Pokémon games have dealt with death before, but it’s often in subtext. This goes as far back as the original Pokémon Red and Blue, as fans have long speculated that your rival Blue’s Raticate passed away after a rough battle. In recent years, mortality has become a more common theme in Pokémon games. AZ, a major player in X and Y’s main story, deals with the death of his Floette, who dies in the Kalos war, which sets the events of the games in motion. Pokémon Legends: Arceus has an entire chapter dedicated to grieving a Hisuian Arcanine. Pokémon Scarlet and Violet’s finales are centered around the death of a prominent character and their ghost in the machine. But not every instance of death in Pokémon has been plot-critical. In fact, one of the franchise’s most notable grapplings with mortality is a small side quest that has had fans reeling for a decade.
Pokémon X and Y might not have been the most impactful game, but this one side quest in Anistar City has had Pokémon fans in a vice grip since the games launched in 2013. While passing through the city, you meet an old man who tells you his wife has passed away. Since then, he’s been incredibly lonely living by himself.
Here, you can lend him a Pokémon to keep him company while you’re off on your journey. He specifically asks for a Pokémon level 5 or below, which makes sense. You don’t want to leave a Gyarados or a Charizard for this gentleman to take care of. That’s a recipe for disaster, especially since high-level Pokémon often aren’t the best at taking direction. Instead, give him your cutest little guy then be on your way. You can check in with them periodically, and the man will tell you that his new Pokémon is playful, but says he understands if you want to take them back. But you don’t because you’re not a monster.
After you leave, it’s easy to forget that you left a low-level Pokémon with a stranger, but if you finish Pokémon X or Y and take your place as the Pokémon League Champion, you can go back to Anistar City to check in on your friend…and the old man is no longer there. He leaves you a note that thanks you for your kindness and says that his Pokémon companion made him “able to keep smiling until the very end.” Your Pokémon’s Pokéball is left alongside the note, and they can return to your party with maxed affection.
Talk about heartbreaking. Even a decade after X and Y launched, the old man in Anistar City remains in players’ hearts. This has often been the approach Pokémon has taken to tell these kinds of stories. These tales are often told by something’s absence. Characters disappear after some time has passed and the player is left to infer why. The old man in Anistar City is one of the more overt examples, and that’s why it persists as a touchstone moment this many years later.
A lot of the time, death in the Pokémon series has just been a lingering, unspoken threat. It’s a danger, but one that most major players slip through the fingers of. Really, Scarlet and Violet’s ending is the most pronounced death has been in the main plot of a Pokémon game. It’s a gut punch that recontextualizes everything that came before and shakes the foundation of the Paldea region. But in this small moment in Kalos, death is quiet, it’s contemplative, and thanks to the player’s help, it can be peaceful.