Once out of Santalune Forest I make a beeline for the next town, Santalune City (which is Dijon, more or less) so I can find the Pokémon Centre and reorganise my minions.
A couple of people have been telling me that sticking with the robin is worth it, so I’m officially promoting my Fletchling, Tereus (named for a mythical Greek king who was turned into a hoopoe), to my main battle group. My Scatterbug also comes out of the PC, mostly so I can train her and see what happens. As a caterpillar Pokémon I’m expecting her to evolve quite rapidly, but only time will tell. I then take the team south again to check out the local Pokémon around this end of the forest and gather recruits for my army, finding and capturing Bidoof, Burmy, Azurill (who has been promoted to Normal/Fairy), and- OMG DUNSPARCE. I MUST HAVE IT. Granted, Dunsparce is almost more of a mascot than a contributing member of the team later on, but he’s also one of my favourite Pokémon, purely because he’s so weird – we’re talking here about a flat-bodied snake with fluffy wings and a drill tail who characteristically backs up his physical power with attacks based on negative emotions like Rage and Spite (I gather he’s loosely based on an obscure Japanese monster, but there’s a great deal of elaboration between the source and the finished design). Besides, he is pretty strong in the early game before you start facing evolved Pokémon in large numbers, and I can always replace him later. In short – welcome to the team, Zolom the Dunsparce (named for the giant snake monster in the early part of Final Fantasy VII – hey, I can’t make everything a classics reference)!
I also catch-and-release a second Pikachu after realising, to my confusion, that it appeared to be immune to my Scatterbug’s Stun Spore. Investigation turns up nothing unusual, however – this Pikachu had Static just like mine. Maybe Static grants immunity to paralysis now? That would be a good step; Static as it stands in earlier games is not really all that useful. My own Pikachu, meanwhile, has learnt Play Nice – my first new move, which seems to do the same thing as Growl, but has half as many PP. Given that Pikachu also gets Growl, I find this mildly perplexing. I suspect Play Nice may have some secondary effect, but damned if I know what it is.
At level 9, my Scatterbug evolves into a bizarre alien-looking bagworm-like creature that calls itself a Spewpa. I scratch my head over her for a while, and then decide to stuff her back in the PC and give her another few rounds once I have some more powerful opponents to face. I still don’t really know where Spewpa is headed; a standard caterpillar/cocoon/moth pattern is looking more and more likely, but I feel I’m entitled to hope for some kind of twist. Zolom has levelled sufficiently to catch Pan, Melissa and Tereus too, so I head back into Santalune City to explore. Santalune is built around a grand plaza with an elegant stone fountain in the shape of a Roselia (roses seem to be a theme with the people of Santalune, whom I assume are called Santalunatics), and sports a remarkable number of cafés. Highlights of the town are a Hiker who offers to trade a Bunnelby for a Farfetch’d (cursed with the unfortunate name of Quacklin’), the traditional Trainer’s School, whose lessons seem to be just as I remember, and a roller-skater who wagers a pair of skates on the outcome of a battle with me. I remember roller-skates from the trailer and gleefully accept, revelling in my newfound power. I also quickly confirm that customisable outfits are indeed a thing in this game, though Santalune’s clothing store only seems to stock hats, so there’s not much potential for experimentation yet. All that leaves only one thing to do in Santalune City – challenge the local Gym Leader to assert my dominance over the surrounding area.
Santalune Gym is the domain of a nature photographer named Viola, whose pictures fill the building’s lobby. Their subjects are her favourite kind of Pokémon – Bug-types. What is it with artists and Bug Pokémon? The main Gym, as the perennially annoying Gym guide explains, is beneath the lobby, accessible by a sort of fireman’s pole – a huge spiderweb, dotted with little wooden platforms for the trainers. Great. Spiderwebs. I love Gyms with spiderwebs. I can’t seem to climb back out, so I guess I’m stuck here until I defeat Viola – good; that’s a sensible change. Makes things more interesting. I gingerly pick my way along the strongest strands of the glistening web, clinging to the wooden platforms for dear life the moment a battle starts – the trainers aren’t particularly tough, but conducting a Pokémon battle while balancing on a thread of spider silk makes me uneasy. Eventually I surrender my dignity, vowing to reclaim it later with interest, and crawl along the threads instead, pulling myself ahead with my hands. The trainers here use a wide variety of Bug Pokémon – again, I feel this is a benefit of making ample use of existing Pokémon to fill a region. The Striaton Gym in Black and White was essentially a Lillipup Gym. The Santalune Gym features Ledyba, Spewpa, Combee, Kakuna… and, of course, the leader’s more exotic Pokémon. At last, I reach Viola’s hut at the back of the building. Like many Gym Leaders, Viola is passionate and enthusiastic, almost as though she’d rather be battling herself than having her Pokémon do it. Passion and enthusiasm get you only so far, though – Melissa and Zolom tag-team her first Pokémon, a Surskit, quickly and easily. Then, out comes her signature Pokémon: Vivillon, a moth Pokémon instantly recognisable as the final evolution of Scatterbug. Viola calls out her first command: “Vivillon, use Infestation!” Infes- wait, what!? Infestation of what? What the hell are you doing to my Dunsparce!? I didn’t sign up to have my Pokémon turned into incubators for your thousands of insect progeny! I watch in horror as countless black mites crawl over my helpless Pokémon, attempting to burrow into his flesh. Luckily, I manage to keep my senses enough to realise that Vivillon, like her predecessors, is almost certainly a Bug/Flying dual-type – making Zolom’s Rollout attack a near-instant knock-out. Viola rewards me for my skill with her insignia, a stylised beetle in copper with insets of lime green peridot, known as… the Bug Badge.
Seriously, the Bug Badge? That’s what you’re going with? And I thought the Unova leaders were getting lazy. What happened to neat names like the Cascade Badge and the Rising Badge? Pah. Viola also offers me the TM for her signature move, Infestation. I momentarily wonder whether using this move could constitute a war crime, but expediency wins out over morality and I accept the gift, teaching it to Melissa for now. As I leave the Gym, the idiot guide suggests that I travel north to Paris (or rather, Lumiose City) to show off my new acquisition to Professor Sycamore. Sounds reasonable enough. Paris will one day be the capital of my new empire, so I’m going to have to go there sooner or later.
Ridiculous quote log:
“What’s the hustle, little Crustle?”
…shut up, Gym guy.