The Babadook asks:

In celebration of Pride what’s your ideal queer-themed team? Include nature’s, movesets, abilities and held items?

It’s still June in the US; I’m not too late!

Hmmmmmmmmmmmm…

I feel like… movesets and abilities and held items would mostly have to be really specific jokes that I just don’t think I can do well, being only the G of LGBT and not having all that much insight into the other letters.  We can pick six Pokémon, though, and I think we should probably start with Pokémon who have gender properties that are in some way interesting…

Continue reading “The Babadook asks:”

Champions of the Pokémon League, Part 8: Diantha

Diantha in her angel-winged white coat.  Note the jewelled necklace - that's her Digivice.

Glamorous but relatable, ethereal but down-to-earth, the Kalosian Champion, Diantha, is everything you want in an actress – but how does she stack up as a Pokémon League Champion?  She certainly has the look down, with an extravagant costume reminiscent of angel wings, and more importantly she also has the right kind of attitude to Pokémon and training.  Sadly – and I may as well be up front about this – the story of X and Y doesn’t give Diantha very much of an opportunity to do anything, something that was rather a disappointment to me.  Still, she gets a few good lines, and when you get her into a battle she’s the equal of any of her predecessors, so let’s take a look at her and see what makes this Champion tick.

We first meet Diantha in Lumiose City at the Café Soleil, and this scene is probably her most interesting because she has the opportunity to speak directly to Lysandre and set up a compelling argument against his beliefs – even here, the game doesn’t let her have many lines, but she makes them count.  Lysandre puts to Diantha the question of whether, as an actress, she would prefer to stay young forever, since it is her duty to inspire people with her beauty.  He clearly expects the answer ‘yes,’ but Diantha finds the question bizarre – being forever young would mean playing the same kinds of roles forever, but she views change and age as essential parts of the experience of human life, and eagerly anticipates the variety of more mature characters she will play as she grows older.  Their conversation betrays a certain narrowness and superficiality on Lysandre’s part; despite his comment that Diantha’s great contribution consists in “[moving] the multitudes with her excellent acting,” it seems clear that he regards her physical beauty as the most important aspect of her craft – to him, Diantha really is just a pretty face.  Her second appearance makes it clear that Diantha herself has a very different understanding of what she does.  We meet her again in Coumarine City, where she is talking with Professor Sycamore at the monorail station.  Diantha offers some comments on Mega Evolution, suggesting that perhaps the reason it seems to be limited to Kalos is because it has something to do with the legendary Pokémon of the region (if Professor Sycamore is correct in his eventual conclusion that Mega Stones were evolutionary stones irradiated with the energy of the Ultimate Weapon three thousand years ago, she’s not far off – although Xerneas and Yveltal don’t seem to have been directly involved with the weapon’s first use, they command similar powers).  More interesting from a characterisation perspective, though, is what she talks about after he leaves.  Sycamore had mentioned the bonds between trainer and Pokémon as a critical component of Mega Evolution, and Diantha makes an interesting comparison with the way she approaches acting: she sees it as an exercise in empathy.  In order to enjoy a role and play it effectively, Diantha says, she needs to put herself in her character’s shoes and understand what they have in common.  She also believes in taking the same approach to interacting with both people and Pokémon.  Essentially, the reason she’s both a successful actress and a great Pokémon trainer is because she’s figured out that the two professions share a key skill – empathy – and made it a part of her general approach to life.

 Diantha's Radiant Chamber, in all its stained-glass glory, seems intended to be 'heavenly' in its appearance, like her costume.

And that… is the last we see of her.  Diantha doesn’t take any further part in the storyline of X and Y until your troubles with Team Flare are all over and you reach the cathedral of the Elite Four.  Realistically enough, she seems to have almost forgotten you herself by this point, but quickly realises that she does know who you are and what you’ve done for Kalos after all – which brings us to the battle.  Like Blue and Cynthia, Diantha is very hard to pin down to a preferred Pokémon type or battling style.  She appears to favour Rock- and Dragon-types, with two of each on her team, but her signature Pokémon, the strongest in her line-up, whose physical appearance is recalled in the flaring white skirts of her coat, is a Fairy/Psychic dual-type, Gardevoir.  In Hawlucha, her opener, Diantha has a strong and fast physical attacker with excellent type coverage thanks to Flying Press, Hawlucha’s idiosyncratic signature move, while Tyrantrum adds a sledgehammer to her tool kit.  Aurorus provides Reflect and Light Screen support, though with two double-weaknesses it may not last long enough to set up more than one.  Goodra is a resilient special tank with a wide variety of powerful attacks.  Gourgeist is surprisingly tough and can hit almost anything for super-effective damage by adding the Ghost type to Pokémon with Trick-or-Treat.  Last, but most definitely not least, is Gardevoir, who proves that Diantha can put her money where her mouth is when it comes to empathy and bonding with her Pokémon – by using her Mega Charm to Digivolve Gardevoir, Diantha can turn her partner into as great a threat as the whole of the rest of her team put together (as I learned to my cost when I first challenged her and won with my Venusaur’s last three hit points).  Mega Gardevoir’s Moonblast and Psychic attacks are phenomenal, more powerful than anything a Champion has brought to bear against us before, and without a Steel-type to resist her primary attacks she is one of the most dangerous single opponents the games have ever produced.  Ironically, Diantha’s greatest vulnerability is probably to Fairy Pokémon, since she has three Pokémon that are weak to their attacks, none that resist them, and only one super-effective attack to hit back with (Hawlucha’s Poison Jab); she also has great difficulty with Ice- and Steel-types.  Still, her weak points are certainly less easy to exploit than those of predecessors like Water-type master Wallace and the closeted Flying-type specialist Lance, making her a solid end-game challenge.

 Diantha's partner, Mega Gardevoir.

(Of course, if you’ve been using the Exp. Share consistently throughout the game Diantha is probably a walk in the park, but hey, who’s counting?)

The variety of Pokémon we see on Diantha’s team – in terms of not only their types and skills but their personalities and dispositions – may be intended to recall her desire for variety in her career and her life.  Partly I’m just saying this because I can’t find any other sort of theme to link her team together, but it seems to me that a wide variety of popular film genres have Pokémon representatives on her team; she has action (Hawlucha), horror (Gourgeist), family/comedy (Goodra and Aurorus), disaster (Tyrantrum) and, of course, romance (Gardevoir) all covered.  Perhaps that’s entirely in my head and the designers just wanted to give her a diverse bag of the new Pokémon the sixth generation has to offer, but it makes sense, given Diantha’s stated interest in playing a variety of roles, that she might have acted in many different genres, possibly meeting many different Pokémon in the process.

 The recently-revealed legendary Pokémon, Diancie, whom I'm bringing up because I know someone else will if I don't.  A lot of people speculate about a connection between Diantha and Diancie, but I don't believe there is any, because the similarity between their names doesn't exist in Japanese, where Diantha's name is Carnet, and because it makes as much sense for the design of her coat to be based on Gardevoir as on Diancie.

One last thing that’s worth mentioning about Diantha is her reappearance in the Café Soleil after the end of the game.  Diantha here offers you the opportunity to trade for a Ralts holding the Gardevoirite Mega Stone, so that you can raise a Mega Gardevoir of your very own.  This is not in itself particularly interesting; what is noteworthy is that she actually takes the time to think about how the Pokémon involved in this trade feel about it – something I can’t recall any other character in the games ever doing (although, granted, most in-game trades are with random NPCs who have no other discernable purpose in life).  “We Trainers all feel a bit nervous when trading Pokémon,” she comments as the trade begins, “but I’m sure it’s nothing compared to how the Pokémon must feel!”  When the switch has been completed, she even takes a moment to address the Pokémon you’ve given her directly, asking “was it a bit shocking to be traded?” and promising to care for it to the best of her ability.  A tiny detail at the very end of the game, but one that once again demonstrates that Diantha really does know what she’s talking about when it comes to empathy and consistently makes an honest effort to understand the perspectives of her Pokémon on their lives together.

On some level Diantha’s non-existent involvement in the Team Flare crisis makes sense, since she’s very clear that she’s only a Pokémon trainer “in [her] off time” – acting is her real career, and for all her power, she’s not really a ‘saving the world’ kind of girl.  Still, I find her remoteness from the actual plot as disappointing as I did Iris’s, and I don’t think Diantha even gets as much screen time (ironically) as Iris did in Black and White.  Having said that, she makes a good effort to stay relevant in the time she does get – and I can always hope for more in any future games.  Though she never gets the chance to be a hero, through her dialogue she does manage to establish herself as a role model for Kalos’ trainers and a champion of a worldview opposite to Team Flare’s.  Lysandre wants to put the beauty of the world on a pedestal and keep it from changing for all time, but Diantha wants to engage with and understand beauty, and prefers to embrace change, for better or worse, which, ultimately, is what the central conflict of X and Y is about.

Throne of Games

Victory Road captivates me.  The Pokémon are powerful, of course, and as I make my way through, around and up the mountain I realise that even stronger ones fill the skies – Skarmory and even Hydreigon swoop down to attack me while I navigate the outdoor sections of the corkscrewing path.  That’s only half of what catches my interest, though.  The slopes of the mountain have been terraced extensively, surely a mammoth project, and almost every terrace bears the remains of several imposing walls, sometimes even intact towers.  The settlement here was fortified, and quite heavily.  I wonder how long the Pokémon League has made its home on this mountain, and what connection it might have had to the ruined fortress that protects its slopes.  Like all Pokémon League headquarters, this place is barely accessible even for adept trainers, but it’s not nearly as remote as any of the others I’ve seen, like the Kanto League squirreled away atop the Indigo Plateau, or the Hoenn League in isolated Ever Grande City – in fact, its position on this mountain gives it a commanding aspect over a good chunk of central Kalos.  Someone could come here for seclusion, yes – but it could be a very useful strategic point as well, especially since there seem to be natural springs on the mountain.  A siege would be almost unthinkable.  Were the original owners driven out by the Pokémon League, or did they abandon the citadel of their own accord?  Or perhaps the people who built it were Kalos’ first Pokémon League (although, if so, it’s strange that the walls should be in such disrepair).  As I wander through the ruins, musing and taking notes on something that looks like an altar, I am disturbed by none other than Serena.

Serena has been thinking long and hard about our confrontation with Lysandre beneath Geosenge Town, and has some things to say.  “Lysandre chose only Team Flare.  You and I chose everyone but Team Flare.  But since our positions forced our hands, you can’t really say any of us were right.  So maybe if both sides have something to say, it’s best to meet halfway.”  Yes.  I agree.  We should have used the ultimate weapon to wipe out one half of the people and Pokémon in the world.  That would have been reasonable.  I don’t think Serena has quite thought this through.  This game seems to think that it has successfully portrayed Lysandre as a morally ambiguous villain, but I have to disagree.  After all, neither Ghetsis nor Giovanni ever intended mass genocide (Maxie and Archie might have caused such through their own incompetence, but since it wasn’t part of the plan I’ll let them off).  I get that it’s tragic that Lysandre’s spirit was broken by his frustrated efforts to do good in the world, but he still pulled a total moral and ethical one-eighty when he decided to dig up something named “the ultimate weapon” and kill everything.  Whether he’s alive or dead now, I can’t say I have much sympathy for him.

Serena just shakes her head in confusion at all this.  She wants a battle – so I’ll give her one.  Serena’s first Pokémon, Meowstic, trades attacks with my newly-evolved Goodra, Pytho, for a while, and Pytho is weakened but prevails in the end.  Serena’s second Pokémon, an Altaria, tries to weaken Pytho’s special attacks with Confide, but it isn’t enough to ward off her Dragon Pulse.  I try to defeat Serena’s Delphox with rain-boosted Muddy Water, but Pytho is really running out of steam by this time and can’t handle it, so I send in Odysseus to finish Delphox with Surf.  Jolteon is up next, and I know better than to leave Odysseus where he is, so I switch in Pan to soak up the incoming Discharge and crush Jolteon with Wood Hammer.  Last of all is Absol, who finishes off Pan with Slash.  After a moment’s thought, I decide Serena deserves everything I can throw at her, and call out Xerneas to drop a Moonblast on her.  This ends predictably.  Although Serena is upset that she still can’t beat me, she reaffirms her faith that our rivalry will continue to make us both stronger, and wishes me luck at the Pokémon League.

Ah, yes… the Pokémon League.

At the summit of the mountain is a huge cathedral, where the Elite Four hold court.  A building like this, in the Middle Ages, would have taken decades, maybe even a century or more, to complete.   With Pokémon, doubtless the task would have been quicker, but then again, I don’t think anyone ever tried to build a cathedral on a mountaintop in France.  With a casual flash of my badges, I am allowed inside and make my way to the central hall – no-one seems to care much about checking my status as a challenger; I got past the gates at the base of the mountain and survived Victory Road, so I must be worth noticing.  Like the Unova Elite Four, the Elite Four of Kalos hold no internal rank – they consider each other equals, and so can be challenged in any order.  The Fire Pokémon master, Malva, stylish and self-assured, lounges on a redwood throne, unfazed by the columns of raging fire that light her Blazing Chamber.  Her smugness falters when Odysseus ploughs through her entire team – Pyroar, Torkoal, Chandelure, and a passionate Talonflame – with Surf.  The Water Pokémon master, Siebold, an elegantly dressed chef who considers both cuisine and battle to be forms of art, stands in quiet contemplation of the artificial waterfalls that cascade down the walls of his Flood Chamber.  This battle is a forgone conclusion with not one but two powerful Grass Pokémon on my team; Pan and Ilex crush his Clawitzer, Gyarados, Starmie and Barbaracle (his partner, with its double-weakness to Grass attacks, proving extremely disappointing).  The huge stone wings that adorn the Dragonmark Chamber unfurl to reveal the dragon skull throne of the league’s Dragon master – sweet, kindly old Drasna, her dress adorned with the centuries-old claws and teeth of her ancestors’ partners.  My own Dragon Pokémon, Pytho, is a worthy match for her Dragalge and Altaria, leaving Xerneas to deal with her Druddigon and her Noivern partner.  Finally, between the two enormous swords that dominate the Ironworks Chamber, Wikstrom, a Steel Pokémon master in gilded mediaeval plate armour, requests the honour of a duel.  Orion is equal to his Klefki and Probopass, but falters against his mighty Aegislash; Odysseus is able to finish things up and take care of Wikstrom’s Scizor.  With the Elite Four behind me, all that remains is to take on the Champion.

I stand on an elevator platform to be carried up to the Champion’s room, and find myself standing at the centre of a circular chamber, its walls hung with white veils, the floor painted to resemble stained glass, and a soft white glow permeating everything.  Facing me is none other than the graceful, classy actress, Diantha.

Yes!  Totally called it!

Diantha doesn’t recognise me at first, but soon makes the connection between me and Professor Sycamore and realises that I’m the one who defeated Team Flare.  I suggest that she dispense with the battle and just make me Champion in recognition of my achievements.  Diantha laughs.  She thinks I’m joking, the fool.  Diantha’s first Pokémon out is, to my surprise, a Hawlucha.  I didn’t think wrestling was really her style – but maybe they did an action movie together or something.  I had Pan the Chestnaught taking point, and that clearly isn’t going to work, so I send in Xerneas, who takes a nasty Poison Jab but blows Hawlucha away with Moonblast.  Diantha’s not done surprising me and sends out a Pokémon I haven’t even seen before: Tyrantrum, a great rust-coloured tyrannosaur who must be the evolved form of Tyrunt.  Reasoning that this is a Rock-type, I decide to have Xerneas Horn Leech some of his health back – which turns out to be a bad move, because Horn Leech does minimal damage and Tyrantrum fires back a Head Smash which knocks out poor Xerneas.  So… really high physical defence, and it isn’t weak to Grass attacks.  I’ve been assuming this whole time that they’re Rock/Dark, but I actually have no idea what type Tyrunt and Tyrantrum are.  Well… they must be Rock-types because that’s a Rule for fossil Pokémon, and they don’t look Poison, Fire, Steel, Bug, Flying or Grass… I switch in Pytho and aim a Dragon Pulse, knocking out Tyrantrum and confirming his Rock/Dragon identity.  Diantha counters with an Aurorus, who takes the time to set up a Reflect as I switch to Orion – ‘bad move,’ I think as Orion one-shots poor Aurorus with Aura Sphere.  She picks her own Goodra next, and I leave Orion in, aiming to take it out with his Dragon Pulse, but failing to anticipate the Fire Blast that comes our way.  Goodra is weakened, though, and doesn’t stand up long to Pytho.  Gourgeist is next to step up, and I decide to try Ilex the Venusaur.  Ilex and Gourgeist trade Sludge Bombs and Phantom Forces for an excruciatingly long time – Diantha picks this moment to use both of her Full Restores, and Gourgeist uses a crafty new move, Trick-or-Treat, to turn Ilex into a Ghost-type and deny him his normal bonus on Poison attacks – but we eventually prevail.  Diantha is down to her last and strongest Pokémon: Gardevoir.  As Gardevoir takes the field, Diantha’s hand moves to the blue-green gem in her necklace, and I realise that it’s a Digivice.  She’s only just getting started.

Diantha’s Mega Gardevoir is terrifying in her elegance.  Moving with perfect, ethereal grace, she flings Pan across the room with Psychic, knocking him out before he can make a move, and hits Pytho with a Moonblast that leaves her seeing stars.  Odysseus manages to get in a Waterfall charge thanks to his Quick Claw, but drops when Gardevoir strikes him with a Thunderbolt from the tip of her finger.  That leaves… Ilex, who is weak to Psychic.  I’ve already healed him, and Gardevoir isn’t going to like his Sludge Bomb one bit, but still… this is going to be close.  I call out my Venusaur and activate my own Digivice.  ‘This had better work,’ I think as a wave of force erupts from Gardevoir’s splayed palm and rushes towards us.  Ilex nearly buckles under the pressure as I cover my face against the roiling psychic blast… but when I open my eyes, he’s still standing, with a princely 3 HP remaining.  Gardevoir and Diantha blink with surprise in unison as Ilex tosses back the biggest Sludge Bomb he can manage.  Gardevoir collapses.

BOOYEAH!

Ridiculous quote log:

“Vet-vet-vet- VETERAN!  Veteran all the way!  What do you think of my theme song?”
Your song is bad and you should feel bad.