Pokemon Character Reviews: Generation VII
I am really and truly excited to get up to this point, even if it marks the end until an eighth generation lands sometime over the coming couple years. Sun and Moon were certainly lacking in a lot of gameplay areas and the fandom seems pretty damn split on whether it's outright terrible or anything better than "alright," but personally, I thought they poured more effort and thought into both the Pokemon and the characters than ever before.
After all these long, arduous years, we have at long last a pokemon professor with a truly fleshed out personality and private life to learn about. A specialist in the study of pokemon moves,
Kukui lives in a ramshackle beachside laboratory he constantly has to repair and patch thanks to his ongoing research, and is positively bursting with enthusiasm even by the pokemon world's almost tiresomely happy-go-lucky standards.
Kukui has SO much energy to spare, in fact, that he lives an entire double life as a celebrity wrestler and battler known as the Masked Royal. This secret identity is actually fairly obvious even to in-game characters, but it seems as though nobody really has the heart to show it and everybody silently agrees to continue humoring him. Wouldn't you? Could you ever look at that face for one second and even dare contemplate making it unhappy?
PROFESSOR SAMSON OAK
Just in case that wasn't enough professors for you, Alola also features its own Professor Oak, cousin to the one we're familiar with and a specialist on...are you ready for this?...Regional pokemon variants. He's a professor of Alolan pokemon forms who is, himself, an Alolan form of an existing character. That is adorable.
He's also an even goofier old man than Oak Classic, and in the anime, constantly makes bad pokemon puns that they had a hell of a hard time translating, since the original puns only work in Japanese and he just has to physically mime every pokemon he name-drops, so they can't even get away with changing the pokemon puns for other languages, but they sure as hell try.
Still not all professor'd out? Burnet isn't actually a new character, per se, but this is technically her first appearance in an actual Pokemon game. She was first introduced during the fifth generation in a spinoff 3DS app called Pokemon Dream Radar.
Burnet is an expert on alternate realities, including the realm of pokemon dreams, the "interdream zone" linking it to reality, and even Ultra space. She's formally introduced to us in Sun and Moon not only for her relevant research field, but because she's actually married to Professor Kukui.
Burnet is also a big
fan, REALLY big fan, of the impenetrable enigma
that is the Masked Royal, never missing a single one of his fights...and this academic professional in the field of alternate realities really, sincerely has no apparent clue who might really be under that lucha mask. You just know Kukui gets a real big kick out his wife's not so secret lust for that truly mysterious
other man, who ever could he possibly be
Even your rival this adventure is more heart-tugging than usual. Past experience had me all set to forget about him, and I'll admit, his friendly banter and youthful eagerness seemed at first interchangeable with every other kid in these games...but the way this kid cheers you on even when you beat the piss out of his pokemon grew on me pretty fast, and then you're straight up told that he was basically traumatized as a small child when he saw his grandfather "in a rage" over something or other, leading said grandfather to go extra soft on Hau from then on and raise him into someone sweet and patient and devoid of any aggression.
It wasn't long before I started letting Hau win, which is fine, because you don't even "black out" if you lose to Hau. He just congratulates you on how hard you tried and the storyline continues as usual.
Did you even know that? Or did you assume you absolutely had to beat him and just completely trampled him like the coward you are?
A selfish and rude disappointment of a daughter, callously refusing to be a jellyfish from space. How can she hurt her poor mother like that.
...Lillie is sort of like another "rival" character, except this frail, timid child abhors direct involvement in pokemon battle or any sort of violence in even the friendliest of contexts, which you may note is one of the most deviant attitudes we've ever encountered in pokeverse society. Instead, Lillie does her best to protect her beloved Cosmog, Nebby, from any kind of danger and especially from those who wish to recapture the rare, alien specimen for Ultra Wormhole research.
Lillie's shy, pacifistic demeanor stems almost entirely from her upbringing, as her father disappeared some years prior to the game and her mother kind of plunged straight off the deep end, becoming a cold hearted, domineering and hyper-critical parent who even controls the way Lillie dresses.
Anyway, it's by far the most complex story we've been given for one of these player friends in basically ever.
In one of Sun and Moon's many breaks from tradition, the Alola region does not have gym leaders. Instead, it has "captains" who oversee "island trials," which see us battling an abnormally large and powerful "totem pokemon" instead of an enemy trainer's team. As a normal type specialist, Llima is in charge of a trial that pits us against either a giant Gumshoos in Pokemon Sun or giant Alolan Raticate in Pokemon Moon. Llima is also a graduate of the island's esteemed "trainer school," so he's also something of an academic superstar. Not much about him really stood out to me otherwise, but alright, not terrible, just kind of forgettable.
The water type trial captain, Lana trained up either a Wishiwashi or Araquanid as the trial boss, so she has some pretty fearsome pokemon tastes for a seemingly meek little kid, though she does have some dialog in which she hopes a cute guy will start drowning and she'll have a chance to rescue him, which is...kinda creepy, Lana. The manga takes things farther, portraying her as so ruthless and violent in battle that it freaks out her friends. Araquanid is considered Lana's main pokemon partner, and her personality, at least when we factor in the manga, does seem to parallel the giant spider's conflicting pokedex entries.
At least a little cooler than our last two and a little more fleshed out than them in his anime appearances, Kiawe is a fire type specialist and master of traditional dance with a no-nonsense exterior and VERY nonsense interior, at least how I interpret him, since his "trial" consists of a cheesy "spot the difference" puzzle the kid seems pretty proud of.
The grass type captain and trainer of the notoriously challenging Totem Lurantis, Mallow is also a cook at her family's restaurant, and we get to help her gather weird ingredients for a big batch of her own original "pokemon food" that she even implores us humans to try, though the immediate disgust and reluctance expressed by her friends tells us this is both a common occurence and doesn't really go that well.
Clemont was a tough act to follow when it comes to electric trainers, and Sophocles is even another tech-genius kid, but his focus on computer programming is at least something new and different for a game boss. He even created the virtual reality "festival plaza" you can customize and use as an online interaction hub. He doesn't have a whole lot else going on, but I do like that when Team Rainbow Rocket takes over festival plaza, he laments how much cooler their menacing virtual castle is than his own design, and even lets you keep it that way.
You'll face Sophocles as trial captain of a mountain observatory, where he not only conducts technological experiments but apparently keeps people awake at night yelling at video games.
The original observatory trial captain, Molayne passes the job down to his cousin Sophocles by the time of Sun and Moon, but still hangs out with him, also yelling at video games, and also conducting scientific research until Ultra Sun and Moon promote him to an Elite Four member, specializing in steel types. That was an awfully long sentence, but it's all I got on this guy.
Acerola is, apparently, the last living member of a royal family line and grew up as an orphan. We're not told much more about what happened, but perhaps it was that loss and hardship that drives her love of ghost-type pokemon and cheerful nonchalance in the face of creepiness. She's captain of the absolute best trial in the game, which has you taking photographs of ghosts in an abandoned, decrepit shopping center before finally facing Totem Mimikyu.
Acerola seems to have latched on to another character, Nanu, as her "uncle," and doesn't seem like she cares too much that he very clearly finds her incredibly draining. You even end up fighting her later as a member of Alola's Elite Four, after Nanu refuses the position.
The final trial captain is an interestingly eccentric one. A fan of fairy types, Mina is also a painter who spends the vast majority of time sketching and painting out in the wild, dirty and hungry and exhausted but seemingly indifferent to anything other than her art. Even as a child, she apparently only came home to gorge on food and run off somewhere again, and she's so disorganized in Sun and Moon that she doesn't actually even have a trial for you to face. She just up and hands you the Fairium Z and sees you off.
It's only in Ultra Sun and Moon that Mina gets her act together and comes up with a trial, which turns out to be more like the traditional gym leader challenge, as she tasks you with finding and battling all previous trial captains in an actual pokemon match. Each provides a single fabric flower petal, and with every petal combined, Mina can summon the Totem Ribombee. It's pretty fun to suddenly have a more classic series of battles all at once, even if you'll probably plow straight through them all as usual. She's also just kind of a fun character concept in general.
You actually meet Hala at nearly the beginning of the game, because he's the "Kahuna" of the first of four islands, and he's also the same grandfather who unintentionally scared the piss out of Hau and never forgot about it. He's a fighting type trainer, if you couldn't tell at a glance, and renowned throughout the land for both physical strength and his kindness. In Sun and Moon, he also becomes another member of the Elite Four, but not in Ultra Sun and Moon, where he's replaced by Molayne.
He's alright. We've sort of seen this kind of character several times before, but he's nice enough.
Here he is, one of the most beloved characters in a game packed full of instantaneous fan favorites, and I agree. I love absolutely everything about this guy. He works, and lives, out of a police station on the same island as "Po Town," the decaying headquarters of this generation's magnificent villain team, and if you know a single thing about that villain team, then you know at least one reason why Nanu is tired. So, so, so, so very terribly tired.
We say "at least one" reason, because Nanu was also once a high ranking member of the International Police, Looker's employers, whose job is to investigate doomsday devices, genocidal supervillains and interdimensional death gods all around the pokeglobe. You can tell Nanu has seen some serious shit, more serious shit than anyone in the idyllic world of pocket monsters should have ever had to put up with, but was unfortunately obligated to accept a new position as an Island Kahuna when he was specially chosen by Ula'ula island's guardian diety.
It certainly doesn't help that Nanu is constantly pestered by the hyper-energetic Acerola, already worked his ass off once before as trial captain of another island, and is also expected to see his island's children off on their own new pokemon adventures. This last bit is especially adorable and funny as hell, because Nanu lives in his police station with just dozens of Alolan Meowth, his favorite Pokemon, and offers every new kid one of three Alolan Meowth as their "starter," differentiating them only by their personalities.
All he wants to do is retire in obscurity with slightly too many cats, but Nanu is unfortunately stuck living in an idyllic, colorful world of fantastic adventures with an entire land mass counting on him to be a hero. No wonder he flat-out rejects his invitation to the Elite Four, haphazardly moves you along on your quest without a proper battle, and even demonstrates the Dark Type Z-Move Dance (a thing we neglected to mention every captain and kahuna has to do for you) like he hopes you choke on it.
Most people, if they could do anything in the Pokemon world, would ride an Arceus through space, go surfing on a Gyarados or just have a really wild time with one or more sexy villains, and those are all great options, sure, but I think just letting Nanu chill out on his couch with his cats and vent to you about his entire miserable day should be WAAAAY up near the top of that list.
The very minute this character's artwork ever dropped, the pokemon side of the internet exploded with adulation for her and fan art out the wazoo. The consensus seems to be that this rock-type trainer is pokemon's #1 dreamiest lady and a badass on top of it, though this consensus doesn't come without some debate about whether Pokemon games are getting more risque and how they still fall back on some overdone stereotypes.
Those are fully understandable debates and I think people raise a lot of strong points, but that aside, I agree that Olivia is pretty rad in-context with a top notch wardrobe and decent taste in Pokemon, regarding even the toughest rock types as "adorable."
Depending on your version, you might get to see Olivia apparently challenging a Buzzwole to a one-on-one physical brawl. We regrettably don't get to see that actually play out, but she's apparently tough as hell from years of training with her pokemon, and she's another island Kahuna that joins the Elite Four. One thing that bugs me and I haven't seen people bring up a whole lot is that as strong as she's supposed to be, these games still shy away from ever portraying women with visible muscles. I'd subtract a ball for that, but it's not her fault the artists are damn cowards.
The Kahuna of the wild Poni Island, which includes tracts of desert and canyons, Hapu is a ground type specialist, the kind of kid who grows up on a farm knowing horses (or in this case, Mudsdale) better than fellow humans, and became Kahuna after her great grandfather passed away. There's not much else to Hapu, except the fact that NOBODY can seem to decide how old she is. Even the games are unclear as to whether she's a younger child or just very, very small, and I kind of assumed she was somebody's pokey old granny at first glance. It's not like this series has a solid idea of what an old person looks like.
Kahili is an interesting member of Alola's elite four, because we never meet her or even hear about her up until that point. This is typical of other elite four throughout the series, but it's unusual for her fellow elite four in these games. All we know is that she was traveling abroad when she was offered the position and flew back as soon as she could, that she loves bird pokemon, and that she's a golf champion. It's tough to decide whether I should be judging her based on the high standards of characterization set by this generation or by the standards of Pokemon as a whole, because in previous games, we would have known even less about most of the enemy trainers. I guess it evens out to a solid three again.
THE ULTRA RECON SQUAD
So, I know in previous reviews I rather stubbornly reviewed characters as individuals no matter how similar they may be to one another, but Sun and Moon have set such an incredible standard of variety - and will continue to do so - that I really feel like I may as well condense these four together. Their names are Dulse, Zossie, Phyco and Soliera, the former two of which you'll only throughout Ultra Sun and the latter in Ultra Moon, challenging you to battle and offering cryptic observations on how strange they think your world is.
It turns out these guys hail from a whole other planet beyond the ultra wormholes, and have come all this way in their ongoing research of alternate worlds, Ultrabeasts, and the terrifying Necrozma that somehow literally "ate" all the light from their world.
The younger Zossie is the only one of these four with a personality other than just sort of calm, cool and mysterious, showing more childlike excitement and even wanting to start her own pokemon training adventure by the end of our story, which is basically where we leave off with these guys. They never end up doing all that much, but it's certainly interesting to find out that both pokemon and humans apparently live all throughout the galaxy. Perhaps they're more of a preview of story elements to come, or perhaps, like so many other elements of this series, they'll simply be forgotten by our next generation.
Speaking of possible previews and teasers, Ryuki here appears as one of many possible random challengers only after we defeat the elite four to become the Alola region's first official champion, and he's the only such challenger we've never seen anywhere else in the game. He's a mysterious dragon trainer and rock musician from an unspecified foreign region, and to many, that kind of reeks of content to be expanded upon in the future. Knowing Gamefreak, it's entirely possible we're all wrong and he really is just a one-off hidden character they threw in for fun, but he's way too unique and outrageous looking for this to be the last we ever see of him. He gets a four for aesthetics alone, even if we never really get to know him very well.
I remember when this game's villain team was first revealed, nothing but their name and some artwork, and people were so sure they were going to be positively badass. Then came the videos, and, well...
It turns out, out of every villain team in this series, that Team Skull are by far the least
villainous, least menacing of them all, and I'm even including the anime's Jessie and James in that equation. Team Skull want
to be a villain team, they think
they're widely feared, but they're really just a gang of poor or mistreated kids watching out for each other and engaging more in hare-brained mischief than organized crime, let alone any doomsday plans.
They live in a ghost town they've plastered in graffiti. They try to threaten you through improvisational rap. Their ultimate nefarious goal is for their leader to be happy
, and one of their actual villainous plans, at one point, is to steal a bus stop sign because they think the bus driver is overworked. Later, in Ultra Sun and Moon, you have to stop them from surfing atop a Mantine
, not because they're going to hurt anybody else, but because they keep trying to dance at the same time, falling in the ocean, and having to be rescued over and over by a life guard who is just sick to death of it.
This is the opposite of a villain team. These are good, pure, perfect, special and precious children who were just dealt a crappy hand in life and made the best of it they possibly could.
This kid is hilarious.
I keep forgetting he's even supposed to be a member of Team Skull, because he's too antisocial to even be seen with them most of the time, but it's fairly understandable he'd run off to join a villain team considering he's Lillie's brother. He considers the genetically engineered Type: Null
to be a sort of kindred spirit, having stolen one from the family Evil Laboratory and gone on the run in defiance of his nefarious mother. I know he's angst-ridden and troubled for a good reason, but it's still hard to take him seriously when this is how he reacts to losing every Pokemon match:
That's one killer hoodie though, isn't it? With the zipper pouch designed like a bloody gash?
Team Skull just keeps delivering. After years of villain teams with a few too many bosses and not nearly enough personality to go around, Sun and Moon keep it simple with only a single "Team Skull Admin," Plumeria, who fills the team's niche as a tougher, more serious, more competent member than most of the rest. It's an archetype that works a lot better when it's actually unique among a set of characters, and she's still not the stereotypical Scary Mean Team Admin we've seen so many of. Instead, Plumeria is highly protective of her younger teammates. Watching out for the rest of Team Skull as a sort of "big sister" figure even seems to be the driving motivation behind her membership at all, and she'll use her team of poison pokemon to punish anyone who bullies them, even if she herself refers to them as "adorably dumb."
Not only is Plumeria a badass with a lovable soft spot, but another character who deserves massive points for sheer style, between the rad as hell hairdo and the giant skull stomach tattoo...even if the latter is apparently fake, since it disappears after Team Skull technically "disbands," though they do keep hanging out together and looking awesome anyway.
YOUR BOY, GUZMA
At last, the diabolical leader of the fearsome Team Skull, the terrifying Guzma! As expected of Team Skull's founder, Guzma puts his all into a hostile, macho, fearless image to cover up a lot of emotional pain and disappointment. We can actually snoop around his parent's house enough to learn that he was once a child prodigy, earning gold trophies both in pokemon battle and in a golfing hobby, but that those trophies soon went from gold to bronze and that he eventually ran away from his father and from home, leaving behind a collection of bent golf clubs.
A lover of bug type pokemon, Guzma's highly appropriate main partner is the powerful yet cowardly Golisopod, and his underlings even hoard Buginium Z to further Guzma's failed dream of ever becoming his own trial captain.
Eventually, it turns out Guzma answers to the "true" villain solely because she's one of the few other adults to ever take him seriously or show any sign of valuing him, and even runs off with her to Ultra Space before rebelling against her and helping out the player. In the end, Guzma disbands Team Skull, but sticks around vowing to "protect people he cares about," because he is wonderful and great and everybody should love him.
THE AETHER FOUNDATION
Team Skull may be lovable, but they're also kind of a fake-out, because these guys eventually turn out to be the "true" villain team...sort of. We all assumed almost immediately that this Pokemon conservation group would be hiding something sinister, and Gamefreak certainly played them up that way complete with some of the creepiest sounding battle music we've ever heard against human trainers, but it really only ends up being their leader who has sinister, ulterior motives, entirely unrelated to their environmental research, which turns out to be completely legitimate and well meaning. They even run an orphanage on the side, the same one that raises Acerola!
I really do wish that the storyline had handled all this a bit differently. They're definitely going for an underlying spookiness to the Aether Foundation from the moment we meet them, but it still comes completely out of nowhere when we're told they've "started attacking people," and we're not even really given a reason why anyone other than the boss herself is doing so.
Fortunately, Aether's higher-ups are quite a bit more fun than the rest of the foundation's writing.
Damn it, I really didn't want to admit here that I think the "Aether Assistant Branch Chief" is the most attractive pokehuman ever conceived for fear of stereotyping myself, but anyone who even passingly knows me could have already guessed how I'd feel about a curvy older nerd with oversize glasses. I just wish she had more personality than a sort of stock "sweet and motherly" demeanor. There's nothing wrong
with that, no, it's nice that she's apparently the one her boss's kids felt safe to confide in and allowed them to escape in the first place, that she remains devoted to the Foundation's noble causes no matter what and that she basically tries to be everybody's mom at once, but I still crave characters with more to them than plain vanilla "niceness" and we've seen so
much of that here in pokemon.
Still, Sun and Moon
Wicke does demonstrate encyclopedic knowledge of the Ultra Beasts, actually offering you more detailed information on each species than the Rotomdex. This was sadly dropped in the Ultra Sequels, but Ultra Sequel Wicke continuously gives you malasada
just in case you might be hungry and eventually rewards your hard work with exactly one million dollars in pure gold nuggets as casually as she might give you a couple bucks for the bus home, so she may just be a somewhat one dimensional cutie patootie, but she's also an absolutely loaded
cutie patootie who hands out free food and researches horrible alien monsters. Maybe I'm sounding shallow here, but to be honest, she already had me at the free food part.
This is everybody else's
favorite Aether underling, a distant second in volume of naked fan art (why wouldn't
I have checked?), and I'm once again not gonna lie that I totally see it. Who doesn't love a two-faced, cowardly, sniveling old wretch who thinks he's more important than everybody else, runs a blog about how stupid he thinks everybody else is and especially
detests children? I mean, at least through the safety of fiction, yeah? It's such a rare brand of asshole in this setting, where even many past villains show the player more respect than Scrooge McSquidward here, whose main pokemon by the way is a creepyass Hypno.
What else would it be.
In the Ultra titles, Faba is even the one who colludes with Giovanni, allows Team Rainbow Rocket
to take over Aether headquarters and almost ushers in the end of the entire world in his desperation for glory, a crime for which he gets...demoted to an intern while everybody has a good chuckle at that silly old megalomaniac's folly.
I guess at the end of the day, everybody really enjoys the company of this crabby old bastard, or maybe it was Wicke who pulled some strings to get him off lightly. For whatever reason, an awful lot of people shipped the two of them right off the bat, and I guess I could kind of see an interesting dynamic there, but...
Sorry Wicke, but you're no Professor Kukui.
And here she is at last, the boss of the Aether Foundation and E A S I L Y the best villain this series has ever had. We've seen all sorts of cackling megalomaniacs who just want to conquer the world or unravel the universe, but Lusamine's motivations are far more creative, far more human, and ultimately feel far darker than any cartoonish end-of-the-world scenario. I already go over the details in Nihilego's
pokemon review, but as usual, it's only appropriate that we refresh our memories here.
Lusamine and her beloved husband once worked together as upstanding conservationists, researchers and
parents, until their experimentation with dimensional wormholes lead to their fateful encounter with the "symbiont" Ultrabeast. Lusamine's husband vanished into the wormhole and was presumed dead, while Lusamine herself received a massive dose of the Nihilego's psychoactive venom, usually used by the parasites to drive their hosts mad with violence.
As a result, Lusamine deteriorates to the point of forgetting the very purpose of her and her husband's work, treating their children like garbage and funneling foundation resources towards her mad new goal of reopening the ultra wormhole and "joining" the crystalline monsters she now considers "beautiful," a wish that she's willing to go as far as she needs to fulfill.
I said it then and I'll say it again: this is absolutely the most badass thing I have ever seen come out of this series. Even if she ultimately doesn't do that much, seeing a Pokemon character fuse into a many-eyed tentacle monster out of twisted obsession with a brain parasite blows pretty much every other series villain clear out of the water. So much so, that I refuse to bring this review down by addressing how the Ultra sequels cut this plot completely. Just let me pretend that didn't happen, and keep basking in Lusamine's beautiful, evil, tragic glory.
Wow. Wow! Holy crap! They actually did it. After two decades playing these games, they have actually managed to make me feel invested in their characters.
You've seen me gush about plenty of them in these reviews, sure, but I don't think I ever cared about any of them as personally as I'm able to care about half the people we meet here in Alola.
Could they still have been written better? Yes, definitely. Sun and Moon feel seriously rushed in both the story and gameplay departments, dropping plot points on us faster than we can possibly appreciate the impact they should have, but to me, that's always been a problem with this series to some degree. This time around, it's finally at least somewhat compensated for by a selection of heroes and villains who at least feel a whole lot more fleshed out on paper, rushed execution or not.
With only select exceptions, I forgot all about the NPC's of past generations within probably a few weeks of completing each game, but I don't think I could ever forget characters like Lusamine, Guzma, Nanu or Kukui, and I only hope that the next games put anywhere near that much effort into the personalities, motivations and backgrounds of their virtual inhabitants.
Until next time, whenever the heck that's going to be, let's take a moment to appreciate the frankly amazing TCG artwork they've been pumping out for these dorks.
...She's SO happy this way.
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