Epilogue: Empire Arisen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Aqueducts?”

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

“How generous of you,” Lysandre remarks drily.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The other what?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It’s worth a shot, right?”

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

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

“These are Xerosic’s notes.”

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

“Digi-?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aftermath

Let’s recap.

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

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

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

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

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

And for now… that seems to be it.

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

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

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

The Bare Essentials

The secret level of Lysandre Labs doesn’t live up to Malva’s hype.  After she lets me in (hinting, as she leaves, that this fulfils her end of some kind of shadowy bargain Looker made with her), I find that it is laid out in exactly the same way as the main floor of the complex, though with most of the rooms blocked off and disused, and is guarded only by a couple of scientists and the members of the Lumiose Gang, who were apparently hired as security on Emma’s recommendation.  Their leader, Nix, is stationed outside a storeroom waiting impatiently for his shift to end, and suggests that we rummage through the place together to see what it is that’s so important for him to protect.  Truly, Nix, you are a model of professionalism; I, an unauthorised intruder in your workplace, will gladly help you loot the storeroom you were hired to guard.  The stolen Pokéballs are here, along with Xerosic’s notes on the “Expansion Suit,” which has four major functions.  Two are comparatively innocuous: it grants its wearer superhuman strength and the ability to change his or her physical appearance at will (using technology based on the natural abilities of Ditto and Kecleon).  It also contains a remote transmitter that allows the suit to be controlled from the comfort of the lab while the wearer is kept unconscious, which explains Emma’s behaviour while acting as Essentia, but makes me wonder why Xerosic didn’t just… y’know, build a robot.  What does the unconscious ‘pilot’ contribute here?  Perhaps the control is intended as a failsafe in the event that an operative goes rogue on a mission, which, given the kind of people that Xerosic tends to associate with, is a distinct possibility.

Then there’s the fourth function.  “A hacking cable on the neck piece allows the wearer to upload a computer virus to Pokéballs and override their systems.  This provides access to control the Pokémon.  The virus also magnifies the Pokémon’s power.”  Wait, wha- how…?  What?  Hacking the Pokéball makes the Pokémon more powerful?  How is that even supposed to work?  I… guess if it’s implied that the Pokémon are stored as data then you could just program the virus to edit the data, but what makes a Pokémon ‘powerful’ is a multifaceted and highly subjective thing.  Notice that I find this so bizarre that I am entirely passing over the implication that control of the Pokéball grants control of the Pokémon, no questions asked, which would normally occasion multiple paragraphs of inane claptrap on my part.  We’re talking about altering dozens of physiological parameters (physical strength of various different muscles, reaction times, perception, durability of skin and bone, mental processing speed, countless bizarre things specific to different species like a Fire-type’s core temperature or a Psychic-type’s telekinetic strength), many of them linked to brain chemistry, in ways that could be crippling or even fatal if pushed too far – and he’s written a computer program that will automate this process, applying it to any individual of any species on the fly?  If it actually works, which I suddenly doubt, then this is either Nobel Prize-worthy stuff or some kind of magic.  And if you can do all that, reliably and safely, why stop there?  Couldn’t the same technology be used to give Pokémon moves and abilities they wouldn’t normally be able to obtain, or even change their species?  Yes, I answer on Xerosic’s behalf; yes, I think it probably could.

Yoink.

According to his notes, Xerosic initially envisioned having Emma test the suit while conscious, but hit an unexpected snag.  Emma is not a trainer in the normal sense of the word and owns no Pokémon – apparently he somehow forgot to mention in his job ad that this was a requirement.  As a stop-gap measure, Xerosic took on the role of Emma’s instructor, and let her use his own Pokémon while testing the Expansion Suit, but found that his normally disciplined, ruthless Crobat and Malamar became playful and easily distracted while in her care.  In order to get anything done at all, he had to use the suit’s remote link capability to put Emma to sleep and control Essentia himself.  While the tone of his notes is normally clinical and his intentions are plainly malevolent, Xerosic does seem to be genuinely concerned for Emma’s safety in these trials, even suspending further experimentation after the incident with Looker in the alleyway because he was no longer certain she would be unharmed (although Emma herself reported only that she had had a nightmare).  She’s turning him soft.

Nix is disappointed that there are only Pokéballs and documents in the storeroom, since he promised Looker he would never take another person’s Pokéball again (the implication, I can only assume, is that if there were anything else there he would gladly swipe it).  To his delight, however, a bell sounds to signal the end of his shift, and he leaves immediately.  “Be sure to shut the place when you go!” he says cheerily to the unauthorised child in the top secret room he was assigned to guard.  Something tells me the Lumiose Gang just aren’t cut out for honest work.  As he leaves, Xerosic enters the room and walks right past me, muttering to himself about the failure of his remote control and whether he could strengthen his grip on Essentia without hurting Emma.  Suddenly realising who I am, he decides that defeating me will prove that his project has been a success and calls Essentia.  This is the kick-off for a whole string of battles with the robot ninja, using all of the Pokémon she has brought against me so far in sequence.  Essentia is supposedly ramping up the potency of her Pokéball jack’s virus with every defeat, but exactly what effect this is having, if any, is unclear.  Three battles in, Looker and Mimi arrive and attempt to wake up Emma, but Xerosic crows that he, not Emma, is the one controlling Essentia, and turns his remote up to eleven.  Essentia keeps fighting, this time with Xerosic’s own Malamar and Crobat, but becomes incoherent and appears to be in terrible pain.  Looker continues to evoke The Power Of Friendship, to no avail – Essentia is paralysed by her internal struggle.  Xerosic stares, wordless, as she clutches her head and screams.  Eventually he gives a hint of a sigh and says “remote control… power down.   Deactivate.”

And just like that, everything is okay.  Emma wakes up with a loud yawn and takes control of the suit, apparently no worse for wear and slightly disappointed to learn that Xerosic is ending their trials and won’t be requiring her services any longer.  That, apparently, is that, and Emma, Mimi and I are dismissed to go and get something to eat while Looker talks things over with Xerosic.  In a cutscene in Looker’s office, Xerosic obligingly confirms that Essentia, under his control, was behind both the vandalism of the art museum and the recent Pokéball thefts.  He praises Emma’s talent, dedication and vision, claiming that his research could never have succeeded without her, but firmly denies that she bears any responsibility for her actions while unconscious in the Expansion Suit or even that she has any memory of them.  Looker formally instructs Xerosic to accompany him to the police station once he has everything in order… and then invites him to dinner, because he is Emma’s friend.

Ohhhhh no.  NO no no.  Looker, I let you adopt the homeless gang leader, and I let you invite her psychotic friends over for play-dates, but you are not going to Disney your way out of this one.  This man is legitimately evil and insane, and his obvious affection for Emma does not excuse his wanton exploitation of her for criminal ends – which, need I remind you, is far from the worst thing on his record!  And this is coming from ME!

What do you mean “I’m not even in this scene”?  I’m the narrator of this play-through, thank you very much!

Oh, whatever!

A couple of days later, when Looker is supposed to be ending his fake hospital visit, Emma and I receive a letter from him, in which he confesses to Emma his Interpol allegiance and his real reason for being in Kalos: to apprehend Xerosic.  With his mission accomplished, it’s time for him to return to… wherever the hell he comes from.  To me, he leaves his precious code name, “Looker,” and to Emma and Mimi, he leaves the office, so that they will always have a place to live.

You’re… leaving me your… code name?

Oh, HELL no; I am NOT going to rule Kalos with an iron fist burdened with THAT piece of $#!t.  Emma, Mimi and I split up to find him and prevent this atrocity.  Following a tip from Nix, I visit the art museum, where the damaged painting has been restored.  Whoo.  Meanwhile, Xerosic contacts Emma to summon us all to Lysandre Café.  When we arrive, Looker is questioning him to make absolutely sure all of the Pokéballs stolen by Essentia have been returned.  Their train is about to leave, and he is anxious to make sure there are no more loose ends.  Well, sorry, Looker, you missed one – and she’s here to confront you about it.  Emma demands to know why he has to leave, and then suggests that she and Mimi go with him to continue as his assistants.  That… wait, that might actually work; he has already started training her, right?  But no – Looker is so anxious to get rid of Emma that he decides to promote her to head of the Looker Bureau on the spot just to have an excuse to leave her behind.  Emma, to her credit, sees through his bull$#!t immediately and turns to me for support.  “Emma, please,” Looker cuts in, “I must ask you to respect the necessity of my decision.  Chris understands perfectly why I must go.  It is the way of partners.  He is my partner.  We understand each other.”  Why, that little-!

“No way.  Listen, Looker, leaving a lonely sixteen-year-old hobo in charge of a private detective agency because you can’t take responsibility for your recent insane decision to adopt and employ her may only make you the second-worst person in this room-”

“And which one of us would be the first, your imperial majesty?” Xerosic asks innocently.

“…okay, make that the third-worst person in this room, but-” Mimi gives a discreet little cough to draw my attention.  I sigh.  “The fourth-worst…” I glance at Emma, mentally weighing her recent actions as Essentia and her probable record as an inner city gang leader.  “…you know what?  F#$% it; do whatever you want.”  I slouch grimly over to a chair, muttering “you’ll all be my slaves one day anyway.”

“Well…” Xerosic murmurs, “I suppose that answers that question.”  He turns to Emma and offers her a gift – the Expansion Suit, minus its remote control function, as well as his Pokémon partners – so that she can become a masked superhero and defend Lumiose City from evil.  And then, just like that, they’re off.  Emma, vibrant soul that she is, shakes off her melancholy and pledges to do her best to keep her home safe as the new head of the Looker Bureau.

Wait… Xerosic said he took out the Expansion Suit’s transmitter (and, well, he easily could have been flat-out lying, but let’s assume for the sake of argument that he was sincere), but he said nothing about the Pokéball jack.  That, I’ve got to assume, is still in there, with all its nebulously defined, potentially horrifying, and tremendously versatile functions.  And now Emma has it.  Emma who,need I remind you, is a sixteen-year-old street gang leader.  Emma whose best friend is a telepathic cat who hates adult humans.  Emma who in a few short weeks earned the respect, the admiration even, of one of the most dramatically evil villains in the history of the Pokémon franchise.  And… come to think of it, do we have any proof, beyond Xerosic’s word, that Emma had no control over her actions as Essentia?

I see no way this could possibly go wrong.

Robot Ninja Bandit Zombie Pirate Shapeshifter

Our next mission has arrived!  Kind of!  Well, no-one has actually hired us, or for that matter even inquired about hiring us, but there’s been a break-in and some vandalism at the Lumiose Art Museum, and Looker has decided to investigate.  Considering how massively strapped for cash he apparently is, Looker is mighty keen on spontaneous pro bono work.  Anyway, he sends me to the museum, conveniently just around the corner, to force our services on the unsuspecting staff.  I find the vandalised painting on the third floor, covered by a broad squiggle of sky-blue spray paint.

…well, it looks like a perfectly fine piece of modern art to me.  Maybe that’s just my disdain for the blandness of Kalosian art, though.  I say as much to the director, and find to my surprise that he agrees with me.  Something about a statement of rebellion against authority.  He even muses that the defacement has drawn publicity for the museum, but is concerned that trying to restore the painting could even make things worse (he’s absolutely right, by the way).  Though mystified at how the tagger got inside, he makes no indication of wishing to hire an investigator.  Oh, well.  I’m sure Looker will find some bat-s#!t reason to take the case on anyway.

…but no.  By the time I get back to the office, Looker’s attention has been caught by a completely different crime: a string of Pokéball thefts in Lumiose City’s alleyways, the thief normally striking in the moment of inattentiveness after a battle ends.  They are thought to be the work of a single individual, but apparently there are no consistent reports of what this person looks like, or even whether it’s a man or a woman.  Um… wait, what exactly is making us think it’s a single individual, then?  Oh, whatever.  Looker, as always, has a cunning plan: he suggests that, since I have plenty of enticing Pokémon, I can act as bait for our mysterious bandit.  Yes.  As the famous destroyer of Team Flare and the most powerful trainer in the Kalos region, I am an ideal choice to be the bait for these criminals who prey on the weak and helpless.  Looker, immune as always to my perennial sarcasm, is delighted at my assent to the plan, which we set into motion at once.  Entering the nearest alley, I am quickly challenged to a battle by an elegant middle-aged woman with a Jellicent and a Volcarona – clearly a skilled trainer, but nothing exceptional… until the end of a battle when, with a flash of blinding light, she turns into a lithe, inscrutable figure completely concealed by some kind of black jumpsuit and an orange perspex visor, speaking with a harsh, synthetic sounding voice, almost like a robot.

…Viscountess Julia the robot maid, is that you?

Looker bursts into the alleyway to confront my assailant before she (he? it?) has a chance to make a grab for my Pokéballs.  “OBSTRUCTION DETECTED.  PROCESS JEOPARDIZED.  RELOCATE HUNTING GROUND,” the figure decides, before springing with lighting speed onto the roof of a nearby building and dashing away across the rooftops.  Okay.  The keen detecting skills I have learned from Looker are suggesting to me that I might not be dealing with a typical Pokémon rustler here.  Looker seems to think that trying our plan again in a different alleyway may get us another shot at apprehending the rogue, and despite my habitual scepticism I agree to give it a shot – this time coming up against a little girl with a Whimsicott, a Mawile, and a Granbull.  She too appears to be only another face of the robot ninja we are hunting, who is again chased off pretty quickly by Looker’s intervention.  A third alleyway yields not another of our enemy’s guises, but one of her victims – a young Black Belt who was enthralled by her beauty and had his Pokémon snatched away.  He does manage to give Looker enough information to point us towards another alley, though, sending me dashing across the city once again to put my life and Pokémon on the line in the pursuit of… *shudder*… justice.

…if this robo-chick is Emma using a personal holo-field and a voice synthesiser I am going to be so pissed.

In the fourth alley, I am challenged by a beautiful young woman, perhaps the same visage who appeared to the Black Belt.  She now seems to have all but abandoned her pretence of being an innocent member of the public, and challenges me right away with a powerful Persian.  When she loses, she again reveals her true form and attacks, and again is confronted by Looker.  This time, though, she seems to have decided that any risk involved in engaging him is worth being rid of us, and threatens to “eradicate” him.  Looker, plucky and clueless as he is, threatens her right back with his skill as a fist-fighter.  I quietly suggest to him, my hand slowly reaching for Xerneas’ Pokéball, that anyone using the verb “eradicate” is probably thinking of a slightly more sophisticated level of combat than fisticuffs.  Before we can get down to eradication, though, Mimi the Espurr rushes into the alley… and jumps enthusiastically to greet the robot ninja, smiling as she smiles for only one person…

Wha- THAT WAS A F$#%ING JOKE!  How am I supposed to make jokes when the plot is just as crazy as anything I can come up with!?

…WHAT KIND OF BAT-F#$% INSANE PART-TIME JOB DID SHE APPLY FOR!?

…then again, I gotta say; I’m not normally into chicks but the whole shapeshifting cyborg assassin thing is kinda hot.

The robot ninja denies that she has any familiarity with Mimi, or that she is Emma, calling herself “Essentia.”  She tries to “eradicate” Mimi, but Looker heroically causes the screen to fade to black so he can absorb the attack, and tries to get through to Emma, presumably reasoning that she is under some kind of compulsion (or she could be doing this entirely of her own will… I mean, she was a gang leader, and as backstabs go, I have to admit this one has me in awe).  This only causes Essentia to go haywire, give an unholy robotic screech, and retreat to the rooftops.  Well.  That certainly happened.  Looker tells me he means to check into hospital to sort his injury, but secretly reveals to Mimi in a cutscene that he is leaving on an especially dangerous mission.  A few hours later, I get a call on my holo-caster from Emma, and hurry to the office to find her.  She gives no indication of awareness that anything is the slightest bit unusual, other than concern for Looker, and dashes off to get back to her “job” before I can tell her she’s grounded.  What’s more, before I can pursue her, I am interrupted by a butler who seems to be interested in hiring us, but wants to check out my strength first… despite apparently knowing that I am the Champion.  I punish him and his Braviary for their insolence, and he reveals that he is a former member of Team Flare, like the mistress who sent him – one of the scientists, I can only assume, maybe Aliana?  She is waiting for me in the penthouse suite of the famed Hotel Richissime.  I am told to hurry, since the man’s mistress does not like to be kept waiting… so, naturally, I go for a walk, get some fresh air, buy some Lumiose Galettes for my Pokémon, and stay a while at the Café Triste for a light afternoon meal.  For members of an organisation I destroyed, these two have a frightfully poor notion of the respect I am due.  Once I feel appropriately rested, I head for the penthouse…

…and come face to face with the Elite Four’s Fire Pokémon Master, Malva.

Furious at being kept waiting, Malva demands a one-on-one battle before she will even speak to me.  I indulge her and destroy her Pyroar with Orion’s Aura Sphere, leaving her smouldering but prepared to talk.  Malva confirms that Essentia is Emma, wearing a special suit invented by none other than Xerosic, Team Flare’s chief scientist.  Malva wants me to get rid of Xerosic for tarnishing the honour of Team Flare with petty crimes – she claims that, despite our disagreements, they were always doing what they believed was right, while Xerosic is just plain evil.  In exchange for this service, she offers to lead me to the secret level in Lysandre Labs where he does his work.  As I turn to leave, she warns me, almost as an afterthought, “be prepared to face death if you go.”

…WOW.  Interesting tone for a Pokémon game, don’t you think, Malva?

Remind me to fire her (pun most maliciously intended).  Anyone who still believes in the rightness of Lysandre’s insane self-aggrandising mission will not be serving on my Elite Four, nor can anyone so recklessly insubordinate be trusted with an important role in my insane self-aggrandising mission.  Perhaps Serena could replace her; she does have a Fire-type partner, after all…

Ridiculous quote log:

“Museum staff said that security is very tight and breaking into the museum is impossible.”
…much as I try to refrain from telling random Kalosians how to do their jobs, if your security team is telling you that a break-in is impossible in the aftermath of a break-in, it’s time to find a new security team.

“She’s no Pokémon, yet she can use Transform!”
As always, Looker, your observational skills are second to none.

Looking for Trouble

I arrive at the formerly vacant office off Rouge Plaza and come face to face with its new occupant.  My first thought is “oh, no; not this idiot again,” followed closely by “didn’t I kill him?” and shortly after that by “oh, gods, why didn’t I kill him?”  The man in question is none other than Looker, the Interpol agent who has been hounding the steps of the Pokémon world’s villains since Platinum, partially responsible (in, I must stress, the most vague and advisory of capacities) for the arrest of Team Galactic’s chief scientist, Charon, and six of Team Plasma’s Seven Sages (I choose to believe he was responsible for failing to stop the Shadow Triad from rescuing the seventh, Ghetsis).  Now he has come to Paris to start a detective agency, and has a proposal for me: he wants me to be his partner in this affair.  I look him in the eye and give him my flattest, driest “no.”  Unfortunately, Looker has the persistence of a Professor asking for help with a Pokédex, and I am eventually forced, after several hours of conversation, to say “yes,” just to make him shut up.  My first assignment – to ‘train’ me and make sure I have what it takes to be a hard-boiled, steel-jawed, gum-shoed, cliché-slinging idiot – is to retrieve five sparkly tickets from around Lumiose City, having been told by Looker exactly where they all are.  With an exaggerated sigh, I go after one and send my Pokémon after the other four.  Looker is astonished at the speed with which I have accomplished his task, and proposes that we set out on our first mission: investigate reports of Lumiose children spending more and more time in dark alleyways, against the wishes of their parents.

“So,” I think to myself as I hunt the children down, “it has come to this.  Investigating a street gang of French preschoolers.  This is the life you chose.”  My optimism, lurking deep in a black corner of my soul, responds, “oh, come on; some of them were at least ten.  And did you see the size of that Swinub the six-year-old had?”  I tell my optimism to shut up; things are getting interesting.  The leader of the gang is not a child at all, but a Pokémon: a somewhat temperamental Espurr named Mimi, whose human mouthpiece is a girl whose name we later learn is Emma.  Looker initially assumes that Emma is Mimi’s trainer and asks her to recall her Pokémon, but Emma objects, somewhat indignantly, that she doesn’t need to be a trainer or use Pokéballs to be friends with a Pokémon (I’m sure the weight of this sentiment doesn’t need to be explained).  As it turns out, the reason the children have been spending so much time in the alleys of late is that this is where their friends Emma and Mimi live.  Emma is apparently an orphan, and Mimi has no trainer.  While sympathetic, Looker still needs to wrap up the case and earn his commission, so he comes up with a “genius plan”: have Emma and Mimi live at the Looker Bureau as his assistants.  Oh, yes!  By all means!  Invite the homeless gang leader and her telepathic cat to live in our officeThere is no way this could possibly go wrong.  Mimi is initially reticent, and Emma will not abandon her, but I am assigned to befriend Mimi, and manage to bring her around with my inimitable charm, melodious singing voice, and kickin’ dance moves.  All’s well that ends well.  Apparently.

Our next client is a Japanese tourist who arrives at the office while Emma is out.  She speaks no French (…or English… or whatever it is that we’re supposed to be speaking), but Looker honestly believes he speaks Japanese and gets the impression that she is offended because no-one has offered her tea yet.  While he’s out getting her some, Emma and Mimi arrive home.  Emma does speak fluent Japanese (…as all French hobos do) and on top of that Mimi has some kind of empathic communication power, so that I can understand, if not the precise meaning of their speech, at least their general tenor: the Japanese woman (who is very insulting about both Looker and Emma) has had her Pokémon stolen by thugs at Lumiose Station.  When Looker returns, Emma explains the situation and recommends that we refuse the job on the grounds that the woman is so unpleasant (I’m starting to like this kid), besides which, the people who are probably responsible – the Lumiose Gang – are familiar to her, and are as nasty as they come.  Looker is outraged at the very suggestion and leaves immediately.  Emma begs me to follow, since Looker doesn’t even have any Pokémon and can’t possibly go toe-to-toe with the Lumiose Gang (he’s mentioned having a Pokémon partner once, but lost it on a mission long ago – I seem to remember him having a Croagunk on Platinum).  I question Emma’s willingness to put me in danger when she was so worried about letting Looker go, but she turns on the waterworks and says Looker has confided to her that I make him feel like he has his lost partner back.  I grumble that I’m doing this for the Pokémon, not for them, and head for Lumiose Station.

I arrive to find Looker doing his darndest to talk the Lumiose Gang down before they realise he has no Pokémon (not so much akin to bringing a knife to a gunfight, as to bringing a bit of an old bone to the Battle of the Somme).  Luckily for him, the three gangsters are not exactly Champion material (despite their fearsome names: Eris, for the Greek goddess of strife and discord, Sedna, for the dark and vengeful Inuit goddess of the deep ocean, and Nix, for the Greek primordial goddess of night, Nyx – that last one is a dude, incidentally).  As I finish destroying them, Emma turns up and demands that the fighting stop – and they listen, because Emma is the boss of the Lumiose Gang.  I remain astonished by Looker’s taste in friends.  For what it’s worth, she never wanted to be the boss; they just kind of decided she should be after she wiped the floor with them in a battle.  What – with Mimi?  For an Espurr, she’s pretty damn clever and powerful, but really?  What’s more, it turns out they only stole the tourist’s Pokémon to get Looker’s attention, because they wanted their gang leader back.  Much as she tries to deny any interest, Emma has some pretty serious underworld clout!  Again, I question her decision-making processes and wonder, under my breath, why she didn’t just talk to the gang herself rather than put Looker in danger, but I’m beginning to think this chick might actually be worth having around – how often do you meet a teenaged French hobo who speaks fluent Japanese, commands the respect of a ruthless street gang, and is apparently some kind of Pokémon training prodigy to rival… well, me?  Looker, again showcasing his truly unique people skills, invites the Lumiose Gang to visit Emma any time they like, provided they swear to reform and commit no more wickedness, which they obligingly do.

Back at the office, Emma is becoming concerned that she and Mimi have been living with Looker, with free rent and board, for some weeks now and doing very little work.  I assure her that this is no problem, as Looker himself has been living there for much longer and has yet to do any work at all.  Looker too encourages her not to worry, since he has plenty of money saved up – a lie, and an utterly transparent one at that – and her studies are more important at her age anyway.  Learning how to be a detective is work, in his book.  Emma is unconvinced.  Without telling Looker, she begins searching for part-time work in Lumiose City.  I nearly suggest that she simply borrow an Amulet Coin and start challenging Gyms with Mimi, since the prize money will surely be much greater than whatever she could scrounge from battles in the alleys (presumably her previous source of income), but the thought occurs that she will probably be more useful if kept out of the public eye and allowed to maintain her underworld contacts in Lumiose City.  You never know when you might need a way in with the gangs…

Ridiculous quote log:

…all of it.  Just… all of it.

Reconciliation

Professor Sycamore has organised a parade.

I learn this from Diantha as she enters me and my Pokémon in the Hall of Fame.  This must be the ‘surprise’ he mentioned preparing when we last met in Couriway Town.  Well, what better way to announce my newfound supremacy to the peasants of Kalos?  When we arrive in Lumiose City, vast crowds are lining the main boulevards, cheering for the ‘defenders of Kalos.’  A red carpet has been laid out for me and my rivals, leading to a shining white stage where Professor Sycamore is waiting.  He delivers some saccharine bit of oratory about the wonder of our achievements in defeating Team Flare, for which the crowd goes wild, of course, and presents me (and only me, I note with approval) with a red, white and blue medal: the Honour of Kalos.  Sycamore’s influence never ceases to amaze.  As far as I can tell, he has closed down several major Lumiose City streets, convinced several thousand people to show up for the parade, and arranged for me to be awarded a prestigious national honour, pretty much on a whim.  I remember why I’m here, and prepare to launch into a speech of my own, but the words freeze in my throat.  There is someone else on the red carpet.  AZ.  “Battle me,” he requests.  “I want to know what a ‘trainer’ is.”  I respectfully submit to him that it’s really not that difficult a concept, but agree anyway.  What’s the harm?  I wasn’t aware AZ even had any Pokémon, having lost his partner so long ago, but apparently he’s actually quite powerful, with a high-level Torkoal, Golurk and Sigilyph (sensible choices, in his position – Torkoal are very long-lived, while Golurk and Sigilyph, I suspect, are biologically immortal).  Of course, I just defeated the Champion, and although AZ has millennia of experience, he’s a little worse for wear.  My Pokémon overcome his with little difficulty.  He seems satisfied though, and smiles for the first time since I met him, saying that the delight of our battle has finally allowed him to overcome the sorrow of his terrible crimes.  Well, fair enough.  Three thousand years is an awfully long time to regret something.  There is sudden a flash of light in the sky, above AZ’s head, and something floats down towards him.  I squint against the sunlight, and the vague shape slowly resolves into a diminutive humanoid, holding an elaborate staff, or… a flower.  AZ’s eyes widen as he recognises his Floette descending on the wind.  She comes to rest in his outstretched hands and smiles at him, and before the eyes of the whole city, the ancient king begins to weep with joy.  Professor Sycamore waxes lyrical about how returning AZ to his old self made his partner come back to him, and the crowd cheers.  Well.  So much for my parade.  Upstaged by a hobo and a halfway-evolved Fairy Pokémon… sometimes I wonder whether this region deserves the glory of my conquest…

As the parade disperses, I wander around Lumiose City for a while.  I am kicked out of a sushi restaurant for being a ‘greenhorn’ and told to come back when I’m a ‘high roller.’  I vow to destroy them and ban sushi in my empire.  I instead exploit my newfound Champion status to have dinner at the acclaimed and highly exclusive Restaurant Le Wow, which reminds me why I have always found Kalosian cuisine utterly terrifying, even if it is considered a national treasure.  I run into Professor Sycamore, who gives me a pass for the train to sunny Kiloude City, which is Lyon.  Lyon houses the regional elite battle facility, the Battle Maison, which is run by four sisters known as the Battle Chateleines, responsible for single, double, triple and rotation battles, respectively.  It works much like the Battle Tower or Subway, but streamlined – you earn battle points after every battle (thank the gods – earning enough points in the Battle Subway to do almost anything worthwhile had come to be such a chore), and can take a break at any time, rather than having to complete a series of seven matches.  I note these little courtesies with approval, and spend an afternoon there, earning the notice of the youngest Chateleine, Nita, and defeating her in an introductory battle.  The city is also home to a curious little area called the Friend Safari – given how late I am to the party, my readers are doubtless all familiar with the wonders of this attraction already, but an explanation cannot hurt.  The Friend Safari is a checkerboard of paddocks where wild Pokémon can be battled and captured – one area for every friend you have registered, each with two or three different species of wild Pokémon, some of whom (if the locals are to be believed) may have their Dream World abilities.  If you’ve bothered to read this much of my inane prattle, then you are surely a loyal minion, and worthy of my ‘friendship,’ if so it can be called, and so my code is as follows: 2036-6563-2537 (I have no idea what my Friend Safari area contains, but doubtless someone will tell us all in the comments).

Serena challenges me to a battle once again, promising me I’m in for a surprise – and I am!  Not only does she now have six Pokémon, she’s been working hard, and their levels are even higher than mine!  I have Orion use Calm Mind to boost up against her Meowstic and knock it out with a Shadow Ball, before coming face to face with a Clefable.  Fighting back my instinct to whack it with an Aura Sphere, I use Shadow Ball again, but its almighty fatness is too much; it survives with more than half of its health remaining (albeit with a special defence penalty) and finishes Orion with Focus Blast.  I have Xerneas wrap things up with a Moonblast, and then decide to go for a Geomancy against Serena’s Jolteon.  Her second Thunder attack misses, and I find myself in a very happy position indeed.  Even Serena’s mighty Delphox, with its resistance to most of Xerneas’ attacks, cannot stop his Moonblasts, and Altaria finds itself similarly imperilled.  Finally, out comes Absol, and- what’s this?  Serena has a Digivice!  Her Absol explodes with light and sprouts angelic wings – before being blown away rather anticlimactically by another Moonblast.  Evidently Mega Absol doesn’t gain anything that confers resistance to Fairy attacks.  I sigh.   It’s been a long time since I’ve seriously used a legendary Pokémon – I’d forgotten how dramatically they tip the balance of battles.  For the first time, I feel a little bit unsporting about crushing Serena with every ounce of my power; she has clearly been training a great deal.  She doesn’t let this get her down, though; in fact, she even hands over a spare Absolite she found.  “Maybe it will help show Lysandre there’s something to be hopeful for.”  Okay, so we’re definitely saying he’s alive, then?  That’s definitely what’s going on here?  She declines to expand on her statement, simply informing me that Professor Sycamore is in Anistar City and wants to talk to me about my Digivice.  Well, much as Anistar City unsettles me, with its illusionary Gym and impossible sea, this is probably important… I stop by the Kiloude Pokémon Centre, retrieve Tereus, and fly there at once.

I find Sycamore waiting for me in front of the Anistar Sundial.  He has some exposition for me: after further study, he has come to believe that the Mega Stones were created by the light of the Ultimate Weapon when it was first used, three thousand years ago, and may have been evolutionary stones originally, that have taken on their new powers by being irradiated with Xerneas’ energy.  The mysterious sundial crystal has some relationship to the stones as well, but he doesn’t quite understand what yet.  Due to my experiences in Geosenge Town and subsequent attunement to Xerneas, I should possess some of the same energy – which will do something interesting if I touch the sundial.  Without hesitation, I reach out with the arm I wear my Digivice on.  There is a flash of brilliant light, and Sycamore gives a satisfied smile.  My Digivice has been upgraded, he tells me, and can now sense buried Mega Stones – but only for an hour each day, while the sundial is glowing with the light of the setting sun.  I shrug.  I’m not one to look a gift horse in the mouth – power is power, restricted or no.  Professor Sycamore leaves me to my thoughts.  A bit listless now, I fly back to Lumiose City for another look around… and immediately get a call on my holo-caster.  Someone wants to meet me.

Ridiculous quote log:

“Meow, meow, I can haz battle, meow? (Ugh, I really sound like a fool, don’t I?)”
…are we really going there?  Really? (And yes, yes you do.)

“We begin with a vintage 3000-year-old Rare Bone, boiled for 100 days in pristine snow melted from Kalos’s fine Frost Cavern.”
…uh… look, not to sound ungrateful, but I really don’t want to eat that… and… hey, where the hell did you even get a 3000-year-old Rare Bone?  There is no way this is legal.

“…a pristinely prepared item in a light velouté sauce harvested from-”
Look, sorry, I’m going to cut you off right there – item?  I am not taking one bite of this until you tell me what the hell you just served me!

Throne of Games

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

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

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

Ah, yes… the Pokémon League.

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

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

Yes!  Totally called it!

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

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

BOOYEAH!

Ridiculous quote log:

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