I suppose some people just aren’t cut out for the life of a League Champion. Like Red before him, Steven decides he has better things to do than defend his title in Ever Grande City and vanishes into the mountains so he can spend more time with his rocks, who miss him dreadfully while he’s training. In Emerald version, the job is, again, taken by someone more suited to a life in the spotlight: Hoenn’s most powerful Gym Leader, Wallace, a Water Pokémon master from Sootopolis City.
A flamboyant trainer who describes himself as an artist, Wallace is interested not just in winning but in doing so with style. He regards Pokémon battles as a form of artistic expression, promising you “a performance of illusions in water” before your gym battle in Ruby and Sapphire, and commending you first of all on your elegance when you defeat him in Emerald. He also has a tendency to prefer poetic descriptions over more mundane turns of phrase. He wears a beret and, in Emerald, extends his outfit with a long, flowing cape, evidently taking his fashion advice from Lance. In short, like Lance, Wallace is in many ways a little bit over-the-top… and, like Lance, that’s what makes him fun. Sadly Wallace doesn’t have nearly as much screen-time as Steven – he’s introduced in Sootopolis City at the game’s climax, later than any other Champion – but he does at least get an extra scene or two in Emerald that don’t appear in Ruby and Sapphire, where his entire function, story-wise, is to use his authority as Gym Leader of Sootopolis City to get you into the Cave of Origin, where Groudon (on Ruby) or Kyogre (on Sapphire) has set up its den and is preparing to take over the world, or something (I don’t know; I wasn’t really paying attention). The Cave of Origin is a weird place. It’s a deep, dark cavern in the middle of Sootopolis City, festooned with red and blue crystals, which appears to serve no function whatsoever. The mouth of the cave is guarded and it’s normally forbidden to enter, except for the Gym Leaders (and former Gym Leaders) of Sootopolis City, who seem to have some kind of ceremonial role as the cave’s protectors. According to legend, the Cave of Origin is opposite to Mount Pyre, the mountain where (apparently) everyone in Hoenn goes to bury their dead Pokémon; Mount Pyre is where life ends, while the Cave of Origin is where life begins. I think they believe that Pokémon (and humans?) are reincarnated there – but, of course, Pokémon of every species don’t constantly spill out of the Cave of Origin, so maybe it’s supposed to be where their souls return to the world of the living? Alternatively, maybe ‘Origin’ is to be taken literally, and it’s the place where life on Earth began? That might explain why Groudon and Kyogre are attracted there.
Anyway, the Cave of Origin is where Wallace presides over what is probably the most bizarre scene in the entire game. On Emerald, Groudon and Kyogre aren’t in the Cave of Origin; they’re busy settling their old grudges with a competition to see who can level the most of Sootopolis City in the shortest time. Instead, Wallace is down there meditating. He’s trying to figure out how to stop the two legendary Pokémon in the city above, and he thinks he knows how – summon a third, even stronger one, Rayquaza, who’s supposed to have calmed them down the last time they fought. The trouble is that he has no clue where Rayquaza is… so he does the logical thing and questions the first poor bastard to disturb him, which happens to be you. You have no idea where the blasted thing is either, but Wallace will keep asking even if you admit your ignorance, and you can give one of three answers. If you say “Rayquaza’s at Mount Pyre,” Wallace responds “no, that doesn’t make any sense; if it lived there, the old people would know about it,” and, okay, I guess a bloody great sky dragon would probably get their attention. If you try “um, wait, no, it’s inside the Cave of Origin!” he says something like “of course it isn’t, you nincompoop; that’s where we are now!” All right, maybe he doesn’t say ‘nincompoop’ but he’s thinking it. Eventually, you throw your arms up in exasperation and say “all right; it’s at the top of the damn Sky Pillar!” Now, at this point in the game, you have never been to the Sky Pillar. You have probably never heard of the Sky Pillar and don’t know where it is. You almost certainly have no reason to think that Rayquaza might be there (your rival would have told you in a phone call earlier that he/she saw a large green Flying Pokémon near Pacifidlog Town, a place you could have visited but probably didn’t, but since you don’t know that Rayquaza is a large green Flying Pokémon, that doesn’t help). Despite all of this, the words ‘Sky Pillar’ immediately make a light-bulb start flashing in Wallace’s head and he shouts “of course! It’s so obvious! Quickly, to the Wallacemobile!” and bolts out of the Cave of Origin with unreasonable haste, leaving you wondering “…where the hell did I just tell him to go?” Then, when you actually find the Sky Pillar and Wallace is there waiting, he immediately turns around and leaves because the crazy weather caused by Groudon and Kyogre is getting worse and he wants to protect Sootopolis. It’s nice that he has such a strong sense of responsibility, I guess, but either he has much less confidence in Rayquaza than he seems to, or he really needs to give some serious thought to his priorities.
…and that’s just about all Wallace does until you meet him again in Ever Grande City and battle him for the Championship. As a master Water Pokémon trainer, Wallace does his best to exploit the enormous variety of Water-types in the game and thus protect himself from the Grass and Electric attacks that plague Water specialists, using a Tentacruel to frighten away Grass Pokémon with its Sludge Bomb and a Whiscash to neutralise Electric attacks and make short work of the Pokémon behind them. If there’s a unifying characteristic to Wallace’s team (other than element, of course), it’s that they’re difficult to squash, taking the age-old ‘bulky water’ stereotype and running with it. Wailord, his opener, has ludicrous HP but does tend to burn through it rather quickly with lacklustre defences and Double Edge. His job isn’t really to stick around, though; it’s to set up Rain Dance for the others and get out of the way. Tentacruel can shrug off most special attacks fairly easily, Whiscash has only one weakness and likes to pump up his special defence with Amnesia, Gyarados also has excellent special defence and can Intimidate opponents to weaken their physical moves, and Ludicolo is just plain annoying, healing himself constantly with Leech Seed and Giga Drain while dodging attacks with the most obnoxious move in the game, Double Team. Wallace’s signature Pokémon, fittingly enough, is Milotic, a powerful and beautiful serpentine Water Pokémon that actually evolves by feeling pretty. She appears on his team as both Gym Leader and Champion, and she is the worst of the lot, thanks to her ability to Recover. As a pure Water-type, she’s only weak to Grass and Electric attacks, and since those elements had no physical attacks back in the day, Milotic’s absurd special defence allows her to sit there and Recover off even super-effective damage, unless it comes from something with really crazily powerful attacks like a Magneton. All in all, Wallace is everything a Water Pokémon master ought to be: elegant, sophisticated, and absolutely, utterly infuriating. Not to mention, I have to give him bonus points for actually daring to use Luvdisc in his Gym Leader incarnation, and managing to use his only (miniscule) good points – speed and natural access to Attract and Sweet Kiss – to make him, if not exactly useful, at least horribly annoying.
Wallace suffers a lot from being given much less time in the spotlight than any other Champion. I maintain that he still manages to be more interesting than Steven despite having only half as long to make his case though. It’d be nice to have seen more of him, but that would have required actually thinking of something for him to do earlier in the game, and that was plainly too much effort. Nonetheless, Wallace makes a fine showing as Hoenn’s ‘other’ Champion. Even if that scene in the Cave of Origin is unbelievably stupid.