Hello again, all you Geeklies who are fans of Pokémon and/or marriage! Last week Christina Ladd and I began our gender-tagged Pokémon journeys on Pokémon X and Y. This week: a deep dark forest! New Pokémon! And our first gym battle!
Harry (Pokémon Y)
I ended last article on the steps of Santalune Forest, so that’s first on the agenda. Steps inside, I find a Caterpie; I actually really like Butterfree, so snag him. I name him “Flutterguy,” in anticipation of the beautiful, deadly butterfly he will one day become. (I warn you that “Flutterguy” is a Google Image Search you should attempt only with extreme caution.)
Steps later, I bump into the true prize for all starting Pokémon trainers:
Seriously, I remember wandering around Viridian Forest for hours trying to find one of these damn things. Duncan and Flutterguy wear him down, and I make the catch. I name him Ky, after the lightning-rider extraordinaire. A few battles later, Flutterguy hits level 7 and evolves into Metapod. This remains a great design: having a Pokémon that evolves within a few levels of being caught presents a satisfying early reward and hints at what your other Pokémon might grow into in the future.
My friends are in the forest with me, and fan out to explore. Seeing the group split up in the forest, each pursuing their own particular interest, is a nice touch. Shauna, on the other hand, sticks close by; “I feel like something interesting will happen if I walk with you!” she confides. Indeed, thinks Senpai.
Santalune Forest is also home to a trio of “elemental monkeys”—Pansage, Pansear, and Panpour—which correspond to the Grass-, Fire-, and Water-types. Having these all available early in the game is another nice touch, as it lets players correct for type disadvantages if their favorite starter doesn’t line up well against the early gyms. Prior games had de facto “easy” and “hard” modes, depending on what Pokémon you chose at the beginning; I remember having to go far, far out of my way to find a Ponyta to beat the Eterna City gym (Grass-type) in Pokémon Diamond.
Past the forest is Santalune City, where I almost run into a similar snag; it turns out that the Santalune Gym is full of Bug-types. Bugs have a type advantage over Grass, so Duncan will have to sit this one out. Instead, I’m faced with the prospect of trying to power-level Ky or Flutterguy until they can handle things themselves. (I am not keen on catching and training up a Pansear, though I do appreciate that the option exists.)
Luck arrives in the form of a random Santalune-ian who’s willing to trade his Farfetch’d for a Bunnelby. As it turns out, the gentleman’s Farfetch’d—named Quacklin’, because it is a duck who loves unhealthy cereals, I guess—knows Aerial Ace, a Flying-type move that’s pretty powerful for this point in the game. Quacklin’ is only level 10, but I think we can hack it. Look out, Santalune Gym, I’m coming, and I’m bringing a natural predator.
The gym’s main floor is a single, well-lit room full of artsy photos of Bug-type pokémon. Beneath the art gallery is the gym proper, where trainers do battle on a giant spiderweb—and honestly, I have a hard time imagining what could be more unnerving.
Unlike some gyms, there are no traps or movement tricks; I just have to pick my way across the creepy, creepy-ass spiderweb and defeat a few trainers. At the end I find the leader, Viola, who’s chilling in what looks like a cross between a bivouac and a photo lab. Apparently she’s the one who took the glamour shots, and she starts right in on how I’ve got “the look.” I am Senpai, I suppose.
As luck would have it, Viola’s Surskit and Vivillon are both weak to Electric (and even Duncan can join the fun against Surskit). Quacklin’s Aerial Ace drops Vivillon in two hits. Victory! And my first gym badge, the Bug Badge, which lets me use Cut while exploring and brings Pokémon of level 30 or lower to heel. (I don’t have the HM for Cut yet, but I’m sure I’ll need to get past a few thorny bushes eventually.)
With the Bug Badge, I’m all set to move on from Santalune City. But first: shopping!
Pokémon X and Y offer a remarkable number of options for customizing the appearance of your character—shirts, pants, hats, accessories, and so on are all on offer at boutique shops in each town, and every Pokémon center has a changing room where you can swap out clothes, depending on your mood. Santalune’s offers are a little thin, but I go in for an orange knit cap. Trés chic! Sadly, the only option for getting these shades off my head is to replace them with a button, and that looks even worse. (I have since learned that store inventories can change each day, so there are even more options than I thought at first.)
But hey—Senpai can make anything look good.
On the way out of town I bump into a reporter—actually Viola’s sister—who awards me the XP share. It’s been revamped in this version: in X and Y, it works for all your Pokémon at the same time, and awards any that don’t participate in a battle 50% of the XP. This doesn’t come out of your active Pokémon’s “cut,” and it’s not influenced by the Pokémon in your possession: it’s just straight free XP for all your Pokémon, forever. So that’s a thing.
North of Santalune city is Parterre Way, which leads to Lumiose City, the jewel of the Kalos region. It’s got a few new Pokémon—the cute Flabébé, who comes in different colors—and some more worthy trainers. Along the way Flutterguy levels a bunch, and like all Butterfree he gets some sick moves early on. At level 10, he learns Confusion, which just straight murders everything, and at level 12 he gets the excellent Stun Spore-Sleep Powder-Poison Powder triple threat. I also catch a Psyduck, whom I name Agatha. Duncan, meanwhile, hits level 16 and evolves into a bowling ball with a face.
At the gate to Lumiose City, I run into a few of Professor Sycamore’s lab assistants, who grill me about Fairy types and dispense some tourney metagame commentary. They introduce themselves as Dexio and Sina (“a beautiful name for a beautiful lady”—hell yes, thinks Senpai).
Lumiose City is bright and beautiful—modeled on Paris, as the rest of the Kalos region is based on northeastern France—but before I can explore it, I have to go see Professor Sycamore. I find him in his office on the third floor of his Pokémon lab.
He greets me kindly, then challenges me to a battle. The Prof uses some familiar faces: Bulbasaur, Charmander, and Squirtle, none of which are too tough. After the battle, he awards me my choice of any of the three. I pick Charmander (a lady!) and name her Hanabi. We immediately become good friends, despite the fact that moments ago my Psyduck practically drowned her. Like all great friendships, this one starts with a knock-down, drag-out fight.
The rest of the gang turns up, and the Professor explains that he’s hoping we’ll all become amazing trainers, so that he can learn about Mega Evolution, because, you know, funding cuts. He also passes on some legitimately good advice: being a trainer can mean whatever we want it to mean to us, but we should also respect other peoples’ perspectives on Pokémon, even when they differ from our own. Everyone has their own take: Trevor wants to complete the Pokedex, Serena wants to be a great battler, Shuana wants to make memories with her Pokemon, and Tierno wants to dance. Well, they can’t all be winners.
On the way out of the Prof.’s lab, I run into a ginger Wolverine knock-off wearing a fur-lined business suit. McHugh McJackman introduces himself as Lysandre, which I suppose is how they spell “Lysander” in France. Lysandre notes that I have a “Holo Caster” (I do?) and tells me to put it to good use (I guess?); he also says he wants to use Pokémon to make a more beautiful world, which could mean anything, but I assume is probably bad. Sina shares my concerns.
Lysander takes off, and Senpai steps out of the Professor’s lab to explore fashionable Lumiose City—next time!
Harry’s current team: Duncan (Quilladin, Lv. 17), Flutterguy (Butterfree, Lv. 13), Ky (Pikachu, Lv. 13), Quacklin’ (Farfetch’d, Lv. 16), Agatha (Psyduck, Lv. 12), Hanabi (Charmander, Lv. 10)
Christina Ladd: Pokemon X
Now that we’re a bit further in and I’ve also me Lysandre, I think I’m justified in making the claim that this game does a bit more hand-holding than others I’ve played, and especially more than Red and Blue. Lysandre is so obviously the Bad Guy that they might as well just swap him out for a blinking red EVIL sign and save themselves the design work. Getting to him–and to Professor Sycamore’s lab–is also rife with cheaty little details. You absolutely cannot get lost once you hit Lumiose city, since NPCs are there to guide you on every possible turn. And in Santalune, the sweet, credulous Shauna follows you around and heals you whenever your pokemon get so much as a boo-boo. Much as I also like having some pokemon immediately available to balance my team, I feel like I’m being given everything instead of earning it.
Yes, I’m a crotchety old lady shaking my cane and hissing, “in my day, you earned your badges!” But it just feels a little less like a game this way, and more like coasting through a cut scene that happens to be playable.
Instead, it’s optimizing that’s difficult. Breeding, befriending, and battling pokemon is this high art, getting higher all the time, with perfect stats to be pursued and shinies to hunt down. That just happens to be something I enjoy less. I want to fight. I want my popped-balloon ghost to terrorize you, and then I want to set you on fire.
Anyway, yes, I made my way through Santalune forest without incident. I was pretty excited when Pikachu popped up, and was pleased that there was some balancing, but now I’m kind of regretting my choice of a fire starter.
I already am wondering if I should have chosen Froakie…and then we get to Lumiose, where I get ANOTHER horrible choice, this time between Charmander, who will turn into a sweet Mega Charizard X, and Bulbasaur.
Yes, you jerks, Bulbasaur. So what that I picked the least popular starter in Blue? I don’t regret it. I love Bulbasaur. Look at that cute, earnest little face!
What’s not to love? And, oddly enough, this game does feel a bit short on grass-types… But no. No, sweet Bulbasaur, I must let you go. I must choose Charmander, because I must catch them all, and Charizard X is game-specific. Alas! Bulbasaur, I’ll miss you! You’re always in my heart, you weird, squat little blue dinosaur!
I think I need a minute.
Okay, while I compose myself, let me rewind back to my gym battle, which was likewise a bit easy. The spiderweb didn’t unnerve me as much once I realized there weren’t any traps, and the dew-drops that gathered were actually quite a nice piece of animation. This whole game is doing well on that score, actually. It’s very pleasant to play, visually speaking.
Oh, right, I keep getting sidetracked. I trounced the gym, got the badge, yada yada I’m the best.
I also trounce Wil Wheaton, who is a gardener:
My team: ugh, I haven’t really settled on anyone except Rei-kun. I guess Dewdrop, my Marrill, is probably going to stick around. (Actually, I clicked through too fast and her name is accidentally Dewdroo. Whoops. Where’s that name-changer?) And Pikachu, who I didn’t re-name because Pikachu is an icon and it seems weird to call him anything else. It’d be unnecessary to keep Charmander, whom I named Bi-hana (Hanabi means firework, but literally it means flower-fire. Bi-Hana is fire-flower, which wasn’t a word, but then the creators of Mario used it as the name of the fire-flowers you use as a power-up. So now it’s kinda a word). I’m still waiting to get a team that completely inspires me, which probably means a stronger fairy-type than Flabébé (I like her, but she feels a wee bit underpowered), a ghost-type, and maybe a dragon-type. Onward!