Lizardman Lizardman asks:

Fun fact: one of the most feared Pokemon in Anything Goes is not Mega Rayquaza, or some Arceus forme… It’s Vivillon. Just thought you’d like to know.

Well “one of the most feared” is a bit of an exaggeration; she’s a bit niche and very high-risk/high-reward, but even that much is a hell of an achievement for a cookie-cutter early-game butterfly.  Honestly I think this says less about Vivillon than about how heinously overpowered sleep is in Pokémon, even after being nerfed in four out of six generations, and how completely we all tend to forget about that most of the time.  Smogon has a rule (and I think other communities use this as well) that you can only put one Pokémon to sleep at a time, and their influence on the competitive Pokémon community is so great that even in contexts where their rules don’t apply (like most official tournaments) people kind of act as if they did – partly, I think, because the strategies banned by rules like this are just incredibly dickish and make the game a lot less fun for everyone.  Of course, in Smogon’s “anything goes” tier… well, anything goes.  Vivillon is faster than Butterfree and gets Compoundeyes Hurricane, and Sun and Moon nerfed the cr@p out of Darkrai’s Dark Void, so if you want to spam a very high-accuracy sleep technique, she’s the one to do it with.  I mean, yes, Quiver Dance is part of it, because without it Vivillon would be outrun and one-shot by practically everything, but when you have all the legendary Pokémon in the game to work with, the offensive presence of a Quiver Dance Vivillon, while significant, isn’t that big a deal – which is why we would never have this conversation in the “uber” tier, where the sleep rules still apply.  Sleep really is just that good.  This is one of the reasons you shouldn’t automatically defer to the competitive zeitgeist when choosing Pokémon and movesets for single-player, not even in end-game battle facilities – it’s not actually the same game.

X Nuzlocke, episode 2: For the Swarm

Route 3

Melissa: Here it is; here it is!  This is the end of the forest!
Spruce: Santalune City should be right over this next ridge.
Ruby: About time.  Human, let- put me- let go of me, idiot!  Ah!  Finally.
Melissa: Come on, come on!  We need to hurry!
Ruby: What’s the rush?  You two have all day tomorrow to do your… quest thing or whatever and indulge your delusions of adequacy.
Melissa: Oh, I know, but it’s so important and so exciting!
Spruce: Maybe you should just tell us more about who we’re fighting?
Ruby: Yes, please do; what you’ve told us so far has been so excruciatingly riveting.
Melissa: She’s an evil, evil witch with a Vivillon who lures Bug Pokémon away from the forest by promising to make them stronger and takes them away from the hive!  They just want to make all the Bug Pokémon in the Santalune Forest into their slaves!
Spruce: Why would anyone do something like that?
Melissa: I don’t know, but we have to stop them!  If the hive gets weaker none of us will know what to do anymore!  The hive is our whole life!
Fletchling: ‘scuse me, mates, couldn’t ‘elp but over’ear…
Melissa: Who said that?
Fletchling: I did.  Up ‘ere.  And if you don’t mind my say so, sounds like you might be in need of some muscle for ‘ire.
Ruby: Hmm… come down here where I can see you properly, bird.
Fletchling: No problem at all.  Bodkin’s the name.  You need air support, I’m your bloke – long as you got the dough for it.  Looks like you already got yourself a bird on your team though.  Doin’ all right there, mate?
Spruce: Uh… fine, thanks.
Bodkin: ‘oo’s in charge ‘ere, then?  You got a trainer, looks like.
Ruby: Oh, for- Ignore the ape!  Really, why would anyone pay the slightest attention to him with such a vision of incandescent power as myself in view?
Bodkin: And ‘oo are you then, guv’nor?
Ruby: am Ruby the Fennekin, fiery jewel among Pokémon, sorceress supreme!  Perhaps you’ve heard of me?
Bodkin: [staring] …you what?
Ruby: [sighs] It was worth a try.
Bodkin: ‘ey, I’m sure you’re a great celebrity in other parts, but I’m only an ‘umble mercenary.  I dunno nothin’ about sorceresses and the like.  Like I said, though, sounds to me like you’re lookin’ to challenge the Santalune Gym.  Ain’t nothin’ better than a quick Flying-type to ‘elp you clean that place out.
Ruby: What’s the catch?
Bodkin: Well, like I said, I’m a bit of a materialist, luv.  I’ll fight wherever, whenever and ‘ooever you want, but you gotta meet my fee.  Two evolutionary stones and a nugget, all in advance.
Spruce: That’s a bit steep!
Bodkin: Heh.  What’s she payin’ you, mate?
Spruce: I- she’s not paying me anything!  I’m here to go on adventures, help people, and do good things!
Bodkin: Hah!  Seriously?  Well, aren’t you adorable?  And what about the crispy little luncheon roll ‘ere?
Melissa: [giggles] I might be a meal for you, but whole flocks of you would be just a snack for the hive.
Bodkin: …uh… h’okay, then.  Um. [to Ruby] Well, luv?  What’s it to be?
Ruby: Two evolutionary stones and a nugget.  Hmm.  Would you accept, say… a frosted Poké Puff and this Pidgey?
Spruce: Wait, what?
Bodkin: Hah!  That’s a good one, luv!  Mind you… [glances at Spruce] Mmm… tempting… but no, no can do.
Spruce: Wait, what?
Bodkin: Tell you what; you made me laugh, so forget the stones.  I ain’t got the contacts to sell ‘em at the moment anyway.  That’s my best price, that is.
Ruby: Regrettably I… find myself a little short on nuggets at the moment.  Along with most of the other trappings of power… like competent inferiors…
Bodkin: That’s a right bleedin’ shame, that is.  Well, if we ain’t got no business, I’d best be off, then – but you remember my name.  Might be useful if you come into a bit o’ cash, eh?
Ruby: Mmm.  Quite.
Bodkin: Until next time!
Spruce: It was nice meeting you!
Bodkin: And yourself, mate.  You look me up if you’re ever around ‘ere and fancy a bit o’ fun, yeah? [winks]
Spruce: …I am so confused.

Continue reading “X Nuzlocke, episode 2: For the Swarm”

Scatterbug, Spewpa and Vivillon

Scatterbug.

I didn’t really intend to leave these Pokémon so late, but I kind of forgot about them for a while, and here we are, with only one other set left in the Central Kalos sub-region.  It’s not like I forgot they exist or anything like that; I think I just assumed I must have done them already.  By contrast, I regularly forget that Mothim exists.  It used to be an oversight, but now it’s become a matter of principle.  Butterfly and moth Pokémon are one of the stock design types like Normal Bird, Normal Vermin and Electric Rodent; at least one appears in every region aside from Johto, and the rapid caterpillar-cocoon-butterfly succession originally seen in Butterfree (and paralleled by her vicious opposite, Beedrill) was repeated by Beautifly, Dustox, and now Vivillon herself.  Years ago I declared Beautifly and Dustox the joint third-worst Pokémon of all time on a combined assessment of their nonexistent battle capabilities and the highly derivative character of their designs, which borrow a great deal from Butterfree and Venomoth.  Game Freak’s decision to come out with yet another of these things represents, to my warped psyche, something of an invitation to a grudge match.  Let’s get to it.

There is an undeniable attraction in the idea of metamorphosis – just ask the Roman poet Ovid.  What could be more magical (or more easily lent to metaphor and allegory) than a creature that transforms from one shape into another?  As an aside, while we’re on the subject, here is a page explaining a wacky and controversial conjecture on the true nature of a caterpillar’s metamorphosis, which would put a really interesting and kind of dark twist on Pokémon evolution.  Go read it and come back; I’ll wait.

Neat, huh?  Anyway.

 Even its Latin name - Acherontia atropos - is badass; Acherontia from Acheron, the river of sorrow in the Underworld, Atropos after the third of the Moirai (or Fates), who cuts the thread of life when a person dies.

Given how important metamorphosis is in Pokémon, it makes sense that the iconic caterpillar-to-butterfly transformation would be such a favourite commonplace, and that it would often form part of the introduction of new players to evolution.  It’s understandable.  Having said that, I still want the relevant Pokémon to be interesting in their own right.  Butterfree?  Pollinating butterfly with telekinesis and the ability to scatter poisonous powders.  Pretty sure those things are Mothra references, but that’s fine.  Venomoth?  Nocturnal moth with telekinesis and the ability to scatter poisonous powders.  Don’t think we really needed both, but they were just starting out so I’ll let them have it.  Beautifly?  Pollinating butterfly with the ability to scatter poisonous powders – no telekinesis this time, but seems to have been developed, starting from generation IV, into a bloodsucking predator, who… eats mainly nectar?  Whatever.  Dustox?  Nocturnal moth with telekinesis and the ability to scatter poisonous powders.  They’re phoning it in at this point.  Then there’s Masquerain, who has the whole ‘intimidating glare’ thing going, and also has water powers but can’t fly if he gets wet?  That’s… well, it’s different, sure.  Mothim is… unfortunate.  The interesting thing about bagworms like Burmy is that the females conspicuously fail to metamorphose completely – hence Wormadam – but this only becomes an interesting element of the design through being paired with a male moth, who is really just an accessory to his female counterpart.  It goes without saying that Mothim has telekinesis and poisonous powders, but he isn’t a pollinator.  In fact, Mothim steals honey from Combee, which seems like it must be a reference to the infiltration tactics of the death’s-head hawkmoth, the indisputable most badass lepidopteran of all time.  The fact that Mothim neither pursues this line of inspiration nor bothers to incorporate any influence from Burmy’s cloak (which would have been a really easy way to make him more interesting) leaves me with more of a feeling of wasted potential than almost any other Pokémon of that generation.  Basically, the butterfly brigade comprises a morass of repetitive and poorly thought-out ideas, and Volcarona.  Imagine, then, my untrammelled joy when my Scatterbug evolved into a Spewpa, and my Spewpa evolved into a butterfly with telekinesis and poisonous powders.

 Spewpa.

Vivillon’s claim to fame is that she comes in a wide variety of different colours and patterns that vary depending on the real-world geographical location to which you have registered your 3DS.  My 3DS, for example, is registered to New Zealand, so Vivillon I catch, evolve or breed (including any Scatterbug eggs I trade away) have the deep green with red spots of the Garden pattern, something New Zealand has in common with Britain, Ireland, parts of Poland, and Tasmania.  This remains true regardless of my actual location (the 3DS doesn’t know that I’ve moved to the USA, or that I’m going to Italy next week).  In all, there are eighteen patterns, plus two more ‘special’ ones – a ‘Fancy’ pattern, pink and green with flowers, which is scheduled for release in a Nintendo event that will occur upon the approaching milestone of 100 million Pokémon trades on the Global Trade Centre, and a Pokéball pattern that is presumably being saved for a future event as well.  The point of all this is obvious: people will want to collect all the different Vivillon patterns, and to do that they’re going to have to trade with people all over the world (well, or with people who’ve set their 3DS systems to believe they live in faraway places, but it’s the principle of the thing).  Pokémon has been encouraging this for a while with things like unlockable foreign language Pokédex entries, extra experience boosts for Pokémon from foreign language games, and greater chances of hatching shiny Pokémon when breeding parents from two different language games.  It also ties into the way Pokémon has been overtly positioning itself as an international phenomenon by setting generations V and VI in regions based on New York and France, in contrast to the purely Japanese-inspired regions of generations I through IV.  Game Freak value and want to reward not just foreigners buying their games, but playing those games with each other and with people back at home in Japan.  In Vivillon, they’ve hit the jackpot: she is consistently the most traded Pokémon on the Global Trade Centre.  Now, I don’t know if this makes Vivillon a good Pokémon.  Everything else about her is still very conventional.  I don’t do a lot of trading myself anyway, but even beyond that I’m simply very uneasy with mechanics that encourage people to collect Pokémon they have no intention of using, which emphasises the disconnect between the way Pokémon plays as a game and the partnership themes it tries to convey.  However, I think the important thing here is that we can all agree Mothim is terrible.

 Meadow Vivillon, who is available in most parts of France and some neighbouring countries, and is therefore the type used by Viola.

In the interests of not selling Vivillon short, I should note that in battle she is unarguably superior to Butterfree, who is herself leagues ahead of Dustox and Beautifly.  Butterfree basically has two things going for her: 97.5% accurate Compoundeyes Sleep Powder/Stun Spore, and Quiver Dance, which can turn just about anything into a special sweeper by raising special attack, special defence and speed all at once.  Although it requires her to forgo Compoundeyes, Butterfree also got Tinted Lens as her hidden ability, which negates most resistances and makes her attacks surprisingly difficult to stop once she gets a Quiver Dance or two going.  Ultimately you have to ask yourself “why am I not using Venomoth for this?” since Venomoth also gets Tinted Lens, is tougher and significantly faster, and has a marginally less awful type combination, but the point is that Butterfree has self-respect of the kind Beautifly would kill for.  Vivillon doesn’t have Tinted Lens, but she does have Compoundeyes, and unlike Butterfree she actually learns something other than Sleep Powder and Stun Spore that will make use of it: Hurricane.  Vivillon’s Compoundeyes Hurricane is conceptually identical to Galvantula’s Compoundeyes Thunder.  The ability to use such a powerful attack with impunity lets her significantly outpace Pokémon who’d normally be much stronger – and there’s no Thunderbolt for Flying-types either; Pokémon like Togekiss and Noivern have to make do with relatively weak attacks like Air Slash, and Vivillon’s Hurricane can significantly outstrip their damage output.  She even gets U-Turn, which is amazing as always, although Vivillon has trouble stuffing everything she wants into one set.  So, with a souped-up wind attack, a near-perfect sleep technique and one of the best set-up moves in the game, what could possibly go wrong?  Well, Vivillon pays dearly for her Hurricane attack and the extra speed she has over Butterfree.  There are precious few Pokémon who can’t inflict serious injury on her.  Most attacks she doesn’t resist will blow a huge hole in her.  Almost any proper super-effective attack will one-shot her, and the thing about Bug/Flying is that there are a lot of common attacks you’re weak to.  What’s more, ‘faster than Butterfree’ doesn’t exactly mean a whole lot until after your first Quiver Dance, and if Vivillon switches in while your opponent has Stealth Rock in place, she’s all but dead on arrival.  Getting her into play safely is hard, getting her a chance to use Quiver Dance without being counterattacked is equally hard, and even once you’ve done all that successfully, there are still Steel-types who resist all of her attacks, and priority moves that can maim or destroy her.

 Garden Vivillon, available in New Zealand, where I'm from; Modern Vivillon, available in Ohio, where I now live; and Marine Vivillon, available in Italy, where I'm going next week (though my game will always produce Garden Vivillon, regardless of where I actually am).

The other interesting things about Vivillon are a signature move and an almost-signature ability.  Powder is a priority move which will interrupt any incoming Fire attack, causing an explosion that will damage the Pokémon trying to hit Vivillon.  It’s such a cool idea that it’s almost worth using just for the one time it will actually work and make enemy Fire-types’ plans literally blow up in their faces, but once you’ve used it once, your opponent just won’t use Fire attacks on Vivillon.  Heck, if they’re smart they might just avoid using Fire attacks on her from the beginning.  Against most Pokémon, being prevented from using super-effective attacks might be a crippling disadvantage, but it bears repeating that you don’t actually need super-effective attacks to do pretty heavy damage to Vivillon.  Since an incorrect prediction with Powder results in a wasted turn and a hit you can’t really afford to take, it strikes me as one of those moves that are more useful for the threat that you might use it than for what happens when you actually use it.  The almost-signature ability is her hidden ability, Friend Guard, which a few other Pokémon have, though Vivillon is the only one who keeps it when fully-evolved.  Friend Guard reduces damage to allied Pokémon by 25% in double and triple battles, gearing Vivillon more towards a support role (for which she can also make use of Aromatherapy and Light Screen).  It doesn’t shield Vivillon herself, and will draw a great deal of fire from your opponents, but even this is potentially exploitable if you give her Protect.  I’m doubtful whether the protection of Friend Guard is enough of a benefit to be worth the hassle of trying to keep such a fragile Pokémon alive for more than a few turns in a fast-paced environment like doubles, but it’s cool she has something unique.  Personally, I would have liked to see each of Vivillon’s forms get a special move or ability to themselves – imagine the potential havoc an Icy Snow Vivillon could cause with Compoundeyes Blizzard, or a Monsoon Vivillon forgoing Compoundeyes for Drizzle and retaining her high-accuracy Hurricane (I would totally give all Vivillon Weather Ball as well; their theme of adapting to different climates makes it at least plausible thematically).  Given the sheer number of Vivillon forms, though, Game Freak’s reticence is understandable.

Considering how comprehensively the deck is normally stacked against Bug/Flying dual-types, as well as early game Pokémon in general, it’s something of a miracle Vivillon manages to be usable at all, but skilled players have been known to pull off some quite spectacular manoeuvres with this little eye-catcher.  I’m not exactly going to forgive the designers for doing another Butterfree, but they’ve made her far stronger than her predecessors and given her a clever feature which, though I honestly find it just plain gimmicky, has won the hearts of trainers all over the world and contributed to the wider vision of the franchise.  Touché, Game Freak.  You win this round…

Moves, Movepools and Flavour

Pokémon are, almost by definition, creatures with incredible abilities, often ones which exceed the boundaries of what we believe to be possible.  Normally I like to make a fuss of the aspects of the Pokémon world that have nothing to do with the powers, like history and ethics and society and culture and all the rest, but let’s face it, I’m at least partly in it for the thrill of having a flying murder-dragon with four different kinds of exploding death lasers.  What you can do and what you can’t is fundamentally a part of who you are, and what Pokémon can and can’t do is expressed in the games through their stats, their abilities, and in perhaps the greatest variety through their moves.  I like to say that Pokémon “should be good at the things they’re good at” – that is, they should possess the skills we would expect them to, based on their designs, and those skills should in turn contribute to the way we see them and use them.  Mechanics and flavour should work together – well, at least that’s what I think.  Let’s talk about how that works (or fails to).

As of the release of X and Y, there are 609 moves in the Pokémon games: 609 effects which are available in various combinations to different species.  Some are basic, and others are complicated.  Some are effective in a wide variety of situations, others require a great deal of forethought to be useful at all (with varying degrees of payoff).  Some are powerful, others are weak.  Some are available to many Pokémon, or to almost all of them, others to only one or two.  All of them say something about the Pokémon capable of using them – and that includes the ones that would never see any use competitively, or even in a normal playthrough!  Let’s take as our first example the unanimously agreed worst move of all: Splash, which has no effect whatsoever, and is useful only in the most contrived of situations (say, if your opponent is trying to stall you down to Struggle, and Splash’s 40 PP allow you to sit on your butt for longer without running out of moves, or something).  For all that, only a handful of Pokémon are actually able to learn this non-technique; indeed in Red and Blue it was unique to Magikarp, hailed in-universe as the weakest Pokémon of all – the only one so pathetic it had a move that allowed it to flop around doing absolutely nothing.  Since then the move has been bestowed (either as a level-up move or a hereditary one) upon Poliwag, Horsea, Hoppip, Cleffa, Delibird, Azurill, Wailmer, Spoink, Feebas, Wynaut, Luvdisc, Buneary, Finneon, Mantyke and Clauncher.  What is the common thread with these Pokémon?  Like Magikarp, some of them are portrayed as being particularly helpless, like Poliwag, who can barely walk on land, Hoppip, at the mercy of the breeze, Wynaut, whose evolved form is unable to take spontaneous action, or Spoink, whose heart actually stops if he doesn’t continually keep bouncing around uselessly.  Most of them are on the cute end of the spectrum as well, adding to the impression of vulnerability.  The enduring message is that these are Pokémon who require particular nurturing and attention in order to grow and succeed (although they won’t necessarily be helpless forever – Gyarados certainly proves that, as does Kingdra).  One of these things is not like the others, though – what’s Clauncher doing on this list?  To me, the fact that Clauncher starts with Splash conveys a certain weakness that would not otherwise be immediately apparent from his design – and it’s not entirely inappropriate, since he isn’t exactly a physically imposing Pokémon.  I would also suggest a link with the fact that Clauncher is incapable of learning many of Clawitzer’s most powerful attacks, like Dark Pulse and Aura Sphere; more than most Pokémon, he has a lot of growing to do, and is especially vulnerable in his infancy.

X and Y added a lot of moves with very specific uses; in particular, there are a number of support moves which seem like they would only be useful in a triple battle, and only then with a fair amount of planning.  Take Rototiller, for instance, which raises the attack and special attack of all Grass Pokémon in battle.  To begin with, only two Grass Pokémon – Paras and Cacnea – are capable of learning this move (and even them by chain-breeding via Buneary), so for most Pokémon it can only be useful in a double battle.  Even then, a Rototiller boost is functionally equivalent to the boost provided by Growth… which, y’know, most Grass Pokémon can learn… so really in order to get the proper bang for your buck you want to set things up in a triple battle so that two Grass Pokémon at once are getting the bonus.  As contrived a situation as it takes to make Rototiller useful (and believe me, as a card-carrying Grass Pokémon Master, my next project is to contrive the heck out of it for a Battle Maison triples team), as a move that expands what we know about the Pokémon who learn it, it’s solid gold, because it conveys the ecological function that the Pokémon who possess it – Sandshrew, Dugtrio, Onix, Rhyhorn, Linoone, Bibarel, Lopunny, Watchog, Excadrill, Dwebble and Diggersby – have in aerating soil and helping plants grow.  In the case of Dugtrio and Excadrill, we knew that already, but for the others it’s neat new information (although one does wonder how important a desert Pokémon like Sandshrew would be in that capacity).  For a Pokémon like Rhyhorn, who doesn’t really dig tunnels habitually, it even prompts me to imagine early human farmers hitching up their first rudimentary ploughs to domesticated Rhyhorn.  Another bizarre little trick is Vivillon’s signature move, Powder, a priority attack that causes a Pokémon to explode and take damage if it tries to use a Fire attack during that turn.  There are numerous disadvantages here – 1) you have to predict an incoming Fire attack, 2) it’s unlikely to work more than once in a battle, especially given that Vivillon’s defences are so bad it doesn’t really take a super-effective attack to bring her down, and 3) it requires you to actually use Vivillon in the first place.  On the other hand, I feel like all that is totally worth it to see an attack backfire in such a spectacular fashion, and it does establish Vivillon as a clever, tricky Pokémon who will take no $#!t from anyone.  Probably my single favourite ‘WTF’ attack in X and Y is Ion Deluge, another priority technique which turns all Normal attacks used that turn into Electric attacks.  Again, it seems like this could only be useful in double or triple battles, because although most of the Pokémon that learn it do have some kind of ability that lets them absorb Electric attacks, you still have to predict an incoming Normal attack, and even then the benefit you get is not huge.  Even in doubles or triples, I have difficulty imagining a situation (let alone thinking of a reliable way to set one up) where it would not be equally useful just to… y’know… use an Electric attack, something all Pokémon with Ion Deluge can do.  I’m not sure what kind of ‘characterisation’ Ion Deluge is supposed to create either, which is a shame.

Other times, we get Pokémon whose techniques conspicuously fail to express what they’re supposedly all about.  My favourite example is probably Gigalith, whose ‘thing’ is his ability to store, magnify and direct solar energy using the crystals on his body, creating devastating blast attacks that can destroy mountains.  Great, except that Gigalith needs a TM to learn Solar Beam, and has a very discouraging special attack stat to back it up.  Drowzee and Hypno, famously, still require human intervention to learn Dream Eater after all these years, despite the fact that eating dreams is literally how they survive.  In Red and Blue this almost made sense because the Dream Eater TM could only be used by Hypno, Gengar and Mew anyway, so it was sort of an unlockable signature move like Softboiled (which no Pokémon learned on its own, but could be taught to Chansey with TM 41).  Now, though, there are literally hundreds of Pokémon, including some who can’t even induce sleep like Ambipom, Lickilicky and Aurorus, who are just as good at eating dreams as the dream-eater Pokémon themselves.  Just as strange is Sceptile, introduced in the last generation before moves started to be assigned “physical” or “special” individually rather than by type.  By now, Game Freak had gotten the hang of the way their own system worked.  Sceptile seems like a physical Pokémon but, like poor Feraligatr, all his best flavour-appropriate attacks – Leaf Blade, Dragon Claw and Crunch – were special, so they made Sceptile a special attacker.  Things became very weird when Diamond and Pearl rolled around, though; all Sceptile’s favourite moves were suddenly keyed to the wrong stat.  As a result, he now favours Dragon Pulse, Focus Blast and Leaf Storm, and is actually quite bad at using his own signature move.  Would it not have made more sense if, when Sceptile’s entire movepool flipped from special to physical, he had flipped with it?  A happier example is Lickitung, whose key characteristic is his enormous tongue.  The obvious problem with Lickitung, in the mad old days of Red and Blue, was that he couldn’t actually learn Lick.  The interesting problem was that although he got Lick in Gold and Silver, it was much longer before he gained effective attacks that could be visualised as using his tongue.  Slam was his mainstay from the beginning, but Slam is terrible.  Wrap, which he got in Gold and Silver, is scarcely worth mentioning.  Knock Off in Ruby and Sapphire was an improvement, but it was really Diamond and Pearl that gave Lickitung and Lickilicky properly useful attacks that fit the way we’re supposed to imagine them fighting: Power Whip and Wring Out, which relatively few other Pokémon learn.  They’re not the best attacks around, but both can argue for a place on a serious moveset, and they provide a good example of updating an old Pokémon in an appropriate and interesting way.

Then there are attacks that everything learns, or almost everything, at any rate: Hyper Beam, the ultimate expression of a fully-evolved Pokémon’s might, Protect, the standard “no” technique, and Hidden Power, whose universal availability hints at a kind of soul energy that can be drawn upon by all living things.  There are also things which are… harder to explain or justify.  All Pokémon can learn Toxic.  What?  I’ve actually been asked to explain this before, and settled on the idea that since Toxic is supposed to be a ninja technique – that is, a human technique – it probably uses principles that are accessible to humans, and to all Pokémon.  Pokémon who’ve been taught Toxic can recognise, collect, store, and use poisonous substances that they might not actually be able to secrete on their own.  A bit unfortunate, perhaps, for the poor Poison-types, who have to live down the fact that their most powerful ability is available to nearly every Pokémon in existence, but at least X and Y threw them a bone by giving Toxic perfect accuracy when used by a Poison Pokémon.  It gets worse, though; most Pokémon can create illusionary duplicates of themselves, with varying degrees of substance – almost all can learn Double Team and Substitute.  Weather manipulation, too, is shockingly common; Sunny Day and Rain Dance are normally denied only to Pokémon who would specifically be disadvantaged by them in some way.  I have to imagine that, in all but a few cases, these techniques are more like prayers (to Groudon or Kyogre?) than actual exercises of a Pokémon’s own powers – think of the connotations that the phrase “rain dance” has in English, and the fact that Rain Dance’s Japanese name, Amagoi, refers to a prayer for rain – while the rarer and seemingly effortless Drought and Drizzle abilities imply a real connection with the weather on some level.

Other moves available by TM are not quite so universal, but in general they are still far more often seen than most Pokémon techniques.  Many of these are go-to attacks for competitive movesets – staples like Thunderbolt, Ice Beam, and Surf.  Being so widely available means that these moves don’t tell us all that much about the specific Pokémon who learn them, but their prominence in strategy means that they contribute something to how the types themselves are portrayed.  When we think of the Ground type, for instance, we don’t just think of Ground-type Pokémon – we think of the ubiquitous Earthquake, one of the best physical attacks in the game.  When we think of Fire, we think of Flamethrower, but also of Fire Blast, which, being more accurate than Thunder or Blizzard and often a better choice than Flamethrower, is much more likely to come to mind than its Ice or Electric equivalents, so that Fire becomes a type associated with overwhelming power (Overheat only adds to the effect – Grass has an equivalent attack, Leaf Storm, but very few Pokémon can learn it, while Overheat is widely available).  The closest thing Psychic has to a go-to physical attack isn’t a physical attack at all, but a special attack which hits the target’s physical defence, Psyshock, thus reinforcing the typical view that Psychic types do not rely on their bodily strength.  Conversely, Rock has no common special attack at all.  The popularity of U-Turn and Volt Switch, accessible to many Pokémon through TMs, links Bug and Electric with speed, cleverness and changeability.  Sometimes I am concerned that the steady proliferation of techniques with every generation will eventually erode the differences between the types completely; we’re moving steadily closer to a situation where every type has both a physical and a special attack with a power rating of 80-90 and 100% accuracy, which would rather be throwing the baby out with the bathwater as far as establishing balance.  On the other hand, if only a few Pokémon get to flout the stereotypes of their elements – like Lucario and Beartic do, like Gigalith could have – then what we’re really getting is opportunities for specific Pokémon to be awesome in specific ways, which is the primary virtue that should be kept in mind here.

Finally, since we’re talking about TMs, we inevitably come to my pet hate, a move that not everything can learn, by any stretch of the imagination, but available to a truly bizarre selection of Pokémon who seem as though they should have no business learning it: Aerial Ace.  I offer first the usual disclaimer: I know Aerial Ace in Japanese is called “Turning Swallow Cut” and is named after an old katana technique.  Fine.  I have no problem with this move being available to Pokémon who can’t fly.  However.  The move’s description implies that it involves great speed and agility, which is why it never misses.  Also, it’s a Flying-type move and the Pokémon who learn it on their own are mostly birds, continuing that theme (the exceptions being Heracross, who can fly, Honedge, who is a living sword, and Gogoat, who… um… yeah, I got nothing).  And indeed, many of the Pokémon who learn it out of TM 40, as well as favouring cutting or slashing attacks, possess either great speed or flight… but then there’s Slaking.  Bouffalant.  Tyranitar.  Shelgon.  Ferrothorn.  Mr. Mime.  Crustle.  Aggron.  Regigigas, of all things.

And, of course, my favourite: Slowbro, but not Slowking.

Mechanically, very little separates Slowbro and Slowking.  Slowking’s special defence is higher, and he can learn Nasty Plot, Swagger, Power Gem, Quash, and Dragon Tail.  Slowbro’s defence is higher, and he can learn (in addition to a few moves that Slowking could get as a Slowpoke by delaying his evolution) Aerial Ace.  That’s the one move Slowbro has that Slowking can’t mimic.  Think about this in the context of everything else I’ve talked about in this over-long entry, and it all adds up to one thing.

Someone over there has a very strange sense of humour.

Professing Comprehension

Before leaving for Lumiose City, I check out the route east of Santalune (Détourner Way – another interesting change, all of the routes now have French names as well as numbers; I think I like this).  This route apparently leads to the headquarters of the French Pokémon League, so I don’t get very far, although I do pick up a Psyduck, a Riolu, and a new Pokémon called a Litleo as I explore.  Litleo is, as the name implies, a little lion who has been lit (on fire) – the game’s first Fire/Normal dual-type.  This might be interesting enough to be worth a spot on my team, at least for the time being.  I attempt to name her Ishtar, after a Babylonian war goddess whose sacred animal is a lioness, but the game rather impudently tells me “you can’t enter that word,” not deigning to give a reason why, so I opt instead for Astarte, the Phoenician name of the same goddess, and spend some time training her up a bit.  Litleo appears to be a balanced all-rounder with a bias towards speed and special attack but decent defences as well.  I wonder whether the males and females look different when they evolve (no manes for the females)?  While mucking around here, I get my Spewpa to level 12 – and she evolves into a deep green Vivillon.  Hmm.  I admit I was focussing more closely on the Infestation attack, but I’m pretty sure Viola’s Vivillon was pink.  The Pokédex helpfully explains that Vivillon come in different colours and patterns depending on their environment – Viola’s was a meadow Vivillon, while mine is a garden Vivillon.  Initially I thought this was basically the same kind of thing as Shellos has and was all set to be totally underwhelmed by it, but, in between writing this bit and actually posting the entry, readers have explained to me that Vivillon have different patterns depending on where in the world their owners are from – so my garden Vivillon must be what New Zealanders get (the internet suggests that we have this in common with Tasmania, Britain and parts of Eastern Europe).  Hrm.  Well… it’s gimmicky… like, that is not by any means such a cool idea that I’m willing to forgive them for another generic caterpillar-cocoon-moth sequence… but it is an interesting way of playing up the ‘international spirit’ Pokémon has been trying to cultivate in the past few years by encouraging long-distance trade, so I suppose as an expression of Game Freak’s ideology it’s pretty neat (minor side note: Struggle Bug seems to have received a power boost to make it actually useful – I approve).  I also meet, in the hands of another trainer, the first Pokémon I’ve ever seen with accent marks in its name: Flabébé, a little Thumbelina figure clinging to the pistil of a floating red flower, presumably a Grass/Fairy dual-type, which the Pokédex helpfully informs me will be available soon.

As I set out for Paris, I am given one final parting gift at the gates by Viola’s older sister, a journalist named Alexa: an Exp. Share.  Neat; I wonder how that fits in with the new experience mechan-

What?

ALL of them?

…okay, so the Exp. Share is now the Exp. All from Red and Blue on caffeine and steroids.  Well, that’s going to speed up the levelling process.  I hope they anticipated that, or this is going to be a dreadfully easy game…

The road from Dijon to Paris is heavily beautified, almost more like a public garden than a road in the usual sense of the word.  Elaborate hedge mazes and neat, colourful flowerbeds tended by hard-working gardeners line the pathways, and at the midway point between the two cities stands a monumental brass fountain depicting two Horsea spraying streams of water into the air over a huge Clamperl.  I’m getting the impression that order and harmony are an important part of Kalosian ideology (even more so than in other regions we’ve seen in Pokémon).  Naturally, I take the time to hang out in the gardens and catch Pokémon, adding to my repertoire a Ledyba, a Budew, a female Combee, a Ralts (who has been promoted to Psychic/Fairy), a Skitty, and a Flabébé, who turns out not to be a Grass-type at all but a pure Fairy-type who can learn Grass attacks and has an ability that protects Grass Pokémon from stat reductions in double battles (that’s kind of a niche use there, but I guess if it protects you from the recoil of Leaf Storm…).  I also learn, incidentally, that Flabébé come with multiple flower colours – I’ve seen red, yellow, orange and white – though whether they have any further significance is at this point obscure to me.  Mindful of the possibility that I may incorporate several more Grass-types into my team in the future, I welcome to my team Kore the Flabébé (named for the Greek goddess of springtime).  Shortly afterward, my Chespin, Pan, reaches level 16 and evolves into a strange, rotund creature called a Quilladin, who makes me think of nothing so much as Crash Bandicoot in an armoured fat suit.  He seems to be generally a continuation of Chespin’s main design features, although I’m a little surprised he hasn’t picked up a secondary type like Fighting, Ground, or even Rock.  I wonder whether his final form will?

At the city gates, I am met by a girl and boy, I suspect twins, who introduce themselves as Sina and Dexio (wait… so you’re saying your names are Left and Right?  Damn, your parents were weird…).  These two claim to be the assistants of Professor Sycamore, and after a brief burst of excitement over my acquisition of a Fairy Pokémon, they are eager to escort me to his lab in Lumiose City so he can meet with me.  Eh, why not?  He gave me a neat Pokémon; I can respect that.  A few short minutes later, I finally meet face to face with the Professor in his lavishly provided research institute, a far larger, handsomer and more fully-staffed building than I’ve ever before seen a Professor control, as stuffed with fine art as it is with Pokémon textbooks and technology.  Professor Sycamore greets me enthusiastically, complimenting me on the work I’ve already done on the Pokédex, and explains that although he had initially planned to give a Pokémon to only one child of Vaniville Town (presumably Serena, from his description), he had changed his mind when he heard of me, largely due to Mother’s apparently far-reaching reputation as a Rhyhorn jockey (look, dude, if you want to ask her out, I’m totally cool with it; I have no idea where Dad is or even if he’s still alive, so seriously, go for it).  At this point, Serena and Shauna arrive, and Sycamore announces, out of the blue, that he wants a Pokémon battle with me – confessing, in advance, that he’s a bit of a pushover.  He’s… not kidding.  His choice of Pokémon – Bulbasaur, Charmander, and Squirtle – is intriguing, but their levels are disappointing.  To cap things off, Tereus, after Squirtle goes down, hits level 17 and begins to evolve, emerging as a Fletchinder, a larger bird Pokémon who is actually beginning to remind me quite strongly of a hoopoe (fortuitous, given the name I chose for him).  Then he learns…

…Ember?

…wait, you’re a FIRE-TYPE!?

HOLY $#!T YOU’RE A FIRE-TYPE!  This is AWESOME!

Once I’ve recovered from Tereus’ startling transformation, Professor Sycamore hits me over the head with more – he wants to give me a second starter Pokémon.

GIMME THE BULBASAUR
“But don’t you already have a Grass Po-”
GIMME THE BULBASAUR

Sorry, Melissa the Beedrill; you’ve been replaced.  Welcome to the team, Ilex the Bulbasaur (named for one of the Latin words for oak).  For those having trouble keeping track (I certainly am), my team at present consists of Pan the Quilladin, Tereus the Fletchinder, Zolom the Dunsparce, Astarte the Litleo, Kore the Flabébé, and now Ilex.  Professor Sycamore follows up by handing me a large marble he calls a Venusaurite and tells me it has something to do with “Mega Evolution,” which he wants us to investigate.

…the f@$& does that mean?

I have Ilex hold the stone, but it doesn’t seem to produce any effect.  The item’s description seems to imply that only a Venusaur can use it, so whatever sorcery is contained within, I suppose I’m going to have to wait to unlock it.  He assures the crew that whatever they want to do – whether Serena wants to study Mega Evolution to rule the world, or Trevor wants to be an awesome researcher and complete his Pokédex, or Tierno wants to create a f@$&ing Pokémon dance team, or Shauna wants to… I don’t know, be Shauna or whatever – he’ll be proud of their achievements as trainers regardless.  With that, we are dismissed.

Ridiculous quote log:

“Wh-what!?  Don’t speak to me out of the blue!  My heart beats so fast I may fall in love with you!”
Er… thanks, random Lumiose Transport Authority worker.  I’m, uh… flattered… in spite of being clearly half your age… I’m, um… I’m going now.
“Wh-what?  I haven’t fallen in love with you.”
…that’s nice.

Bugs and Roses

Once out of Santalune Forest I make a beeline for the next town, Santalune City (which is Dijon, more or less) so I can find the Pokémon Centre and reorganise my minions.  A couple of people have been telling me that sticking with the robin is worth it, so I’m officially promoting my Fletchling, Tereus (named for a mythical Greek king who was turned into a hoopoe), to my main battle group.  My Scatterbug also comes out of the PC, mostly so I can train her and see what happens.  As a caterpillar Pokémon I’m expecting her to evolve quite rapidly, but only time will tell.  I then take the team south again to check out the local Pokémon around this end of the forest and gather recruits for my army, finding and capturing Bidoof, Burmy, Azurill (who has been promoted to Normal/Fairy), and- OMG DUNSPARCE.  I MUST HAVE IT.  Granted, Dunsparce is almost more of a mascot than a contributing member of the team later on, but he’s also one of my favourite Pokémon, purely because he’s so weird – we’re talking here about a flat-bodied snake with fluffy wings and a drill tail who characteristically backs up his physical power with attacks based on negative emotions like Rage and Spite (I gather he’s loosely based on an obscure Japanese monster, but there’s a great deal of elaboration between the source and the finished design).  Besides, he is pretty strong in the early game before you start facing evolved Pokémon in large numbers, and I can always replace him later.  In short – welcome to the team, Zolom the Dunsparce (named for the giant snake monster in the early part of Final Fantasy VII – hey, I can’t make everything a classics reference)!

I also catch-and-release a second Pikachu after realising, to my confusion, that it appeared to be immune to my Scatterbug’s Stun Spore.  Investigation turns up nothing unusual, however – this Pikachu had Static just like mine.  Maybe Static grants immunity to paralysis now?  That would be a good step; Static as it stands in earlier games is not really all that useful.  My own Pikachu, meanwhile, has learnt Play Nice – my first new move, which seems to do the same thing as Growl, but has half as many PP.  Given that Pikachu also gets Growl, I find this mildly perplexing.  I suspect Play Nice may have some secondary effect, but damned if I know what it is.

At level 9, my Scatterbug evolves into a bizarre alien-looking bagworm-like creature that calls itself a Spewpa.  I scratch my head over her for a while, and then decide to stuff her back in the PC and give her another few rounds once I have some more powerful opponents to face.  I still don’t really know where Spewpa is headed; a standard caterpillar/cocoon/moth pattern is looking more and more likely, but I feel I’m entitled to hope for some kind of twist.  Zolom has levelled sufficiently to catch Pan, Melissa and Tereus too, so I head back into Santalune City to explore.  Santalune is built around a grand plaza with an elegant stone fountain in the shape of a Roselia (roses seem to be a theme with the people of Santalune, whom I assume are called Santalunatics), and sports a remarkable number of cafés.  Highlights of the town are a Hiker who offers to trade a Bunnelby for a Farfetch’d (cursed with the unfortunate name of Quacklin’), the traditional Trainer’s School, whose lessons seem to be just as I remember, and a roller-skater who wagers a pair of skates on the outcome of a battle with me.  I remember roller-skates from the trailer and gleefully accept, revelling in my newfound power.  I also quickly confirm that customisable outfits are indeed a thing in this game, though Santalune’s clothing store only seems to stock hats, so there’s not much potential for experimentation yet.  All that leaves only one thing to do in Santalune City – challenge the local Gym Leader to assert my dominance over the surrounding area.

Santalune Gym is the domain of a nature photographer named Viola, whose pictures fill the building’s lobby.  Their subjects are her favourite kind of Pokémon – Bug-types.  What is it with artists and Bug Pokémon?  The main Gym, as the perennially annoying Gym guide explains, is beneath the lobby, accessible by a sort of fireman’s pole – a huge spiderweb, dotted with little wooden platforms for the trainers.  Great.  Spiderwebs.  I love Gyms with spiderwebs.  I can’t seem to climb back out, so I guess I’m stuck here until I defeat Viola – good; that’s a sensible change.  Makes things more interesting.  I gingerly pick my way along the strongest strands of the glistening web, clinging to the wooden platforms for dear life the moment a battle starts – the trainers aren’t particularly tough, but conducting a Pokémon battle while balancing on a thread of spider silk makes me uneasy.  Eventually I surrender my dignity, vowing to reclaim it later with interest, and crawl along the threads instead, pulling myself ahead with my hands.  The trainers here use a wide variety of Bug Pokémon – again, I feel this is a benefit of making ample use of existing Pokémon to fill a region.  The Striaton Gym in Black and White was essentially a Lillipup Gym.  The Santalune Gym features Ledyba, Spewpa, Combee, Kakuna… and, of course, the leader’s more exotic Pokémon.  At last, I reach Viola’s hut at the back of the building.  Like many Gym Leaders, Viola is passionate and enthusiastic, almost as though she’d rather be battling herself than having her Pokémon do it.  Passion and enthusiasm get you only so far, though – Melissa and Zolom tag-team her first Pokémon, a Surskit, quickly and easily.  Then, out comes her signature Pokémon: Vivillon, a moth Pokémon instantly recognisable as the final evolution of Scatterbug.  Viola calls out her first command: “Vivillon, use Infestation!”  Infes- wait, what!?  Infestation of whatWhat the hell are you doing to my Dunsparce!?  I didn’t sign up to have my Pokémon turned into incubators for your thousands of insect progeny!  I watch in horror as countless black mites crawl over my helpless Pokémon, attempting to burrow into his flesh.  Luckily, I manage to keep my senses enough to realise that Vivillon, like her predecessors, is almost certainly a Bug/Flying dual-type – making Zolom’s Rollout attack a near-instant knock-out.  Viola rewards me for my skill with her insignia, a stylised beetle in copper with insets of lime green peridot, known as… the Bug Badge.  Seriously, the Bug Badge?  That’s what you’re going with?  And I thought the Unova leaders were getting lazy.  What happened to neat names like the Cascade Badge and the Rising Badge?  Pah.  Viola also offers me the TM for her signature move, Infestation.  I momentarily wonder whether using this move could constitute a war crime, but expediency wins out over morality and I accept the gift, teaching it to Melissa for now.  As I leave the Gym, the idiot guide suggests that I travel north to Paris (or rather, Lumiose City) to show off my new acquisition to Professor Sycamore.  Sounds reasonable enough.  Paris will one day be the capital of my new empire, so I’m going to have to go there sooner or later.

Ridiculous quote log:

“What’s the hustle, little Crustle?”
…shut up, Gym guy.