With Viola handing over my first gym badge and the EXP Share safely turned off, I ventured into the gardens to the south of Lumiose City. Here, plant Pokemon roam free and pollinate the flowers while gardeners prune the labyrinthine hedgerows under the sun. Rollerbladers skate around the grandiose fountain, waiting for unsuspecting trainers to cross their path.
Bolstered by my win against Viola, I ran into the blooming pink flowers to encounter the round, bespotted body of Ledyba. Ledyba is as cute as a button. Indeed, its cuteness is probably its best weapon; its spherical hands and large, baby-doll eyes mean it’s not particularly well suited to battle. I still caught it. I can’t afford to have a depleted team, no matter how weak they may be on the surface.
Knowing that some treats lie within the puzzling hedgerows, I venture in to grab whatever might be on offer. A disgruntled gardener stops me in my tracks and it’s here that I make the first big mistake of my challenge. These gardeners are known for using Crawdaunt; these creatures are basically a large, cartoonish lobster with a star stuck to their forehead for some unexplained reason. I’m not sure why the star is there. It may give them magical powers. Or Crawdaunts are superheroes who fight crime by night.
In any case, by this time my Fennikin is nearly at the point of evolving into its second form, so I figured it would be strong enough to take on a relatively weak lobster. I’ll tell you my thought process on this one. I forgot everything I knew about Pokemon and thought about it too logically; a gardener would surely possess grass Pokemon. I could easily dispatch it with a quick shot of fire. Even seeing the lobster in front of me, never once did the word ‘water’ cross my mind. This lead to a terrifying experience. Upon ordering my Fennikin to blast this pesky lobster in the face with a hot stream of fire, the barely depleted health bar sent shivers down me. What had I done? Crawdaunt is a water Pokemon. I’m done for. Despite it using a strong stream of water on my fiery fox, I somehow survived. Unfortunately, I was still ill-equipped to deal with the threat. Pidgey slowly managed to deal with the lobster thanks to persistence and a great many sand-attacks in the eye, but I spent the rest of the trip to Lumiose licking my wounds and avoiding any old gardeners with a twinkle in their eye and a lobster in their pocket (not a euphemism).
If there was one thing that my trip to Lumiose had taught me, it was that, as it stood, my team seriously lacked balance. I could deal with bugs and plants no problem, but anything else was proving to be something of a pain. I needed bolstering. I needed something different. Professor Sycamore could provide it. The curiously young scientist battled me with his traditional team of Bulbasaur, Charmander and Squirtle, the very first starter Pokemon (memories!) He then gave me the choice of which one I’d like.
On my first outing in Pokemon Blue, I picked Squirtle as my teammate – Squirtle seemed tough enough and seemed quite cute. Plus, I was a bit of a sucker for water and ice Pokemon at the time (my first Pokemon League-winning team in the first generation at seven years old comprised of Blastoise, Lapras, Articuno, Tentacruel, Gyarados and Rapidash. For balance. How I beat the League I’ll never know). This time though, I knew I’d have plenty of chances to grab a water Pokemon along the line. Grass Pokemon were eluding me though and I couldn’t risk encountering a duplicate or something relatively weak on the next route. Bulbasaur would have to be my next choice, which meant getting shot of someone already in my team. Off to the PC box you go, Bidoof.
Feeling happy that a relatively decent team was very slowly starting to take shape (thanks to the frankly unstoppable foundation of Fennekin, Pidgey and Bulbasaur) I ventured forth on to the next route. Here, once again, I encountered the might of Crawdaunt. And won by vine whipping him to death (painful). I was, though, painfully unlucky to encounter another Dunsparce along this path; it denied me the ability to pick up another addition to my team, knocking my confidence in the challenge again. If this kept happening, I wouldn’t be able to keep going much longer before I ran into serious difficulties.
Why, then, was I so happy to be entering Camphrier Town? Yes, the sight of the next Pokémon centre along the way was pretty comforting. But no, it was because the small chance to catch one of the best Pokémon in the whole game was right around the corner. Despite my run of bad luck, I had high hopes that I’d be able to catch one of the creatures in the next area and boost the makeup of my team no end. I don’t waste much time in battling the trainers along the path to the Parfum Palace. Interestingly, this is the dullest segment of the game overall, and one which I hate doing; catching the mansion owner’s Furfrou (basically a poodle) is silly and a terrible way to flesh out gameplay. Perhaps what I detest the most, though, is the fireworks display that you’re rewarded with. Don’t get me wrong, the fireworks are fine. It’s the talk with Shauna that is truly nauseating. Pokémon X and Y revolves around the idea of friendship, which is absolutely great; everyone needs good friends. As I said in Part One, though, you barely know the people you are travelling with. This makes Shauna’s little speech about how good it is to have friends and her assertion that you’ll be “friends forever” both baffling on a narrative level and just a bit false.
But, these things must be done. The real prize is around the corner. With the Poke Flute in hand, I make my way back to Camphrier Town through the now-accessible tall grass. These are tense times. Will the Pokémon I want actually appear? Or will I be cursed with a Kecleon or Illumise? (Note: neither of these are particularly bad Pokémon, and either would have added more type variety to my team, but they just pale in comparison to the real prize on offer.)
I was in luck. My first wild encounter along this route presents me with the long, slender, graceful figure of Honedge. In itself, it’s not the best fighter in the world. With a little time and TLC, though, Honedge could become an extremely valuable member to my team. I wanted this Pokémon. I had a bit of a problem though. By this point, thanks to my lack of team variety and unwillingness to level up the more useless members of my team, my Fennekin was no longer a little fox. Instead, he had evolved into the rather chic Braixen and was already ten levels higher than my opponent in the wild. I couldn’t risk sending out another Pokémon and having Honedge kill it with a potentially super-effective move but at the same time I was aware that not only was Braixen much stronger statistically than Honedge, but it also held a distinct type advantage. But what choice did I have? I cast ember, Braixen’s weakest attack at this point, and hoped for the best. Watching the sword’s hit points go down was nerve-wracking. If I killed it, I’d lost my chance to catch it. Even if I burned it with minimal HP left, it could still die. I was extremely lucky. The bar rested in the red zone, and Honedge didn’t sustain a burn. It ended up being an easy catch.
With Honedge now in tow, I had to decide who to send into the PC. Perhaps slightly against my better judgement, I put Pansear into the machine; he was weak, but stronger than Dunsparce at that point. But I already had a powerful fire Pokémon and Dunsparce at least had the benefit of being a ground type, meaning he lived to be in my wallet another day.