Well, I've successfully completed NaNoWriMo (50254 words, woohoo) and I'm done with school for the winter holidays, so hopefully we'll be able to get properly caught up around here.


Before doing any more preparations for my battle with Morty there's something I would like to try—the Pokéthlon, the new and significantly more cool and manly replacement for Pokémon contests and super-contests. I head back to the National Park's southern entrance and see that the man who barred my way before is gone, so I'm able to head on through the building's vast extension. A few people and their Pokémon are loitering around, including the balding man from the photography booth. He crops up in certain places along your adventure and offers to take your picture, without complimentary Team Rocket uniform if I'm not mistaken, and may snap a shot of you with your current traveling partner or you with your entire team. Apparently you only have a limited window of time to take the picture, however, or else if you refuse him once you lose your chance, because I've declined his offer a few times with the intent to come back later only to find that he isn't there when I return. :( Ah, well, now I know better.

A door at the end of the long hall leads me outside and onto a path with a series of arches overhead. As I move down the path an old man and his Poliwrath stop me. We chat for a while, and then the man leads me the rest of the way down the path until we reach a large dome with many flashing lights and a logo of some sort that looks like a fist emerging from a poké ball. The man goes inside, but before I follow suit I wander around the large, open area outside. It's full of more people and Pokémon, some just sitting around, others running back and forth to get some last minute training in. A woman near a booth and a sign gives me the Apri-Shaker item, which is basically a portable berry blender/poffin baker machine that lets me turn apricorns into delicious and nutritious energy shakes on the go. I have no idea how it works, which apricorns to use or who to give the shakes to, though, so I forget about it for the time being and head inside the Pokéthlon building.

The inside is much, much flashier than I was expecting. Various structures with more neon lights are scattered all over the shiny black floor, and TV screens hang over the counters with images of Chikorita, Cyndaquil and Totodile sprinting across a track. Tacky-looking palm trees sit in planters here and there, and there's a vending machine that sells the three "soft drink" items (fresh water, soda pop and lemonade) and a few other items I can't identify. When I approach the center counter, which I assume is the one I should start with, Whitney walks over to me; she seems surprised to see me here. She asks me a question involving the letters "S" and "M"—apparently she's asking what my shirt size is. At least, I hope to god she's asking what my shirt size is. Then she dashes off down a nearby escalator, returning a few moments later with what turns out to be a new blue sports jersey for me. So it looks like you get a new costume for Pokéthlon events the same way you could receive a dress or tuxedo from your mother in DPPt's super-contests.

I figure I'm in for a hard time with the Pokéthlon events since I won't be able to read the directions and what's on Serebii isn't terribly helpful at all, but I bite the bullet and speak to the woman at the counter anyway. Pokéthlon contests are divided into five different categories: Speed, Power, Technique, Stamina and Jump. Each Pokémon can have up to five stars in each event-related stat, with more stars indicating a greater proficiency at events involving those stats. Each species has its own maximum—all Croconaw have a maximum of four power stars, for example—but not every individual Pokémon will be at its species' maximum stats when you get it, which is where the aprishakes come in. As said before I don't feel like messing with aprishakes for the time being, so I compare my Pokémon's stats on the last page of their status screens and see that the majority of my team have decent scores in power and stamina, with Njord, Lambo and Rhea ranking at three to four in each of those stats. I decide to start with the stamina competition for the time being and so choose the option that I'm pretty sure is stamina when the woman asks me what I'd like to do. She lets me through, I do a quick spin-change into my new jersey (hey, where'd my hat go? Wow, Gold looks funny without his hat...) and then move through the door behind the counter.

The next thing I see is a screen that lets me choose which Pokémon I'd like to enter with. Not only can I check my team's Pokéthlon stats again here, but I can also check the stats of the Pokémon in my PC boxes as well. So that's cool—I can enter with any Pokémon I currently own without having to get the entrants out of the box first. I've already decided to stick with my Croconaw, Flaaffy and Doduo for this first run, though, so I select them and confirm my choices.

Now I'm outside on what looks like a track with three other competitiors standing to my left and an MC standing on a stage with a huge scoreboard. The other trainers look like they're wearing regular clothes—I guess I'm the only person who actually bothered to wear appropriate sporting attire, then. The MC introduces us and then the bottom screen becomes clear, displaying all of our competing Pokémon in a line behind us. It looks like Njord, Lambo and Rhea will be playing against a team of Clefairy, Jigglypuff and Pikachu; a team of Tauros, Aipom and Snubbull; and a team of Gastly, Ekans and Grimer (small, cute Pokémon, Normal-types and Poison-types? So the teams are themed or something?). The Pokémon face the screen and bounce up and down when they are introduced, and then the MC speaks for a while before the screen goes black and the first event is announced.

The top screen displays an image of a Machoke smashing through a block, so this is apparently the "Brick Smash" event or whatever it's called. I can see (probably unhelpful... bloody foreign language) instructions if I tap a button on the bottom screen. Thankfully there are screenshots of the event on the top screen and a little moving diagram showing the stylus motions I'll need, so I'm able to piece together that I'm supposed to tap on a pile of bricks in front of my Pokémon as fast and as often as I can. If there's anything else I need to know, well, I can't read it, so I shrug it off, back out of the instructions and start the event. Oh, holy crap, here we go...

Njord, as the first Pokémon I entered, stands behind a pile of maybe ten or so bricks; his three opponents are in the distance behind him with their own brick piles. The top screen has pictures of Lambo and Rhea on it, and in the top-left corner of the bottom screen there's a button with text on it I can't read. The MC counts down from three to one and then I begin frantically bashing the bricks on my screen with my stylus. Njord bobs up and down with each tap and I'm able to plow through the first stack of bricks with ease; then there's a wait of a few seconds as a new pile of bricks drops down in front of him. After a few more seconds of wild tapping, however, Njord stops and appears to become confused, little stars and birds circling around his head. I suppose I let him get too tired and it cost me time, and now that I pay attention to the others behind him I can see that they've swapped Pokémon a few times. The button I can't read seems to let me tag in the next Pokémon, so Lambo and Rhea each get a turn bashing away at the bricks before time is finally called. According to the graph in the back, which has piles of bricks that grows the more each team smashes, it looks like I tied for first place with the Tauros trainer. Not bad for someone who just mashed at the screen with no earthly idea what he was doing.

...not bad at all, as it turns out, as "NEW RECORD" flashes across the screen before everything fades out. When the screen changes and the MC announces the scores while drinking tea (I kid you not), I see that I actually beat the Tauros guy 89 to 85. I don't know if that's how many bricks I smashed or just how many points I earned or something, but either way, whoo! We won the first event even with all the confusion! I think I like this Pokéthlon thing. :)

The second event is called something like "Push Circle", and according to the annoying foreign instructions it seems to be like a big game of King of the Hill with multiple hills. All twelve competing Pokémon take the field at once, standing on a floor that has a few big circles with numbers in the center. When the whistle blows I need to use my stylus to drag my Pokémon toward any circles I want them in. They can push other Pokémon out and be pushed out themselves. Each round lasts about ten seconds, after which all Pokémon freeze in place and their trainers are awarded points. Any Pokémon in a circle earns its trainer the point value of that circle. So, for example, if Njord is in a circle marked "1" and both Rhea and Lambo are in a circle marked "2" I would get 5 points—1 for Njord and 2 each for Rhea and Lambo. Pokémon outside of circles don't earn any points. After each round the positions of the circles change, and large circles are removed in favor of smaller ones with larger point values. It's obviously much harder to keep a Pokémon in a smaller circle, but by watching carefully and keeping the stylus hovering near the more "popular" circles it's manageable; alternatively, one can try to get all of one's Pokémon into the next highest circle, which will be larger and not quite as desirable and probably net more points if you do it right. By the last round there are something like two tiny 6-point circles and one small 5-point circle, and I don't think I got points for all three of my Pokémon because the game is very picky about what it counts as being "in" a circle, but I manage to win with 43 points anyway.

I was feeling pretty good about myself at this point—two wins on my first time through, and me blundering around like a clueless idiot all the while—but then the third event happened and my confidence all went to hell. This one is a football (as in soccer)-style game with all twelve competitors standing on a field that has four goals in it. A white ball appears in the center of the field, and you're supposed to use your stylus to flick your Pokémon into the ball and make it score in one of the opposing goals—or move the ball away from your own. You get 1 point for each goal you score and lose 1 for every goal scored against you, including any own goals. When you're trying to keep an eye on the ball you end up losing track of some of your own Pokémon or occasionally leaving your goal open, and it can be quite frustrating; it doesn't get any better when they start introducing multiple balls at once. There's also one golden ball that's apparently worth three points to whoever can kick it in.

Some of you are probably thinking that this doesn't sound so bad, and maybe you'd have an easier time of it than I did, but I hate this game. Sure, any four-year-old could drag Pokémon into circles a few times, and I am the undisputed king of rapidfire repetitive motion in video games. My scores/times in the button-mashing minigames in Mario Party and similar titles make everyone who plays with me weep bitter tears of jealousy. So the brick smashing game is a cakewalk to me, and in subsequent Pokéthlon runs I've left that puny little 89-point score in the dust. But apparently I fail horribly at this stupid soccer game. I lose or tie for first with 1 or 0 points more often than I win, and how I tied with 2 points this first time I really couldn't tell you. I usually stop trying to keep track of the score about twenty seconds in, instead resigning myself to crying and half-heartedly dragging my Pokémon across the field without bothering to aim. Bah.

But I did tie for first, however the hell I managed to pull that out of my ass, and so after the tea-sipping MC gave the third event's scores—which were much higher than 2 and 1 and -1 and what have you, so apparently the scoring isn't handled the same way for this game—the final scores were announced. I don't know exactly what goes into deciding scores, but apparently individual effort by the Pokémon gives you some credit. The MC will say the name of certain Pokémon and then those Pokémon will jump up and down and cry out as your score climbs a little bit higher on the board. My Pokémon, especially Njord, boosted my score at least three times. Then the MC adds in what looks like the actual scores from the three events. And when it's all over... I take first place with 391 points to some other scores in the 200's and below. There is much celebrating and jubilation all around, on my part in particular because I still don't know how I pulled that off with my abysmal showing in the soccer game, and my Pokémon are awarded a medal with the letters "PW" on it. At first I thought it stood for "Pokéthlon Winner", but according to a peek at a display case later on it stands for "Power"—oops, I guess my inability to read Japanese caused me to enter the power competition when I thought I was entering stamina. Oh, well, who cares, I won anyway. I'm so awesome I can win even when I enter the wrong competition and have to suffer through that gauntlet of evil soccer balls. Bow before me, lesser mortals.

As I exit and change back into my regular trainer clothes the receptionist gives me "Salon Points" equal to my score (391), which I can use to purchase unidentifiable things from the Pokéthlon Dome's shops; she also gives me an extra 100 points, presumably as a bonus for winning. Without being able to read the names and descriptions of the items on display I wouldn't know a rare candy from a roll of toilet paper, and anyway I'd rather save up for something good assuming I'm not too lazy to look online for the possible prizes.

Aside from the horror that is the soccer game I had too great a time not to try the Pokéthlon again, this time entering the stamina competition I'd originally intended to start with. I won't go into the gory details about it right now (though I might, and I stress might, try writing up a detailed page or something about the events for my website—it's not in the cards anytime soon, at any rate), but I will say that my opponents this time were quite amusing. One of them was an Onix, and it was a lot of fun to see my little Flaaffy shove it straight out of a ring in the first competition (which apparently I am amazing at, since I won with 144 points and the next highest score was 41); equally entertaining was the Metapod that tried its damndest to keep pace with my Doduo in a foot race (which I also won with 11.8 laps in the allotted time, though honestly I thought I'd lost that one). The last event was the brick smashing game that I am also amazing at, and I won that handily as well. The final score was me with 478 points and the other three losers with half that or less, and so Njord, Lambo and Rhea got a shiny stamina medal to go with their power medal.

...yes, I most definitely like the Pokéthlon. :)

But you lovely people came here to read about me making gym leaders cry, and as fun as it is to break things with a crocodile I'm ready to get back into battling proper. I bid the Pokéthlon Dome and its over-the-top lighting adieu, at least until I come back with half an idea of how to use the Apri-Shaker so my Pokémon will really kick ass. My team isn't ready for the Ecruteak gym just yet, so I take a little while and let them cut their teeth on the trainers on the road to Olivine. A man in front of the Moo Moo Milk farm stops me and gives me his phone number before walking away. No idea who that was. I feed the sick Miltank in the barn a few oran berries before exhausting the available trainers and heading into the Burned Tower to confront my rival.

It is now possible to see down to the second level through the hole in the floor (in the older games it was just a black pit), and I can catch glimpses of Raikou, Entei and Suicune standing around and blinking in full color. I'm pretty sure they were supposed to be "statues" in the original GSC that came to life when you approached them, but it looks like they're wide awake down there now. Huh. Morty and his friend, Eusine the Suicune hunter, are wandering around, and as I draw nearer Eusine speaks to me. I guess he's telling me that they're looking for Suicune, though why he can't just look through the gaping hole in the floor and see it practically smiling up at him I do not understand. It isn't even like there's anything blocking the stairs you use to get down there, sheesh.

Okay, I lied. There is something blocking the stairs. Kamon is lounging around nearby, and he challenges me to a battle when I approach him. He leads with his Gastly, now level 20, and I dispatch it with a Hypnosis and an Astonish or two from Eidol. The level 22 Bayleef that follows is more of a challenge, but thankfully it doesn't eat my entire team this time around—a Thunder Wave from Lambo and some Ice Fangs from Njord send it packing in short order. Singe then proceeds to Ember his level 18 Magnemite to death with a critical hit, and from there all that's left is having Rhea Quick Attack the crap out of his level 20 Zubat. Much simpler overall, and by the time I'm done with him most of the team is above level 20 and much better suited to tackling Morty.

Morty won't be in the gym to tackle, of course, unless I get him to leave the tower first. With Kamon swept under the rug I'm able to head downstairs and release the beasts; Raikou and Entei dash off, but Suicune lingers for a few moments before fleeing along with them. The three beasts smashing through walls and doors or whatever to get free finally seems to alert Eusine to their presence, so he heads down the stairs to talk to me before hurrying off after them. Morty is gone when I return to the top floor, so it's safe to assume that he's returned to his gym and that I can follow him there.

The Ecruteak City Gym has, like Bugsy's gym, had a pretty drastic makeover. Where GSC saw a large, black expanse with an invisible path challengers needed to tiptoe across, HGSS presents you with a path that is quite visible and lit by flickering candles but with the rest of the gym shrouded in darkness. I can see enough to tell me that the path, which spans a misty, ghostly chasm, is twisty and doesn't seem to have barriers that keep you from walking over the edge. A quick test confirms this—falling off into the fog results in being warped back to the entrance. Still, doesn't seem too difficult, right?

I inch my way forward across the path toward the first trainer and defeat her easily enough. As soon as the battle ends, however, the candles around her go out. This... this is a little different. Normally defeating a gym's trainers makes it easier to navigate a gym's puzzle, but that is apparently not the case here. Sure enough, even though I'm fairly sure I remember where the path was and wasn't I go straight over the edge shortly after the lights are doused. It's the same old song for just about every single trainer in there, although at least when I'm warped back to the start the doused lights come back on and eventually I'm able to make it to Morty in the back of the gym.

The gym isn't the only thing that's gotten a drastic makeover—the man himself is sporting a new outfit, darker and generally more appropriate for a Ghost-type trainer than that blue and yellow getup he had before. And, of course, he's got that fancy new scarf I dig so much. I'm not going to go into any more detail than that as otherwise I won't shut up about the thing, soooo let's move on to the part where I make him cry! Great!

The level 21 Gastly Morty leads with is no match for Rhea's Pursuit. Neither is the level 21 Haunter that follows it, although to be fair it does put up a fight with Hypnosis and Nightmare. Unfortunately that strategy doesn't work so well when your only damaging move is Shadow Ball and your opponent is a Normal-type with Early Bird. Oops. I wanted Njord to take his level 25 Gengar out by himself, but I end up having to switch to Eidol before he gets too messed up. This is quite fortuitous, as it turns out, as Gengar is apparently completely unable to harm my Stantler aside from the occasional Hypnosis. Even with a little healing from the berry it's holding—whether it's oran or sitrus I can't tell—Eidol is able to get rid of it without injury. All that's left is bringing Rhea back in to finish off the second Haunter with Pursuit. Even though she took a little damage from Curse and Njord was a little roughed up, I manage to earn myself the Fog Badge without anyone fainting. Nice change after getting totally destroyed by Scyther and Miltank, mm.

Morty seems a bit upset that his ghosts and his sexy uberscarf were unable to best me, but he gives me the Shadow Ball TM and my money and lets me head on my way to Olivine. The seaside city is a bit more festive this time, strings of multicolored flags and pennants hanging overhead giving it a touch of "international flair", if you will. Kamon barges out of the gym to whine, presumably about Jasmine being absent, but I wasn't expecting anything different. Before making my way to where the gym leader is actually hanging out I explore the town, and I get a good rod from one fisherman and am asked for a certain Pokémon by another. I don't seem to have the thing he wants, but I don't bother looking for whatever it is. Last time I did that I almost gave away something I fully intended to keep, and now I know better. So instead I continue my tour, noting that Olivine has a proper dock now and that there's a Beauty trainer in the Pokémon Center who attacks me with a level 16 Bellossom. I don't know why she's there or whether or not she's significant—I suppose she must be part of something minor at least, because I'm pretty sure they haven't brought back the "Pokémon Center battles" that were present in Platinum.

The Olivine Lighthouse, now much taller and sleeker looking, has been upgraded and had an elevator installed. It goes right up to the top floor where Jasmine and Amphy, the sick Ampharos, are resting, but they seem to be closed off in a small, circular room. Guess I'm taking the stairs after all, then.

The climb up the first few floors is uneventful, just a few trainers sprinked here and there. The stairs stop after a little while, though, and the only way forward appears to be going through what looks like a side door leading outside. A quick scan of the lighthouse's exterior showed that it had a flat roof a few floors up before... god, I don't know, tapering in to the conical part? fffff I fail at describing architectural stuff. BUT YES there is a flat area with room to walk on and I just assumed that the door led to that.


No, apparently it isn't a door at all but a very large, open window. That or someone forgot to put in some stairs or at least a ladder beneath the door-window, because as soon as I step out I plummet several stories and land on that flat part of the roof, where there is another door that lets me climb the rest of the way I need to go. Brilliant architectural design, that. Can't take the elevator up? Why, just leap out of a window and, if you don't shatter your legs when the roof breaks your fall, walk up a set of stairs we could have just given you access to in the first place! You know, without leaping out of a window! But that would be too easy!

I would hunt the architect down and give him a swift boot to the head for being such an idiot, but my legs, alas, are in no shape for ass-kicking at the moment. Slowly, painfully, I drag myself up the stairs and end up in the small room with Jasmine and Amphy. After a quick chat Jasmine takes pity on me and opens the sealed door, granting me access to the elevator so I don't have stagger downstairs on shattered tibias or jump from any more roofs to get to the ground floor again. She also suggests that the medicine shop in Cianwood might be able to heal my various compound fractures, and that maybe while I'm there I could be a dear and pick up some medicine for poor, ailing Amphy. I tell her she's got a deal if I can just use the freaking elevator to reach her next time.

Surfing south to Cianwood is uneventful, if plagued by more Tentacool than I really care to deal with while my legs are trailing behind Njord in pieces. I battle a few trainers and glance at the whirlpools that block access to the Whirl Islands—they're much bigger than the simple, single-tile affairs they were before. All they do is block your path, though. You can't surf over them and spin around before being flung back out the way you could in GSC. Not as much fun, but then I probably shouldn't be tossing myself around amongst rocks and whirlpools with my legs the way they are. Awwww.

The Cianwood pharmacy is able to fix my injuries and happily hands over Amphy's secretpotion, so now I'm free to investigate before trying my hand at Chuck and his gym. Much of the city's beach is decorated with shells, and there appears to be a camera standing alone by a house for me to snap a picture on my own. Way up on the north end I spy Suicune lurking around; the legendary beast sprints away over the waves before I can get too close. Eusine, always a step behind it bless his determined little heart, appears shortly afterward and challenges me to a battle. His level 25 Drowzee and Haunter aren't too difficult to put down, although his level 27 Electrode does give me a bit of trouble with its high speed and Thunder attack that refuses to miss despite its less-than-stellar accuracy. >( I finish it off, though, and when he's gone I can see that there's a cave in the rock near where Suicune stood. The internet tells me that this cave leads to the Safari Zone, and when I enter it I can see what looks like a few signs about it, but I know I can't get there quite yet and so turn around.

It is with great trepidation that I enter the Cianwood City Gym. I really don't feel ready for it, but there are never enough stupid trainers to assault when I need to grind levels and the wild Pokémon around here are quite pathetic. I don't really have much choice, bleh. The gym's former Strength puzzle is gone, replaced with a large indoor waterfall. Chuck sits beneath the waterfall and I can walk up to him right off the bat, but he refuses to acknowledge me and simply continues his meditation. Lucky for me or for anyone else who might want to interrupt his meditation and beat him up with rabid superpowered monsters—hey, I just smashed my legs jumping out of a lighthouse, I'm feeling a little ornery right now—there are several levels of rocks and platforms in the gym, and these can be climbed in order to reach levers that will alter the flow of the water. It takes a little tricky navigating around the blackbelt trainers, but eventually I reach the two winches on the top level and turn them, lifting the troughs that make up the waterfall and effectively shutting it off.

I was quite right to be nervous about this battle, because it takes me more tries than any of the other gym leaders so far (or since, for that matter—sheesh, I didn't reset this many times for freaking Clair). Not that I think Chuck normally holds a candle to Wicked Witch Whitney, but I suppose I'm usually better prepared than I am this time. It takes a lot of finesse to defeat his level 29 Primeape with just Rhea or occasional help from Singe, but eventually Rhea manages to weaken it and then Singe gets rid of it with residual burn damage.

I try about a million different strategies to beat the level 31 Poliwrath, but it cheerily screws me over with Hypnosis and Focus Punch every single time. Can't even get off a Sunny Day from Singe to try and debuff its stupid Surf, dammit. I finally manage to have Lambo paralyze the damn thing and poke away at it with Rock Smash. Even with Lambo's Adamant nature the attack does piffling damage, but at least it brings in a few defense drops before Lambo faints and Eidol is finally able to Stomp the bloody frogamathing to death. Chuck gives me the Storm Badge and Focus Punch, his wife outside the gym gives me Fly (which Rhea could have used before, dammit; leave me struggling against Primeape with freaking Peck why don't you), and I get some rest before preparing for the trip back to Olivine.

The Contenders:

Croconaw Stantler Flaaffy Doduo Magby Oddish
Njord (M) Eidol (M) Lambo (F) Rhea (F) Singe (M) Oddit (M)
L25, Naughty, Torrent L26, Naughty, Intimidate L24, Adamant, Static L24, Lax, Early Bird L24, Rash, Flame Body L6, Calm, Chlorophyll
-Ice Fang
-Confuse Ray
-Rock Smash
-Thunder Wave
-Quick Attack
-Faint Attack
-Sunny Day
-Sweet Scent

I actually wanted to make a little script widget thinger I-don't-know that would let me share my current team as well (since I'm actually much further than my progress in the blog, as I've said before) and keep it updated easily, but it's not working out so far and meh. I'll worry about it later.

Next time I'll be writing you all while on safari, so as long as no rhinoceri—er, Rhyhorn—let any daylight into my skull it should be a fun one.