aaaasdfghjkl sorry! I really don't mean to keep putting this off for so long. At this rate I'm not going to be able to get through all sixteen gyms before the American release (that was the only good thing about the original April release they'd mentioned, dammit). But I will try! I swear!


Now that Chuck is out of the way I'd like a chance to explore the Safari Zone and its ramped-up selection of previously unavailable pokémon, so I need to go ahead and get Amphy taken care of. I fly back to Olivine, take the elevator to the top floor of the lighthouse and walk–oh, it feels great to be able to walk and not have my legs in pieces thanks that moronic lighthouse architect–into the small room, and watch as Jasmine administers the medicine to Amphy. The ampharos perks up immediately and turns on his tail, lighting up the entire lighthouse, and then Jasmine returns to the gym. Blah blah blah blinded by the ampharos let's move on to something more interesting than temporary vision loss and happy sheep-dragons.

Shortly after I leave the lighthouse I get a phone call from the owner of the Safari Zone, who is apparently the man I met in front of the Moo Moo Milk farm, letting me know that the park is open at last. I rush back to Cianwood, enter the cave Suicune had been outside of and am finally able to head out of the other side onto the new path. Route 47 consists mostly of tall cliffs overlooking the sea, waterfalls separating a few of them here and there. Several bridges and short caves need to be crossed and maneuvered through to move from one side of the other, and there are a few reasonably tough trainers as well before reaching the grass of Route 48.

The end of Route 48 opens up into a small clearing with several awnings, a pokémart, a pokémon center and several people; it's possible to fly here, apparently, which is nice and convenient. The entrance to the Safari Zone is surrounded by large torches, which seems like a fire hazard given the proximity to all the trees and tents but okay! As long as it doesn't burn down before I have a chance to catch some cool stuff, that's their problem.

The owner, Baoba, greets me as I enter the gatehouse, and presumably gives me a bit of a rundown of how things work when I talk to him. The internet says that he also asks to see a geodude, after which he will open the "customization feature" everyone's been talking about. I already have a geodude from before, and showing him that before I head in seems to do the trick; guess Baoba's not very picky. The customization won't be available for another twenty-four hours or so, though, so I just head in through the gate with the SZ as-is for now.

The first area I come across is a simple, "mountainous" area that isn't terribly large. None of the areas are particularly large, actually, and most of them only have a small smattering of grass here and there. The lack of grass is a little annoying, as is the fact that they don't have a steps-remaining display the way they did in some previous games, but running in tiny, cramped circles for a little while does eventually get me a few very nice pokémon–including a magneton and a female larvitar, both of which I decide to add to the team. I bid a fond farewell to dear Lambo and a not-so-fond-farewell to the space-wasting HM slave Oddit to make room for Ferox and Targa, both of whom should be a lot of fun to use after I spend the next week or so actually bringing them up to par with the rest of the team.

...okay, not a week, but with the highest-level pokémon in the SZ around level 17 and the rest of my team closing in on 30, Ferox and Targa are just a hair behind everyone else. And with just about all of the trainers I have access to already vanquished, this means that I've got to do a lot of jumping around and struggling to find decent-leveled wild pokémon in order to catch them up. The sight-seeing that results from this is not terribly eventful, aside from finding Suicune and Eusine (but no battle, dammit... why don't people ever attack me when I need them to?) outside of Mt. Mortar and a chance encounter with Entei on Route 35, so I won't bore you with the details. Suffice to say, then, that impatient little Gold got sick of beating up wild tentacool ad nauseam and made his way back to Jasmine's gym in Olivine without particularly caring about how low his new teammates' levels were or how the magnemite in there were probably going to flash cannon the hell out of his poor baby larvitar.

Two trainers wait along the short path to Jasmine and the back of the gym, what appears to be a pretty big change from the completely empty Olivine Gym in GSC. Much to my dismay, all they do when they rush me is... talk. I guess maybe they're thanking me for healing Amphy, or wishing me luck in my battle with Jasmine, but... if they'd really wanted to thank me, they could've just let me beat the crap out of them for money and experience.

Despite the level difference and my deep-seated fear of taking a flash cannon to the face, I send Targa the larvitar out to do battle with Jasmine's first level 30 magnemite. Thankfully, my fears appear to be baseless–the only move the magnemite seems to be able to use on her is sonicboom. Still, that isn't much consolation when Targa has something along the lines of 59 HP and no ground-type moves, so it takes an inordinate number of screeches, rock slides and super potions for her to finally bring the magnetized menace down. Singe makes much quicker work of the second magnemite, leaving Jasmine's big bad steelix to Njord. Jasmine's hyper potions and Njord's mediocre special attack mean that it takes a long time for my croconaw to wear the behemoth down with surf, but the blasted thing finally drowns after a prolonged struggle and I'm able to hobble out with my Mineral Badge.

So it's back to and through Mt. Mortar so I can hit Mahogany Town. A trainer battle along the way sees Njord reaching level 30 and evolving into Feraligatr at long last. Seven-and-a-half feet and two hundred pounds of killer reptile lumber into town behind me, pausing to look at a rare tree specimen outside of the shop. It's a beautiful tree, really, and Njord and I can't help but stare in admiration at the perfectly smooth, cylindrical trunk, the thick, chunky needles that shine in the sunlight, the three metallic, antennae-like flowers that sprout from its canopy... this gorgeous tree is truly a spectacle to behold, a wonder of the natural world, and aside from its radiance and majesty I find this tree to be completely innocuous and not suspicious in the slightest.

...what? Oh, right, looking around town. Tearing my eyes away from the wondrous shiny tree and trying to ignore the staticky siren song coming from its metal flowers, I duck into the little shop next to it for supplies. The gentlemen inside are very friendly with really big smiles, though the massive gold chest shoved awkwardly into a corner makes me wonder about their sense of taste. I was hoping they'd have a few slowpoketails for my new seven-foot killer reptile to snack on, especially given how much cheaper they seem to be than in GSC, but they don't seem to be selling them. Disappointed, Njord and I have to turn to the beautiful, shiny tree outside for solace.

...what? Oh, right, Lake of Rage. We leave the perfectly innocent shop and tree behind and head north toward the lake. My first indication that something in Mahogany might not be right (darnit, the shiny tree and the friendly shop lulled me into a false sense of security) comes when several Team Rocket members rush at me and jabber something about "1000". It isn't until I step out on the other side of the gatehouse that I realize that the swindlers have taken a 1000P fine from me for passing through. Well, that was awfully rude of them. They would do well to learn some manners from the friendly shopkeepers with the innocuous shiny tree!

The heavy rain currently falling when I reach my destination has caused a veritable maze of trees to sprout on the route leading to the Lake of Rage, and when I reach the lake proper it looks as though it has actually flooded–a surfable labyrinth of trees runs up and down the left side of the lake. Navigating it takes me to a house whose inhabitant gives me TM10.

The red gyarados is swimming around on the right side of the lake, so I have to wend my way back out of the maze to confront and capture it. After I retrieve its red scale and have Njord carry me back to land (pretty nice to be able to surf on something that's actually larger than I am as opposed to behind something half my size), Lance walks up and requests my help in dealing with Team Rocket. His dragonite appears and he flies away on its back, asking me to meet him at the shop with the beautiful tree. Oh, no! The friendly shopkeepers with the beautiful shiny tree are being menaced by Team Rocket? Such injustice! Something must be done!

When I return to the shop, however, I see Lance and his dragonite blasting the crap out of one of the friendly men. Before I can leap to the poor man's defense, Lance forces him to move the tacky gold chest away from the wall. A hidden staircase leading into the earth–or, rather, a Rocket base, if Lance is to be believed–is revealed, and to my dismay the friendly men cannot explain away its presence. The men's treachery breaks my heart and makes me want to cry–oh, how Njord and I trusted them and their shiny tree!–but there is no time for tears. Like it or not, the beautiful tree hides an underground lair of evildoers, and I must descend into their den of villany and deceptively shiny things and defeat them.

Lance and Dragonite have already moved on when I take my first steps into the Rocket lair, and I am left alone in a long hall of persian statues with gleaming red eyes. The persian also look totally harmless and wonderfully shiny, and under normal circumstances I would be more than willing to dismiss them as nothing more than tasteful statuary and stare at their shiny eyes for hours on end, but fresh from having my heart broken by such beauty I know better than to trust them. Sure enough, moving in front of one of them sets off a bunch of flashing red lights and sends two Rockets running out to attack me one at a time. I'm pretty sure there's a way to disarm the persian alarms and allow me to proceed down the hall unchallenged, but then I'd miss out on money and experience and, as I've said before, Gold is no money-hating pansy. I take out my anger on the swarm of Rockets, rob them of their cash and their dignity and move over to the next stretch of hall.

The floor leading to the stairs I need to take is littered with voltorb, geodude, koffing and other things that are equally prone to exploding and jacking up my team, although I manage to pick my way through the traps without being blown to smithereens or even being damaged at all. It isn't until after I'm in the clear, down the stairs and speaking to Lance that I realize that I never took the time to catch anything, a risk I could've afforded to take given that Lance healed my team at the end of the conversation. Phooey.

There isn't much else on this floor, so the two of us move down another set of stairs and Lance attacks another Rocket. We can't get through the door to the electrode-powered generator powering the evil shiny tree, so we split up to look for the necessary passwords. I run into Kamon as I search, but he just shoves me and goes on his way without battling. (Who does a guy have to sleep with to get extra experience around here? :/) The two passwords I eventually uncover open the door to an office in the heart of the hideout, where I run into Giovanni and his stylish new hat. A few minutes into our confrontation and Giovanni does a quick spin-change into Lambda (Petrel in English, but I'll just go ahead and use his Japanese name here), Team Rocket's master of disguise. Or something. However much he might have looked like Giovanni, though, he certainly can't battle like him–Rhea and Singe mow down his zubat, koffing and raticate with ease. Lambda is so terrified of my spindly two-headed bird and baby duck-creature that he crashes into the wall in his attempt to flee from me and forgets his pet murkrow. The murkrow squawks the password at me and then scurries away, and despite the fact that it's just told me what I need to know I chase after it anyway.

Upstairs, downstairs and all around the hideout the murkrow leads me before finally crowing the password in front of the locked doors and disappearing. The doors open, but before I can make my way inside Athena (Arianna in English) and another Rocket grunt stop me. Lance intervenes before they can gang up on me, and we enter a double battle against both trainers. Njord steps up alongside Lance's level 40 dragonite, which, while powerful, gets paralyzed by Athena's arbok and ends up just kind of sitting there and being useless for the majority of the battle. Njord is able to pull most of the weight without difficulty, though, and with those two out of the way Lance and I are able to disarm the magikarp-evolving device. I catch one of the electrode and receive HM05, now whirlpool instead of the infuriating defog, from Lance, and then we head back out into the sunlight.

The once hypnotically beautiful shiny tree is no more, reduced to nothing but a bent pole and a few damaged wires. I am free to pop out of town and train now that its spell over me has been broken once and for all, and so I do a bit more non-descript running around until Singe and Rhea finally evolve into magmar and dodrio, respectively. Bringing Targa and Ferox up any higher than their current mid-twenties would require more mind-numbing wild training and I'm getting impatient again, so I head back to Mahogany and storm the gym without waiting any longer. They'll catch up when there are actually trainers for me to battle again.

The sliding-ice puzzle in Pryce's gym has received an update, one that I find easier than my memories of the challenge in the GSC era. There are now several rooms to go through rather than just one, and the rooms have a few ice blocks placed out on the floor. Sliding into these blocks will push them in the direction you're traveling in; if they hit another ice block the two will freeze together and become immobile. The simpler challenge is a little disappointing in the end, but it got me to Pryce all the same.

With a dramatic fingerpoint and a hearty cry of "Objection!" (forgive me, new Phoenix Wright game on the brain) I send Ferox into battle against his level 30 seel, which goes down with just a few thundershocks. Damn but it's embarrassing to have to rely on thundershock in the seventh gym. It works, though, and I switch my fancy new magmar in to deal with the incoming level 34 piloswine. Two fire punches, one of them critical, take care of him, leaving the level 32 dewgong for Njord to crunch his way through with relative ease. I take my Glacier Badge and hail TM outside with me, but before I can head over to the Ice Path I receive a frantic phone call...

The best things ever:

Feraligatr Stantler Magneton Dodrio Magmar Larvitar
Njord (M) Eidol (M) Ferox (X) Rhea (F) Singe (M) Targa (F)
L32, Naughty, Torrent L27, Naughty, Intimidate L26, Bashful, Sturdy L31, Lax, Early Bird L30, Rash, Flame Body L25, Naughty, Guts
-Ice Fang
-Confuse Ray
-Thunder Wave
-Quick Attack
-Fire Punch
-Confuse Ray
-Faint Attack
-Sunny Day
-Rock Slide

...for serious, though, guys, I'm working on a system that should hopefully get the rest of the updates up here *much* faster. I can't promise I'll finish Kanto by the 14th, but we'll be well into it by then. Really this time!