…y’know, after the scale of my last project, finishing this one just doesn’t have the same inherent drama. Then again, I’m a little scared to try for something bigger, for fear I may rope myself into reviewing every Pokémon ever and die before I finish. Hrm. Anyway, on with the show!
The Champion of the Unova region, the New York-inspired setting of Black and White, is an exuberant, light-hearted giant of a man named Alder, who is the Pokémon universe’s equivalent to Bear Grylls. The man jumps off a cliff, for heaven’s sake, quite casually, without comment, and apparently for no other reason than that it was faster than walking. Not content with sitting in his palace at the Pokémon League waiting for challengers, Alder prefers to spend his time exploring Unova, and claims to know “every corner” of the region; it is on just such a trip that he first meets you and Cheren, one of the two rival characters of Black and White. Cheren is… well, I wouldn’t call him a jerk, to be fair; compared to Blue he’s an absolute saint, but he tends to look down on people who don’t take life as seriously as he does, and he’s extremely focussed on becoming a more powerful trainer, to the exclusion of all else. Cheren’s great ambition in life is to become the Champion, and he’s not impressed when he meets the current Champion, in his words, “goofing off” at a festival outside Nimbasa City, feeling that such frivolity is beneath the dignity of this noble office. Alder responds by questioning why Cheren wants to become Champion in the first place and what he thinks the whole point is, something Cheren doesn’t seem to have ever thought about. Another day, after Alder watches you defeat Cheren in a battle, Cheren is disturbed and annoyed that Alder described it as “a fine battle,” assuming that Alder was pleased he had lost (because, after all, what about a battle could possibly matter besides who won and who lost?). You later learn that Alder is interested in Cheren’s motives because he sees something of himself in Cheren; when Alder was younger, he was equally obsessed with becoming stronger, an obsession shared by his Pokémon partner. In time, though, Alder’s Pokémon (whose species is never mentioned, though it could conceivably have been one of Unova’s three starter Pokémon) became sick and died, causing Alder’s outlook to change. He now views strength for its own sake as transient and ultimately pointless, and focuses more on enjoying life.
So, if Alder isn’t still the Champion because he wants to keep getting stronger, why does he have the job, anyway? Alder is the first Champion who is explicitly identified as such before you challenge him, so his involvement in the story of Black and White gives us a closer look at the responsibilities of a Champion and the significance of the position. Alder is important to the plot because Team Plasma’s spiritual leader N, a strange teenager who wants to free all Pokémon from human oppression, thinks he can convince Unova’s people to side with him by defeating the greatest champion of the opposite set of beliefs (that humans and Pokémon are both stronger together) – I think N’s desire to prove the validity of his beliefs to himself plays into this too. Alder is the Champion, and the Champion is supposed to be the most powerful trainer as well as the most committed to the philosophies of Pokémon training, so defeating Alder (as N eventually does, with the help of one of the legendary dragons, Reshiram and Zekrom) should represent a decisive symbolic victory in Team Plasma’s campaign to separate humans and Pokémon. Alder, for his part, recognises the importance of this challenge to the wider ideological conflict, and meets it with all of the considerable vigour he can muster. The trouble is that Alder isn’t as dedicated to his beliefs as N is. Ghetsis, Team Plasma’s ‘power behind the throne,’ taunts him at one point by suggesting that Alder hasn’t fought a real battle since his partner Pokémon died, and that he’s avoiding his responsibilities by spending his time travelling Unova and leaving the Elite Four to take care of things at the Pokémon League. What’s more, he seems to strike a nerve by suggesting that Alder, of all people, should agree with them, because of his memories of the pain of losing his first Pokémon. My suspicion is that the death of his partner, although it taught Alder to enjoy life with his Pokémon, also shook his faith in the idea of Pokémon training. Alder ‘believes’ that people and Pokémon should stay together, but N has an absolute conviction burnt into his very soul that they should be separated – and this is why Alder loses when N challenges him. It takes your subsequent defeat of N, with your own legendary dragon at your side, to restore Alder’s conviction and turn him back into the trainer he used to be – the trainer you face when you return to the Pokémon League for the second time.
Alder is like Blue and Cynthia in that he has no avowed preference for any given element, but when you actually fight him it seems that, like Steven, he actually does like to use mainly Pokémon from a single type, and it’s just about the last one you’d expect: Alder trains Bug-types. None of this namby-pamby Beautifly-and-Dustox nonsense for him either; Alder is a Real Man and his three Bug-types are a ninja, an armoured knight, and a sun god. Accelgor makes a frustrating lead to face, being faster than everything and capable of stealing the attacks you’re about to use with Me First (Alder isn’t that good at predicting attacks, though, so Accelgor will often mimic an attack that would be weaker than one of his own anyway), while Escavalier is simply a pain to kill, with only one weakness (Fire), good defences, and some powerful attacks. Volcarona is Alder’s signature Pokémon, and he seems to have styled his hair in imitation of it. Volcarona are always tricky Pokémon to deal with because of Quiver Dance, which can buff their special attack, special defence and speed all at once, but Alder’s Volcarona has a tendency to burn itself out with Overheat, so it will normally become a much less significant threat if you can just string it along until it’s incinerated most of its own special attack score. You’ll also get a free turn now and then courtesy of the recharge time for Volcarona’s Hyper Beam, a move that was a brilliant finisher in Red and Blue but has become a complete trap since Gold and Silver because of mechanical changes (a trap that every Champion since then has fallen into with gusto). Volcarona’s terrible moveset notwithstanding, these are Pokémon I can respect. The rest of Alder’s team… not so much. If you remember my entry on Bouffalant, you’ll know I didn’t like it much, but I actually think Bouffalant was a strikingly appropriate choice for Alder: like its trainer, Bouffalant is big, loud, and has ridiculous hair. Heck, Bouffalant could practically have been his signature Pokémon (and I must grudgingly admit that it can be problematic if you’re not ready for it). Druddigon is the sort of Pokémon that I like to describe as “not unusable” in order to spare its feelings; Alder has exacerbated Druddigon’s many issues by giving it two Dark attacks (Payback and Night Slash), the kind of redundancy you quickly learn to avoid in the real world. Alder’s final Pokémon is Vanilluxe, whom I can scarcely bear to dignify with a mention. I think its presence on Alder’s team proves that the designers really did think it was a good Pokémon simply because of its high stats, but all it really does is throw into harsh relief what a terrible Pokémon Vanilluxe actually is.
Remember how I thought that Steven had an excellent team but was terribly portrayed as a character? Well, Alder is just the opposite; he’s a great character who fits into the story of Black and White extremely well and is probably the most interesting Champion of the lot in terms of characterisation, but his team is full of holes! He utterly fails to use most of his Pokémon to their full potential, and when he succeeds, it’s only because the Pokémon in question have so little potential to begin with! Luckily, this is a much easier problem to fix than a boring character; I’ve got my fingers crossed for a slightly less poorly-designed team for Alder in the inevitable Grey Version.
So, that’s the Champions! As always, I hope my rants have amused you; check back in a couple of days, when I will begin the month-long course of self-flagellation that is my list of the Top Ten Worst Pokémon Ever…