To seek, to find, and not to yield. Alfred Lord Tennyson’s stirring ode to the warrior-king Ulysses can be just as readily applied to another great traveller of modern mythology. A hero who, at the very sight of another warrior, would do battle with all who stood in his way, until he became the best there ever was. Every rival, every adversary, every enemy: without exception. In a world of Gods and demons, this young boy, now in the twentieth year of his adventures, has returned to his warrior life…
And now Pkmn Trainer Red is a totally pussy!
Everyone’s favourite cap-crested monarch of monsters made his triumphant return to the “Pokemon” series after fifteen years – excluding his non-canonical appearances and cameos – in Pokemon Sun/Pokemon Moon, released on Nintendo 3DS last month. After the intense duel atop Mt. Silver that concluded Pkmn Trainer Gold’s odyssey in the 2001 smash hits Pokemon Gold and Pokemon Silver, Red installed the gold standard of final trainer battles, possessing an intensity, presence and outright terrifying conviction and sense of power that almost blew its way through the tiny LCD screen of the Game Boy Colour!
Now: what happened to that guy? Everything about Red was threatening. His battle pose was always the first thing I remember noticing. From the outset of the title screen of Pokemon Red Version, back in 1999, Red exuded confidence. With one eye on the world around him and one eye hidden under the shade of his cap, Red looked more like a villain than a hero. Seriously, this kid was more Byronic and stoic than Altair, Master Chief and Vincent Valentine combined! With swag to spare and a killer stare, Red was not a trainer to be trifled with. This powerful, confident stance became even more terrifying once we, as players, were on the other end of the third-person perspective in the sequel. With Red’s face all but hidden by the black shadow his iconic visor cast upon his face, he stood atop the summit of the known world, Mt. Silver, shrouded in mystery. Neither friend nor foe, this veteran trainer had no time for small talk: he wanted to fight.
And so did you!
Up to that point, you had put so much foot to ass in the Johto region you were wearing Ace Trainers like worn-out gym socks. Back in the day, real trainers ‘wanted to fight’, whereas now they ‘would like to battle’. Red and Gold weren’t asking to pretty-please with a Cherrim on top have a fun, friendly match: these boys were out to hurt each other! The changes that have crept their way into the language, artwork, battle systems and even music of the Pokemon games have resulted in the ‘pussification’ of virtually every aspect of the games.
Just consider the music. Red’s champion theme is literally one of the most daunting things you’ll hear as a child of the 90s’. In between suffering through my mum’s obsession with Spice Girls and everyone else’s obsession with S-Club 7, the catchy collection of Kanto tracks and the jaunty Johto jingles were memorable in their own right… but that champion theme… good god.
Scared? That was the point! The gym leaders and Elite Four of the old games weren’t your friends: they were your enemies, and their battle themes told you as much. Compare the magnificent, shiver-inducing “Vs. Kanto Gym leader” track to any modern gym leader theme, and tell me which is the more threatening. Try standing the iconic “Vs. Red” theme from the original games up against the latest incarnation in Pokemon Sun/Moon, and you’ll know what I’m talking about. Heck, they even let you see his whole face in the new games!?
This ‘pussification’ of the Pokemon games even extends to the artwork used to depict characters. Where Red and Blue and your rival in Pokemon Gold/Silver looked intimidating – the rival from Gold/Silver even went as far as to steal his first
Where Red and Blue and your rival in Pokemon Gold/Silver looked intimidating – the rival from Gold/Silver even went as far as to steal his first Pokemon –, today’s gym leaders and ‘rivals’ look like My Little Pony fan-creations. Seriously, the amount of wide-eyed, colourful non-threatening ‘leaders’ of gyms is saddening. Remember Lt. Surge? Remember Koga? Hell, remember Sabrina? The motto of her gym must have been ‘bitches be cray’ before that term was even cool! In Johto, the likes of Ecruteak City’s Morty and Blackthorn City’s Clair looked menacing in their own right. Whaddya’ got nowadays, huh? No one. All the modern gym leaders have been replaced by uber-likable friendly faces, who ‘would like to battle’, as goes the modern in-game text. Consider this, ye who is still not convinced: they let a known mob boss run the final gym in Kanto. In Unova, it’s left to a kid. In Johto, the champion of all trainers wears a cape. In Kalos, she wears a handbag.
At least in Pokemon Ruby/Pokemon Sapphire, the champion turns up to work in a suit…
So, what does any of this even mean? Who cares if everyone is you BFF now? What difference does it make if every trainer and his top percentage Rattata wants to politely engage in a fun, risk-free bit of horseplay? Well, anyone who has ever been in a fight will tell you: it’s hard to throw a punch without a little bit of hate.
Did you ever wonder why military drill instructors treat their fellow soldiers like sub-human trash? Surely, if you want someone to do something, the best way to ask them is politely, right? Well, that depends on what you are asking. Without the powerful, fundamental emotions such as fear, stress, anger etc. pushing individuals into battle, there isn’t much of a battle to be had. The USA’a famous recruitment slogan during WWII wasn’t ‘I would like you’, was it? We need pressure if we are to perform at our best. We need that fight-or-flight response to kick
We need pressure if we are to perform at our best. We need that fight-or-flight response to kick in and kick hard if we are to achieve our full potential. To this end, the gym leaders and elite four of older “Pokemon” titles brought that necessary level of intimidation to bear on us. We didn’t have the luxuries we have in modern games. The ability to choose the next elite four member you face? Come on!? Remember when you had to run the gauntlet, and take them on in a specific order?
This freedom to choose the opponent that suits the particular party you have at the time is lame, and tactically speaking, makes taking on the elite four easier. With further additions made to modern games allowing you t communicate to your battle-slave – I mean, friendly poke-pals – during combat in order to give them boosts and buffs mid-battle, one can clearly see the insidious claw of ‘user-friendliness’ clutching at the throat of this once tactically-demanding RPG series.
My point is: being friendly sucks. I want to fear these gym leaders. I want to want to take them down. I want them to be my adversaries. I despised Team Rocket back in the day – cutting off Slowpoke tails? WTF!? Those guys weren’t goofy gangsters: they were an immoral mob of organised criminals, led by a gym leader no less. In the most recent incarnations of Pokemon, we get to stroke them, and comb them, and stuff their little faces with food, and dress them up. We can befriend them to the point of evolving them in certain instances. With battle systems becoming more user-friendly to the point of telling players which move they should use, and the challenge of eight gym leaders being removed in favour of four ‘big kahunas’, the defining characteristics of what it meant to be a Pokemon trainer seem to have all but vanished: To seek, to find, and not to yield.