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It’s good and righteous when Pokémon kick my ass

Celebrating Pokémon fighting back

A Pokemon kicking the player to the ground. Image: Game Freak/The Pokémon Company, Nintendo via Polygon

If I’m pestering a wild animal, most reasonable people would think it has the right to try and beat the shit out of me. The more dangerous that animal is, the more I probably deserve it. So, let me ask you: Why does a Pokémon lose that right just because it’s a bug with swords for arms, or a duck that can do telekinesis? Why, in 26 years, have Pokémon so rarely been able to use their god-given right to kick my ass?

I’ve spent the better part of three decades invading the personal space of Pokémon so I could try to shove them into orbs. Wanting to absolutely end me in response isn’t just understandable; it’s righteous. But Pokémon have never gotten the option. Instead, they’ve been forced to observe an arbitrary social contract they don’t benefit from, expressing their grievances in ritual turn-based combat against a proxy champion of my choosing. It’s unjust. But luckily, in Pokémon Legends: Arceus, it’s an injustice that’s finally being corrected.

In Arceus, you’ll hear people repeat a phrase: “Pokémon are terrifying creatures.” And they’re not wrong to think so. The game is set centuries ago in the Hisui region, before humanity has learned to build a society in peaceful coexistence with Pokémon. Unlike in past games, Pokémon are killing people out here. Some villagers have been traumatized by wild Pokémon attacks; others have lost entire communities. These are people who’ve endured tragedies, and their town has its own Security Corps to prevent a rampage by the very real monsters just outside their walls. Characters will casually warn about how quickly you’ll be shunted from the mortal coil if you enter a Pokémon’s territory unprepared.

The message is clear: Fucking around with Pokémon is a great way to get mauled.

A character in Pokemon Legends: Arceus expressing surprise over you surviving your wild Pokemon encounter. Image: Game Freak/The Pokémon Company, Nintendo via Polygon

They’re not exaggerating. Leaving Jubilife Village means journeying through a wilderness populated by a hundred different varieties of small apocalypses. In Arceus, wild Pokémon don’t waste time waiting patiently until I’m ready to battle. They target me directly. They react exactly as they should to a vacant-eyed adolescent thrashing through their natural habitat: not on my terms, but theirs. Which, for creatures with daggers for feathers and axes for hands, tend to involve immediate and unrelenting violence. Especially when the interloper is just, y’know, some guy.

But where the villagers might be horrified, I’m thrilled. My mind is from the future, and my body is ready. I’ve been preparing for this almost as long as I’ve been alive. A quarter-century’s worth of Pokedex entries has taught me that Pokémon are capable of truly astounding feats, almost all of which would be astoundingly fatal for a human being to experience. In Arceus they can finally use those powers against me, and I absolutely welcome it.

Startling a Geodude means having to evade a sudden downpour of hurled boulders. Skirting too close to a pride of Luxio gives me a solid chance of getting paralyzed before I’m mauled by electric lions. Even naturally docile Pokémon species aren’t without risk. If I happen across a Bidoof that’s one of the territorial Alpha variants, it won’t hesitate to weaponize those oversized incisors against me.

Can the Pokémon actually kill me? No — if I’m hit enough, I’ll be dragged unconscious back to the safety of a campsite. But I support them for trying. They’re defending their autonomy. They’re leveling a power imbalance that’s existed for decades. They’re getting an opportunity to answer my quarter-century of mild torment. When I’m ushered to an early grave by an Alpha Snorlax’s Hyper Beam, I’ll have no regrets.

Maybe Pokémon’s newfound willingness to attack on sight isn’t the moral victory for everyone else that it is for me, but it’s certainly resonating with a lot of people. And they’re sharing clips of these terrifying encounters:

Meanwhile, fan artists and memesmiths have been taking the opportunity to commiserate through craft:

And Pokémon’s blood thirst has even proven that nothing brings people together like a common foe — a foe like our new universal archnemesis, Paras:

The Pokémon games have played with different mechanics over the years, so who knows how long wild Pokémon will be able to enjoy their long-delayed vengeance. But it’s an inclusion I’m glad we got to see, however long it lasts. It adds some believability to Pokémon — they’re active forces in their world, not just passive collectibles.

Pokémon is, obviously, children’s media. Addressing any kind of lethality, let alone the mortal danger posed by your 900-plus bespoke varieties of profoundly dangerous wildlife, is a tricky proposition. So, to whoever is responsible: Thank you, sincerely, for letting Pokémon kick my ass.

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