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October 30, 2015

Conscious Again

Note: If you are faint of heart or easily saddened, do not read. This story is scary, but more than that it is actually sad and depressing. So... if you don't want to read this Halloween special, I understand. Without spoiling, I can say this much: In this story, I am trying to apply realistic horrors to an imaginary world. Terrible things that may happen, and scar a person for the rest of their life. Or, even simpler, the depravity of humans who seek out a goal and are willing to sacrifice everything - and everyone - else to achieve it, no matter how twisted. Strictly speaking, this is a more emotional way to approach what I have tried to explain a month ago about a certain group of villains in a certain game.

After reading, feel free to go watch a number of cat videos. Or listen to soothing music. Or do anything that might get your spirits up. You will probably need it.

Conscious Again

“We did it. We dreamed of a world where Team Flare would reign… and we succeeded. We succeeded!”

His fist raised, Lysandre spoke to the crowd of Team Flare grunts. I never bothered to count how many we were. It didn’t matter, did it?

“Today is the beginning of a new world. Never again will we need to worry about the diminishing resources of the planet!”

That nosy kid had been defeated once and for all. His friend, the girl who wore short shorts, we never heard of her again. The other girl? Nope, she vanished too. In Team Flare’s base under the ancient superweapon, we were protected from the blast. I didn’t really care what I would find outside. Life will be easier for us now, right?

October 23, 2015

My Top 12 Pokémon

I promised it, here it is. Today, I list my 12 favorite Pokémon species. This means, what, one Pokémon out of 60, perhaps? There are, after all, 720 species (technically 721) out there as of writing. I won’t lie, this was a tough list. I tried to include species from all six Generations, because I believe that every Generation has brought to us a lot of clever concepts and a lot of great species or evolutionary lines.

Personally, I don’t believe that Generation 1 was the best. It’s the most nostalgia-packed Generation, that’s for sure. But I don’t believe that a Generation is better than another, in the grand scheme of things. I'm speaking species-wise, of course; I'm taking out that Generation's games and everything in them that's not directly related to the Pokémon species who appeared in that Generation. You’ll find that my list contains Pokémon from all Generations. There are some Pokémon on this list that I like simply for being cute, others that I like for their rarity, others for their unique gimmick that makes them very interesting to play with, others that I appreciate simply for their backstory or their role in supplementary Pokémon material. Also, I will sometimes include an entire evolutionary line in the list, or a single member of said evolutionary line. Either way, I hope you enjoy this list. Let the countdown begin!

12. The Gastly line (Gastly, Haunter, Gengar)
One of the species with the most drastic changes from one
evolution to the other.
The first ghosts of the Pokémon series, and the only ghosts of the first Generation. That was before ghosts were established as common in the Pokémon universe, so those gaseous critters could be caught only in the Pokémon Tower, in Lavender Town. This was a time where nobody knew what to do with them, really. The first generation was glitched and made them weak to Psychic-type Pokémon when they were supposed to be the player’s sole worthwhile weapon against Sabrina and her team. Even the anime treated them as though there was only one Gastly, one Hanter and one Gengar, and they would do some truly messed-up stuff. Like, oh, I dunno, killing Ash and Pikachu and turning their souls into ghosts? (Fun fact: Dead Pikachu was the first Ghost/Electric Pokémon, long before Rotom was even a thought.) These bizarre episodes also portrayed these three ghosts as too unreliable to be allies. Later Gens would introduce plenty of ghosts to the franchise, so this interpretation of Ghost-types would no longer be accurate by Gen 3. Personally, I never had any problems with these guys. “Yeah, but Nic, you only started playing Pokémon in the third Generation, after the glitch was corrected,” you’ll say. So what? The only thing I dislike about these is that you need to trade the Haunter to get a Gengar, and that’s kind of problematic when you can’t trade at the moment. But at least, Gengar has decent stats and a powerful Mega Evolution (which, in my opinion, is just plain ugly, but if my sole problem is from an aesthetic standpoint, it’s not too bad).

October 19, 2015

Pokémon HeartGold (Part 4)

Read Part 1 here and Part 2 here!

InPart 3, I covered the whole Kanto half of the game. There was a LOT to discuss there. For the fourth and final part of this review, I’m going to talk about the special ways to get Pokémon in HeartGold. There are many ways to find new Pokémon here, and I’ll try to explain each of them. I covered some in Part 3, but I might explain them in greater depth here. So, let's begin!

Dammit Steelix, cheer up!
Alakazam looks like he's
sneaking behind the Trainer.
Oh, wait! Before that, I need to talk about the walking Pokémon! Yes, Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilver introduced a mechanic that hadn’t been seen since the first Generation, and which hasn’t been seen since, and that’s a shame, really; it’s a great mechanic. The walking Pokémon. Just like the Pikachu in Pokémon Yellow, in this game you can have a Pokémon following you around. It’s always going to be the Pokémon in the first slot of your party. And yes, all 493 Pokémon can follow you. Including the Legendary ones such as Arceus, or the very tall or very heavy ones (such as Wailord or Snorlax), and even the ones that wouldn’t like to follow you at any time of day (such as the Hoothoot and Noctowl line, who are nighttime birds, or any Ghost-type who hates the sun). Plus, at any moment in the game your character can turn to his/her Pokémon, and get a message that changes based on a number of factors: How far you are in the game, your Pokémon’s happiness with you, its current state (poisoned, low on HP, etc.), the location you’re currently in… and I’m probably forgetting some. Game Freak even added some neat touches, like the larger/heavier Pokémon being unable to enter buildings, the walking Pokémon coming into battle from offscreen rather than being released from a ball… That’s an amazing idea and I wish it would come back.

Gotta wonder how long it takes
to finish this huge task.
Now… So You Want To Complete The Pokédex. I already discussed the swarms, these Pokémon species who are not always native to a Route, who suddenly appear en masse on those Routes. Some are Gen 3 or 4 Pokémon who shouldn’t logically have anything to do here. Yet, they happen. Something else can happen as well, thanks to the Pokégear. If you use the radio and tune in to the “Pokémon music” channel while on a Route, you may hear what’s known as the Hoenn Sound (only on Wednesdays) or the Sinnoh Sound (only on Thursdays). Playing these channels on certain Routes will attract Pokémon from the third or fourth generation. Of course, the music has to be playing for this to work. 19 additional species can be caught this way.

October 16, 2015

Pokémon HeartGold (Part 3)

InPart 1, we began our journey, found a rival and went through 5 Gyms. In Part 2, we defeated Team Rocket, went through the remaining Gyms, and then we fought the Elite 4. Today, we’re visiting Kanto! The ship takes us to Vermillion City, where Lt. Surge, the Electric-type champion, can be fought. It’s rather simple, really; in Kanto, your mission is to fight the eight Gym Leaders of the first Generation, obliterate the remaining shreds of Rockets that are still around, and catch whichever Legendary Pokémon are still in the wild. Actually, there's a LOT of Legendary Pokémon here.

I would have put a chart with all the Legendary Pokémon, but then I
remembered that this game ended at the fourth Gen.
In fact, I’ll talk about that right now, and then I'll discuss Kanto. If you haven’t caught Entei and Raikou, they’re still roaming Johto. Suicune is going around, chased by Eusine. You can, however, corner Suicune on Route 25, and then battle and catch the third legendary dog. …Taking away Eusine’s reason to live. Good, maybe he’ll finally get a life. The legendary birds are there as well, but they appear only after you've collected Kanto's eight badges; Articuno is still in the Seafoam Islands. Zapdos can be found outside of Route 10’s power plant. Moltres can be found and fought in Mt. Silver, which is also accessible only once all 16 badges are in your possession. Same for the Cerulean Cave, where Mewtwo rests. In Pewter City (which is still pretty far in Kanto), a guy will offer the player the special wing we didn’t get in Johto (Silver Wing in HeartGold, Rainbow Wing in SoulSilver). This gives access to the other legendary bird, which is found in Johto; Lugia will bewaiting in the Whirl Islands, and Ho-Oh will appear at the top of the Bell Tower. Latias will be roaming Kanto in Pokémon HeartGold; in SoulSilver, it’s Latios. In both cases, catching it is difficult to do. Thankfully, once you catch the roaming member of the Eon duo, you can go get the second one at Pewter City, given that you have an… event-exclusive… item… Goddammit! I hate event-exclusives like that! Though, if you really wish to know, the other event-exclusive Pokémon of note in this game is the Pikachu-colored Pichu, which is exactly what is said on the tin. Bringing this one to the Ilex Forest gives the player access to a spiky-eared Pichu from the shrine of Celebi. That Pichu cannot evolve, which means it stays sucky all the way to Level 100. Oh yeah, and there’s also a Celebi that could be obtained as an event; with Celebi in the party, it was possible to find, fight and defeat Giovanni in this game. The Team Rocket ex-leader had heard the radio transmission from his team and was decided to go back, but then gets defeated by the HG/SS protagonist and changes his mind once again. Oh, also, depending on the version, you can catch Kyogre or Groudon; the Mr. Pokémon guy will offer the player character a colored orb that will make said Legendary Pokémon appear in the Embedded Tower, an odd place near the Johto Safari Zone. Once you catch that one, you can make a trade to get the other, and then you can go back to Mr. Pokémon; he’ll give a Jade Orb, after which you can go back to the Embedded Tower and catch Rayquaza! I think I’m forgetting a few other Legendary Pokémon that can be caught in this game through events, event items, trades, etc., and I know I’m leaving out a number of Legendary Pokémon-only items that allow some of them to change forms, but this paragraph has already been long enough.

One moment... I can feel the memories coming back...

October 12, 2015

Pokémon HeartGold (Part 2)

In Part 1 I went over the first five badges of the Johto region and some of the new stuff in Pokémon HeartGold, now it’s time to see the rest of Johto!

Our protagonist Nicolas (named such because we need to follow a guy with a name and I'm lazy) leaves Cianwood City, Surfs back to Oliville and cures the sickly Ampharos in the lighthouse. Jasmine thanks the player and invites him in her Gym for a battle. You can even skip the other Trainers in the Gym! Our protagonist goes straight to Jasmine, beats her heavy Pokémon, and earns the Mineral Badge. Awesome!

Small villages hide big secrets sometimes too.
The road to the seventh Gym is pretty long; we backtrack through Routes 39 and 38, across Ecruteak City, and into Route 42 (which is the location of Mount Mortar, a cave very difficult to navigate), towards Mahogany Town. It’s a small town with a Gym, but some guy is blocking said Gym's entrance. Because duh. Don’t you hate it when NPCs block key parts of the game? Geez, this railroading is so obvious, I’m seeing the train coming towards me. No problem, I’ll just move on to the route on the right, Route 44… wha? Some guy is blocking my way there as well? He forbids me from passing unless I buy a Rage Candy Bar. And if I buy one, he tells me I still can’t pass. I wished I could just kick him in the nards, but the game won’t allow this, for obvious reasons. What the Hell do I do, then?

October 9, 2015

Pokémon HeartGold (Part 1)

A bit of backstory. One of my best friends is a great Pokémon fan. Not only did she introduce me to the Pokémon games (I knew about the anime before meeting her), she even gave me Pokémon FireRed as a Christmas gift way back, when we were in high school. 8 or 9 years ago. I don’t even remember what I gave her, but I’m sure it wasn’t anywhere as great as that. Anyway, Pokémon FireRed (which I reviewed, if anyone’s interested) was the first Pokémon game I owned. And for a long time, it was the only one. I have fond memories of it, if only because I played through it three or four times, and on the last time I actually managed to complete the Pokédex, complex feat if there ever was one. Alright, it wasn’t very impressive back then, as there were only 386 Pokémon, and now we’re at a staggering 721. But it was still something! My passion for the Pokémon games never really faded. At some point, my friend found the cartridge for Pokémon HeartGold, in the house of someone who didn’t want it anymore. She already owned that game (to be fair, she owns pretty much ALL of the main series’ games), so she cleaned it up a little (it was in a wastebasket, I think?) and deleted the save file (which clearly belonged to a child with an immature sense of humor, as the file was filled with some... very crappy humor, shall we say). She created a new save file for me, and handed me the cartridge. I was so happy. We would frequently hang out just to trade some Pokémon. Needless to say, she had almost all of the Legendary Pokémon in the games she owned, so she always had spares for me. And you can bet your money that I would have completed this Pokédex! It required a lot of patience, due to certain mechanics that I’ll explain later. But I would have done it! In the meantime, I had even bought Pokémon White, with the intention of trading my Pokémon from HeartGold into it once I had completed the Story Mode!

And then… the disaster. Many months later, I turn on my Nintendo DS, boot up the game, only to find out that the save file had been corrupted. All data? Lost. All the 400+ Pokémon species? Never heard of them again. Farewell my Pokérus-infected Seadra, my trusty team, my plans to build one different team for each Type and kick the Elite Four’s asses 17 times in a row! I was devastated. I had racked up over 300 hours of playtime on that thing. For the record, that’s twelve days and a half nonstop. I had caught that final Pokémon that I could find in the Safari Zone, a Bagon! It only took 110 days for it to appear! I was so close, so fucking close! I cried. A lot. I don’t think I ever recovered. It might explain why I treat harshly games that crash on me. I just think back to Pokémon HeartGold. And how days of hard work can all go to Hell because of a tiny little problem. It worked well for months, I would have never expected something like this to happen!

I’m not gonna lie, this is a tough one. For purely personal reasons. But I must carry through with reviewing Pokémon HeartGold. I must be fair to it. I must not let my bias take over! I must treat this game like I treat every other game, and not let my personal experience get in the way! …But I’m probably not gonna play through Pokémon HeartGold again, just in case it corrupts itself once more. So, you will probably find this review less detailed than usual. That’s probably a good thing, I tend to give too many details, and before you know it, I’m at three, four, five parts. But, more than anything else, this is my test in fairness.

Let’s go.

October 2, 2015

VGFlicks: Pokémon The First Movie: Mewtwo Strikes Back (Part 3)

This isn’t the most complex movie out there, but you sure would want to know what’s going on here, so if you haven’t done so, go and read Part 1 and Part 2 of this review before reading this article!

You know what, I’m kinda tired of hypocrites. Yeah, okay, I use hypocrisy as a joke every once in a while, but I just write reviews on the Internet as a hobby. I’m not the Psychic creature claiming that Pokémon owned by human Trainers are traitors or something like that, all while using Pokémon himself in order to get his plan into action. The age-old hypocritical argument of “It’s only alright if I’m the one who does it“. The Fearow that spied on Ash’s battle, the Dragonite who delivered the letter? Yeah. I’m of the belief that you must judge a person by their actions. And I’ve seen enough hypocrisy in the world to know how bad this sort of thing can be.

Is it really a good thing that Ash can see all of these
Pokémon fighting to the death?
The fight between clones and originals has begun, and without any special abilities, they’re all forced to use their fists, feet and/or teeth. This won’t end well… Sigh. Why can’t we be friends? And from where he stands, Ash can see the whole thing. Pokémon punching each other in the face, biting or headbutting or kicking each other… Compared to what Pokémon battles usually look like, this would be boring, if it was between normal Pokémon. I think it’s too late to go around and sprinkle some Attack+ on the originals? Oh right, I had forgotten; save from the Kanto starters, all cloned Pokémon look exactly the same as their original counterparts! Oh hey look, the two Psyduck are just bitch-slapping each other.

It always makes me chuckle.

Even Pikachu has his personal opponent.

Electric Pokémon VS Electric Pokémon.
Most boring battle ever?

Soon enough, the fight reaches uncomfortable levels of realism as Pokémon fall left and right, and no, before you ask, the clones aren’t winning any more than the originals. It’s ex aequo. And thus begins the ever-mocked scene where every single human character contemplates in sadness and exclaims, “Pokémon aren’t meant to fight! Not like this!”


Hey, who wrote that? Linkara, is that you?

.livna taht no daeh ym gnittih morf noissucnoc a
tog I kniht I
I cAn'T WriTe riGHt anYMorE.
Seriously though, let’s count how often the point is beaten into us; I’ll mimic the effect of this on the audience by bashing my head on an anvil for each sentence that states the point. First is Nurse Joy. BANG Then the girl Trainer who used Surf to get there. BANG After  which     it’s     Brock. BANG A n d t h e n M i s t y BANG I like caramel… A ndth eni t’sJa meso fTeamR ocket BANG and jessssssssssssie BANG Nah mommy, I dun wanna go to school today, the other kids keep making fun of me! Chasing me ‘round the yard, kicking me into the playground… I wanna go home…

The forced repetition of a moral an absurd number of times, to have it stick into the audience’s heads is called “Anvilicious” for a reason, ya know… first off, OW. I’m gonna need something to heal my forehead.

Second, what none of them ever takes a few seconds to explain is that, in the Pokémon world, battles are regulated. It’s cockfights, sure, but it's a professional sport. There are rules. You don’t steal the other trainers’ Pokémon, you can’t harm Pokémon that aren’t yours outside of a Pokémon battle, be a good sport whether you win or lose… and oh yeah, when a Pokémon’s HP hits zero, that Pokémon doesn’t die. It faints. It can then be “revived” at a Pokémon Center, where its Hit Points bar will be refilled, any status ailments will be erased, and your team is once again good to go. Here, we’re talking straight-up fights to the death. This never happened in the main series of games. The actual moral here isn’t that Pokémon battles are wrong (though I can see why some people would take issue with them), it’s that this very particular kind of fighting, where one emerges victorious and the other gets killed, is wrong. Does it really matter which are the originals and which are the clones? They’re all living beings, right? In fact, that was the moral at the end of the Japanese version; all life is equal, because a person’s actions in life are more important than how they came into existence. 4kids fucked it up, and changed it to “fighting to the death is wrong”. Never mind that this particular scenario only started happening ten minutes earlier in the movie, while the moral in the Japanese version was built up from the very beginning.

Hell, just have a look at Team Rocket's Meowth and his clone. Instead of fighting, they start waxing philosophical on how they both live in the same world, and how everyone would live in peace if we started looking for similarities instead of differences… and frankly, that kind of message should apply to humans as well. Others may be of a different ethnicity or gender, speak a different language, but we’re all humans. You know what, these Meowth have all of my respect right now. A round of applause for the smartest cats I've ever seen!

I think I'm the only one on the Internet who still hasn't used this gif.

Mew and Mewtwo are still fighting, and as Ash descends from where he was stuck, he sees his Pikachu getting the crap beaten out of him by his clone. But Ash’s Pikachu refuses to fight, and just keeps getting slapped across the face. Other reviewers have already done the “Stop hitting yourself” joke, so I’ll just allude to it and move on. Both psychic cats finally land from their airborne bubble fighting, causing all the other fights to stop. This is it, the final confrontation. They both charge up their attacks… and Ash has a plan. Quiz time! What is Ash’s plan?

…No need to ask the question, we all know what he does. He just runs to the middle of the arena as the two powerful characters are about to release their psychic attack. And of course, he gets hit. Way to go, Ash, now you’re dead.

Or rather, somehow this turns him to stone. Pikachu runs up to his now-dead master, and tries desperately to wake him up. No, the shots of Pokémon running out of energy to fight didn’t make me cry, but this definitely did. It’s so hopeless…

It's a good thing I kept a box of tissues nearby...

Both the original Pokémon and their cloned counterparts, sans Mewtwo and Mew, start crying. Oh hey, it seems they were ready to fight to the death, but they weren’t ready for death itself! And, for some reason, these tears turn into magic, and sparkly stuff starts converging towards Ash’s stone-cold body. Somehow, this causes the young Trainer to come back to life.

Dammit! After all these years, I was sure I had seen this
scene enough times to be desensitized! I was wrong!

Alright, so this was foreshadowed in a throwaway line earlier, but I still find that little deus ex machina hard to swallow. But it works and Ash is revived. Well, duh. Kids aren’t ready for downer endings. And Mewtwo realizes that if a human is ready to sacrifice himself to save the Pokémon, then maybe humans aren’t all that terrible after all. Of course, no word about how both the original Pokémon and their clones were pretty much equal in strength during the fight…

The Psychic-type Pokémon finally understands that the worth of each is determined by their actions and not the way they were born, which is something he could have learned quickly hadn’t he been such a knucklehead through the entire film. That's always how it goes; bad guy has an ideology the heroes rally against, bad guy refuses to listen, something major happens, bad guy changes his mind. Mewtwo uses his psychic powers to take all of the clones, and flies away with them. It may sound corny the way I describe it, but it’s actually quite a touching moment.

Oh, and Mewtwo stops the storm, then brings all the humans and their Pokémon back to the nearby town’s pier, and… erases their memories of this adventure.

Son of a-!

Well, you know what that means. Next time Ash finds himself in the middle of a fight between Legendary Pokémon, his reflex will be to run into it. Again. Because he forgot his lesson.

Screw that part of the ending.

But as his friends and he look at the sea from the pier, Ash thinks he sees a pink cat flying in the clouds, but it disappears before Misty or Brock can see it. And yes, before you ask, Team Rocket are fine as well, they’re just stuck on the island where Mewtwo’s lair used to be. The end. Oh, we get a few pop songs during the credits, because 4kids sure liked its pop songs back in the day (looking at you, Digimon The Movie), and now I can say it’s over.

So, was it a good movie? Ehh… It’s okay, I guess. Did I like it? Heck yes. Is this the best Pokémon movie? Not really. I grew up with the first four films on VHS, so I saw them quite a few times. I think some of the Pokémon films aired on Télétoon many years ago, but they stopped around the sixth or seventh film. I also had the first 32 episodes on VHS, I think. Whatever. For some reason, I have a deeper nostalgic connection with the Pokémon movies than I do with the anime series.

The main problem with this movie is the disconnected story; no big surprise there, the 4kids dub is to blame. Due to changing the plot and the moral at the end, many of the dubbed lines make little to no sense. For starters, turning this plot into the basic “good versus evil” story seen everywhere else, taking out the more interesting aspects of Mewtwo’s psyche and just replacing them with a layer of card-carrying villainy. Don’t you like it when psychologically-complex villains are reduced to stereotypes? Sure, Mewtwo’s tragic backstory is retained, but the scenes that were cut from the Japanese version were much more effective at explaining said backstory than anything that has been kept in the English dub. Sure, there are a few great moments of comedy in the version we got, but none of it excuses the drastic changes and the removal of any form of ambiguity. Here, Mewtwo = evil, Mew = good. Black and white. And fighting to the death is bad, though regulated cockfights are a-okay. And true strength comes from the heart. In the original, it was much more complex than that, with “Nature versus nurture” doubled with an “all life is equal” Aesop. The sad part is that Takeshi Shudo, who penned the Japanese script, hoped the film would be as enjoyable for adults going to see the movie with their kids as it would be for the kids themselves. You know, a family film that everyone gets to enjoy. It’s no wonder, then, that the Japanese version is held in much higher regard by fans of the franchise.

Despite these flaws, Pokémon The First Movie: Mewtwo Strikes Back is still an okay film to watch if you’ve got 75 minutes of free time. Like I said, it could have been better, but knowing how certain video game movies turn out (I’m not pointing fingers this time around), it could have been way worse. Mewtwo remains a powerful villain, the other characters are likable, and just the right dose of funny makes this story memorable... again, despite the glaring flaws of the 4kids dub. And if you're a Pokémon fan and you don't mind subtitles, you might be interested in checking the original version. As for the English version, it will also appeal more to Pokémon fans, as it doesn't serve too well as an introduction to the series for newcomers (though, I guess a newcomer watching it with a fan would have a simpler time understanding).

The animation is great, definitely a step up from the anime series… which is kind of the point for a movie based on a series. However, there are some mistakes here and there that can be spotted easily, like a pink Nidorino in a scene (when this species is supposed to be purple), or a Nidoqueen colored like a Nidoking (purple instead of blue). The CGI in some scenes looks really fake, especially the doors that are opened and closed by Mewtwo's psychic powers. The pop music that peppers certain scenes of the movie should also be forgettable, as we never quite get to hear them, but a few are pretty good on their own, like “Brother Oh Brother” (though one could argue that the style of this song clashed with the scene it was used in, even though the lyrics are spot-on) or Christina Aguilera’s “We’re A Miracle”. In the orchestral category, we have “Tears Of Life”.

So yeah, it’s really not the best movie out there, nor is it the best Pokémon movie; but it’s definitely watchable, and all the more enjoyable for fans of the Pokémon series. As I said at the beginning of this review, I have no plans to review the remaining 17 films. But I definitely see an interest in anime and film adaptations, and how they can differ so wildly from the video games they are based on.

Next Friday begins another epic review. An actual Pokémon game! And not just any game; Pokémon HeartGold, which left me heartbroken and shattered… but not for the reasons you think.