As the Americans in the audience may have surmised, leaving Chicago after the end of that conference I mentioned was rather more difficult than anticipated, as a result of the somewhat melodramatically named ‘polar vortex’ that swallowed the northern half of the country this week (y’know, Polar Vortex would be a neat name for a Pokémon move… Ice-type equivalent to Heatran’s Magma Storm, maybe?). Still, despite the cancellations of three buses, a rented car, and a train, I have managed at last to escape the benighted place and am back in the much more reasonable winter of Cincinnati, so at long last, the show… and the snow… must go on.
Although the land around it is warm and pleasant enough, Snowbelle City itself is constantly blanketed in snow, far more so than Dendemille Town further north. Much of this is probably due to the presence of at least two Abomasnow who seem to live in the town, their freezing auras filling the sky with perennial snow-clouds, but the inhabitants give just as much credit to the local Pokémon Gym. “Thanks to the cold air that seeps out of the Gym, no-one in this town needs air conditioning!” Well, sure, random Snowbelle resident, but I think that without the Gym you might be able to cut down a little on the hypothermia, so unless heatstroke used to be a major problem around here I think you might be better off letting me demolish the place. Snowbelle City’s Gym is run by a man named Wulfric, whom I can only assume is an Ice Pokémon specialist, but he isn’t here – he has apparently gone for a walk in the nearby Winding Woods. Since there’s not much else to do in the town other than learn the ‘ultimate’ Grass, Fire and Water moves (the decidedly underwhelming Frenzy Plant, Blast Burn and Hydro Cannon), I suppose it’s my job to go and get him. The Winding Woods, like everything else outside the city limits, are unaffected by the aura of cold emanating from the Gym, but there’s something else not quite right about them… the paths don’t quite match up with each other, and sometimes turning right around and walking back the way you came will send you to a different place entirely. The reason for this soon becomes clear: the forest is inhabited by Zoroark, who doubtless use their powers to obscure the true routes through the Winding Woods and befuddle travellers for their amusement and the protection of their nests. Cunning Noctowl and Gothorita deploy their own psychic abilities to enhance the effect, and the whole forest hums gently with the soporific song of Jigglypuff (who is now a Normal/Fairy dual-type). I confront the Pokémon who control the place and demand safe passage, catching one of each species and defeating several more, but they remain intent on twisting my path until the very end – when I finally find what it is that the Winding Woods are protecting.
In a wide, flower-filled meadow, a heavyset bearded man with a voluminous blue winter coat is standing at the end of the forest trail talking to a group of Furfrou, Fletchling and Espurr. They flee when they see me, but the man holds his ground. This, of course, is Wulfric. The meadow, which he calls the Pokémon Village, is a place for Pokémon who were abandoned by their trainers and have nowhere else to go, as well as a few who have grown too powerful to have a place in the outside world anymore. Wulfric agrees to return to his Gym immediately to meet my challenge, but advises me to look around the hidden village first. My curiosity piqued, I agree. Most of the Pokémon here are ones I’ve met before, including a number of the same species that inhabit the Winding Woods (although I do meet and capture a Ditto as well). Far more interesting is just what the place is like. The Pokémon here seem to have a fascination with human items, having gathered a large number of rubbish bins to root through, as well as a couple of car tyres set up on a knoll like some sort of decoration. Many of them proudly offer items to me as gifts when addressed with courtesy. There are also a number of ramshackle bivouacs scattered around the clearing, one occupied by a deeply sleeping Snorlax – as architecture goes, creatures like ants and termites can manage far more complicated structures, but these ones seem like the kind of thing humans would build. I get the distinct impression that the Pokémon who live here (who all have personal history with humans) have a certain fondness for collecting things from human civilisation, purely because they think it’s neat – like souvenirs. For the most part, they want nothing to do with humanity, but still find us interesting, much more so than most other Pokémon do. At the back of the clearing, though, set into a cliff face, I find something more interesting than any of it, though – a cave entrance, guarded by a single human who names it “the Unknown Dungeon.” The phrase “Unknown Dungeon” in Pokémon can only mean one thing, and suddenly what Wulfric was saying about Pokémon too powerful to have a place in the outside world makes an awful lot of sense. Only a Champion-level trainer can enter the dungeon, of course – so I’ll just have to come back later. Off to get that last badge!
Wulfric’s Gym is literally a gigantic freezer. In contrast to the sliding-floor puzzles of previous Ice-type Gyms (because, let’s be fair here, those were getting a little old), the path through the Snowbelle Gym is made up of a series of huge multi-coloured ring-shaped platforms that rotate to reveal different patterns of pathways and holes. Matching up the pathways in the different rings allows challengers to progress – it seems complicated at first but it’s not difficult once you get your bearings. I march through the Gym with my Grass Pokémon, Pan and Ilex, taking point, just to revel in their superiority, but elect for a little more caution when I reach the Ice-type Gym Leader himself, and go for Orion the Lucario. Wulfric, predictably, opens with an Abomasnow to take control of the weather, and just as predictably Abomasnow falls to Orion’s Aura Sphere. His second Pokémon, a Cryogonal, lasts a little longer thanks to its epic special defence, but can’t do much itself to hurt Orion either and ultimately fails. Finally, Wulfric brings out his signature Pokémon – Avalugg, a huge four-legged, flat-topped slab of ice with a vaguely reptilian triangular head, who must be the evolved form of Bergmite. Presumably he is, like Bergmite, a physical tank of some kind, but I never get to find out because Aura Sphere one-shots the poor beast. Well… that was anticlimactic. Wulfric rewards my victory with the Iceberg Badge, a hexagonal glass locket with a gold back and frame, a metallic blue mountain symbol set into the front and six brilliant sapphires at its corners, filled with shimmering blue Mystic Water. As a bonus, he even throws in the Ice Beam TM. Score! And now, of course, with eight badges, I am at long last eligible to enter the domain of the Pokémon League, northwest of Snowbelle City, and challenge the Elite Four for dominance of the Kalos region!
Well… in a little bit. I still need to catch the Pokémon available on the road to the Pokémon League – Spinda, Scyther, Ursaring and Altaria – as well as give a little bit of love to the last four of my Kalosian Pokémon who have yet to evolve. Bergmite, as I have already learned, evolves into Avalugg, quite promptly at level 41, and is indeed an extremely focussed physical tank (because defensive Ice-types have worked so well in the past). Upon reaching level 48, Noibat transforms into the more pterosaur-like Noivern, his draconic heritage finally shining through. Presented with a recently acquired Dusk Stone, where all my other offerings have failed, Doublade becomes a mighty Aegislash, a sword-and shield Pokémon (so, one of the swords… turns into a shield? That’s… weird; I would have made that a split evolution from Honedge) with two ‘stances,’ high-defence and high-attack, that it can shift between as it uses different moves. Finally, when little Skrelp finally reaches level 48, he evolves into the sinister Dragalge, shedding his Water type to gain Dragon abilities instead (hey, neat – Dragon/Poison makes him a Dragon-type that can beat Fairy Pokémon). So I was right all along – he’s a diseased Horsea who evolves into a diseased Kingdra! Pretty badass for all that, though. I must be close to the end now; I feel like the game is running out of new Pokémon to throw at me. Of course, the auxiliary legendary Pokémon are bound to be lurking out there somewhere, and there are presumably a bunch more mega forms I haven’t discovered yet…
At the gates to Victory Road, an Ace Trainer with a Carbink, a Kingdra and a Raichu calls me to account for my crimes. Carbink defies me long enough to smack Pan with a Moonblast, so that Kingdra can finish him off with Ice Beam, but Ilex ploughs through the rest with Sunny Day-boosted Solarbeams, and I am permitted to enter the inner sanctum, where the great stone gates to the Victory Road ruins slide open, responding to the presence of my badges. I pause for a moment at the entrance to the cave to take stock of the wild Pokémon – it takes me a while to find all the new additions to my Pokédex, but they’re there; Lickitung, Zweilous and Druddigon. More interestingly, though, keeping my Exp. Share off all this time seems to have finally caught up with me, and the wild Pokémon here are at even higher levels than my hardened veterans – to say nothing of the trainers I’ll likely face. Well, it makes sense that the citadel of the Pokémon League would be defended by the most powerful trainers in the land, and no-one said conquering France would be easy…
Ridiculous quote log:
“Try using Ice Beam on some Berry Juice for a delicious frappé! Hey! You gotta know your Pokémon and their moves outside of battles, right?”
Absolutely. Some of my favourite moves for out-of-battle use include Torment, Thief, Curse, Leech Life, Nightmare, Explosion, Fissure, Eruption and Roar of Time. Their utility applications never cease to amaze!