The Philosophical Sheep asks:

When you review the major trainers in gen 7 (a.k.a. the rivals, villains, champion etc.) would you mind talking more about how the pokemon they use “fit” them as a character? My biggest complaint about Cyrus, for instance, was that his ace was a Weavile which didn’t seem to fit him at all. Lysandre, meanwhile, had a Gyarados as his strongest pokemon, which was unexpected given his element but fell in line with his motives quite well. Just something to consider.

Hmm.  Duly noted, and I think there’s a couple of choices of that kind in Sun and Moon that would be worth talking about, when I write those (probably after reviewing the Pokémon, since I’ve been putting that off too long already).

I think there’s sort of an argument for Weavile as Cyrus’ signature Pokémon, in that his type is very appropriate for Cyrus – “dark and cold” basically sums Cyrus up.  But yeah, other than that, I don’t think Weavile was a great choice; Cyrus isn’t a spiteful person or a particularly devious and cunning villain, and those stick out as Weavile’s core characteristics.  Obviously they wanted it to be a Pokémon that was new in generation IV, and I’m not sure what else I would have chosen… maybe Magnezone (for his affinity with machines) or Spiritomb (for his interest in ancient magical powers)…

Pokémon Generations: Episodes 15 and 16

I’m a big fan of episode 16 of Generations; 15 is nothing special, but it covers characters who were already quite interesting, so it’s worth looking at anyway.  15 is the last of the generation V episodes, and focuses on the confrontation between N and Ghetsis in Black and White 2, while 16 is the beginning of generation VI, and is all about the characterisation of X and Y’s main antagonist, Lysandre.  15 follows the games quite closely, but 16 is a bit more exploratory, and it’s when Generations tries to depart a little from the games, and show the bits of backstory that we haven’t seen before, that it does its best work.  Let’s take a look.

Continue reading “Pokémon Generations: Episodes 15 and 16”

The Philosophical Sheep asks:

Do you think it’s time that Pokemon games got rid of the whole “Team Evil” tradition? It seems that they’re just constraining their storylines a lot more by requiring that every villain be the boss of an evil organization. And I feel like Lysandre, for example, would have worked a lot better as a stand-alone villain.

It sort of depends on how much you value the idea of “Team Evil” as a traditional element of the games’ story, like having a choice of three Grass/Fire/Water starters or completing the Pokédex.  Personally I tend to like the idea of ditching as many of the formulaic elements of the games as they can get away with, and I think I more or less agree with your assessment of Lysandre (it’s important to note here that his plan does actually imply the presence of an inner circle that he wants to survive the Ultimate Weapon, but that inner circle doesn’t have to be a “team” in the standard Pokémon sense).  I think that as long as they insist on keeping a standard set of elements like this, they’re probably never going to come up with a really excellent story that rivals the best games produced by other companies (either Japanese or western).  They can keep improving on their own past efforts, though, and I’m still happy to see them do that.

Team Flare

Team Flare grunts showing off their trademark poses and 'stylish' uniforms.

Just like I had to talk about Iris and Diantha because I’ve done all the other Champions before, I have to talk about Team Flare and Lysandre because I’ve done all the other bad guys before.  If you followed my playthrough journal of X version, you may have picked up that I have some rather strong opinions about Lysandre and his underlings, and the way the games portray them, so I think it makes sense now to take a deeper retrospective look at their involvement in the whole of the plot.  What do Team Flare really want, what makes them tick, and does Lysandre deserve our forgiveness?

Our first encounters with Lysandre are in Lumiose City, first in Professor Sycamore’s lab and then with Diantha in the Café Soleil.  Here we see the face Lysandre presents to the world: utterly dedicated to the preservation of beauty and the betterment of the world.  He speaks admiringly of Professor Sycamore’s brilliance as a scientist and Diantha’s ability as an actress to bring joy to millions, associating them and their careers with his own quest to build a beautiful world.  Even here, though, there are strong hints that he’s up to more than he lets on – on X, he declares that he wishes to “make this world unchanging and eternal so all beauty will last forever.”  In another game, I would not take such a clearly poetic sentiment seriously, but this is Pokémon, and Pokémon is not especially known for its subtlety.  On Y, he is far less circumspect about it: “I would end the world in an instant so that beauty never fades.”  Again, it’s probably meant to sound hyperbolic, but since ending the world is something that people have tried to do before in this series, that probably escaped many players; I played X, of course, but I find myself wondering how anyone could doubt that Lysandre was an enemy after hearing a line like the one he delivers on Y.  Ultimately, what he’s actually trying to do (on both versions) falls somewhere between the two – end the world of human civilisation in order to preserve what remains of the beauty of nature.  In addition to his potentially apocalyptic foreshadowing, I also noted in my entry on Diantha that this scene hints at some degree of superficiality (even sexism?) in Lysandre’s character – he focuses on Diantha’s physical beauty as the thing that makes her a good person and contributes to building a better world, considering that the loss of her own beauty with age would diminish her ability to make the world more beautiful too.  Much as he admires her devotion to making people happy, he downplays her ability to take action towards that goal and looks to her passive qualities – this represents an important flaw in his character that is going to recur later in the story.

 Xerosic, mastermind of the Expansion Suit and chief scientist of Team Flare.

Lysandre’s minions, in their first appearances in the Glittering Cave and outside Geosenge Town, display none of his semblance of nobility.  Their stated aim is to help and advance members of their own organisation, regardless of the cost to others (and to pursue the heights of fashion…).  The idea of “a more beautiful world” never comes up, even in the later dialogue of the five scientists who run the group’s more pedestrian activities while Lysandre is busy: Aliana, Bryony, Celosia, Mable and Xerosic.  It annoys me a little that there are so many of them, because it means that each of the four girls doesn’t get to do much, but they do have distinct personalities, which is nice.  Aliana, who supervises the attack on the Kalos Power Plant to gather electricity to power the Ultimate Weapon, seems to enjoy battling the most, and may be slightly unhinged.  Celosia and Bryony (who are together in both of their appearances – I unashamedly ship these two) are responsible for raiding the Pokéball factory in Laverre City to gain the Pokéballs necessary to catch many powerful Pokémon whose life energy will fuel the weapon; they seem detached, nerdy, and a little philosophical.  Finally, Mable, who goes after one such Pokémon, the Abomasnow in the Frost Cavern… well, frankly, Mable is a callous b!tch.  “Allow me to spell it out for you! It’s so Team Flare – and only Team Flare – can survive!” she declares as she torments the gentle Ice Pokémon.  “After all, why should we care about saving people who aren’t on our side?”  Xerosic’s appearance in the story’s climax in Geosenge Town establishes him as a man utterly without conscience or remorse, willing to activate the Ultimate Weapon and slaughter billions even against Lysandre’s orders (if the player wins Lysandre’s bet about the two buttons in Xerosic’s lab) simply for the joy of what he considers scientific achievement.  He also features, of course, in the little post-Elite Four Looker vignette as Emma’s employer and tutor, a position which he exploits heinously.  The message of his involvement in that story seems to be that even thoroughly evil people are capable of love and affection and that, even though those things cannot and should not absolve Xerosic of his actions as part of Team Flare, they still deserve recognition.  Also appearing in the Looker sequence is Malva of the Elite Four, apparently a member of Team Flare, who makes no secret of the fact that she despises you, but seems to hate Xerosic more for abandoning Team Flare’s grand mission in favour of petty crime.  Her dialogue in Elite Four rematches thereafter suggests that Malva has developed something of a grudging respect for the player’s strength, despite her intense hatred, and believes that the strength to force one’s beliefs upon the world is all that really matters in life.

 Whatever else may be said about them, I love the Team Flare Admins' ridiculous pimp outfits.

Interspersed with your actual encounters with Team Flare, a few more interviews with Lysandre himself take place, one in person with Professor Sycamore and a couple by Holo-Caster.  His speech and ideas remain grandiose throughout, and he encourages us to give thought to how we will use our power, but only when you see him in Lysandre Café do we receive more ominous hints about his plans – as with many Pokémon villains, the problem is in his absolutism, his willingness to divide all people in the world into “those who give and those who take” and declare all of the latter, most emphatically, “filth.”  This is the conversation that first suggests the existence of the Ultimate Weapon, and hints at Lysandre’s willingness to use it.  When he finally reveals his Team Flare allegiance to the world and explains his plans to wipe out the rest of humanity… well, it surprised me that he was willing to go so far for his “beautiful world,” but it’s not a total shock, put it that way.  His criteria for who gets to survive the imminent devastation are disheartening – “anyone who is a member of Team Flare, and no-one else,” which makes me question how well he really knows his members.  Would all of them really satisfy his idea of a person who will give and sacrifice to create a beautiful world?  Most are selfish, short-sighted and callous – exactly the kind of person you’d think Lysandre would normally deride as ‘filth’ – and they are able to enter his select group of followers not by proving that they will help to build and preserve a beautiful world, but by paying a truly mind-boggling membership fee.  The interesting thing is that, when we battle him for the first time in his lab beneath Lumiose City, Lysandre seems open to the possibility of letting the player join him and live in the new world.  More so than any other Pokémon villain, Lysandre is interested in our passion and the way we express our beliefs through battle – he’s a little like N that way.  Like N, he also seems almost like he might want a way out, like he might want to be stopped, on some level; he encourages us to fight him and his underlings, and is even willing to let us decide (after a fashion) whether the Ultimate Weapon will be activated.  In the end, though, Xerosic intervenes and we are forced to pursue Lysandre to Geosenge Town to confront him once more.

This is when we learn the dirty little secret, the part of his plan that disturbs even Lysandre: that there will be no place for Pokémon in his new world, not even those who belong to Team Flare.  Lysandre loves his Pokémon; his ability to harness Mega Evolution proves that, as Shauna observes.  In some ways his willingness to sacrifice them speaks to the strength of his convictions, but his reasoning is concerning.  As long as Pokémon exist, Lysandre believes, and as long as some people have Pokémon while others do not, people will use them to take more than their share and seize more power than they deserve.  Some of his research notes back in Lysandre Labs take the form of a broad sketch in anthropological terms of the genesis of inequality in civilisation (a problem that, in the real world, is one of the major areas of study in prehistoric archaeology), and place the impetus squarely with Pokémon – people who commanded Pokémon were able to amass wealth and influence, becoming great leaders.  He makes essentially the same point to us, far more briefly, in person.  The problem is that, despite all his love for his own Pokémon, he never considers that they might have a choice, or that their decisions might impact the way things turned out.  He thinks about the way their powers can be used, for good or ill, but not about how they will allow people to use them.  Remember what I said about the way Lysandre views Diantha as essentially passive?  He’s doing the same thing here.  He’s denying agency to Pokémon, who are clearly intelligent beings, and thinking about them as though they were little more than the extensions of their trainers’ will.  In short, by taking such a deterministic view of the effect Pokémon have on human society, he is committing one of the franchise’s cardinal sins: viewing Pokémon as tools.

 This man.  What a dick.  Seriously.

Lysandre reminds me – and many other people, I’m sure – very strongly of Cyrus (even sharing two Pokémon, Gyarados and Honchkrow, with his predecessor).  Both are acknowledged as intellectually brilliant, and their goals and beliefs are quite similar.  Both felt driven to crime by despair at the human condition and a belief that an ideal world could only be brought about by drastic and destructive means; Cyrus’s goal was to create a world without suffering – the problem was that he believed the ‘incomplete’ nature of the soul made suffering inevitable – while Lysandre wanted to create a utopia where the world’s resources were shared fairly and sustainably, but came to believe that the greed and laziness inherent in human nature made his vision impossible.  Both are charismatic leaders who command blind obedience, both have keen engineering skills, and both meet mysterious ends.  My trouble with Team Flare and Lysandre though, is that I think we’re supposed to have much more sympathy for them than I can muster.  No one ever asked us to like Cyrus.  The more generous amongst us might have appreciated a certain nobility in his desire to end all suffering, but there was never any question that he was Evil with a capital E.  People regularly ask us to like Lysandre, from Professors to rivals to random townspeople – largely because, unlike the cold and emotionless Cyrus, Lysandre actually cares, and seems to feel genuine remorse even as he continues to work towards his goals.  He seems like he’s meant to be a tragic figure, but having seen so little of his famed philanthropy, I find it difficult to empathise.  In some ways, I think, Lysandre is even worse than Cyrus, because Cyrus’ decisions and actions were very impersonal.  Cyrus felt that life itself was fundamentally broken; killing everyone wasn’t exactly part of his goals, but he felt it was a reasonable sacrifice to make for the chance to create a perfect universe.  Lysandre, on the other hand, just unilaterally decided that most of the people in the world deserved to die for wasting the planet’s limited resources.  As for Team Flare – well, they may not have been pleasant people, but at least Team Galactic and Team Plasma were genuinely in the dark about the true extent of their leaders’ motives (even one of the Galactic admins, Saturn, had no idea Cyrus was trying to destroy the universe and become a god).  Team Flare seem to have known all along what havoc their master was planning – they regularly speak of their desire to create a beautiful word, just for them, and as far as we see no-one abandons Lysandre in shock when he announces his plan to all of Kalos – yet even at the end, Malva is able to claim with a straight face that she did what she thought was right.

I keep coming back to Serena’s words in the battle with her on Victory Road, because I think they encapsulate what the writers intended us to take from this story, and how far that is from what I actually took from it: “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.”  Well, okay; that would have been fair enough if we had met Lysandre ten years ago and he had been saying “we need to move Kalos in a more socialist direction and commit ourselves to sustainability.”  Unfortunately, it seems pretty clear that even by the time we first meet him he has already gone off the deep end and is merely hiding it, so that his position is actually “I have no choice but to kill all of you, and your pets.”  How exactly does one “meet halfway” with that?  As far as I can make out, the writers were trying really hard to make Lysandre a tragic and morally ambiguous villain, and even thought they had succeeded, but we get little opportunity to see his positive traits for ourselves, are given the chance to understand his descent into evil only in retrospect, and are eventually asked to sympathise with a man who tried to destroy everyone we have ever loved for the ‘greater good’… of himself and his band of thugs.

Honestly, I think there’s only one way now to achieve the aims the writers actually had in mind for Team Flare and Lysandre: the next sixth generation game has to be a prequel.

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.

Epilogue: Empire Arisen

“Mmm… make the backrest reach a little higher on the left hand side.  And have a little bit of greenery growing from the right armrest.  Don’t forget to keep the seat nice and smooth!”  Xerneas and Ilex the Venusaur roll their eyes, continuing to fine-tune the wooden throne they are magically growing for me.  ‘The Elite Four all have thrones,’ had been my reasoning; ‘how would it look if I didn’t get one?’  All right; I will concede, in hindsight, that the gigantic living oak growing up through the heart of the cathedral of the Elite Four was a slight extravagance, but one has to look the part.  Nothing says ‘strong on environmental issues’ like a giant magic tree overflowing with the essence of Life itself, and nothing says ‘crazed despot’ like an outlandish throne.

Come to think of it, maybe I was sending some mixed signals there.

“See if you can get some fungus growing on there.  Maybe a little bit of mistletoe as well.  And some deadly nightshade.”  Ilex gives a low bellow in response.  “I know it’s not an epiphyte!  Just give it a shot, okay?”  A long, slow rumbling noise.  It’s understandable, really.  They’ve been nothing but patient and indulgent, but they think I’m ridiculous for spending so much time on these trappings – for their own ‘thrones’ on either side of mine, they chose cushions of soft, green moss.  As I muse on this, there is a loud thunk from below as the elevator to my chamber starts to rise.  I give an excited whoop and gesture rapidly to Xerneas and Ilex.  “That’ll be our guest!  Positions!  Positions, quickly!”  They move to settle down in their places on either side of my throne, as I leap into it and twist around into my prepared lounging pose, one foot on the floor, the other dangling over an armrest, one arm propping up my lazily cocked head, my other hand idly playing with my Digivice.  I immediately regret that I haven’t had time to practice the pose in the latest iteration of my throne – there’s an awkward knobbly bit of wood jutting into the small of my back.  We’ll have to work on that.  No time now, though.  The elevator platform has arrived, slotting into its place in the centre of the chamber with a neat clunk.  On the platform is a slouched, dishevelled man with a sack over his head and his hands cuffed behind his back, flanked by two ill-tempered Gurdurr.  I make a little waving motion with one hand, and the man is frog-marched off the platform by the Gurdurr, who delicately snap his handcuffs, then return to the elevator and descend.  All is silent for a moment.

“Diantha?  Diantha, is that you?  Why am I here?”  I grin and shoot a glance at Ilex, who reaches out with a Vine Whip to snatch the sack from the man’s head, revealing a shock of bright red hair.  Lysandre looks around wildly for a few seconds before his eyes alight on my throne.  “You!?”

“Mmm… me,” I answer indolently.  I turn my eyes back to my Digivice, continuing to twirl it in my fingers.  “You know, Sandy – may I call you Sandy?  No?  Well, I’m going to.  You know, Sandy, you weren’t at all easy to find.  For the longest time I was sure you’d died in Geosenge Town, when your headquarters collapsed… but you’re not that easily killed, are you?  Not anymore.”  I slip my Digivice back onto my wrist and snap my fingers.  In response, a sleek wooden dart flies from one of my armrests with a muted swish and sticks in Lysandre’s chest (okay, I know the poison darts will seem like overkill, but in my defence I was really bored).  He cries out in pain and staggers, almost falling backwards into the elevator well (I really should put in some railings…) before he rights himself, plucks the dart from his chest and tosses it aside.  I turn to watch him, and count to ten silently as he struggles to draw himself up to his full height, still breathing heavily.  I reach ten, and give an impressed whistle.  “Concentrated Stun Spore essence of a shiny elder Vileplume from the jungles of eastern Hoenn.  That, Sandy, is one of the more potent neurotoxins known to man or ‘mon.”

“You could have killed me,” he growls, his face darkening.

“No, I couldn’t.  I think we both know that.”  I smile at him.  “So, how does it feel?  The – how did you put it? – the pain of endlessly waiting for a beautiful world to finally be built?”  Lysandre doesn’t answer – just scowls at me, his eyes stormy.  “Well, I suppose it takes a few decades to really feel the difference.  It’s the second century that’s the hardest, you know.  Or so I imagine, anyway.  When it really hits you that everyone you ever loved is dead.  Say, did the ultimate weapon affect your Pokémon, inside their Pokéballs?  That sweet Gyarados of yours?  I wonder whether-”

“ENOUGH!” he roars.  I blink, startled.  “I may have failed in my duty, I may be broken, alone and lost, and I may be condemned, for my failure, to untold lifetimes of misery in a world that can only decay, fester and die, but I will NOT stand here and be belittled by you!  Tell me why I am here and be done with it!”

“…well, there’s no need to be like that,” I murmur.  “I was just making conversation.”  I shrug and hop out of my throne.  “All right, then.  First things first – Lysandre.  You are here because I want to offer you a job.”  I give him a winning smile and hold out both of my hands, palms turned up.

“And what makes you think I would work for you, ‘emperor’?” he sneers.  “You know how I feel about my royal ancestors.  You sit in this grand hall thanks only to the borrowed power of your Pokémon, your underlings, your tools.  Deep inside you are as weak and vile as Kalos’ monarchs ever were.  You are happy to take and take and take from the dwindling life of Kalos, but what will you give back?”  I shrug.

“Stability?” I suggest.  “Direction?  Efficiency?”  I begin counting on my fingers.  “Justice.  Enlightenment.  Pokémon rights – they’re not my ‘underlings,’ you know; Xerneas and I are in total accord on every matter – where was I?  Science.  Education.  Environmentalism.  Aqueducts.” Lysandre suddenly looks bewildered.

“Aqueducts?”

“Everyone needs aqueducts.  The point is, Lysandre, I may want to make sure I’m at the top of the heap, but that’s only because- well, mostly because… well, okay, partly because I’m simply the best person for the job.”  I raise my arms, gesturing to the walls around me, now thick with ivy.  “I’m Kalos’ Champion.  I saved this region from… well, from you!”  I walk back towards Xerneas, still standing by my throne, and place my hand tenderly on the back of his neck.  “I am partnered to Xerneas, the guardian and protector of all life!  Together we can make this region greater still!  Conquer all who oppose us, and build a new Kalosian Empire that will be the envy of the world!  Bring life from lifelessness!  And all I ask in return is the obedience and adoration of every man, woman and child in this land, a flat 80% tax rate, monuments to our greatness in every city, a magnificent palace – which as it happens, we now have – servants to cater to our every whim…”

“How generous of you,” Lysandre remarks drily.

“I know, right?”  I leave Xerneas’ side and approach Lysandre again.  “But politics aside, you asked why you would ever work for me.  It’s simple.  I can offer you what you want most.”

“And you think you know what I want most?  What is that?”  I lean in close, for a conspiratorial whisper.

Redemption.”  He stiffens slightly.  “That is what all you oh-so-tragic anti-hero types want, isn’t it?  The chance to prove to the world that your heart was in the right place all along?  To reclaim your memory from the annals of history’s villains?  Perhaps – oh, the tragedy – to end your life in a valiant act of self-sacrifice (assuming, of course, your life can still end)?  Tell me I’m wrong.”  He wants to; I can see in his eyes the urge to throw my words back in my face… but he’s curious.  He speaks, carefully and deliberately.

“Tell me what you propose.”  I clap gleefully.

“I just knew I could win you over!”  I dash to collect a sheaf of papers from behind my throne.  “Now, as de facto head of the Kalos League I am not without a wide range of human and Pokémon agents to take care of all the mundane preliminaries of establishing my dominion over this region, but there are a variety of special tasks which I cannot trust to just anyone; I need someone who is an accomplished engineer, a skilled and charismatic Pokémon trainer, a scholar of Kalosian history, an adept of Mega Evolution, a-”

“Get to the point,” Lysandre interrupts, scowling again.  I rein in my excitement.

“All right, then.  I will.  As it happens you can complete your first task right now: to provide me with some information.  Where is the other?”  His scowl deepens.

“The other what?”

“Don’t play dumb.  The other legendary Pokémon.  Yveltal.  Where is it?”  He shakes his head.  “You must know, or at least have some suspicions.”

“I do not, nor would I tell you if I did.  It is bad enough that Xerneas has chosen to follow you.  What you would be capable of with Yveltal at your side, what you would be able to take from the people of Kalos then-”

“At my side!?  No, no no no no.   I have no intention of working with that… thing.”  Xerneas make a flat, disapproving whine.  I look Lysandre straight in the eyes.  “I want to kill it.”  He stares back, warily.

“To what purpose?  Yveltal never truly dies.  It drains the life of everything around it, unleashes Death to sustain itself so it can return to plague Kalos centuries later.”  I click my tongue.

“I never said it would be easy.  Obviously anyone wanting to kill that abomination permanently would have to find some way of circumventing its ability to steal life.  To tell you the truth, I have no idea how you’re going to do it.”

“I-?!”  Lysandre’s mouth hangs open, and Ilex laughs at his astonishment, a low booming sound that echoes around the chamber.

“Well, obviously.  You’re the perfect choice.  Fail, and maybe Yveltal will actually be able to kill you.  I can’t think of anything else that would do it at this point.  Succeed… well, just think of it.  Yveltal, the shadow of Death, banished from Kalos at last, never again to haunt the world of humans and Pokémon.  You’ll be a hero.  You’ll be redeemed.”  He frowns, furrowing his brow.

“With Yveltal gone from the world, beauty and goodness might live longer.  We might all have more time.”  Xerneas gives a trumpeting cry of agreement.  I smile.

“It’s worth a shot, right?”

“And if I were the one to do it… perhaps I could convince people… perhaps this time I could make them change their ways…”  I wave my hand.

“Yes, yes, whatever you want; we’ll burn that bridge when we come to it.  There are some other tasks I need you to perform first, though.”  Lysandre narrows his eyes suspiciously.  “Don’t worry; it’s all important work.  Everything you do for me will lead up to our ultimate goal.  If you don’t know where Yveltal is, you’re going to need to find it for me first, obviously.  I don’t know where or how you found Xerneas, but I would start there.  You’re also going to need these.”  I hand him the sheaf of documents.  He gives me a quizzical look, then begins flipping through them.  A few moments later, he looks back up at me in surprise.

“These are Xerosic’s notes.”

“Mmm.  Perhaps you’ll have better luck reading them than I did.  I don’t have the technical skill to fill in the parts he doesn’t fully explain… and I’m not familiar enough with how he thinks.  I know you’re an inventor of some ability; you reverse-engineered a Digivice, for goodness’ sake.”  He looks up in confusion.

“Digi-?”

“Oh- uh, a Mega Ring, that is.  The point is, you clearly know what you’re doing, and you’ve worked with Xerosic yourself.”  Lysandre skims a few pages.

“I don’t recognise these plans.  He kept this work secret from me?”  I roll my eyes.

“Oh, probably.  He’s like that.  Look, can you understand the technology or not?”  Lysandre is silent for a while.  He continues to read, and examines a number of diagrams.

“I believe I can, yes.  Given time.”  I grin at him and applaud.

“Excellent!  Now, I’m going to need you to build one of those for each of us – ah, by the way, there should be designs in there for a transmitter unit, but mine won’t need that; it’s just so I can keep in contact with you in the field in case of emergency.  Incidentally, there’s a place in my Elite Four open, if you could use something to do with your down time – oh, this is so exciting!  I dance over to one of the windows.  I have kept Diantha’s Pokéball-patterned stained glass, but had the panes remounted with hinges, so they can swing open.  I start fiddling with the catches.  Ilex rumbles gently and gets up to help me, reaching for the higher ones with Vine Whips.

“I have not agreed to do anything,” Lysandre reminds me.

“Oh, but you will, you will!  So much is already underway!  Just come and see!”  I release the last catch and, with a great shove, swing the window wide.  Lysandre cautiously approaches to look out over the scene below with me.

On the slopes of the mountain below us, scores of Timburr and Gurdurr waddle back and forth, merrily singing out-of-tune as they shuttle bricks, mortar, beams and nails from place to place at the direction of Conkeldurr foremen.  Pan the Chesnaught lumbers around the site, alternating between barking orders and helping to shift blocks of stone.  Ruined walls and towers rise, slowly but surely, to their former heights.  Orion the Lucario and Pytho the Goodra stand nearby, negotiating with a group of wild Graveler to have them join the construction team.  Squadrons of Poliwhirl wade through the rivers, putting together water wheels to snatch the energy of the waterfalls as Odysseus the Clawitzer deftly slices planks of wood with his claw.  Druddigon tunnel into the side of the mountain, expanding and clearing out some stretches of the cave network while closing off others, or jealously claiming choice spots for their own lairs.  A dozen Hydreigon wheel through the sky in perfect formation, firing blasts of light at hovering targets with roars of triumph.  Everywhere, Grass Pokémon of every sort bask in the sunlight and coax plants from the earth, weaving thick walls of thorns and canopies of vines around hidden walkways, building huge berry orchards, and tenderly nurturing huge bulbs packed with toxic spores.  Lysandre surveys all of this, and turns to me.

“The Elite Four, you say?”  I grin, and clap him on the shoulder.

“Sandy, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

Aftermath

Let’s recap.

I am the Champion of the Kalos region.  Team Flare has fallen by my hand.  Xerneas, the embodiment of life itself, stands by my side.  Lumiose City is under the thumb of a likely unstable robotic ninja with some newfound delusions of grandeur and an app specifically built to steal Pokémon.  I control several of the precious Mega Stones, and possess the means to find more.  I have an enemy in the Elite Four, but I know her identity and can destroy her in due course.  All is as it should be.

Of course, there are still one or two little things we have to take care of.

Armed with my newfound authority as a Pokémon League Champion, I return to the Pokémon Village and enter the Unknown Dungeon.  I fully expected a large, complicated cave system on the model of the original dungeon outside Cerulean City, but no – this ‘dungeon’ is a single chamber, with Mewtwo meditating in the centre.  I am a touch disappointed; after seeing some of Kalos’ amazing scenery, I had hoped for more from the lair of the so-called ‘strongest Pokémon,’ but I suppose I can’t have everything.  I quickly realise that this Mewtwo can Recover from damage, and in my irritation decide to use my hard-won Master Ball.  It’s been a long time since I last bothered to actually fight a legendary Pokémon with healing powers, and my go-to Pokémon for sleep is weak to Psychic attacks.  As Mewtwo is dismissed to the PC network, I notice a glint on the floor – a Mega Stone.  Mewtwonite X.

Oh.  Right.  The two new Mewtwo-looking things that were revealed right at the start of the X and Y pre-release hype.  I’d forgotten about them.  Mega Mewtwo X and Mega Mewtwo Y.  Because Mewtwo desperately needed more power and the ability to transform into a godlike physical attacker at the drop of a hat.  Seriously, though, I’m not sure how I feel about this.  Once you get Pokémon as powerful as Mewtwo charging around the game my brain gives up even trying to complain about game balance and just gives them a sort of startled “um… yes!  Well done!”  Mewtwo is particularly weird in that part of his flavour is that he’s supposed to be the strongest Pokémon, but for a long time now that hasn’t really been true; things like Lugia, Kyogre, Arceus and  Reshiram can give him a serious run for his money, and by their standards he’s pretty frail.  With Mega Evolution an option now, he might well have a shot at the top again… then again, from memory, Mewtwo’s physical movepool isn’t great for a legendary Pokémon, and he can already do physical damage with Psystrike anyway, so who knows?  I can’t speak for Mega Mewtwo Y.  If that’s just Mewtwo with more speed, special attack, and defences, we’re all dead.

Next stop is the formerly guarded bottom level of the Terminus Cave, where I meet a third Kalosian legendary Pokémon: the great serpent, Zygarde.  This one doesn’t heal itself, so a traditional Sleep Powder-and-Ultra Ball battle ensues, and the creature is eventually subdued so I can get a look at it.  Zygarde is a Dragon/Ground dual-type, known as the ‘Order Pokémon,’ that supposedly “reveals its secret power” when “the Kalos region’s ecosystem falls into disarray.”  Its ability, Aura Break, reverses the effects of other ‘aura’ abilities – and since the only other ability I can think of with ‘Aura’ in the name is Xerneas’ Fairy Aura (Yveltal presumably has some equivalent), I have to wonder exactly how useful that would be, especially given that Zygarde is still weak against Xerneas’ Fairy attacks anyway.  All this seems to mean that Zygarde has a similar relationship to Xerneas and Yveltal as Rayquaza does to Groudon and Kyogre – its job is to maintain the balance between life and death, either of which would do a number on any ecosystem if they got out of hand.  Following a hunch, I take Zygarde to the move relearner in Dendemille Town, and discover that it has a signature move: Land’s Wrath, a decidedly underwhelming Ground attack that seems to act like a slightly powered-down version of Earthquake (the description seems to indicate that it’s ‘party-friendly,’ so if nothing else it’d be great for double and triple battles).  People are saying that Xerneas, Yveltal and Zygarde represent some of the denizens of Yggdrasil, the World Tree of Norse mythology – four stags, an eagle, and Nidhogg, the dragon who gnaws at the tree’s roots.  Alternatively, the serpent could be Jormungand, the sea monster whose body encircles the world.  Personally, I want some love for Ratatosk, the squirrel whose job is to carry insults between Nidhogg and the eagle, but hey, whatevs.  The thing that bugs me here is that Nidhogg and Jormungand are both unambiguously bad news.  Nidhogg’s stated aim in life is the death of the World Tree, whereas Jormungand is one of the major players on the evil side of Ragnarok, the ‘Doom of the Gods’ (Jormungand, in particular, is a much more important figure than any of the other proposed identities for any of the three).  Cheery stuff.  What, if anything, does this mean for Zygarde?  Maybe nothing more than that it’s the harbinger of momentous events – when Zygarde actually starts taking an interest in things, $#!t’s about to get real – or maybe that Zygarde is actually capable of far worse than either Yveltal or Xerneas.  I’m not sure.  Definitely a Pokémon to tread very carefully around in… well, I want to say ‘Z,’ but after Black and White 2 I’m taking nothing for granted.

And for now… that seems to be it.

Since I seem to have reached the end, more or less, of what this game’s story will provide, it seems appropriate to give a brief (HAH!) retrospective.  To the surprise of absolutely no-one in the world, the basic eight-gyms-elite-four-champion structure remains firmly unchanged.  The Team Flare storyline had its merits, but it was nothing particularly special – the plot of Black and White remains my favourite from the series for another year.  Lysandre’s characterisation gave me major flashbacks to Cyrus, their motives and goals being quite similar, although Lysandre was marginally more subtle about it – both turned to villainy through despair at the human condition and a realisation that their ideals could never be fulfilled with the world in its current state, and both decided that wiping out the old world to make way for a new one (somewhat more literally in Cyrus’ case) was the only way forward.  Both, I think, are best described by the phrase “messiah complex” – Lysandre is less explicit about it, but as you may have gathered from my indignant speech in the Team Flare headquarters, I have little difficulty seeing a desire for self-aggrandisement as a major factor in Lysandre’s motives.  The plot itself follows what has become the standard: prevent the legendary Pokémon-induced apocalypse.  However, like Black and White, there seems to be something of a retreat from the idea that the Pokémon in question are, in and of themselves, forces capable of ending the world as we know it – Xerneas and Yveltal are very powerful beings, of that there is no question, but I don’t think there’s any indication in the story that they really embody life and death in the way that, say, Dialga embodies time.  The threat of what they can do to Kalos, and the world, largely has to do with the amplification of their powers by the Ultimate Weapon (so, the combination of human and Pokémon abilities).  There’s nothing about them to suggest that the very fact of their being in a trainer’s possession could disrupt nature or the cosmos, which is reassuring.

In terms of the game’s mechanical changes from the fifth generation, the two big, obvious steps are Fairy Pokémon and Mega Evolution, both of which I am, perhaps unsurprisingly, fairly ambivalent about.  I want to discuss Fairy Pokémon on their own later, and, hell, maybe Mega Evolution as well; we’ll see how that goes.  I do want to take the opportunity now, though, to rave once again about Pokémon Amie and Super Training, both of which I love as additions to the game, because there hasn’t really been a good moment to do that since I first met them.  Pokémon Amie makes a relationship with a Pokémon something you really have to work at, rather than something that just kinda ‘happens,’ it puts the interface for those relationships right in front of you as you move around the world so that they’re always on your mind, and it links them to direct, if minor, mechanical benefits – Pokémon with high affection in Pokémon Amie can avoid attacks, withstand finishing blows, purge status effects, and score more critical hits, all of which is described as resulting from the concordance of the trainer and Pokémon’s thoughts and desires.  Like Mega Evolution, it adds to the idea that Pokémon can do extraordinary things not just through being with humans but through being friends with humans, which is one of the concepts that allows the whole setting to function.  My only real complaint is that it’s difficult to conceptualise how Amie and the affection ‘stat’ are supposed to relate to the traditional friendship mechanics – although people are pretty sure they do affect each other, they seem to be separate, so what exactly is friendship supposed to represent?  To put it another way, how do we imagine a Pokémon with high ‘friendship’ and low ‘affection’?  Super Training, similarly, helps the ‘feel’ of the game by demystifying the effort system, something we all recognise as very important to high-level play but which past games made almost no attempt to introduce players to, leaving that task to the internet and the fan community.  X and Y are up front about this aspect of the games; they tell you from the start “okay; this is something you should probably figure out how to use at some point” instead of tip-toeing around it as previous iterations always have.  Attentive readers may remember that when I spoke last year about what I would do If I Were In Charge, themes like this were among my greatest concerns – specifically, I dealt with friendship here and effort training here – and while my ideas for dealing with them were rather different to what Game Freak presented to us in X and Y, I think the results show an interest in similar goals.  It should hardly need to be said that I approve!

As for all the new Pokémon… well, I really suppose I’d better talk about them individually, don’t you?  That is why I started this blog in the first place, early in the Unova era.  It’s a daunting project, but this is a much smaller generation than Black and White – indeed, the smallest yet, where Unova was the largest – so maybe I can pull it off.  There are a few other things to get out of the way first, of course: we need to talk about Fairy-types, Team Flare and Diantha both deserve fuller, more focused discussions to go with my old series on villains and Champions (as does Iris, for that matter), I have to review Origins, and I do want to spend some time thinking about attacks from a flavour perspective as well.  The game is over, but the show, as ever, must go on!

Life and Death

I have Tereus drop me off in Geosenge Town and take a look around.  The ultimate weapon is really quite spectacular: a glassy blue-green flower, several stories high, with three long triangular petals that seem to have knocked over several buildings as it bloomed.  I head for the megalithic structure to the northwest of town, which is almost certainly the entrance to Team Flare’s secret base, and enter the building with Serena to confront Lysandre.  The elevator drops us in a sort of control room, where there are a few Team Flare members standing around, apparently uninterested in fighting, and some scientists performing last-minute calculations.  We overhear some of their discussion – the weapon is powering up, drawing energy from the hundreds of Pokémon they captured using stolen Pokéballs, but most of its power is coming from inside the facility itself.  We approach the front of the control room, where Lysandre is staring intently through a plate glass window at a chamber several levels below us.  At the bottom is… a tree.  An old, dead, white tree, hooked up to a complicated machine.  Xerneas’ tree.

Lysandre greets us as we approach him.  Serena defiantly proclaims our opposition to him, to which he restates his position: there are too many people in the world, and not enough resources; the only way for everyone to be happy is if there are fewer people.  People don’t share, Lysandre says – even Serena and I couldn’t share my Digivice.  “When there is only one of something, it can’t be shared.  When something can’t be shared, it will be fought over.  And when something is fought over, some must survive without it.”
“What about Pokémon?” Serena cries.  Wait, that’s a good point, actually.  Lysandre pauses.  He seems to be struggling to speak.  Finally, a tear rolls down his cheek and splashes on the floor.
“Pokémon… shall no longer exist.”

Wait WHAT!?

As long as there are Pokémon, Lysandre explains sorrowfully, people who can control them will use them to conquer and steal from others.  It’s better if they all go now.  He shakes his head briskly, as if to clear it, and walks towards us.  If it’ll take another battle to keep me and Serena from interfering with the ultimate weapon, so be it.  Lysandre’s Mienfoo and Murkrow have evolved now, into Mienshao and Honchkrow, which complicates things.  Odysseus and Pan have to tag-team Mienshao, and Pan is knocked out by its Acrobatics (I admittedly have… something of a blind spot for Flying attacks), but I manage to heal Odysseus and finish Mienshao, as well as Honchkrow.  Gyarados flattens Odysseus with its Outrage, and I switch to Orion, but this Gyarados isn’t falling for the same trick twice; he fights through his confusion and defeats Orion with a powerful Earthquake.  I have Photia turn his incredible strength against him with Foul Play, which brings Gyarados down in a couple of turns, and out comes Pyroar, who finishes Photia with a mighty Fire Blast.  Finally, I send in Pytho, dampen Pyroar with a Rain Dance, and drown it in Muddy Water.  Lysandre sighs heavily and asks why I bother.  “What are you really protecting?” he asks.  “A tomorrow that will only end up being worse than today?”  I glare at him, and something inside me snaps.

“You just don’t get it do you?  You think you’re some great visionary who’s seen the only way to peace and prosperity with your ‘how can I possibly save everyone?’ fallen hero bull$#!t, but you’re just taking the easy way out!   Any barbarian can unleash death to destroy a civilisation; it takes true greatness to build an empire of new life!  You think that as long as Pokémon exist, people will use them for war and theft?  Well, you ain’t seen nothing yet, bub!  So I’ll tell you what’s going to happen.  I am going to go down there.  Your ridiculous little paprika-flavoured goon squad are going to try to stop me, and they are going to fail.  I am going to attune to this precious legendary Pokémon of yours.  Then I am going to take a large, rough, jagged object the size and approximate shape of a Farfetch’d and his leek, and wedge it deep within your most private crevice, and when I have done that my Pokémon and I are going to conquer this silly backwards little region and rule it together, because that is what trainers and Pokémon do.  We destroy our enemies, protect our friends, and enslave our inferiors to build glorious monuments to our own greatness!  Now what is wrong with that?”

Lysandre and Serena are both staring at me, jaws hanging open.  In fact, so is practically everyone else in the control room.  I look around, shrug, and lunge at Lysandre.  He flinches, and I seize the moment to run for the stairs to the lower levels, cackling maniacally as I go.  Serena looks toward the stairs, then at Lysandre, then back to the stairs, then at Lysandre again, throws up her arms in defeat, and follows me.  Together, we fight our way through several Team Flare grunts and admins defending the stairwells and passages leading down to Xerneas’ chamber.  About halfway down, we are joined by Shauna, who… wants to cheer for us, I guess?  I grudgingly agree to let her tag along; she’s made it this far without being killed, after all – and she even manages to help out.  When we last saw Clemont, the Lumiose City Gym Leader, he gave Shauna a machine for solving puzzles, which she uses to hack into the security door at the bottom of the last stairwell and get us inside.  That… is an incredibly powerful and potentially mischievous piece of technology she’s been toting around all this time.  Too bad it breaks after one use.  As we step through the door and behold the ultimate weapon’s power system, pulsing gently as it leeches energy from Xerneas’ tree, a group of six Team Flare admins materialise from nowhere and attack us.  Shauna panics and flees, chased by two of them, and Serena runs to help her, leaving me to deal with the other four.  Photia hardly breaks a sweat turning their minds inside out, and they flee to gather reinforcements, leaving me alone with the tree.  I call to Xerneas, and it cries out in response.  The tree glows with a brilliant light, and the rainbow stag bursts forth in all its glory, shattering the machine binding it.  It doesn’t want to be enslaved to Lysandre.  It wants my help – but first, as always, we have to battle.

Xerneas, the embodiment of life, is an extremely powerful Fairy-type mixed attacker with an ability, Fairy Aura, that gives Fairy-type techniques like Moonblast additional power.  Like many legendary Pokémon, he comes with a signature move: Geomancy, a two-turn boosting technique that raises special attack, special defence and speed by two levels (slap on a Power Herb and this thing is Quiver Dance on steroids!).  I command Ilex to wear him down with Nature Power and disable him with Sleep Powder, then start throwing Pokéballs.  It doesn’t take long for one to stick.  I walk over to the Pokéball lying on the ground, dismissing Photia back to the PC network, and pick it up… and everything changes.

I’m… alive.  Xerneas’ power is intoxicating; his presence makes me feel like a veil has been lifted from my eyes, almost like I’m seeing colour for the first time.  Xerneas can see and feel life itself, vibrant and glorious, and his supernatural senses are flooding my mind.  Although my back is turned, I know that Serena and Shauna are back in the room – I can feel their lives, radiant amongst the glimmering pinpricks of the microbes in the air.  I feel like if I focussed I could feel every living thing in Kalos.  I decide to try.  Dimly, I hear a voice.  “What a startling development!  I never would’ve thought you were really a chosen one!”  It’s Lysandre.  He has built his own Digivice in the form of a finger ring, powered by some monstrous contraption – three buzzing metal insects, tethered to a brass gauntlet, all wired up to an electronic visor.  None of it is breathing, none of it is alive; I quickly lose interest and return to my attempts to expand my mind.  Lysandre continues talking – he is disgusted with Xerneas for wanting help from a mere human, and seems to be unwilling to admit defeat yet.  I pay little attention, still curiously testing the limits of Xerneas’ senses, trying to touch the lives of absent friends… until he says one thing: “I’ll be taking the Legendary Pokémon back now!”  Wait… what?  My mind snaps back to the room we’re in, focussing once more on my physical senses.  He wants to take Xerneas away from me?  Oh, dear… what a stupid man.

I thought I knew what it was like to work together with a Pokémon, but the sheer joy of fighting with Xerneas is something else.  He seems to respond as much to my thoughts as to my words, striking down Lysandre’s Mienshao with Moonblast before it can take a single step.  As he calls on his Honchkrow, I command Xerneas to tap into a nearby ley line with Geomancy.  I feel the sting of Honchkrow’s Steel Wing as it slices at Xerneas’ hide, threatening his concentration, but he fights through it and blows the bird Pokémon away with another Moonblast.  Pyroar’s fire repels the lunar onslaught for only a moment before he suffers the same fate.  Finally Lysandre calls upon his Pokémon partner, Gyarados, using his technology and their bond to let it Digivolve into an even more monstrous and terrible version of its former self – to no avail.  One final Moonblast finishes it.  I walk forward to stand by Xerneas and rest my hand on his flank as we return to dreaming of the life of Kalos.  Somewhere in the background, I am aware of Serena and Shauna’s voices.  They are encouraging Lysandre not to give up on his old life, to go back to helping people and build a better future for everyone.  I’m no longer sure it matters.  Joy, suffering… it’s all still life, isn’t it?  Isn’t life all that’s important?  Or… is that Xerneas talking?  I shake my head, trying to clear it.  Lysandre is still speaking.  He wants to use the trickle of Xerneas’ energy left in the weapon.  “Let us live forever… that’s right!  I shall grant you eternal life!  I’ll give you the pain of endlessly waiting for a beautiful world to finally be built!”  That… that doesn’t sound so bad, actually… An eternity basking in the radiance of life with Xerneas, my mind floating amongst all the living things in the entire world… I ignore Serena and Shauna’s protests and let myself drift off.

Hands, dragging me… pulling me onto Xerneas’ back… carrying me away… up and out…

Some hours later, I wake up in Geosenge Town.  There is a huge crater where the ultimate weapon used to be.  Left and Right are standing over me in their superhero masks, along with Shauna, Tierno, Trevor and Serena.  While Serena, Shauna and I were below, the others had been fighting to free the Pokémon connected to the Geosenge menhirs.  Lysandre is nowhere to be seen.  Did he succeed in making himself immortal?  Or did he die in the collapse of the hideout?  Is he down there, buried beneath the rubble, broken but unable to die?  I can’t feel his life anymore; Xerneas’ magical perception has left me.  Once the others are satisfied that I am once again relatively sane and in no immediate danger, they disperse, suggesting that we all pick up where we left off in Anistar City.  Once I am the only one left, AZ approaches me.  He’s free at last, and means to return to his search for his missing partner.  I wish him luck as he trudges away.  Will the poor guy ever find his Pokémon?  Will we ever find out what happened to Lysandre?  And what the hell is this ‘intriguing stone’ Tierno gave me back in Shalour City?

As for me, the dizzying high of my first exposure to Xerneas has left me, but the world somehow seems brighter, more magnificent than ever before – making me more determined than ever before to conquer it, with my new legendary partner Pokémon by my side!

Ridiculous quote log:

“You fools!  You don’t even have suits!”
…yeah, because those white Team Flare suits make you look so classy.

“Not having a ton of money is really stressful, you know…”
Oh, I feel your pain, dude; it must be really hard to be a leader in an organisation with a ¥ 5,000,000 membership fee…

The Liberator of Men

I get the call as I stand outside the Anistar Gym.  It’s time for the main event.

Lysandre has sent out a broadcast to all the trainers of Kalos via their Holo-Casters: as leader of Team Flare (Gasp!  Can it be true?  He seemed so nice!), he is putting into motion their plan to create a beautiful new world at last.  This plan involves the annihilation of Kalos’ entire population in a conflagration of epic proportions from which only Team Flare will be spared.  Well, that… is a bit more extreme than I thought he would be aiming for, I admit; I was anticipating something of a more ambiguous John-Keats-Ode-on-a-Grecian-Urn-perfection-through-stasis kind of deal but hey, it wouldn’t be a Pokémon plot if we didn’t have to prevent the apocalypse, right?  Okay; let’s get this show on the road, people!  To Paris!

Luckily, Lysandre is the least subtle person in the world and is putting his plan into motion from the laboratory which shares his name, beneath the café in Lumiose City which also shares his name.  The wait staff at the café are members of Team Flare, and try to stop me from entering, which goes about as well as might be expected.

“Oh no!  He’ll find out the password to the hidden door in this café is ‘open sesame’!”

…okay, well, I was going to torture it out of you but I guess this works too.  Y’know, as long as we’re all disappointing me today.  I enter Lysandre Labs through the secret door, and Lysandre himself appears.  That’s… refreshingly direct.  Lysandre explains that he once wanted to save everyone, but is no longer concerned with that – the world has only so much in the way of resources and space, and too many people are too willing to squander it, so he’s just going to wipe out everyone who isn’t in his club.  He still seems open to the possibility of my joining him, but I shake my head and sigh that he just doesn’t get what I’m all about.  Lysandre challenges me, opening with a Mienfoo who loses to Odysseus, but not before delivering a pretty brutal Hi Jump Kick which leaves him wide open to Lysandre’s next and strongest Pokémon, a powerful Gyarados.  Gyarados locks itself into Outrage while finishing my Clawitzer, giving me the opportunity to send in Orion to weather its attacks, take advantage of its confusion to grab a Calm Mind boost, Digivolve and blow away Lysandre’s remaining Pokémon – a Murkrow and a Pyroar (the first male Pyroar I’ve seen – and a very impressive one it is too; it matches his hair very nicely).  Far from being upset, Lysandre is delighted at my skill and invites me to invade his lab, challenge his scientists for possession of an elevator key, and join him below in the basement to stop him if I can.  If nothing else, he’s certainly one of the most polite villains I’ve ever met.

Lysandre Labs is a very traditional Team Rocket-esque warp panel maze.  Here I meet all four of the Team Flare scientists.  Aliana just seems excited to battle me again.  Celosia and Bryony (are these two, like, a thing?  I feel like these two are girlfriends or something) have apparently forgotten me but are nice enough to explain after being defeated that the menhirs of Geosenge Town are the graves of Pokémon whose life force fuelled the ultimate weapon the last time it was used, three thousand years ago (what did I tell you?  Ritual!), and will fuel it again today.  Mable, finally, claims that since both my Digivice and Lysandre’s ultimate weapon maximise a Pokémon’s power, we really want the same thing.  Well, not exactly; I feel there are certain important differences, like how the ultimate weapon destroys all civilisation while my Digivice makes Pokémon go pink and sparkly… which makes me feel rather inferior, when you put it that way.  I take out my frustrations on Mable, who coughs up the elevator key when defeated.  I also run into Left and Right, doing their superhero thing, and apparently searching for a mysterious tall man, also sought by Team Flare for purposes unknown.  They are doing this on the instructions of Professor Sycamore, who is trying to stop Lysandre using his “network of acquaintances.”  Professor Sycamore… who is one of Lysandre’s closest friends.  Ouch.  I wonder how he’s taking all of this.  As I muse on this, I stumble upon what appears to be Lysandre’s research library.  Well, I am kinda busy… but on the other hand, books and backstory… The ultimate weapon, as we know, was created three thousand years ago by a Kalosian king.  This king, I learn here, was named AZ (yes, with a capital Z), who was “both the beginning and the end,” and united Kalos with his futuristic technology.  The famous war was between AZ and his brother (Lysandre’s ancestor, if memory serves), who wanted to conquer Kalos, and resulted in the death of AZ’s Pokémon partner, which sent him into a deep depression and caused him to use the ultimate weapon to end the war.  AZ’s brother changed his mind about his conquest after seeing the devastation this caused, and buried the weapon, while AZ himself disappeared, taking the device’s key with him.  The texts describing the weapon conclude: “that is something to be used by sophisticated powers, not by humans.  Human beings must create a world where such a weapon is unnecessary…”  Indeed, Lysandre’s own notes on the subject decide that “this is something best not left to man… I must use a tool of higher power.”  He’s got quite an ego on him, acknowledging the significance of the powers he’s tampering with but doing it anyway.  Do I detect just a hint of a messiah complex here?

Back at the elevator, I descend to the next floor, where I find Lysandre standing in front of a prison cell.  Inside is… the old guy!  The one from outside Lumiose City, who was looking for the ‘flower Pokémon’!  I had totally forgotten about him!  Only the… thing from around his neck is missing… the… thing that looked kind of like a… key…

…uh-oh.

Lysandre confirms that this is, indeed, AZ (well, Lysandre only says that he has the same name as the ancient king, but let’s face it, it would hardly be the weirdest thing that’s happened this week if it were really the same guy).  He tells his story, accompanied by a series of colour images.  Apparently the ultimate weapon wasn’t originally a weapon at all – it was a resurrection machine, created to bring back AZ’s partner, a shiny Floette like mine, but whose flower was a unique black tulip (ah… “the flower Pokémon that was given eternal life”…).  It succeeded, at the cost of the lives of hundreds of other Pokémon, and AZ’s rage subsequently made him twist it into a weapon that slaughtered countless more.  His partner, saddened by his actions, abandoned him – and he’s been looking for her ever since, the weapon’s power having rendered them both immortal.  Well, there you go.  Trying to cheat death does not end well; just ask Orpheus, or Gilgamesh.  Lysandre doesn’t seem interested in taking AZ’s advice to leave the weapon buried, but has an intriguing suggestion: he’ll leave it up to me whether the weapon is used or not.  My interest piqued, I follow him to the next floor of the building, where a fifth and final scientist, a rotund red-haired man in goggles named Xerosic, who seems to have wanted a mohawk but had difficulty committing, is waiting for us.  Lysandre explains his terms: beat Xerosic, who wants a battle to test my skill, and I can decide what happens next.  He then leaves me in the scientist’s capable hands.  Xerosic is stronger than the other scientists, but his Crobat and Malamar still fail to defeat Odysseus and Pytho, so he gleefully explains the game: I can press either the red button or the blue button.  One will activate the ultimate weapon, and the other will shut it down.

But this is so simple!  All I have to do is divine from what I know of Xerosic – is he the sort of person who would have the ultimate weapon be triggered by the blue button or by the red one?  Now, a clever man would have the blue button trigger the weapon, because he would know that only a great fool would press the big red button.  I’m not a great fool, so I clearly cannot press the blue button.  But after all I’ve done to thwart Team Flare he must have known I’m not a great fool – he would have counted on it, so I clearly cannot press the red button.  But then again, blue is the colour of sadness and sorrow, the sorrow that would be brought by the activation of the weapon, so I clearly cannot choose the blue button – and he must have suspected I would have known this, so I clearly cannot press the red button either!  I’ve defeated Team Flare’s minions and his own Pokémon, so Xerosic knows I am exceptionally powerful, and he could have set the red one to trigger the weapon, trusting in my overconfidence to make me push the big red button, so I clearly cannot press this one.  But he is also a genius scientist, which means he must have studied, and in studying he must have learned that red is a colour of warning which my instincts would lead me to avoid, and connected the weapon instead to the blue button, so I clearly cannot press that one either!  Xerosic just smiles serenely at me as I explain all of this, like he thinks he’s keeping his secrets, but he’s given everything away; I know which button activates the weapon!  He’s fallen victim to one of the classic blunders!  The most famous is “never get involved in a land war in Ransei,” but only slightly less well known is this: “never go in against a Pokémaniac when the fate of the world is on the line!”  I stride confidently up to the blue button- and spin around suddenly, pointing towards the stairs behind Xerosic.
“Good lord!” I exclaim, “is that a shiny Chansey?”  He turns and squints in the direction of the stairs, as I dash quickly to the other side of the room, smack the red button with the palm of my hand, and run back to the blue button before he can see me.  Xerosic turns around again and smiles.
“You guessed wrong.”  I throw back my head and cackle gleefully.
“You only think I guessed wrong!  I ran across and pressed the other button while your back was turned, you fool!”
“No,” Xerosic says, “no, you actually did guess wrong.  Just look.  The poisonous flower has bloomed!”  He points at a big monitor hanging on the wall, where the ultimate weapon, an enormous crystal flower, is emerging from the ground beneath Geosenge Town and beginning to gather its dread energies.

…whoops.

Slowly turning back to Xerosic, I smile sweetly at him and ask “Best of three?”

Ridiculous quote log:

“The warp panels transport both happiness and sadness in equal measure.”
I guess that’s true – happiness for me; sadness for you.

Getting Bogged Down

Not without a little trepidation, I promptly answer Professor Sycamore’s summons and enter Lysandre’s lurid crimson café.  As far as I can tell, Sycamore just happened to be having lunch with Lysandre there and wanted to get me in on the conversation, mostly to give Lysandre an opportunity to congratulate me in person on becoming a Digidestined, something he has always wanted to do.  I also get a more explicit introduction to Lysandre’s philosophy.  According to Professor Sycamore, Lysandre is exceptionally high-born, descended from Kalosian royalty – although Lysandre himself downplays this, since he wants to leave a different legacy.  Lysandre believes that there are two kinds of people in the world – those who give, and those who take, like the legendary Pokémon of Kalos, who gave life and took it (this refers, I presume, to Xerneas and Yveltal – so they represent life and death?).  He regards the second group as scum, and notes that “there will be no foolish actions if the number of people and Pokémon doesn’t increase,” which is… an odd, faintly Malthusian and very worrying sentiment.  Apparently, the old king of Kalos only took from the world, but Lysandre wants to give back, both through his inventions and by funding Pokémon research.  The king did achieve one good thing, though – he created some kind of “ultimate weapon” and used it to “wash the era clean of its filth.”  I stare at Lysandre, trying to keep my expression neutral, nibbling anxiously at a croissant, and occasionally shooting worried looks at Professor Sycamore, who gives no indication of any concern whatsoever.  Finally, lunch is over and I am freed of this troubling man’s presence.  Lysandre wants to create a world where everything can stay young and beautiful forever… and where all population growth halts completely… and there are legendary Pokémon in this region with power over life and death.  I have a terrible feeling I can see where this is going.  More importantly, if he tries to replicate this ‘ultimate weapon,’ he’ll scour the age of all its filth – and that probably includes me!  He must be stopped at all costs!

Another call on my Holo-Caster informs me that my erstwhile rivals are meeting on the northern outskirts of Lumiose City to catch up.  Why not?  I think they’re the only people in this country who give me any respect; I might as well keep the silly little people happy.  Trevor and Serena are already waiting outside the city gates when I arrive.  Trevor, as he usually does, challenges me to what he calls “his own kind of Pokémon battle” – seeing who has the more complete Pokédex.  He’s never beaten me on that score, and doesn’t start now.  Nor does Serena overcome my Pokémon in a more conventional battle, even though her Braixen has now evolved into a mystical Delphox (I love this name, by the way; obviously it’s fox + Delphi, so connotations of mysticism, magic and secret knowledge, but I’m also reminded of phlox, one of the Greek words for fire – not sure whether that’s intentional).  Maybe they should branch out into things that I’m less good at.  That works for Tierno and Shauna; I’m sure Tierno and his Pokémon would curb-stomp me in a break-dancing competition, and Shauna by now is probably really good at… whatever the hell it is that she claims to be doing on this journey.  Something that involves spending lots of money and whistling all the time.  And, speak of the devil, Tierno and Shauna turn up as Serena and I wrap up our battle.  Now that everyone’s together, Shauna wants to check out a rumoured haunted house further up the road.  Serena, buzzkill that she is, thinks it’s a frivolous waste of time and heads straight for the next town, Laverre City, to train her Pokémon, but I consider that a haunted house may provide an opportunity to meet new Ghost Pokémon and cautiously follow.  The road we’re on is euphemistically known as the ‘Laverre Nature Trail,’ which appears to be Kalos-speak for ‘depressing fetid swamp of death.’  Everything is waterlogged and half-dead and covered in gravestones, and even the grass looks like it’s about to give up, turn black, and start preying on small animals and less agile children.  Someday I will put a penal colony here.  There are some neat Pokémon here, though: Weepinbell, Stunfisk, Shelmet, Karrablast, Haunter and Carnivine, all of which I capture… and then I meet Goomy.  Goomy is a little pink blobby polyp-like creature who blasts me with a Dragonbreath attack.  Once caught and questioned, Goomy continues to insist on being a Dragon Pokémon, albeit the weakest one of all.  Okay, Goomy, far be it from me to call such a cute little Pokémon a liar, but are you sure you’re a Dragon-type and not, say, a Poison-type with delusions of grandeur and trouble dealing with the cold?  Look, fine then; stick to whatever story you like, but you’re coming with me, because if there’s one thing I know about weak Dragon-types it’s that they repay your investments.  I was getting bored of Tereus anyway.

The haunted house, when we reach it, turns out to be a spectacular bust.  It’s a perfectly ordinary house, somewhat poorly lit, with a man inside who tells moderately disturbing stories about people with no faces and then demands a tip.  The rivals disperse, disappointed, and I decide to take some time to train up my new Goomy, whom I have named Pytho (after the dragon slain at Delphi by the god Apollo, whose name is etymologically linked with the ancient Greek word for rot), along with some of my other Pokémon who have been languishing in the PC box for a while.  Here, I learn many new things.  At level 35, Honedge becomes Doublade, splitting into two swords and gaining greater physical power.  There’s one more empty slot in the Pokédex after Doublade, which seems to indicate either that Doublade will evolve again or that Honedge has a branched evolution I’ve missed – I’m kind of thinking the latter is more likely, because where can you go after evolving from one sword to two?  Three swords?  Litleo, also at level 35, becomes Pyroar – I’m still betting this thing has major gender differences, so maybe I’ll train a male later, or just look up what they look like on the internet.  Trial and error reveals that a Sun Stone and Shiny Stone will evolve, respectively, Helioptile and Floette into Heliolisk (who is still a frilled lizard and flares his neck frill while channelling electrical power – something Clemont’s Heliolisk never got a chance to demonstrate) and the somewhat overstated and elaborate Florges, still a pure Fairy-type, but one who draws energy from flowers and claims gardens as her territory.  Amaura gets all the way to 39 and becomes a majestic Aurorus, a huge crystal-studded sauropod with long, glowing crests along the back of its neck (I want to say I’ve seen sauropods reconstructed with crests like that before, but names escape me).  Binacle, at level 39, undergoes a… surprising… transformation into a seven-headed barnacle-golem called Barbaracle (yes, seven, because his four arms and his feet are also heads), a great bulky physical tank-type thing.  I just want to draw attention, for a moment, to Barbaracle’s Pokédex entry: “When they evolve, two Binacle multiply into seven.  They fight with the power of seven Binacle.”  Really?  I would have thought that a group of seven Binacle would have fought with the power of maybe four and a half, on a good day; a pair of them can barely manage to fight with the power of one, after all, lazy little $#!ts that they are.  Finally, getting Pytho up to 40, bringing her in line with the rest of my active party, causes her to evolve into a Sligoo – a large, blind purple snail.  This… is the weirdest Dragon-type I’ve ever seen.  There’s another empty space in my Pokédex between Sliggoo and Karrablast; presumably I can expect another evolution at some godawful level around 60 or so, so I slap an Eviolite on her and hope for the best.  My Skrelp, meanwhile, still hasn’t evolved; since Clauncher had a plain old levelling evolution I’m pretty sure Skrelp will too, but I kind of expected they would evolve at the same time… either I’m missing something here, or Skrelp is going undergo a pretty dramatic transformation. From what I’ve been told, there aren’t all that many new Pokémon in Kalos compared to previous regions – I think by now I must have seen more than half of the damn things.  I wonder what’s left?

I also evolve my Flaaffy into an Ampharos, which means I get to test out another of these Mega Stones.  When Ampharos digivolves, she gains a luxurious mane of silky white hair, studded with red orbs like the one on her tail, along with tremendous offensive and defensive power, Mold Breaker (take that, Lanturn!), and… a secondary Dragon type?  That- hmm.  Does… does Ampharos actually learn any Dragon attacks?  Maybe she gets Dragon Pulse or something now, or maybe having a Dragon-type mega form would make her eligible to learn Draco Meteor?  Might be something to experiment on later; tempting as it is, I don’t particularly want Ampharos in my party (after all, I used one on my recent White 2 playthrough and I do like to mix things up a bit).  I guess I can add Mega Ampharos to Altaria (and, for that matter, Goomy and Sliggoo) under the heading of ‘non-draconic Dragon Pokémon.’  Being a ‘Dragon,’ it seems, is really no longer about being a majestic and imposing magical reptile – you can also be a… giant sheep, or giraffe, or whatever Ampharos is supposed to be.  Personally I tend to think that the uniting idea of the Dragon-types is their mystical quality and connection with life-force anyway, but it’s neat to watch the design process.  Also, it’s interesting that they chose Ampharos in particular to digivolve; to judge from the Pokémon that are receiving this honour so far, it seems like it’s at least partly a matter of popularity – and Ampharos has definitely been a fan favourite since her release Gold and Silver, in spite of her long decline on the competitive scene.  And here I was, convinced they never listened to us!

Ridiculous quote log:

Nothing for today, but rest assured, this is not because the people of Kalos have suffered a sudden outbreak of sanity, but rather because after my prolonged exposure to the light and chaos of Lumiose City I felt an inexplicable compulsion to go out into the wilderness and stick my head into soft peat for six hours.