N asks:

Are bad dads a constant in the Pokémon Universe? Like i can’t remember for the life of me a single good father in the franchise. Hell, the entire plot of the Detective pickachu movie hinges on a son being unable to recognize his own father’s voice.

Well, I can think of… a couple of good dads: Professor Birch, in Ruby and Sapphire, seems to have a very strong relationship with his child, May/Brendan (whichever one isn’t the player character), while Norman, the player character’s father, is away all the time because he works in a different city but seems like a decent enough parent when we actually get to see him.  Bianca’s dad in Black and White… doesn’t really “get it,” but he’s at least trying not to be a $#!tty dad.

There is a standard explanation for this one, and there will always be one person who brings it up, which is: “absent fathers are a theme in Japanese fiction because Japanese fathers work 500 hours a day and are never around.”  That’s… true, and it explains a lot of the $#!ttiness of many Pokémon fathers – like Palmer in Diamond and Pearl being so distant from Barry, or Hau’s unnamed father in Sun and Moon being off in Kanto somewhere doing god knows what.  I think a lot of it really is just Pokémon’s own priorities, though, and a general lack of interest in the families of the player or other major characters (it would be fair to say, I think that the plots of these games are not what you’d call “character-driven”).  Like… fathers who are absent or distant because they work all the time are also a theme of American fiction; American fiction has practically created entire genres out of emotionally stunted men’s obsession with their $#!tty father figures.  But that’s not what the fathers of Pokémon’s main characters are like; they’re just not there, with no explanation and no relevance to anything.  Plenty of other characters have fathers who clearly exist, even if they’re not around very much or aren’t very good parents.  It’s also fairly common for both parents to be equally absent (as in Brock and Misty’s cases; I don’t think we ever meet Hau’s mother either).  I think the presence of the main character’s mother in each game is, in most cases, something of an admission that, at a bare minimum, it would be weird for a child to grow up completely alone.

Analytic Mareep asks:

One thing I’ve noticed about Bianca and Cheren: Bianca always ends up being the more useful of the pair. In the Relic Castle sequence, Cheren just tags along behind you, ultimately adding nothing to the situation. Bianca, meanwhile, gets ahold of Juniper–which turns out to be really important since they find the dark/light stone. In the Elite Four sequence, the same thing happens. Cheren tags along and beats the Elite Four as well (not contributing much of anything to your predicament) while Bianca rounds up all the Gym Leaders (who save your ass). I think this was probably intentional, and it sheds light on how the writers wanted us to view Bianca and Cheren.

Hmm.  I think that’s a little unfair to Cheren; he does fight alongside you against Team Plasma on multiple occasions, and fighting usually makes up most of the player’s contribution to advancing the plot.  And I don’t… think Bianca is responsible for getting Professor Juniper involved in looking for the Dark/Light Stone, or at least I don’t believe anyone ever says that’s what she’s doing.  I’d be more inclined to assume that that was the elder Professor Juniper, who is present at the Dragonspiral Tower when the player confronts N, and works together with his daughter to identify the stone.  There is a general point to be made about Bianca and Cheren as foils to each other, though.  The early part of the game kind of sets up Cheren as more organised, more ambitious, a better trainer, more… well, frankly, more competent, whereas Bianca doesn’t really know what she’s doing or what she wants.  Over the course of the game, though, Cheren comes to realise (through Alder’s example) that his ambitions are basically hollow, leaving him somewhat listless at the end of the story; Bianca, on the other hand, grows into herself, figures out what she wants to do with her life, and becomes a researcher.  She’s ultimately the one who comes out of it with a stronger conception of her own goals and identity.  I think the message is supposed to be about taking time to explore life, and figure out what your goals are gradually and organically, rather than focusing on the single-minded pursuit of just one aim in the belief that it will complete you as a person (Cheren actually credits Bianca, as well as the player, Alder and N, with helping him realise this).

Rivals, part 3: Cheren and Bianca

Original flavour Bianca from Black and White.

So… Bianca and Cheren.

Bianca and Cheren.

Whitey and blacky.

…f$#& ‘em, they’re boring.  ‘specially Bianca.

Oh, come on; you don’t really think that.  You say that about everyone and everything.I actually think Bianca is interesting and important to the themes of the game!

Ah.  That sounds like you want to defend something.  Go on, then.

Well, what Bianca is doing in those games is important for showing what humans get out of partnership with Pokémon, and that is important because that whole idea of partnership is on trial in Black and White, or supposed to be, anyway.  Bianca doesn’t care about battling and getting stronger.  Becoming a Pokémon trainer allows her to travel, experience the world, and ultimately figure out what the hell she wants to do with her life – and that turns out to be research, where she wants to study how people and Pokémon grow stronger together, letting her perspective as a trainer inform her research questions.  She is a shining example of why they give young people the opportunity to do this crazy $#!t in the first place, and for reasons that have nothing to do with battling.

She clearly is enthusiastic about battling, though – when she talks to you, there are always comments about how hard she and her Pokémon are trying, how she’s sure they’re going to beat you this time.  And she keeps getting stronger through to the end of the game; she’s certainly no Lucas or Dawn, I’ll give her that much.

Yes, all right, to say she doesn’t care about it is too much, I suppose.  In contrast to the players themselves, though, or particularly in contrast to Cheren, it isn’t part of her motivation in the same way.

 Bianca as Professor Juniper's assistant in Black and White 2.

I think N says something to her about battling and getting stronger, doesn’t he?  About how she can never be as strong as you?

Um… I’m not sure N ever actually speaks directly to Bianca at all, but… yeah, here it is; in the Chargestone Cave scene he talks about her.  “Cheren is pursuing the ideal of strength.  Poor Bianca has faced the sad truth that not everyone can become stronger.  And you are not swayed either way – more of a neutral presence.”

Which isn’t really true; she does get quite powerful, and in Black and White 2 she competes in those tournament things in Driftveil City.  Is Bianca always slightly weaker than you and Cheren?

It’s sort of difficult to tell because you almost never fight both of them at the same time, but yeah, in general she does seem to be a little bit behind the two of you.  I think she ultimately winds up about two levels below Cheren at the end of the game?  Something like that.  Still a full team of six high-level Pokémon, though – with some pretty cool stuff in there, like Chandelure and Mienshao.  I think it’s as a character that she really gets stronger, though.  Standing up to her dad when he tries to put a stop to her journey, becoming more decisive about who she is and what she wants to do.

Yeah, and that’s where I start thinking about what I said when we did Silver – that we didn’t see enough development with him, or see the final resolution for his story, and with Bianca we do.  She finds her niche and is happy with where she ends up, and isn’t resentful of your or Cheren’s abilities as trainers.  She’s a bit of a pain, though, and then when she turns up in Black and White 2 she’s still a bit of a pain.

I think she can be fun too.  She’s energetic, excitable, a bit sentimental at times… a little all over the place, I suppose, and not the most logical person, but it’s hard not to admire her optimism.

Really?  I always felt like “oh, no, it’s Bianca,” every time she turned up, whereas Cheren is sort of more ‘on your level.’

 Cheren version 1.0 from Black and White.

Well, what do we say about Cheren, then?  You like Cheren, don’t you?

Mmm… I think he’s more of a traditional sort of rival; I always saw him as the ‘main’ rival.  He’s completely dedicated to what you’re both setting out to do – defeat Gyms, collect badges, challenge the Pokémon League, and work on the Pokédex along the way; he’s basically Blue, but without the snarky, dickish comments.  He’s a familiar sort of character to have around in a world where practically everything else is new and different – strong, dedicated and intelligent, but flawed.

To me it’s the contrast between them that makes them work, really – which makes sense, since those two games are basically about opposition, contrast and conflict of all kinds, and one of the big themes is that two opposing ideas can both be in the right.  Cheren knows what he wants in life and has absolute faith in his goals while Bianca initially has no idea where she’s going or what she’s doing.  Their experiences turn them around; by the end Bianca has clear life goals and Cheren has realised that his ideas and ambitions don’t necessarily lead anywhere.  And at one point he actually credits Bianca with making him realise that, although Alder is obviously important too.

I’m kind of disappointed with where that ends up in Black and White; they kind of leave him hanging in the same way as happened with Silver, where he’s left one path but hasn’t found another one and is kind of just floating uselessly at the end.  I guess he does have a nice resolution in Black and White 2, though, even if making him a Gym Leader was a bit predictable and had been done before with Blue.  I think it really undersells his character to have him as the first Gym Leader, too.  What does he even use?

A Patrat and a Lillipup, I think.  Little bit useless.  He does talk briefly about that, though – remember?  When he says, after losing, “the Gym Leader position is very tough… if I had my usual partners…”

What does that mean?  What happens to them?  Because he does use his old team in tournaments.

I think it’s basically supposed to be confirmation of how Gyms actually work.  When you think about it, you almost have to assume that Gym Leaders hold back most of their strength against inexperienced trainers, otherwise you have to start asking difficult questions about why Brock is one of the weakest trainers in all of Kanto.  Cheren’s comment is probably meant to imply that this is exactly what he’s doing.

 Cheren version 2.0, the Aspertia City Gym Leader from Black and White 2.

Yeah, that makes sense.  What do you have to say about Cheren, then?

I suppose I like Cheren most as a sort of foil to Alder (as well as to Bianca, of course), because they’re both flawed in complementary ways.  Cheren is obsessed with going stronger to the point of no longer knowing why he even wants to; Alder has lost all faith in the idea of strength to the point of no longer understanding how important it is to fight for his beliefs – which is why he loses to N, ultimately.

Yeah; his grief over losing his partner just takes over to the point that he doesn’t think there’s any meaning to life other than having fun.  As long as we’re talking about him – Alder mentions once or twice thar Cheren reminds him of Marshall, because they have the same singlemindedness and drive to get stronger.  I think it would have felt neater for them to reference that by having Cheren replace Marshall on the Elite Four, while Marshall goes off to pursue other goals.

Eh.  I don’t know that that would have been so much better, really.  I mean, sure, it’s one way to deal with Cheren, but I think the Gym Leader position is perfectly suitable, and building his Gym around a trainers’ school, setting himself up to teach new trainers, makes a lot of sense for his ‘fight smarter, not harder’ attitude – Cheren’s always talking about using techniques with interesting effects and giving Pokémon items to hold; his idea of how Pokémon should fight is a lot more subtle than Bianca’s.

Well, okay, but why have that school right at the beginning, when you have so few options to ‘fight smarter, not harder’?  You probably have access to only a couple of items, possibly no status conditions yet, very few moves that alter your stats or your opponents’ (certainly no good ones).  I would have put Cheren maybe somewhere in Victory Road, near the Elite Four, which is where he hangs out at the end of Black and White – the idea being for him to be there to help other trainers learn to succeed where he failed.  Sitting in Aspertia City teaching kids the absolute basics is just sad.  And he doesn’t really do anything else after you leave Aspertia City other than fight in tournaments.  There’s that bit where he explains how dark grass and wild double battles work, and then nothing.

He is one of the people you can contact on the X-Transceiver for advice, and I think he does a good job of that.

Explaining abilities?  Meh.

No, I think it’s actually really good!  Because Cheren’s explanations are often a lot clearer than the one-line versions you get when you open up the status screen, and he gets details that the standard descriptions don’t even hint at, like that Magma Armour makes eggs hatch more quickly – and he’s exactly the kind of person who would know that sort of trivia, too.  Bianca’s useful too for being able to check a Pokémon’s happiness any time and any place.

Is it really that much of an improvement?  Most of the ability descriptions are pretty self-explanatory, and he still doesn’t give you the solid number that you’d get if you looked these things up online – like Torrent or Overgrow being a 50% bonus, and activating below 33% health.

Still an improvement over “in a pinch;” I mean, how the hell are you supposed to know that “in a pinch” means low health?

Well, that’s obvious.

It isn’t, though; because there’s two terms like that, “in a pinch,” which means low health, and “when suffering,” which means being afflicted with a status condition.

Meh.  It’s still not a complete description; you’d still go to Bulbapedia or Serebii or something for that.

Perhaps, but it’s the kind of thing the games should have.  You should be able to learn this stuff from just playing around within the games themselves, and I think Cheren is just the person to give you that.  He’s not an active participant in the plot anymore, and nor is Bianca, but it’s not their story anymore by this point, it’s the new player’s and Hugh’s.  Where they are and what they’re doing is a perfectly satisfying resolution, to me.

Well, we always do have more fun when we disagree.

True, that.

Are we done, then?

For now, I suppose.  Hugh next, I think.

Yeah.  And then the X/Y rivals?  I haven’t played those games; I don’t know how we’re going to work that.

Eh, we’ll burn that bridge when we come to it.  Besides, there’s a couple of other characters I think we can shoehorn into “rivals” between now and then…

White 2 Playthrough Journal, episode 18: Chaos theory

Undella Town passes us in a blur.  Not literally, of course; we just weren’t paying attention.  There are a few new areas – the Marine Tube which supposedly leads to Humilau City, and the Seaside Cave which also supposedly leads to Humilau City, but neither is open to us at present.  We’re pretty sure Hugh turned up at some point and demanded some practice battles, but he said little of interest or relevance.  The road south to Black City and White Forest was much as it always has been, although the gatehouse at the end of the road is perhaps notable for being host to Game Freak’s most bizarre roadblock yet: a line of dancing fat men, who, when questioned, will explain that they are dancing for no reason, and will someday stop dancing, also for no reason.  I stare at them, transfixed, with an immovable look of “wha?” on my face, until Jim manages to drag me out of the gatehouse.  The road north towards Lacunosa Town, likewise, is largely unchanged and uninteresting – until we reach the point where it forks toward the Giant Chasm.  The Chasm itself is inaccessible, but there is someone at the junction waiting for us: Cobalion.

I tell Jim, insistently, to leave this to me.  He raises an eyebrow, but agrees.  I approach Cobalion and politely ask him whether we may continue our negotiations.  Cobalion lowers his head, ready to charge.  I smile, taking this as an affirmative, and open my mouth to begin an impassioned speech on the natural suitability of humans for command and Pokémon for obedience.  My plan, of course, is to moderate my position as the debate continues, thus creating the impression that I am a) reasonable (hah!) and b) receptive to Cobalion’s own arguments.  Unfortunately, Cobalion delivers a startlingly effective riposte in the form of a Sacred Sword attack, which neatly lops off one of my Princess Leia buns as I dodge to the side.  For a few moments I stare at Cobalion, dumbfounded.  Has this creature no conception of civility!?  I am collecting myself for a cutting remark on Cobalion’s parentage when he prepares to initiate an Iron Head attack.  The thought momentarily occurs to me that perhaps a somewhat more aggressive diplomatic strategy would have been apropos.  As I contemplate my imminent premature demise, a pair of thick green tendrils lash out of nowhere and snare Cobalion around his neck and one leg.  As he screams with rage, I spin around to see Jim’s Serperior, Ulfric, straining to keep a tight hold on the legendary Pokémon with his Vine Whips.  Jim orders Ulfric to hurl him into the air, and the Serperior obliges, flinging Cobalion roughly into a nearby tree.  The musketeer Pokémon recovers quickly, though, and within moments they are at each other’s throats, Leaf Blade against Sacred Sword.  I draw an Ultra Ball from my bag.  This has gone on long enough.  I lob the Ultra Ball with all my strength, chanting “up, down, A, B, up down, B, A” under my breath.  It strikes Cobalion and draws him in with a flash of light.  A few moments later, it’s all over.  Jim stares at me as though I’ve swiped a sandwich from his open mouth.  I poke my tongue out at him and dismiss Cobalion’s ball to the PC network.  I’ll deal with you later.

With that behind us, we arrive in the only walled city in all of Unova – Lacunosa Town.  I remember this place being kind of pointless, other than for providing some vague hints about- oh.  Ah.  Right.  Better look around.  We are soon met by Professor Juniper and Bianca, who have used Fly (i.e. cheated) to beat us here, and as usual have their own ideas about how our investigation should proceed.  Juniper drags us to the home of one of Lacunosa Town’s elders, explaining that the town has a legend we should hear.  The elder relates the familiar story to us: when the cold winds blow from the nearby Giant Chasm, a fearsome beast stalked the night, snatching away anyone who wandered outside after dark.  The town’s great stone wall was built to defend against this monster, but even to this day no-one in Lacunosa Town will leave home after dark.  Professor Juniper comments that the wall is probably what gives the town its name; lacunosus clouds are a type of cloud that are supposed to look like a fence or a net.  Jim and I have to conceal a snigger at this.  Lacunosa Town is named for its wall, but clearly the town’s founders were influenced by either an astonishing lack of confidence in their stonework or a distressingly poor command of Latin – lacunosus means “full of holes” (this, I should note, is its strictest, most literal sense; it could also be taken to mean “collapsed,” “sunken,” “waterlogged,” or just downright “inadequate”).  The more sobering thought then occurs to us that, if a legendary Pokémon as powerful as Kyurem were to attack the town, that name might turn out to be chillingly accurate.

As we go to leave for Opelucid City, we run into Hugh.  Damnit, how do all these idiots keep getting ahead of us!?  Hugh is following some rumours he’d heard about Team Plasma activity in the town, and is wondering if we’ve seen anything.  We are about to answer in the negative before switching the topic to something more conducive to Hugh’s mental stability, like hobbies or the weather, when – speak of the devil – none other than Zinzolin, the Sage leading the reborn Team Plasma, appears with two grunts in tow.  Hugh’s eyes flash and he reaches for his Pokéballs, but Jim and I interpose ourselves and attempt to negotiate.  What is Zinzolin after, anyway?  The other Sages abandoned Ghetsis when they realised he’d been manipulating them, so why is he still leading Team Plasma?  If he just wants to take over the world, couldn’t he, maybe, work with us instead?  Zinzolin laughs and explains his philosophy.  He’s actually not interested in power at all – from what I can understand, he’s mostly interested in chaos.  Zinzolin knows that Ghetsis means to tear the asunder the order of the world and the balance of nature and civilisation by forever separating humans from Pokémon, and he wants to watchThe crazy bastard wants to watch.

I am forced to concede that it does sound like a fascinating sociological experiment.

I offer, in the event of a Team Plasma victory, to co-author a paper with Zinzolin on the extent of human sociological dependence on Pokémon.  After all, just because I’m theoretically opposed to them doesn’t mean I can’t try to create a win-win situation for myself.   Zinzolin hesitates, but agrees to my proposition.  We shake hands on it, and then return to the matter at hand – Hugh is foaming to beat up Zinzolin and his attendants, and Jim and I have a mind to join him.  Zinzolin, it turns out, is quite a strange Pokémon trainer.  One of his persistent character traits, held over from the original Black and White (which Cheren noted when we first encountered him in Driftveil City), is that he hates the cold.  This is strange because Zinzolin is actually an Ice-type specialist – his Pokémon are Cryogonal and Sneasel.  Thinking out loud, I observe that this seems indicative of a level of self-loathing.  This gets Zinzolin so flustered that my Scolipede, Tyrion, is able to steamroll both of his Ice Pokémon before he can regain his composure.  I give the sage a cluck of disapproval as Jim and Hugh finish off his equally inept minions.  Zinzolin curses, mutters something about searching Opelucid City and departs with his grunts, Hugh close behind, waving his fist and shouting something unprintable about radishes.

So, Opelucid City sounds like the place to be.

The road to Opelucid City is nearly as boring as the road to Lacunosa Town was, with the exception of the Village Bridge.  As the surprisingly apt name suggests, this is a bridge with a village on it.  I don’t think anyone actually knows why the village was built on the bridge, as opposed to the more architecturally sound option of building it next to the bridge.  I mean, okay, yes, there was the mediaeval London Bridge, but that was a) in the middle of a massive and already overcrowded city, and b) a massive fire hazard.  Village Bridge, as it turns out, is guarded – in the middle stands an odd Gentleman by the name of Stonewall, who declares that he challenges anyone crossing the bridge.  He has won 999 straight victories, and is eager to win victory number 1000!  Well, we observe, if he’s won 999 straight victories he must be pretty str-oh no wait never mind.  Though comparable in skill to the sage Zinzolin, with a powerful Durant and Lucario, poor Stonewall soon finds himself twisted into knots by Jim’s Zoroark and its mind-bending illusions.  He collapses in defeat, mourning the winning streak he’d spent two years building up (y’know, with only two Pokémon, battling about three trainers every day is actually a pretty good effort), though he vows to try again.  Once across the bridge, the rest of our journey to Opelucid City is quick and without incident… until we reach the outskirts, and find none other than the legendary Virizion blocking our path.

White 2 Playthrough Journal, episode 17: Sifting through the ashes

Lentimas Town, of course, wasn’t in the original Black and White; it’s a completely new area.  Perhaps the town was only founded recently?  As Skyla’s plane swoops in, we see dead trees, parched red soil, homes built from mud-brick, and a rickety wooden fence marking out the border of the town.  Even the airfield is strewn with boulders.  Charming little place.  ‘Rustic,’ I think to myself.  Yes, let’s call it rustic.  We later learn that Lentimas isn’t a new settlement at all – it’s just downright inaccessible.  Aside from the airfield, the only way into Lentimas Town is from the east – which is dominated by the imposing Reversal Mountain.  Why would anyone even want to come here, with such obstacles in their way?  We discover the answer not long after landing.  Lentimas is a pottery town – the area’s industry is centred on the production of fine ceramics and porcelain from the local volcanic clays.  Not exactly a matter of any great importance for Pokémon trainers, but towns have been founded on shakier grounds than that.  Professor Juniper explains that we can reach Undella Town through the recently-dug tunnels in Reversal Mountain, encourages us to travel that way to reach Opelucid City, and leaves us to it.  Her own reasons for coming to Lentimas Town remain obscure, and I assume she is here to purchase some of the local porcelain. Bianca departs to explore Reversal Mountain, while Jim and I check out the town.  It is, much as we surmised from our aerial survey, a grim place.  Still, I do find two very important things: a Fire Stone and a Move Tutor.  My Growlithe, Barristan, has been falling behind my other Pokémon for some time now, so with the Fire Stone in hand, I evolve him into an Arcanine and enlist the services of the local Move Tutor to teach him Dragon Pulse.  Thus equipped, I depart Lentimas Town with Jim, fully intending never to come back.

Lentimas reminds me a little of Fallarbor Town, in Hoenn, only much more depressing.  Fallarbor makes the most of Mount Chimney’s volcanic soils to produce thriving crops, and the nearby river keeps the place from drying out too much.  It’s recognisably a ‘desert,’ but as deserts go, it’s not so bad.  Not much of anything grows in Lentimas Town.  Clearly a forest surrounded the town at one point, but those trees look long dead.  I get the sense people only live there out of sheer obstinacy.  All of this, I think, is intentional on the part of the game designers, and provides a nice contrast to the fairly idealised cities we see in the rest of Unova, where everyone’s needs are easily met.  It’s sort of a shame that not much of anything actually happens in Lentimas Town, because it could make a pretty fun backdrop for a battle against Team Plasma or similar, or even a Gym battle.  Although there’s little of interest in the town itself, we do soon find something worth closer investigation just outside it…

The slopes of Reversal Mountain are inhabited by a variety of Pokémon that remind me again of Hoenn, since many of them are associated with the volcanic ecosystems around Mount Chimney – Numel, Spoink, and Skarmory, as well as a couple of desert Pokémon like Trapinch.  We hack our way through to the main tunnel entrance, but realise there’s more to explore outside the mountain.  Passing east through a long, overgrown defile, we find our way to a large, abandoned house, built in the same style as those in Lentimas Town.  We scratch our heads over the place for a moment.  It looks like it ought to be part of Lentimas Town, but it’s set so far away – whoever lived here didn’t want to be bothered.  What’s more, the owner must have been quite wealthy; the building is much larger than any of those in the town.  We consider ignoring it and getting on with our quest, until we remember that our quest is currently to find and talk to a couple of Dragon masters who probably aren’t going anywhere.  I give a disarming smile and suggest that Jim take point; after all, there’s no telling what might have caused this place to be abandoned.

The house is a wreck inside, with furniture strewn everywhere, and seems to be infested with Ghost Pokémon.  I call Barristan to keep them at bay, and we attempt to pick our way around the detritus to search for some clue to the owners’ fate.  Most of the rooms are blocked off, but we do find a library downstairs.  The reading material is surprisingly morbid – most of it details the sinister powers of a variety of Ghost- and Psychic-type Pokémon.  Who would collect books like this, and why?  When we emerge from the library, we find that almost all of the scattered furniture has been rearranged – by Ghost Pokémon trying to psych us out?  Maybe not.  We catch sight of what appears to be a human ghost, a little girl, muttering something about a dream of darkness and trying to find her parents and her Abra.  We try to follow her, but find our path blocked by more piles of rubbish.  We stumble across a couple of other Pokémon trainers hanging out – a backpacker simply exploring the place, and a decidedly nutty psychic who seems to be using the area’s latent energy as a power source.  Both are singularly unhelpful in figuring out anything about the house’s former occupants.  Every time we turn around, though, more debris has moved, and different rooms open up while others are sealed off.  We catch another glimpse of the dead girl, who talks about hearing her father’s voice in her dream, and mentions something about the Lunar Wing – the powerful dream talisman associated with the crescent moon Pokémon, Cresselia.  Hmm.  With only one room left unexplored, we consider calling on all our Pokémon to shove aside the immense, ugly credenza blocking the doorway, but think better of it.  Instead, we simply turn our backs on it and close our eyes.  A moment later, there is a thunk, and we turn back to see that the door is clear.  Entering the room, we find it rather differently furnished to all the other rooms in the building, and also substantially better lit.  The light, Jim soon points out, is coming from a sparkling golden feather lying in the centre of the room.  Gesturing to him to cover me in case something horrifying happens, I edge closer to the feather and pick it up.  The ghost of the little girl appears.  She explains to us that the Lunar Wing will be no help to her now, but urges us to return it to the Pokémon it came from, who will be waiting on a bridge.  She disappears before we can ask for clarification.

So what happened here?  It seems like the little girl must have fallen under Darkrai’s nightmare curse, prompting her family to research possible causes for her affliction and a way to cure it, hence the library.  Clearly, they succeeded and found the Lunar Wing – so why, then, is her ghost haunting the place?  Why was the house abandoned?  Why was the Lunar Wing left behind?  The only explanation I can think of is that the Lunar Wing didn’t work for some reason, and the girl died.  Maybe she was already too far gone by the time her family found the talisman – or, perhaps even more unsettling, maybe it wasn’t Darkrai’s curse at all but something else that had similar symptoms?

More could have been made of this place, but I like it – the atmosphere is suitably eerie, and unlike the Old Chateau of Diamond and Pearl, it gives you a mystery to investigate and think about.  If nothing else, it’s a heck of a lot more interesting than Lentimas Town proper.

I stash the Lunar Wing in my backpack.  I have no idea where I’m supposed to take it, but I figure it’s not too much effort to take it out and wave around it in the air whenever I’m on a bridge.  Jim and I put the abandoned house behind us and return to Reversal Mountain.  Almost immediately upon entering, we encounter Bianca.  She has a research project in the works here, and apparently needs our help with it.  Bianca is studying Reversal Mountain in the hopes of learning something about Heatran, the legendary volcano Pokémon whose life force is supposedly tied to its home’s volcanic activity.  She can’t get through the tunnels on her own, though – the Pokémon are too strong.  She offers us her services as a healer if we will agree to be her bodyguards, and promises that she and her Musharna will do their best to pull their weight.  We consent with a shrug.  Reversal Mountain turns out to be a bog standard cave, really – albeit with a little more lava.  We find the heart of the volcano, which is depressingly empty, and Bianca murmurs something about a Magma Stone (the item used in calling Heatran) to herself while taking some notes.  I think she had been hoping to find the stone here, or at least somewhere in Reversal Mountain, but although we scour every inch of the place, it doesn’t turn up.  Eventually, Jim and I grow bored and decide to leave through the eastern tunnels to Undella Town.  Bianca stays behind – doubtless she wants to keep trying to summon Heatran and take its power for herself – and gives us a cheery farewell as we leave the stifling tunnels of the volcano behind us.

White 2 Playthrough Journal, episode 15: The wind beneath my wings

As I hike back through the desert and across the great drawbridge to Driftveil City, I silently vow to evolve Daenerys into a Vibrava so I can show up Jim and his stupid Ducklett, Lydia.  How does a Ducklett even carry a kid halfway across the country, anyway?  The damn things barely come up to my knee!  Muttering mutinously to myself, I storm right through Driftveil, casting black looks at the commoners who cross my path, and move on to the next road – the road to the Chargestone Cave and Mistralton City.  With Daenerys at my side, I smite every wild Pokémon foolish enough to harass me, and eventually I am rewarded for my ill temper – Daenerys evolves at last.  I immediately teach her Fly and celebrate by flying right back to Castelia, buying a bag of rainbow confetti, and then zipping around Unova in a convoluted zig-zag pattern, sprinkling cheer and joy over every town I pass.  Some hours later, I grow bored and have Daenerys take me back to Driftveil City.  Jim can’t be that far ahead, right?  He’s probably waiting somewhere on the road to the Chargestone Cave, level grinding.  Sure enough, I soon find both him and Cheren hanging out at the climate research lab on route 6.  I strut in, my new Vibrava at my side, completely ignoring Cheren and the bewildered scientists, and approach Jim.  I scratch Daenerys behind her nonexistent ears and proudly tell him of my accomplishments, mocking him for his sad little Ducklett and basking in the glory of my proper flying Pokémon.  As I begin to wind down, Jim wordlessly takes Lydia’s Pokéball from his belt and cracks it open.  Out pops…

…Lydia the Swanna.

God damn it.

Deprived so cruelly of my moment in the sun, I remember that Cheren is here and decide that questioning him is better than wallowing in my own inferiority.  Why is he at the climate lab, anyway?  Cheren has come to make use of the climate scientists’ sophisticated monitoring equipment to investigate a strange anomaly – the sharp temperature drop we felt when we boarded the Team Plasma ship.  Apparently similar extreme temperature gradients have been detected all around Unova, vanishing as suddenly as they appear – in Virbank City, Castelia City, and far away Lacunosa Town.   Hmm.  Virbank City and Castelia City.  We fought Team Plasma in both of those places, so presumably their ship was nearby.  And Lacunosa… Lacunosa is near the Giant Chasm, Kyurem’s home.  More confirmation, then – they have Kyurem.  Kyurem is on the ship.  But that’s game over, isn’t it?  They control the legendary dragon, but this time there’s no goody two-shoes N figure standing in the way to mess up their plans by insisting that they re-enact some ancient epic and give another hero time to mount a challenge.  That sounds to me like it’s time to pack up and let them have Unova.  I’ve always wanted to go to Hoenn anyway.  Jim points out that this isn’t necessarily so.  Kyurem’s the crappy dragon, remember?  The one who’s an empty shell, thought to be the ‘corpse’ left behind when Reshiram and Zekrom split in the first place.  Unless the other two dragons come back and ‘restore’ him somehow, Kyurem’s not nearly as apocalyptically powerful as either of them.  And Reshiram and Zekrom are both gone.


I grudgingly concede that our doom may not be at hand just yet.  Meanwhile, some of the climate researchers in the background are heard to speculate on my dedication to upholding the virtues of the Pokémon Trainer, and on my general sanity.  I punish them by confiscating one of the Serene Grace Deerling they use to study seasonal climate variation.  This Deerling, under the name of Bran, becomes the sixth and final member of my party, and with a little training very quickly evolves into Sawsbuck.  Thus appeased of my minor humiliation at Lydia’s hands (or… wings), I gather Jim and move on, wishing Cheren luck in his ongoing investigation.  We again set our sights on the Chargestone Cave and Mistralton City.  A few Foonguss bar our path, and we exterminate them for the insult.  Soon, though, approaching a bridge over the Mistralton River, we encounter a far more significant challenge to our passage – none other than the legendary Pokémon Cobalion.  It tosses its head and cries out, glaring in our direction.  I march onto the bridge to negotiate with Cobalion for our passage.

“Right.  Shove off, or we will beat you senseless and stuff you into a tiny ball.”  Cobalion responds with a Sacred Sword attack that narrowly misses my head as I dodge to the left and tumble to the ground.

This is how haggling works; you start with an unacceptable offer and an equally absurd counteroffer, and then work your way towards the middle.

I get up, dust myself off, clear my throat, and prepare to launch into an impassioned harangue on the rights of Pokémon and the privileges of humans – a prelude to my revised offer of “shove off, or we will beat you senseless and not stuff you into a tiny ball."  Jim knocks me to the ground as Cobalion pre-empts my speech with another Sacred Sword.  Honestly, the rudeness of some people!  I had everything under control; it was all part of the diplomatic process!  Cobalion, evidently insulted by Jim’s interruption, roars again and springs away, disappearing into the hills.  I shake my fist as he vanishes into the distance, swearing to finish our conversation some other time.  Without warning, we hear Rood’s voice from behind us.  The old sage, along with one of his similarly geriatric attendants, has apparently observed our encounter with Cobalion.  They talk us through Cobalion’s backstory – how he, Virizion and Terrakion became the enemies of humankind because they realised how much harm human conflicts can cause to Pokémon.  Rood speculates that Cobalion’s reappearance may have something to do with Team Plasma, and suggests that catching him would greatly increase our already formidable powers.  Jim feels it would be a waste of our time, but I am intrigued.  I’ve mentioned long ago that one of my difficulties with Cobalion’s quartet is the fact that, although their background and beliefs give them every reason to be directly involved in the ideological conflict with N, they spend Black and White hiding, taking no part unless the player chooses to drag them into things.  Could they actually have something to do in this game?  I am sufficiently curious to go and check out Cobalion’s home, the Mistralton Cave, while Jim presses on towards Mistralton City.  The cave turns out to be a let-down.  There is nothing of interest there, barring another old man who claims to be searching for Cobalion, but has no idea where to look.  Disgruntled, I stomp out of the cave and run to catch up with Jim in the nearby Chargestone Cave, the seldom-used pathway to Mistralton City.

Jim, meanwhile, is following someone.  Picking his way between the electrified stones that levitate above the cave’s floor, he heard a voice – a rapid, almost incomprehensible stream of consciousness, rambling about the formulas that express the power of electricity.  At first Jim followed at a safe distance, expecting some garden-variety nut-job and wanting to approach with caution – but then the person he was following began to speak about something entirely different.  Something about saving Pokémon, and protecting a friend.  Wait.  Hmm.  Jim quietly recalls his Pokémon and creeps through the cave, trying to hear more of this suspiciously familiar fellow’s musings.  At this point, I find him and startle him with a loud, echoing “HI, JIM!”  There is a frantic scuffling sound in the distance, then nothing.  Jim turns and mimes throttling me.  As a gesture of reconciliation, I send Daenerys through the cave to see if she can find anything, but to our immeasurable displeasure she manages only to find and lead us to Bianca.  Bianca is evidently researching the Pokémon of the Chargestone Cave for Professor Juniper, but is having trouble with one species in particular – the elusive Tynamo.  We obligingly descend into the cave’s deepest level and capture a Tynamo for Science.  When we make it back to Bianca and present the Tynamo to her, we discover that the ungrateful little ditz doesn’t want it, and indeed refuses even to look at the thing – she’s happy to stand around in the cave navel-gazing and wondering what Tynamo do with their lives.  We leave in disgust, and soon find the north exit to the cave, emerging into the light of Mistralton City.

White 2 Playthrough Journal, episode 11: He who fights with monsters

Bolt Badges in hand, Jim and I decide to look around Nimbasa City and its surroundings a bit more.  We head east, out of the city, and explore the road to the Marvellous Bridge.  We try the bridge, but find that we cannot reach it from ground level without taking an elevator, which is broken.  As in so many other buildings in the Pokémon world, the elevator is the only way up.  I have never understood their reliance on elevators.  A woman in Hearthome City once told me that her house had no stairs because elevators were much easier for small Pokémon to use than human-sized stairs, which I suppose could apply to a lot of buildings, but isn’t that a massive fire hazard?  I bring this up with the guards at the Marvellous Bridge, but they just stare at me blankly until Jim grabs me by the collar and drags me off.  Since the bridge is closed, we go instead to the wilderness area northeast of Nimbasa City – the Lostlorn Forest.

Lostlorn gives me the willies.  I complain, as Jim leads the way inside, that we shouldn’t be there, and that some forest spirit could jump out at any moment and turn us all into star-nosed moles.  We find no forest spirits – only Roselia, Combee, and Pinsir.  I briefly consider catching a Roselia, but decide that since I already have a Poison-type I’ll wait and go for another Grass Pokémon later.  We hang around to train our Pokémon a little instead, and are rewarded when Sansa and Elisif evolve into a pair of Ampharos, Tyrion reaches the pinnacle of grumpiness as a mighty Scolipede, and Falk’s fire erupts into life as he evolves into Magmar.  We wander deeper into the forest, and meet a backpacker who explains to us that a woman once lived here in a broken-down old trailer, bluntly refusing to speak to anyone and generally wallowing in her own crotchety misanthropy.  Apparently she turned out to be a disguised Zoroark who had used her powers of illusion to turn the forest into an insane maze, but she’s gone now, and people don’t get lost here anymore.  Well, that’s a relief, I say.  The backpacker farewells us, walks a short distance away, then turns into a Zoroark and vanishes into the trees.

Jim.  Leaving.  Now.

Jim insists on checking the area more thoroughly to see whether there are any Zorua still living in Lostlorn, so I abandon him and wait at the entrance, refusing to take responsibility for his fate.  Eventually, he reluctantly moves on and we decide to hit the stadia back in Nimbasa City for some training.  When we get there, though, we find Hugh waiting for us… along with some Team Plasma goons.  Hugh is doing his usual “destroy all Team Plasma” speech and warns them that they’re “about to feel his rage.”  Ordinarily, of course, Jim and I would ignore this nonsense and get on with what we were doing earlier, but we’re not sure whether Hugh has ever heard of the Geneva Convention (or even whether it exists in this word) and we decide that the Team Plasma grunts need to be chased away for their own safety.  With an awkward apology, we spring into action and, as gently as possible, disable their Pokémon with Sansa and Elisif’s Thunder Wave attacks, keeping all the trainers occupied so there’s no-one for Hugh to battle.  Hugh quietly simmers in the background until we’ve scared them all off, then demands to know who he can unleash his rage on now.  We tell him very sternly that he is not to unleash anything, rage-related or otherwise, without giving one of us notice and seeking permission, and that he is going to bottle his rage up inside until it sends him into a death spiral of depression and anxiety like normal people do.  Hugh starts to object, and then, with a sigh, finally explains the deep, dark secret of his troubled past that is the cause of all his explosive rage.

A couple of years ago Team Plasma stole his little sister’s Purrloin.

We look at him blankly.


Look, don’t get us wrong, it was a dick move on their part, but Team Plasma stole, like, a zillion Pokémon and most of their owners’ older brothers didn’t become gruff, obsessive sociopaths filled with barely-suppressed rage that explodes onto innocent bystanders at a moment’s notice.  We sit Hugh down, repeat the “anger leads to hate; hate leads to suffering” sermon, and ask him to tell us whether it’s really all worth it.  Will fulfilling his goal and getting Purrloin back truly make him a less violently angry person?  He raises an eyebrow and answers in the affirmative.  Jim points out that at least Hugh’s on our side.  At the moment.  I tell him he’s not helping, and explain to Hugh that many of the Team Plasma crew from two years ago had been manipulated by Ghetsis and truly believed they were doing the right thing, even if their zealotry got out of hand at times.  Jim mentions, thinking out loud, that the new Team Plasma seem much less morally ambiguous and are probably genuine bastards.  I tell him he’s still not helping.  We argue about it, and eventually come to an agreement that Hugh is still potentially a danger to himself and others, but at least he’s theoretically pointed at people we don’t like, and with fairly good reason.  We just need to keep an eye on him.

This is problematic since he’s wandered off during our discussion.

We hurry out of Nimbasa City to the west, looking for him, and- oh, damnit, it’s Bianca; quick, hide before she- too late.  Bianca is here to introduce us to Hidden Grottoes, one of the new features of Black and White 2.  She drags us over to a place in the tree line where some bushes are visible between the trees – the sort of thing that’s obvious once you know what to look for, but you might never find on your own.  Bianca explains that this is the entrance to a Hidden Grotto, an area where rare Pokémon sometimes hide.  She shoves us into the hidden path between the trees, and we fight our way through the tangle of leaves and branches, to find… a Minccino.  Seriously, Bianca?  I know you think they’re cute, but was this really so important?  Ah, what the hell.  I battle the thing with Tyrion, capture it, and move on, giving Bianca a reproachful glare which, true to form, she doesn’t notice.  Only much later, after stuffing it in a PC and leaving it there for days, do I realise that this Minccino has its Dream World ability, Skill Link.  Hmm.  Okay, maybe Bianca and her Hidden Grottoes aren’t a waste of time after all, but don’t tell her I said that.

Jim and I still can’t find Hugh, so we make for the Driftveil Drawbridge, which is being blocked by a crowd of people watching none other than Charles the Heartbreaker.  Charles was in Black and White, but you might not remember him because he is silly.  He is an expert on rotation battle, the mind-warping new battle format introduced in the fifth generation, as well as its less trippy cousin, triple battle.  I have never really been sold on either of these.  Double battles were already kind of a niche thing – I mean, I know people have double battles, and there are doubles tournaments and everything, but really?  We all know they’re never going to rival singles as a battle format – and now the game is throwing triples at us, so we can have an even more niche format, and compounds it by throwing in another ridiculous niche format at the same time where predicting your opponent’s choices becomes so insane that your brain melts after three turns against the AI.  Honestly, I think even Smogon gives up and says “don’t look at us” when faced with rotation battles, and they know everything!  Fuelled by pure righteous irritation, I marshal my forces and stomp Charles into the dirt so we can use the Driftveil Drawbridge.  We encounter a few Ducklett as we cross, and Jim, realising that he still doesn’t have any flying or swimming Pokémon on his team yet, catches one and names her Lydia.  Other than that, the Driftveil Drawbridge presents few surprises, and we arrive safely in Driftveil City – time to find Hugh and keep him from getting into trouble…

White 2 Playthrough Journal, episode 1: Where the f@#k are we?

So, I’ve finally gotten around to playing White 2, in tandem with my best friend Jim, who’s playing Black 2.  We have both studiously avoided any spoilers up until this point, and are meeting these games with fresh eyes.  This entry, and those that will follow it, are the results of our experiences as we flail madly through the games, smiting all who stand in our way.  So, without further ado…


Bright lights!  Loud noises!  Dragons!  Protagonists striking their most badass poses!  Starter Pokémon!  Villains!  Douchebag whom I assume is the rival!  Eccentric scientist with a book!  MORE DRAGONS!  COBALION!  TERRAKION!  VIRIZION!  DRAAAAGON!

…yeah, it’s the opening cutscene.  Honestly I feel Pokémon’s opening cutscenes are not really as good as they have been or could be; I think they peaked in the second and third generations.  The Diamond and Pearl one was, quite blatantly, “LOOK AT ME I’M 3D LOOKATMELOOKATME I AM USING THE DS’S GRAPHICAL CAPABILITIES TO A FAR GREATER EXTENT THAN THE GAME ITSELF EVER WILL,” while the Black and White one was totally cryptic and very difficult to understand until after completing the game, but did manage to give away what ought to have been one of the games’ more important twists (the fact that N is allied with Team Plasma).  This is just a generic montage of stuff that’s clearly going to be important in the game, and I don’t know whether I even care.  Moving right along.

We quickly rush through all the usual awkwardness of Professor Juniper meeting you and needing help to decide whether she’s looking at a boy or a girl.  I, at Jim’s insistence, am a girl (apparently we need to see whether anything happens differently for a female player, and he thought of it first, the little bastard), which means that I am the illegitimate love child of Mickey Mouse and Princess Leia, and he is a kid who styles his hair after a bushel of wheat.  Professor Juniper introduces us to our lifelong friend (I guess?), Hugh, an aggressive-looking spiky-haired fellow, and gives the traditional “Pokémon are wondrous creatures, journey, exploration, growth, battle, partnership, aren’t Pokémon great?” spiel, before promptly buggering off out of our lives.  Her influence persists, though, since she immediately contacts our mother (for the purposes of this commentary I will assume we are brother and sister, not that it’s likely to matter) and tells her that we are to receive our first Pokémon.  When mother dear asks us, we protest that we don’t want Pokémon, have no idea what a Pokédex is, and certainly have no wish to go on a journey to complete one, but our pleas are, of course, in vain – mother is a forceful woman, and pressures us into accepting Professor Juniper’s assignment.  Our contact, Bianca (oh, lord, that Bianca?) is here already, and we need to find her!  With an exaggerated, synchronised sigh, we leave the house and- wait, where the hell are we?

This… doesn’t look like Nuvema Town.  Er… in fact, this doesn’t look like any city in Unova.  How did we get here and what is going on?  Juniper?  Is this you?  Have we been drugged?  CURSE YOU, JUNIPER!

Before we can get over our disorientation, we meet our friend Hugh and his little sister.  Hugh already has a Pokémon, and is excited that we’re getting ours because he’s sick of having no other trainers around to battle and needs a travelling companion he can trust.  His sister comments that she hopes we’ll take good care of our Pokémon when we get them, to which Hugh just… sort of looks at her coldly, says “yeah…” and gets right back to what he was saying before.  Oo…kaay… Upon further investigation, we quickly conclude that Hugh is a very strange and possibly dangerous boy.  His mother, when questioned, expresses a hope that we’ll keep Hugh on the right path and stop him from getting trouble… since he’s… “the sort of person who lets his rage build up inside him.”  His father, perhaps even more alarmingly, mentions that “his goal is…” and then just… sort of… trails off ominously.  Uh… Hughie, dear… don’t take this the wrong way, but… has anyone ever told you that anger leads to hate, and hate leads to suffering?  Just, um… just FYI.

With Hugh in tow, we explore the town and learn that we are in Aspertia City, a town somewhere out the ass end of nowhere in south-eastern Unova, a part of the region that wasn’t accessible two years ago in Black and White.  Unlike every other starting location in the games’ history, Aspertia City boasts a fully-functional Pokémon Centre, a fairly large population, and a Pokémon Trainers’ School (though this latter building is presently closed).  Jim and I eventually find Bianca, the klutzy lunatic rival character of Black and White, perched atop Aspertia City’s high observation platform.  Bianca presses our starter Pokémon into our hands – for Jim, a Snivy named Ulfric, and for me, an Oshawott whom I name Jaime.  She also thrusts a Pokédex at each of us, and gives one to Hugh for good measure, because the more expensive technology she hands out to random teenagers, the better.  Hugh immediately challenges us to a battle with his egg-raised starter Pokémon (as you might imagine, Jim sees a Tepig and I see a Snivy).  Once Hugh has been suitably trounced, he dashes off to begin his adventure while Bianca drags us down to the Pokémon Centre and gives us the standard lecture on what an awesome place it is, along with a gift of ten Pokéballs – previous games give you five, enough to fill out a party; Bianca is clearly either anxious to get this show on the road or extremely pessimistic about our capture skills.  Possibly both.  Mother, a dutiful sort, appears and hands us pairs of running shoes, while Hugh’s sister gives us our Town Maps, along with a spare for Hugh himself, when we find him.  With all of that out of the way, all we need to do is learn how to catch Pokémon… from, of all people, Bianca, the most scatterbrained Pokémon trainer in recorded history (but at least she arguably knows what she’s doing, in contrast to the caffeinated octogenarian who teaches trainers the same skill in Viridian City)… and set off for the next town!

Only… it looks like we have another familiar face to groan at first.