. Even some of the grunts appear entirely sincere in their desire to ‘save’ Pokémon from human oppression – and even at the end of Black and White 2, N still has a vision for a new world; a world where humans and Pokémon live together, but without Pokéballs. It’s only Ghetsis, with his lust for power, who is truly irredeemable (well, and possibly Zinzolin, but I have an unaccountable soft spot for Zinzolin; so sue me). Ambiguity like this is good. There are very, very few people in the real world who do things for no other reason than ‘because I’m evil, damnit.’ People who do bad things very often believe they have good reasons – from time to time, they’re even right. Maxie and Archie in Ruby and Sapphire flirt with similar ideas, but their plans are so far-reaching and so insane that, although they believe they’re working for the good of all, it’s difficult to sympathise (although it’s worth acknowledging that they were a clear step forward). What I’m going to do here – or try to – is create quick sketches of two villainous factions, not entire storylines, but enough to give some idea of how they might work, what their goals might be, and what kind of conflicts might feature in a game that included them.
And, after all the praise I’ve just heaped on the idea of morally ambiguous villains, I’m going to start with a group who are just plain rotten. Just to keep you guessing.
One of the few major flaws of Black and White, in my view, is that the games gloss over one fact which is very important, even central, to the ideological conflict with Team Plasma: there are in fact people in the world who mistreat Pokémon, lots of them. The ideas that Team Plasma attacks are not figments conjured by Ghetsis’ rhetorical flourishes; they are very real threats, like Team Rocket, who steal and abuse Pokémon, and Team Galactic, who enslave them in order to bring about their diabolical visions, under the command of men like Cyrus and Giovanni, as powerful and charismatic as Ghetsis ever was. Purely to make that direct contrast possible, I think it’s very useful to have traditional ‘bad guys’ as well – although perhaps not as the main antagonists; I think they’re actually more useful as side quest fodder. If you have a very basic motivation in mind for your primary villains (like “steal everything and become filthy rich” as in the case of Team Rocket), then I suspect the best way to make the plot more interesting would be to delve into the fact that these guys are basically the Pokémon Mafia and write something very dark and gritty, which I suspect is not really the direction Nintendo or Game Freak want to go for the central stories of the core games, so I want to have them around mostly to contrast the other groups. Now for the details. Actually bringing back Team Rocket, as fun as that would be, is not the most practical option; they’ve been disbanded twice now and I think starting them up again would be a bit of a stretch. Let’s have someone new. In Gold and Silver, Team Rocket have grand designs; they want to control Pokémon all over the country, force Pokémon to evolve, take over the world. I think it would be interesting, though, to focus on some much more low-key stuff, like they try to do in Red and Blue. They have the Celadon Game Corner set up to ‘launder’ their stolen Pokémon, they engage in industrial espionage while planning for the attack on Silph, their leader has infiltrated the Pokémon League as an official Gym Leader. Let’s see what we can do with that.
I’m going to stick with the “Team X” naming tradition and call this new group “Team Nighteye,” because they think of themselves as working best under cover of darkness, and pride themselves on secrecy. They want money and they want power, but most of all, they want influence. They steal Pokémon, but this is very much a means to an end – misusing the powers of Pokémon is just one of the most effective ways of getting things done. They don’t act openly in towns if they can avoid it. Rather than robbing a business, they’ll kidnap Pokémon and use them as leverage. Rather than attacking people themselves, they’ll give Pokémon to random thugs and point them in the right direction. Rather than steal rare items or technology, they’ll ask for them – politely, offering to trade something else they really shouldn’t have, which may or may not turn out later to be fake. The player tends to encounter Team Nighteye after being asked to investigate by people caught up in their schemes; dealing with them is often optional. Defeat enough of their grunts and foil enough of their plans, and they’ll eventually start sending higher level agents after you periodically, until you locate and clear out their main base with help from other powerful trainers. This doesn’t end their operations entirely – their executives just leave by secret routes as soon as they realise the jig is up – but you can get enough of their grunts arrested that they’ll stop trying to tangle with you directly. Some of Team Nighteye’s more major plans you could uncover involve their efforts to gain power within the Pokémon League. In the last few weeks or months prior to the start of our hypothetical game, they have managed to call in enough favours to establish one of their members as a Gym Leader, getting rid of most of the Gym’s former staff and replacing them with disguised grunts. The player can become involved here by assisting the old leader’s second-in-command, who resents her sudden dismissal and is suspicious of the new leader, who isn’t even a particularly good trainer. You then need to navigate the Gym’s puzzles and get access to the back rooms in order to find evidence of the new leader’s unsavoury connections. The ‘Gym Leader’ eventually turns out to be a pawn – a Team Nighteye grunt who’s been given a few stolen Pokémon and told how to use them. The brains of the operation is one of the new Gym trainers you’ve already beaten, whom the old second-in-command recognises as the janitor, of all people – actually a disguised Team Nighteye executive, who held back his real strength to avoid suspicion until being discovered. Once all this is finally dealt with, your friend is able to get herself declared acting Gym Leader and award you a badge for services to the Gym, and later becomes the permanent leader. When the player reaches the Pokémon League, he or she will find that another Nighteye executive has also been collecting badges, and has been groomed to challenge the Champion, possibly gaining an unfair advantage with some kind of trick, which the player will have to expose before his or her own challenge can take place. Eventually, you can get all of Team Nighteye’s higher-ups arrested, one by one, and the group is effectively finished.
Now that we’ve got those guys in place, I want to have a group with arguably ‘good’ motives, despite underhanded methods and an extremist stance – a team who heard about the actions of Team Plasma in Unova and have taken it upon themselves to be ‘what Team Plasma could have been.’ They believe that ownership of Pokémon should be intensely regulated with stricter age limits (“children are not ready for that responsibility!”), requirements for skill-based qualifications (“how can we let Pokémon be owned by people who haven’t proven that they can care for them?”), and draconian penalties for any lapse in care (“anyone who mistreats a Pokémon should lose it!”), but since their extreme proposals have been rejected by the Pokémon League, they now take it upon themselves to push their own ideas on the region. They call themselves Team Eden. You first encounter this bunch while storming a small Team Nighteye compound fairly early in the game. At first their grunts take you for a member of Team Nighteye and attack, since the rival team’s operatives are not exactly model trainers by anyone’s standards. Upon realising their mistake, they give you some information about the compound (maybe some passwords) before withdrawing. Team Eden grunts will later approach you on your travels a couple of times to ‘test’ you and see whether you are worthy of the Pokémon you own; after a little while they admit that you certainly seem to be, and reveal the location of their hideout, explaining that their leader (whom I am giving the working name Cassandra – a woman who sees a future no-one else believes in) would like to speak to you. The hideout is some way outside a major city; its entrance is guarded, and the first couple of areas are puzzle rooms. Once you get inside, you meet Cassandra, who battles you (again with the intention of ‘testing’ you) and explains her group’s beliefs. She tells you why Team Eden hates Team Nighteye so much, but quietly leaves out the fact that they also confiscate Pokémon from innocent people who aren’t ‘good enough.’ For the moment, you are free to wander the hideout and talk to the grunts and scientists. They talk openly about nebulous ideas of philosophy, but are unwilling to explain their actual plans. Some will battle you if you ask them to, but others will admit that they don’t actually have any Pokémon, because they haven’t earned that right yet. As you continue on your journey, you will encounter Team Eden’s forces from time to time, sometimes engaged in perfectly innocent activities similar to Team Plama’s rallies in Black and White, other times trying to convince people to give up their Pokémon – or, failing that, force them to.
Team Eden’s ultimate goal, which they are very close to reaching, is to create a device which can destroy Pokéballs without hurting the Pokémon inside (although the shock and confusion will normally cause them to flee unless they are particularly well trained). Their efforts to build and test this device, and use it to change the world, would form the main conflict of this hypothetical game. Since making a legendary Pokémon part of these stories is, by now, somewhat traditional, we could say that the device needs to be powered up by a Pokémon – the stronger, the better; Cassandra initially uses regular Pokémon but eventually moves on to summoning a legendary Pokémon, probably one who has some kind of vested interest in this conflict anyway. Team Eden’s aim is to force everyone everywhere to reconnect with Pokémon ‘naturally,’ as they did in the days before Pokéballs – and if they can’t, well, too bad. They act out of conviction that the resulting chaos will all be worth it, if it leads to a world where humans and Pokémon interact on an equal footing, and only the best humans can be Pokémon trainers. Everyone else tries to stop Team Eden, because (as the Gym Leaders argue) being with Pokémon is what makes people grow to become worthy of their friendship. This message could be strengthened by using a ‘rival’ character – someone who is initially careless and flighty, considered irresponsible by Team Eden, but becomes a better, more attentive trainer as time goes on, because of his Pokémon. In the climax, Cassandra might attempt to use her device on this character, succeeding in destroying the rival’s Pokéballs but failing to make his Pokémon abandon him, forcing her to admit that there might be something to it. One final possibility I’m toying with for Team Eden is the idea that the impetus for forming the group in the first place actually came not from Cassandra herself but from one of her Pokémon (I’m currently thinking of an Absol), who normally accompanies her outside of its Pokéball, or may not even have a Pokéball at all. This Pokémon was abandoned long ago by a cowardly, cruel trainer, and has since found happiness with Cassandra, but is still driven by a conviction that humans need to learn their place. Cassandra created Team Eden so that she and her Pokémon, together, could work to impose their ideas of justice on the world. This angle would be tricky to work, partly because it would be difficult to show where an idea or opinion is coming from the Pokémon rather than its trainer, partly because it would be important to emphasise how different a Pokémon’s view of the situation is from a human’s, but I like it because I think it would be interesting to try to get a Pokémon’s perspective into these things. Finally disbanding Team Eden would take the agreement of both Cassandra and her Pokémon partner.
As I said, these are not complete stories. There’s a lot that would have to happen in the middle, revealing what’s going on gradually and showing what all the characters think about what’s going on – and, of course, fitting in plenty of battles. All the specifics of how those things happen are largely negotiable; it’s the basic ideas that I’m interested in setting out today. How did I do? What do you think is important in a Pokémon villain?