Cyllene might be my new favorite Pokemon character
Cyllene was initially my least favorite character in Pokemon Legends: Arceus. Sure, she offered something a little different from the usual cheerful, bossy characters in that one of her opening lines is a warning that you might die, but she went too far the other way in a distant coldness. Legends: Arceus suited Pokemon’s carefree tone because it was a new wild blue exploration experience there, so clueless jesters whose biggest priority in life is “what Shinx’s ears look like” have a meaning for the frame. It didn’t help that Cyllene was the guardian stopping you from leveling up your Pokedex, but mostly it was that she was so irrelevant.
Meanness doesn’t bother me per se. Silver is my favorite rival precisely because he’s a true rival with a bad streak rather than just a sidekick who occasionally challenges you to a no-stakes friendly battle. Bede is second. Jack, with his punk rock side, is my favorite character in Mass Effect. My official American Horror Story character ranking is 1) everyone plays Emma Roberts 2) everyone. I made a tier list of Elden Ring bosses before I even played Elden Ring and decided my favorite was the villainess that walks on you. Meanness doesn’t put me off – in fact, I think I might have a problem.
The worst thing about Cyllene was that it didn’t seem to be going anywhere. You catch rare Pokemon, defeat noble beasts, then hand your findings to him and all you get is a C+, a stoneface, and another mission. Side quests are much more developed in Legends: Arceus and should be the future of the series (although they still need to grow a bit more to match most modern titles), so there is room for character growth. Cyllene felt a note in comparison, until the final act where she blossomed into a symphony.
Okay, maybe that’s a little overselling it. We can all get too excited for Pokemon to bring even the slightest improvement, but Cyllene shines when you need her to. Late in the game, you get banned from Jubilife City and Cyllene kicks you out. Kamado is the one who chases you, in a wave of dramatic rage that never really matters because you know that in the end, you’ll be a hero again. But Cyllene’s walk is such a small moment that it can have power. It feels like it’s important, mostly because as a player you physically control the walk rather than just watching a cutscene. When you reach the doors, Cyllene doesn’t break character, doesn’t scream and scream, doesn’t shed a tear. She just sets you up with all the tools she can and unequivocally tells you to come back.
It’s here, and no sooner, that you realize Cyllene has your back. When you finally return, she greets you with her signature shrug and tells you to get back to work. If Pokemon had better graphics, we might have seen a wry smile. Cyllene doesn’t change through the game, but that’s where we see the most character development. No matter what happens to you, she treats you fairly. She also acts without the irritating reverence that some of the other characters treat you with, which makes the bond end up feeling useful and deserved.
Contrast that with Kamado, who throws you out of the village and then literally kneels at your feet asking for forgiveness when he realizes he may have been a little rushed. Or Adaman and Irida, who quickly decide that you hold the fate of the world in your hands. Ironically, even though she has the least range, it’s Cyllene who loses the most due to the lack of voice acting in the game, as it robs her of her chance to nuance.
Above all, Cyllene is proof that Pokemon is better when it tries something different. I was initially concerned that this difference would cause it to clash with the tones of the game, but in the end they harmonized into a melody. Cyllene is one of the most subtle characters Pokemon has ever created, and given enough time, she turns out to be one of the best.
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