Pokémon Masters continues to be a curious mobile game. It never had the ultra-mainstream appeal of its cousin Pokémon Go, and its focus on established human characters over the marketable critters themselves basically implies that the game’s target audience are already loyal Pokémon fans. Up until recently, that fanservice didn’t go much beyond seeing your favorite gym leaders and heroes interact with one another more extensively, but the Ho-oh event from last month takes it a step further by redeeming one of Pokémon’s antagonists.
The story involves Ethan and Silver, protagonist and rival of Pokemon Gold, Silver, and Crystal, looking for the legendary Pokemon Ho-oh. At this point, Ethan and Silver are no longer enemies but loosely working together. Ho-oh is said to appear to humans who are pure of heart, which Silver believes disqualifies him from becoming its partner. After all, his history is one of doing terrible things to his Pokemon, being cruel and nasty to other people, and being the son of Team Rocket boss Giovanni. However, Lance appears and explains that he has seen genuine change in Silver—a transformation clearly reflected in SIlver’s bond with his Sneasel. Ultimately, Silver proves himself worthy by choosing to save his allies instead of trying to catch Ho-oh, and the legendary Pokemon rewards him by joining his side.
There’s something about mobile games in general where I can’t really get into their narratives because of how they’re locked behind tedious gameplay requirements. Pokémon Masters is no exception in terms of feeling a bit like a chore, but I think the payoff was rewarding because of how nice Silver’s story ends up being. The original Gold, Silver, and Crystal games (as well as the Heart Gold and Soul Silver remakes) do show that Silver has started to turn a new leaf, but the result was left somewhat ambiguous. What Pokemon Masters does, though its canonicity is unclear, is to give Silver a satisfying conclusion to his journey from villain to well-meaning rival. It’s the first time that Pokémon Masters has presented a story with actual stakes, and it works to really humanize Silver. This has resulted in what I consider the peak of the mobile game currently, and one of the highlights of Pokémon as a whole.
It’s a testament to the longevity and popularity of Pokémon and its characters that a game could come out where you collect not so much the Pokémon themselves, but their trainers. Whether it’s Sinnoh champion Cynthia or Pewter City Gym Leader Brock, the humans of the Pokemon world have garnered their own fanbases, and the mobile game Pokémon Masters takes advantage of this by bringing them all into one convenient place.
While I find the game itself fun, though not without its problems and quirks, I want to focus one one particular aspect of Pokémon Masters I find interesting. Specifically, it’s the ability to summon player characters from multiple generations of Pokémon as non-player characters that catches my attention because it means Pokémon Masters has to create personalities for them when they were previously empty shells.
Within the main games, only Red (the hero of the first generation) has made multiple appearances as a computer-controlled character, and his personality can be charitably described as “strong and silent.” The only thing he ever says in any game is “…” as a reference to that being the only thing you could say in link battles on the original Game Boy. After that, while certain characters may have had personalities established in adapted material like anime or manga, many liberties end up being taken that causes those narratives to differ significantly from the games. For example, in the anime, May (a character based on the female player character in the third generation games) is the daughter of the Gym Leader Norman. But in Pokémon Masters, it’s Brendan (the male player character) who is Norman’s child. While there’s nothing necessarily “canon” about Pokémon Masters, it still means the developers had to decide how these player avatars behave without a player.
As a result, fans of Pokémon may potentially view these old characters in a new light. Rosa, the heroine from the Gen-5 Pokémon Black 2/White 2, is expressive and quirky, garnering many fans in the process. Brendan appears eager and energetic. Kris, from Gen 2’s Pokémon Crystal, is kind yet feels she needs to improve. Without any real meat to go on, I have to wonder how the developers decided to give which traits to these old player characters. Will these become their established personalities moving forward in the games, or is it a one-off thing only for Pokémon Masters? Personally, my hope is that they end up sticking. The only question left is what’ll happen to the actual player characters of Pokémon Masters in the future—what qualities will the two of them have if/when they show up elsewhere?