Intertextuality is a zeigeisty kind of word. It essentially means a call back in a current piece of media to a further piece of media in that franchise history. It’s been used a lot by video essayists and it’s a fine word but one I don’t use a lot in day to day speech because I find it pretentious. But it’s appropriate for my point. So minor spoilers for games. Sit back and relax. We’re going to talk about a firm grip on the nostalgia and when a callback is not genuine.
I’ve been playing Pokemon for 20 years now. I remember getting Pokemon Red in 1996-7 and enjoyed the game as much as a 6 or 7 year old could. It wasn’t until Pokemon Crystal or really even Pokemon Ruby that I decided to sell my soul to Nintendo and to the franchise. I have since played every game that has come out. Well, the mainstream ones. Never did play that weird JRPG one. But after 20 years of Pokemon, I’ve seen the games reach epic highs like Pokemon Ruby and Pokemon X/Y and I’ve seen it hit some lows like Pokemon Sun/Moon and Pokemon Alpha Sapphire/Omega Ruby.
I’ve gone on record that Sun/Moon were not my favorites. Despite giving me my favorite round owl son I had serious issues with the game. I didn’t like that the game was hand-holding and too easy. I hated the Rotom-dex. I thought the story was lacking and overall, I just didn’t enjoy the game. But the game had a troubling side since the start: it was aggressively pandering towards us older 20-somethings while also making a game that was built clearly for Japanese children. Each ad for the game made callbacks to the older games and that it’s been 20 years. The game brought back all sorts of things we knew and loved. A new tan Professor Oak. A new surfing Raichu (which Carlos hates). New forms of old Pokemon. Sun/Moon was nostalgia: the game.
And while I bit on the nostalgia, I slogged through the game. And in my key attention to detail as I begrudgingly played through a game I bought with my own money, I noticed a few things. The first was Grimsley. Grimsley is one of the Elite 4 in Black/White and in Black/White 2 (close friends will notice that this is actually one of my favorite games). And there Grimsley was. On the beach. Dressed like Byakuya from Bleach. Ranting on and on about love and loss. I was floored! What was my darling Elite 4 trainer doing? Why was he in a kimono on the beach? Why is he giving me items? What is this nonsense? You do get some clues once you’ve dug deep into the lore but what was the point of adding Grimsley to the game? To give hope to people like me who had given up on the game up until that point?
Another instance was with Colress. Now, this one has a funny story. Carlos and I were playing Sun/Moon around the same time but he was way ahead of me because he liked the game more than I did. He mentioned meeting a man with strange hair and a Nintendo power glove in the game that gave him an item and he thought the man was really interesting. This was the same day Nintendo released a short centered in the Black/White universe of Unova where Colress is shown icing a bunch of people in a city to literal death. The game glosses over some of the violence but the short does not skip on the detail that people likely died as Colress and Team Plasma tried to find a way to better control Kyurem.
I immediately recognized Colress once I met him in game and went back to Carlos barking about how he shouldn’t trust a literal murderer. And sure enough, Colress gives you an item, babbles about research and leaves like he isn’t a snow killer.
What was the point of adding Colress? Was it just a cool callback? Were there no other scientists in game that weren’t evil that the writers couldn’t think of? No, it was just a cool callback to an earlier and much more loved part of the franchise.=
And this isn’t the first time Nintendo has weaponized nostalgia. Pokemon Alpha Sapphire/Omega Ruby was absolutely a giant direct hit to the nostalgia of adults like me who cut their teeth on Ruby/Sapphire and the additions made in the new game involved riding the mythical Latias/Latios and the brilliant Delta Episode which almost almost turned the game around for me. AS/OR was essentially just a retread of Ruby/Sapphire with updated graphics like Pokemon Emerald was. And those games do have value but when they’re done to just redo a game for a cash grab, it’s frustrating. Emerald at least added things to those first generation games that were rough around the edges and did not always age well.
The best parts of the newer games were the times they added to the foundations of the older games like X/Y. I loved being able to have a character with my skin tone and that could dress very fashionably. I loved being able to sit on benches and pet my Pokemon. I loved being able to roller skate around and be given Pokemon from games that I adored like Lucario and adding to its mythos rather than just dropping a Pokemon off and saying “Here, young adult. I hear you like nostalgia. Here’s a Pikachu with a hat. Enjoy your nostalgia and your half-baked game.”
We see intertexuality at work in a lot of video game and comic book movies. Many will be a comic book saga in name only like Captain America: Civil War which had very little actual Civil War and was mostly just Tony and Steve have a lover’s quarrel. We see Star Wars movies that essentially just redo the original trilogy with better graphics. Stranger Things is literally a show based on callbacks but Stranger Things does so with love and reverence while Star Wars: The Force Awakens is done to help hide some of the less than ideal storytelling.
Remember, nostalgia is only as good as the thing it’s based on and while I love Pokemon, my love is not enough to keep me motivated when a game’s only interest is reminding me of how great the 1990s were.
This was different and timely! I don’t do this very often. I mostly just wanted to rant. I am not enjoying Pokemon Ultra Sun/Ultra Moon like I thought I would. Motivate me to make my owl son proud.