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).

Anonymous asks:

I miss those FMKs!! So here’s another one… Cyrus, Cheren or Hugh?

oh god

uh

marry Cheren because honestly both of the other two kind of scare me and he seems like the sort of guy who’d grow up to get a steady well-paying job as an accountant or something

kill Cyrus because… I mean… he’s basically some kind of death cultist and he tried to unmake the universe so he could become a god, so…

so I guess that leaves fuck Hugh, which… I mean… yaaaaay?

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 20: Splice and dice

With Opelucid City frozen, it’s difficult to get around.  We find ourselves sliding all over the place on sheets of ice, and our paths are continuously blocked by great crystal spires.  Of course, the Team Plasma grunts aren’t doing too well either.  Drayden seems unwilling to reveal exactly where the ‘DNA Splicers’ we’re supposed to be protecting actually are, so Jim and I are forced to sweep the city, pulverising as many Team Plasma members as we can find.  Eventually I locate Zinzolin, outside the Opelucid Gym.  Oh, I realise, well duh.  Where else would Drayden keep a ridiculously valuable set of artefacts with apocalyptic powers?  Zinzolin greets me and we shoot the breeze for a while about the nature of pain.  Zinzolin feels there is a certain purity in suffering, and wishes to spread this transcendent experience to the rest of the world in a form of social Darwinism.  His views are extreme, but his dedication to practicing what he preaches and embracing suffering himself is admirable.  Zinzolin thanks me for the compliment, but suggests that we need to get on with our business.  I sigh and agree.  Can’t this guy be my rival instead of Hugh?  We could just hang out and debate philosophy; it would be awesome.  He has actually come a long way since our last battle, mere days earlier; he has picked up a second Cryogonal and evolved his Sneasel into a Weavile.  This time, though, I have grown tired of the cold, and call out my Arcanine to bring a swift end to the battle.  Cryogonal’s epic special defence aside, Ice Pokémon are not well equipped for the kind of onslaught Barristan can lay down.  Zinzolin graciously bows out, leaving me to guard the Gym.  Drayden and Jim soon arrive, having finished sweeping the city, and Drayden tells us to wait outside while he fetches the DNA Splicers from his lair.  Minutes later, he brings them out to show us: a set of elongated pyramidal objects, striped in black, white and grey.  Huh.  So these are the magic devices that will… well, presumably fuse Kyurem with either Reshiram or Zekrom to create those terrifying bastards on the box art.

Suddenly, a member of the Shadow Triad is here.

Equally suddenly, he is talking as though he has successfully stolen the DNA Splicers.  What on earth are you talking about, Mr. Shadow Triad Person?  Drayden is holding the splicers; they are right there in his-

With a curious sinking feeling, Jim and I turn back to Drayden.

God damnit, Drayden, you were physically holding the stupid things in your hands, how could you-?  Oh, you know what?  Never mind.  Teleporting ninja bull$#!^.  Whatever.

The Shadow Triad ninja gloats briefly, then flees through the city with his magic shadow ninja speed.  The three of us stare at each other, wordless, for a full ten seconds before we split up and run through Opelucid City at breakneck speed hunting for the Shadow Triad.  I make it all the way to the city’s eastern entrance before finding one, who challenges me to come and take the splicers if I want them.  With an Absol and a pair of Pawniard, he’s certainly no slouch at battling, but nothing Barristan and Daenerys can’t handle.  Once defeated, the ninja admits that, actually, he doesn’t have the DNA splicers at all – he was just buying time for the others to escape.  With that, he blinks away.  I spend the next five minutes reciting Catullus 16 in Latin at the top of my voice.  Just as I am in danger of running out of ancient words for violent sexual abuse, Jim turns up.  He has also battled a member of the Shadow Triad, and has had similar ill luck.  Well, there were three ninjas, and there were three of us, so if I didn’t get the one with the splicers, and Jim didn’t get the one with the splicers… As we discuss this, Drayden arrives and wails that the Shadow Triad have escaped.

GOD DAMNIT DRAYDEN YOU HAD ONE JOB.

Hugh and Cheren arrive just in time to avoid doing anything useful, and we hold an impromptu council of war.  Cheren’s friends at the climate institute have detected another massive temperature drop near remote Humilau City, which probably means that Kyurem is there – with Team Plasma.  Drayden dejectedly tells us that he can’t come, since he has to protect Opelucid City (because he’s done such a wonderful job of that so far) but Hugh and Cheren proclaim the vital urgency of this quest and dash off, Cheren to get more information from the climate institute, Hugh to investigate Humilau City.  Jim and I depart as well, flying back to Undella Town at top speed.  As reluctant as we are to get further involved in any of this nonsense, Team Plasma’s theft of the DNA Splicers surely indicates that their plans involve not just Kyurem but Reshiram and Zekrom as well, and possibly the creation of something else more powerful than any of them.  When we arrive in Undella Town, we immediately dash to the newly-opened Marine Tube, the clear underwater tunnel leading from Undella to Humilau City.  This thing reminds me a little of the tunnels in the Kelly Tarlton’s aquarium in our home city, Auckland, but on a massive scale.  I glimpse some enormous Water Pokémon swimming in the ocean around the tunnel, but there’s no time to stop and watch – Hugh has made it quite clear that we are on an urgent mission!  We soon arrive in the tropical paradise of Humilau City, a resort town built primarily on wooden walkways raised above the shallow sea, a little reminiscent of Pacifidlog Town in far away Hoenn.  Upon our arrival we are greeted by Hugh, who will surely want to co-ordinate our efforts in this desperate, frantic hunt.

“We’ll get the DNA Splicers back for sure!  So you should focus on defeating the Gym Leader first!”

O…kay.  So, um… no rush, then?

Hugh is, I can only assume, confident that his obsessive hatred of Team Plasma and bloodhound-like ability to hunt them down will sort everything out in due time without undue difficulty.  Jim and I are less certain and, unwilling to waste time on anything as frivolous as a Gym challenge, scout out the areas around Humilau City.  I head south and leave Jim to go west.  Humilau City is separated from Undella Town by a stretch of pristine tropical coast, dotted with tiny sandy islands.  There is no sign of Team Plasma anywhere.  I also check out the Seaside Cave that leads into Undella Bay, but find nothing out of the ordinary.  There is another exit from the cave on the east side, but it is blocked by a large square boulder suspiciously similar to the group of Crustle Jim and I encountered outside Castelia City so long ago.  Hmm.  I poke the boulder a few times, and even have Jaime, my Samurott, hack away at it with Razor Shell a couple of times.  No effect.  Where’s Colress when you need him?  I throw my hands in the air with exasperation and return to Humilau City.  Jim, to my surprise, has not left the city yet.  He explains, sheepishly, that he can’t find the way out.  I stare at him in disbelief.  I was gone for hours; how hard could it have been?  Apparently, the walkways of Humilau City don’t all link up, and he can’t figure out how to get to the far west side of the town.  We walk around the city for a little while, and I point out that we are allowed to walk beneath the platforms as well.

Jim spends the next hour cursing under his breath and muttering about how Humilau City is a silly little add-on anyway, feels like it was tacked on at the last minute, and doesn’t add anything important to the game.  I am forced to agree that it doesn’t really seem to serve much purpose other than to provide an excuse for a new Gym and an alternative road to the Giant Chasm and the Pokémon League.  It’s not even like Humilau City is Unova’s only tropical resort town.  This does not stop me from sniggering at Jim as we wander back towards the Pokémon Centre.  On our way, we are confronted with Humilau City’s Gym Leader, Marlon, who springs out of the water to greet us in his own idiosyncratic fashion.  I wasn’t aware before meeting Marlon that “sup, yo” was a greeting that anyone actually used, but apparently it is.  My poor rigid classically-educated brain has trouble keeping up with him; I half expect him to start calling me “dogg.”  I quickly decide to cover up my discomfort by demanding a battle.  Marlon tells me to “chill” and meet him later at his Gym, “yo.”

The thought briefly occurs to me that I am now wasting time on something as frivolous as a Gym challenge.  I dismiss the notion, rationalising that I have seven of these damn badges now – one more couldn’t possibly hurt, right?

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.

…right?

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 14: Winter is coming

As Jim and I leave the Pokémon World Tournament, arguing about its relative merits, we nearly run straight into a Team Plasma grunt, who does a double take as he passes us, visibly panics, and bolts for the Driftveil docks – just as Hugh and Cheren emerge from the tournament building.  Hugh sees the villain fleeing and is instantly ready to give chase, but his blood-curdling battle-cry is cut off when Colress appears right behind them and softly but firmly tells him to stop, warning him of the risk of tackling a powerful criminal organisation like Team Plasma and admonishing him for his recklessness.  Hugh dismisses his concerns and proclaims that if there’s any chance of finding a lead on his sister’s Purrloin he is damn well going to go for it.  Well, jeez, Hugh, that’s fine; go ahead and casually reveal, to a random scientist and a Gym Leader you don’t even like, the deep dark secret that you kept from your two closest friends for years; it’s all good.  Cheren, who was a fairly militant opponent of Team Plasma himself back in the day, supports Hugh, and they both leave for the docks.  Colress shakes his head with scorn at their overconfidence in their Pokémon.  Surely they can’t believe that friendship and trust alone can protect them from hardened criminals with Pokémon of their own?  Jim notes that a bunch of Team Plasma ruffians are unlikely to pose much of a problem for a Unova League Gym Leader; the fact that Hugh is a reasonably accomplished trainer in his own right is really just icing on the cake.  In fact, you could almost say that they probably don’t need any help.  There’s really no need for anyone else to go along at all.  Colress gives him a reproachful frown, and I point out, with a sinking sense of foreboding, that as Hugh’s dearest friends we are responsible for both his safety and, to a lesser extent, the safety of those upon whom he chooses to inflict himself.  We look at each other, sigh in unison, and reluctantly dash after Hugh and Cheren, leaving Colress quietly tutting to himself behind us.

The Team Plasma grunt seems to have disappeared into a large black sailing ship moored at a wharf near the Pokémon World Tournament – Team Plasma’s new base of operations?  Cheren and Hugh are already rushing up the gangplank after him.  We ask a nearby local whether she knows anything about the ship, and receive only the cryptic response “a ship’s not really a ship unless it’s crossing the ocean.”  We stare at her in disbelief, respond “of course it is, you nitwit,” quietly shove her into the water, and board the ship.  Hugh notes that there’s a strange coldness about this boat – and he’s right.  It’s a pleasant Spring day in Driftveil City, but there’s a chill in the air that cuts right to the bone, and we can see our breath steaming in front of us.  I glance nervously at Jim.  Reshiram and Zekrom are gone, and there’s no telling where or for how long, but wasn’t there a third legendary dragon in Unova?  One with the power to fill the air around it with a terrible supernatural cold?  Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea.  I point insistently at the gangplank.  Jim shrugs helplessly and gestures to Hugh and Cheren, who have their backs to us and are looking around the deck.  I glare at him, point at our allies, firmly draw a finger across my neck, and then point at the deck beneath me before throwing my hands in the air, miming an explosion.  Jim stares incredulously, holds up four fingers, mimes sneaking, and jerks a thumb over his shoulder towards the gangplank.  I stare back, roll my eyes and hold up three fingers instead.  Jim cocks his head slightly, thinks about it and shrugs.  We turn back in the direction of the gangplank.

There’s a Team Plasma grunt standing in the way.

Well, $#!t.

Pokéballs fly non-stop for the next ten minutes.  At first, each of us has a single Team Plasma member to take care of, but this arrangement quickly proves far too simple for anyone’s taste; first I pair up with Jim and Hugh with Cheren for a pair of double battles, then we trade partners, and before long all of us become embroiled in a complex set of three intertwined rotation battles, at which point we collectively admit that the whole thing has basically become a free-for all.  I’m pretty sure that, at one point, I was partnered with two Team Plasma grunts in a triple battle against Cheren, another grunt, and my own Scolipede.  I see a Liepard, and the thought briefly flashes through my head that the Purrloin Hugh is searching for might have evolved, but I can’t get Hugh’s attention any more than I can tell whose Pokémon is whose at this point.  Someone makes an unflattering comparison between Hugh’s hair and a Qwilfish, which… actually, yeah, okay; fair call.  I am desperately trying to keep track of a quintuple rotating Contest battle when I suddenly realise that one of my opponents is, in fact, myself and frantically call for a time out, causing everyone present to collapse immediately from a combination of relief and exhaustion.

It is, I am later forced to admit, the most fun I’ve had in years.

An old man in a heavy purple robe emerges from below decks and demands to know what right we have to be snooping around on his ship.  Cheren studies his face for a moment, names him as Zinzolin, one of Rood’s former colleagues in the Seven Sages, and tells him that we have every right to investigate the activity of a notorious criminal group.  Zinzolin furiously proclaims that Team Plasma’s intent remains unchanged – to use a legendary Dragon Pokémon to rule Unova (well, that confirms it, then) – and summons the Shadow Triad to remove us.  The Shadow Triad, Team Plasma’s three magical ninjas, appear before us in a puff of smoke and begin to tell Zinzolin, “by the way, we are not your-” but he cuts them off and insists that they do this for him anyway.  Not his- underlings?  Of course; the Shadow Triad never worked for Team Plasma, N, or the Seven Sages.  They were personally loyal to Ghetsis alone – which means he’s back.  Joy of joys.  The Shadow Triad blink us off the ship, and when we regain awareness, the ship and everyone on it is gone.

Damnit; how the hell do they do that!?

Well, Hugh and Cheren are both alive, which means we’ve done our bit.  Time to continue our journey and forget about Team Plasma completely!  I’m sure everything will sort itself out in due course now that Cheren is on the case.  Besides, if Unova expects us to be socially responsible then it deserves everything it gets.  As Jim and I head back in the direction of Driftveil City proper, our eyes are drawn to a cave entrance near the Pokémon World Tournament grounds.  We question a construction worker in the area and learn that this is the north entrance to the Relic Passage, the ancient tunnel network that connects to the Castelia sewers.  The Relic Passage, Jim recalls, is inhabited by weirdoes of every conceivable shape and size, but the two of us together should be fine, and anyway it’s our duty as archaeologists to loot- er… I mean… to preserve everything we can find in the site.  The worker guarding the entrance listens patiently to our spiel about the value of the past and the importance of knowledge, before waving us through and explaining that no-one really cares about the Relic Passage anyway; he’s just stationed there so it looks like things are under control.  As we investigate the Relic Passage, we quickly develop a hypothesis about the place: the popular belief that it was built by ancient people is absolute rubbish.  The degree of organisation required to build a tunnel like this would be immense – and no-one going to that sort of effort would waste time building the kind of pointless loops and dead ends that fill the place.  Any human group capable of building something like this would be capable of building it according to a halfway sensible design.  Besides, it has none of the hallmarks of human construction.  It does seem to have been used by humans, though.  The tunnel connects the sites of Driftveil City and Castelia City – major cities are almost always built on sites that have been used before, often for millennia.  We also find an entrance to the lower levels of the Relic Castle, the site of another ancient city, though we are quickly chased away by the castle’s guardian Volcarona.  We conclude, eventually, that the Relic Passage may have started life as a series of unconnected Onix nests which were later taken over by humans and joined together, probably using captured Onix, to create an unbroken path – hence the seemingly random design (construction almost undoubtedly went through several false starts).  Resourceful, if nothing else, and seemingly indicative of extensive trade and travel between Driftveil, Castelia and the Desert Resort.  We make plans to take a few months later in the year to write an article for an archaeological journal, and move on.

We complete our trip through the Relic Passage and emerge in the Castelia sewers.  Refusing to touch the filthy ground, I command my largest Pokémon, Sansa the Ampharos, to carry me out of the sewer.  Jim rolls his eyes and follows.  When we emerge once more into the light, Jim immediately summons his Ducklett, Lydia, grabs her by the legs and holds her up in the air.  I ask him what on earth he’s doing, and he replies that he’s flying back to Driftveil City.  I protest that I don’t have a flying Pokémon yet, but he just shrugs and whistles at Lydia.  As Jim soars into the sky, dangling from Lydia’s legs like a hang-glider, I pull Daenerys’ Pokéball from my belt and call her out.  I lift my Trapinch into the air over my head and say, as imperiously as I can, “now, Fly!”  Daenerys twists her head to look down at me, bemused, and makes a clicking sound.  I sigh, recall her to her Pokéball, and begin the long walk back to Driftveil City.

White 2 Playthrough Journal, episode 13: An offer we can’t refuse

'Sir, Ah say sir, Ah have important business to attend to and you are wasting mah time; can we *please* wrap this up?'

Clay has no time for frivolity.  He is a Serious Businessman who spends his days engaged in Serious Business.  Of course, since he owns a mining business, he undertakes this seriousness at the bottom of a mine shaft.  Clay is too industrious to take time off to run the Gym, and too cheap to buy separate premises for his official battles, so he’s just opened a section of his mines to trainers as the Driftveil Gym.  The maze of elevators, tunnels and walkways provides all the testing most challengers need.  We notice, upon entering, that much of his lighting has failed in the past two years and the miners now work mainly in the dark.  Many of them have lights in their helmets, and the rest know the mines like the backs of their hands anyway.  We are not so fortunate, and consult Clyde the Guide for assistance.  He explains, regretfully, that most of the electrical cables have been on the blink for months, and the Gym loses more with every power surge, plunging more and more of the mines into darkness, but because Clay himself doesn’t mind working in the dark, and most of the miners can muddle through as well, he’s never bothered to replace them.  We stare at Clyde wordlessly.  He shrugs and points to a pile of spare cables sitting in the lobby, suggesting that we rewire some of the lights ourselves.  With raised eyebrows and sighs, we gather up the cables, call out Sansa and Elisif, and get to work.  The mine is a veritable maze of platforms, bridges and conveyor belts, but our haphazard restoration of the Gym’s lighting serves as a trail of breadcrumbs, helping us to keep track of where we’ve been, and any task involving sparking cables or ungrounded wires is firmly delegated to our Ampharos.  Eventually, just as we’re about to run out of spare cables, we stumble into Clay’s arena and come face to face with the ‘Miner King.’

When questioned about the state of his Gym, Clay explains that he doesn’t have the time for- sorry, that he “ain’t got no tahm” for “messin’ about wit’ maintenance,” and that he prefers to let “y’all li’l trainers” take a crack at it when challenging the Gym, apparently to avoid paying an actual electrician to do the work.  At this point my understanding of his cringe-inducing accent breaks down as he makes an indecipherable comment about mangoes (I think) before barrelling right through our looks of disbelief to accept our challenges.  Nothing if not an opportunist, Clay decides I will open with the Pokémon I have out already – my Ampharos, Sansa.  Between Confuse Ray and Take Down, she proves to be more than Clay’s Krokorok bargained for, but predictably falls flat against his signature Pokémon, Excadrill.  As a matter of public service, I wish it to be known that Clay’s Excadrill is a bastard of Whitney’s-Miltank proportions, with tremendous excesses of speed and power which Clay exploits without mercy.  Even after being slowed and weakened by Daenerys’s Bulldoze and Intimidated by Barristan, Excadrill still manages to take the Growlithe down before being defeated by Jaime’s Razor Shell.  Luckily, Clay’s last Pokémon standing, Sandslash, is not nearly so thorny (well… I mean, literally it is, but not in the vaguer metaphorical sense) and quickly falls.  Clay grunts some manner of congratulation and hands me a Quake Badge before turning his attention to Jim, whose new Ducklett, Lydia, acquits herself admirably (y’know… for a Ducklett) as does Ulfric the Servine.  After being handed his second loss of the day, Clay looks at the two of us thoughtfully, the dollar signs that perpetually swirl in his eyes beginning to tick over slowly.  He tells us he has a proposition for us, and leads us out of the Gym.

 Clay's lair deep within the Driftveil mines.

Over the past two years, Clay has been studiously building up both Driftveil City’s economic influence, and his own influence within it, by means of a dramatic new attraction: the Pokémon World Tournament, a permanent large-scale facility which hosts regular high-profile Pokémon battles.  It’s… not really a world tournament just yet, he admits sheepishly, but it’s already attracting powerful trainers from all over Unova, hence Driftveil’s recent tourism boom.  Of course, strong trainers instinctively seek other strong trainers – which is where we come in.  Attracting tough trainers has something of a snowball effect; the more there are, the hotter the battles will get, and the hotter the battles get, the more trainers will flock to the city, and the more money will flow into Cl- er… into Driftveil’s economy.  Yes.  All for the city.  Naturally.  He’s already started getting expressions of interest from a few of the other Gym Leaders – one of whom has already decided to make an appearance.  Cheren is waiting at the tournament grounds, talking to Hugh, who was presumably sent there after defeating Clay, just like us.  Clay makes a curt gesture to the staff, who sign up all four of us to take part in an upcoming eight-person singles tournament, and then quickly departs to take care of something else.  I frown and start up a conversation with Hugh, hoping to gauge his mental state after his meeting with Rood, while Jim quietly scopes out the other trainers milling around the lobby.  He manages to pick out three of the other competitors – presumably more of Clay’s recent successful challengers – but cannot immediately find the last one.  Suddenly, just as we’re about to file inside the arena, he notices the scientist Colress watching us from across the room.  Colress gives Jim a jaunty grin and a thumbs up before joining the three unknown trainers at the opposite entrance.  Hmm.

 The PWT building, in all its splendour.

Once we get through all the usual palaver of opening the tournament and introducing the competitors (Clay sure knows how to make a spectacle of things) I am paired with Cheren in the first round, and Jim is paired with Hugh.  Evidently fed up with having to tone things down for his Aspertia Gym challengers, Cheren is packing some serious firepower this time, in the form of one of my old enemies from Black and White – Stoutland, who hits like a truck and is built like one too.  Sansa, luckily, is tough enough to weather its hammer blows, paralyse it with a Thunder Wave, and finish it with an electrical onslaught.  Cheren’s remaining Pokémon, Cinccino and Watchog, are not nearly so menacing and fall relatively quickly to Sansa and Barristan.  Jim, meanwhile, seems to have soundly trounced Hugh, unsurprisingly.  The next round pits us against… each other.  Joy of joys.  Jim’s Lucario, Dovahkiin, is first up and gives Sansa a run for her money, weakening her severely, but eventually collapses under her assault.  When his Servine, Ulfric, appears, I seize my opportunity and switch in Barristan, whose fire is sure to wither the Grass-type.  My Growlithe closes in for a Flame Wheel, and-

Oh, god damn it, Zoroark!

Caught off guard by Jim’s newest Pokémon and on completely the wrong foot, I lose Barristan to Zoroark’s Foul Play, and Sansa, already weakened, doesn’t last long either.  The victories do not come without cost, and Zoroark is left too tired to defend against Jaime’s relentless Razor Shell… but now it’s all down to Jaime and Ulfric, not exactly a match made in heaven.  Though my Dewott fights valiantly as always, leaf against shell is one sword fight he isn’t going to win.  Pouting and sticking out my tongue, I vow revenge, but grudgingly wish Jim luck in the final round – against Colress.  Colress, when he appears, is as excited as ever for a battle, exhorting Jim to show him the strength of humans and Pokémon united.  Eyeing him warily, Jim calls on Dovahkiin to smite Colress’s Magneton, which has to spend the rest of the match trying to put itself back together.  Although he’s brought in a new Pokémon, the Psychic-type Elgyem, Colress fails to make any real headway against Jim’s Pokémon, and Dovahkiin and Zoroark manage to mop up his Elgyem and Klink without much trouble.  With much fanfare and glaringly bright stage lighting, Jim is proclaimed the victor and led triumphantly off the stage, where he is unceremoniously presented with a little ticket reading “1 BP” (fine print: “redeemable only at participating battle facilities; expires one year from date of issue; Miner King Enterprises will not accept torn, faded, burnt, soiled or partially digested BP; terms and conditions apply”) and dismissed.  Now that the battles are over, this is Clay’s show once again.

 Keep at it, and you'll even attract Champion-level trainers to the PWT - just THINK of the advertising revenue!

The Pokémon World Tournament is what we get instead of the Battle Frontier in Black 2 and White 2.  Much like the Battle Subway it awards Battle Points for each tournament victory, redeemable for a variety of useful battle items not available elsewhere, and like earlier versions of the Battle Frontier it collects a number of important services into one place – in this case, the move deleter, move reminder, and Hidden Power dude.  It also offers a couple of unusual battle formats; a rental tournament (just like the Battle Factory of old) and a ‘mix’ tournament, in which you borrow one of your opponent’s Pokémon in each battle – and your opponent borrows one of yours (this… can end badly)!  Perhaps a little washed-out in comparison to the fourth-generation Battle Frontier, with its tricky Battle Arcade and Battle Castle formats, or the even older and even more expansive Emerald Battle Frontier, but the weird formats aren’t the main draw of the Pokémon World Tournament – the true attractions, Clay notes, are the trainers themselves.  Once you progress further in the game, all kinds of famous trainers will start entering tournaments here, including just about every Gym Leader since forever.  Want to relive former glories with a battle against Winona’s Altaria or Jasmine’s Steelix, or just enjoy one last punch-up with Giovanni?  This is the place to do it.  Personally, I was something of a fan of the eclectic battle styles you had to learn in order to complete some of the old Battle Frontier challenges, and the fact that the Battle Points you earned from all of them were universally useful kept them from being too much of a pointless sideshow, but I have to admit there’s something to the ‘all-stars’ feeling of the higher-level tournaments in Driftveil City.  Challenging these people on their own turf is one thing, but entering tournaments with them finally puts the players on the same tier, which is a tremendously empowering thing for the game’s atmosphere – and nostalgia is certainly a factor (I have to admit, the designers do seem to know their audience… from time to time).  I also like the way the Pokémon World Tournament fits into what’s going on in Unova, because of course Clay is exactly the kind of person who would go to these lengths to boost Driftveil’s economy, and you can see the effect that it’s already had on the town, even in the early stages of the project.  Hey, I don’t often get to see sensible world-building from these people; let me enjoy it.  In short, while Clay’s latest project isn’t exactly my ‘vision’ of a perfect battle facility, I think it’s a pretty solid addition to Black 2 and White 2.

Discuss.