For 20 years, the Pokémon series has pushed the same good-hearted and optimistic narrative with every new generation of titles, emphasizing friendship and the triumph of good over evil on the player’s path to Pokémon glory. When it comes to Pokémon, by this point, we know what to expect. But as series veterans would have you know, Pokémon games aren’t always sunshine and positive thinking. Sometimes they’re downright morbid.
The latest installment, Pokémon Sun and Moon, takes place in the Hawaii-inspired sunny island setting of Alola. The rival Hau is a happy-go-lucky kid, as opposed to the smug and hostile opponents of Pokémon games past and Alola’s evil criminal organization, Team Skull, is more made up of bumbling and light-hearted street thugs than criminal masterminds. But don’t be fooled. Sun and Moon hide a number of dark and heartbreaking details under its surface. Here are some of the most disturbing ones (be warned, spoilers abound).
In Alola’s Route 2, the player encounters a house with some unsettling flavor text. Its two occupants are a husband and wife, whose child ran away long ago. Much like the player character, the boy embarked on the Island Challenge Trials and loved battling. But now, all that’s left are an upstairs bed that gathers dust and family photos that haven’t been touched in years.
Should you return here at the end of the game, you’ll discover that the runaway child was Guzma, the leader of the hip-hop and anarchic Team Skull. Guzma talks a lot of swagger, but there’s a tragic backstory behind his tough guy image.
The father tells you his account about Guzma running away from home. “I tried to set that boy of mine straight, but when I did, I was the one who got beat,” he says. The dialogue seems to convey some rather disturbing ideas. The father doesn’t seem to have any remorse about his son. Rather, the game suggests he’s still angry at his son and that he may possibly believe in strict discipline.
In fact, fans believe that the game even implies he was an abusive father. Inspecting a golf bag that may belong to him shows the following flavor text: “There are a number of bent and broken clubs in the bag…” Let that description sink in. Could he have beat Guzma, as “I was the one who got beat” seems to imply? Whatever the case, it’s not very fun to think about.
Poké Pelago is a fun island resort-like experience to the Pokémon in your storage. You can let them bathe in hot springs, imbibe fruity island drinks, explore caves, and eat Poké Beans. All of this is thanks to Mohn, a jolly man who oversees these islands. But Mohn wasn’t always this way— and in fact, he might not even know who he really is.
Scientists who work for the Dimensional Laboratory and for the Aether Foundation reveal that Professor Mohn was credited for discovering the Ultra Beasts and the Ultra Wormholes. Much later into the game, one of your rivals, Gladion, reveals that his father was the one behind this research. If you had caught the clues from NPCs, it turns out that Mohn is the husband of the game’s true villain, Lusamine— and is thus father to Gladion and the player character’s friend Lillie. According to the game’s lore, he disappeared while researching an Ultra Wormhole.
Mohn’s disappearance drove the Aether Foundation’s president Lusamine into madness and obsession with the Ultra Dimension. Their two children, Lillie and Gladion, suffer under Lusamine’s psychotic parenting. The player, however, knows that Mohn is still alive. He seems more interested in taste testing the Poké Beans your Pokémon eat than researching alternate dimensions. It’s unclear if Mohn has lost memories of his past, however; the player is let in on the tragic fact Mohn lives on in solitude, while the rest of the cast still feels the impact of his absence.
In order to get TM56, the player has to find a touching cutscene at Hau’oli Cemetery. Track down the woman being carried by her Machamp. She’s talking to her husband’s grave, and when she notices the player, she tells them a story that will utterly punch them in the feels.
The woman’s husband died in a car crash, but managed to save his Machamp at the last second by returning it to its Poké Ball. Since then, she has adopted the Machamp and together they cope with their loss. The Machamp resents being in a Poké Ball, perhaps unable to stand the memory of its inability to protect its owner while in the Poké Ball. The wife feels anger at the man who drove the car that fateful day, but eventually lets go of her angst as she realizes that his wife is suffering too.
Pokémon has been shy about addressing death as a subject, and here, it’s handled in an uncharacteristically mature and heartfelt way. Scenes like this add a surprising bit of depth to the world of Pokémon’s childhood-friendly utopia.
In Route 13’s Motel, the staff complain that a customer left his Pokémon behind and has yet to return to pick it up. All the while, the poor Pokémon has waited in an empty hotel room for its owner to come back. This serves as a reminder that Pokémon are living, breathing creatures with empathy; and just like you wouldn’t abandon a pet, you shouldn’t abandon a Pokémon. To make matters worse, this Pokémon is the adorably cute new Pokémon, Stufful, who looks like a plush toy version of a red panda and makes the cutest cry among all the creatures Game Freak has ever designed.
Worse, you can’t do anything to help it. You cannot adopt it, or feed it. It simply stays and waits for its owner. When you finally beat the game, the fate of the abandoned Stufful is unknown. Returning to the room will reveal that he is gone. So, what happened?
Unfortunately, this sad story doesn’t have a resolved ending. Popular fan theories suggest that it died. Ouch, right in the feels.
If you didn’t continue playing Pokémon Sun and Moon after the main story, you may have missed the post-game story behind Ultra Beasts, the brand new Pokémon-but-not-quite creatures with extra-dimensional origins. Towards the end, the detective Looker reveals that he and Ula’ula Island’s Kahuna, Nanu, were once a three-person team intended to track and defeat an Ultra Beast. Nanu spared it when it was weak, but tragically, the creature continued to attack and their team mate was killed. Further investigating suggests that this Ultra Beast was the large multi-mouthed Eldritch Abomination-esque Dragon-type Pokémon, Guzzlord. Based on information from its Pokédex entry, the creature ate their team mate and left no traces.
You know by now that death tends to be a taboo topic in Pokémon, but even more rare is Game Freak’s acknowledgement that Pokémon can be responsible for the death of humans or other Pokémon. They optimistically even suggest that Pokémon don’t feed on each other, instead eating cute little pellets, pastries, or Poké Beans instead. It gives this startling reveal so much weight.
There’s also the implication that Nanu is traumatized and may be suffering from PTSD. He expresses a lot of regret. Perhaps his snarky devil-may-care attitude is an attempt to distance himself from his troubled past. Too real, Game Freak.
Pokémon X and Y introduced Mega Evolutions, temporary transformations that unlock strength far greater than before. Canon suggests that trainers with especially strong bonds to their Pokémon can bring out Mega Evolution. But now that Alola’s Pokédex adds new flavor text to describe alternate forms including Mega Evolution, Mega Evolution sounds downright disturbing.
Game Freak’s fantasy fulfillment for 10-year olds, to unleash cooler and stronger Pokémon in battle, turns out to be horrifyingly brutal and cruel. The entry to the Mega Evolution for classic Generation 1 Pokémon Aerodactyl reads, “When it Mega Evolves, it becomes more vicious than ever before. Some say that’s because its excess power is causing it pain.” Or how about the Mega-Salamence’s description: “Mega Evolution fuels its brutality, and it may even turn on the Trainer who raised it. It’s been dubbed “the blood-soaked crescent.” Other entries suggest similar narratives.
Holy moly, Game Freak. Mega Evolution is a major staple of competitive Pokémon teams. Pokémon has avoided comparisons to dog fighting for years, and stressed that battling is something light-hearted and fun for both trainers and Pokémon alike. But if these Pokédex entries are accurate, many players are facilitating some pretty savage, exploitative behavior.
These are only some of the better hidden parts of Pokémon Sun and Moon’s lore. What do you make of them? Personally, I enjoy Game Freak’s attempts to tackle the Pokémon world with less naivety and portray the darker elements of its fantasy creature world. The Pokémon world will always never stop being a warmhearted utopia where children can accomplish anything, but the lore teases the imagination that darker things can happen in Pokémon’s universe.
Robert Rodriguez is a gaming writer, whose work can be found at GamerAssaultWeekly. He’s a diehard fan for puzzle, RPG, and action games that you can sometimes find in your local arcade jamming to rhythm games. You can follow him @ShutUpAndSlam on Twitter.