There doesn’t seem to be a whole lot to see in Heahea City. Part of the town is blocked off by some douchebag with a perfectionist Stoutland that won’t move until it’s sniffed literally every square centimetre of the main road, and most of the buildings I can access are standard services: there’s a Pokémon Centre, and a clothing shop, and a tourist bureau like the one in Hau’oli City. Hau just wants to find somewhere that sells malasadas, but Lillie, for her part, has more interesting ambitions: she wants to take Nebby to Akala Island’s guardian ruins, the home of the island’s patron god-Pokémon, Tapu Lele, and she’s hoping that I’ll accompany them when the time comes. For Nebby’s sake, I make a noncommittal “mrrmmhmm” noise and wiggle my head in a way that could plausibly be interpreted as either a nod “yes” or a shake “no.”
For now, Lillie has to go and meet a mysterious “someone” – presumably a fellow member of her terrorist cell – at the nearby Tide Song Hotel. I decide to follow her at an inconspicuous distance and eavesdrop. On the way, however, I run into none other than Sina and Dexio (or as I prefer to call them, Left and Right), Professor Sycamore’s annoying lab assistants by day, ridiculous masked superheroes of the Kalos region by night. They are, mercifully, on holiday at the moment and not doing their superhero act, but they are interested in the island challenge customs of Alola, and Left decides she’d like to test my skills. I shrug and pull out my Butterfree’s Pokéball. Left is apparently an Ice specialist, and opens with a Delibird, of all things, which goes about as well for her as you might expect, but then radically steps up the power level with a Glaceon, probably the strongest Pokémon I’ve yet faced in Alola by a significant margin. When my Slowpoke eventually overcomes it, Right is sufficiently impressed by my victory that he decides to give me a magical artefact he calls a “Zygarde Cube,” which is clearly not a cube but does appear to have something to do with Zygarde. Left explains that the alleged cube is a device for collecting and storing the “cells” and “cores” that make up Zygarde’s body, which I will apparently be able to find lying around Alola.
So… did Left and Right just ask me to resurrect an ancient god? Have I joined a cult? If I collect enough of these things, will I be able to summon Zygarde and bring about the end of the world?
So presumably the Zygarde Cube is what makes sense of those alternate forms for Zygarde that were teased a while ago and that Game Freak apparently forgot to do anything with during generation VI. The cells and cores are visible as green or pink sparkles floating above the ground, and the cube has a counter that tracks how many of them you’ve found out of a total of 100. Presumably finding ten of them, including at least one core, will be enough to summon Zygarde in its dog-like “10%” form. The cube’s description also claims it can be used to teach Zygarde moves – which must be those signature moves, Thousand Arrows and Thousand Waves, that were in the code for X and Y but never made available. More importantly, it now seems likely that Zygarde will actually have something to do in this game – could it be related somehow to the source of the “Z-power” that I’m supposed to be learning to harness? I mean, the letter Z is kinda Zygarde’s schtick, after all. Well, the letter Z, and order, and community, and the balance of nature, and the eternal cycle of life and death. But, y’know. Mainly the letter Z.
Lillie is now hanging out in the lobby of the Tide Song Hotel. She claims to have missed her appointment with her mysterious friend on account of going out of her way to avoid a run-in with Team Skull. However, she intends to stay at the Tide Song for a while longer because “this is actually where I wanted to be.” Suuuure, Lillie. She’s just being cagey because she knows I’m wise to her schemes. But there’s no way she’ll meet her contact now if I stay in the area and keep watching her, so I grudgingly agree to get on with whatever the hell I was supposed to be doing. I browse Heahea City a while longer, and notice that the Pokémon Centre shop has a TM selection, including one move I’m not familiar with – interesting, since I don’t think I’ve actually seen any new Pokémon techniques so far other than the Z-moves. This new move, Aurora Veil, seems to be a combined Reflect and Light Screen that only works in a hailstorm. That sounds powerful, all right, and it’s awesome to see hail finally getting some love, but wow that must be an awkward set-up. It’s also completely useless to me right now, and the rest of the town is still under blockade from that irritating Stoutland, so I eventually move on. The next trial site is apparently somewhere along the north road, past Paniola Town, so off I go. Along the way, I encounter Igglybuff, Lillipup and Eevee, but only one truly new species: a somewhat vacant-looking donkey-like Pokémon called Mudbray, stubborn, resilient and physically powerful thanks to its diet of literal dirt and mud. Gotta say, I’m not really in love with any of the Pokémon designs so far, but I guess they’re basically fine. The only other thing of note on this route is a “Sightseer” trainer who uses a Rattata – but not a black Alolan Rattata; it’s one of the familiar purple ones common in Kanto and Johto. Because of course it is; Alola is a huge tourist destination, so of course there are people here from other regions whose Pokémon are foreign.
Paniola Town is little more than a footnote in my actual travels, but I have to admit that the town itself has what I can only describe as “character.” It’s the spitting image of an American Old West town, complete with a cattle ranching industry that appears to be its lifeblood; I half expect to find an old-timey saloon with those double swing doors you always see in cowboy movies. I wonder out loud – probably a little too out loud to be considered strictly polite, if I’m honest – how much of this is how the town actually grew up and how much is for the benefit of the tourists. I run into Hau at the entrance of the town and accept another challenge from him. He still has only two Pokémon, but now his Popplio has evolved, into… something. I’m not sure. I can only describe it as a seal that wanted to be a clown, but also a ballerina, and decided that “following your dreams” means all your dreams, at the same time, because compromise is for wusses. As rivals go, Hau is not the greatest I’ve had, put it that way. The only other thing of much interest in the town itself is a house that is inexplicably full of Magmar. One human, five Magmar, no explanation. Maybe it’s, like… a group of Magmar that decided to live as humans, build a house in town, get jobs, and pay taxes? I mean… sure, it’s not like it’d be the weirdest thing in this universe. The ranch, where most of the townspeople seem to work, is… a little haphazardly run, to be honest. There are wild Miltank and Tauros here, and I’m not sure how the ranchers keep track of which ones are wild and which ones are theirs. No one seems to object to me catching one of each. The Tauros all answer to a charismatic Miltank known as “the Mistress,” who is evidently a sort of cow Pokémon godfather. And there’s a Pokémon nursery, just as clueless as ever about what happens when two Pokémon love each other very much (the sign outside proclaims proudly “find some Pokémon eggs!”), but without the ability to help Pokémon grow any stronger the way daycare centres in other regions do. As far as I can tell, the woman running it just thought that Pokémon daycares sounded like a cool idea.
Mallow, the Akala Captain that we met back at the Heahea docks, is also at the ranch – she’s one of their most valued customers, since she uses their rich milk in all her cooking. The nearby trial site isn’t hers, though, and it’s not her turn to test my skills yet; instead she sends me further north to Brooklet Hill, where Lana, another of Akala Island’s Captains, conducts her trial. In the meantime, Mallow has a gift for me: she allows me to use my ride pager to summon her Stoutland. I flinch a little at this, after my experience with Tauros, but Stoutland is a much more sedate riding Pokémon. Its special ability doesn’t replace any old HM at all, but rather a key item – the Itemfinder. Stoutland can shuffle along slowly with its nose to the ground, sniffing for hidden items and barking when it finds one. Well, it’s not flight, but it’s sure nice to have, and no strings attached. The south road that leads past Paniola Town and ultimately back to Heahea City is blocked by a pair of Sudowoodo who have fallen into a deep depression after getting smacked around by Captain Lana’s Water Pokémon, and Tapu Koko’s not paying me for psychiatric services (…or anything at all, for that matter), so I keep heading north.
The north road ends at Brooklet Hill, a lush valley watered by a dozen streams and lakes, and undoubtedly a habitat for numerous Water Pokémon. Outside I find only one new wild Pokémon, but it’s a goodie: a pink Grass-type orchid mantis called Fomantis, whose addition to the team once Butterfree gets a bit stale I am now contemplating. There’s always a moment in a new Pokémon game when I toy with the idea of going all-Grass, and the elimination of HMs might actually make it practical this time. A trainer also introduces me to another new Grass-type, a glowing mushroom creature called a Morelull, Grass/Fairy dual-type and therefore a literal magic mushroom, which the Rotomdex believes can be found wild in Brooklet Hill. On the way to the hill, though, I run into a curious scene: Hau appears to have just finished a battle with a skinny goth-looking teenager dressed in black and red. With his pale skin and platinum blonde hair, he could almost be Lillie’s brother, but something in his demeanour says to me that he would resent the comparison if he knew her.
“Hahaha! Man, I lost again!” Hau exclaims, clearly not terribly upset about it. I half expect him to add an “aww, shucks.” The stern kid opposite him glares back.
“Are you even taking this seriously?”
“I am! So seriously! I’m seriously enjoying it!” Gotta give Hau credit, he’s a good sport.
“…enjoying it?” the other kid asks. “You can enjoy Pokémon battling when you put everything you have into it…” he looks Hau up and down, with undisguised disdain, “…which, clearly, you haven’t.” Hau looks a little embarrassed for a moment, and can’t seem to think of what to say next, until he catches sight of me.
“Whoa! Hey, Chris!” he calls out. “This guy is plenny scary!”
“You’re Chris?” asks Hau’s opponent, giving me a cold stare. I raise an eyebrow and cock my head, as I try to size him up.
“Yeah… what’s it to you?”
“Not very cautious, are you? Hmph. Even some Pokémon have a better sense of self-preservation than you do.” I raise my other eyebrow and look at Hau.
“Watch out, Hau; sounds like we’ve got a badass here.” I turn back to our new friend. “Who do you think you are, anyway?”
“I’m Gladion,” he replies. “I battle for my partner, Null, to make it strong. Though most of our time gets used up doing small jobs for Team Skull.”
“Ohhhhhh, that explains it,” I say, peering more closely at his black clothes and emo haircut. He gives a hint of an irritated snort.
“Battle me. I won’t take no for an answer.” Gladion draws a Pokéball and summons a Zubat.
“All right, all right, keep your pants on,” I mutter, choosing a Pokéball of my own and calling on my Rattata. The ensuing battle is a fairly standard affair, except that Gladion has a freakishly intense look for the whole time, and keeps his hand raised in a kind of curled claw position just in front of his face. His snarl only deepens when his Zubat goes down to a particularly vicious Hyper Fang.
“…dude, are you okay?” I ask. “You look… kinda seizure-y.” This guy is… not typical Team Skull material. Gladion says nothing in response, and just throws out his second and final Pokéball. For a moment I stare in silence at the Pokémon that emerges. “…now, what on earth are you?” I ask it. The creature standing in front of me is a strange, chimeric beast with a grey quadruped body, but a fishlike tail, spikey reptilian front legs, a feathery ruff around its neck, and a head like an elaborate bronze helmet with a horsehair crest. I summon the Rotomdex. “What am I looking at here?” I ask it, not taking my eyes off the Pokémon.
“Type: Null,” the Rotomdex replies. I frown.
“Null? It can’t have no type… can it? But what is it? What species?”
“No, look, I- ugh, just give me all the information you have.”
“Zzzzt! Sure thing, boss! Species: Type: Null. Type: Normal. Habitat: Unknown. Range: Unknown. Height and weight: Unknown. No other data available.”
“…so what you’re saying is, you don’t know a damn thing.”
“Zzzzt! Of course I do, boss! Species: Type: Null!”
“…whatever; there must be something wrong with your database. I’ll file a bug report when we get back to Heahea City.” The Rotomdex gives an indignant series of bleeps and shuts down. I turn back to the battle. Gladion’s chimera Pokémon is tough, and knocks out my Rattata without too much trouble, but falters when I send in Dartrix. Despite its mix-and-matched body, it doesn’t seem to have much to attack with besides Tackle, and falls before too long to Razor Leaf barrages. As it drops, Gladion snaps out of his weird trance.
“How annoying,” he says flatly. “Hmph… it’s not like me to slip up like that. I’ve got to keep fighting stronger opponents. Looks like I’m still not ready…”
“What do you mean ‘ready’?” I ask, frowning.
“That kid there,” Gladion replies, pointing at Hau. “His Pokémon aren’t weak. And sure, it’s fine to enjoy battling… but this brat… he’s just using that as an excuse not to try hard because he can’t beat the Kahuna. Because he can’t beat Hala when he’s serious!” I shrug. He may be a huge dickbag but he’s got Hau’s number, all right.
“You know my gramps?” Hau asks, then gives Gladion an odd look as though a light bulb has just lit up in his head. “Wait. So you think I’m strong?” Gladion looks annoyed, and is about to respond when we are interrupted by another voice.
“Aww, look at you, little Gladion! Aren’t you just a real cool guy? Heheheh…” Two Team Skull grunts – one that I recognise from my previous run-ins with them, and a pink-haired girl wearing the same clothes – strut up behind Gladion. He turns to face them, silent but clearly irritated.
“I guess it’s no surprise a homeless kid would turn out spineless too, huh?” the girl asks mockingly. From her body language, it looks like she’s the more senior of this pair.
“Homeless?” I interrupt. “What the hell is wrong with you, picking on someone for being-” Gladion cuts me off with a death glare, and I fall silent. Typical; kid who thinks he’s a scary badass has to fight all his own battles. The Team Skull girl laughs.
“This kid giving you trouble, little guy?” she asks Gladion. “No worries! We’ve got enough backbone to cover for you!” Her friend begins to advance on me.
“So is this what we’re doing?” I ask, reaching for another Pokéball. “Please tell me this is what we’re doing, ‘cause I would love to see how much stronger that Drowzee of yours has gotten.” The grunt flinches a little, then glares and reaches for his own Pokéball. Gladion rolls his eyes.
“Just give it up already,” he says coldly.
“Huh?” the grunt asks.
“You know you can’t beat me.” The obvious corollary – “so what chance do you have against this kid?” – he leaves unspoken. “You’ll just get your Pokémon hurt for no reason.” Gladion pauses for a moment, and I think I detect a subtle softening in his tone and expression, almost imperceptible. “They’re good Pokémon.”
“Well, I don’t know if I’d go that far…” I add, earning me another death glare. The pink-haired grunt scoffs at Gladion.
“We came all this way, and for what? For a big fat waste of our time, thanks to you. If you hadn’t gotten in our way, we could’ve stolen the Totem Pokémon from Brooklet Hill!”
“You know, you’re never going to grow as a person if you keep blaming others for your problems,” I tell her teasingly, then shoot a grin at Gladion. Death glare number three. Wow, I’m really racking up the points here. “This guy seems like he knows that. Dunno if he knows much else, mind you, but credit where it’s due, right?” The grunt rolls her eyes. Apparently she’s not going to take my bait as easily as her friends always do.
“Let’s get out of here,” she says dismissively. “Look, the Murkrow are crying, and it’s time we should be flying.” She turns to leave. The other grunt starts to follow, but then turns back to Gladion.
“Listen up good, Gladion. The boss does like you, it’s true. But you’re just some hired help we keep around for when we need you. You aren’t part of Team Skull, not really. And you never will be. Got it? You better get it.”
Gladion fumes silently as the grunts march off, and eventually follows them without a glance or a word to us. I watch them go, then turn to Hau and shrug.
Now this is interesting.
Gladion is clearly a jerk, but he’s a jerk who actually seems to care about his Pokémon – sort of like Silver at the end of his character development. And he’s clearly ‘with’ Team Skull, but equally clearly not one of them, kind of like an evil N. And that Pokémon of his, Null… it’s right at the end of the Alola Pokédex, which makes it seem like a legendary Pokémon, but it certainly isn’t as strong as one, and it doesn’t have a page to itself in the Pokédex, which probably means it can evolve. And what the hell is with that name? Yeah… colour me curious. Curious like a fox…
Ridiculous quote log:
“I’m Sina! A beautiful name for a beautiful lady!”
Listen, Left, your confidence is admirable and all, but you sound colossally self-absorbed when you introduce yourself like that.
“Recently, there have been cases of Pokémon staying by themselves.”
What do you mean, Bellhop Jody? Like, at the hotel? How… how do they pay?
“Mallow’s food is special. It grips your heart.”
…that’s cholesterol. You should see a doctor about that.
“One plus one is two, but it could also be three or four!”
Okay kid, you get a pass because you’re clearly about four, but this is your one and only chance.
Tane the Dartrix
Male, Timid nature, Overgrow ability
Tackle, Razor Leaf, Astonish, Peck
Rhea the Trumbeak
Female, Lax nature, Keen Eye ability
Pluck, Supersonic, Echoed Voice, Rock Smash
Sunny the Butterfree
Female, Rash nature, Compoundeyes ability
Silver Wind, Psybeam, Sleep Powder, Gust
Ashley the Pikachu
Female, Timid nature, Static ability
Thundershock, Hidden Power (Ice), Nasty Plot, Thunder Wave
Hypatia the Slowpoke
Female, Hardy nature, Own Tempo ability
Confusion, Yawn, Tackle, Water Gun
Soot the Rattata
Female, Hardy nature, Hustle ability
Bite, Tail Whip, Hyper Fang, Focus Energy