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Individual Values: A Pokémon Feature - Week 73: Through the Sea of Time

Jonathan Higgins

Welcome to the seventy-third week of my Pokémon feature here on Game Podunk! In case you missed the last one, check it out! Stay tuned for future entries coming every Friday.


Shaymin is available via the Nintendo Network. It'll be live until July 24th. Every single Mythical Pokémon will be distributed during a specific month for the remainder of this year. Now may be your only chance for a really long time, to actually catch them all!


NOTE: This week's Individual Values will spoil some content for Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Sky and Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon. I'll be discussing plot details. You have been warned!





Through the Sea of Time


When I looked at the back of Pokémon Mystery Dungeon“s box, I saw something like “You“re a human who“s turned into a Pokémon!” and dismissed its narrative outright. I figured the series would have staying power because of its unique artistic approach and gameplay. This is the last IV I“ll say it in, just in case y“all didn“t hear me the first few times, but: The Pokémon Mystery Dungeon series continues to boast the best writing of anything relating to Pokémon, including the main games. And I think...the premise is a huge part of it. The games always get introduced simply enough: Explorers of Sky has you join a fun little Exploration Guild with a Wigglytuff that says “YOOM-TAH!” and a Sunflora that talks like a Valley Girl [but is one of the more accomplished members of the guild, too]. Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon has you attend a Pokémon school with a stern... Vice Principal Watchog and a much more earnest Principal Simipour.


This kind of simplistic stuff is already given an extra layer of sentimentality if you“re the type to name your player character after yourself, and the partner character you get to choose after your best friend/significant other/fiancée in my case. These two Pokémon meet each other for the first time in every game, and draw out each other“s inner strength by going on adventures together. There“s more than one emotionally driven line spoken between the two--and it probably rings true for the person you named your partner after, if you“re the type. Even weaker narratives tend to stick with you a little longer if the things they carry relate enough to your real world. That“s cool all by itself, without even spoiling anything.




A Narrative As Layered As Dungeons Themselves


You go into these experiences thinking, “Yeah, it“s gonna play out like a Saturday morning cartoon, where minor conflicts will be solved leading up to a climax that“s no more exciting than when Mario saves Princess Peach for the 12th time.” But--as the story starts to unfold, some stuff happens that“s even atypical in the Pokémon world...like the player character being able to see the past and future in the “Explorers” games, and the partner character in Super Mystery Dungeon having a questionable past--they were just found with these scarves. It leaves just enough intrigue to have the concept stick in the back of your mind. After a while, you start to get a grip on the Big Bad Threat trying to destroy the world. In “Explorers”“ case, it“s a Grovyle stealing Time Gears--mechanisms responsible for maintaining the balance of time in the world. Without ”em, the planet becomes paralyzed, and everything you love is locked in eternal darkness and stillness. ...Fun stuff for a kid to process, right?


Super Mystery Dungeon toned it back a little bit, I thought, with just “something is turning all Legendary Pokémon into stone. Why?” I“ll devote a whole little subheading to how SMD specifically messes with returning players“ expectations in a second. But first: Let“s assume you“re a parent who got “Explorers of Sky” for your kid. You see them start playing it and enjoy the company of a giant pink blob, Flower Valley girl, comic relief Bidoof, and more. You figure “Okay, this is fine.”


Throughout the game, your kid will learn about the Time Gears, the planet“s paralysis [see: what“s caused if the Time Gears are removed], and this Grovyle who“s really bent on taking them anyway. Meanwhile, the main character your kid“s playing as has this ability to see the past and future...and is filled with questions, as a result. Eventually, they“ll meet this Great Explorer Dusknoir, who bails ”em out of some dicey situations between bits of fun expeditions and minor conflict involving an...arrogant Skunktank and his pals. Fair enough.


So--this Dusknoir is from the future. And so is Grovyle. Dusknoir professes this to the whole town, and everyone aids in the eventual capture of the Time Gear Thief. Just as Dusknoir is about to yank Groyvle back into the future where the planet“s been paralyzed and Grovyle has achieved his dastardly ends...he yanks the two main characters with him.


Does your kid have trust issues? Because s/he might develop some after they find out The Great Dusknoir was the Big Bad all along and wants to quash Grovyle and the two main characters, who are attempting to change history for the better--because all who stand in the way of fate deserve to die painful deaths at the hands of a squad of Sableye. Grovyle eventually reveals the truth--the main characters have a tough time swallowing everything going on--but everyone joins up with a pink Celebi that can transport y“all back into the past. Hope springs eternal, right?


Until Dusknoir and a version of Dialga that“s completely mad with corruption and self-preservation show up at the very end of your journey in the completely devastated future, because they let y“all escape so you could lead ”em right to Celebi. It“s around then that Grovyle“s bravado wanes, but he reveals he has a partner--


His partner was a human who has the ability to see into the past and future.

With...the same name as the main character.




Anyway. Let“s assume you“re the kid I“ve brought up, as I describe “Explorers” story. At the end of a 30 hour journey, you“ve gone back into the present time to recollect the Time Gears [that only cause a temporary paralysis until they“re brought to [a much more sane] Dialga, who can use them to save the world]. Your mission is eventually accomplished, but it comes at a price.


See. All them Pokémon from the future? Grovyle, Dusknoir, and...the main character? They all disappear, because history has changed. Their existence is eliminated. Yeah, now you“re learning why Dusknoir was so determined to stop this from happening.




Grovyle is ready to give up his life for the better of the planet. Dusknoir...isn“t. And...the main character kinda has no choice. Meanwhile--your partner character has no idea s/he“s about to lose you at the end of your journey, and goes on like normal. WORLD SAVED! EVERYTHING IS FINE??


Except the main character disappears from existence at the end “BYE, I LOVE U, THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES.” Holy Toledo! If I“m a young kid playing a Pokémon game, I“m probably bawling like when the dog dies at the end of a Strong Pet Movie. Thankfully, they get restored after the credits roll--but if you don“t know that“s going to happen, you get to watch as the narrative says “Months go by. The partner learns to get on without his or her pal but is locked in a deep depression.” Mmhmm. Glad all“s well that ends well.





...Hey, if you venture enough into the post-game, you learn that Darkrai was the Pokémon who turned your human self into what you are now, and first initiated Dialga“s descent into madness. Oh, yeah. And there“s Palkia--who has dominion over space, recognizes that the main character isn“t supposed to exist, and kind of convinces them they need to kill themselves to correct an imbalance in the universe?


SO YEAH. Wild ride, that “Explorers” saga. I barely even scratched the surface of an extensively long narrative and postgame--but suffice to say, I definitely think it“s a story that skews way beyond Pokémon“s normal intended audience, in favor of fully embracing nihilism, strong bonds, and incredible freaking heartbreak, at times.






Do You Know What's Coming?


Gates to Infinity kind of ditches all the strong points of “Explorers” in favor of introducing new players to the series--with only Pokémon from Generation 5. But Super Mystery Dungeon rises from that game“s ashes...because every single Pokémon ever is in it, leading up to Hoopa. And...almost all of them are either literal versions or attempted reincarnations of characters from previous Pokémon Mystery Dungeon games. All the main characters from Wigglytuff“s Guild in “Explorers” reprise their personalities, if you find them in PSMD. You eventually unlock a quest where Grovyle wants to rescue a pink Celebi, where a Shiftry got lost and devastated by Zapdos like in Red/Blue Rescue Team, and so on. The only “huge missed opportunity” that the world of Super Mystery Dungeon chose not to do is recreate the towns from previous games as their other continents. If they“d have done that, it would have made the whole thing even more memorable, to me.



Before I go, though, I“d like to discuss how PSMD“s narrative kind of knows what players are expecting, and messes with them a little bit as a result. As the game begins, the main character is saved by this Nuzleaf. He“s unsuspecting enough, at first--but as the game develops, anyone who“s played a Mystery Dungeon game will start to see the signs of how--like Dusknoir, Nuzleaf could be an example of friend that“ll be turned foe. You expect some glimmer of hope to happen after Nuzleaf reveals his true identity as [being possessed by] the Big Bad--but nope. Literally every single main character in the entire game, besides the main Guild Guy Ampharos and Jirachi, are turned to stone. After you all explore “the Voidlands”--the version of Hell or Purgatory that exists for Pokémon who“ve been turned to stone--you“re reunited with members of your guild, only to see their souls taken away one by one and be thrown back into reality, tasked with, “You better save the world, or your friends don“t even get a good afterlife.” During the endgame, the planet is hurled towards the sun? If you fail in your mission, literally everything in the entire world“s gonna burn to a crisp! ...All righty.




You succeed in your mission (yay!), and--after three games where this has been the case--you“re all set for the human to begrudgingly leave his partner behind to return to their own world, but get saved at the last second by some all-powerful being. See, the Ancient Pokémon Mew and a human [you] tried to defeat the Big Bad before, but couldn“t. You kind of figure “Oh, the human“s gonna go rejoin Mew now in the human world.”


Nope! Your partner has been a reincarnation of Mew the whole time--and now that the world has been saved, your partner“s existence is no longer needed. “BYE, I LOVE U, THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES.” Man, the main character is heartbroken. The credits literally roll while the main character is lying crumpled, crying on the ground.







Hearing my summaries of these two games, and how...Pokémon...manages to follow along the same veins and heartstrings as any given Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest game from the SNES era--it“s quite clear why I speak so highly of these narratives, I hope. It takes some real talent to present you with a group of tropey, fun, mildly memorable characters...that eventually get their lives and worlds torn asunder, and always wind up literally crying over death when the credits roll. They may not be the strongest narratives ever produced, but they are absolutely the most compelling stuff you“ll ever see in a Pokémon game, to be certain.


And hey! While most of my peers were unwrapping Pokémon GO from its metaphorical box, I did what I set out to do and 100% completed Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon. As promised, I“m not going to devote anywhere near the time and analytical senses to any future game in the series. So this summarization of the strengths in Pokémon Mystery Dungeon“s storytelling marks the end of an era in my gaming "journey".


How“s that for warm and fuzzy?

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