X Nuzlocke, episode 4: A Lot to Swallow

Route 5

Ruby: I’m telling you, I was fine.  There was just… a little more magical energy in the Charizardite than I anticipated.  I would have brought the explosions under control sooner or later.
Spruce: And when you say “under control”…
Ruby: I mean they would have been happening in a direction of my choosing.  Broadly speaking.
Fisher: I really must advise more caution, my lady.  A stone of fiery power, leading a young fox Pokémon down the path of temptation… that is a pattern the followers of the Blessed Helix know all too well.  I fear the hand of the Dome is at work in this matter.
Melissa: But we all need to get stronger and learn new ways to use our powers for the greater good!  The risks don’t matter!
Ruby: Please don’t tell me my only sensible minion is the over-excitable insect in fanatical service to an all-devouring hive mind.
Luna: Not at all.  I think you were doing a splendid job just as you were.  The smell of the humans’ flesh as it was atomised in your cerulean holocaust was nothing short of exhilarating.
Ruby: …somehow your approval is not as reassuring as I had hoped it would be, cat.
Spruce: Um… not that I don’t love hearing about Luna’s favourite smells or anything, but there’s a human just… standing in the road up there…
Boy: You there… stop…
Ruby: Who commands us so, insolent child?  Do you know to whom you speak?
Boy: No life… no voice… not without… the master…
Ruby: Hmm.  Vacant expression.  Limited vocabulary and poor sentence structure.  Glassy eyes.  Slow, laboured speech.  It’s remarkable; he’s almost exactly like ours.
Boy: Lie down… lie down and die…
Ruby: You know, in some respects this might even be an improvement.
Melissa: His thoughts smell… weird.  I can’t quite put my needle on it… It’s sort of like the parasites I stole from that wicked Vivillon we fought, how they don’t have any minds of their own.
Ruby: Mmm.  Probably because he’s being psychically dominated by the Kadabra that Lavoisier asked us to despatch.
Spruce: What?  He’s here!?
Ruby: Almost certainly. [Shouting] Come out of hiding, coward!  You are challenged to a duel of sorcery!
Kadabra: [Teleports into view] Ha-HA!  Sorcery-games, I’ve gotten so bored of, little-foxy!  Don’t we rather fancy instead a trifling little game of riddles?  Riddle me this, foxy: what walks on three legs in the evening, has a bed but never sleeps, makes some men blind but helps others to see, and is like a raven and a writing-desk?
Ruby: …you- I don’t- what?
Kadabra: You!  CONFUSION!
Ruby: That doesn’t even make s-aaaaaaaauuuughh!  Ooof!
Fisher: Treachery!  Villain, I shall smite you as the Voices will it!  FOR THE HELIX!
Kadabra: Your ancient fossil god has no power over me, little-shouty-duck-thing – for watch, and be amazed, as I bend the very nature of reality itself, and… THIS SPOON!
Fisher: …I beg your pardon?  The spoon bends, but- is it a metaphor for something?  Do you imply that I too, a faithful servant of the one true god, am like putty in your telekinetic ‘hands’?
Kadabra: CONFUSION!
Fisher: Aaaaaarrrrghh- oof!  Oh, alas, I am undone!  Bird Jesus, I implore you, send your divine wind to uplift the wings of your blessed child!
Ruby: …he means you, Spruce.
Spruce: I know, I know!  Face me, villain!
Kadabra: You have no hope!  BEHOLD, THE SPOON!
Spruce: Um… there… there is no spoon; you’re not actually holding anything.
Kadabra: CONFUSION!
Spruce: I don’t- you’re not even using an attack; you’re just yelling “Confusion!”
Ruby: It’s your Keen Eyes, you idiot; you can see through the illusions he’s creating with his Kinesis technique!  Hurry up and get him before he uses a real Psychic attack!
Spruce: Wow; neat!  Uh… hey, you!  It’s time you paid for your, uh-
Ruby: Oh, for- work on your combat banter later!  Just hit him!
Spruce: Oh!  Right!  QUICK ATTACK!
Kadabra: [thud]
Spruce: …did… did I… is he dead?
Luna: Hmm… let me see… [CRACK] He is now.
Spruce: …
Luna: What?

Continue reading “X Nuzlocke, episode 4: A Lot to Swallow”

Espurr and Meowstic

Coming to you from Los Angeles Airport as I wait for my connecting flight to Auckland!  Isn’t that exciting?  Well, no, not really, but this is my life apparently.  Anyway.

Espurr.  Bow before the perfection of Sugimori, etc etc.We’ve just had a dog, so now let’s have some cats.  We’ve had loads of cats before, but these ones at least have the decency to be weird, alien cats with mysterious powers.  I’m torn between wondering why we needed more cats after Persian, Delcatty, Purugly and Liepard, and being relieved that Espurr and Meowstic are not just the pampered pets with few notable powers that we’ve come to expect from cat Pokémon in the past.  These cats certainly have a few tricks up their sleeves… or rather, their ears (as we’ll see)… so let’s take a look and figure out what makes them worth our time.

Espurr and Meowstic are known as the ‘Restraint Pokémon’ and the ‘Constraint Pokémon.’  They possess absolutely devastating psychic powers, possibly the greatest of any non-legendary Psychic Pokémon described to date (though it’s hard to tell because any sort of quantification of psychic power is hard to come by in Pokémon) – the Pokédex credits Meowstic with the ability to disintegrate a heavy-duty truck with the sheer force of their telekinetic blasts.  Unfortunately, their control over these powers is somewhat lacking.  I’m not exactly certain how serious this lack of control is, but I think the implication is that actually unbinding that degree of power would mean subjecting everything in a 90-metre radius to the full force of their psionic wrath – this, in many cases, would probably be a bad idea.  The idea of someone’s ‘true power’ being too wild and dangerous to use except in the most dire of circumstances is a fairly well-explored one in fiction about super-powered characters, particularly psychic ones because mental abilities are often associated with discipline and force of will; I think even Pokémon has had one or two designs before that draw on the theme, like Golurk, whose overwhelming power is kept in check by the seal on his chest.  The weird thing about the way Espurr and Meowstic handle that trope is exactly how they keep their powers under control: they emit psychic energy from a pair of eyeball-patterned organs inside their ears, so they can apparently hold it in quite simply by folding up their ears to cover these glands.  So apparently these are the kind of psychic powers that can be blocked by flimsy layers of fur and cartilege.  Well, it makes sense that containment would involve something fairly straightforward – otherwise these Pokémon would surely have levelled Kalos long ago – but it does make the whole thing seem a little bit silly.  On the other hand, Espurr’s art and in-game model do a good job of conveying the idea that she’s basically a walking bomb – her posture is stiff, her eyes wide and staring, as if constantly under stress and potentially about to explode (this also gives her a very different aesthetic feel to previous cat Pokémon).  Meowstic appear, appropriately enough, to have grown a bit more comfortable with the whole thing; their movements remain understated and controlled, though, and they keep their ears firmly folded over, just in case.  Training these Pokémon, unusually, is an exercise in getting them to unleash power they already have – very carefully.

 The cunning male Meowstic.

Aside from the radical and dangerous psychic abilities, Meowstic’s other big thing is somewhat more obvious: pronounced sexual dimorphism.  The females are white with blue trim and yellow eyes, the males blue with white trim and blue-green eyes.  They also adopt very different battle roles – their stats are the same, but they learn very different sets of moves as they level; the males favour support techniques, while the females learn powerful special attacks.  This seems to subvert the kinds of roles traditionally assigned to male/female counterpart characters in video games – when there is an explicit contrast, female characters will regularly have support powers and often healing abilities, while male characters tend to be the heavy damage dealers (the age-old domestic woman/warrior man trope).  Nidoqueen, for instance, has a very similar selection of moves to Nidoking but is encouraged by her more defensive stat bias to favour their support options like Stealth Rock rather than going total-aggression like Nidoking tends to.  I’m not sure what to say about Meowstic’s inversion of the typical arrangement other than that it seems to be there, but it’s nice to see and makes a pleasant contrast to many other male/female Pokémon pairs (Pyroar, for instance, who sticks to the stereotypes despite the fact that the real behaviour of lions gives her a very good reason not too…).  Actually, the fact that Meowstic have a support archetype option at all is pretty odd considering the kind of things we’re told about them and the nature of their powers – maybe the thing to take from this is that the males are better at letting out very small, restricted doses of energy, while the females are capable of going to higher levels of intensity without losing control?

It’s unfortunate that Meowstic’s stats don’t quite reflect what we’re told about their tremendous capacity for destruction – one is rather led to expect phenomenal special attacking power, with relatively poor speed to represent the need for constant restraint.  In fact, although Meowstic are very fast, their special attack leaves quite a lot to be desired, which I suppose is a testament to the level of control these Pokémon can maintain over their powers… a little too much, if anything.  Either that, or reports of their might are greatly exaggerated (which, coming from the Pokédex, would admittedly not be a huge shock).  An excellent special movepool – Psychic or Psyshock, Thunderbolt, Energy Ball, Dark Pulse, Shadow Ball – means that Meowstic can at least bolster an uninspiring special attack score with strong type coverage.  There’s also Calm Mind and Charge Beam to think about, if you want to take a more direct route to powering up; the female also gets Stored Power, which gets stronger with every stat boost the user accrues and can outdamage Psychic after two Calm Minds.  Meowstic probably doesn’t have the defences to play that sort of game, especially without healing, but Stored Power is an unusual enough move to be worth looking into on anything that gets it.  Me First (again, only for the female) is also interesting but tricky to use; it anticipates an incoming attack with more power, but fails if the user is slower than the target, and also relies on being able to guess what kind of attacks are coming at you.  Really, Meowstic’s stat spread seems to belong more to some manner of supporter than a true focused attacker; passable but unremarkable in all areas except speed (and physical attack – don’t even go there), and with a respectable support movepool, this sounds awfully like a utility Pokémon – and, of course, Meowstic can do either, depending on gender.

 The destructive female Meowstic.

The difficulty with Meowstic’s bifurcated movepool is that a lot of the best moves, particularly from the female’s list, are actually available to both of them anyway through a variety of TMs.  What it all boils down to in terms of actually useful moves, as far as I can see, is that female Meowstic get Signal Beam, Me First and Stored Power while male ones get Mean Look and Misty Terrain (indeed, male Meowstic are at this point the only non-Fairy-type Pokémon to have access to this technique, for what it’s worth).  The real distinction between males and females is their hidden abilities, which reinforce the battle roles outlined for them by their level-up moves.  The female’s Competitive ability is a special attacker equivalent to Defiant, giving her a major special attack bonus whenever one of her stats is lowered by an opponent – kind of tricky to use, considering that lowering the enemy’s stats is not a particularly common tactic, but there are enough Pokémon with Intimidate running around that it’s worth a try, and Meowstic might actually do some serious damage if she could grab a Competitive boost.  Infiltrator, one of the regular abilities available to both genders (which allows attacks to bypass Reflect, Light Screen and Substitutes), might end up being just as useful for an offensive Meowstic.  The male’s ability, though, is far shinier (although in flavour terms it’s very difficult to see how it fits the ‘restrained’ Meowstic): the ever-delightful Prankster, which grants speed priority to all support moves.  Being able to go first with his most important techniques means that a male Meowstic doesn’t need to focus so much on his speed and can afford to train his defences more instead, and even common moves like Reflect, Light Screen, Thunder Wave and especially Substitute have a lot to gain from an automatic first strike.  The male also has access to a couple of unusual support moves the female lacks; the most notable ones are Mean Look, which could potentially make an interesting addition to a Calm Mind set if you manage to trap something with lacklustre special attacking capabilities, and Misty Terrain, the new Fairy-type field move (Meowstic is in fact the only non-Fairy-type Pokémon who can use this move so far).  Misty Terrain blocks all major status ailments for Pokémon on the ground, and also dampens the effects of Dragon attacks – handy if for some reason you can’t have an actual Fairy or Steel Pokémon around.

More of a distinction between what these two Pokémon can do would be nice – the separate level-up movepools aren’t much good if most of the moves they contain are either not actually exclusive or kind of silly (Imprison and Miracle Eye, anyone?).  I would have liked to see some more unusual stuff showing up, for both of them, like Gravity, Power Split and Healing Wish for the male, or Zap Cannon, Moonblast and Aura Sphere for the female.  It’s also a shame the female’s hidden ability doesn’t really match up to the male’s Prankster, which is one of the best abilities in the game – I might have gone with something like Technician and stuffed her level-up movepool with really weird special attacks like Hidden Power and Silver Wind.  The concept is pretty neat, though, if a little underdeveloped, and the gender differences add some spice; it certainly puts Delcatty to shame.  Meowstic are the kind of Pokémon that live and die on their movepools, so it’ll be interesting to see what happens to them once we have some sixth-generation move tutors running around…

Looking for Trouble

I arrive at the formerly vacant office off Rouge Plaza and come face to face with its new occupant.  My first thought is “oh, no; not this idiot again,” followed closely by “didn’t I kill him?” and shortly after that by “oh, gods, why didn’t I kill him?”  The man in question is none other than Looker, the Interpol agent who has been hounding the steps of the Pokémon world’s villains since Platinum, partially responsible (in, I must stress, the most vague and advisory of capacities) for the arrest of Team Galactic’s chief scientist, Charon, and six of Team Plasma’s Seven Sages (I choose to believe he was responsible for failing to stop the Shadow Triad from rescuing the seventh, Ghetsis).  Now he has come to Paris to start a detective agency, and has a proposal for me: he wants me to be his partner in this affair.  I look him in the eye and give him my flattest, driest “no.”  Unfortunately, Looker has the persistence of a Professor asking for help with a Pokédex, and I am eventually forced, after several hours of conversation, to say “yes,” just to make him shut up.  My first assignment – to ‘train’ me and make sure I have what it takes to be a hard-boiled, steel-jawed, gum-shoed, cliché-slinging idiot – is to retrieve five sparkly tickets from around Lumiose City, having been told by Looker exactly where they all are.  With an exaggerated sigh, I go after one and send my Pokémon after the other four.  Looker is astonished at the speed with which I have accomplished his task, and proposes that we set out on our first mission: investigate reports of Lumiose children spending more and more time in dark alleyways, against the wishes of their parents.

“So,” I think to myself as I hunt the children down, “it has come to this.  Investigating a street gang of French preschoolers.  This is the life you chose.”  My optimism, lurking deep in a black corner of my soul, responds, “oh, come on; some of them were at least ten.  And did you see the size of that Swinub the six-year-old had?”  I tell my optimism to shut up; things are getting interesting.  The leader of the gang is not a child at all, but a Pokémon: a somewhat temperamental Espurr named Mimi, whose human mouthpiece is a girl whose name we later learn is Emma.  Looker initially assumes that Emma is Mimi’s trainer and asks her to recall her Pokémon, but Emma objects, somewhat indignantly, that she doesn’t need to be a trainer or use Pokéballs to be friends with a Pokémon (I’m sure the weight of this sentiment doesn’t need to be explained).  As it turns out, the reason the children have been spending so much time in the alleys of late is that this is where their friends Emma and Mimi live.  Emma is apparently an orphan, and Mimi has no trainer.  While sympathetic, Looker still needs to wrap up the case and earn his commission, so he comes up with a “genius plan”: have Emma and Mimi live at the Looker Bureau as his assistants.  Oh, yes!  By all means!  Invite the homeless gang leader and her telepathic cat to live in our officeThere is no way this could possibly go wrong.  Mimi is initially reticent, and Emma will not abandon her, but I am assigned to befriend Mimi, and manage to bring her around with my inimitable charm, melodious singing voice, and kickin’ dance moves.  All’s well that ends well.  Apparently.

Our next client is a Japanese tourist who arrives at the office while Emma is out.  She speaks no French (…or English… or whatever it is that we’re supposed to be speaking), but Looker honestly believes he speaks Japanese and gets the impression that she is offended because no-one has offered her tea yet.  While he’s out getting her some, Emma and Mimi arrive home.  Emma does speak fluent Japanese (…as all French hobos do) and on top of that Mimi has some kind of empathic communication power, so that I can understand, if not the precise meaning of their speech, at least their general tenor: the Japanese woman (who is very insulting about both Looker and Emma) has had her Pokémon stolen by thugs at Lumiose Station.  When Looker returns, Emma explains the situation and recommends that we refuse the job on the grounds that the woman is so unpleasant (I’m starting to like this kid), besides which, the people who are probably responsible – the Lumiose Gang – are familiar to her, and are as nasty as they come.  Looker is outraged at the very suggestion and leaves immediately.  Emma begs me to follow, since Looker doesn’t even have any Pokémon and can’t possibly go toe-to-toe with the Lumiose Gang (he’s mentioned having a Pokémon partner once, but lost it on a mission long ago – I seem to remember him having a Croagunk on Platinum).  I question Emma’s willingness to put me in danger when she was so worried about letting Looker go, but she turns on the waterworks and says Looker has confided to her that I make him feel like he has his lost partner back.  I grumble that I’m doing this for the Pokémon, not for them, and head for Lumiose Station.

I arrive to find Looker doing his darndest to talk the Lumiose Gang down before they realise he has no Pokémon (not so much akin to bringing a knife to a gunfight, as to bringing a bit of an old bone to the Battle of the Somme).  Luckily for him, the three gangsters are not exactly Champion material (despite their fearsome names: Eris, for the Greek goddess of strife and discord, Sedna, for the dark and vengeful Inuit goddess of the deep ocean, and Nix, for the Greek primordial goddess of night, Nyx – that last one is a dude, incidentally).  As I finish destroying them, Emma turns up and demands that the fighting stop – and they listen, because Emma is the boss of the Lumiose Gang.  I remain astonished by Looker’s taste in friends.  For what it’s worth, she never wanted to be the boss; they just kind of decided she should be after she wiped the floor with them in a battle.  What – with Mimi?  For an Espurr, she’s pretty damn clever and powerful, but really?  What’s more, it turns out they only stole the tourist’s Pokémon to get Looker’s attention, because they wanted their gang leader back.  Much as she tries to deny any interest, Emma has some pretty serious underworld clout!  Again, I question her decision-making processes and wonder, under my breath, why she didn’t just talk to the gang herself rather than put Looker in danger, but I’m beginning to think this chick might actually be worth having around – how often do you meet a teenaged French hobo who speaks fluent Japanese, commands the respect of a ruthless street gang, and is apparently some kind of Pokémon training prodigy to rival… well, me?  Looker, again showcasing his truly unique people skills, invites the Lumiose Gang to visit Emma any time they like, provided they swear to reform and commit no more wickedness, which they obligingly do.

Back at the office, Emma is becoming concerned that she and Mimi have been living with Looker, with free rent and board, for some weeks now and doing very little work.  I assure her that this is no problem, as Looker himself has been living there for much longer and has yet to do any work at all.  Looker too encourages her not to worry, since he has plenty of money saved up – a lie, and an utterly transparent one at that – and her studies are more important at her age anyway.  Learning how to be a detective is work, in his book.  Emma is unconvinced.  Without telling Looker, she begins searching for part-time work in Lumiose City.  I nearly suggest that she simply borrow an Amulet Coin and start challenging Gyms with Mimi, since the prize money will surely be much greater than whatever she could scrounge from battles in the alleys (presumably her previous source of income), but the thought occurs that she will probably be more useful if kept out of the public eye and allowed to maintain her underworld contacts in Lumiose City.  You never know when you might need a way in with the gangs…

Ridiculous quote log:

…all of it.  Just… all of it.