X Nuzlocke, episode 11: Power Hungry

Lumiose Badlands

Merneith: [squinting] So this is the place?
Ruby: Seems to be.  Why else would anyone put a bunch of those giant mushroom domes out here in the middle of nowhere?  This shouldn’t take long; we just need to take care of things here for Lavoisier and then we’ll be on our way back to Lumiose City by tomorrow morning.
Merneith: Typical of humans to inflict a blight like that on the landscape.  It’s probably putting out mind-altering energy waves or mutating radiation or something.  I’d tear down every last one in Kalos if I had the chance.
Ruby: Mmm; well, it’s not exactly easy on the eyes, but we won’t have to look at it for long; let’s get on with it.
Martial: I for one am glad to be engaged in a task of righteousness again – even if only briefly.  This group spends too much time as it is pursuing your self-aggrandising fantasies of power.
Ruby: Hey, pursuing my self-aggrandising fantasies of power is just about the only damn thing this lot will ever amount to; don’t knock it.  Now, there must be an entrance around here somewhere…
Spruce: Over there!  See that little building on the other side of that outcrop?
Ruby: …no, Spruce, because the outcrop is in the way and the rest of us are on the ground.
Spruce: …oh.  Right.  Hey, I think there’s a fight going on over there!  We should get over there and see if someone needs our help!
Ruby: Oh, for goodness’ sake, Spruce; you don’t- …and he’s already gone.  Nidoking, you with the life-debt or whatever; go and make sure he doesn’t get himself killed or something.
Martial: Hmph.  I need none of your instruction, witch.
Merneith: Come on; let’s go already!  We have a job to do!

Continue reading “X Nuzlocke, episode 11: Power Hungry”

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.

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.

Fairy Tale

Laverre City, which is probably Amiens, is a town out of a storybook.  All quaint wooden cottages, surrounded by gargantuan fly amanita mushrooms and fields of pink flowers, clustered around a huge, ancient broadleaf tree, into which the town’s clock tower and Pokémon Gym are built.  Only two signs of encroaching modernity disrupt the picturesque scene: a modern Pokémon Centre with all the standard amenities, and an imposing industrial complex on the town’s northern outskirts: the factory that produces the entire Kalos region’s Pokéballs.  After a brief tour of Laverre City to give the inhabitants the opportunity to offer tribute to their new ruler (which yields another Mega Stone: Gengarite!) I go to inspect the Pokéball factory… and find its entrance guarded by a Team Flare grunt.  Despite my finest quips and most withering taunts, he refuses to budge, or even to engage me in battle.  Curses; how am I supposed to dispense vigilante justice effectively if I can’t actually attack people?  I decide to go with my usual standby in these situations and take out my frustrations on the Gym.

I’m… not exactly sure what I was expecting from the Laverre Gym, but certainly not this.  The Gym seems to be, quite simply, someone’s house: an extremely lavish home, with work rooms, a kitchen, a bathroom, and a bedroom – all connected not by doors but by an old-school network of warp panels.  Some of the rooms are filled with sewing paraphernalia and supplies, and I quickly learn from the trainers that the Gym Leader, whose name is Valerie, is a clothing designer.  Strange that her extravagant creations don’t seem to be available in Laverre’s clothing store – I guess she works strictly for a higher class of clientele.  Laverre City’s Gym specialises, of course, in Fairy Pokémon, and they have a few new ones for me to meet: Slurpuff and Aromatisse, the evolved forms of Swirlix and Spritzee (whom I obtain for myself shortly afterwards by trading with Adam), and a key ring Pokémon called Klefki, who is a Fairy/Steel dual-type, and turns up on the next route for me to catch – I may as well talk about all these now.  Slurpuff is a remarkably silly-looking bipedal meringue with a supernaturally acute sense of smell; as little as I was expecting from Swirlix’s evolution, I actually find myself somewhat disappointed that Slurpuff isn’t more colourful – the pastel pinks are a bit boring, and I rather think that if you’re going to make a candy Pokémon anyway you should really push the boat out with it.  Aromatisse is… on some level a little disturbing.  I feel like Big Bird’s French cousin is trying to seduce me.  That is all.  Klefki is, I suppose, a neat little concept; he doesn’t seem to evolve, since he’s immediately followed in the Pokédex by Murkrow, but he does have Prankster, and just being a Steel-type is generally a plus, even if they’re not as powerful as they used to be.  I suppose he’ll live and die on his support movepool.

Once I’ve dealt with all of these, I manage to stumble through all the warp panels and reach Valerie’s room on the top floor of the Gym.  Valerie herself wears an extravagant winged costume, because she’s always wanted to be a Pokémon, and uses a lot of wind and flight imagery in her speech.  No word on whether the costume actually allows her to fly, but I suppose she should be allowed to indulge her fantasies.  Some of Valerie’s Gym trainers have been acting snooty about their Fairy-types’ vaunted immunity to Dragon attacks, so I decide to teach Valerie a lesson by opening with Pytho the Sliggoo against her Mawile, who doesn’t actually seem to have any Fairy attacks and consequently turns out to be easy prey.  Her next Pokémon, a Mr. Mime, proves much more irritating – Pytho actually does fairly well here, but Valerie keeps healing the damn thing, so I eventually have to switch her out and send in Odysseus.  By this time Mr. Mime has taken a pretty heavy accuracy penalty from Pytho’s Muddy Water attack and is in no shape to keep fighting for long, so he goes down quickly.  Finally, out comes Valerie’s signature Pokémon – a Sylveon, who knocks out poor Odysseus with a powerful Fairy attack called Dazzling Gleam.  Enough is enough, I decide, and throw in Ilex, who puts Sylveon to sleep, boosts up with Growth, and flattens her with Petal Dance.  In defeat, Valerie lapses into a sort of introspective trance, handing over with little comment the Fairy Badge (seriously?  It’s the first Fairy-type Gym in the history of the game and Fairy Badge was the best you could come up with?), a sliver of translucent pink agate in a gilded frame shaped like a pair of fairy wings with a brilliant opal in the centre, along with a TM whose contents she has forgotten (it turns out, upon inspection, to be Dazzling Gleam, which no-one in my party can learn).  She starts murmuring to herself about her connection with her Pokémon, so I leave her to it and go to check out the Pokéball factory again.

It seems my rivals have had the same idea.  Shauna and Trevor have been refused entry to the factory and are fleeing from the incensed Team Flare guard, while Tierno is running around like a headless chicken, as he is wont to do – but the door us now unattended, so Serena suggests we take the opportunity to break in.  At first I was rather excited to be seeing the inside of a Pokéball factory – I hoped I might learn something about how Pokéballs function, or at least get a bit of ethical philosophy fodder, but in that respect it’s a bit of a bust really.  All I see are conveyor belts leading to and from parts unknown.  I do manage to elicit a plaintive “if Pokéballs are stolen by Team Flare, we can’t become friends with Pokémon…” from one of the captive workers, which is an interesting sentiment (considering that Pokéballs are pretty modern things and people have been working with Pokémon for millennia), but hardly a novel one.  Quickly growing bored, Serena and I plough through the Team Flare grunts and confront their admin, a woman this time, though wearing a similar horrendous outfit to her male counterpart, in the president’s office.  I have Odysseus stomp her two Pokémon, a Scraggy and a Houndoom, as quickly as possible.  With the admin are two other women who claim, like Aliana, to be scientists – one, Bryony, has bright green hair and wears green glasses with some sort of digital HUD, while the other, Celosia, has purple hair and a heavy visor like Aliana’s, though a little sleeker (interesting that there seems to be an alphabet motif going on with their names here – not unlike the names of the games themselves).  Again like Aliana, they appear to be both the brains and the brawn of the operation, and I’m not entirely sure whether they rank higher or lower than the admin they accompany.  The scientists summon a Manectric and a Liepard, which Serena and I face with my Malamar, Photia, and her Meowstic.  Liepard is initially a danger to Meowstic, but once both of them have been confused with Swagger, things quickly become fairly simple.  Celosia, Bryony and the admin give up and flee with their underlings, and the grateful president gives me and Serena a big nugget and a Master Ball each.  A news report on the Holo Caster soon confirms that Team Flare’s actions are unlikely to disrupt supplies of Pokéballs to the Kalos region.  Wait- this thing gets the news?  What is it actually even for?

That seems to be all there is to Laverre City for now, so I pack up and move on towards the next city, Dendemille Town.  Along the way I pick up Klefki, whom I’ve already talked about, Watchog, Mightyena, Pawniard, Murkrow, Lombre, Floatzel, Basculin and Poliwhirl, learn a dangerous forbidden roller skating trick from an elderly gentleman who leads an underground street gang in a burned out hotel (you know, a usual day), grab a Litwick, an Electrode and a Magneton… and receive another Holo Caster message from Lysandre, who wants to shoot the breeze about Mega Evolution.  Lysandre says that, according to Professor Sycamore’s research, Mega Evolution is a massive release of hidden energy, and wonders “do all people and Pokémon have such potential, or is it hidden only within a chosen few?”  Wait- people?  Is… is he suggesting that if I find a lump of, like, Humanite and give my Digivice to Pan, I’ll turn into a wizard or something?  Because I could work with that.

In other news, I am going home for Christmas – and since I live about as far from home as I can get while still being on the same planet, this means spending most of a day on a plane.  This will probably delay my progress a bit.  Just so you know.

Ridiculous quote log:

“A Dusk Ball makes every battle sunny!  Don’t you agree?
Um… no?

“Pokéballs are round!  The world is also round!”
Are you suggesting some sort of connection here?
“Win or lose, Pokéballs remain round!”
Yours won’t for long if you keep yakking.

Unlimited Power

Azure Bay produces little in the way of revelations.  The ‘Sea Spirit’s Den’ is a silent, empty cave.  Instinct tells me this place is going to be important later, and the ‘Sea Spirit’ of the name is probably some kind of legendary Pokémon, but whatever it is, it has no inclination to reveal itself at the moment.  The area does provide rewards of other kinds, though; a Mantyke, a Deep Sea Tooth, a Deep Sea Scale, various other sundry treasures… and a new Mega Stone, the pale sunset-coloured Ampharosite.  Well, that’s certainly worth checking out.  With nothing else to do in this area, I decide to begin an epic fishing trip to test out my new Good Rod, flying around the country with Tereus to collect everything I missed while I had nothing but an Old Rod.  Finally, all those Water Pokémon I’ve seen trainers use since the beginning of the game can be mine!  Remoraid, Chinchou, Goldeen, Corphish, Carvahna, Staryu and Horsea, as well as Wailmer and Tentacool, who turn up while surfing – and, most importantly, Clauncher.  Clauncher seems to be a sort of mixed attacker.  His Pokédex entry proclaims him able to “[fire] compressed water from [his] massive claws like shooting a pistol,” – wording which seems to confirm my original suspicion that this Pokémon is a pistol shrimp.  He also has an interesting ability – Mega Launcher, which claims to “power up aura and pulse moves.”  So… what, Water Pulse, Dark Pulse, Aura Sphere… Dragon Pulse?  Maybe some others I’m forgetting, and new moves I don’t know about?  Well, it’s neat; the ability adds character by encouraging the Pokémon to favour particular moves.  I want to see what this guy evolves into, so – Cecrops the Seviper is out, and Odysseus the Clauncher is in!

Time to head on, I suppose.  I fly back to Coumarine City and prepare to leave the city and travel south – and suddenly get a call on my Holo-Caster.  It’s Lysandre.

Lysandre has heard from Professor Sycamore that I have been entrusted with a Digivice, and is calling to congratulate me – and to urge me to think carefully about how I will use my power to change the world for the better.  Well, better is a very strong word here, but I like to think that I will not use my power to make the world worse… for me anyway… unfortunately I can’t speak for my future subjects, but, you know, you can’t make an omelette without slaughtering a few million people.  Lysandre continues, a zealous tone creeping into his voice, “We can’t just cover up the old filth with new filth!”  Look, dude, as long as it’s my new filth, I’m easy.  He repeats his exhortation to consider my choices wisely, then hangs up.  Hmm… if Lysandre knows about Mega Evolution and how important it is, maybe he used to be an initiate at the Tower of Mastery, like Professor Sycamore?  Hell, maybe that’s how they met?  If so, he might have a Digivice too…  I’m still hazy on what he actually wants, though.  “Make the world a better place” is an extremely nebulous goal.  As I wander through Coumarine City’s south gatehouse, deep in thought and mumbling to myself, I run straight into Professor Sycamore’s annoying lab assistants, Left and Right, who have a gift for me: the last piece of the Kalos Pokédex, which covers the mountainous areas of north-eastern Kalos.  I accept this boon and wave them aside as I continue into the Lumiose Badlands.

The Badlands are… well, aptly named.  They are, to put it lightly, certainly not good lands.  I see dirt, rocks, dust… and not much else.  Pokémon here just burst up out of the ground at you – Dugtrio, Trapinch, and occasionally Gible.  I catch one of each, and continue exploring.  It seems that this whole area is devoted to generating power for Lumiose City… Lumiose City, which is currently experiencing a major blackout.  Hmm.  At the time I assumed the blackout was merely a contrivance to keep me out of the northern parts of the city and oppress the civilians, but maybe something is actually going on here?  Can’t hurt to look.  I find three sealed entrances to the power facilities, but no way in until I happen to sweep a boulder with my Itemfinder and come across a card key… and, nearby, a Team Flare grunt guarding a fourth entrance.   Okay, this is definitely worth checking out.  My new Clauncher needs some practice anyway.

Team Flare seem to have taken over an entire wing of the power plant, imprisoning the staff inside.  The researchers explain that this plant operates on space-based photovoltaic power – basically, solar panels in space that beam energy back down to the surface.  I know people have been trying to work out how to do this for a while, but I don’t think the real world has developed the necessary technology yet; Kalos is into some cutting-edge stuff (contrast Sinnoh, which still uses coal…).  All four of the grunts I’ve fought before are here, along with several more (I had suspected, until now, that there were only four of them, but it seems they’re a less pathetic organisation than I had bargained for).  In general, they appear to favour Dark and Poison Pokémon – reasonably enough for an evil organisation bent on… whatever it is that they’re bent on.  Fame and fortune, as far as I can tell.  Odysseus and I fight our way through the grunts to the centre of the main… thingy.  Power collection assembly.  Whatever.  Two Team Flare higher-ups are doing something with the machinery – siphoning electricity for some nefarious purpose, to judge from their dialogue.  One is a woman in a red skirt wearing a clunky electronic visor – so she’s either blind, or just has even worse taste in accessories than the rest of her team.  Or both.  The other, I’m pretty sure, is a pimp.  Bald, white suit with gold trim, earrings on one side, ostentatious silver cufflinks – okay, I know it’s tradition by now for Pokémon villains to look ridiculous, but this guy looks more like a pimp king than the actual pimp king from Final Fantasy VII!  The evil pimp/Team Flare Admin attacks me with a Houndoom, who of course gets Crabhammered in the face, makes a remorseful squeaking noise, and runs away.  The pimp turns to his ally, addressing her as ‘scientist,’ and asks her to take care of me.  She steps up to the plate, introducing herself as Aliana, and claims to be a Team Flare scientist researching “something you wouldn’t understand anyway.”  Oh, yeah?  Try me, Georgina La Forge!  Aliana, too, has only one Pokémon – a powerful Mightyena – and just as it is beginning to gain the upper hand over Odysseus, she decides she would rather face a different Pokémon and Roars him out, leaving poor Mightyena at the mercy of Tereus.  Aliana and her pimp conclude that they have enough power for their needs anyway, and can afford to retreat, which they do so instantly and without leaving any trace of their presence.

And then Left and Right show up, wearing scarves and carnival masks.

…because today just wasn’t weird enough yet.

Professor Sycamore’s annoying lab assistants are superheroes?  “Defenders of Kalos”?  I- what?  “Let us heal your Pokémon as thanks!”  Uh… sure, but- “Well, I think us mysterious people will be off now!”  Wait, do you guys seriously think I don’t know exactly who you are?  You aren’t even wearing different clothes; you just put on those ridiculous masks and- “I leave before being left!  I decide!  Au revoir!” …sure, whatever.  À bientôt, weirdoes.

Why do I hang out with people like this?

In any case, Lumiose City should be back online now.  I leave the power plant and wander the rest of the way south through the Badlands.  Again, superb name.  I don’t think any area of the Pokémon world has ever been so well described.  As I come to the edge of these undeniably terrible lands and the gates to Lumiose City, I find someone in my path: an older man in jeans, a ragged black coat, and an orange beanie, his face shadowed by his long white hair.  He wears… something… around his neck – could be a big bronze key, maybe?  I don’t know who this guy is, what he’s up to, or whose notional ‘side’ he’s on, but he’s got plot significance rolling off him in waves.  He mutters something about a ‘flower Pokémon’ that was ‘given eternal life’ – well, hey, mister, I happen to know all kinds of stuff about flower Pokémon; maybe I can help with whatever you- No, never mind; he’s walking away.  Striding purposefully into Lumiose City.  Hmm.  A flower Pokémon, blessed with eternal life… he couldn’t mean Shaymin, could he?  Either that… or there’s some new legendary Grass Pokémon out there for me to master.  Excellent…

Ridiculous quote log:

“No matter how much we fish, the ocean stays blue.  So does the ground never change however much we battle?”
Well, you know, I really suspect that depends on how you fish.  I think you’ll find, actually, if you fish using traditional methods – with a gigantic spinning blade of death – that the ocean will not in fact stay blue for long.

“VRRR… TARGET ACQUIRED.  COMMENCING ATTACK.”
“MISSION FAILED.  ABORT.  ABORT.”
“I WAS CREATED SOLELY TO DO BATTLE…”
…one of the maids in the Battle Château is a robot.  A robot Viscountess with no purpose other than combat.  I… I want one.