I firmly believe that people don’t talk about Pokemon Twilight Wings half as much as they should. Although it’s not too dissimilar from other series of animated shorts – like Origins and Generations – Pokemon Twilight Wings presents a masterclass in evoking the distinct atmosphere of a specific slice of the Pokemon world. Galar feels palpable in Twilight Wings, to the extent that it is immensely dull by comparison in Sword & Shield. I think that’s something worth extrapolating in more detail as it pertains to Pokemon across the board.
Pokemon, for those who don’t know, is the most profitable entertainment franchise in history. While games obviously account for a significant portion of these profits, it’s important to remember that Pokemon also has films, anime, and enough merch to cover the surface area of a relatively small country like Ireland (where I’m from, up the Guinness). By that I mean one unit of every single type of merch, for what it’s worth – if we’re talking about literally every single piece of merchandise ever released, we’ll have to get into the philosophy of how a world this small has managed to contain that amount of material without overflowing into space. Maybe Dialga and Palkia worked their magic or something.
Anyway, back to Twilight Wings. Last time I wrote about Pokemon Twilight Wings, I attempted to bring people’s attention to the fact that, although it’s evidently designed for children and doesn’t quite come packed with the most compelling stories you’ll ever see, it’s successful in articulating the world of Pokemon as exactly that: a world. Every sequence is emphatically aware of the series it takes place in – kids without Pokemon look up to Leon as if he’s Cristiano Ronaldo, while all of the episodes are linked together by a Flying Taximan and his trusty Corviknight pal. An ordinary cave in Twilight Wings is more evocative of the essence of Pokemon than the Galar Star Tournament in Sword & Shield – it feels so much more organic and interconnected.
This is what I mean when I say that Pokemon Twilight Wings needs to be the gold standard for future games in the series. I know that Origins and Generations are beloved among the community, and I enjoyed them as well. But Twilight Wings is so much more confident in itself, primarily because it never tries too hard. It’s a relatively effortless series that allows characters in Galar to just sort of… exist. This type of storytelling is far more transferable to a video game than more focused narratives, because Pokemon games – although largely linear in fashion – revel in the moments between story beats at least as much as they do during them.
For example, Bea is boring in Sword & Shield, but in Twilight Wings she gets annoyed, goes training in a random cave, gets blocked in after she storms off from her Pokemon, and ends up in Glimwood Tangle. This narrative is incredibly basic, but it tells us that she is perseverant, impulsive, dedicated, and, ultimately, far more internally nuanced than her rough exterior lets on. This all happens in a matter of minutes with barely any dialogue, mind. Stories like these are the ones Pokemon needs to add depth without bloat – focused vignettes that are densely packed below the ostensible tip of the iceberg.
Despite the fact that Twilight Wings is the best example of this kind of storytelling, I think the anime in general should be lent more credence when it comes to Pokemon games. I understand Game Freak’s hesitation to experiment with a formula that has been traditionally proven to work, but I also think endeavors like Pokemon Let’s Go Eevee and Pikachu – which was developed by Game Freak itself as opposed to being licensed out to another studio like Mystery Dungeon – are pointless if they’re not used for experimentation.
Don’t get me wrong, I still think Let’s Go was one of the most openly experimental games Pokemon has ever seen – it revolutionized wild encounters, played with motion controls like never before, messed around with historically fixed leveling systems, and introduced a range of quality of life updates that made Pokemon far more approachable to demographics outside of its diehard fandom. At the same time, it was yet another remake of the Kanto games – and, in terms of narrative, was remarkably inferior to LeafGreen and FireRed.
I suppose that’s the best place to reconcile my argument. I’m not expecting Gen 9 to be similar to Twilight Wings – I may seem as if I’m banging on about it a lot, but I’m not that far gone just yet. Still, I firmly believe that we’ll see either another Let’s Go project – which I can’t wait for – or some other type of innovative spin-off designed to alter the way in which we engage with mainline games in the series. Regardless of what happens, my one hope is that this spin-off tries something different when it comes to storytelling – I’d love to see the intensely focused – and, as a result, effortlessly dense – narrative shaping we see in the likes of Pokemon Twilight Wings. If that happens, you can guarantee that I’ll be happy with whatever comes next in the world of Pokemon – no matter how well the rest of the game shapes up, I’ll welcome narrative experimentation with open arms.
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Cian Maher is the Lead Features Editor at TheGamer. He’s also had work published in The Guardian, The Washington Post, The Verge, Vice, Wired, and more. You can find him on Twitter @cianmaher0.
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