Pokemon Generation 7, better known as Pokemon Moon and Sun, really is a great RPG. It has a thoughtful and interesting story, it has a cast of characters with personality and depth (well, some of them, at least; Hau kinda plateaus at “I like fried bread”), its villain is complex and striking, and its main character is dynamic and terrifically written.
No, I’m not talking about Moon or Sun. I’m talking about Lillie.
Yeah, in addition to having a thoughtful and well-told story, Pokemon Generation 7 is also interesting in that it takes on the challenge of an unconventional narrative form: the protagonist of the game that you control is really not the main character of it. If anything, Moon (I’m just gonna keep saying Moon because I got Pokemon Moon and the either-or thing gets tiresome; just replace “Moon” with “Sun” if that’s your preference...for some reason) is just sort of a plot device to Lillie’s journey of self-actualization and familial redemption, albeit an absolutely essential one.
Sure, the game takes you and Moon through the predictable (though pleasantly jazzed up) Pokemon paces, with the whole wandering around, challenging important trainers, and becoming Champion thing. But the overwhelmingly clear focus of this game, the main plot, is that which revolves around Lusamine, the realm of the Ultra Beasts, Nebby, and Lillie. And that plot is Lillie’s story, not Moon’s. The game's story begins only once Lillie is first introduced to Moon, and nearly every substantial plot point affects her, usually directly. The foil of the game’s main villain is clearly Lillie (and what a terrific connection and history there is between them; the depth and psychology of Lillie and Lusamine are just stellar work by the writers), and it’s her determination and desires that carry the plot forward and frequently determine its course.
Moon’s role in the plot of Pokemon Generation 7 is really just to be a vital support for Lillie--a protective guardian to her to keep her safe early in her journey, and an example to use as inspiration as time goes on. And let us not make any mistake on this point: it’s an extremely important role for Moon to play, to serve as the rock-solid example for Lillie. If she did not have Moon’s independence and unflagging strength to protect others to emulate, Lillie would not have completed her personal journey and found herself. Moon’s presence, silent though it is,* is the shoulder Lillie leans on and the foundation from which she builds herself, and that’s pretty damn important in a story of an emerging individual who has learned to value herself. But, that isn't the same as Moon actually being the plot's key figure.
Even the few major parts of Pokemon Generation 7’s course of events that seem, on the surface, to legitimately be focused on Moon and her journey often end up coming back to Lillie and her personal journey of growth and family. Take, for example, the finale of the game, in which Moon becomes the first Champion of Alola, and the region joins the rest of the world with its newly formed Pokemon League. That’s a pretty big, general event, and it certainly seems like it relates solely to Moon’s quest, in that it’s the traditional Pokemon game conclusion. But even then, this major moment in Alolan history, this crowning achievement of Moon, this final interactive event of the game’s story, is still made important by the plot not for its own sake, but for the fact that it is the final moment of Lillie and Moon’s journey together, despite Lillie’s not being present for it. For, you see, Moon’s victory and assumption of the role of Champion is a galvanizing event for Lillie to leave Alola, with the intention of emulating the girl (or boy; it could be Sun instead, I know) that she respects and, let’s face it, 80% probability loves.** This finale is not just the end of Moon’s tale, it is also the end of Lillie’s, and the beginning of her next, prompting her to leave to care for the mother she has saved and become a trainer like her hero.***
Now, yes, you could make the argument that Lillie’s not the main character of the story, but that she rather fulfills a very familiar RPG role: the Magical Plot Girl. Certainly a common RPG trope, and there’s much about Lillie that reminds one of Breath of Fire 5’s Nina, Skies of Arcadia’s Fina, Lunar 2's Lucia, Lufia 1's Lufia, and countless others. The fact that she’s on the run while trying to protect a mystical plot device from falling into the wrong hands, wrong hands which happen to be actively pursuing her, is so common a narrative trope to the genre that RPG might as well stand for Running Plot Girls.
But the difference between Pokemon Generation 7 and other RPGs is that in a game like Breath of Fire 5, or Grandia 2, or Lufia 1, or so on, the protagonist is made a significantly involved member of the story and its direction. Ryu of BoF5 is the one who makes the decision to bring Nina to the surface, Ryudo quickly becomes the key figure in the unfolding story of Grandia 2, Lunar 2's Hiro gets more or less press-ganged by the members of his party with actual personalities to man up and show Lucia that there's more than 1 way to save the world, and Unnamed Lufia 1 Hero is...well, I mean, he just drifts along with the bland plot, but that’s pretty much true of everyone in Lufia 1, because playing Lufia 1 is basically putting your brain on a crash diet for 40 - 60 hours. Generally, the protagonist actively affects and changes the Magical Plot Girl (most often using the method clinically referred to as Twoo Wuv), and influences the plot’s direction and purpose. But in Pokemon Generation 7? Moon only passively affects Lillie and helps her change, and just sails along with the plot as other people gently push her from one event to the next (although that part’s just standard for Pokemon games). Lillie pushes herself to be greater thanks to Moon’s example, but never Moon’s influence, if you follow me.
The instigator of Pokemon Generation 7’s plot is Lillie, the story’s themes and conflict center around her, the journey for discovery and value of one’s self are hers, the villain of the game is directly connected to her, and almost every major event of the game’s story is focused upon her, whether actively or inactively. She is dynamic through her own determination to be, and she defines the stakes, purpose, and direction of the game’s climax. So in my opinion, it is Lillie who is the main character of Pokemon Generation 7, and I applaud the developers of this game for not only approaching its narrative in an unusual and interesting way, but also for making that different method work so well.
* I’m not a fan of silent protagonists, as I’ve mentioned, but it seems to work adequately here, I must say. Moon’s silent, unyielding hero-ness actually meshes well with the role she’s meant to have as an example to Lillie. Like a pillar of strength who...well, talks as much as an actual pillar would.
** Yes, I’m a filthy shipper, and I don’t care who knows it. Lillie and Moon (or Sun) are meant to be, dammit!
*** Hands up if you shed tears at this game’s ending.
...Oh, you liars, get those hands up right now, you’re not fooling anyone!