Of all the details revealed in yesterday’s Pokémon Scarlet and Violet news, one of the more subtle highlights was revealed in fleeting glances. For the first time in the franchise, it looks like character customization might have begun to acknowledge a neglected section of its fanbase.
Pokémon games’ range of character skin colors and styles of hair haven’t exactly been the most diverse. Even the most recent entry, Pokémon Arceus, only offered three shades of person, translucent white (hello), slightly tanned, and a lighter brown.
The exact same narrow range appeared in New Pokémon Snap, also out last year. As YouTuber Soul’s Story Mode put it a couple of months ago, “They’ve given us a decent variety of options, and I’m not going to knock that, but I’m a black man and I can say with certainty that I am definitely darker than the darkest option that they have. At this point, we’re pretty much just settling for the closest we can get.”
Even less impressive is the range of hairstyles any of the games have let players pick. At each recent game’s launch, there’s one style for boys, one style for girls, and that’s it. Get to a town with a hairdresser, and you can pick from a small range of styles that unquestionably lean toward non-black hair. You know, there’s side parting, the “medium and wavy,” a bowl cut, long hair… And somewhere in the middle, “Braids.”
Yesterday’s trailer revealed some big differences.
Thing start off pretty predictably. You have the Victorian school uniforms on the standard Pokémon white kids, then the whiter-than-white faces of the newly revealed Professors, and then, amusingly enough, the very pale-faced set of starter Pokémon. After that there’s one more white trainer, pleasingly extolling the virtues of science, before…what’s this? In the distance? It’s…people of color!
It’s at this point that the game introduces another of its very cool new features, four-player co-op. And to illustrate this, we get to see two black characters, Harry Potter, and a Japanese girl.
Next, notice the hair. All four have different hairstyles, which maybe suggests that if we’re not getting a full character customizer before we start playing (which surely, surely shouldn’t been too far-fetched a wish in 2022), at the very least there’s more than one hairstyle to choose from the start. Admittedly, this means the bar is in the ground. Still, while some may have their reservations about how long this took or how many options might still be in store, just this small appearance speaks to many who haven’t seen themselves reflected in the popular franchise. There’s a good reason the tweet below has hit over 108,000 likes since yesterday.
Now if only they all didn’t have to wear that creepy-ass Catholic school uniform.