Captain Ilima’s invitation takes me north from Hau’oli City towards Verdant Cavern, the great fern- and moss-covered grotto where I am to complete the first step of the “mission” supposedly given to me by Tapu Koko. There are some minor delays in leaving the city, owing to that damn Tauros blocking the road again, but Kahuna Hala was on the scene to sort it out. Apparently the Tauros is something of a local celebrity, and I’m starting to think that the primary responsibility associated with the position of Melemele Kahuna is to keep it from obstructing traffic. Not that it matters all that much – I’m not exactly in a hurry to get to Verdant Cavern. I still kinda resent Tapu Koko (and I suppose by extension Hala, but he’s a difficult fellow to dislike) for unilaterally deciding to put me on the path of the Island Challenge, so I’m happy to keep it waiting for as long as possible.
Once I do get out of the city, I take my time exploring the north road and acquainting myself with the new Pokémon of its environs: Makuhita, Spearow, Drowzee, Growlithe, Smeargle, and a fuzzy mosquito-like Alolan species called Cutiefly. The latter belongs to the hitherto unknown Bug/Fairy type combination, and according to the Pokédex is attracted to “people who have auras resembling those of flowers.” Maybe it feeds on spiritual energy somehow, drinking it up like nectar from a flower? That’s definitely a Pokémon I want with me rather than against me. While I’m in the area, I take a minute to visit the Hau’oli Cemetery, a place to pay one’s respects to humans and Pokémon who have passed beyond the veil, frequented by both the people of Hau’oli, and an assortment of Ghost Pokémon – Gastly, Drifloon and Misdreavus. Battling and catching a Drifloon here probably constitutes some sort of defilement of sacred ground, but on the other hand it also allows me to complete a new sort of side quest that apparently exists in Sun and Moon, namely catching specific Pokémon so certain people (many of them tourists in Alola, who are not familiar with the region’s species) can take a look at them and examine their Pokédex data, a service for which they will pay a fairly substantial amount of cash. I hope you’re listening, Tapu Koko – a fairly substantial amount of cash. My compliance is not as difficult to elicit as you might imagine!
On the way north out of the city, I encounter a Delibird in a state of some distress, who tries to drag me off the path and towards some sort of altercation on a nearby berry farm. And, well, what can you do? Humans are a bunch of ungrateful whiners, and Tapu Koko is a fantastically powerful legendary Pokémon and can do its own blasted quests as far as I’m concerned, but what kind of dastardly rogue would I be if I didn’t stop to help a poor defenceless Delibird? With one hand lingering near my Pokéballs, I follow the bird and find…
“Let’s get Figy with it! Watch while I Nanab me some berries!”
“All right, guys; break it up, break it up,” I say wearily. “You think we can settle this like grown-ups, or do I have to start round 2?” The two Team Skull grunts spin around and see me. The one I battled at the Marina, the one who goes by “B,” gets an odd sheepish look on his face and suddenly seems ready to back down, but his friend just turns his back on me and continues their confrontation.
“You got a lame bunch of berries! Now Team Skull’s your adversaries!” he says to an older man who must be the farmer, and the Delibird’s owner. “Takin’ berries off your hands is just the start of our plans, yo!”
“I’ll share my berries for free with any Pokémon,” the farmer explains with a glance at me, “but you’ll not have a single one from me!” He glares at the two grunts.
“So what? I’m lower than a Pokémon!?” the grunt exclaims. “I already got self-esteem issues, man!” I raise a finger and open my mouth to speak, then pause.
“…you know, he’s sort of got a point there,” I tell the farmer, trying to strike a conciliatory tone. “If you’ll share berries with any random Pokémon, why not with these, uh… gentlemen?” All three of them blink in surprise.
“…what’choo tryin’ to pull, homie?” B asks.
“Well, you must want those berries for your Pokémon, right? Or… I don’t know, maybe you’re just really hungry? You could try, like, explaining the situation instead of trying to rough this poor guy up.” The grunts pause. I’m not sure either of them has used or even heard the phrase “explain the situation” before. “And you,” I continue, speaking to the farmer, “I dunno what kind of business model you have here exactly, but you can’t discriminate against people for wearing stupid clothes and rapping all the time.” I frown at the grunts. “Even if their raps are terrible.” They look shocked.
“Yo, you steppin’ to us, homie!?” the first grunt yells. “That’s wack, G!”
“We’re gonna hafta take your Pokémon along with the berries!” B declares. “Yo, check out how hard-headed Team Skull grunts can be!”
“Wait wait wait HANG ON A MINUTE,” I protest, but the first grunt’s Drowzee is already locked in battle with my Rattata. By the time I’ve calculated that persuading Team Skull to back down would be much more difficult than just getting her to mash the Drowzee’s face into the dust, she’s already done it.
“Yo, for real?!” B says incredulously. “You best stop trying to act hard, kid!”
“Dude, if you ever manage to get me to start “acting hard,” you’ll know about it,” I say. “Now are we battling, or what?” He stutters for a moment, choking on a retort, then turns to his friend.
“Yo, I’m so annoyed right now, homie! Let’s go mess with Ilima again!” They both storm off, the berries forgotten, and the grateful farmer rewards me with a handful of Oran berries.
Alola seems to be blessed with an unusual abundance of nature’s bounty as far as berries go. Although farms exist, they also grow wild, “like weeds,” in the farmer’s words. I’ve always felt that the Hoenn and Sinnoh games went a bit berry-mad, with their sixty-odd different varieties. Finding something, anything, to do with all the bloody things has become a bit of a chore for every subsequent game (especially games that lacked contests, which many berry species were created to support). Fire Red and Leaf Green, for instance, clearly had no idea how to handle them, just having them periodically spawn on the ground, and had to create the berry powder system as a way of converting useless berries into a spendable commodity. Black and White offloaded the whole mess into the Dream World so that Unova wouldn’t have to deal with it, and now the Dream World doesn’t exist anymore. Sun and Moon so far seem to be taking a “f#%& it” approach to the whole thing, and just leaving great heaps of berries from multiple different species underneath trees, because life is just too short to mess around planting these f#%&ing things or keep track of which ones grow where. It probably seems like I’m harping on about this unnecessarily and making a mountain out of a molehill, and I am, but only because I think it’s an illustrative example of an important general principle: Pokémon is a franchise that is averse to getting rid of things, and as a result it’s become a vast, unwieldy conglomeration of complicated legacy systems that don’t always work together in perfect harmony or make total sense for the new game that the team is trying to build. And then, while you’re sitting and thinking about all this, sipping your cup of Pinap juice and trying to enjoy the sunlight, some kind of godawful boxing crab, a Fighting-type with some minor Water powers which the locals call a Crabrawler, bursts out of a pile of berries and tries to punch you in the face.
When all of this is over, I’m going to need a holiday to recover from my holiday.
Once I’ve decided I can’t make any more excuses, I reluctantly slouch along to the entrance of Verdant Cavern, where Ilima is waiting for me. Inside, he explains to me the terms of his trial. The whole thing consists of battles against wild Pokémon: three relatively ordinary ones that I will have to flush out of their dens, and a fourth, more powerful “Totem” Pokémon that lurks at the back of the cavern. Defeating the Totem Pokémon will allow me to claim something called a Z-Crystal. Once the trial has begun, I cannot leave the cavern to heal; I have to see it through to the end. I also cannot capture any Pokémon within the trial grounds until the ritual is over (upon returning here later, I discover that the cavern houses Rattata, Zubat, and Diglett – the latter, another Alolan form, identical to the mainland breed except for the three golden hairs on its head… which apparently give it Steel-type powers, because why not?).
“So… beat a bunch of wild Pokémon? Seriously?” I ask. Alola must have some piss-poor trainers if this is their equivalent to a Gym challenge. Ilima just gives me a knowing smile. I shrug and charge right in. The first three wild Pokémon, who live inside tunnels within the cavern, are all Alolan Dark Rattata. Two of them are rapidly flushed from their dens and handily dealt with by my Pikipek’s Rock Smash. Maybe I’ve been overestimating this whole “trial” thing. The third Rattata, who apparently now knows me by reputation, retreats into a complex tunnel system with multiple entrances. Just as I’m trying to figure out its movements and corner it…
“Yo, yo, yo!”
Oh Bird Jesus Christ.
“It’s your berry thief boys, back, back again! Remember us?” I do, of course, but the game gives me the option to mess with them, and how could I pass that up?
“Sorry, who are you?” I ask, scratching my head. For a moment they look genuinely hurt that I might have forgotten them.
“Oh, I see… Just ‘cause we switched places, you can’t tell who we are anymore!?” They swap around so that “B” is on the left, like when we battled at the Hau’oli Marina. Apparently, they are here to disrupt my trial and generally cause a nuisance, B by catching the final Rattata himself, and his friend by battling me to keep me busy while he does it. Which, y’know, is a fine plan in principle, but his Drowzee has gained exactly one level since I last saw it. This time it’s my Pikipek that does the honours. Neither of the Team Skull grunts seems inclined to stand in my way after that, and the idea of a confrontation with the Totem Pokémon straight-up terrifies them. They decide to just camp at two of the entrances to the final Rattata’s lair and try to trap it so they can leave. As they go to take up their positions, though, B suddenly stops and walks back up to me.
“Yo, kid! You know there’s a mad strong Pokémon lurking back here somewhere, right? I’d run if I were you.” He turns to go.
“Aww, you do care about me after all. Don’t worry; I’ll be careful!” The grunt shoots a glare back over his shoulder at me; for a moment he looks like he wants to say something, but then he thinks better of it and stomps off.
I’m rapidly beginning to suspect that “Team” Skull is literally just these two guys and a weirdly stealthy DJ.
Unbeknownst to them, by blocking two of the entrances to the final lair, the Team Skull grunts have actually cornered the Rattata hiding there and forced it to confront me at the third tunnel entrance. I deal with it quickly, shout a brief “thank you!” to the confused grunts, who are still trying to challenge it to a rap battle, and head for the back of the cavern. The final chamber, open to the sky, houses an ancient, ornate pedestal with a niche in the front. A glimmering white jewel floats in the centre of the niche. I approach the pedestal and look around. No sign of Ilima’s “Totem” Pokémon. Maybe it’s having a day off? I quickly scan the pedestal for tripwires, pressure plates, or other hidden mechanisms, then grab the jewel and turn to run.
There is a huge black Raticate standing in front of me.
It looks mad.
“Uh… finders keepers?” I suggest, giving it what I imagine to be a winning smile. This isn’t that bad; I’d thought at first when Team Skull seemed so worried that I might be about to fight a legendary Pokémon, some lesser subordinate of Tapu Koko, but a Raticate should be fine; it’s not even that high a level, and maybe I can talk my way out of-
The Raticate screeches, begins to glow a blazing orange, and calls another Rattata to its side.
Two against one, and with some sort of defence boost from its flaring “aura,” the Totem Raticate easily takes down my Rowlet. My Pikipek manages to eliminate the Rattata and score a nasty hit on the Raticate with Rock Smash, but she too falls to its powerful attacks. Starting to get quite worried now, I send out my recently-evolved Pikachu, who paralyses the Raticate with her Static, sneaks a quick Nasty Plot, and then blasts it into submission with a Thundershock. I breathe a sigh of relief. My Pikipek, recovered from the beating she just took, sighs with me in unison… and promptly evolves, becoming a larger but still woodpecker-like and fairly standard-looking bird Pokémon called Trumbeak.
So… this is a thing. Totem Pokémon have additional powers themselves, and can also summon weaker wild Pokémon to help them. In fact, this seems to be something that all wild Pokémon can do, starting from this point in the game; the Alolans recognise it as a peculiar characteristic of their region, but aren’t really sure what causes it. It’s equal parts useful, exciting and irritating. On the one hand, it significantly speeds up level grinding and EV training; it also makes wild Pokémon a much more serious and interesting threat, and giving wild Pokémon such an important role in the “trials” is a really cool way of letting Pokémon have more of their own agency. On the other hand… summoning happens at the end of the turn, even if the Pokémon already did something that turn, and if you knock out one of a pair of Pokémon, it’s possible for the other to immediately summon a replacement. Several times in a row. This can get… tedious (especially if you’re trying to catch something – you can’t throw Pokéballs when there’s more than one wild Pokémon opposing you).
Only one thing remains – finding out what the hell I’m supposed to do with this “Z-Crystal” anyway. Luckily, Ilima and Professor Kukui are on hand to explain it to me. Obviously, Z-Crystals are used with the Z-Ring to channel Z-Power at the zenith of a ziggurat beneath the zeroth zone of the zodiac in order to give zest to zany zealots on zeppelins. I glare at them both, and they sheepishly explain the real function of the crystals and the ring: to power things called Z-moves. These are special techniques that channel the emotions, spiritual power and physical stamina of a trainer to energise the Pokémon for a single devastating attack. Such is the drain on a trainer’s strength that, like Mega Evolution, Z-moves can only be invoked once per battle. Each Z-Crystal enables Z-moves of a single element; the one I just earned from Ilima’s trial is known as Normalium-Z and is associated with Normal moves. Pokémon don’t need to learn Z-moves – I just need to use the crystal to create a shard for a Pokémon to hold, and that Pokémon will be able to access Z-versions of all the Normal-type moves it already knows. I frown at the Professor. So… the Pokémon needs to hold an item, and you can only do it once per battle… but unlike the incredible power afforded by Mega Evolution, it only works for an instant? Is that even good? Kukui gives an indignant harrumph, brings out his partner Pokémon (a curious little rock-studded terrier called a Rockruff), and demonstrates the power of its Normal-type Z-move, Breakneck Blitz, which not only knocks out the wild Growlithe he was battling, but also carves a substantial furrow in the ground, knocks down a nearby tree, and seriously dents the wall of the Pokémon Centre outside Verdant Cavern. I politely applaud, but maintain a few doubts. So far, Z-moves seem to be basically like Mega Evolution, but… less so. Of course, I’ve only unlocked a couple of the most basic ones so far. Who knows what ridiculous nonsense will ensue if I collect more crystals…?
Ridiculous quote log:
“Preschooler pistons, full power!”
Kid, if someone is using you to power a steam engine, that’s child labour and you have a right to get help.
Not really a ridiculous quote, but something that needs to be noted somewhere: one of the Pokémon Trainers in Hau’oli Cemetery, who has one Pikachu with her and is mourning the death of another, is called Pokémon Breeder Ikue – presumably in homage to Ikue Ōtani, the Japanese voice actress who plays Pikachu in the Pokémon anime.
Tane the Rowlet
Male, Timid nature, Overgrow ability
Tackle, Leafage, Astonish, Peck
Rhea the Trumbeak
Female, Lax nature, Keen Eye ability
Peck, Supersonic, Echoed Voice, Rock Smash
Sunny the Butterfree
Female, Rash nature, Compoundeyes ability
Stun Spore, Confusion, Sleep Powder, Gust
Ashley the Pikachu
Female, Timid nature, Static ability
Thundershock, Charm, Nasty Plot, Sweet Kiss
Hypatia the Slowpoke
Female, Hardy nature, Own Tempo ability
Curse, Yawn, Tackle, Water Gun
Soot the Rattata
Female, Hardy nature, Hustle ability
Bite, Tail Whip, Quick Attack, Focus Energy