One lunatic's love-hate relationship with the Pokémon franchise, and his addled musings on its rights, wrongs, ins and outs. Come one, come all, and indulge my delusions of grandeur as I inflict my opinions on anyone within shouting distance.
…um… Germanic, maybe? It doesn’t sound like a Latin or Greek root. Google it?
Doing it now. Hmm; Old French, apparently.
Oh, right; that makes sense.
Ultimately from a Germanic root, though – ‘hug,’ meaning ‘mind’ or ‘spirit.’ And it gets into Mediaeval Latin from there. Declines as Hugo, Hugonis.
What, ‘mind’ or ‘spirit’?
No, Mediaeval Latin.
Oh, that goes without saying. It’s an appropriate name at any rate; Hugh certainly isn’t lacking in spirit.
No indeed, burdened with something of an overabundance of it, I would think. What do you think of him?
I like that his storyline provides a link to the old games, as someone who was personally affected by what happened back then. He makes the whole thing seem more real, shows us the wider consequences of all that plot. And he sets up conflict with the ex-Team Plasma guys, Rood’s bunch, which would otherwise fall flat because the player just isn’t going to have the same emotional reaction to them and is going to listen to them with a bit of a more neutral perspective.
Mmm. I think it’s important to have someone like Hugh in the story, someone uncompromising, because one of the important themes of those games is the idea that recognising that the ideas of people who are opposed to you can be important and valuable – like, the problem with Team Plasma, the way the games present it-
Besides secretly wanting to take over the world.
–well, yes, besides that, their problem isn’t that they want to change the way people relate to Pokémon; their problem is that they’re uncompromising. They’re zealots. You see that most clearly in Castelia City, with Burgh, because he actually says explicitly that he wants to incorporate some of their ideas into his training philosophy; he thinks they have a point, and they absolutely do. They refuse to make that kind of concession to our side, though. And I think it’s important to have Hugh in the game as someone on the ‘good’ side who is equally uncompromising, just to stress that you can have that kind of problem from both sides of a conflict, because there isn’t really a ‘good’ character like that in the original games.
What about Cheren? He’s pretty black-and-white, if you’ll excuse the pun.
Oh, I think the pun is entirely appropriate; I think that’s very much a part of what the developers meant by choosing those titles. But go on.
Well, Cheren is fairly uncompromising in his attitude to Team Plasma; there’s never any question in his mind that they could be anything other than thugs. He’s still pretty hardline about them by the time Black and White 2 come around.
True, but Cheren in the original games sort of has surprisingly little involvement with the Team Plasma storyline. Looking back through it, it’s actually really weird how little he does. He helps you in the really short fight at Wellspring Cave, then again when you corner Zinzolin and a bunch of grunts in Driftveil City, where he actually seems totally dismissive of them – he talks about fighting them for Clay so that he can get stronger, like they’re just target practice for him. Then he… goes to the Dragonspiral Tower with Brycen, but they don’t show up until the party’s over, and he’s there when you fight Team Plasma in the Relic Castle but doesn’t say or do anything important; likewise at the final showdown with N at the palace of the Elite Four. I don’t think he ever says a single word to either N or Ghetsis again after you first meet them in Accumula Town.
Whereas Hugh gets involved pretty much every time you meet or fight Team Plasma in Black and White 2 and has lots of dialogue with them; I see your point. He has personal motivation that Cheren doesn’t, and his emotions ride a lot higher. Cheren’s much more distanced and logical about the whole thing. Still, Hugh and Cheren do have a lot in common, aside from Hugh being so much more hot-tempered. They sort of bond a little, don’t they?
Do they? As I recall, Hugh is rather prickly towards him. You remember that scene just after winning your first badge, outside the Gym, where Hugh is waiting to challenge Cheren? Cheren says he needs to go back inside and get ready, but Hugh get mad and calls him a coward or something because he wanted to have his challenge right then and there, in the street!
Oh, Hugh’s attitude improves later, after his Gym battle. “Cheren sure knows a lot, and he fought those Team Plasma thugs too;” that’s from the part where Cheren teaches you how dark grass works – Hugh comes to admire his skill and conviction very quickly. Which sort of makes sense, because Hugh’s a lot like Cheren was in the first games, in the kind of singleminded drive he has. Cheren doesn’t have any direction, though; he just wants to be stronger for the sake of strength itself, whereas Hugh has a very clearly defined goal; he wants to get his sister’s Purrloin back, or, failing that, avenge its loss. Actually, when you think of it that way, he sort of combines Cheren and Bianca’s most important personality traits into one character – he’s like Bianca in that he’s enthusiastic and energetic, and wants more out of strength than just being strong, and like Cheren in that he’s determined and focused.
Hmm. I hadn’t thought of it like that; that’s a neat way of looking at it, structurally. So, moving on… if you remember when we played Black and White 2 together http://pokemaniacal.tumblr.com/tagged/b2w2, we had this sort of running joke where we thought Hugh was a bit of a psychopath? A couple of people were actually a little upset by it, I think.
Ah, it was all in the spirit of fun. How much of what you write is ever 100% serious?
I kinda did mean it, though! Well, some of it, anyway. The stuff his own damn parents say about him in Aspertia City-
Wait, he has parents?
Yes! Hang on, I quoted them in the entry; let me just find it… here http://pokemaniacal.tumblr.com/post/39827151998/white-2-playthrough-journal-episode-1-where-the. Yeah, when you talk to his mother she says that she hopes you’ll keep Hugh on the right path and stop him from getting into trouble because he’s – and here I quote – “the sort of person who lets his rage build up inside him.” And his father starts to say “his goal is…” and then just trails off ominously. I mean, really, how the hell was I supposed to take that?
…well, after lines like that I think everything else you said was entirely justified. Doesn’t he kind of blow up at someone early on for being careless with their Pokémon?
Yeah, outside Floccesy Town when the farmer’s Herdier wanders off and he screams at them because it could be lost or dead or whatever. And there’s that whole obsession he has with his own rage…
Don’t forget his ‘shoot first, ask questions later’ attitude towards all Team Plasma, including Rood’s guys. Kid does have his ‘ticking time bomb’ moments from time to time.
In fairness, Hugh’s attitude does make a certain amount of sense eventually, once you get his backstory. Even his outburst against the farmer in Floccesy Town – I mean, I still don’t think that was reasonable, but coming from someone with his particular background, it’s understandable that he might feel that way. And, like, to be completely fair to him, there actually was a Team Plasma operative skulking around when that Herdier got lost! I mean… kind of a low percentage contingency there, but still…
And he gets better, too.
Mmm. That’s basically his whole character development right there – learning to take a more nuanced perspective on everything that’s happening in Unova while still retaining his core ideals. And that kind of culminates when he does his Inspiring Speech at the… y’know, the meteor crater, where Kyurem lives…
The Giant Chasm.
That’s the one. You know, when Rood shows up with a bunch of Team Plasma separatists to… I guess, like… stage a peaceful protest or something similarly useless, and Hugh encourages them to fight for their beliefs, recognising now that they’re fundamentally on the same side as him despite their past actions.
I remember. I think what I got from that mostly sounded like “you may be a vegetarian, but the time to eat meat is NOW!” They’re pacifists in the first place because their Pokémon are ones that they stole as part of Team Plasma and they think they have a duty to help and protect them now. The ideals that Hugh asks them to sacrifice are… literally what separates them from the people they’d be fighting.
And what good does it do, anyway? You and Hugh are both there, and who are you fighting anyway? A bunch of grunts? And Rood just has a bunch of his own grunts. Are they really going to be all that helpful?
Well, I think the idea is more that there are a lot of Ghetsis’ minions around, and it would take you a while to deal with all of them. Rood’s forces can help you to push through more quickly. And I would imagine that Rood himself is probably comparable in skill to Zinzolin, so he’s not exactly a pushover. Besides, however much we pick at the rhetoric, it does work.
Well, yeah, but Team Plasma grunts aren’t exactly hard to influence. He asks them “why do you have Pokémon by your sides?” and if actually you think about that for a minute, the answer is… well… because they stole the lot of them two years ago, haven’t been able to return them to their original trainers for one reason or another, and feel responsible for taking care of them. The idea is there, the spirit is there, the eloquence…
It doesn’t really help that Hugh doesn’t quite seem to know what the word ‘ideals’ actually means.
Well, to be perfectly honest, I don’t think anyone in the entire fifth generation knows what the word ‘ideals’ means, not even Zekrom. Or ‘truth’ for that matter.
Oh, they definitely don’t know what ‘truth’ means. But back to Hugh. Is his head a durian?
Yeah, the fruit. His hair looks like a big blue durian.
I always placed him as more of a hedgehog, actually. Sorta reminds me of Sonic, now that I think of it. So, uh… does this mean we’re running out of things to say?
Well, I think that whether Hugh’s head is a durian is a very important question, but I suppose we could wrap it up.
I guess if I had to sum up Hugh in one phrase, really at any point in the story, it would be “the ends justify the means” – which, again, is interesting because it’s the same kind of attitude that typifies Team Plasma, and a lot of other Pokémon villains as well, actually, particularly Maxie and Archie.
He puts his own ideals ahead of those of others.
At the same time though, he’s one of the most ‘complete’ people at the end of the story. The games leave him in a place that makes sense; he’s learned a lot and he’s more of a whole and happy person. He even gets Purrloin back in the end – well, Liepard now, but still – and in the process he’s managed to find it in himself to forgive the ex-Team Plasma guys in Rood’s faction.
Yeah. I still think he’s a bit nuts, but I really like the perspective he adds to the game and how he shows us someone who was personally affected by Team Plasma’s past actions – and gives context to Rood and the separatists’ desire to atone for their crimes. I think people tend to regard Black and White as better games than the sequels, but the sequels do a lot of things right too, and Hugh is one of them, more or less!
We touch down outside the route 22 entrance to the cave network that leads into the Giant Chasm. Jim, Hugh and I sneak inside and prepare for a surprise attack on the two Team Plasma guards within, but are cut short when a third grunt approaches to tell them that they’re being relieved – it’s time for everyone to gather in the crater forest. The third grunt turns out to be our old friend, Rood’s spy. In recognition of the minor service he has performed for us, Hugh refrains from crushing him like a bug, and actually seems almost apologetic. I think he may have finally learned to distinguish between the two factions of Team Plasma; he even expresses a belief that justice for Rood’s group will never be possible as long as the loyalists’ actions continue to tarnish the name of Team Plasma. The agent thanks him for his understanding, and regretfully explains that he must leave us, as he still has more to do.
The cave network is twisted and confusing, but small, and we easily find our way into the Giant Chasm. As we step, blinking, back into the light and feel the still, frigid air on our faces, we see that Cheren was right about the frigate’s destination – the great ship has landed in the middle of the crater forest. Many Team Plasma members are already outside, apparently standing guard near the cave exit. To our surprise, Rood is there as well, standing opposite them with a couple of ex-Plasma grunts. Rood seems to be trying to explain to them that Ghetsis is evil and has no interest in liberating Pokémon at all. That’s… strange. I thought everyone already knew that. Some of the loyalists still believe that their real mission is to free Pokémon from human oppression? I know that many of them have given up the pretence completely; these guys are either lying or deluded. They refuse to believe anything Rood says, denouncing him as a traitor. Hugh calls on Rood and his attendants to fight, asking them why they even have Pokémon with them if not to protect the things they value. “Even if your precious Pokémon get hurt,” he exhorts them, “even if your ideals get damaged, the time to fight is NOW!” Wait- hang on, Hugh, aren’t their ideals the things that they’d be fighting to protect? And aren’t their ideals all about protecting Pokémon? And, for that matter, aren’t their Pokémon the ones they originally stole and are now trying to earn forgiveness from? And- oh, what the hell. At least he’s learned to exercise a little discrimination in his rage-unleashing; there’ll be plenty of time to get him started on philosophy later. His rallying cry seems to have worked, at any rate. Rood and his allies call out their Pokémon and prepare to fight, sending the three of us on ahead to invade the frigate once more while he keeps his former friends occupied. As we leave, he calls out to Hugh, telling him that the Purrloin he’s looking for is likely to be in the hands of the Shadow Triad. His commitment renewed, Hugh charges off towards the ship, Jim and I following cautiously behind.
The entrance to the ship is unguarded, and we quickly gain entrance. Jim and I almost immediately lose track of Hugh, who has begun another rage spree in his search for the Shadow Triad. We find a warp panel that takes us into the lower levels of the ship, and are immediately confronted by another force field, this one controlled by a series of switches protected by a warp panel maze. How the hell does anyone get anything done on this ship? More to the point, who’s designing this stuff? The Pokémon world’s security companies must be staffed entirely by ADHD schizophrenics. Jim and I split up, and manage to fight our way through the handful of Team Plasma guards remaining on the ship to flip the four switches. We meet up again at the deactivated force field and advance. Directly in front of us is the huge machine we saw from the balcony above the last time we were here – the ship’s heart, with Kyurem waiting inside. Zinzolin appears for one final gesture of futility. I convince him that there’s no point in fighting; he can’t beat either of us alone, so he’ll certainly never have a chance against both of us together. He gives us a strange piece of advice, “as long as you are dreaming, the dream will never reveal itself to you,” (either Zinzolin is still my superior in philosophy, or he’s spouting cryptic nonsense in order to confuse us – possibly both) and tells us that, although Kyurem’s prison is indestructible, we can go on to fight Team Plasma’s leader by taking the warp panel to our right. With a resigned shrug, we ready ourselves to take on Ghetsis. We remember the bastard from the original Black and White, and we aren’t about to be caught unawares. Satisfied that our Pokémon are in order, we step onto the panel and find ourselves in a spacious control room at the ship’s prow. Standing at the front, behind a desk packed with complicated-looking control panels, is-
Ah hah! I knew it! Colress was really Ghetsis all along! I- wait, no, that makes no f#$%ing sense. Colress, why don’t you tell us what you’re doing here?
For Colress, all of this is, and has always been, about how Pokémon can become more powerful. N believed that humans suppressed the true strength of Pokémon, and that only separating the world into black and white could ever allow Pokémon to achieve perfection. N, of course, recanted his views after the events of Black and White, proving to Colress’ satisfaction that the way forward was for humans to bring out the true strength of Pokémon, but there was still a question to be answered: was this to be done through hard science or through emotion? When Colress’ old friend Ghetsis asked him to help orchestrate Team Plasma’s new operations in Unova, Colress decided to take advantage of the whole thing to set up an experiment. He designed all of Team Plasma’s new technology for Ghetsis, including the great flying frigate and its Nevermeltice cannon, along with a host of other devices, to try to bring out the power of Team Plasma’s Pokémon (particularly Kyurem). Unlike Zinzolin, he has no particular desire to see human civilisation destroyed, but would consider it a reasonable sacrifice, if that’s what it will take to see the ultimate strength of Pokémon realised at last. Meanwhile, he would encourage trainers like me and Jim to grow, work with our Pokémon, bring out their power through trust and love, and challenge Team Plasma. The Team Plasma loyalists who still worked for Ghetsis made the perfect control group, since they were, almost without exception, appalling trainers with only the barest shreds of empathy. We, it seems, have shown the potential of our approach at almost every turn. Like a good scientist should always be, Colress is as happy to be proven wrong as right. Our conflict with Team Plasma, he thinks, will decide the fate of the relationship between all Pokémon and humanity – Pokémon must always grow towards their true potential, whether the path is through Ghetsis’ cold technology or our empathy. He just has one final experiment to run: one last battle.
While Jim and his Pokémon team engage Colress’ powerful Steel-types in battle, I attempt to take on Colress himself in debate. I admit that I admire his dedication to the basic principles of science – his willingness to put his beliefs on the line and let his worldview be dictated only by hard evidence – but question how he can condone giving such power to a group like Team Plasma, effectively a terrorist organisation. How could his experiment be worth risking our entire civilisation? Colress replies that it was no risk at all. Ghetsis and N’s actions two years ago have revealed that both the justice and the utility of our relationship with all Pokémon are in question, and the nature of that relationship pervades every aspect of our society. If Team Plasma wins, if Pokémon truly can reach their potential more effectively through Ghetsis’ philosophies, then what authority is there left in civilisation? What can we trust is not holding us back? Better to take away everything, let our new relationship with Pokémon be decided from scratch, and to the victor go the spoils. But, I challenge him, how can a contest of brute force be allowed to have such authority? Colress chuckles at that. Surely I know better, he asks. Pokémon become more powerful as they grow, everyone knows that, but that’s hardly all there is to it. As a Pokémon’s physical strength waxes, so do its self-awareness, its understanding of its own powers, its ambition and ability to plan, even its personal charisma. This isn’t about Pokémon becoming better at battles – this, just as N always said, is about Pokémon becoming perfect beings. I concede his point on principle, but remind him that the relationships between all of these factors are still very poorly understood, in spite of recent advances in the field, and that any sweeping conclusions must remain highly contentious, especially in the case of species which do not exhibit Pokémon evolution. I suggest a complete survey of all relevant studies to date, with a thorough examination of the data and a critical review of all current methodological approaches. Colress agrees enthusiastically, and offers to mail me a copy of his research notes and a detailed bibliography. There’s totally a PhD thesis in this for me. At this point, we are interrupted by a deafening metallic clang as Colress’ Magnezone crashes to the floor. Colress claps his hands together excitedly. Jim’s Pokémon, again, have proven far more powerful than his. He congratulates us both on our strength and returns to his control panels. Tapping a few buttons, he casually explains that he is unlocking the warp panel that will lead us to Ghetsis’ office, then sends us off with a jaunty wave.
With only a bare handful of grunts on deck, my Pokémon and I manage to force our way onto the Team Plasma frigate without much trouble. Jim and Hugh arrive just as my Ampharos is tossing the minions overboard. Together, the three of us march into the ship’s forecastle, our Pokémon swarming around us. Tragically, our dramatic entrance is stymied by a Team Plasma security device: a crackling blue force field.
Oh, okay, I remember how to handle these things; we have to find the ‘off’ switches in the rubbish bins, and- wait, there are no rubbish bins. Damnit; what kind of power-crazed madman designed this place!?
Inspection reveals that the force field is controlled by a keypad. We need to input the correct passphrase if we want to get inside and confront Team Plasma’s leaders. I momentarily regret ordering Sansa to throw the first batch of grunts off the ship without first torturing them for information. I instruct Hugh to guard the force field while Jim and I find someone to interrogate, but Hugh is having none of that. He still has rage to unleash today. He tears off towards the rear of the ship, looking for a way down below the deck. I follow him, glancing back at Jim with a helpless shrug. I catch up with Hugh as he barrels down the stairs only two steps behind his Emboar, who lands with a sickening crunch on top of an unfortunate Team Plasma grunt waiting at the bottom. Hugh is beginning some kind of rage-related threat when the grunt splutters a plea for mercy. He is, he claims, a spy for Rood’s splinter group, keeping watch on the movements of Ghetsis’ loyalists in order to help thwart their mischief. Huh. Way to go, Rood. I didn’t think espionage was really his style, but I guess it must have been easy enough, since the loyalists are still actively trying to recruit from his group. Unfortunately, Hugh and I very quickly learn that this spy has discovered absolutely nothing of any value. He knows that there is a force field protecting the ship’s command centre, and he knows that there is a password. He has no idea what that password is. Nor, when Hugh questions him, does he know anything about a stolen Purrloin. Hugh snorts derisively, muttering that he expected no better from a former member of Team Plasma, then tells Emboar to get off the poor guy and stalks off into the bowels of the ship. The spy apologises to me for not being helpful, but suggests that some of the real Team Plasma members might know something.
While the exterior of the Team Plasma frigate is quite imposing, and has a certain old-fashioned charm to it, the interior is really rather depressing. All the furnishings are in dull grey metal, and the grunts sleep in crowded dormitories and take their meals – bread and water, according to their cook – in a run-down mess hall. Frankly, the place reminds me of a prison. When I question one of the grunts about their living conditions, she remarks defensively that some of them have nowhere else to go. Well. That’s depressing. I suppose when the alternative is the revilement faced by Rood’s group, maybe this doesn’t seem so bad. I feel a momentary spasm of guilt at invading their home, and decide to take my mind off it by having Jaime the Samurott dangle one of them out a porthole. We quickly establish that none of them actually know the password, they just have a couple of letters or clues each. All this guy knows is that it begins with R. Well, surely, I point out as Jaime shakes him up and down, they must have compared notes once or twice. He protests, his voice slightly muffled as it comes in through the porthole, that the kind of people Ghetsis liked to recruit are not exactly experts in cooperative thinking. I shrug in assent, and dismiss him. Jaime drops the grunt into the sea, and we turn to the next fellow in line. He holds up his palms and explains quickly that he knows the password is the name of a Fire-type Pokémon, but nothing more. I am about to have Jaime stuff him through the porthole anyway, when my brain starts to tick. A Fire-type Pokémon whose name begins with R. That’s actually reasonably specific. Which Fire Pokémon have names that start with R? There’s Rapidash… Rotom when he’s in the form of a toaster, if you can even count him… and…
No… surely not… surely Zinzolin wouldn’t be so brazen?
I call Jim on my X-Transceiver and tell him to try entering “Reshiram” as the passphrase. It works.
Clearly Zinzolin never got the memo that your password should never be your name, your spouse, child or pet’s name, your date of birth, or the name of the ancient god who is the raison d’être of your entire organisation.
Jim marches through the deactivated force field with his Lucario, Dovahkiin, at his side. Behind the field is a tiny room containing a warp panel, presumably leading to somewhere else on the ship that can’t be directly accessed from the outside. They step onto the warp panel and, with a flash of light, find themselves standing on a balcony overlooking what appears to be the ship’s power core. Zinzolin is waiting for him. He applauds Jim for making it into the engine room, to which Jim modestly admits that all he did was keep watch while I found the password. Zinzolin shrugs, and notes that Jim is still clearly a very powerful trainer – and worthy of seeing the secret of Team Plasma’s newfound success. He gestures to the power core below, an enormous glass cylinder surrounded by an eerie blue glow that seems to feed the machines around it. Inside the cylinder, apparently passive and docile, is Kyurem, the legendary dragon of ice. This is the source of energy that powers their ship’s Nevermeltice cannon and, presumably, its other systems as well. It takes a while to recharge the cannon after a volley, but apparently the ship is almost ready. With Kyurem safe behind glass and all his ship’s systems powering up for battle, Zinzolin confidently challenges Jim, but the conclusion is forgone and hilarious. All of Zinzolin’s Ice Pokémon, of course, are cripplingly weak to Dovahkiin’s powerful Fighting attacks, and have no effective means of damaging a Steel-type anyway. Hugh, meanwhile, has arrived to deal with Zinzolin’s attendants. Once their battles have run their course, Hugh approaches Zinzolin and demands to know what’s happened to his sister’s Purrloin. Zinzolin frowns and gives Hugh a sceptical look. He has no idea where Purrloin is, though he assumes it now belongs to a member of Team Plasma. He suggests that Hugh should go and catch another one, to which Hugh objects that this Purrloin was caught for his sister by their grandfather, who has since died. Zinzolin dismisses this, saying that “an individual’s feelings” are “a trifling matter indeed.” He chides Hugh for wasting time on such sentimentality, then proclaims the ship ready to fly and summons the Shadow Triad. Two of them appear by Jim and Hugh on the balcony, and the third appears next to me on the lower decks. For an instant, everything goes black, and we find ourselves standing on the beach.
GOD DAMN IT, I HAVE HAD ENOUGH OF THIS TELEPORTING NINJA BULLS#!T.
I run to get back onto the ship, but Zinzolin has already fired up the flight engines, so I start hurling abuse at them instead, beginning with ‘coward’ and working my way up through all the different possible levels of obscenity and anatomical detail. For some reason, the ship does not descend, but instead flies off to the northwest. As I slow down to take a breather, we here a familiar voice – “sorry I’m late.” Cheren, useful as always, has just arrived to tell us that he thinks the ship is heading for the Giant Chasm. We all hop on our respective Flying Pokémon and prepare to move out, but Cheren himself doesn’t move. I give him an accusatory glare, and he just says something about looking for the heroes, since only Reshiram and Zekrom can stand up to Kyurem. We’ll see about that, I mutter as I spur Daenerys into flight. This is my damn story, and I’m standing up to whatever Pokémon I please, N or no N. Daenerys the Flygon, Lydia the Swanna, and Hugh’s Unfezant soar off, past Humilau City and back towards route 22.
In comparison to the last six Gyms we’ve visited, the Humilau City Gym is an extremely laid-back place. No one tries to blow me through a wall… or crush me between two giant statues… or wrap me in a silken coffin. Jim and I are permitted to drift gracefully and calmly across Marlon’s huge indoor swimming pool, borne on huge lilypads, our reverie broken only by such trainers as we deign to battle. If nothing else, Marlon at least knows how to treat his challengers with a bit of good, honest respect. I quickly find, unsurprisingly, that my Sawsbuck, Bran, is going to be the star of this show, with a little backup from my Ampharos, Sansa. Jim, likewise, has Ulfric the Serperior and his own Ampharos, Elisif, to cut a swath through the Gym. Although they are admittedly quite strong, the Gym trainers fall very quickly to our onslaught of super-effective attacks. We barely break a sweat on our way to Marlon. He battles me first. Bran, unsurprisingly, crushes the Carracosta Marlon opens with, and goes on to heal himself almost effortlessly by draining the great sack of HP that is Marlon’s Wailord with his Horn Leech. Marlon’s partner Pokémon, Jellicent, proves to be made of sterner stuff, and I am forced to recall Bran when his Horn Leech attack is locked down by Cursed Body. Now weakened, though, Jellicent is no match for Sansa’s Discharge. Marlon congratulates me and hands over my Wave Badge before turning to Jim and saying that his Pokémon need time to “chill” before another match, “fo’ reals.” How long? Oh, a couple of days, maybe a week. Apparently it is not proper for one to “rush the chillaxation, yo’,” as it is an important part of Marlon’s training regimen. Or something. Jim groans with exasperation, produces a bag of Revive crystals and Hyper Potions, and patches up Marlon’s three Pokémon before demanding a battle. Marlon says something about “keepin’ it fo’ reezy” or… oh, who am I kidding? I’d long since stopped paying attention by this point. I settle down on a lilypad to watch Jim’s battle, which is even more of a walkover than mine was, Ulfric’s Coil technique boosting the power of his Leaf Blade to obscene levels and giving Marlon’s Water Pokémon no chance to respond. Once defeated a second time, Marlon promptly backflips into the water and swims out of the Gym, presumably to go and ‘chill’ somewhere.
Hugh is delighted that we have earned our Wave Badges – only now, apparently, can we get on with our urgent business. He dispatches me and Jim to check out route 22, west of Humilau City (which Jim, of course, never quite got around to) while he sweeps the southern areas. At this point, Marlon shows up with an interjection. He’s certainly easy enough to find when he wants to interfere… Marlon, unlike every other Gym Leader in the region, not only hasn’t even heard of Team Plasma but has no opinion on their actions one way or the other, because “the ocean accepts all rivers, brah.” Jim points out, somewhat indignantly, that Team Plasma’s past actions, and indeed their entire raison d’être, are pretty much the exact antithesis of the philosophy Marlon seems to be pushing here. The Gym Leader is unconcerned, and wanders off to return to whatever vaguely-specified activity he had been busy with earlier.
Jim and I head for route 22, a wilderness area with paths so convoluted it could hardly be more confusing if it had been designed as a maze. We find no sign of Team Plasma as we search the area. If their ship was here, it’s gone now. I doubt it could have landed anyway; the terrain is so uneven that it would be just about impossible. Just as we are about to give up and go back to Humilau City, though, we find something much more interesting: the legendary Pokémon Terrakion, waiting for us on a plateau. Images flash inside my head: Cobalion, Terrakion and Virizion, together, a blade crashing down on the heads of our enemies.
“What are you waiting for? Catch it.”
Colress is standing behind us. He explains that, as far as he can tell, Terrakion wants to fight Team Plasma alongside Cobalion and Virizion, and is here to test us to see if we deserve his assistance. I shrug and call out Jaime, my Samurott. If this big ugly git wants a swordfight, we’ll give him one. Terrakion has centuries of experience on Jaime, but Water-beats-Rock is a truism as old as the ocean itself. Jaime’s Razor Shell brings Terrakion to his knees, and a barrage of Ultra Balls seals his fate. I turn back to Jim and Colress. Colress applauds enthusiastically, and declares that he has a reward for us – a prototype of the machine he used outside of Castelia City to awaken the Crustle blockade. He hands me a small remote with a big green button on it, beaming proudly. It has not been proven to have any effect at all on Pokémon in battle, Colress notes, but he’s sure I’ll find some use for it. I am about to fire off a snarky comment, but remember the suspicious square boulder in the Seaside Cave, and thank Colress for his gift. Satisfied, he departs, leaving me and Jim to our business. I tell Jim to stay on Route 22 and do one more sweep of the area while I check out the Seaside Cave. Were this any other game, it would probably be nothing, but since this is Pokémon and Nintendo we’re dealing with, there is an extremely high likelihood that the square boulder is a Crustle, and that it is sitting exactly where we need to be.
When I reach the Seaside Cave, I retrace my steps and find the east exit where the great sandstone boulder is still waiting patiently to be cleared. I squint at the remote Colress gave me. He provided no instructions, but the interface seems simple enough: push the big green button. With a dramatic flourish, I point the remote at the boulder and press it. The remote begins to emit a hum, which quickly rises to a high-pitched whine. Nothing happens to the rock. The remote then starts sparking and giving off choking black smoke, which prompts me to drop it. It hits the ground and quietly explodes. I bend over and peer at the remote’s remains, raising an eyebrow. My confidence in Colress’ technology has taken a serious hit. Suddenly, though, I feel the ground tremble ever so slightly. I look up to see the huge Crustle slowly, tortuously getting to its feet. It chitters to itself gently before waddling away. The way is now open. I silently question whether the remote did anything or the Crustle simply woke up on its own, but decide it doesn’t matter. Now that I can get through the cave exit, I can clearly see the Team Plasma frigate sitting calmly in the water just off the beach. I punch Jim’s number into my X-Transceiver and tell him to get down here, then step out of the cave to take a closer look. The first thing I notice is that, this time, the ship’s occupants have remembered to pull up the gangplank. Hmm. Well, I suppose I could just Dragon Pulse my way in. This ain’t my ship, what do I care? Then again, that would attract a lot of attention, and I should probably at least try to- wait, no, I don’t give a $#!^ who sees me; I’m Princess Motherf#$%ing Leia, I’m taking these morons down, and I don’t care who knows. Dragon Pulse it is.
As I deliberate on the problem, Marlon backflips out of the water and greets me. I give him a sarcastic “sup, yo.” Marlon is here, apparently, to repeat what he told me and Jim back in Humilau City – that, like him, I need to be open and accepting of all peoples and creeds, which is why he doesn’t want to fight Team Plasma. After all, they’re probably perfectly nice guys, deep down. I tap my foot on the sand, waiting for him to get to the point. On the other hand, Marlon continues, I clearly need a hand here, so he’s just going to help me out a little bit and then be on his way. He leaps back into the water, swims back out to the ship, does some sort of spider-climb up its side, hops over onto the deck, slides out the gangplank, and flips back over the side into the water. He gives me a jaunty wave, tells me to “keep it real, yo” and swims off.
Y’know, Marlon, there’s a difference between a philosophical commitment to balance and neutrality, and plain old indecisiveness. What you are doing is definitely the latter. Thanks for the assist though.
Anyway. Jaime, Sansa, Tyrion, Barristan, Daenerys, Bran… come on out, everyone. Time to storm this b!tch.
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?
Undella Town passes us in a blur. Not literally, of course; we just weren’t paying attention. There are a few new areas – the Marine Tube which supposedly leads to Humilau City, and the Seaside Cave which also supposedly leads to Humilau City, but neither is open to us at present. We’re pretty sure Hugh turned up at some point and demanded some practice battles, but he said little of interest or relevance. The road south to Black City and White Forest was much as it always has been, although the gatehouse at the end of the road is perhaps notable for being host to Game Freak’s most bizarre roadblock yet: a line of dancing fat men, who, when questioned, will explain that they are dancing for no reason, and will someday stop dancing, also for no reason. I stare at them, transfixed, with an immovable look of “wha?” on my face, until Jim manages to drag me out of the gatehouse. The road north towards Lacunosa Town, likewise, is largely unchanged and uninteresting – until we reach the point where it forks toward the Giant Chasm. The Chasm itself is inaccessible, but there is someone at the junction waiting for us: Cobalion.
I tell Jim, insistently, to leave this to me. He raises an eyebrow, but agrees. I approach Cobalion and politely ask him whether we may continue our negotiations. Cobalion lowers his head, ready to charge. I smile, taking this as an affirmative, and open my mouth to begin an impassioned speech on the natural suitability of humans for command and Pokémon for obedience. My plan, of course, is to moderate my position as the debate continues, thus creating the impression that I am a) reasonable (hah!) and b) receptive to Cobalion’s own arguments. Unfortunately, Cobalion delivers a startlingly effective riposte in the form of a Sacred Sword attack, which neatly lops off one of my Princess Leia buns as I dodge to the side. For a few moments I stare at Cobalion, dumbfounded. Has this creature no conception of civility!? I am collecting myself for a cutting remark on Cobalion’s parentage when he prepares to initiate an Iron Head attack. The thought momentarily occurs to me that perhaps a somewhat more aggressive diplomatic strategy would have been apropos. As I contemplate my imminent premature demise, a pair of thick green tendrils lash out of nowhere and snare Cobalion around his neck and one leg. As he screams with rage, I spin around to see Jim’s Serperior, Ulfric, straining to keep a tight hold on the legendary Pokémon with his Vine Whips. Jim orders Ulfric to hurl him into the air, and the Serperior obliges, flinging Cobalion roughly into a nearby tree. The musketeer Pokémon recovers quickly, though, and within moments they are at each other’s throats, Leaf Blade against Sacred Sword. I draw an Ultra Ball from my bag. This has gone on long enough. I lob the Ultra Ball with all my strength, chanting “up, down, A, B, up down, B, A” under my breath. It strikes Cobalion and draws him in with a flash of light. A few moments later, it’s all over. Jim stares at me as though I’ve swiped a sandwich from his open mouth. I poke my tongue out at him and dismiss Cobalion’s ball to the PC network. I’ll deal with you later.
With that behind us, we arrive in the only walled city in all of Unova – Lacunosa Town. I remember this place being kind of pointless, other than for providing some vague hints about- oh. Ah. Right. Better look around. We are soon met by Professor Juniper and Bianca, who have used Fly (i.e. cheated) to beat us here, and as usual have their own ideas about how our investigation should proceed. Juniper drags us to the home of one of Lacunosa Town’s elders, explaining that the town has a legend we should hear. The elder relates the familiar story to us: when the cold winds blow from the nearby Giant Chasm, a fearsome beast stalked the night, snatching away anyone who wandered outside after dark. The town’s great stone wall was built to defend against this monster, but even to this day no-one in Lacunosa Town will leave home after dark. Professor Juniper comments that the wall is probably what gives the town its name; lacunosus clouds are a type of cloud that are supposed to look like a fence or a net. Jim and I have to conceal a snigger at this. Lacunosa Town is named for its wall, but clearly the town’s founders were influenced by either an astonishing lack of confidence in their stonework or a distressingly poor command of Latin – lacunosus means “full of holes” (this, I should note, is its strictest, most literal sense; it could also be taken to mean “collapsed,” “sunken,” “waterlogged,” or just downright “inadequate”). The more sobering thought then occurs to us that, if a legendary Pokémon as powerful as Kyurem were to attack the town, that name might turn out to be chillingly accurate.
As we go to leave for Opelucid City, we run into Hugh. Damnit, how do all these idiots keep getting ahead of us!? Hugh is following some rumours he’d heard about Team Plasma activity in the town, and is wondering if we’ve seen anything. We are about to answer in the negative before switching the topic to something more conducive to Hugh’s mental stability, like hobbies or the weather, when – speak of the devil – none other than Zinzolin, the Sage leading the reborn Team Plasma, appears with two grunts in tow. Hugh’s eyes flash and he reaches for his Pokéballs, but Jim and I interpose ourselves and attempt to negotiate. What is Zinzolin after, anyway? The other Sages abandoned Ghetsis when they realised he’d been manipulating them, so why is he still leading Team Plasma? If he just wants to take over the world, couldn’t he, maybe, work with us instead? Zinzolin laughs and explains his philosophy. He’s actually not interested in power at all – from what I can understand, he’s mostly interested in chaos. Zinzolin knows that Ghetsis means to tear the asunder the order of the world and the balance of nature and civilisation by forever separating humans from Pokémon, and he wants to watch. The crazy bastard wants to watch.
I am forced to concede that it does sound like a fascinating sociological experiment.
I offer, in the event of a Team Plasma victory, to co-author a paper with Zinzolin on the extent of human sociological dependence on Pokémon. After all, just because I’m theoretically opposed to them doesn’t mean I can’t try to create a win-win situation for myself. Zinzolin hesitates, but agrees to my proposition. We shake hands on it, and then return to the matter at hand – Hugh is foaming to beat up Zinzolin and his attendants, and Jim and I have a mind to join him. Zinzolin, it turns out, is quite a strange Pokémon trainer. One of his persistent character traits, held over from the original Black and White (which Cheren noted when we first encountered him in Driftveil City), is that he hates the cold. This is strange because Zinzolin is actually an Ice-type specialist – his Pokémon are Cryogonal and Sneasel. Thinking out loud, I observe that this seems indicative of a level of self-loathing. This gets Zinzolin so flustered that my Scolipede, Tyrion, is able to steamroll both of his Ice Pokémon before he can regain his composure. I give the sage a cluck of disapproval as Jim and Hugh finish off his equally inept minions. Zinzolin curses, mutters something about searching Opelucid City and departs with his grunts, Hugh close behind, waving his fist and shouting something unprintable about radishes.
So, Opelucid City sounds like the place to be.
The road to Opelucid City is nearly as boring as the road to Lacunosa Town was, with the exception of the Village Bridge. As the surprisingly apt name suggests, this is a bridge with a village on it. I don’t think anyone actually knows why the village was built on the bridge, as opposed to the more architecturally sound option of building it next to the bridge. I mean, okay, yes, there was the mediaeval London Bridge, but that was a) in the middle of a massive and already overcrowded city, and b) a massive fire hazard. Village Bridge, as it turns out, is guarded – in the middle stands an odd Gentleman by the name of Stonewall, who declares that he challenges anyone crossing the bridge. He has won 999 straight victories, and is eager to win victory number 1000! Well, we observe, if he’s won 999 straight victories he must be pretty str-oh no wait never mind. Though comparable in skill to the sage Zinzolin, with a powerful Durant and Lucario, poor Stonewall soon finds himself twisted into knots by Jim’s Zoroark and its mind-bending illusions. He collapses in defeat, mourning the winning streak he’d spent two years building up (y’know, with only two Pokémon, battling about three trainers every day is actually a pretty good effort), though he vows to try again. Once across the bridge, the rest of our journey to Opelucid City is quick and without incident… until we reach the outskirts, and find none other than the legendary Virizion blocking our path.
As I hike back through the desert and across the great drawbridge to Driftveil City, I silently vow to evolve Daenerys into a Vibrava so I can show up Jim and his stupid Ducklett, Lydia. How does a Ducklett even carry a kid halfway across the country, anyway? The damn things barely come up to my knee! Muttering mutinously to myself, I storm right through Driftveil, casting black looks at the commoners who cross my path, and move on to the next road – the road to the Chargestone Cave and Mistralton City. With Daenerys at my side, I smite every wild Pokémon foolish enough to harass me, and eventually I am rewarded for my ill temper – Daenerys evolves at last. I immediately teach her Fly and celebrate by flying right back to Castelia, buying a bag of rainbow confetti, and then zipping around Unova in a convoluted zig-zag pattern, sprinkling cheer and joy over every town I pass. Some hours later, I grow bored and have Daenerys take me back to Driftveil City. Jim can’t be that far ahead, right? He’s probably waiting somewhere on the road to the Chargestone Cave, level grinding. Sure enough, I soon find both him and Cheren hanging out at the climate research lab on route 6. I strut in, my new Vibrava at my side, completely ignoring Cheren and the bewildered scientists, and approach Jim. I scratch Daenerys behind her nonexistent ears and proudly tell him of my accomplishments, mocking him for his sad little Ducklett and basking in the glory of my proper flying Pokémon. As I begin to wind down, Jim wordlessly takes Lydia’s Pokéball from his belt and cracks it open. Out pops…
…Lydia the Swanna.
God damn it.
Deprived so cruelly of my moment in the sun, I remember that Cheren is here and decide that questioning him is better than wallowing in my own inferiority. Why is he at the climate lab, anyway? Cheren has come to make use of the climate scientists’ sophisticated monitoring equipment to investigate a strange anomaly – the sharp temperature drop we felt when we boarded the Team Plasma ship. Apparently similar extreme temperature gradients have been detected all around Unova, vanishing as suddenly as they appear – in Virbank City, Castelia City, and far away Lacunosa Town. Hmm. Virbank City and Castelia City. We fought Team Plasma in both of those places, so presumably their ship was nearby. And Lacunosa… Lacunosa is near the Giant Chasm, Kyurem’s home. More confirmation, then – they have Kyurem. Kyurem is on the ship. But that’s game over, isn’t it? They control the legendary dragon, but this time there’s no goody two-shoes N figure standing in the way to mess up their plans by insisting that they re-enact some ancient epic and give another hero time to mount a challenge. That sounds to me like it’s time to pack up and let them have Unova. I’ve always wanted to go to Hoenn anyway. Jim points out that this isn’t necessarily so. Kyurem’s the crappy dragon, remember? The one who’s an empty shell, thought to be the ‘corpse’ left behind when Reshiram and Zekrom split in the first place. Unless the other two dragons come back and ‘restore’ him somehow, Kyurem’s not nearly as apocalyptically powerful as either of them. And Reshiram and Zekrom are both gone.
I grudgingly concede that our doom may not be at hand just yet. Meanwhile, some of the climate researchers in the background are heard to speculate on my dedication to upholding the virtues of the Pokémon Trainer, and on my general sanity. I punish them by confiscating one of the Serene Grace Deerling they use to study seasonal climate variation. This Deerling, under the name of Bran, becomes the sixth and final member of my party, and with a little training very quickly evolves into Sawsbuck. Thus appeased of my minor humiliation at Lydia’s hands (or… wings), I gather Jim and move on, wishing Cheren luck in his ongoing investigation. We again set our sights on the Chargestone Cave and Mistralton City. A few Foonguss bar our path, and we exterminate them for the insult. Soon, though, approaching a bridge over the Mistralton River, we encounter a far more significant challenge to our passage – none other than the legendary Pokémon Cobalion. It tosses its head and cries out, glaring in our direction. I march onto the bridge to negotiate with Cobalion for our passage.
“Right. Shove off, or we will beat you senseless and stuff you into a tiny ball.” Cobalion responds with a Sacred Sword attack that narrowly misses my head as I dodge to the left and tumble to the ground.
This is how haggling works; you start with an unacceptable offer and an equally absurd counteroffer, and then work your way towards the middle.
I get up, dust myself off, clear my throat, and prepare to launch into an impassioned harangue on the rights of Pokémon and the privileges of humans – a prelude to my revised offer of “shove off, or we will beat you senseless and not stuff you into a tiny ball." Jim knocks me to the ground as Cobalion pre-empts my speech with another Sacred Sword. Honestly, the rudeness of some people! I had everything under control; it was all part of the diplomatic process! Cobalion, evidently insulted by Jim’s interruption, roars again and springs away, disappearing into the hills. I shake my fist as he vanishes into the distance, swearing to finish our conversation some other time. Without warning, we hear Rood’s voice from behind us. The old sage, along with one of his similarly geriatric attendants, has apparently observed our encounter with Cobalion. They talk us through Cobalion’s backstory – how he, Virizion and Terrakion became the enemies of humankind because they realised how much harm human conflicts can cause to Pokémon. Rood speculates that Cobalion’s reappearance may have something to do with Team Plasma, and suggests that catching him would greatly increase our already formidable powers. Jim feels it would be a waste of our time, but I am intrigued. I’ve mentioned long ago that one of my difficulties with Cobalion’s quartet is the fact that, although their background and beliefs give them every reason to be directly involved in the ideological conflict with N, they spend Black and White hiding, taking no part unless the player chooses to drag them into things. Could they actually have something to do in this game? I am sufficiently curious to go and check out Cobalion’s home, the Mistralton Cave, while Jim presses on towards Mistralton City. The cave turns out to be a let-down. There is nothing of interest there, barring another old man who claims to be searching for Cobalion, but has no idea where to look. Disgruntled, I stomp out of the cave and run to catch up with Jim in the nearby Chargestone Cave, the seldom-used pathway to Mistralton City.
Jim, meanwhile, is following someone. Picking his way between the electrified stones that levitate above the cave’s floor, he heard a voice – a rapid, almost incomprehensible stream of consciousness, rambling about the formulas that express the power of electricity. At first Jim followed at a safe distance, expecting some garden-variety nut-job and wanting to approach with caution – but then the person he was following began to speak about something entirely different. Something about saving Pokémon, and protecting a friend. Wait. Hmm. Jim quietly recalls his Pokémon and creeps through the cave, trying to hear more of this suspiciously familiar fellow’s musings. At this point, I find him and startle him with a loud, echoing “HI, JIM!” There is a frantic scuffling sound in the distance, then nothing. Jim turns and mimes throttling me. As a gesture of reconciliation, I send Daenerys through the cave to see if she can find anything, but to our immeasurable displeasure she manages only to find and lead us to Bianca. Bianca is evidently researching the Pokémon of the Chargestone Cave for Professor Juniper, but is having trouble with one species in particular – the elusive Tynamo. We obligingly descend into the cave’s deepest level and capture a Tynamo for Science. When we make it back to Bianca and present the Tynamo to her, we discover that the ungrateful little ditz doesn’t want it, and indeed refuses even to look at the thing – she’s happy to stand around in the cave navel-gazing and wondering what Tynamo do with their lives. We leave in disgust, and soon find the north exit to the cave, emerging into the light of Mistralton City.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.