Challenge Ultra Sun "Dexit Challenge" - seeing as few Pokemon as possible [COMPLETE]

It started with someone asking this, and the natural reaction to it being "There's no way anyone would want to put in the massive amount of busy work required to get you an answer to your question." Meanwhile, what I heard was "That's a cool idea for a challenge!"

You may have heard of the Professor Oak Challenge, where the objective is to maximize the Pokedex's "Owned" counter at every step of the journey. Such runs are invariably filled with a ton of grinding as you have to level up your starter and all the early-route derps high enough to evolve to their final stages before the first gym, when only low level Pokemon with poor experience yields are available to grind off of. Attempting to flip that objective into minimizing "Owned" just turns the run into one of those clickbaity "Can you beat <game> using only <unevolved starter>?" retreads, which have become rather trite, and are still mostly about doing a bunch of grinding so you can overcome whatever type disadvantages may exist in the course of the game. This run will be about minimizing the "Seen" count instead, and all the quirks that come from playing to that goal. What better way to honor the new "Dexit" paradigm for TPC's game vision, than by culling as much of the dex as possible from an ordinary playthrough, and leaving Rotom starved for tasty information?

It's worth noting that the game does track seen/owned data for not just the 400-403 members of the Alola dex, but for the entire span of the National Dex that existed at the time, and there are separate seen flags for male/female, both in shiny/not-shiny variants, and also for all 300-odd variant forms that are programmed into the game data. The game doesn't give you any meaningful interface to these out-of-dex seen flags, but they are tracked with meaningful purpose. For example, if you Island Scan for a Charmander, the type effectiveness overlay will appear on your moves if and only if you already had Charmander tagged as "seen" in those invisible Pokedex flags, and the Poke Ball icon by its name will appear if you have it as "owned". Additionally, the game uses the total "owned" count, including out-of-dex species, to determine the odds of getting a critical capture. I will attempt to avoid even having the outsiders get tagged as "seen" if I can help it here, as I can examine the save file and double-check those figures, even if the Rotom Dex refuses to do so.

Welcome to Alola

After crossing the sea to a new house in a brand new region, of course the most important thing to do is get out of the house to start a new adventure. This prompts a heartfelt outburst from mom: "So, Minidex! Are you excited to meet some Alolan Pokemon?" to which the only permitted answers are "Yeah, I am!" or "I don't know..." After spending a couple minutes sneering at her mom for want of a suitably contemptible response, our character takes a jog up Route 1.

Starter choice is pretty much irrelevant here: no relevant trainers use the starters or Leafeon/Flareon/Vaporeon besides the obvious ones whose teams change in reaction to yours, so there's no opportunity to gain by creating overlap between a starter-dependent trainer and a mandatory one. Instead, since I picked Rowlet on the Moon playthrough and Popplio on the original US profile, I'll just go ahead and take Litten. Of course it's unable to get the HA, and on top of that it's never going to be able to evolve here. Guess it'll have to remain a four-legged kitty cat forever, unable to take inspiration from that other cat at home.

On your first venture into the grass patch on Route 1, there's an invisible line close to the end of its depth, and when you cross that line you'll be forced into a scripted encounter with a Yungoos. No way around it. If nothing else, it's free XP. Continuing up the route, you can hug the back of the Trainer Tips sign and continue along the periphery of the walkable area to avoid the grass while also staying out of line of sight of the trainer here, to get to Iki Town. Given the starter choice, Hau predictably picks Rowlet, which is more easy experience, followed by the run-in with a wild Spearow (which is battled, so it counts), Nebby and Tapu Koko (which don't), and Lillie who would rather send you out onto that creaky bridge than go herself to protect something she's trying to claim responsibility for. After that rude awakening, we finally reach the best part of the game: the brief segment where we have a Pokedex, and it will gladly show us all four species that have been encountered thus far in ways that count, without saying "Bzzt!" all the time.

Kukui then barges into the house and essentially kidnaps the player--nothing suspicious there--refusing to allow me to go anywhere other than up the other branch of Route 1 this time, for the obligatory catch tutorial. Kukui's Rockruff and the wild Grubbin don't get credited as "seen" from the tutorial, even though we're presumably right there watching, though the latter's reprieve is short-lived as there's another invisible trigger line here for a scripted encounter with a Grubbin of our own. This time, since I have Poke Balls and I've already been forced to see the Grubbin, I might as well catch it and take some of the load off the starter. Or at least, piggyback for a while to help it catch up, as there's another trip to Iki Town to fight Hau again. This time there's an unavoidable trainer along the way with Buneary, which is a chance to siphon some experience off to catch. At the festival, Hau now leads with Pichu in addition to the Rowlet and forces a seventh Seen entry into the dex.

After quite enough of that nonsense, Lillie's use of the door is less aggressive, and she escorts us down the newly-opened path to Kukui's Lab, bringing that most serene chapter of the game to a screeching, buzzing halt as one Rotom is rendered permanently unfit for battle. And as if that wasn't bad enough, this is immediately followed by...The Grass Patch from Hell.

As Lillie helpfully explains, you can take the ledge going down to Kukui's lab to skip the grass patch along the way. But these youthful, presumably athletic characters are somehow incapable of climbing back up the ledge, so there's no choice but to take the grass. By Alolan standards, the grass patch in question is a huge one. The only things that can possibly show up in this grass are Inkay, Slowpoke, and Wingull, none of which have been encountered yet, so any encounter has a 100% chance of spoiling the objective and forcing a reset back to the last save. And while this would be what Repels were designed for, it's not possible to get any repels until I get to a Pokemon Center for the first time...something that can only happen once I reach the other side of this very grass patch! The way I have to take it is to save, walk a couple steps at a time, if I don't get an encounter then save again, and keep using the saves as stepping stones until I finally reach the other side, still with only 7 seen. Fortunately we don't have to deal with that again.

Cutscene Simulator, 2017 Edition

The very next thing I do is pop into the center and pick up 30 Repels, because Alola is flush with money, and because in what other run is anyone going to want to buy 30 Repels (unless they're hunting for a roamer or something)? At least we're well prepared for any future mandatory grass patches.

This stretch is, fairly or not, where much of the game's popular reception is concentrated, as Hau and Lillie give you a guided tour of every building on the Hau'oli Strip and force you to sit through all their dialogue. The Trainers' School is of course the most debilitating of those to the goal of keeping the Pokedex pristine, as it's the one place where fighting a route boss is mandatory to progress. The students use Metapod, Grimer, Bonsly, and Ekans; all of them are mandatory in order to earn a 1-on-1 lesson with the teacher who ensures there's somebody in the game who has a Popplio after this starter choice. Revolting as it may be to add that many "seen" entries in one place, it can't be helped and the experience is pretty good; without having to do any grinding in grass and risk finding an unseen species to force a reset, Litten and Grubbin are at 11 and 9 by the end, and Litten can make enough of a Scratch in Popplio to let Grubbin finish off. While we're here, I can also pick up the Quick Claw, and give it to Grubbin because why not?

The next stop on the tour is the appropriately named Tourist Bureau, which offers an unsuccessful shot at the Loto-ID, as well as a forced gift of the Poke-Finder. Sure enough, right outside the door on the way out, there's a suspicious man who really wants you to try out the new feature on the Pikachu through that crack in the wall. This is a trap--DO NOT take that picture or else it will count as seeing Pikachu for Pokedex purposes, and nobody wants to have Pikachu staining their record, do they? Fortunately you can pull out the camera then back out without snapping any photos, and that's good enough for the insistent guy to allow you to pass without having to register a spot for Pikachu.

(It's worth noting that talking to Pokemon in the overworld, like the Meowth at home or the playful Rockruff on Route 1, doesn't count as "seeing" them for Pokedex purposes. Poke-Finder was probably made an exception to that because it's the Rotom Dex itself which serves as the camera. Likewise, scanning QR codes will also register them Seen, but there's no reason to go anywhere near the QR Scanner in this run so that's not an issue.)

Continuing on, the rest of the buildings down this road are uneventful other than kicking off the quest for totem stickers, which may come in handy later for some guaranteed gifts if they turn out to be helpful, but there's no need to be immediately concerned. The pair of guides then do a U-turn and start back down the other way, forcing the first run-in with Team Skull (in which they bring a Zubat, and even show considerate forethought by wearing masks over their face years before that became the new fashion). After that comes the first captain's battle, but before we take that on, a little interlude is in order.

Festival Plaza

This feature became unlocked back at the first Pokemon Center, but I haven't had any particular use for it until now. With this save staying free of any online communication, the plaza is populated only by generic "Festival Fans", but they still turn up with red text boxes enough to start a nest egg of FC and get a few level-ups. Eventually I unlock the ability to do missions, and with that the first three Festival Tickets for the day. Only a few mission options are available at first, but among those is the most lucrative option, Type Matchup Tests. It takes 16 points on this mission to light up all five stars for personal score, but it's a fairly routine matter to stretch out to 20 points and light up the first star for combined score even when playing solo. This way, Festival Tickets can be converted to FC at a 1:36 ratio, which can help contribute to more rank-ups, each of which comes with an offer of a new facility. Further, if one of those is an undesirable 1-star facility, you can even reject it and Sophocles gives you another Festival Ticket instead, good for even more FC as a head start on the next rank. This is one of the benefits to 1-stars being the most likely outcome while the rank is still low (around 10.)

The big payoff here is to get a Rare Kitchen as one of the offered facilities, which is exactly what happens on the rank up to 9. Even the 1-star kitchen has 3 "Rare Breakfasts" in its inventory per day, each of which is similar to a Rare Candy for the bargain-basement price of 4 FC each, except they stop working beyond level 29 (we'll deal with that when we get there), and the level-ups don't allow triggering evolution (not a problem) or learning new moves (slightly more of a problem, if used on the wrong level). For now, I just take one level-up on Litten, and back out. It's also possible to go to places like Soft Drink Parlor to buy cheap drinks, and get vendorcruft by rejecting a 2-star or higher facility. Suffice it to say that money isn't going to be an issue this run, even with as many battles as I plan on skipping.

Back in Hau'oli, Ilima has evidently done full EV training in both attacking stats on his level 11 Smeargle. (For Popplio players, this has the result that half of those EVs are completely wasted, since Smeargle's moveset in that case will be nothing but two physical moves.) Still, it's a Smeargle and thoroughly unimpressive; Grubbin spams Mud-Slap as long as it can and Litten can do the rest. Guess that was what Ilima was looking for to give his endorsement to tackle the trial.

Let's Catch Something! No, Not a Wave Just Yet

More so than for the trial, we needed that endorsement to go north out of town at all, into Route 2, and save in front of the grass. Entering the grass without Repel up is risky business, as the encounters have a chance of being a species I haven't been forced to see yet (like Makuhita here) and forcing a return to the last save. But it's time to get some more team members, and out of the limited options available thus far, I decide to pick up an Ekans (useful for Intimidate-shuffling to weaken some foes, and Glare coming up soon is also nice), as well as a Smeargle, letting it sketch Vice Grip off Grubbin to be its first move.

Smeargle has the potential to be interesting in a run like this. The limited selection of foes I can encounter at any point means it's not a simple matter of "let's go track down Paras as soon as possible so I can sketch Spore" or anything like that. Most of the moves Smeargle would be able to sketch, I would be able to simply catch the Pokemon using them, who's probably even better at using that move--the exception is if there's a trainer battle with a key move and the Pokemon isn't available in the wild until later. The 1-new-move-per-10-levels limitation is even more glaring, with no move reminder until extremely late. This particular Smeargle came with Technician, where Vice Grip sits near the peak of what that ability is looking for, plus gets STAB. Of course, it's still a Smeargle, so I don't expect that move to do very much; it's just the best option that came to mind to commit to now, before the next Sketch comes along in two more levels.

All right, let's get out of the grass and head up the hill, where there's a mandatory trainer with a Cutiefly right at the start of the slope, where again a sufficiently agile ledge-grabber should have been easily able to climb up to a point and avoid her line of sight. Keeping on going, progress is halted by a Crabrawler (doesn't count as seen) who can't stand the thought of us passing through without checking out its associate's motel as well as the nearby Big Wave Beach. This flagrant callout to "Look at the new area we coded into the game compared to last year's offering!" brings another unpleasant encounter, as you battle the same Skull grunt as before but he uses a Drowzee this time. This means I could go right back to the same grass patch to hunt for Drowzee now, but ultimately decide against it.

Trial at the Executive Suite

Instead, it's onward past the Crabrawler roadblock toward Verdant Cavern, home of the first trial. Right across the way, though, is another Pokemon Center which is relevant in that arriving there unlocks the use of Roto Loto. The first play is always a guaranteed Roto Boost, but ultimately other options will be more valuable in the recurring drawings. Specifically, if there's any run that's more thankful for the existence of Roto Stealth, I have yet to hear about it. This power is a foolproof Repel that works even in areas where the wild Pokemon outlevel your lead, and it lasts for 4 minutes instead of being tied to any particular step count. Trial sites have no wild encounters other than the scripted ones, at least until you've cleared the trial, so Roto Stealth isn't immediately helpful but it's still much appreciated to stock up on those for later.

The trial itself is pretty formulaic: track down a couple Yungoos, attempt futilely to find the third one only to find it's always somewhere different from where you look, have the Skull grunts "barge in without permission" (yeah, right) and have to battle their Drowzee again, and this time with them covering some of the holes you can check the remaining one and get a hit after all--this time an underleveled Gumshoos. Then you're free to go to the totem's den. Or you're free to have second thoughts.

The situation here is actually pretty fortunate for grinding prospects in a run like this. As I mentioned, something like the grass at the start of route 2 is pretty awkward, as you can grind on a few of the Pokemon there but you pretty much have to save after every single Pokemon worth of XP to avoid the risk of running into something too early and spoiling your progress. But here, you have the option of leaving the cavern whenever you want--then next time you come back, you'll have to start the trial anew. That means another two Yungoos, Drowzee, and underleveled Gumshoos, which is pretty significant value at this point, and all of it guaranteed safe, with no risk of running into some other Pokemon that I wasn't forced to see yet. I think ahead to Hala and what I'll want on the team by then. If I can legally add someone else now, this is the best opportunity to grind them up to a more competitive level before that battle comes up.

I could go back and give Drowzee another chance, but in the end I decide to duck into Sandy Cave (the tunnel just off Big Wave Beach) and grab a Zubat for those juicy type matchups. Three double-resists (including one against the kahuna's specialty type), plus an immunity, stacks up pretty favorably in general against most things that aren't named Heatran, Mimikyu, or Shedinja. And while its stats aren't great yet, it does have Wing Attack coming up at level 13, which should be enough to hit for a decent chunk against its fellow LC cohabitants. Just one more round of the trial from there is enough to get Zubat to 12, already pretty good. Unfortunately it can't gain any experience off the totem itself, as I switch into it for a sac to pull off another round of the Intimidate Shuffle with Ekans, after doing the same thing with Smeargle. No one on the team was capable of learning the Brick Break TM found here (Drowzee could have done so if I had opted to use it), but with Gumshoos at -5 attack I didn't exactly need that much firepower at once, as Grubbin Bites the helper down and slings a bit of mud to sour Gumshoos's image even further before I switch to Litten and win the exchange of potshots.

Give Me Nebby, and Give Me Death

Beating Gumshoos means I can take the Normalium Z, and sure enough Kukui is waiting outside with another tutorial, this time on the controls for using Z-moves. He uses his Rockruff again, now against a wild Growlithe, but the player is not a participant in this battle so once again neither of those Pokemon count as seen.

While I still have two Rare Breakfasts in reserve, using one of those on Zubat now would be completely counterproductive, as that would skip the new move which was the entire point of pushing to level 13. Instead, I could...go back to the Pokemon Center, this time to the cafe area for a refreshing P198 mug of Tapu Cocoa, along with (since this part was being played on Monday) a Lumiose Galette and some Poke Beans (because Poke Pelago hasn't been unlocked yet). There are 5 team members, and by giving one bean to each of them, I can go back to the cafe and the receptionist there will reward me with an actual Rare Candy. This does allow learning moves, so there you go...Wing Attack.

Going up Route 3, there's a convenient Sharp Beak on the path to boost the new move a bit more, interspersed with a nice game of "be the trainer's shadow so she never sees you". But the storyline-enforced reason to come here is Melemele Meadow, where Nebby gets lost again at the entrance to Seaward Cave. This being the Ultra games, it also brings the first battle against Dulse and Zossie, this time uniquely using Furfrou instead of their native Poipole. The team is equipped with plenty of crippling power by now, including Intimidate, Glare, and Mud-Slap, that a lone Furfrou isn't a problem. No, where the problem occurs is afterward, where you get healed by Lillie and then immediately get an ambush challenge from Hau.

Hau's team this time consists of the starter, Pichu, and also Noibat. Now, Noibat hasn't been registered as seen yet, so normally that would cause it to become registered perforce in the course of the battle. But in this case there's a bit of a "get out of Pokedex free" card for the taking: Unlike most trainers, you can safely lose to Hau and still make storyline progress, without having to come back and beat him. And if, per chance, that loss happens before he ever sends out Noibat, then Noibat doesn't get registered! Cool! The problem is that the team has been immediately healed right beforehand. Out of my five team members, four of them resist Grass, so Rowlet's flailing around to wear them out will be extremely time-consuming. The issue of "I only have attacking moves and can't help but defeat it" isn't really an issue, even on the last mon where switching is no longer possible, because if nothing else I can waste turns by throwing the same Poke Ball over and over (it doesn't get consumed if you throw one in a trainer battle for some reason). But in order to get to this point, it must have been intimidated at least once, making its damage output even slower. Probably not slow enough to run out of PP before finishing off the whole team, but still plenty slow.

Instead, the better idea is to beat Furfrou and then not talk to Nebby yet. Backtrack out of Melemele Meadow with the Repel still up, all the way down route 3, and to the route 2 Pokemon Center. Then I can deposit all the team members but one in the PC, come back to the meadow while still having to dodge the route 3 trainers again, and repel through the flowers to get back to Nebby and trigger the next cutscene. Now my (one-Pokemon) team gets healed, and Hau's Rowlet has a much easier time winning without getting Noibat involved. Hau's trainer AI at this point still doesn't pay attention to type matchups, as it gladly goes for a few Leafages against Grubbin (who isn't being any better of a role model in return, happily spamming Mud-Slap for 0 damage) before making like Peter Piper and picking the fatal Peck. Even with another trip down to route 2 to pull out the rest of the team, this whole diversion was still likely faster than getting Rowlet to go 1v5 against the full healthy team.

Fight or Flight

Unlike Hau, you're not allowed to lose to his grandpa, at least not if you want to continue on your island challenge. You'll have to bring down all three members of his team--Machop, Makuhita, and Crabrawler--all of which are new entries in the dex. (At least after this, since Crabrawler will no longer be a spoiler, it becomes safe to loot berry trees.) Smeargle still hasn't done anything of note in the whole run, and I haven't committed to a move for the 11-20 stretch. Sketching Power-Up Punch off Crabrawler is an interesting possibility that could let it set up a modicum of offensive presence, but with Crabrawler also being the Z-crystal holder, that move is difficult to tempt out in isolation, and I decide it's too risky to be worth any possible payoff. X Attacks and Roto Boosts would probably do better at anything I might want PUP for anyway.

For the feature presentation, I decide to lead with Ekans just to get the Intimidate off, as using Glare against a known Guts Machop would be a terrible play. Zubat then takes a small amount of damage from Revenge on the switch-in, and Machop predictably finds itself with nothing better to do the following turn than Focus Energy. This unfortunately renders the Intimidate of limited use, as Machop now has a 50% critical rate (or 100% if it ever wises up and picks Karate Chop), but it's content to spam Revenge and force a Fresh Water along the way. Zubat levels up to 14 off that KO, shrugs off Makuhita's obvious Fake Out turn with Inner Focus, and wins that battle too. Crabrawler comes last and comfortably tanks the Wing Attack before KOing Zubat with Leer + Pursuit and the prior Fake Out damage.

Now with the luxury of the free switch (who plays on Shift anyway?), I get to bring Ekans back out. This time Glare will be helpful, to which I can add Wrap for some chip damage. I end up needing a second Glare after Hala reveals the Full Heal in his bag for just this eventuality. The Wrap damage adds up enough to prompt his other healing item, a Super Potion, shortly afterward, to which I fire off a cheeky Z-Wrap for 100 power to claw back some of the progress. Crabrawler wins that head-to-head matchup as well, but enough has been done that Litten can now come in and finish the deal with Fire Fang. Level up to 17, which triggers the first of what will undoubtedly be many "press B to cancel evolution" experiences.

Just like that, a passport stamp, a bump in the obedience threshold (irrelevant in a run like this, unless I come across any in-game trades that are legal on both sides), and Fightinium Z. least there's a move compatible with it right now (Litten's Double Kick). The money and False Swipe TM too...pffft.

Loose Ends and Tauros Tails

Oh yeah, there's one other reward for getting this far: the Ride Pager, with Tauros as the first number on speed dial. Luckily you can call on this without it checking the Seen flag for Tauros (likewise for the other Poke Rides, as well as Mantine Surf), and there's a couple things it unlocks now that we can break rocks. One is a totem sticker right here in town, might as well get that. I can also go back to the totem's den, though I need to have Repel up through Verdant Cavern this time since wild Pokemon are now enabled there and it would be a shame to go through so much trouble to dodge Noibat only to get stuck with one after all. Anyway, the rocks in the den reveal the way to...TM46, for Thief. Wonder how that got here, of all places. Some special kind of "business arrangement," perhaps? Thief makes a useful sidegrade to Bite on things I don't expect to be fast enough to fish for much flinching, sure.

Back in the city, the mall has finally opened up, and I can get another TM there, this one for Round after being the janitor's servant. Not that anyone on the team really wants to have Round. The whole mall is pretty blasé regardless; Battle Buffet is suicidal to the run's objective, Mr. Hyper is nowhere close to being hyped up enough yet, and Antiquities of the Ages sells only useless items to me. While the money situation is pretty good, it's not as though I already have enough to buy out the entire stockroom of Gracidea, so I leave them alone save for being greeted with their namesake flower (also useless, but at least it doesn't check the invisible Seen box by Shaymin). The one thing I could conceivably do here is use the move tutor to update Litten's lone move on the special side from Ember to Fire Pledge, but the happiness isn't maxed out for that yet.

One other note: as the saying goes, "you can't fight city hall". In this case, once you get this far you can't even enter City Hall without getting dragged into a fight against Dunsparce, and the last thing any of us want is to have the Pokedex register that it's seen a Dunsparce.

And with that, it's time to become a sightseer and head out toward the other islands! Starting with a trip to Big Wave Beach to get our first surfing lesson, mercifully free of the need for one HM 3.

After 1 Grand Trial:
Pokedex Seen: 21 (Owned: 5, but the owned count is unimportant)
Current Team -
Litten L17 (Fire Fang/Ember/Growl/Double Kick)
Ekans L16 (Glare/Wrap/Poison Sting/Thief)
Smeargle L16 (Vice Grip/Sketch/---/---)
Grubbin L15 (Bug Bite/Mud-Slap/Bite/String Shot)
Zubat L14 (Wing Attack/Thief/Absorb/Supersonic)
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Very interested on how this will play out! It's particularly cool that this isn't just "starter-only but harder". Of course, the original suggestion does specify to also minimize the "caught" number, but that's boring.

making like Peter Piper and picking the fatal Peck
*chef kiss*
Waving Goodbye

It's been a couple years since I've done any Mantine Surfing, and only having two tricks available (plus the secret one-time Magikarp) isn't the best equipment they can give you for an intro less. A low-risk, clean fundamentals run with one crash still brings in about 23000 points and 8 BP, which is enough to buy...let's see what the move tutor here has, ooh! I could tutor Stealth Rock! That's going to be extremely helpful in a game where few opponents have more than one Pokemon, and even fewer ever take the opportunity to switch even once! Never mind that no one on the team is even compatible with the tutor.

Elsewhere on the beach, we find Samson Oak. 20 Totem Stickers for the first reward is still a bit away, but relatively shortly I'll be able to come back here and cash in a Gumshoos, if I so choose. The move pool it'll have available doesn't sound very promising just yet on that front. Speaking of stickers, there's even one stuck just outside the beach as we enter the Heahea business district and get introduced to Olivia and Mallow.

The main road of Heahea, at least what's accessible so far, isn't very interesting. There's a pedestrian just giving out a free Rare Candy, always nice, and someone handing out a free Premier Ball while they presumably wait for their ferry, no need to buy 10 Poke Balls with it. (Indeed, with as few captures as I've needed so far, there's been no need to buy balls of any kind.)

Along the way, the railroaded path turns north to the Tide Song Hotel, where another pair of visiting sightseers--Sina and Dexio--are waiting outside. Sina wants you to battle Dexio, and while she'll curiously take no for an answer on his behalf, she's insistent enough to block the way to Route 4 until you say yes. Dexio leads with a Mime Jr., and while he also has an Espeon in the back, this is another one of those curious fights that you don't have to win. Therefore, in goes everyone but Zubat into the PC, and I try to catch the miniature clown only to have the trainer block the ball, and retaliate with Confusion. Battle over, and now we can pass through.

Getting a Peek at Chu--Or Not

Route 4 has lots of unsafe encounters, including Lillipup and Eevee--up go the Repels again. This route is also where we find the entrance to Pikachu Valley, right after playing ring-around-the-rosie with a couple Sightseers to dodge their encounters. As the name implies, here we can find lots of Pikachu, but the Rotom Dex is oblivious to this and can't stand the thought of people building a shrine to another Electric type, so it keeps its eyes closed and refuses to register the yellow rat as seen. While I'm here, I can do the quiz and get the Pikachu outfit, which doesn't do anything but it's harmless all the same, and there's a free Magnet here too. That'll be useful if I decide to spend the BP on tutoring for Shock Wave, Electroweb, or something; might as well.

I could register Pikachu as seen here in Pikachu Valley by scanning the appropriate QR code and getting the gift Pikachu with the hat...but yeah, that's not happening.

Back on route 4, I have to go along with the couple's dance again and put Repel back up, making it to Paniola Town where Hau awaits for his fourth battle. This time, his starter has evolved into Dartrix, and Pichu has also evolved into Pikachu. Noibat hasn't evolved because we're nowhere near level 48, and the region is by no means friendly to something with that kind of level profile. (See also: Rufflet, Bagon. Or don't, because the entire point of this run is to avoid seeing things whenever possible.) Anyway, Dartrix leads this time, and as usual Hau's battle isn't a must-win, so the goal is to wipe to Dartrix and once again dodge getting credited for Pikachu or Noibat. This time, at least, he appears to have higher-tier AI that at least understands type matchups and picks the good moves.

Paniola is also the site of my 20th Totem Sticker, so now (after the obligatory pestering about it from the infused Pokedex) I can backtrack to Heahea Beach and pick up a gift that would significantly outlevel anything else on my team if I want!

Gladion's Dark Surprise

Looking ahead at what's in the immediate future, I do decide to backtrack, but not to the beach. Instead, I take the ferry all the way back to Melemele, circle around town to reach the Trainers' School, and look for a wild Grimer. After shuffling around a few times against it, I manage to get into a position where Smeargle can sketch Poison Gas off of Grimer as its second move. I believe this move will be able to be put to good use, and give Smeargle an actual niche in wearing down some enemies.

With that move secured, I run away from the battle, heal up, and get back to Paniola to pass through to the ranch. In here I can grab the Eevee egg and start using the nursery if I had any reason to; it's actually safe to receive unhatched eggs as gifts since they don't count as seen for Pokedex purposes until the egg hatches, but it'd be a pretty useless egg in the mean time. (What, you want me to kiss the egg?) Slightly more valuable, and in the same house, is the Hidden Power TM. Looking over the possibilities, Ekans ends up with Hidden Power for Poison, not its conventional choice of STAB but it'll probably fare better than Poison Sting at least, so that's an easy change. Just outside I also find the Amulet Coin, which can also go to Ekans for now and make money even less of an obstacle.

Heading north from here takes us to route 5, where we find the game's first Double Battles. First up are a pair of twins with Cottonee and Petilil, which won't do. However, if you deposit down to just one Pokemon left, you can walk right up into their faces, or even talk to them directly, and they still won't challenge you unless it can be at least 2v2. In this particular case, the twins bob their heads side to side, allowing you to sneak past while they're looking away even if you have a party of more than one. Which is good, because right after them is your first meeting with Gladion. If you lose to Gladion, you do have to pay the money for a wipeout, and you don't get to progress the story until you come back and genuinely beat him, so a team of more than one is much appreciated for that goal.

Gladion appears to lead with a "Zubat", but I know this is actually Zorua in disguise. Hence, I led with Smeargle and used Poison Gas to poison the apparently poison-immune Zubat just fine--my entire rationale behind going back to sketch that move. From there I simply stall for time while Zorua uses nothing but Feint Attack, getting a few Intimidates in and healing up with a couple Fresh Waters, and finally Zorua succumbs to poison damage without its illusion ever being broken, hence without ever revealing its name or model. That's good, right?

Up second is the real Zubat, and I have to take a couple Wing Attacks to get Ekans in and use Glare, trying to cushion as much of the blow as I can. After healing up with some water and chipping away a bit, rather than use another healing item I switch to Grubbin, take a big chunk from Wing Attack (but not 100%), and now with Zubat paralyzed I can outspeed it and use Spark to finish off before Zubat can KO with the second Wing Attack.

Finally his signature, Type: Null. Playing on Set, I have to leave Grubbin here as a sack, getting KO'd by Tackle before it can move and attempt a Mud-Slap. That lets Ekans in for an Intimidate, immediately bail out and fortunately it picks Tackle again instead of Pursuit, allowing me to sack off Smeargle and bring Ekans right back out to go to -2. This time I go ahead and sack off the low-health Ekans too, getting a healthy Litten in safely. One of the Tourists outside the Hau'oli marina gave me an X Attack earlier, so I use that here and follow it up with +2 Z-Double Kick for a huge chunk of damage, and Gladion's down.

...And then I look at the Pokedex afterward and notice that despite that careful play to specifically avoid ever breaking the illusion, Zorua ends up coming away with its Seen flag set after all. That's terrible...why would they code the games that way? So much for Smeargle having anything useful to do this run, except perhaps being the designated sack fodder when I need a safe switch on someone else.

After Gladion comes another pair of double battle trainers (Rufflet and Vullaby); this time their stares are constantly pointed in an unchanging direction, so the only ways to pass them are by dropping down to one healthy Pokemon, or by going around which requires Repelling through grass. Then just on the other side of them we find the Route 5 Pokemon Center, so I can pull everyone back out there and have Lana welcome me to Brooklet Hill, as well as receive the ability to surf on Lapras. Again, this doesn't count as a real seen.

(This Chain is) So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish

To give a brief rundown of Lana's trial, there are two pools you have to surf across, each with two spots of water foaming up. One of the spots on each tier is a Wishiwashi, and the other is a Dewpider. Encountering the Wishiwashi is mandatory to make progress; the Dewpider also battles you but adds unnecessarily to the Pokedex, so I won't. After finding both Wishiwashi, I can move down to the third level, where Totem Araquanid awaits. Araquanid will always call for help after turn 1, even if I use Poison Gas or Glare to give it a status condition, and will call in either Dewpider or Masquerain, neither of which are Pokemon I've seen up to this point. So in order to keep the challenge pristine, this much is absolutely non-negotiable: I need to find a way to OHKO Totem Araquanid.

Araquanid, like all the totem bosses in the game (not to mention That One Boss), has its EVs concentrated entirely into bulk. Luckily we're still early enough in the game that it doesn't actually use its full allotment of EVs; it maxes out Defense and has nothing anywhere else. The specific raw stats we're dealing with are 63 HP/66 Def/64 SpD at level 20, betraying its reputation as a special-side tank (at least when we're not discussing its reputation as a Water Bubble nuke). It also carries a Wacan Berry to neutralize one of its three weaknesses, albeit not one that we're in much of a position to take advantage of anyway.

Meanwhile, my own team is falling significantly behind the curve. After two intentional losses and repelling through all the grass along the way, that battle against Gladion was in fact the first time the team received experience points of any kind since we arrived on Akala Island. They're still around level 16-17, not to mention stuck with their unevolved-tier stats. Clearly, a significant amount of grinding is in order.

While the first tier in the trial is a one-off, beat-it-and-you're-done thing, the second sets a new standard for convenient grinding. The Pokemon you encounter there will call for help, with the same Totem-style inevitability of "I can call even through status, will call on every possible turn, with no need for Adrenaline Orb, and those calls are 100% guaranteed to be answered." And the helpers, like the original preceding them, are all Wishiwashi--below level 20, so solo form, the new standard for lowest BST in the game. Our unevolved stats won't be the same hindrance here as they are against the totem.

Ever since Black/White, experience yields have been significantly regularized. Other than the designated "XP sponges" of Chansey, Blissey, and Audino, each species has a base "experience per level" yield (as modified by the relative level scaling factor, except in gen 6) that's equal to its base stat total multiplied by either 4/20, 7/20, or 9/20. (Sword and Shield changed up the latter group to use 10/20 instead.) The breakdown between these groups usually mirrors the choice of whether they give 1, 2, or 3 total EVs. But in Wishiwashi's case, they decided to put it in the middle, 7/20 XP group despite giving only one EV (in HP), which is highly uncharacteristic among low BSTs. What this means is that despite the low stats making Wishiwashi easy to beat, its experience yield isn't all that terrible, more in line with Litten, Grubbin, and Ekans. Basically, I have one opportunity to chain on the Wishiwashi here and close up the chasm that's developed with the level curve.

After an uneventful first Wishiwashi fight, Ekans leads off the second with a Glare--because again, the originator can call in spite of that, and this gives it a chance to lose some turns in paralysis. Turns where it's not using any PP. Then I can switch to Grubbin and start shooting the fish with Spark.

There's a problem, though. Grubbin is pretty slow, and some of the called Wishiwashi manage to outspeed it. Quick Claw has a chance to rescue it from some of these cases, but Helping Hand Brine does a sizable chunk (and depending on who's using each side of that combo, neither outspeeding nor hitting the Quick Claw are sufficient to stop the churning slot from getting its HH off before falling to Spark), and the possibility of double Brine is there too: given how Brine works, if the first one crosses into the low health threshold, that's effectively a triple Brine before I can do anything about it. This ended up eating through healing items, which isn't so much a big deal in that I'm worried about running out of items, so much as the issue of it costing a turn to use an item, and every turn where the original Wishiwashi isn't fully paralyzed gets it one turn closer to running out of its 70 PP, after which the chain can't keep going.

Ultimately, after a bit of a reprieve (probably a turn where they picked HH on both sides) I finally throw in a Roto Boost. Now Grubbin won't have any trouble outspeeding Wishiwashi (except on turns where they pick HH of course), and the SpD boost is also nice to tank Brines better and not have to heal as often. The chain goes rather more smoothly from here, and Grubbin is able to exhaust its supply of Sparks after reaping lucrative enough rewards to get it all the way to level 20. Now it's even getting "boosted XP" for being past its evolution level, offsetting the decreased XP for outleveling the opponents, and these opponents are even weak enough that after the Sparks are gone, I can still get OHKOs with +1 STAB Bug Bite. This continues a while longer until I finally get the inevitable message that "Wishiwashi used Struggle!", and I have to draw the chain to a close here. Zubat managed to get up to 20, everyone else is at 21-22, Smeargle learns its next Sketch if there's any move in reach that could possibly justify its existence (at this point it would have to be something like Fissure), and I have to B-cancel two evolutions this time, with Ekans being one level away from making it a third.

Not a bad chunk of progress, all told. But unlike Ilima's trial, where leaving and reentering means you lose all progress and have to start over, Lana keeps the existing progress as it was when you left. This is rather undesirable in my case; it means I can't go back and repeat the Wishiwashi chain to get some more levels. I could fight one of the Dewpider, but of course that won't do. If I still need to grind some more, such as with a new team member to get caught up, that just got a lot harder to manage. Beating the second-tier Wishiwashi also means there's permanent rain in Brooklet Hill until I finally bring down the totem. Not that that's a big deal, Litten wasn't doing anything here regardless.

What's Blue Like Sonic, Flies Like Sonic...

It's about time to consider what can credibly pose a threat to Araquanid to pull off the OHKO that I need in order to progress. Obviously I could level up Grubbin to something ridiculous like 38 and wipe the spider out with Acrobatics in a very lopsided battle of the bugs, but doing that in a game with relative level scaling for XP is terrible, and would take ages. Even the Rare Breakfasts from Festival Plaza stop working after 30, and the last eight levels would be the longest.

Of the 26 species I've already logged as Seen so far, all but four (the starters and Type: Null) are such that I could go catch them if I wanted to. One idea that comes to mind is claiming the Gumshoos (which has Adaptability guaranteed), then going back for another round of Mantine Surf so I can get up to 12 BP to tutor Last Resort. Of course the OHKO needs to be on turn 1, and you can't successfully use Last Resort on that turn except via a moveset of Sleep Talk/Last Resort/---/--- in which you conspire to enter the battle already asleep (to include being Komala in its normal existence). Now, it says the Sleep Talk TM is right there in Paniola Town, but it's really in a walled-off enclave that's not accessible until I can get to route 6, which is after this very battle. But what I can do with Last Resort instead is Z-power it, and then it can be used on turn 1 just fine by anything that gets the move. That plan looks solid on paper, and it can be a...last resort. But is there any other option that doesn't require extra BP grinding?

Just then I remember something I overlooked before during the clean-up-Melemele-with-Tauros phase. Deposit back down to 1 so I can get past the doubles trainers, and I wonder: how far, exactly, can I go on a single Roto Stealth?

Like a jockey anxiously approaching the paddock, I hop aboard Tauros and carefully line up with the edge of the dried grass in Paniola Ranch. Fire up the Roto power, and get going. Bearing in mind that there are still a couple trainers that need dodging even as they bring their wandering gaze. But right now we've gotta go fast. It takes 58 seconds to reach the marina and confirm a boat to Melemele, and from there a shortcut through the red fence gates (which still doesn't take you off Tauros) means I don't have to go all the way to the far end of town and back. With a full head of steam, Tauros comes barging through the rocks that protect the entrance to Ten Carat Hill at the 2:05 mark, and even after an accidental venture into Farthest Hollow requiring an immediate turnaround, I dismount Tauros to make the final run up the slope and get what I was looking for, Flyinium Z, in a split of 2:33. Kahili, whose existence hasn't even been hinted at thus far in the story, then wastes another 20 seconds teaching the Z-dance for this crystal, but there's still over a minute left on the Roto Stealth timer at this point. That's enough to scavenge around for a few stray items in the cave, and still get back across the Grass Patch from Hell in time, so I don't have to deal with that again.

Okay, so now I've got the Flyinium Z. Zubat may not know Supersonic anymore, having forgotten the move to make way for Confuse Ray, but now it's got the chance to make up for it with Supersonic 2: Skystrike Boogaloo. Z-Wing Attack offers a higher power than trying to use the highly anti-synergistic Z-Acrobatics on Grubbin, and brings STAB to boot. I still have today's three Rare Breakfasts in reserve at Festival Plaza, and crunch the numbers: if I use them all on Zubat to get to 23 (thereby skipping the opportunity to learn Swift, no big deal), and I'm willing to fish for a 1/24 critical, then there's a plausible chance of Z-Wing Attack picking up the necessary KO. The critical chance can be doubled to 1/12 by grinding the affection meter all the way to max, but without access to Poke Pelago and thus rainbow beans way.

What If We Tried More Power?

Canonically, the judge feature isn't supposed to be unlocked until postgame, when you can reach the Battle Tree and hatch 20 eggs. But of course I can just probe into the save file and read things out, such as verifying the seen flags on out-of-dex species. One of the things I can see is that Zubat's IV roll was 2/23/12/22/17/30--not bad, all things considered. Certainly better than Smeargle's roll of 1/27/9/9/2/4 for example, as if Ilima's splotch-dog wasn't already useless enough. But even at those stats, the math on the level 23 critical benchmark only works if we pack on some EVs.

Vitamins like Protein are traditionally the most expensive commodities you can buy in the series, when you're working with the currency of money. But when the currency is BP, they shift to be among the cheapest items available. One vitamin costs 2 BP, meaning I could afford four Proteins right now and add 40 EVs to improve the odds. That's one possible source of EVs, not the only one by any means.

After crossing the grass patch, I'm right in front of my own house, with ready access to the various branches of route 1. One of the paths leads to grass where I have about a 1-in-3 chance of running into either Grubbin or Yungoos, both of which are safe to encounter and both giving Attack EVs. At level 2-3, they're almost entirely harmless. I also have...exactly one Adrenaline Orb, the only way to make an SOS chain extend beyond one call if it's not one of those goofballs that plays by totem rules. SOS battles, as you'll recall, double all EV gains for the duration of the chain. I could go back to the ranch and pick up an additional 5-pack, but it's not possible to buy any more until after Kiawe's trial.

So I save the game to prevent spoiling on an encounter like Ledyba and having to do the whole Roto Stealth Sprint all over again, and come across a Yungoos. The play here is to start by spamming Confuse Ray, wait for Yungoos to hit itself a few times to get into more likely call range, and put up the Adrenaline Orb. As that's the only copy of the orb in the bag right now, the traditional chaining behavior of "attempt to use a second Adrenaline Orb, which won't be consumed, to pass the turn without using a move while you wait for their call to succeed" doesn't work. But fear not, these are wild Yungoos and don't get Endeavor, never mind any priority move there are several other redundant items that can be used to the same effect, like Paralyze Heal.

From the perspective of sweeping with a Zubat, Yungoos chains are inferior to Grubbin in one important way: Yungoos isn't weak to Wing Attack, so the "momentum bonus" that occurs from immediately taking out the Pokemon that get called in isn't as high as it would be if we could do so with super effective moves. That means the calls for help more often go unanswered, and more turns I have to waste by reaching for the Paralyze Heal. Zubat also has Absorb to offset some of the damage Yungoos is dealing. But even with a level advantage of 20 to 3, Absorb is so weak that it occasionally fails to OHKO Yungoos...but leaving them in the red makes a natural interlude to switch which side of the field is being churned in the chain, and make sure they never run out PP to get to Struggle. The level 2s do summarily drop to Absorb every time, and give back less health in return if I decide to target them that way. They do, however, only award single-digit XP totals due to the relative scaling.

With only one drink needed for healing along the way, Zubat managed to run itself out of both Absorb and Wing Attack. 60 PP of moves, minus the few Absorbs that failed to KO. That's close to 120 extra Attack EVs, even if they were rather time-consuming to get. Zubat's last move right now is Air Cutter, and I could use it to end the chain with a double KO and 4 more EVs. But instead, I have a better idea: go back to spamming Paralyze Heals and let the Zubat wipe out to a barrage of low-level Tackles into -6 Defense! No, seriously. The way I figure it, a wipeout here amounts to a taxi ride across the sea and straight to the Route 5 Pokemon Center, for a very reasonable cost of P320 (as flying around on Charizard is another thing that has to wait until after Kiawe's trial). This prevents needing to use either a Roto Stealth or two Repels on the way back...and remember, even a single Repel costs P400. Well worth it.

Now that the bat has become engorged on the blood of that blatant EV fodder, it's back to Festival Plaza to take advantage of another bargain, paying 12 FC to jump 3 more levels to 23. One of today's fortune teller gifts is a reward for missions as well, which means my current supply of festival tickets can be converted to 54 coins each rather than the usual 36. Sure, why not!

Zubat's raw attack stat at level 23 reaches 38 points thanks to the EV infusion, and that's good enough enough to make the calc work. After withdrawing the rest of the team again, it's back into Brooklet Hill, where the battle with Araquanid is of course rather uneventful. +1 speed isn't enough to let Araquanid go first, but it wouldn't matter even if it was because Bubble doesn't KO, and it's a matter of resetting for the 4% critical. 23 vs. 20, sure, in a situation where the OHKO is absolutely mandatory for this particular challenge, and my team's BSTs currently stand at 320-300-288-250-245, and the KO was taken by the weakest of seems pretty reasonable. Better than dragging a huge irate Gumshoos around on the team, anyway.

Cover Your Face, Everybody

Beating Araquanid gives the Waterium Z and the Fishing Rod, the latter of which is useful for going back and getting some previously inaccessible totem stickers, including one just outside the trial site. The totem stickers aren't that important, while the Z-crystal ends up serving as a goofy plot device, scaring a couple Sudowoodo at the southern end of Paniola Ranch out of their...bark? Even so, the path isn't yet clear after they're gone, as the power vacuum to server as gatekeepers is quickly filled by our least favorite extraterrestrial visitors in helmets, Dulse and Zossie.

Just to be sure, I go back around the route 4 way to check, and nope--the Stoutland is still blocking enough of Heahea's main street that I can't sneak into route 6 from the southern entrance yet, not until I actually defeat the Space Force again. This time they've got Poipole, meaning that Grubbin's Mud-Slap actually gets to be super effective. Still doesn't do much damage, but it does at least hit on the right side to ignore Dulse's X Defense, and a few of those plus switching everyone else in to take potshots, eventually wears Poipole down. I thought about trying to get Smeargle to sketch Charm, as a sort of makeshift Will-O-Wisp, but if I'm going to do that I might as well release the damn thing .

Poipole did manage to leave a dent in the team with Venoshock, but no KOs; rather than head to a Pokemon Center, there's a Miltank right in front of the nursery that I can talk to, which counts as a heal. Now we're all set to proceed to route 6, where Hapu has a savory task for us: beat the stuffing out of the usual, fashionable-ahead-of-their-time Skull grunts. They still use Drowzee, and it's got a STAB move this time for a change. Even so, Ekans outspeeds it and 2HKOs with Thief before Drowzee can do the same in return with Confusion, and since Ekans has the Amulet Coin that's more money!

Yet another blockade down, and we're free to enter Royal Avenue, home of the eponymous Battle Royal Dome. Here we find yet another character with a face covering: Professor Kukui, in his Masked Royal character. His cutscene explaining the Battle Royal rules is unusual for this game, as it's immediately followed by throwing you into the sample battle without a prompt where you can back out to get ready. Hau's starter (Dartrix), Gladion's Null, and Kukui's Rockruff all show up, along with your first non-fainted party slot which doesn't even get healed beforehand.

Litten has a 3-level advantage over all the other battlers here, but Dartrix has evolved and Litten hasn't, so the owl handily survives a Fire Fang. Meanwhile Rockruff sets up Protect and gets double-targeted by the others. He's not going to go for a stale Protect, so this time I aim for Rockruff with Z-Double Kick which KOs, and that's all it takes to end the completely inconsequential battle and get clearance from Kiawe to start his trial.

Even the Pokedex comes away from it looking no worse for wear. To recap, this is the third time I've been able to witness Kukui sending out Rockruff in a battle, and all three of those instances come under circumstances where the Pokedex doesn't log it as seen. Very good dog. Specifically, all battles in the Battle Royal Dome, Battle Tree, Battle Agency, or PVP battles don't set Pokedex flags on the teams you see. Any old Battle Videos you might have don't get erased when you start a new game, and watching those doesn't register seen status either, nor does launching a mock battle against a team from one of the videos.

The Royal Dome is another outlet for spending BP; I could pick up one of the EV-training items for 16, or something like Leftovers for 48, but alas I don't have that much yet. Elsewhere in the area, there's the Pokemon Fan Club where one of the fans talks about an Everstone but doesn't give you one (the Dome does at least sell these, also for 16, but that's out of my current price range so onward with B-pressing we go). More excitingly we have the Thrifty Megamart, which...I guess this means I can buy Repels for just P200 now and not have to hope for a Roto Bargain to get that price, as long as I don't spend more than half my current money supply at once. I could also grind for free Premier Balls and/or sell them for P10 each, if I thought that hideously slow rate of return was worthwhile. On a more serious note, there's the counter giving out free Berry samples once a day--this first trip gives a Tamato berry, meh--as well as the Hypno costume guy transaction that essentially amounts to buying the Rest TM for a dirt-cheap P1000.

Here's where the run hits a serious snag. Marowak is another case where there's no way around it: I need to have a way to OHKO it, preventing Salazzle from being summoned. Interestingly, there is one way, besides a OHKO, to prevent a totem from calling for help on turn 1: if you pick it up with Sky Drop, it'll be stranded on that turn, but then it has to come back down the following turn and will just call for help on turn 2 anyway (and Totem Araquanid is too heavy to pick up at all, so this technique wasn't applicable to the previous trial). Even if the totem was coded in such a way that it said "call for help specifically after turn 1 only", as opposed to at the first available opportunity, there's the problem that my current dex completion level doesn't include any access to Sky Drop. Nobody gets the move by level-up prior to 49, and while the TM for it is available in route 8 (which doesn't unlock until after this trial), the condition for getting that TM is beating the route boss, which requires fighting a bunch of unnecessary trainers and is a complete non-starter.

What makes Marowak so bad isn't just the need to OHKO something that my team's type matchups aren't great against, but on top of that it also carries Detect. Totem battles are fully equipped with "smart" trainer AI, and after labbing the battle in a variety of circumstances, it's apparent that unless Marowak sees an available OHKO of its own against my lead, it will almost always start out with Detect, safely killing off the first turn and ensuring that it can call its help in...unless I can overkill it with a Z-move to the tune of 400% in the absence of Detect. This is a serious hurdle to have to plan around, and it'll probably take a while to get any new team member caught up for the tall task it'll be needed for, as there aren't any battles available thus far to enable the strat of sketching Fissure on Smeargle and hoping for the best. So I'll break here.

After 2 Trials (plus three stray battles):
Pokedex Seen: 28 (Owned: 5)
Current Team -
Litten L23 (Fire Fang/Ember/Growl/Double Kick)
Zubat L23 (Wing Attack/Absorb/Confuse Ray/Air Cutter)
Grubbin L23 (Spark/Bug Bite/Mud-Slap/Acrobatics)
Smeargle L22 (Vice Grip/Poison Gas/Sketch/---)
Ekans L21 (Glare/Wrap/Hidden Power for Poison/Thief)

Yung Dramps

awesome gaming
Dexio leads with a Mime Jr., and while he also has an Espeon in the back, this is another one of those curious fights that you don't have to win.
Huh. You can lose this and still proceed? Was... Was this a thing in OG SM too? If so would've saved me a lot of pain if I knew this on my last playthrough.
What makes Marowak so bad isn't just the need to OHKO something that my team's type matchups aren't great against, but on top of that it also carries Detect. Totem battles are fully equipped with "smart" trainer AI, and after labbing the battle in a variety of circumstances, it's apparent that unless Marowak sees an available OHKO of its own against my lead, it will almost always start out with Detect, safely killing off the first turn and ensuring that it can call its help in...unless I can overkill it with a Z-move to the tune of 400% in the absence of Detect. This is a serious hurdle to have to plan around, and it'll probably take a while to get any new team member caught up for the tall task it'll be needed for, as there aren't any battles available thus far to enable the strat of sketching Fissure on Smeargle and hoping for the best. So I'll break here.
I have an idea on how to OHKO it: (these calcs assume neutral nature and 15 ivs in the attacking stat, alongside perfect ivs in the opponent defense)

When Wishiwashi is in school form, (you can do this because you saw a Wishiwashi earlier) it has a big 140 Special Attack, which can then be combined with Brine off the Waterium Z to get a 120 BP Water-Type move coming from a 140 Special Attack. This against a protecting Alolawak, however, is not much on its own, even with an optimal nature:

Lvl 22 0+ SpA Wishiwashi-School Hydro Vortex (120 BP) vs. Lvl 22 0 HP / 0 SpD protected Marowak-Alola-Totem: 25-30 (38.4 - 46.1%) -- guaranteed 3HKO

But this isn't all that's possible: with a Roto Boost applied, (interpreted as a +1 to the stat) and scoring a crit, the damage gets much closer, but still not OHKO:

+1 Lvl 22 0 SpA Wishiwashi-School Hydro Vortex (120 BP) vs. Lvl 22 0 HP / 0 SpD protected Marowak-Alola-Totem on a critical hit: 51-60 (78.4 - 92.3%) -- guaranteed 2HKO

It's only when EVs are factored in when the chance to OHKO comes in, and if purposely combined with a +Special Attack nature:

+1 Lvl 22 100+ SpA Wishiwashi-School Hydro Vortex (120 BP) vs. Lvl 22 0 HP / 0 SpD protected Marowak-Alola-Totem on a critical hit: 60-72 (92.3 - 110.7%) -- 62.5% chance to OHKO

Of course, none of this matters because a required trainer on route 15 uses Salazzle anyway, but if you still felt the need to OHKO Totem Alolawak, the option is here.
Not that I of all people am going to bemoan arbitrary restrictions, but why the aversion to Z-Last Resort Gumshoos? You cite not wanting to grind the very small amount of BP for Last Resort, but as far as time goes that would've been way quicker than EV-training Zubat.
a required trainer on route 15 uses Salazzle anyway
Part of the challenge is about minimising the number of seen Pokémon at each stage of the game, not just at the end credits, as seen here:
(At least after this, since Crabrawler will no longer be a spoiler, it becomes safe to loot berry trees.)
If it were just about your total when you entered the Hall of Fame, SadisticMystic would probably be looking up every mandatory trainer in the game in advance to figure out which Pokémon were safe to encounter/catch from the beginning.
A Bone to Pick Apart

In an ordinary playthrough, Totem Marowak would be a prime candidate to use Thief on, serving as a Charm for the rest of the battle that even critical hits can't bypass, and giving you a convenient Thick Club to keep and outfit your own Marowak with, should you decide to use one. Unfortunately, the constraints I have on this battle mean that's likely not going to be an option: even with critical Thief and chaining for max Attack EVs beforehand, Ekans doesn't have a ghost of a chance to KO Marowak that way until it reaches level 38, and nobody else on the team can bring that target down appreciably lower.

By Marowak's time, we've reached the point of totems being allotted all their EVs. Here it's 252 HP / 106 Def / 152 SpD (Careful), meaning its bulk stats land at 79/65/60, that much sturdier than Araquanid even for just a two-level advantage over it. There's one other salient point about Marowak's stats: for some reason, its speed IV is locked to exactly 1, so even with the totem aura of +2 Speed, that's still a raw stat of exactly 50, high enough that I could conceivably have something outspeed it without gratuitous overleveling.

This stands as one possible approach to the conundrum at hand: set up a situation where both sides think they can KO each other (insert reference image of a Gengar mirror match here), and whoever gets the jump...wins. Of the limited species available to me right now, the ones with the highest speed are Buneary and Cutiefly, but both of them have horrendous type matchups against Alola Marowak, making it unlikely they can use a speed advantage for much good.

Looking to other sources, if I picked up the Gumshoos and just slammed it in the PC box forever, the next totem reward would be a Marowak of my own. Famously, this comes at a low enough level to get Shadow Bone without waiting for the end of the game; it'd cost a Rare Breakfast followed by a Rare Candy, and wouldn't have its own Thick Club. But Shadow Bone is strong enough that with a 27-22 advantage, I wouldn't necessarily need the Club. Hm.

It's clear that the experience designers really don't want you to have access to any of the totems before you get to battle their respective trials yourself. All totem rewards except Mimikyu are version-exclusive, and since the first trial itself is version-exclusive, it makes sense for that totem to be the first reward. For the second reward, though, Ultra Moon players get Araquanid (which has already been fought by now) while I'm stuck with Marowak (which hasn't). Regardless of version, this second reward takes 40 stickers, and by scrounging around for every possible sticker within reach, I can get up to 38. Having access to either Hano Resort or Konikoni City would be sufficient to grab the last two and get over the hump, but this is one place where programmers clearly showed deliberation in guarding against the worst-case scenario (an Ultra Sun player trying to hoard stickers at this specific point in the story), and both of those locations are properly blockaded by dedicated NPCs. So Operation: Marowak Mirror Match isn't even an option here.

Elsewhere on the beach, one of the moves available to tutor is Water Pulse, which I'm able to afford right now without having to go on another surfing safari, or playing sacrificial Mareep in a few Battle Royals for the last-place prize of 1 BP. It even gets powered up by the new Waterium Z to double up on one hard hit. But who would learn that move, anyway? Of the 28 species unlocked so far, how many of them can learn that tutor...

How many don't even need that tutor.

Gather 'Round for a Fish Tale

The last trial added two Pokemon to the dex, both with significant power to contribute for the task at hand. I can't catch Araquanid just yet, but I can get Wishiwashi. And one of the places I can get it is the shoreline on Route 7, just outside the extent of Wela territory. Looking ahead, Wishiwashi is also shaping up to be good at patching up the team's huge Rock weakness, seeing as Olivia awaits at the end of the island--one more reason to turn to it. And with natural access to Brine at the levels I've already seen it, there's no need to spend BP on Water Pulse to give it the necessary oomph. What might help to give it the necessary oomph, though, is another juicy nugget of wisdom, this one on How to Reel In the Big One.

The way the Roto Powers are structured, Roto Encounter appears on the surface like it's meant to be the opposite of Roto Stealth. Indeed, the message when you use it is "The chance of encountering wild Pokemon has increased!" But that's not what it's good for at all.

It's rather well-known that if you lead with a Pokemon who has the Synchronize ability, you can skew the distribution of the wilds you encounter to favor one specific nature. Likewise, a Cute Charm lead skews the gender ratio (and in some earlier games, if you did this with an especially low TSV, the side effect of its implementation there meant that the shiny rate would go through the stratosphere). But there are other abilities with similar, though less useful (and less well-known), effects. You can use Hustle, Pressure, or Vital Spirit as a lead, and any of them will have the same effect: skewing the level distribution. Suppose the wilds in an area have a level range of 15 to 18, where normally those levels are distributed with a uniform 25% chance each. By using a Pressure lead, there's a 50% chance that instead of choosing a random level, it'll force the highest-end level in the range--so levels 15-17 get only 12.5% each, with level 18 securing the remaining 62.5%.

So why am I bringing this up? Well, what the Roto Encounter really does is impose that same effect from Pressure and the other abilities, but instead of working 50% of the time, it's a foolproof 100%. And while Roto Stealth lasts for 4 minutes, this stays in place for 10, not that I'll need anywhere near that long. It's normally a pretty menial effect, just to get the top level out of a range of four. It's slightly less so when it comes to fishing.

Every fishing spot in Alola has one thing in common: the wild encounter tables defined for them always set the lower bound for the level range to exactly 10. Given how far into the game it is before we obtain the rod at all, the upper bound for that range has room to be considerably higher than that, without being overwhelming to the point that you can plausibly wipe to a wild encounter (and not on purpose, like when you're just trying to get rapid transport to a different island). At its most extreme, Poni Gauntlet offers a span of 10-66--that's 57 distinct possible levels, all on one encounter table. Our current level of progress isn't quite so extreme, but the normal Route 7 fishing spot sets the level range to 10-18. Any bite then has slightly worse than even odds of being a Wishiwashi, which is cool. If I'm less fortunate, I'll fish up a Magikarp which has the amazing power to spoil the run just by showing up, a power it very rarely gets to demonstrate in any run...or, slightly less impressively, I could reel in a Staryu to the same effect.

But that's not all. By fishing when the spot still has rippling water, the odds of Wishiwashi are cut in half, but the upper bound of the level range increases to 23. Normally the odds of the "jackpot catch", then--level 23 Wishiwashi, which is sufficient to put it in school form and also to know Tearful Look, a neat move for crippling enemies no matter which side of the spectrum they attack on--are 1 in 70. By using Roto Encounter to force the top end, this improves to a far-more-palatable 1 in 5. And it's not like I'm planning on saving the Roto Encounters for anything else, right? C'mon, team, let's go haul in a big fish!

When You Play with Fire, Uh... Better Be Careful?

The Wishiwashi I got this way, upon further examination, ended up with a Brave nature and an IV roll of 18/14/20/27/26/3. So it's obviously not going to be outrunning a speed of 50, or much of anything else, for quite a while. But this looks workable. Our new Transformers-esque fish, with 0 EVs and all, is almost certainly what we need to bring down the totem. That's not to say I can just barge into the trial right now and quell the volcano with lots of water. I'll need a bit of preparation first.

That preparation equipping the Waterium Z. Fine. But after the calculator!

Lvl 22 0 Atk Marowak-Alola-Totem Brick Break vs. Lvl 23 0 HP / 0 Def Wishiwashi-School: 10-12 (17.5 - 21%) -- possible 5HKO

...wait, that's not right at all. Looks like the calc has a bug, in that it's only checking Thick Club for a form that exactly matches "Marowak" or "Marowak-Alola"...thus, "Marowak-Alola-Totem" isn't good enough, and no bonus. That's not how it really works, so let's try this again...

Lvl 22 0 Atk Thick Club Marowak-Alola Brick Break vs. Lvl 23 0 HP / 0 Def Wishiwashi-School: 18-22 (31.5 - 38.5%) -- 94.8% chance to 3HKO

There. This gives me a target to shoot for, and depending on how cynical the game is when it checks for "do I have a move in KO range?", that target could pay off at winning chances of up to 345/384, about 90%. Basically, it's time to fish up another Wishiwashi. This time at a lower level, still in solo form. And...not do anything to it, just spam the first-slot Paralyze Heal over and over while the little fish whittles away with weak attacks.

My objective is to have Wishiwashi enter the Totem Marowak fight with exactly 22 HP remaining. This is more than 25% of its maximum of 57, so it gets the benefit of School form. The hope is that, when the totem scores its moves, it figures "Hey, I can deal 22 damage with this move, hence they're in KO range and I should set aside visions of anything else to aim for that bloodthirsty end!" But of course, damage variance is a thing, and unless it pulls off a max roll or a critical, that 22 damage is only a theoretical throughput, similar to the speeds you might see listed on your wi-fi router. If Wishiwashi goes in with 23 HP (or higher), Marowak would know it doesn't have the KO, and in all likelihood that means Detect.

So the weak Wishiwashi chips away with pathetic, but useful, Brines and Feint Attacks for mostly 2 damage at a time. Starting with 57 HP, that's an odd number, so subtracting 2 at a time isn't a recipe for landing on 22. However, unlike the projected 1-turn battle with Marowak, here we get to draw in the beauty of larger sample sizes. If one of these attacks gets a critical or max roll, then it deals 3, which is sufficient to switch the parity. Sure enough, that's what happens, and after locking in at 22/57 HP, it's time to pull the plug on this operation and run away.

Hit Me With Your Median Shot, Fire Away

Kiawe's trial is structurally distinct from the previous two. Forget the detail of whether or not running out of the arena causes prior progress to be remembered, up here the player's doesn't even get the willpower to walk a single step while the trial is going on. It's all cutscenes, dialog boxes, and battles, with no downtime in between. In particular, it's not possible to change which Pokemon is on lead between each battle, except by sacking off the one that was in the previous lead position.

I'd rather not arrange for a suicide lead in this stretch, so Wishiwashi will stay at the front of the party. It's still balancing on the head of a pin with that precarious 22 HP, and I'm not going to play for it to outspeed anything, so it'll have to tag out right away until the fateful battle. In the first scene, all answers lead to a battle with a Marowak, functionally identical to each other for all intents and purposes, but only the middle one counts as correct, to allow progress. You can intentionally keep guessing wrong if you want to face more Marowaks for grinding, but that's not necessary here.

Zubat takes the handoff against the first Marowak, as it's immune to Bone Club and has only one move choice to worry about. Flame Wheel isn't enough, allowing Zubat to win the race even after conceding a one-turn head start. That brings us to scene 2, where three options lead to another Marowak battle, and the last triggers a trainer battle with a Magmar. As tempting as it is to go for another Marowak and not increment the Pokedex again, the trainer's option is considered the correct one here so it's mandatory that at some point I select that option. Litten gets to handle the Magmar, as even with a 2-hit contact move in Double Kick, being Fire-type itself means it doesn't have to risk burns from Flame Body. The hiker even demonstrates a touch of brilliance in battle strategy, picking Smokescreen immediately followed by Clear Smog. That's a combo I'm sure would earn him a bunch of bonus points if he tried it in an ORAS contest, huh? Luckily, the experience from Marowak plus Magmar isn't enough to level up to 24, otherwise the HP would have bumped up from that carefully curated 22 figure (and the increase in defense might also have thrown off the numbers as well).

All right, enough joking around at a photobomber's expense, it's the moment of truth. The third scene is entirely perfunctory and all answers are equivalent, heralding the Totem's arrival. Now it's time for Wishiwashi to make a stand, no wimping out here. "Totem Marowak used Brick Break!"--good, now let's cross fingers (or fins), it deals...20.

Despite having only 2 HP left now, Schooling doesn't revert until the end of the turn, so Wishiwashi still gets to use the strong stats for one big blow here. And there was one calc I forgot to mention before:

Lvl 23 0 SpA Wishiwashi-School Hydro Vortex (120 BP) vs. Lvl 22 252 HP / 152+ SpD Marowak-Alola-Totem: 86-104 (108.8 - 131.6%) -- guaranteed OHKO

If Kiawe spoke French, you could imagine him trying to describe the flooded mess his volcanic crater has become in the wake of this battle: un mer au *WHACK!* Go on, be the one who tries to correct the onomatopoeic localization to *PAF!* I dare you.

A Nice Little Place on the North Side

Among Kiawe's rewards is the sole out-of-dex Poke Ride, and of course it gets to be Charizard. Call it a trite, overrepresented beast of burden if you want, in this run it mostly represents the ability to backtrack to places without having to use Repels in crossing the terrain to get there. With Charizard also comes the ability to go to Poke Pelago, currently useless for anything except grinding for Poke Beans, and especially useless in that runs off the Pokemon in my boxes. All 6 that I've ever caught this run are still in the party, so Mohn kicks me out immediately until I either box one of them or catch a seventh.

After leaving the park, the next destination is Dividing Peak Tunnel, where Dulse and Zossie lie in wait while preparing for a meeting with Colress. Regardless of what they say their intention is, I imagine they want to make sure he's fully assimilated into the Borg or whatnot, not just his half-measure armband console et cetera. Colress, for his part, shows how attuned to the process he already is, by ejecting a disc with the TM for Flame Charge and handing it to me. Whatever.

Route 8 is where I happen to find the 39th and 40th totem stickers, adding a second claimable option, though without access to the one item that makes Marowak worthwhile. Of course, I'm talking about the Air Balloon, which is still several trials away from being obtainable. The route is fairly out of the way, home to Gladion's hotel room, the unimpressive Jurassic Park sendup, part of a mini-quest featuring an Alola Vulpix if I ever wanted to complete that, and not much else. Oh, there's a meetup with Hau on the route as well as I approach the gratuitous Pokemon Center. No battle this time, he just reminds me about Festival Plaza. Good idea, that--after a bit of grinding for the day, the plaza manages to hit rank 20 and allows me to imbue it with the name it so richly deserves: "Dexit World". That's something everyone can appreciate, no doubt.

The far end of the route isn't even a landmark in its own right, it just loops back into something that's officially deemed to be under the jurisdiction of Route 5. Granted, it's the backwoods portion of the route and not accessible any other way, but it makes you wonder who gerrymandered the route boundaries to be that way. There are some stray items around this section, strewn between a minefield of Diglett ambushes that will gladly pop out if I wander too close in the course of going for them. Sufficient routes exist to go around them all, though, and upon doing so I can return to the "top" of the backwoods to reach what my Roto-GPS assistant unerringly tells me is the next point of interest, Lush Jungle. With exactly zero required battles in the way since the previous trial--I'll take that result, and so will the Pokedex!

Press A to Watch Four Kids Run Around

The Lush Jungle trial might as well be a long, glorified cutscene. Sure, I can switch up party members and grab some loose items beyond the ones I'm specifically being sent on the fetch quest for (including the Grass Knot TM, not that it's any help here), but it's a simple matter to make all the right choices so no enemies show up in the trial besides Totem Lurantis itself.

Back in my original Ultra Sun run, I had my canonical Crobat, named Vamponos, to handle this part. And my immediate impression was that Crobat was functionally immortal against Totem Lurantis, even more so that it would have been in the original games (since there's no longer a Trumbeak to use Rock Blast and Screech). But here it's not so simple. I don't have Crobat this time, I only have plain old, 245-BST Zubat. It still double-resists all of Lurantis's moves, and gets helped out further by their curious decision to lock the totem into a -Atk nature, but tanking all those moves would require much more frequent stops to heal. Furthermore, just being immortal against it isn't good enough. As has become traditional for Akala trials, Lurantis needs a OHKO so I never see the Comfey it summons.

If I wanted to, I could probably take this trial on using the same "fish for a critical Z-move" approach that worked on Araquanid. Here, though, the cutscene at each reset is much longer as we have to watch the ugly truth of how they make the sausage Super Mallow Special. I'd rather not sit through that every time, especially after enough times doing so while labbing out how the battle might proceed.

Litten is in position to be my best option against Lurantis, and this is looking like the first opportunity for the Blaze ability to really be an important piece of a battle. At the current stats, Lurantis hits for these damage figures:
Solar Blade 38-45 (59.3 - 70.3%)
Low Sweep 27-32 (42.1 - 50%)
X-Scissor 16-19 (25 - 29.6%)
Litten's max HP is 64, so Blaze range is 21 or less. This sounds like a simple matter, but it's hampered by uncooperative AI.

As Solar Blade is a charge move, the AI score evaluator discourages it by default. This discouragement can be overridden if it's the only move in KO range or (in the case of Solar Blade/Beam) if sun is up. Lurantis happens to have a Power Herb, for a "first hit is free" tactic even when sun isn't up, but the evaluator does not take the Power Herb into account when deciding to suppress the discouragement, so even though Solar Blade is almost always the most damaging move available (due to its extremely high power), Lurantis won't really use it until can thereby snipe a KO, or until it calls in Comfey who sets up the sun for it. Call this a blind spot in its vision.

The situation with Low Sweep is rather more bizarre. There are some status moves whose effect is to speed you up (Rock Polish) or slow the opponent down (Thunder Wave). Likewise, some damaging moves have side effects that speed you up (Flame Charge) or slow the opponent down (Bulldoze). Low Sweep, as it happens, is one such move. The way the AI evaluator scores these moves is, if you are faster than them, encourage such moves in an attempt for them to gain the speed advantage. But if they're faster than you, they assign a hefty dose of discouragement to the move. This makes sense for the Agilities or Rock Polishes of the world--yet they continue to deploy identical logic to the use of the damaging moves. Moves that they would be perfectly happy to use if they only dealt damage and did nothing else, are suddenly shunned just because they have a side effect that they aren't in position to get any kind of benefit from, and want to avoid appearing wasteful I guess. As Lurantis's totem aura gives it +2 speed, this puts its speed at 82. 82 is pretty hard to outspeed at this point in the game, so in effect it'll almost never pick Low Sweep unless you have something like a Steel-type where it's the only move that KOs, or if you picked up an Inkay and used Topsy-Turvy first.

In aggregate, what this means is that if I go into the battle with 46 HP left on Litten to stay out of Solar Blade range, the AI will always pick the NVE X-Scissor to lead off, instead of the neutral Low Sweep or the STAB 125-power Solar Blade because it doesn't take its item slot into account when looking ahead to see if it'll be stuck in charge mode. And unless that gets a critical, it can't do enough damage to activate Blaze. Entering with low enough HP that minimum roll X-Scissor does activate Blaze, also necessarily means it's low enough that they just pick Solar Blade instead and take the guaranteed KO with that, thank you very much.

Spicy Lure Antics

The quick and dirty solution here would be to deposit someone in the PC just so I can go to Poke Pelago without Mohn kicking me out, farm a Rainbow Bean from there, feed it to Litten, and use the affection Focus Band boost to survive any hit with 1 HP. That's boring, though. Granted, watching the trial cutscenes to experiment several more times is too, but at least I gain some understanding from doing so. Specifically, it appears that at least when it comes to moves that get discouraged by some means, in order for the "killer instinct" behavior to win out over the discouragement, the AI has to detect that it would KO with a minimum roll, not just a maximum. This suggests that the proper HP total to carry into Lurantis's battle is 39, enough to dodge the minimum Solar Blade and while X-Scissor doesn't always get down to 21 from there, the damage rolls on the resisted move are distributed such that half of them do. 50% is better than fishing for a critical or the affection Focus Band, at least.

If we get really picky about it, it's not quite 50% with that setup as is. Even if I get the move I want with a Blaze boost, there's still a chance that it falls short right now on a low damage roll. In order to mitigate this, I have two options: either level up to 25 (easy enough to do), double check what Lurantis's damage figures are like at that level, and probably recalibrate to a new target. Or, in order to guarantee the KO at level parity, I would need to get 12 SpA EVs for the one additional stat point that entails.

12 doesn't sound like a whole lot, but then I figure...where am I even going to get EVs in that stat at all? One option would be to go up to 16 BP so I could buy the Power Lens at the Battle Royal Dome, then any battle can be coerced into giving that particular stat. If I set that aside for a moment, and look over the list of every Pokemon I've had to battle, which ones give out SpA in their EV yields? Hm, Popplio, that obviously can't be fought in the wild. Magmar, it can but only by being called in from a Magby so I'd have to start the chain off with that. Not going there.

There's exactly one other option, which happens to be accessible. Zorua. The one that never should have been on the list to begin with. Well, you know what they say: "If you can't completely eviscerate 'em off into everyone's memory hole forever...then at least beating 'em ain't too bad." So it's off to Hau'oli, where the first stop is...the Pokemon Center, of course, because beating the Fire trial means I have the ability to buy Adrenaline Orbs now.

After that, it's a quick hop next door to the mall. Earlier on, when this place first opened, I noted that Litten's happiness wasn't yet maxed out. Now, seven levels later plus however many steps the game has counted, it has. That means I can use the tutor here to teach Fire Pledge, which doubles up on the power Ember used to have (and as a Z-move, still holds onto a lazy lead of 60%). Now I'm finally ready to go to the Trainers' School and save at the grass to hunt down Zorua, which shows its true form for the first time all run without having anything to hide behind (if you don't count disguising as its SOS partners, which occasionally give it the appearance of changing genders). Use an Adrenaline Orb even though the chain will be short, have Zubat Absorb the first one to weaken it up, then have Litten get its Double Kicks until it can count to six. After that...more Adrenaline Orbs as no-ops while I wait for the pair of single-digit-level foxes to chip away at my starter, as if they're planning something. It turns out they skip clear over 39 with an ill-timed critical, but let's keep going anyway...and good, they land on 29. That's not the right number, but after running away and using an Oran Berry, it is! Checking the post-battle stats, Litten's Special Attack has gone up a point to 38, as expected.

Our business here is done, so it's back toward the jungle to find out Mallow's plans for turning us all loose in here with no adult supervision, and to wonder how this could possibly end well. But seriously, there's not a lot happening here. Grab all three safe ingredients to avoid getting tagged by Fomantis, Comfey, or Sudowoodo, encounter the unavoidable Totem Lurantis, and as expected, it picks X-Scissor against the 39 HP Litten. Down to...21. If Litten could talk, I imagine this is where it would say "Ow, the edge." Or maybe..."Meow, the edge." Something like that. Now on the very cusp of Blaze range for that big power boost, Z-Fire Pledge makes a decided Mallow Mess of the fourth totem, and we're done here.

Like Skulls to the Grave

We do at least have to stick around to get the rewards, including Grassium Z, some Nest Balls (right as they're starting to lose their effectiveness--this would have been better as Ilima's reward), and...TM67 (Smart Strike), after a surprise appearance from Kukui. Now there's a responsible adult! Even so, I can't go through Diglett's Tunnel yet, not until we sit through the spiel at the Dimensional Research Lab to make sure we've been filled in on the mythos of Ultra Wormholes and aren't left clueless by the obvious veer that's set to transpire in the story.

Finally into the tunnel itself, Olivia promises that it's about time I had some fun with her...sheesh. Along the way, there's a run-in with some Aether Foundation grunts to serve as an introduction to them, y'know, just in case we hadn't already seen them in the environs of that capsule on route 8...or in the office directly above Game Freak. No battles here, but that changes shortly with a blockade from their Mr. Hyde flip side, the Skull grunts. They've got Ekans and Salandit here, and against all good sensibility I'm forced to take this on as a multi battle with Hau, in which he leads his new Eevee. (Yes, your teammate's Pokemon get registered as seen too. Not as owned, at least.)

Eevee proves its energy by getting the jump on everyone with Quick Attack before it gets burned by Salandit's Ember. Meanwhile, I try to switch Ekans in to get an Intimidate and activate Amulet Coin, only to be paralyzed by Ekans's Glare. Not a good start to the battle--Eevee is on a clock, and if it faints then that means Hau risks sending out Pikachu or Noibat to replace it. (Dartrix is obviously not going to be his go-to option against a double-poison lineup.) We focus down Salandit first, since its moves turn out not to be affected by Intimidate. The opposing Ekans does eventually get the KO on Eevee in a few more turns, but luckily I don't get fully paralyzed and finish them back in that same turn, which ends the battle before Hau is prompted to send out any replacement, and allows the dex to stay at 33.

Back into the light, and for some reason Looker appears out of the police station with the gift of a Thunder Stone. (Maybe his impeccable observation skills picked up the folded-up Pikachu outfit I've got tucked away, thinking that must be in honor of someone and that I therefore have a Pikachu, when it turns out I don't even have that one seen.) This is soon followed by the goofy sight of a police officer outside the station that gives me enough room to run behind him without getting the least bit suspicious or stopping for a battle, and it's off to Konikoni City, where the captains of two trials and a grand trial make their home. Ultimately all we need from here is the letter from Probopass, but we can see other sights like the outdoor bazaar with its TM shop. No, Mr. "Herb Seller," I'm not including you.

Skip across town to the Memorial Hill graveyard, home of the...Cleanse Tag, if I can sneak it from this youngster who has Red-Light Green-Light on the mind from his movement pattern. That's...half as good as a Repel, nice. And on the far side, our introduction to Faba proves him to be a total nuisance, as he tries to keep character in refusing to battle the Skull actor, so that I have to participate in this battle personally and therefore pick up Raticate in the dex. If I had been playing on Ultra Moon, I would have been lagging behind ever since Verdant Cavern because the wild Yungoos at the beginning of the game isn't duplicated by the first trial there; this battle finally pulls the two versions even with each other at 34.

Raticate happens to have a pair of hard-hitting STABs in Hyper Fang and Crunch, and enough bulk to survive a Double Kick from Litten. Thus, it's Intimidate-cycling time! Ekans needs to switch out to someone before it can come back in, and this expendable task is something I can let Smeargle do, for lack of anything else. After a couple loops of that, Raticate has been weakened enough for Litten to survive 3 hits, enough to switch in and use two Double Kicks to earn...the promise of something good later on from Faba himself at Hano Resort. I'm inclined to pass on that after this first impression.

Continuing on, Akala Outskirts gives me the Leech Life TM, several levels before Zubat would have learned that move anyway as an upgrade to Absorb, and the opportunity to dodge a Black Belt with another interesting movement pattern before I have to battle Plumeria. Her lead is yet another boon to Zubat in such a short span: by bringing Golbat, that means I'll finally get a chance to evolve something without having to press B all the time! Just as soon as it gets one more level up, anyway, which can hopefully be as soon as this battle--the 1297 XP bar should be guaranteed as long as it doesn't faint.

Once again the idea is to go Intimidate-shuffling, and my attempt to sack off Smeargle is complicated by Plumeria's preference for Confuse Ray. My switch loop is rather more erratic in the face of that, but at -4 I figure it's time to send in Wishiwashi to clean up. Z-Brine doesn't KO here, but does go under half so that one more Brine finishes off. Zubat gets 1033 XP here, so 264 left sounds like it just needs to be preserved at this point and get half XP, no need to get in for a turn.

Second up is Salandit, which already got checked off by the grunt in the cave. This is notable for offering Smeargle the fascinating possibility to sketch Dragon Rage, but two problems with that: Smeargle is currently fainted, so I'd have to spend one turn using a Revive and another to heal up enough for it to survive that move; and like Mallow's Nest Balls, opponents are starting to develop enough HP that Dragon Rage just isn't as impressive as it would have been earlier. Best leave Wishiwashi out front, then: Brine would be super effective against it! Or, thanks to the Konikoni TM shop, I could use Bulldoze instead for the double weakness! Sure, let's do that. Sure enough Salandit goes for NVE Flame Burst while Wishiwashi still has 44 HP, then it goes flat as a pancake.

The End of the Rocky Road

When it's all over, Zubat's half-share of Salandit's XP was only good for 224 and it doesn't level up after all. Oh well, Olivia's coming up next and I don't expect it to play a big role there, evolved or not. Rather than have to fly off and heal here, Lillie and Burnet are there for the free heal, and Lillie sticks around to watch Olivia supposedly have some fun with me in the suspiciously secluded ruins. The better to keep things family-friendly, I guess.

As with the first grand trial, this is a 3-Pokemon team, all of which are "adorable, rugged little Rock types" new to the dex: Anorith, Lileep, and Lycanroc. Losing isn't an option, as usual, and her lowest-level team members are currently one above my highest. Let's go anyway. Anorith tries a Bug Bite for a third only to get OHKO'd by Brine, Zubat finally gets the level up, and now I'm facing down Lileep. Not such a good matchup for Wishiwashi here, who even gets outsped by something with a base stat of 23 (raw stat 25) if I were to try.

That moveset, though. Giga Drain, Ancient Power, Brine, Empty Slot. I don't know about you, but I look at a moveset like that and the first thing that pops out immediately is how deliciously stallable it is. That's only 25 PP total, and the coverage is diverse enough that I'm pretty sure I can guide it around on an invisible leash to my whims. Obviously Lileep wants to start with Giga Drain here, and this is one circumstance where having Golbat would help, but even the unevolved Zubat takes Giga Drain #1 for 9 damage. Plenty more where that came from, and now Lileep is going to pick Ancient Power so I'll switch one! Surprise! Zubat knows Protect now, and the first AP falls harmlessly onto that. For real though, back to Wishiwashi on AP2, Zubat for GD2 and Protect AP3, and...AP4 gets the boost. This complicates things, but not enough that Zubat can't kill off the final Ancient Power.

When Lileep follows that up immediately with its fourth Giga Drain on a switch to Grubbin, Zubat sitting precariously at 32/62 HP (just safely out of reach for both the 31 threshold to power up Brine, and the minimum roll of 28 on unpowered Brine), my job just got a hell of a lot easier. This is clearly another case of move discouragement, in which Lileep would rather use Giga Drain, even double-resisted, than deign to spend a PP on Brine that wouldn't KO or at least get to take advantage of its powerup condition. Never mind that Lileep is still at full health and doesn't get to benefit from Giga Drain's side effect either--that one doesn't count as a reason for discouragement, you see, because it's conceivable that the opponent could outspeed and contribute some damage before it's Giga Drain's turn to go. Thus, I get a free turn to heal Wishiwashi, and sufficient room to maneuver around that Lileep has only used three Brines before it runs all out of Giga Drain.

Now that there's only one move left, and even +1 Brine only deals 5 damage to Wishiwashi, stalling out the final seven PP is both predictable and effortless. Here's a spot where Lileep being faster than Wishiwashi is a good thing: once the last Brine PP is gone, Olivia of course wants to switch to Lycanroc instead of using Struggle (and loses the Ancient Power boost in the process), but her switch goes first and then I get to switch Wishiwashi out to Ekans for free, getting Intimidate to stick on Lycanroc right away!

Olivia's Lycanroc is Adamant max attack, and it only has two moves: Bite and Rock Tomb. Rock Tomb is another one of those moves we've discussed like Low Sweep, where they never want to pick it unless they're slower or they have a guaranteed KO, even if it would be perfectly serviceable otherwise just for the damage. In this case it also happens to be the only move she can power up with a Z-crystal. Now, if you want a refresher on how AI logic works with Z-moves, what they do is go through the process of scoring their regular moves in an "unbiased" pass where they don't consider any Z potential. Then, if the move that wins out in that procedure anyway is one that just so happens to have an eligible Z-crystal to power it up, there's a significant chance (from empirical testing by mock-battling against a Battle Video repeatedly, I believe this chance is about 80%) that they'll elect to use the Z-move option, but this is completely random, not even taking into account situations that might cause the Z-move to be just plain worse than the regular move. Given the discouragement factor in the polling of her two regular moves here, this means that unless you outspeed Lycanroc at 76, the only things she's ever going to want to hit with Z-Rock Tomb are things that could have been finished off perfectly well by regular Rock Tomb. That's patently wasteful.

In the present case, Lycanroc's attack stat is high enough that even at -1, Ekans is indeed in range of dropping to regular Rock Tomb as long as it's below 2/3 health, which it is. Lycanroc does indeed use Continental Crush here as I sack off Grubbin on the switch, and then since two -2 hits are stronger than one -1, I just go straight to Wishiwashi instead of piling another Intimidate. Wishiwashi is tanky enough here to cope with even a flinch from Bite, perhaps two, and the first Bite indeed gets the flinch but the second one's fine and I can use my own Z-move, OHKOing the ace. (PS: yes, rather than go through this whole dance to Intimidate Lycanroc, I could have KO'd it on the switch without taking any punishment in return, given correct prediction of the switch turn. But which story would you rather read? Would I really skip over insights into their evaluation of Z-moves by never giving the logic a chance to come up?)

Normally beating Olivia's Lycanroc heralds the end of the battle, but because she switched out a PP-barren Lileep earlier, it comes back out now and I have a bit more cleanup to do. +0 Struggle barely threatens anything; since Zubat's going to evolve after this battle anyway I decide to give it the ceremonial honors here, chipping away with Leech Life and their own self-inflicted recoil. Olivia still has the Super Potion in reserve and uses it pointlessly to drag things out a bit, but it doesn't change the outcome by any means. Another passport stamp in the book.

With the time that took, Hau is already ready for his grand trial as well, and Lillie keeps in touch with her voyeuristic side in wanting to stay back and watch them go at it too (in truth she just wants to stay far away from any mention of Aether Paradise). Meanwhile, the last area of Akala left for me to uncover is Hano Resort, where Faba has prepared his reward: he wants to kidnap me and smuggle me away to a man-made island in the middle of nowhere, of course, cut off from the outside world. Though he says it in slightly different words. Me, I've got more important things to do...namely, Pyukumuku chucking! Easy money, and keeps the Pyukumuku far enough away that they don't accidentally creep into the Pokedex. This is the life, got some money, got a fancy hotel...what more could the game possibly provide to pry me away from easy street and make me risk going out and compiling more dex entries? I'd say we're done.

After 4 Trials and 2 Grand Trials
Pokedex Seen: 38 (Owned: 7)
Current Team -
Litten L27 (Fire Fang/Fire Pledge/Double Kick/Growl)
Wishiwashi L26 (Brine/Bulldoze/Feint Attack/Tearful Look)
Golbat L26 (Wing Attack/Leech Life/Confuse Ray/Protect)
Ekans L26 (Glare/Hidden Power for Poison/Wrap/Stockpile)
Grubbin L25 (X-Scissor/Spark/Mud-Slap/Acrobatics)
Smeargle L24 (Vice Grip/Poison Gas/Sketch/---)
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Always interesting to see some AI manipulation. Shame about not getting the Thick Club though, since there's a good chance you might need Marowak's Bonemerang against Totem Mimikyu (I don't think any of the Mold Breakers would be available by that point because Guzma doesn't use pinsir yet. I guess you could theoretically use Anorith's rock blast, but that seems a lot worse)
Help I'm Trapped in a Facade Factory

There's no telling why I chose to depart the lap of luxury here at Hano, but for some reason I eventually say yes to Faba, and we climb aboard the boat to visit his "very large floating structure," as the kids call it. His designated "good-cop" partner Wicke soon takes over the guided tour, and at the top we meet Lusamine fresh off her summoning ritual to make Nihilego appear. Rather than starting the battle right away, we can run around and even use the elevator unattended--who thought that was a good idea?

While all four floors of the compound are accessible from the elevator, the place quickly makes its true imprisoning character apparent here. The secret labs...obviously entry to those has to be restricted to authorized personnel, they can't bear to have me look in at who might be held captive there. The southwest corner of the docks must have something suspicious there too since the janitor blocks me off from going there (notably this means I can't pick up the Toxic TM in this visit). The back entrance on the main floor, leading to Lusamine's house, is explained as being for staff only. Incredibly, the front entrance is also for staff only, leaving no place to get to the open air and use Charizard like an Escape Rope.

Well then, the only other option is to go up and talk to Nihilego to start battle. This battle doesn't count for the Pokedex, as Nihilego's name is masked out as "???" and no type effectiveness tooltips appear on screen (and they'll stay masked out for the first battle against in Ultra Deep Sea, if I ever go there which is a big no.) It gets +2 Defense to match up that mediocre stat, and the boost turns out to be necessary for it to survive Wishiwashi's Bulldoze in the yellow. Of course, now that it's in the yellow, I've got powered-up Brine to be even stronger than the Z-move, sounding the bell just 2 rounds into the scheduled 5-round bout.

Enter Dulse and Zossie with their masks lifted up and out of the way (tsk, tsk!) and I get the idea of what's happening. Aether wants to keep me in their walled garden as long as they can, making it look idyllic and irresistible while they passively datamine my Pokedex for all the valuable information that's supposed to be found there. But once they saw how barren and useless mine was, out of all the Pokedexes they could have targeted in that operation, they couldn't escort me out of the place fast enough, even offering me TM29 as a parting gift to quit wasting any more of their time Kitboga-style.

Spatial Ano-Malie

So instead I get dropped off at Malie City, and it's time for another tour of the place. Starting with a garden that's suspiciously bigger on the inside, than when I can compare my stride length to its boundaries on the minimap from just out on the sidewalk. (Something to do with these wormholes that have become notoriously conspicuous in the story recently?) We're supposed to find Kukui here, and Hau conveniently blocks the most direct route to him, so I have to go through some grass along the way. I need to go through grass anyway to pick up the TM for Thunder Wave, so it's not all a waste. Somewhere along the way, I've now done enough tapping of Rotom's eyes that it decides...the character name on this profile is Minidex, so it wants to start calling me Roto-M. I see what you did there, but I'll have to pass.

After being diverted down the garden path, it's time for another battle with Hau, which means another opportunity to take the L. This time, doing so saves four dex entries: Vaporeon, Noibat, Tauros, and Raichu, as Dartrix is back in the lead position this time. Continuing on, I get to collect totem sticker #50, which unlocks the third reward: Lurantis. If I were playing on UM, the third reward is instead a throwback Totem Salazzle from the previous pair of games, and I would not be allowed to collect that yet. I don't plan on using Lurantis anyway, but it's good to hear from the dex itself. Also, walking the path of colored shapes allows me to get 5 free Max Repels (cool, but a bit more on that later), and slipping past everyone in the outer cape lets me track down Samson Oak there and start the menial quest of collecting the apricorn balls.

The tour ends at the library, where we meet Acerola for the first time and are allowed to continue on the path to the trials. That path runs through route 10, where I can go Stufful-chucking! It's like Pyukumuku chucking, but a lot softer and more cuddly--though the path to collect them is a lot bumpier, treading over obstacles like tall grass, shaking trees, and patrolling trainers. That was clearly a more productive use of the route than heading down to the bus stop at the end, where a couple Skull grunts are claiming it as territory and need to face some pushback. The first one uses Houndour, which is new, while that's followed up by Golbat who isn't. Neither of these are credible threats, especially given Houndour's obsession with sniffing things out with Odor Sleuth to waste a turn. My own Golbat gains a level in the process, and its happiness is high enough to try and evolve right away--of course I have to go back to canceling this, but it's worth noting that because Golbat->Crobat is an evolution that isn't tied to a specific, numeric level threshold, Golbat does not get the "boosted XP" that half the team still does for being past their evolution level.

Now the bus stop is...uh, mine? Not that I want it, but at least I can hop aboard the bus up the mountain now, right to the front door of Hokulani Observatory. Get a Steelium Z too, which is fairly useless to me but it had to get in the bag at some point.

Last Meal Before the Electric Chair

In my original story playthrough of the game, one piece of pacing stood out to me as solid planning. I could get the U-turn TM from Malie's center, then shortly after that get the Volt Switch TM from the Hokulani trailside, then shortly after that my Eevee leveled up to 33 to get Baton Pass (and therefore was allowed to go ahead with her evolution). This is also the area of the game where Pancham first becomes available, though it doesn't get its signature Parting Shot until much later. It all felt like a concerted effort to dole out one particularly useful tool in the toolbox at one specific point in time; I don't have anyone shaping up to get Baton Pass soon, and those TMs aren't helpful in the upcoming trial, but I'll definitely pick them up while I'm here.

No trial would be complete without a few pre-trial proceedings, and this time I have to track down some buried Charjabugs. As usual, they don't count against the Pokedex--which also means Grubbin is still stuck unable to evolve, a worthy shortcoming in light of the overarching objective of the run. Next, we get to use those Charjabugs to play the rotating switch puzzle, summoning Elekid and Electabuzz along the way. Wishiwashi actually manages to solo both of these with Muscle Band-boosted Bulldoze. (Ah, Muscle Band, the other reward for Stufful-chucking besides cash and the therapeutic salve of throwing teddy bears around.)

Once I complete the third switch puzzle, the final cutscene of the trial will play, in which Togemaru absorbs enough electric shock to get to +6 off Lightning Rod boosts. Luckily I don't have to face Togemaru, just the larger totem version whose aura boost is only +2 Defense. That, combined with its EVs going full on into physical bulk, means Wishiwashi's Bulldoze wouldn't even 2HKO it despite the double weakness.

Oh, and as though the tradition wasn't obvious and predictable by now, Togedemaru is another totem that's an absolute must-OHKO; the alternative is calling in either Skarmory or Dedenne, neither of which I've already seen yet. And like Marowak, it has the option of wasting the first turn with a protection move (this time Spiky Shield) if it wants, in which case there's not a whole lot I can do about it. Groundium Z isn't even available this far into the game.

The good news is that Litten still has Z-Fire Pledge available, and despite being unevolved and only level 28 against the totem's 33, getting to fire that off in Blaze range would be enough damage, thanks to the bulk leaning all-out to the physical side. The bad news is that even without speed boosts, I'm still not outspeeding this, and Togedemaru has a 13/16 chance of KO'ing first, from full health, with +0 Zing Zap (thanks to Litten's Gentle nature). Even on the three surviving rolls, there's a flinch chance I have to avoid, the equivalent of losing about one of those rolls.

So naturally, I could leave the trial site and find somewhere to go train, getting the numbers more favorable. But I've got a different idea this time: This is the electric trial, starring Sophocles, right? Then to be thematic, why don't I just phase out of existence real quick into the virtual world of his own creation: Festival Plaza? See, my only Rare Kitchen is 1-star tier, offering only Rare Breakfasts. The last opportunity to level up with one of those is from 29->30. Litten is currently at 28, and can eat its fill here with a double dose of those (it misses out on Fury Swipes in the process, but something tells me that move won't be missed). At level 30, Togedemaru still threatens the Zing Zap OHKO, but now with only two rolls rather than 13, and those are more palatable odds.

I still have to dodge the critical, the high roll, the flinch, and the chance that Togedemaru goes for Spiky Shield anyway (which it can still do on occasion despite KOing on high rolls). But at 3 levels down rather than 5, the odds are so much more palatable, and Blaze-boosted Inferno Overdrive claims its second straight totem.

Winning this trial opens up another perk of Festival Plaza: the Battle Agency, the single most lucrative source of FC on offer. As noted previously, Pokemon encountered in Battle Agency battles don't count for the dex, and with the board popping up Choice Band Staraptor and one of the anonymous festival fans bringing Scarf Terrakion to go with it, the first three battles are really not a problem. Count it for 200 FC and a free facility which turns out to be Pharmacy 3, from which I can buy 4-packs of vitamins for 60 FC each. Combined with the ability to pick up EV-reducing berries from the berry tree over on route 10, it's now significantly easier to shape my team into custom EV spreads if a later battle demands something so rigorous.

Fun fact: the Pokedex seen count at this point is now exactly 42. Not that there's anything special about it, but you might have wanted to know.

Your Boy and His Sobs

What I have do to next is go back to Malie Garden, and...wait, no, what I have to do next is wait. It's about 5:20 PM when I get back there, there's rain in Malie for the hour of 5-6, and I really don't want permanent, overworld rain for what's about to come next. On to nightfall, then, so that things will be more safe for...the first run-in with Guzma.

This, even more so than the upcoming trial, is what players get chills retelling their stories about. Guzma brings Golisopod and Masquerain, is not a fight you can simply lose and move on from, and has EVs fully focused into making the most of their respective attacking stats. They're also both level 34, when none of my team is above 30. It's clear to me that much of the reputation of this particular battle comes from how brazenly it cracks open players' expectations. For Masquerain, players who have been used to the series for a long time have had four generations worth of games to become used to that species' status as more-or-less filler, and six generations where the one rule they've held inviolate about AI team composition is that outside of dedicated facilities like the Battle Towers, opposing teams never used EVs of any kind. Those same players may not have been aware that in Alola, Masquerain was specifically buffed with big boosts in two of its base stats, let alone that Guzma would throw all his EVs behind those stats. Instead, they simply know what they've been calibrated to expect, which is that there's no way a Masquerain should be this fast, or capable of hitting this hard. The Masquerain, of course, buzzes and slashes around anyway because Masquerain doesn't care what players think about its past self.

Sizing up my team, one thing is very apparent: Wishiwashi is the only thing that can tank these kinds of attacks with any reliability. In order to give anyone else even a single turn to come in safely, I'll need to make heavy use of its Tearful Look. At one point, Golisopod gets three consecutive Razor Shell defense drops, forcing me to switch after each of them to avoid taking a hit against lowered defense; even Ekans can only survive one hit from a -3 Golisopod as it comes in to shuffle. It also gets a critical to drive Wishiwashi down to Schooling range; this is another reason to demand a switch because even if I heal on the next turn, it still gets to attack into the pathetic defense of solo form, so I have to heal it while someone else is in. Luckily Golisopod went for a Sucker Punch on that turn, so Golbat gets to come in for free and allow me enough of a tempo to freshen the fish up.

What I'm really trying to do here is finagle a favorable matchup against Masquerain. Intimidate is useless against it, and it can 2HKO even Wishiwashi with Bug Buzz if I haven't immediately started out crippling it with Tearful Look. It would really be helpful if I could get the first move against it, but at 91 speed, no one is even close to outrunning it. This pretty much constrains me to one option: predicting that Guzma is going to switch to Masquerain on some turn, and hitting it with a crippling move on that exact turn.

Predicting a switch from the AI is often a fool's errand, rarely ever paying off. Sure, this is Golisopod and it has Emergency Exit to force itself to switch in certain cases. But that switch is only going to happen as a result of my own move, and then my move for the turn has already been spent so I don't get to use it on the crippling move like I was hoping. Furthermore, if the move that puts it into EE range is U-turn or Volt Switch, there's a limit of one switch that can be forced from any given move, so Guzma will get to switch and I won't, possibly leaving me way out of position. Other than that, AI opponents will only consider the thought of a voluntary switch in a handful of cases:
  • If they have an active perish count of 1, they'll obviously want to switch at that point, as long as such a thing is physically possible (not trapped, at least one Pokemon in the back to switch in). None of my team has Perish Song, so this is irrelevant for the current situation. But if it ever arises in your own play, you might appreciate knowing that this compulsion only happens on the count-1 turn, not the prior turns. This notably means you can get away with using Perish Song first, then put the trap in place, something you'd be extremely unlikely to get away with against an opponent with free will (but it means you only need 3 turns of preparation rather than 4). Even funnier, you can Perish Song, then switch to someone who knows Sky Drop and pick them up as their count falls to 1, which can be used to "trap" even a ghost for the one turn you need.
  • If the opponent's ability is Natural Cure, and they are asleep (no other status condition will suffice), and they judge themselves to be far away from death to not simply merit a sack (defined as having at least 50% of health left), they'll take advantage of that ability and cure the sleep by switching (again, assuming there's anything in the back to switch to). This is extremely unlikely to come up in practice just because of the specific combination of uncommon pieces that need to interlock to make it happen, and of course no one has the right ability or moves to make it apply in this battle, but when you do encounter the unicorn of everything converging in just that way, it's a very reliable method to elicit a switch, just to say you did it.
  • As we saw in the Olivia battle, opponents now switch when they run out of PP, unless everyone else they could switch to is in the very same out-of-PP conundrum. More specifically, the check is for whether the opponent started out with at least one damaging move in their set, and for every such move in their set, either the move is unselectable for whatever reason, and/or you're immune to it. This covers additional cases like "opponent runs out of PP on their choice-locked move while they still have PP left on other moves", "opponent becomes choice-locked or Encored into a non-damaging move", and "you have something out that's immune to all of your opponent's moves at once". Prior to Sun/Moon, this switching excuse was more narrow: it needed you to be immune to all their moves, and for the source of that immunity to be the Wonder Guard ability in particular. Note that this check approaches the question of "are you immune to this?" in a very naive way: while Guzma's Golisopod carries First Impression, which can't possibly hit anything after the first turn, that failure is not considered an immunity: Golisopod will still insist on running out its entire supply of First Impressions, harmlessly, before it allows itself to cite this rule as an excuse to switch (and likewise for things that have Fake Out, unless you're using a ghost).
  • Finally, we have the resist switch. This is far more inconsistent than the other three methods, and opponents won't always take the opportunity to switch by this rule even when it's there. The basic premise is that if they just saw you use a move last turn, they'll anticipate that you might want to use it again this turn (even if your current Pokemon doesn't even have that move anymore, such as if you used U-turn, or if they retaliated by KO'ing you and forced you to send out something else). Occasionally, they'll switch to someone who supposedly gives them a good matchup against that move, provided that they have such an option. The simplest way is if they can resist your move with an ability-based immunity, such as Levitate or Sap Sipper. It doesn't even matter if their currently active Pokemon carries that very same immunity, they see the opportunity to surprise the player with a "gotcha!" moment all the same.
  • If the opponent doesn't have an ability-based immunity to your most recent move among their benched teammates, a simple type resistance is enough that it can trigger the resist switch, pursuant to one further hurdle: in this case, it also needs to have at least one move that measures up super-effective against one of the Pokemon you had active at the beginning of the turn. In a double battle, a Pokemon can switch in this way even if the one it sees it can hit SE against isn't the same one who used the move it's coming in to resist. There's also no further insight into move preference scoring here besides the type effectiveness; it doesn't insist, for example, that the super-effective move is one that it would actually want to pick against the opponent in question (such as if it's Bulldoze or Low Sweep when you're already slower than them), they just roll the dice, and with a probability I still haven't narrowed down yet with any confidence, make the move.
Applying that knowledge to Golisopod and Masquerain, I have U-turn on both Golbat and Wishiwashi right now. That's a move that Masquerain resists, so it could conceivably come in on a resist switch the following turn, subject to that other important proviso. Its moveset is Air Slash, Bug Buzz, Icy Wind, empty slot. At least one of those moves needs to be SE to trigger the resist-switch rule, and against Wishiwashi (who could go straight for the Tearful Look) or Ekans (who has Glare), none of them are, so getting the first move with either of those would require that I go for the PP-stall rule instead.

Masquerain does have an SE move against Golbat, so it could switch in on a U-turn to that, but all I could put up in return (other than an attack, which falls well short of the OHKO) is a temporary and notoriously unreliable Confuse Ray. Other than that, I have Grubbin. Weak to Air Slash, check. And it comes well-prepared here, with Thunder Wave. (Good thing I got this TM earlier--if I didn't, Guzma's blockade would prevent me from getting back to it until after this battle is over). This has a shot. Use Wishiwashi as a slow pivot, tanking a hit and U-turning to Grubbin. Next turn...Guzma withdrew Golisopod, great. Now I just have to avoid missing, and fortunately it hits.

In what's become a tradition worthy of South Park, I bring in Smeargle to sack it to the Air Slash, in a move that's as much about keeping its level low as it is about needing someone expendable to take this hit. Smeargle is down at level 25 compared to everyone else's 28-30, but it still has an unused Sketch, and if it hits 31 before I commit to a third move, that's a wasted Sketch opportunity for 10 more levels. Might as well put off that moment as long as I can.

The sack means an opportunity to bring Wishiwashi in for free, and even with the prior chip damage before its U-turn, it can still take a -0 move from Masquerain to put down the first Tearful Look. Now I just need to use a couple heals until Masquerain gets a fully paralyzed turn, buying enough breathing room to send it to -2 on the turn after that. Tank another hit and U-turn, finally giving Litten a chance to make an appearance.

Paralyzed Masquerain means its speed drops from 91 down to 45, and Litten does indeed outspeed the slower figure, so it can first with a vengeance: Z-Fire Pledge. Unfortunately, Masquerain is sturdy enough to survive even this with a sliver of health left, but as it's slower now, it goes for the resisted Icy Wind. Pathetic damage at -2, and even going first next turn, Air Slash falls short and doesn't get the flinch, so a regular Fire Pledge gets it done. One down.

Litten's obviously in no condition to take a Razor Shell, nor can it hit Golisopod remotely hard enough to threaten a KO here, but it turns out there are only a few Razor Shells left, then a few Sucker Punches, and finally I see "Golisopod used First Impression!" This obviously means the coast is clear, so in comes Golbat to keep slapping it with wings until they give up. And of course I have to cancel four evolutions at the end of this battle, from how lucrative its XP rewards were.

Kukui's reward for winning this headache of a battle is a completely useless item: Incinium Z, since we've long established that the starter on this run will never get an opportunity to evolve, no matter who it is. But at least I can move on, which is its own reward.

The Long Way Around

Getting to the next trial from here requires going through no less than five separate, numbered routes. The first of those, Route 11, features an impromptu outburst from Rotom that forces a Roto Prize Money into effect, without having to roll for it. Perhaps not coincidentally, it also features something we haven't seen since way back on route 2: an unavoidable trainer battle that's neither a Skull grunt nor a famous storyline character. That'd be Black Belt Alvaro, who's seen training just off the dirt path, side-by-side with a Bewear. So of course the Pokemon he sends out is Ursaring...nah, just kidding, it's Bewear after all. This is another trainer with EVs (in Attack, nothing else), and the Bewear is a lot less chuckable than Stufful is, but it sure likes to spam Take Down and rack up a bunch of recoil on itself. With the Intimidate shuffle going on, everyone can survive *one* hit at least, until it's low enough for Golbat to outspeed and finish off, getting boosted money and access to the gate to Route 12, as well as the Mudsdale ride from Hapu.

There's a bunch of grass on route 12, and with it a key piece of advice: If I'm getting underleveled enough that the local wilds are matching or beating my own lead's level, Repels don't work. That's bad news for the free Max Repels I got in Malie, but luckily Roto Stealth doesn't have that same restriction. I just have to avoid dawdling through 4 minutes, which isn't a hard threshold by any means even with how long the route is. There's even enough time for me to sidetrack to Blush Mountain and the power plant, as well as Secluded Shore just to tag it as a fly location later, getting a couple run-ins from Samson Oak along the way. I still haven't healed since the Bewear match on route 11, so the team is still at low health when Gladion shows up by the hotel on 13, but he doesn't ask for a battle there and I can keep going to Tapu Village and the center there to get properly healed at last.

The Secluded Shore surf spot opens up another set of tutors, including moves like Thunder Punch/Ice Punch (Fire Punch was already available at Heahea), Aqua Tail to give Wishiwashi something compelling on the physical side, and--in case I might want to use it against a certain blinding dragon--Endeavor. It's good to keep in mind, but none of it's necessary right now.

Finally, a quick trip through route 15 gets us to the Aether House, where we have to beat a menial Elekid while waiting for Acerola to get here, and the usual Skull grunt with Drowzee again on the way out. Neither of those are new, so I'll take the money and experience and run toward the next trial site.

2 Spooky 4 'kyu

That's right, it's time for this trial. You know the one.

Not to spoil the suspense, but if we skip to the end, the possible calls in the totem's den are Banette or Jellicent. Neither of those are on the seen list yet, so--you guessed it--that means I need to find a way to somehow OHKO Totem Mimikyu.

When we think of OHKOing Mimikyu, two approaches come to mind: Mold Breaker, or multi-hit moves. For example, Ironmage's no-damage challenge had the luxury of a Rampardos with Mold Breaker and +14 levels. Some runs can afford to go there. This one...can't.

I'm limited to working with the forty-five species seen thus far, and none of the Mold Breakers are on that list. Multi-hit moves aren't much more promising: besides the fact that Mimikyu is flat-out immune to several of those moves anyway (like Doubleslap or Fury Swipes), the most prolific users known for those moves like Cloyster or Cinccino, or even their pre-evolved forms, aren't on the cleared list. Mega Heracross isn't even remotely accessible yet even if I didn't have a dex restriction. What else, then...bring a Houndour with Beat Up along with a team of Bewear + 4x Gumshoos to hit for 17+16+16+16+16 power? That's too fact, on closer inspection, it's flat-out illegal to me. Houndour isn't available in the wild, only its evolution Houndoom (which I'm still not allowed to see), and while there is a way to get Houndour without seeing a Houndoom first, that way is directly tied to the random luck of Pokemon wandering into Poke which Houndour, for whatever reason, doesn't become a possibility until I've unlocked Poni Island. Bleh.

The most concrete example of a multi-hit move that definitely has a chance to work was already alluded to earlier in the discussion in this topic: buy the Claw Fossil, revive it to Anorith, and go get Rock Blast. I still wouldn't be allowed to evolve the Anorith, and it turns out not to get Rock Blast until a truly ridiculous level 55 (even if I could evolve it, that just pushes the move back further, to 61). Even at that level, Anorith can't KO Mimikyu with one Rock Blast unless it rolls 5 hits (a 15% chance factoring in accuracy) and gets a critical on one of the last four, or 4 hits with two of the last three being criticals. That's not even remotely likely, and if I'm going to go to +20 levels, I expect to get far better odds than that.

In all, none of these options are very appealing. Guess I'll just throw caution to the wind, then, and enter the trial with what I've got. First up, a mysterious conveyor belt where I have a chance to pull out the Poke Finder and snap a shot of Gastly, who then challenges me to a battle. Interestingly, the type matchup tooltips don't appear in this battle, which proves that in this case, the seen flag is only set by the battle itself, not from the act of taking a picture as most Poke Finder shots (the ones that you send off to get rated anyway) do. This battle isn't very hard, in fact Ekans even gets the OHKO with Thief because I don't need to see the tooltips to know what a battle against a Gastly is going to be like. But this place is still so...dark. Let's get out of here for a minute and regroup.

As I was saying: I'm limited to working with the forty-six species seen thus far, and none of the--

Wait. Something's changed. Better get Acerola, or the Poke Finder, or somebody on the case, pronto.

Maybe this was the breakthrough I needed. By encountering the forced Gastly in the course of the trial, that means I can freely encounter other Gastly, and even catch one. If we fly to Memorial Hill, I can track down a level 24 Gastly, the highest possible starting point for it. Earlier on, Litten only gobbled up two of the Rare Breakfasts, so I still have one left in stock to use now and already Gastly is into boosted XP range. Come to think of it, midnight isn't far off, so I'll wait for then and the stalls reset, allowing Gastly to take three more midnight snacks to 28. I definitely want to get level 29 using an ordinary Rare Candy, as that's when it learns Shadow Ball which is not a move to be missed (yes, there's a Shadow Ball TM, and it's even right here on route 14, but the only way to get it is by going through a couple battles which add to the dex, so the TM might as well be lost forever).

My next goal is to figure out the safest spot to do a bit of grinding, preferably in a hurry, even if I throw everyone else into the PC. During the wait for the daily reset, I saw this Gastly was Rash with a flat 0 on the IV front in SpD, so its bulk is going to be pathetic on both sides. Going over the lists of everything I can battle right now, anything at a reasonable level comes with something unfortunate like Dark coverage, or at least a strong enough STAB in a non-immune type that I couldn't possibly let it sit there passively and run a chain off it. Even if I went all the way back to Melemele and tried to chain on Machop for a pittance of XP, they're all guaranteed to be at the right level for Pursuit. I could see what berry trees are guarded today, as Crabrawler can at least be KO'd without having to worry about Payback (but won't replenish until tomorrow); alternatively I could go right back to the stomping grounds at Memorial Hill and have a 70% chance to land a Zubat or Gastly (both of which are easy KOs with Psychic), or a 30% chance of Phantump and have to reset.

There is, at least, a repeatable grinding spot with no risk of spoilage. As I've done a couple times before, the trial site itself can be put to that purpose. The first L30 Gastly currently outspeeds mine at 29, but its moveset of Mean Look/Curse/Confuse Ray/Hypnosis is relatively harmless, giving mine a 77% chance to KO with Shadow Ball without coming to any harm in the process. Thus, I'll throw in a Roto Exp. Points and try to run in and out of the megamart as often as I can, resetting the one battle each time and healing only when Gastly drops to 25% so Hypnosis-Curse isn't fatal. Once mine starts going first (thank a batch of Carbos from that Pharmacy 3 for that), the matches become completely free other than the use of 1 PP and some seconds on the clock each time.

With all the Shadow Balls and a few Psychics gone, Gastly has leveled up to 34, but the Roto Exp. Points has expired and the returns are diminishing. I don't want to stick around too late, let's see...I still have 6 rare candies left, and using them all (even with the B presses to cancel evolution) is much faster than only leveling up once every 5-7 battles, so now that it's enough I should probably just do it.

Every Dog Has Its Day (Even If It's At Night)

But wait. That puts Gastly at 40, and the next totem is only at 35. Isn't that overdoing it a bit much? Eh...sure, so I guess I'll put Gastly back in the box after all. Maybe this effort was all barking up the wrong tree...mmm, well okay, maybe a bit too hasty there. I'll send it to the PC, right after I'm done with one more battle. It just needs to be the right one. Let's go to route 8, a quick hop into the Pokemon Center where the fly point is, sure. Right before the route veers off into the backwoods part of route 5, there's a dip leading to a rocky area with a Wimpod chase (can't go on that), and then a pool of water. In the middle of that pool is a small island where a Black Belt and his son are training, and if anyone was so brash to disturb them...

...they'd challenge you to a double battle, that's what. And in that battle, both of them bring Machop. Indeed, this is the only double battle I can challenge in the entire game so far that doesn't add entries to the dex beyond what I already have. But then, why make such a big deal about it?

I see that smirk. It's starting to become clear, isn't it. Much like the Poke Finder camera, rapidly developing a shot where you must have sworn there was nothing there before. The Gastly catch, and everything since then...running back and forth through the doors of the trial so much, and with seemingly no purpose, Acerola must have assumed the ghosts were giving me a panic attack and causing me to break down with indecision. I can assure her though, all of this has been entirely deliberate.

Because in this double battle, Gastly leads off with the new move it just got by grinding up to level 40: Destiny Bond.
And its teammate--Smeargle--immediately follows by targeting into that with Sketch.

After dismissing both Machops with prejudice (and Psychic), Gastly can indeed go back in the PC, perhaps to stay...but I now have everything I need to handle the trial. Obviously I have to start over from the beginning yet again, but Gastly is still easy to put down with Thief, Haunter takes two Thiefs and only retaliates with Night Shade and Sucker Punch which are too slow to win a race, and Gengar...well, Gengar doesn't have Levitate anymore, making it easy pickings for Bulldoze.

So now there's just Mimikyu left. And for this momentous occasion, I've prepared...a Smeargle, who's seven levels down against it, and who hasn't done a damn thing all run (except for that one thing that didn't actually work after all). But by now we all know how this battle's going to go, at least on the successful try:
"Smeargle's Quick Claw let it go first!"
"Smeargle used Destiny Bond!"
"Smeargle is hoping to take its attacker down with it!"
"Totem Mimikyu used Play Rough!"

Destiny Bond, of course, doesn't give a rat's costume about Disguise, and pierces right through to drain 100% health. The battle ends with no one on screen to celebrate the victory, but with how anonymous and invisible Smeargle has been up to now, perhaps that's symbolic in its own way, a monument for the day that finally arrived, when none of us would have thought it had a dog in this fight.

The next stop is just a short distance away, but it was getting pretty late when the trial wrapped up, and getting through Guzma and Mimikyu with a team like this is plenty of progress for now, so I'll break it here.

After 6 Trials and 2 Grand Trials
Pokedex Seen: 49 (Owned: 8)
Current Team -
Litten L32 (Fire Fang/Fire Pledge/Double Kick/Growl)
Wishiwashi L32 (Brine/Bulldoze/U-turn/Tearful Look)
Ekans L31 (Glare/Acid Spray/Thief/Stockpile)
Grubbin L31 (X-Scissor/Thunder Wave/Mud-Slap/Volt Switch)
Golbat L30 (Wing Attack/U-turn/Confuse Ray/Protect)
Smeargle L28 (Vice Grip/Poison Gas/Destiny Bond/---)

Boxed -
Gastly L40 (Destiny Bond, Night Shade, Psychic, Shadow Ball)
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You Can't Spell "Haina Desert" Without "Sandier Hate"

After I get through that mess of a trial, the next stop on the map is marked as Aether House. But that's not where we're going yet, because beating the ghost trial also unlocks the gate to Haina Desert, and unlocking the gate also awards a free Adrenaline Orb (sure, why not) as well as an explicitly presented choice between Fresh Water and normal water, but "Oh wait, that normal water is mine, have the fresh stuff instead." Why even bother?

Obviously the Roto Stealth goes up in a place like this (the levels are too high for Repel to have any effect for me), but that on its own isn't enough. There are still dust cloud encounters that have a 100% chance of being unsafe, wandering around in meandering, looping paths, and I have to avoid all those too. They're pretty fast-moving, but getting on Tauros isn't such a great idea here. Tauros means a larger hitbox and turning radius, and the danger is at least as much in getting caught out by an unexpected veer from a cloud, or running into one that just came on screen, as in not being able to get out of the way of something I know is coming. And any collision means resetting and starting the whole desert over again. I'll take my chances with the more responsive nature of going on foot.

The items here aren't spectacular, like Safety Goggles, a Comet Shard which is just a big wad of money (and I haven't been buying much of anything so far), or Psychium Z. Oddly, where the Flyinium Z featured an impromptu cut-in from Kahili to teach me the proper Z-dance, no such thing occurs here: I simply get to walk away with the knowledge of how to do the motion perfectly formed in my head, almost as though it was...psychically put there! So just in case I ever want to teach Rest and Z that up, or bring Gastly back out to go for Z-Psychic, I can suddenly do that with perfect form out of nowhere.

At the end of the topologically wacky maze, this is also a chance to register Ruins of Abundance as a fly location. Not that I need it (Tapu Bulu's never going to be seen) but still. No more dealing with sand until a certain battle near the end. Back to Tapu Village and onto Route 15, where Plumeria is waiting in front of the appointed Aether House.

Plumeria still has her Golbat, which my bat has now evolved to match, and even with a 7-level disadvantage it can still contribute enough to the mirror that I don't have to lean much on Wishiwashi. That means the fish gets to stay healthy for the second half of the battle, where Salandit has now evolved into Salazzle (Ultra Moon players note: this is when it finally becomes safe for you to claim your 50-totem-sticker reward, even as the maximum sticker count so far reaches 68 and is almost ready for the next one). This needs the Z-Brine to go down quickly, as it has both Flamethrower and Sludge Bomb, and would quickly erode away at anyone else. Now that it's over, there's still the matter of petty theft of a Yungoos, because Team Skull somehow felt it necessary to grab this particular Yungoos out of the house's clutches, instead of all the places they could have secured a wild one (or its evolution) for themselves if that was what they really wanted.

Surfin' U-L-A (U-L-A)

To get it back, I'll need to make a trip over the water. But before I can get to the water, there's another unavoidable generic trainer, which would reasonably be avoidable if the game properly recognized a 4-foot ledge over sloping ground as something feasible to jump down, but that's not one of their sacred, anointed ledges so no dice. Ace Trainer Yuki pulls out a Gible (one with its HA, Rough Skin, no less) and also has a Marowak in the back, but with full physical focus, no items, and no EVs, this simply isn't as much of a roadblock as the bosses that have come up recently. Except know, by the very nature of where this trainer is positioned, he does technically serve as, a literal, roadblock. Notably, Litten reaches level 34 in this battle, which would normally be enough to reach Incineroar stage and finally use Kukui's Z-crystal gift...but alas, by the nature of this run it must forever remain a Litten.

At least Yuki can be convinced to let us pass down to the shoreline, where we meet up with Big G (or, as he used to be known, Grimsley) to receive the penultimate Poke Ride registration: Sharpedo's rock-breaking powers are necessary to navigate through the rough waters of route 15. This is a long stretch of water, and just like sand it's possible to get random wild encounters there, so up goes another Roto Stealth! At least there aren't any dust clouds here (or the equivalent water splashes as seen in Poni Breaker Coast later on), only slow-moving trainers. You might hear an occasional sparkling sound, a cue that you can go back to the rubble and pick up some vendor cruft, but here it's not a big deal (what do I have the power to buy that's even worth it?) and they always come back and respawn later if I do run into issues, or just want to grind for the inevitable Gracidea buy-out.

Along the way, there's an island here with a Surf Association building, a totem sticker, and the Acrobatics TM. Unfortunately, getting to any of the good stuff requires walking past a Surfer whose line of sight fully covers the bottleneck to reach them, and he uses a Mantine so I'm not allowed to battle him. Then that stuff will have to remain off-limits, it seems.

By the end of the watery maze, I still have ample time left on the 4-minute clock. I do need to hop into the Route 16 center just to make sure it gets tagged as a fly location so I don't have to spend any more Roto Stealths to cross back and forth over the sea route, but otherwise have no business there (certainly don't want to battle the Skulls over by the cafe counter), so keep prancing along until I find Faba seeing red against the backdrop of Ula'ula Meadow. After a quite meaningless run-in, I might as well use the remaining time to cross another grass patch into yet another fly location I won't be coming back to: Lake of the Moone. But at least it's where I can get the Psyshock TM (even if no one learns it yet), so okay.

Route 17 gives us an oddly asymmetric version difference, at least on this challenge. Just after the police station, where I can duck off to the right and into a large grass patch, there's a grunt positioned in yet another of those "close off the entire pathway" spots--no hope of getting around him to the left. This trainer uses a Rattata, so for Ultra Moon players (who were already exposed to Rattata by force in trial 1) this isn't an issue, they can simply run right through him and take the battle. But I haven't seen it yet here, so I have to find another way if possible. As it turns out, through the big grass patch there's an entrance to the hilly section of the route, really the berms at the edge of Mt. Hokulani. This path goes in a U-shape along some one-way ledges, where I have to turn around at the far edge, come back across some one-way ledges, and meet up with the mainland of the gloomy, rainy route--just past the Rattata trainer, all that meandering way just to stay out of his line of sight (and get Rock Slide--cool)!

Bad Po-ets Society

The coast is now clear to reach the entrance to a walled garden of a different kind: Po Town. Except that the gate itself is directly guarded by the bane of starter-solo-runners everywhere: a pair of grunts who demand a double battle before they'll open the door. If you try to go to them with only a single healthy Pokemon, they refuse to engage you and you cannot make progress until you bring along a second one. For my purposes, the pair is especially bad as they force two new species seen with their teams: Pawniard and Scraggy.

All outdoor battles on Route 17 or within the walls of Po Town are cast in permanent overworld rain, which doesn't normally bode well for Litten. There's no need to use Fire moves here, though, because Double Kick works perfectly well on Pawniard, while Golbat has Wing Attack for Scraggy. (One benefit to Litten being Litten and not Incineroar, at least, is that it hasn't picked up that Dark typing that might have tipped the scales for Scraggy to go high-volatility by picking HJK.) After a showing so poor, they've no choice but to open the door.

Within the gates of Po Town, it seems like a game of Alolan Ninja Warrior, as I have to crawl under obstacles and sneak around the patrolling lines of sight of some grunts on watch. After passing the first barricade, there's even a cutscene that plays: there's no avoiding the attention of these two grunts, but this time they fight one after another in a pair of single battles rather than as doubles partners. Again this sticks me with two more seen entries, first Spinarak, then Trubbish, and other than getting poison to stick on Wishiwashi, that battle goes about as well as you'd expect.

After that I can get to the center, where instead of the usual Nurse Joy, there are grunts trying to be edgy by charging the nominal fee of P10. And worse, they claim the power's out, but the motorized doors to get into the place still work just fine. Clearly they've strategically tripped only certain circuits, most notably the one that would give power to the PC--at least they're savvy enough to know that if they left that in working order, I could trivially circumvent their fee by depositing and withdrawing from there for free. As it is, I still have the trivial circumvention of flying somewhere else and seeking an alternative, competing good from the center there, it just takes a few extra steps and button presses. If they think the convenience of being right there is worth P10, they're welcome to think that, but is it any wonder the place is so decrepit?

Anyway, back to dodging, as the barricade grunts were the last mandatory fights before I sneak up to the front door of the Shady House. In here there are three scattered notes: I can get to the one mentioning Poison Jab by being sneaky and not battling anyone at all, but the Bounsweet note requires going past a grunt with Haunter and Grimer before I can get into position to read it, and the note with Tapu Cocoa (and the reminder to confirm answers with No instead of Yes) requires getting past one with Trubbish and Houndour in a previous room. As it turns out, the game doesn't keep track of flags that you've read the notes, and you can gain admittance to the balcony perfectly well if you simply remember the passwords from a previous playthrough, transcribe them from someone else's walkthrough, or even resort to brute-force guessing--no need to battle with anybody.

Still, both of those trainers blocking the way to the other notes use only Pokemon that I've already seen before, so I might as well battle them--you see, the team has been starved for experience lately after another long stretch of trying to skip everything, and the section's Big Boss is coming up soon. There's even a neat payoff as a result: Poisoned Wishiwashi switches into Grimer's Crunch, takes some poison damage, takes another Crunch, deals about 90% with Bulldoze, and takes some more poison damage, ending in solo form. Of course, solo form means Wishiwashi takes a precipitous drop to both its attacking and defense stats. But it actually gains a small amount in speed, and that extra speed, combined with Grimer being at -1 because of Bulldoze, means I can outspeed and finish it off in solo form with doubled Brine. Something sounds awfully fishy about the flow of that battle.

Despite the extra experience, I still only get to walk up to Guzma (after taking a heal of course) with my highest-leveled Pokemon sitting at 35. The first time, I was giving up four levels to his party of two; he's since added a third Pokemon, and I'm giving up six to all of them. Still, I know what I'm dealing with, and I know what I have, and in this case that strikes me as being enough. If Guzma wants to smash his machines to pieces, good thing I've got experience salvaging them.

Golisopod still leads, and apart from the seven extra levels and gaining EVs in defense, it still has the same moveset as last time. I'm not going to take my chances trying to lure out a resist switch here, just taking the safe route and running through all ten Razor Shells with a combination of Tearful Look, Intimidate shuffling, and even cycling out to everyone else in turn (except Litten) as they can at least withstand one weakened hit, Golbat happily throwing in Protect to block another.

Then come the rest of the Sucker Punches, and when it's on to the First Impressions I could take the opportunity to beat it down some for free with Wishiwashi or with anyone else, possibly into EE range. But after healing up all the damage from the bug's rampage, I have a better idea: let it keep going by throwing Poke Balls and seeing how Guzma likes it. Finally, before the ninth First Impression, I use the lone Dire Hit I've picked up along the way...and on the tenth, an X Spcl. Atk. Golisopod now has no PP left, and really wants to switch.

When an opponent has three or more Pokemon, that means there are at least two options to consider bringing in on a Perish switch, PP-stall switch, the rare Natural Cure switch, or what's by far the most common of these scenarios, simply bringing in a new Pokemon after a KO. How do they decide between them? The logic has varied over time (in RBY they just ran out their team members in the prescribed order, for example), but here they've settled into an established rule: look at the power of all their available damaging moves, do back-of-the-envelope calculations to modify that power based on the type matchup with your current active Pokemon (not considering attack stats, defense stats, or other modifiers that the damage formula would call if it actually tried using that move), and whichever option comes away with the highest-power move is the one who gets sent out. Guzma's current switch options are Masquerain or Pinsir, which he sees with the following options:
Masquerain - Air Slash = 75, Bug Buzz = 90, Icy Wind = 55 x NVE = 27.
Pinsir: X-Scissor = 80, Throat Chop = 80, Storm Throw = 60 (they aren't wise enough to make the adjustment here for always-critical).
Masquerain's 90 option is superior to Pinsir's 80, so it's Masquerain who comes out next. Stats, or whether my active Pokemon is more vulnerable on the physical or special side, never figure into it at all. And when Masquerain does come out, I've got a nasty surprise for it right away: +2 critical Z-Brine, KOing it at once from a six-level deficit. The experience from this boosts Litten to 36, where it learns Flamethrower to replace Fire Pledge as its special-side move of choice, and Smeargle gets to 31 and finally has a full moveset with its fourth Sketch.

As Golisopod now has no usable moves, and the choice is between it and Pinsir, out comes the latter (and finally unlocks a Mold Breaker option if I had need for one, never mind that I'd have to go for a 4% option in Lush Jungle if I wanted one right away). It gets to hit Wishiwashi into the yellow with X-Scissor before I can retaliate with a Brine, which doesn't KO because Pinsir's EVs are stockpiled in both defensive stats. Still, I go ahead and sack Wishiwashi to get Golbat in at full health. It's bulky enough to at least survive *one* Throat Chop and KO back with Wing Attack.

Golisopod's all that's left now, but its Struggle still hits hard enough to 2HKO Litten, 2HKO Ekans after get the picture. Guzma's heal extends the rampage a bit longer, but I settle for the Grubbin sack, get Golbat in, and finish off with a faster Wing Attack. Now the Yungoos is freed, the succession of Guzma's throne has apparently fallen to me if I want it, and I can grab a piece of Buginium Z out of the now-unattended box. Like with Psychium Z, I apparently have perfect knowledge of how to use it despite no one being there to teach the proper dance, but any explanation for how I came to know that is a lot more trying this time.

This Just Got Dark

Just outside we find Nanu to escort the Yungoos to the safety of Aether House, but I'll stick around here a bit longer to see what junk they left behind at the mansion, which includes the triple-sticker out front to get past 80 stickers. But other than that, this place is getting rather crummy so I'll head off after them, where we find...instead of a Pokemon, this time they kidnapped Lillie herself. And worse, Gladion wants another battle.

Gladion's Zubat has evolved into Golbat, as expected, and Zorua has also evolved into Zoroark. The Golbat is what shows up in the lead this time, and it's actually the real Golbat, which is fortunate this time. As I found out earlier, I can't dodge Zorua by using only indirect damage, but because Zoroark isn't the lead this time, I actually do get to have an out against it: unlike the first Gladion battle, this is one the game lets me lose! Gladion apologizes for being in such a rush to take me on, and we head to Malie where the docked boat is. Hau somehow got left behind, and in the time we supposedly spend waiting for him, Nanu shows up again to stage the third grand trial right there. His team is 2-3 levels above Guzma, and other than the experience from the Guzma battle itself, I've gained nothing since. Like all kahunas thus far, the grand trial is three Pokemon I haven't seen before: Sableye, Krokorok, and Persian, all with fully focused EVs, when I happen to have no dark resists at all. Let's do this.

Sableye happens to have Fake Out, and my opponent is equipped with the logic that "This turn is the only turn I'll be able to get any mileage out of this move--it normally becomes a free turn for me, so give a high incentive toward picking it." Having a ghost out is sufficient to turn off that logic, but leading with Golbat is not--it goes for Fake Out, does get some damage, even gets a critical on it (big deal), but Golbat has Inner Focus so it doesn't flinch. Rather, it's able to U-turn away, serving as an unusual kind of slow pivot (on any other turn Golbat would outspeed Sableye) and getting Wishiwashi in for free. This turns out to be the least expensive way to get the fish in for using moves; if I simply led with it then it would take both Fake Out and another move before its first turn was due up, or if I switched it in another way then it would take one on the switch and another the next turn. It also avoids needing to make an early sack to have a free entrance that way.

Wishiwashi's bulk is high enough that it can normally take a -0 and a -1 Shadow Ball without dropping to solo form, while I use Tearful Look twice to soften the imp up a bit. But I gave it the Quick Claw here just in case, and getting that to fire on the second Tearful Look is a neat perk that just makes more sure of that. Sableye still wants to use Shadow Ball here rather than the other option, Power Gem, so I switch in Smeargle and get a free switch. As far as Sableye goes, Smeargle can only be hit by its Power Gem, and just has enough bulk to survive two hits at -2, which is the benchmark I needed.

Yes, it's finally time to make use of Poison Gas again as Sableye uses the first Power Gem, then use a Fresh Water to heal up Golbat from that Fake Out damage, only to find Nanu also uses an item this turn: Full Heal. That's fine, because Sableye will use its second Power Gem next turn, which I already noted Smeargle could survive, and then it gets poisoned right back now that there isn't another Full Heal for it!

The next step in this bait process is to switch to Ekans, who takes another Power Gem (less damaging than Shadow Ball would have been), then as Sableye wises up to Ekans's existence and starts using Shadow Ball, I get the first meaningful use out of a move that Ekans has had for ten levels now: Stockpile. Combining Sableye's -2 SpA with SpD boosts makes it even more harmless, as the point is to kill time until the poison damage makes Nanu want to use his Hyper Potion, then kill time some more. Sableye does manage a SpD drop with one of the Shadow Balls, but going to low health, I have a nasty surprise for him: Apicot Berry, obtained from the berry tree sitting around on the Secluded Shore, to get that boost right back! I do eventually get to fire off a couple attacks, and Sableye goes down--the experience from this causes Golbat to go to level 35 and attempt to learn Leech Life all over again--a fortuitous stroke of timing, as I decided to put this move back over U-turn's slot.

Having Ekans out at the KO boundary means Nanu definitely wants to send out Krokorok next, to go for that tempting Earthquake, and even with three Stockpiles I wouldn't want to leave it in to take this. Why would I, when I have the perfectly serviceable option of a switch back to Golbat on a free turn? Now, because of the earlier Fresh Water just to heal off that Fake Out damage, Golbat is not in range of Krokorok's Crunch. And this means we can get into some of the really dark arts of trainer AI, appropriately enough with Nanu's battle.

Of course, there are resources out there that can tell me the stat breakdown of every trainer in the game. You've seen me list out their stats a few times before. However, there's no such list for enumerating the stats of countless in-game teams used by every player that's ever played the game, but "smart" trainer AI assumes that a sufficiently resourceful player with access to a data dump will be looking up their stats, and decides to use that as the standard for team knowledge that they should be put on even footing with. The way they do this is simply by peeking into your party data and reading off your exact stats directly.

This is how they know when you are or aren't in KO range. Using "lures" against them is useless; if you try to say "Anyone would assume this Durant is in KO range with their Flamethrower, but I really have specially defensive Assault Vest Durant so it can just barely hang on against one hit--ha!" they will simply be able to read your stat distribution, determine that you're not in KO range after all, and be prone to doing something else like a setup move that might make them more dangerous in the long run. Likewise, if you bring out a Bronzong against Maxie's Camerupt or Groudon, you won't be able to fool them into guessing wrong on the "Which of my weaknesses do you think I have used my ability slot to cancel out?" game. Granted, they don't always use all the deductions they can draw from reading your ability slot to full effect, such as in the Fake Out vs. Inner Focus scenario at the beginning of the battle, but most of the readily apparent ones have special-case code paths in place for them.

In the current case, if Krokorok isn't going to use Crunch, the alternative move it would be considering is Swagger. Understandably, smart AI knows not to use Swagger against an opponent with Own Tempo, or one protected by Misty Terrain. But from labbing this battle out several times, I'm fairly sure that there's another check involved here, one that the games didn't check for in gens 3 or 4. If I give Golbat a Persim Berry, Nanu will know that the berry is there, and will be discouraged from using Swagger because he doesn't want to set it off and give me a free turn. They want to read my team off as easily as I can read theirs, fine, but a natural corollary of this stance is that the Persim Berry turns out to be a lot less useful unless you're trying to use them against wilds, mook trainers who don't use smart AI, or with your own self-inflicted status (like Thrash).

Given that they apparently do pry that deep in the pursuit of not wasting their moves, want to know something really goofy? They don't extend that same precaution to when they see a Lum Berry in my item slot. So I gave that to Golbat instead, and after switching in on Krokorok's EQ, it happily follows that up with a Swagger, for a free +2 Attack and heal off the status with the Lum Berry. Now non-STAB Leech Life is a straight OHKO from an 8-level disadvantage. And the best part of it? Unlike U-turn, Leech Life doesn't cause me to switch out, so Golbat is still up there, still with its +2. And last up is Persian.

Persian, naturally, also has Fake Out. And despite seeing how brilliantly the first one turned out, Nanu can't resist using it again, affording me a free chance to use Leech Life for about 45% to the Fur Coat Persian, and heal off all the damage Fake Out dealt. That turns out to be important, as Persian now goes for super-effective Power Gem but falls just short of the OHKO, leaving Golbat with 5 HP. That means we can Leech Life again, into the red.

If Krokorok hadn't cooperated with that Swagger, I would have needed an alternative route to get through Persian, likely requiring me to slow it down enough that Smeargle could outspeed and put up a Destiny Bond for the final KO. Getting Smeargle to outspeed, meanwhile, would have meant having to find a way to put up a Bulldoze along with two Tearful Looks, enough that Ekans could survive a single hit long enough to use Glare, and only then would Smeargle be able to pull off the honors. But because Golbat put in so much work, and because Nanu already used his healing items on Sableye, I just need something that can put in one more hit and the stamp is mine. I need to sack Golbat off to get the free switch in, and bring in...Ekans.

No, Ekans doesn't get to be the one to deliver the finishing blow, and the Intimidate isn't doing anything either. It still has an important role here: first line of defense. With Grubbin, Litten, or (as we've seen) Golbat out, Persian wants to go for the super-effective hit in Power Gem as its best option. But when there's no super-effective hit to chase, it just goes for the STAB option in Dark Pulse. That means there's an 80% chance to upgrade it to Black Hole Eclipse, a move that (if Persian goes for it) can OHKO anybody on the team from full health, including Wishiwashi. Sure enough, it goes for the Z-move against Ekans, killing off Nanu's one opportunity to use Z and accomplishing nothing for it but a large amount of overkill.

Now the coast is clear. Wishiwashi comes in and will survive a Dark Pulse, even if it turns up critical, to get the final blow with Brine. The only thing that can stop me now is a flinch, and Persian doesn't get it. Grand trial complete, and for the first time in a while there's a Z-crystal where someone (apathetic as he may be) actually bothers to teach me how to use it!

Aether's Net Unplugged

With Lillie gone, it's obvious where the Skulls would take her. The perfect place for making people disappear for a while, as we've already seen before, and no strangers to walled gardens of their own imprisonment: the Aether Foundation.

We get to sneak in at dock level, and all the Aether employees on this floor can be avoided, though they're up to tricks like "peek behind you suddenly in case someone's been shadowing directly in the back" now. The masked employee in the southwest, who guards the Toxic TM and uses an unacceptable Arcanine, is notable for having a fast rotation sweep and a long enough range that there's almost nowhere you can stand to get a glimpse of that sweep to calibrate your movement to, so you have to be extra cautious if you want that.

Gladion complains that he can't get to B2 (what's wrong? The lift went there just fine when I was here before and Nihilego showed up...), having to settle for going up a level where we're all greeted by Faba and have to battle him for the first time. He starts out fairly easy with just a lone Hypno, who outspeeds everything I have and likes to fish for sleep turns with Hypnosis; still, Hypnosis isn't the best as far as accuracy so I can keep fishing for the fairly likely miss and get in with whatever, in this case Grubbin's Z-X-Scissor finally putting one of the new Z-crystals to use (and again there's no problem doing the right Z-dance without a mentor). So ashamed is the chief by that loss, he reconfigures the elevator so it can go back down 2 floors for us again, kicking off...the battle gauntlet.

Just inside the hallway to the secret labs, there's an ambush with three consecutive battles with no breaks. The opponents here have only one Pokemon each at least, but they're Muk, Magneton, and Porygon2, none of which have been registered yet, and each one gets a designated X item on the first turn. The Porygon2 match is especially goofy: Download for an attack boost? Meet Intimidate. X Speed? Meet Glare. Too bad I don't have Smack Down to cancel out the Magnet Rise it uses the following turn, but I do have enough that it's not a problem. Wishiwashi levels up to 38 and gets Aqua Tail, providing a compelling physical option now.

The potential problems begin in the second secret lab, where we meet Hau to engage in a multi battle with a couple more Aether grunts who bring Huntail and Gorebyss. Hau's lead is Raichu, which I've now finally seen to go along with Pichu, while Pikachu remains mercifully absent. But because I've kept losing to Hau, and his starter has now evolved into Decidueye, that means everyone else on his team is someone I haven't seen yet (and the Noivern is underleveled). Normally a lineup like that wouldn't sound like it poses much of a problem to Raichu, but its Electric move in particular happens to be Electro Ball, which trainer AI doesn't always appreciate the intricacies of (this probably has something to do with its power being listed in the move data table as "1," like most variable-power moves) and sometimes undervalues, leading it to pick Psychic more often than you might expect. If Huntail and Gorebyss both survive and decide to double-target Raichu, they can combine to KO it and force a replacement to come out. Worse yet, if just Gorebyss attacks and uses Aqua Tail, Hau has the possibility to seize on that for a resist switch to Vaporeon just because of the immunity ability, despite not being able to do much of anything back, and because that happens at the speed of a switch, if he chooses that then I can't possibly act fast enough to KO Gorebyss and end the battle. Still, when Hau does pick Electro Ball and doesn't resist switch, it's generally fine; Ekans puts in an Acid Spray for a pittance of damage but the guaranteed -2 SpD means that even a rogue Psychic next turn would still end the battle. Then we get to read a little blurb about Cosmog, and like a Zen koan, everything was suddenly enlightened. On the way back, we can get into the room Gladion was guarding and read some more about Type: Null, about Faba in his guise as the enigmatic "F", and even pick up a Full Restore, none of which is necessary.

Going back upstairs, there's another duo to take down, also using a complementary pair from Hoenn: Anorith and Lileep. We've already seen both of those on Olivia's team, and Wishiwashi fares significantly better against them with its raw power. Infiltrating this Aether place to get to the bottom of this mystery sure seems like a piece of cake so far, huh?

The Final Boss

Was Totem Mimikyu in a run like this not enough? Faced with the prospect of being forced to KO it in one turn somehow, with only an extremely limited mon selection available at the time to get that KO with? Well, that whole battle was child's play. This upcoming section is where the run becomes absolutely, no-doubt-about-it terrible.

There are two consecutive Multi Battles back-to-back, with no opportunity to save in between them, or to change up my team. Multi Battles always force a heal (consider what would happen otherwise if you wiped in such a battle but your teammate hung on for the finishing blow, leaving you with zero healthy Pokemon afterward) so I can't even sack off my lead to get a different lead in position for the second one. The first battle has Gladion as a teammate, with Type: Null who's obviously pretty bulky, against a couple opponents who love to spam global spread moves, Discharge and Lava Plume. Their leads are Electabuzz and Magmar, both of which I've already seen before, and when those give way it's to a new pair in the dex, Manectric and Houndoom. Gladion has the potential to solo these guys with just Null, or he could get it burned by either Lava Plume or attacking into Flame Body, have its attacking power neutered for the rest of the match, and not have enough oomph before it faints to the barrage of spread moves and chance to fish for status on anything and everything. The backups are Golbat and Zoroark; because Zoroark has Hyper Voice (and Gladion doesn't understand the variable-power nature of Acrobatics when he decides on someone to send out) that means he will always prefer to send it out before Golbat against any possible lineup these trainers could have active at the time. I can't allow that to happen, so Type: Null has to survive from start to finish (or at least not faint until the same turn that I can take out the final opponent on my own).

And yet, the second battle, against Faba and his lackey, is so much worse still. I'm back with Hau, who still has his lead Raichu. This time, instead of having to fight through two Pokemon like the previous multi battles with him, there are five. Four of them have super effective moves against Raichu, all of them have EVs (though only Bruxish has them in an attacking stat), and once again I have to protect the Raichu at all costs, lest Hau send out a replacement that stains the Pokedex with another unfortunate blot, as if running through the complex hadn't already led to enough of those blots amassing on its e-pages. The one saving grace is that at least Raichu runs speed EVs to outspeed everything, but...

That's the other thing about multi battles: It is physically impossible to use X items, healing items, or Roto Boosts out of the bag to affect your teammate's Pokemon. Nor have I had an opportunity to encounter anything with Heal Pulse or Floral Healing, or even to Sketch that move. There's not a whole lot in the way of actively "protecting Raichu" that I can do. Wishiwashi does have the interesting move Soak coming up at level 46, but that's still seven levels away from where we are at this point, and while setting Raichu to a Water type does take away a lot of those SE moves, it also takes away STAB, and makes it so Faba's Psychic moves will no longer be resisted--in all, probably more harm than good. Flinging a Figy Berry? Yeah right...

Without the ability to save in between the battles, I can't get a foothold so that however many tries each battle takes, I would be able to add them up. Instead, I have to go for the confluence of both at once on the same try, multiplying the odds together and making this sudden roadblock that much more bleak. I heard suggestions that if I did some grinding up to about level 50, I could protect Raichu in the offensive sense, by KOing everything before they could ever pose a threat. But right now I don't even have anything above 40, and while there is an Aether grunt gracious enough to stand by the boat downstairs and allow me free passage to the three islands I've been to so far, so I'm not actually trapped this time around, there's still the problem of where can I possibly get this team to safely grind for that many levels, now that my Rare Candy stocks are that much slimmer, and would it take longer than keeping on trying, in search of a miracle?

One thing's for sure. The Gastly that got boxed before at level 40, after it had done its job of lending a single move...well, the rest of the team is now mostly, if not all the way, caught up to it in level, and the opponents have even comfortably surpassed its level. So I figure it can come back out now, with no complaints from anyone except the Grubbin who goes back to the PC (and perhaps Poke Pelago) to replace it. I'll even want it as my lead, not so much for the first battle as for the second, but I can't switch up leads between them so I might as well.

And on the ultimate, successful attempt at these guys...

Gastly really doesn't do anything alongside Gladion, as it gets outsped and KO'd by a spread Discharge without ever getting a chance to move. This at least gives me a free switch to full-health Wishiwashi, where I know it can at least survive one Discharge. Silvally goes for a Crush Claw into Electabuzz and gets itself paralyzed by Static, but this is actually a fairly good thing because now it can't get burned, which would have weakened its damage output and left itself on an indelible timer, even ticking down until the opponents would find it in KO range sooner.

Electabuzz, knowing it doesn't have the KO against this particular lineup, goes for Light Screen for some reason, allowing Silvally to finish it off for free, while Wishiwashi obliterates Magmar with Aqua Tail. Then as the backups come in, Wishiwashi faints to a double-up, but not without a bit of self-inflicted damage among the grunts, and Litten is able to chip in with a bit of damage to Manectric before Type: Null finishes them. Good, that's the "easy" part down, now to see what I can do against Faba.

The leads, as usual, are Ledian and Claydol. And like most of the times I've gotten this far, Faba leads off with an X Defense on Claydol. This time, though, a stroke of good luck: Not only does Raichu pick Electro Ball, it gets the critical so that it cleanly KOs Ledian rather than leaving it in Swarm range, with a chance to set Light Screen or else Bug Buzz for north of 90%, enough to render the battle beyond salvage at that point. Gastly hits Claydol with Shadow Ball for a bit under half (I had originally targeted Ledian's slot with that, and gave Gastly the QC for an extra chance, but the critical made that unnecessary), and Pupitar comes out to replace Ledian.

Turn 2: Gastly used Protect! Raichu obviously can't Electro Ball for anything productive here, and Psychic actually deals a pretty big chunk to Pupitar--around 75%, as its EVs are in physical defense. Now Faba's Claydol has a choice: it can either use Earth Power on Raichu for a sizable chunk, and clinch a winning position in the process...or, because my Gastly is so frail (seriously, 29 SpD at level 40!), Claydol also has Extrasensory to hit for a guaranteed KO, twice over in fact. Like all bloodthirsty AI trainers, it wants to take the KO option. But because of Protect, the KO option isn't so guaranteed after all. Meanwhile, Pupitar has Snarl as its only move, and I can't stop that, but Raichu doesn't take too much damage from it and remains comfortably in the green.

Even at -1 SpA, Pupitar's health is low enough that a second Psychic finishes it off, and the grunt is now permanently a non-factor (well, assuming nothing else screws up before the end of the battle at least). Claydol has the same decision as last time, and even with the chip damage from Snarl to factor in, I don't think Earth Power is in guarantee range yet, so it picks the Extrasensory/Gastly combo once again. This time, I let them get away with it, but rather than trying a second Shadow Ball and seeing if it gets a high roll, I've got our favorite surprise again: Destiny Bond! Not only does this get rid of Claydol, which Raichu's moves are extremely ineffective against on its own, it also takes Gastly off the field in the process, meaning I have the opportunity to make a switch of my own here without having to go to the options before either of these battles started and change to Shift style. I send out Litten, and of course Faba brings Bruxish.

If you haven't yet guessed, my self-appointed role in this battle is to serve as bait, give them a reason to go after me instead of that precious Raichu. Bruxish, though, has Strong-Jaw-boosted Crunch on top of max Attack, which will KO Raichu (especially after that prior Snarl damage), exactly like Faba would want in his blood-driven haze. How am I going to talk him out of that mindset? Well, that's why I chose Litten as the replacement to take over for Gastly, rather than anyone else. And if this run doesn't make you hate the Pokedex already, then here's another one of those parts where I give you advice you didn't ask for! Zzzzt.

Because I didn't bother grinding to something ridiculous like 50, what I have instead is a level 40 Litten. At full health, perforce for multi battles. Even so, Litten is already in KO range from Bruxish's Aqua Jet. That means Faba has a choice to make, and for bloodthirsty AI, if they have a choice between multiple ways to get a KO but one of them is with a priority move (except perhaps Sucker Punch, which comes with its own finicky adjustments), that becomes more preferable than the other option, just in case they would have been outsped with the normal priority move and thus have a tangible benefit to picking the faster one. Therefore, Faba will indeed consistently turn down the opportunity to finish Raichu (as long as Raichu itself isn't low enough to be in Aqua Jet range, such as if Ledian got a turn to hit it with Bug Buzz at the beginning). And wouldn't you know it?--Litten also has Protect, to sop up the first Aqua Jet. What's more, Bruxish resisting Psychic is enough to nudge Raichu solidly in the direction of Electro Ball here, and even after Snarl, a minimum roll on Electro Ball deals exactly 50%--a guaranteed 2HKO. So on the second turn, I don't Protect and let Litten faint to the Aqua Jet, as Raichu uses the second Electro Ball thankfully (instead of a resist switch to Vaporeon or Decidueye). Now Faba is down to just Hypno left, a huge sigh of relief for Raichu as that's the only thing on either opposing team that can't hit it super effectively.

After Litten's demise, I throw Ekans and Golbat in turn on the altar of being bait, inducing Hypno to use Psychic while Raichu fires away with some combination of Quick Attack and Electro Ball. Nothing impressive from either move, but every little bit of damage does help, as it's finally time to send in Wishiwashi. Now there's no telling what Faba and Hypno want to do--he ends up using Hypnosis on Raichu, which is just fine. The better to end this battle for good with a huge Z-Aqua Tail.

At last, it's over. I never have to see that trio of cutscenes again, as there are plain old wins, and then there are wins with the Pokedex still at 72 seen.

Pew Pew

As the partners who had to put up with all that fuss proceed to open the door, what an unthinkable shock--it's Team Skull! After the previous mess, having any more trainers here is totally unnecessary--Faba 2 really does play like a final boss when doing this kind of run, even knowing what other nonsense there is to face--but it's a refreshing little victory lap, in a section of the game that seems determined to say "you will catch up to the level curve by force". Two Skull grunts with Golbat and Raticate--Gastly manages to level up to 41 here, and finally gets to evolve (as we were properly introduced to the whole evolution line back in that trial), so why not! The last one has a novel approach to battle, one that Bruno might be proud of: use no Pokemon, and just curl up instead. Finally, there's Guzma 3. We know how to beat Guzma, right?

The idea is the same: run Golisopod out of 10 Razor Shells and render it harmless. An early critical against Wishiwashi forces me to sack Ekans in the process to get its Attack down fast enough, but what I do have is getting more effective at taking the 10 necessary hits distributed across the whole team. Even Litten gets to take one of the Razor Shells at -6, surviving in low yellow. And after we count to 10...let's do this.

The background lyrics to Guzma's song go like, "Skull...uh, uh, Skull...uh, cat!" In honor of that...well, I don't have a cool cat, but I do have a hot cat, so pretty close...let's give Litten a try. One X Spcl. Atk this time, along with one X Speed. That's all I have of either of those items, but they'll be enough. Hit Golisopod into Emergency Exit range to make it go away, then: Pinsir shows up to try and obliterate the cat with a big Stone Edge. Outsped, KO'd by +2 Flamethrower. Next up is his new Pokemon for the third battle: Vikavolt (so, like Raichu, here's another line where I have the first and last stages without the middle unlocked). It has HP EVs, and would normally survive +2 Flamethrower...but this is why I allowed Litten to take the -6 Razor Shell earlier: because now it's in Blaze range, and the extra damage gives our newest dex entrant a spicy welcome. Masquerain, also outsped thanks to the X Speed, and KO'd as usual.

Oh, what's that about Revenge of Golisopod? You still have Protect from that Bruxish bait operation, right? Use that. First Impression goes bonk. Kitty goes mrrrrrrow. This final KO even causes Litten to reach level 43, learning Flare Blitz for any occasion where a physical attack is what's in order.

Now that's out of the way, and (after doing back inside to heal at the counter) we can head through the next door to meet...who else, Dulse and Zossie. Poipole is now level 47, leaving it with an unfortunate moveset where Nasty Plot gets to power up...Fell Stinger and Poison Jab. Not. Dulse still insists on wasting two turns, first with X Defense, then with Nasty Plot because "I haven't used a setup move yet but I have one, therefore I was meant to do this". Ekans doesn't care about any of this and spams Acid Spray until its SpD is at -6, then Haunter rubs it in with a finishing blow.

At last, we're done with all that and it's time to lose, I, time to move on to Lusamine's room. After putting up with all the trials thus far, including Mimikyu, and then facing down a real nightmare in Faba's second battle, now we have...several more minutes of cutscenes of course. And then, what's supposed to be the ultimate challenge of our stay here, all level 47 with very diverse types across the team. Figuring out how to beat them without leaving to go restock or grind some extra levels could be a problem.

...But it doesn't have to be a problem, because that question is totally uninteresting. Don't ask me why, but Lusamine is another one of those battles that the game lets me lose, and with a golden opportunity like that, why would I ever want to win? I get stuck with her lead Clefable getting tagged, and while Poke Balls aren't supposed to work in Aether Paradise, they work just fine for what I want to do: waste time with several unsuccessful attempts to catch the Clefable while it beats down the whole team by itself, apparently without any regard for picking good type matchups (Moonblast on Golbat? Seriously now). As a result, I get to dodge Milotic, Lopunny, and Lilligant, not to mention Gladiogant. Bewear was already tagged back on route 11 so oh well.

Win or lose, Lusamine ventures forth in the wormhole anyway, kicking off more long cutscenes, and by the end of it we get to see Lillie's Z-powered look. Gladion also gives away a Master Ball, no idea what I'd ever use that on. In related news, going back in the main building at this point means I can pick up something even more valuable: a tasty Stick! (No really, you can at least sell a Stick for P500. Think of how many Magikarps you could buy with that! But not now, as Magikarp isn't registered in the dex yet). And for the first time, I can leave out the front door and have Aether Paradise tagged as a fly location.

Gladion wants to go back to the boat and drive me to Poni Island, but after the living hell that is Faba 2, I've had quite enough for now, and should probably take a break from having to stand up for Gladion's Null, Hau's Raichu, and whatever else.

After 6 Trials, 3 Grand Trials, and Aether Paradise
Pokedex Seen: 74 (Owned: 9)
Current Team -
Litten L43 (Flare Blitz/Flamethrower/Protect/Growl)
Wishiwashi L42 (Brine/Aqua Tail/U-turn/Tearful Look)
Haunter L42 (Destiny Bond/Night Shade/Protect/Shadow Ball)
Ekans L41 (Glare/Acid Spray/Stockpile/Rock Slide)
Golbat L40 (Wing Attack/U-turn/Confuse Ray/Haze)
Smeargle L39 (Vice Grip/Poison Gas/Destiny Bond/Sketch)

Boxed -
Grubbin L36 (X-Scissor/Thunder Wave/Mud-Slap/Volt Switch)
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As this challenge goes on it's going to be interesting how many pokemon thread the needle on "forcibly see all parts of a line". You're finally starting to run into evolved pokemon but either missing their first or second stages.
Before we go on, there's a tip that might be helpful if anyone decides to take on this nonsense challenge. For some reason, if you start with Rowlet, then besides the two slots on Hau's team that normally vary...there's one other change, in that his Raichu's Electric move in the multi battles (but especially Faba's) changes to Thunderbolt. Unlike Electro Ball, AI knows how Thunderbolt works very comfortably, and it's strong enough to KO Ledian without a critical, meaning a much more reliable path to victory.

No, There's No Ponyta Island

Going back to the boat that looks suspiciously different than the Team Skull-decorated craft we got here in, Gladion leads us to the final island, where we get to walk the planks of Seafolk Village. Home of...a boat! And...another boat!, a Pokemon Center, that's more like it. With so much money and nothing really to spend it on so far, maybe I could go on splurges. Like...buying the TM shop out of everything except Hyper Beam and Giga Impact. This includes things like Focus Blast and Blizzard, which aren't great but maybe they'll come in handy to hit key power benchmarks.

Mina is also around here, telling us we should go find Hapu. That requires we go through Poni Wilds, but it's okay because Lillie brought lots of Max Repels. Careful, though--in order for Max Repels to be foolproof, her Cosmoem would have to be at least level 45 through this grass, and all I can logically infer from its transformation to that phase is that it's at least level 43. Still, there are relatively few forced steps through grass here, so maybe it'll just work out.

I can't imagine Lillie would be inclined to either, but along the way I can also take a detour to Poni Beach, just to have one more fly point unlocked and quick access to the last Mantine Surf course in case I ever decide to play the other three in succession for a BP grind.


The Poni administrative council is too hip for numbered routes, so Ancient Poni Path is called that and not Route 18 for...some reason. It is comparatively rich in goodies though, such as the Scald TM to upgrade Wishiwashi's Brine. Also, as we walk past Hapu's house, her grandma gives out the final Poke Ride, Machamp. This finally allows me to go back to unlock alternate routes in Diglett's Tunnel and Lush Jungle, and get a couple more good TMs plus reach a total of 98 totem stickers (missing only the one on route 15 past the Mantine trainer, and the one at the Battle Tree entrance which is way out of reach). Sure, everything past 80 may be completely superfluous, but that 98 is still significantly more than the Pokedex's own entry count, and should remain so for a while.

Getting back on the main path after finishing up that collection quest for good, we get to go spelunking in the Ruins of Hope. Lillie claims "Tapu Fini can wash away any impurities with its mystic water..." which sounds more like the work of Suicune to me, not that I'm allowed to see either of them for the entire run. Just as we delve deeper inside, Hapu comes out, now able to officially spare the island from the inconvenience of having to import a kahuna from overseas. But after sending us to Exeggutor Island to deal with three Pinsir that are agitating the trees, and taking a lift up to the Sun Flute on one of them, there's no immediate grand trial like in the original games. Instead, I get to go back toward Vast Poni Canyon only to have entry blocked by...a wall of six Skull grunts. For some reason, this is implemented not as six separate battles, nor as one battle with a full team: it's a team of 1 followed by a team of 5.

Even though Plumeria is watching over all the proceedings, and lambasts the grunts with "You dummies, they're trying to help us!" after the battle, these are not battles that I can freely lose (and no clue why they coded it that way). This means I have to plow through all six of them, including newcomers Fomantis and Mareanie (note the irony in Fomantis only now being registered, when its evolution was two islands earlier and 21 levels lower). That's not to say the rest of them are entirely without interest, as the Houndour comes with the move Foul Play. I manage to get into a position so Smeargle can Sketch that, as it's getting close to 41 and another opportunity to refresh a moveslot with Sketch. That's one useful way of letting it attack...why would I want my own attack stat when I can have theirs?

Labyr, Rinth, Repeat

After that rude awakening, Team Skull's never going to bother us for the rest of the game, and I can simply walk into Vast Poni Canyon, only to meet Dulse and Zossie again. Their Poipole in this final battle against them is only two levels higher than last time, and still has the exact same moveset with zero synergy, and is obviously still a pushover. After handling them I get to crawl under an obstacle to the Wild Charge TM (probably useless, but it's free), and then into the meat of the dungeon.

Wouldn't you know it, there's a mandatory trainer right by the front entrance: Veteran Harry, who uses Beheeyem and Banette. Banette even happens to be as nice a test case as any for Smeargle's new move, as it gets to switch in as they go into Phantom Force, and hit with their own (EV-maxed!) attack stat on the way back...ouch. Level up to 41 and a new instance of Sketch, replacing Vice Grip because am I ever seriously going to want to click that move? It's the only move that gets to take advantage of Technician, but again...Smeargle.

Of course, a place like this with a long stretch between caves and grassy stretches is as good a use of Roto Stealth as will ever exist, so up it goes. And while there are plenty of trainers lurking about in the area, Harry is not meant to set any kind of precedent--thankfully, it's possible to get from there to the end of the last cave section while avoiding all further trainer battles. Even with no time spent in battles, the canyon is still so long (well okay, the cutscene of Lillie overcoming her fear of bridges ate into quite a bit of it too) that the 4 minutes of Roto Power doesn't last to the end of it, only to the block-pushing Machamp room. Guess I'll have to pad it out with a Repel after all.

There are finally mandatory trainers again in the home stretch running up to the totem's den. Three in a row in fact, staring from each side like a real Poni Gauntlet. First up is a trainer who uses Graveler and Lapras, and Graveler's idea of a good time is to lead off with Stealth Rock while Wishiwashi brings it straight to Sturdy and gets a gratuitous Scald burn as well, meaning Lapras has to go up against a full health fish. None of its moves can do anything significant, even less so after 6 Tearful Looks, and by then it's harmless to pretty much everyone else as well.

The second in line is a Veteran who uses three Pokemon: Talonflame, Wailord, and Glaceon. Arbok seems like the ideal lead here, firing off both Intimidate and an actual chance to hit with Rock Slide, but for surprisingly little damage as it gets outsped and 2HKO'd by the combination of superior stats and a few extra levels. Guess Wishiwashi will have to handle it then, taking a hit down to Schooling range but not before the finishing blow while it still has good stats. I have to sack the weak Wishiwashi off to make up for being on Set, and there's no messing around now: Smeargle gets Wailord with Destiny Bond, while Haunter does the same thing to Glaceon. One left.

What follows before that last battle is a big mistake, as I'm in a hurry to get healed and just fly off somewhere. The reason this matters is that instead, I could have gone back down to reach the first part of the cave system from the other side. There's a Machamp block here, and by pushing it from this side where I actually have access to it, I can create a shortcut that persists forever after, to quickly skip from the start section to the end. Instead, I have to come back to the canyon after healing and go the long way through all over again. That costs another Roto Stealth, and more adventures in dodging the unnecessary trainers. Fortunately this time there's no Lillie cutscene, and 4 minutes is enough to get back to the end, even with time to spare to go back and remember to push the damn shortcut block this time.

Anyway, one battle to go. After parties of 2 and 3, the Veteran at the end of the line predictably uses 4: Noctowl, Flygon, and Slowking, plus a Gengar that's already in the dex. All of them except Slowking have Speed EVs, and needless to say we're outgunned, but not without assets. Some such assets are even found on the opposite side of the field: the lead Noctowl has only one attack and spends several turns continuing to refresh Tailwind and Reflect. Yes, normally speed-boosting moves are discouraged when the opponent is already faster, but Tailwind being a field-side effect overrides this (worried that he might need it for one of his other teammates to outrun me after a KO?) This makes a prime opportunity to go for Poison Gas, as turns on which they want to put up these field effects are turns they aren't tempted to go for Magic Coat to make it backfire. Then, a nasty little surprise: on the turn Noctowl is set to faint to poison damage, Smeargle comes back out to set Destiny Bond!

The vendetta insurance of DB lasts not just for the rest of the turn, but until my next action. As Flygon comes out next (100 is greater than 90 or 80), and handily outspeeds Smeargle, it attacks right into the still-active trap and removes itself from play before I ever get to use a move against it. Wishiwashi and Slowking come in to the cleared field, and as Wishiwashi is so slow, it gets to tank a Psychic that still does over half and then slow-pivots for a decent chunk with U-turn, making it Haunter's turn. Here again I go for another DB, not confident that Shadow Ball would hit hard enough to clean up the rest of Slowking's health, but Eric tries to throw me a surprise...that's right, after a U-turn (even though Haunter doesn't have that move for itself), we've met the criteria for a resist switch! Gengar resists U-turn, and obviously has moves that can hit my currently active Haunter SE (it has nothing but such moves, in fact!) so in it goes. It's all good though, as Gengar will of course go first next turn and no matter which of its two moves it chooses, it gets outspooked to the tune of another double KO, leaving only a partially damaged Slowking left to take down at 4v1.

That's not to say the 1 is a slouch though (you know, other than the fact that it's a Slowking). Ekans gets sacked off to Psychic in exchange for putting up Glare, and now Slowking is slow enough that Wishiwashi does actually outspeed something and can use Tearful Look before a second, -1 Psychic finishes it off without ever going to Schooling range. Still, the Tearful Look was helpful: combined with Eviolite, it allows Golbat to successfully tank a Psychic and chip Slowking down to the red with a few hits before falling. That leaves Slowpoke vs. Litten. Now, Slowpoke also has Scald here, and while Eviolite Golbat has a reasonable amount of bulk, Litten...doesn't. But what it does have is enough speed to close out the battle with another U-turn. Good riddance.

Don't Let Your Trials Drag On

Before I can scoot too far past the gauntlet, Lillie shows up with another forced heal before I can move into the dragon trial. It's a relatively straightforward trek, through a Jangmo-o and Hakamo-o battle before we get to deal with the big, bad Totem Kommo-o itself. And--big surprise here--the totem's possible call partners are Noivern and Scizor. If we hadn't treated Hau's Raichu as such a delicate thing earlier that needed protecting, perhaps Noivern would already be checked off by now. But this is the Dexit run--who do you think we are? That means yet another totem battle that has to end in one turn.

Kommo-o's bulk of 162/159 (238)/168 (252) is quite formidable with the +1 boost in everything. Yes, I could, a Hypno, and try to use Z-Psychic. Even so, that Z-move wouldn't have plausible KO chances unless I raised Hypno up to be north of level 60, assuming I didn't want to go critical-fishing again after that's already been used as a trial strat once before. Or...Kommo-o does have that tempting double weakness to Fairy, except the Roseli Berry reduces it back to a single, and there's nothing that has both Unnerve and a plausible way to take advantage of it here. Even so, the Fairium Z is one of the crystals I haven't obtained yet, but there's a bit of a loophole here, because what I could go out and get is Mimikium Z, for the sole accessible Fairy Z-move so far. To get a Mimikyu, I could either hunt through the out-of-business Thrifty Megamart looking for a 5% encounter...or I could grab the totem, which starts with a few extra levels and doesn't need to sift through any randomness. As a Sun-sided player. note that if not for Guzma 3 adding Vikavolt to his team, I wouldn't be able to get the Mimikyu totem, as I can only pick them up from Samson in ascending order, meaning the Vikavolt gift at 70 will always come before Mimikyu at 80.

But, hmmm...Let's Snuggle Forever still needs Mimikyu to grind from its gifted level of 40, up to the mid-50s before that does enough to OHKO a +1 Kommo-o at level 49 through Roseli Berry. That's going to take a while. (It could be worse, least Kommo-o uses a 4-attacks set instead of carrying Protect like in the original games. Then again, if it does use Protect there, it only calls in a harmless Hakamo-o, eliminating the urgency to KO it right away.)

I have a different idea, one that's completely risk-free. One that places the burden entirely on a single stat. Kommo-o's level 49 speed is 103, boosted to 154 by the totem aura. Wouldn't you know it, Haunter's speed, four levels lower, is currently exactly...104.

That on its own wouldn't be enough to make it out of the woods (or the canyon) just yet. I have no way of getting a Choice Scarf to patch up the difference, and neither can I use Roto Boost or X Speed without costing my entire first turn, by which time Kommo-o has already called for help, if not already KO'd with Dragon Claw. But are those really the only ways to get speed boosts? Of course not.

Enter berry trees. Unlike all the other areas in the game with berry trees, which only have one each at best, Poni Wilds--which we passed through earlier in the segment as supposedly uneventful filler--has 3. Between them, these trees dispense all 18 types of type-resist berries, but that's not all. If you catch one of them with a big berry pile, there will be an extra berry, and this won't be another type-resist berry. It'll be a stat-boosting pinch berry, at least for these trees, and in the case of the one up along the coast, it happens to be Salac (the +speed one). Yeah, so I picked one of those up earlier, I just didn't tell you about it until now because it would be funnier that way. And if I can just get Haunter down below 25% health, I can let it hold the berry outside of battle without consuming it right away. Instead, it'll be consumed the next time it actively enters a battle, and if that happens at the very beginning, the speed boost will apply early enough to count as 156 before the first turn starts.

I end up going back to the berry tree on Route 16 to find another Crabrawler in the right level range to know Payback and no other moves that can touch a ghost; one Payback is enough to go cleanly into the red without being a OHKO, and then I can just run away and return to the canyon, finally getting a chance to take the shortcut this time. Neither Jangmo-o nor Hakamo-o can do anything to hit ghosts at all until they get down to Struggle, but I let Golbat deal with them because they're pretty harmless anyway, and also so I could hand over the Salac Berry earlier and not have to worry about continuing to reshuffle items around.

Finally, the totem battle. No need for any resets here, just switch the leads, calmly walk up to the podium, and Haunter's Salac Berry raised its speed to give it a 156-154 edge in that department. Fire off the good ol' Destiny Bond, and any move Kommo-o is willing to pick will easily do enough to finish off a red-health Haunter. (No, it's not willing to pick Drain Punch here; totems may use smart trainer AI but the smart trainer AI set isn't that omniscient to know what's coming.) Easy stuff, if you follow the captain's...wait, who is the captain of this trial anyway? Let's just say it's Cap'n Crunch, and his advice can be to eat your Crunch Berries.

So Long, Solgaleo

After the simple matter of that trial, we face the most daunting obstacle yet. By that I obviously mean the climb up a whopping 188 stairs to reach the Altar of the Sunne and reach the spot to play the Sun Flute. This causes Cosmoem to prove that it's at least level 53 (which is more than I can say about any of my team, who have actually been doing battles to get that far), and a wormhole appears to spill out Guzma. And Lusamine. And...that...thing. You know the type, the kind of being that likes to absorb other legendaries into itself, even when it's only level 50 and logically outgunned by the leonine figure it's trying to get a grip on.

No matter, Dusk Mane Necrozma showed up and now we have to deal with it. Well, really, "dealing with it" isn't what's going on right now...this is another battle that I can freely lose, and winning doesn't change the story at all. What it does do, though, is give the team a bit of extra experience, and I'm already stuck with the dex entry anyway, so I might as well go for that outcome.

In this first appearance, the Necrozma fusion doesn't have the totem aura it will become so infamous for in a bit, and doesn't even have a fixed IV spread every time; rather, it spawns a random one with the usual legendary constraint (at least 3 max). It doesn't even have smart trainer AI yet, which can lead it to do foolhardy things like pick a healing move on the first turn. However, it does have EVs (maxed both defensive stats regardless of version), and a fixed nature of +Def, -whichever attack stat it isn't using in your version. Along with that menacing-looking stare, which doesn't really mean a thing.

The lack of AI codepaths leaves Necrozma with more-or-less random decision making, so as long as it doesn't go for Psycho Cut right away, that's enough for Ekans to fire off a Glare, and Wishiwashi chimes in with three Tearful Looks before the pair of high-critical moves in Necrozma's set pay dividends. Litten adds one of each fire move before it too goes down, getting unimpressive damage with both, but enough that Haunter can now finish the job on a Shadow Ball, without having to resort to DB. That way Haunter can actually get some experience from its win for a change.

(The) Traveling Light

After being defeated (or wiping you out, it doesn't matter) Necrozma gets to flee back through the wormhole, and all the exterior areas on Poni Island (but not the other islands) plunge into darkness regardless of time of day. Yes, this leads to paradoxical results like the cave areas in Vast Poni Canyon being lit up brighter than what awaits outside.

Zossie lends me a Lunala, and I have to play the wormhole minigame with motion controls (no, you can't change it prior to the first trip, I tried) in search of a white portal, the least numerous color, to hijack its usual destination and land in Ultra Megalopolis without displaying the distance for how far we went. Here, of course, rests You-Know-Who.

In a game so rigidly driven by the idea of "Anything that was used against you is something you can be driven to catch and use for yourself, where it follows the same rules on your side--no one gets special treatment" for so much of its history, the Alola games represented a conspicuous wavering from their devotion to that ideal, culminating in this battle, the pinnacle of asymmetric warfare. First, let's take a look at those stats. Locked to Bold, 96 HP / 252 Def / 162 SpD, but with the same concept of "roll random IVs" as in the previous battle, and not the same set that was rolled back in that battle either. As a result, it probably won't have all of these stats topped out at once, but at least half of them will be at their stated values:
HP - 219
Atk - 201 (boosted to 301)
Def - 194 (boosted to 291)
SpA - 224 (boosted to 336)
SpD - 164 (boosted to 246)
Spe - 178 (boosted to 267)

Clearly, taking anything the player could get a hold of up to this point and raising it up to something resembling stat parity with that would be completely unreasonable, especially given the multiple ways experience-point rewards have diminishing returns. Not that this has been a reasonable run in any sense, but still, it's safe to say that they didn't think players would want to take down this particular challenge using that approach. Instead, they expected us to take it down using...what, exactly?

No single approach stands out as a way we could definitively say "They wanted us to take this specific path to victory," but a short list of viable strats have been suggested over the years, including:
  • Catch a Zorua and likely raise it to Zoroark stage, disguise it as a Poison-type just like Gladion did in the first battle against him, and make sure they're high enough leveled to discourage Necrozma from picking anything except Photon Geyser on each of the first five turns in a row
  • Catch several Pyukumukus and simply feed them to Necrozma, letting it wear itself down from Innards Out damage
  • Catch an Imposter Ditto, get its level up around 50, and stake everything on the speed tie to use Dragon Pulse, perhaps combined with priority moves like Ice Shard elsewhere on the team to chip in the rest
  • Use up the lone copy of Focus Sash that's available up to this point in the game, allowing anything to ensure survival against a single hit so that it buys exactly one opportunity to use a productive move, possibly including Toxic, Mirror Coat, Endeavor (in conjunction with a priority move next turn), or Topsy-Turvy (on Inkay or Malamar...or I guess Smeargle!)
  • Bring a bulky Steel type or something else that can naturally tank any single move from Necrozma on its own merits, proceeding as above (this, using Umbreon with Toxic, was what got me through on the previous playthrough)
  • Have a Mimikyu at a high enough level to discourage Necrozma from using Photon Geyser (which would ignore Disguise) in favor of Smart Strike (which doesn't), and again use the one turn that buys to set up something like Ghost Curse
  • Load up on affection and fish for either the Bright Powder or Focus Band equivalents working, and use that as what buys you turns to use your moves--possibly even getting to take advantage of the Scope Lens effect too, and ignore its defensive boosts that way
  • Fish for Quick Claw Destiny Bond (hey, that sounds familiar!)
  • Have a Pokemon that can't necessarily survive an unadjusted hit at +0, but can at +1 or +2, use X Spcl. Def or Roto Boost before the first turn, and keep finding opportunities to pile on more Roto Boosts, hoping all the while that Necrozma never pulls out the critical to ignore your boosts, until you're finally strong enough to outpower it with brute force
  • Trade with somebody else who's prepared a level 100 uber on their game, and hope you can break through the disobedience check just once to blow Necrozma clear off the map, before it gets enough free potshots in to wear you down while you're loafing around
So yeah, there's no shortage of options. Note that Necrozma's stats are crafted well enough that Foul Play, even if you somehow had it coming from a level 100 STAB user, is still not a guaranteed OHKO unless you also add a further boost like Black Glasses or Expert Belt, so using it as your "one turn to make something count" move probably won't end so well. Considering the move tutor for that particular move is also locked away until the Battle Tree, this limits you to its level-up learners; it's most commonly associated with a Zoroark path to victory where ideally it has at least five free turns to use the move and the defensive EV spread isn't as much of an issue.

I have of course seen Zorua before, owing to a lapse in Pokedex logic, and my teambuilding happenstance has played in such a way as to leave me with three Poison-types on the team, so that option is begrudgingly available for me to turn to. The Focus Sash line is not, though: the Focus Sash in question is only available through the Poni Wilds route boss, her team is full of Oricorios which I haven't seen yet, and to even be invited into that battle, I have to go through everyone else there, which involves picking up other unwanted species like Toxapex. QC Destiny Bond is the one thing that I can definitively say has a shot to work with no further preparation, and without having to back out of the wormhole to go get something. But there's already been one of those maneuvers in the run, as well as a regular old "outspeed and Destiny Bond". Don't you guys deserve to see something fresher than that?

If I had free choice among all the options on that list, the Pyukumuku-chucking approach strikes me as the funniest. Not least of all because of how coincidentally the math works out: Pyukumuku's minimum catchable level is 16, giving it at least 43 HP even if you rolled flat 0s on the IVs. You need to have at least one survivor in the end to have it count as a win instead of a loss, so you could chuck five of them with the last slot being a level 1 Eevee hatchling or something, and deal a minimum of 215 damage. More likely, you'll rack up a few incidental points on top of that from rolling higher-end IV ranges, and/or higher parts of the level range, and just a few of those extra points over minimum is all it takes to get the damage up to 219 and correspond to Necrozma's maximum HP figure. But alas, Pyukumuku hasn't been seen in the dex yet, so I'm not about to go get one, let alone five. This run, by its nature, has been trying to avoid Pokemon. So let's not make an infamous battle such as this, about them. Let's make it about something else. Like, I don't know...items?

Eh, sure. Going back to the early game, it seems the only thing Hau likes more than big malasadas is handing out Revives to me, as though they're hot potatoes he would be better off getting rid of. I've racked up 18 of them so far, haven't had much of an occasion to use any of them, and come to think of it, they are getting kind of heavy lugging them around in this bag all the time. Maybe I should lighten the load a bit. Yes, there are only 18 of them, against Necrozma's 45 PP, but I'm pretty sure it'll be enough anyway.

So after more stair-climbing, and looking at a team with no one above level 47, I calmly strut up to a blindingly bright dragon of immense power, just to see what would happen. Ekans leads, and Intimidates that threatening +1 Attack all the way down to...+0. It knows the play here: waste a turn with Protect! And then don't waste another one, but get splattered onto the floor by Photon Geyser. Don't worry, it'll all be okay. Now it's Haunter's turn: another Protect to waste one PP, and on the next turn use one of those Revives on Ekans while Necrozma uses a second PP to make Haunter turn even less corporeal than it already is.

You can see where this is going. Ekans and Haunter continue their Team Poison charade, now at only half health each time which Necrozma has absolutely no problems repeatedly smacking into the turf, but they're having their own fun in a twisted, Jackass-style sense. Each loop of the Protect-Revive routine costs Necrozma two of its precious 45 moves, but I want to keep track of exactly which moves it's using, and how often. It turns out a phone app intended for tracking MTG life totals can also be put to good use when you're keeping track of PP totals in-game where there's nothing like Showdown's automatic tracker to remember them for you. It's certainly less wasteful than using pen and paper, like from an exhausting marathon of a battle I went through in late 2016, lasting over 5 hours and involving PP-stalling GSC Red's entire team and refusing to hit them with anything other than their own Struggle recoil. Compared to that, this Necrozma battle must be a relative cakewalk, right?

13 Revives later, with a few still weighing down on the bag, I've tracked that all the Photon Geyser and Dragon Pulse PP are finally out. This is notable benchmark because Wishiwashi can survive the non-STAB Power Gem, and of course -6 resisted Smart Strike is hardly living up to the dragon's full potential. But here we can see another limitation of trainer AI in action, which is of course inherited by the totems as well as this boss. If the trainer, or totem, has a move that it really wants to use (because it's in KO range, for example), but that move happens to be unselectable, perhaps from lack of PP, they don't go back and figure "Well okay, I can't do this anymore, maybe I should adapt to this knowledge and figure out what my next-best move option is." No, they basically give up and say "Eh, whatever", with an almost apathetic approach that leads to choosing from the remaining moves pretty much at random. Yes, this means it can pick Smart Strike several times in a row against Wishiwashi, instead of the vastly superior Power Gem, even when it has some Power Gems left. This lets me start piling on the Tearful Looks, getting in six of them before finally taking enough Power Gems to fall. Sure, seven would have been nice (Necrozma did start at +1 SpA, after all), but this'll do.

Just to be funny, I have a look how much Smeargle's Foul Play does now (only about 10%)--it almost would have been better off using its own attacking stat there. But not quite. From there I can tag out to Litten and at least stall out a couple of the remaining PP, and on to Golbat who does considerably better with the Eviolite. Then, as if we haven't rubbed it in enough yet, on the turn Necrozma finally runs out of PP, Golbat goes for a Haze--because I'm sure lots of people have tried to use Haze on Necrozma, but how many have ever gotten the opportunity to do so when what they're erasing is -6 Atk and -5 SpA? From here, I'm sure Smeargle's Foul Play would do a lot more damage, but we aren't going to get a chance to see that since Smeargle doesn't have enough HP left to survive a non-nerfed Struggle either. Golbat can,, whatever, rather than being like 2016 and forcing every single point of damage to come from Struggle recoil, Smeargle already chimed in with those piddly Foul Plays earlier, and Golbat can go ahead and seal the deal with U-turn now that there's no longer a Defense boost.

As light returns to Alola, Soliera offers me a Poipole of my own (what, as if I don't already have enough Poison types on the team?), but more importantly we can finally go back and not have to deal with this again, this time with a much lighter item bag that it's not such a strain to carry around. Then everyone else leaves the altar, to be replaced by a new visitor: Mina, asking us to come home with her for what's certainly going to be some good, clean fun (her parents are even there to keep tabs on it, after all). I should probably get going, but not to there just yet: instead, it's a trip straight to the Game Freak office in Heahea City, where the NPC has finally appeared to allow switching to circle pad controls. I don't think I'll ever be taking another trip through the wormhole anyway, but it's the general principle of the thing.

After 7 Trials and Ultra Necrozma
Pokedex Seen: 90 (Owned: 9)
Team -
Litten L47 (Flare Blitz/Flamethrower/U-turn/Growl)
Wishiwashi L47 (Scald/U-turn/Aqua Tail/Tearful Look)
Ekans L46 (Glare/Acid Spray/Stockpile/Protect)
Haunter L46 (Destiny Bond/Night Shade/Protect/Shadow Ball)
Golbat L46 (Wing Attack/U-turn/Sludge Bomb/Haze)
Smeargle L44 (Sketch/Poison Gas/Destiny Bond/Foul Play)

Boxed -
Grubbin L36 (X-Scissor/Thunder Wave/Mud-Slap/Volt Switch)
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Not a Fairy Tale Ending

If there's one benefit to using a half-poison team, you'd expect it comes against a Fairy specialist like Mina, as we go to her house only to find that the trial commences with a straight-up battle against her. Sure, but by the time we get this far in the game, it's reasonable to expect everyone to have some kind of coverage against a glaring weakness like that, just as players have enough versatility in their available resources to build further layers of countermeasures. It starts with the lead Mawile, which doesn't have any offensive coverage specifically aimed at that type, but does have the defensive coverage of, you know, being a Mawile. So Litten gets the lead here, Mawile uses Sucker Punch, fails. Because Litten was wise enough to use its longest-standing move: Growl. Repeat with four more Growls to waste the rest of the Sucker Punch PP, and by the time Mawile gets to a move that'll actually do something, it's at -5 and both of its other moves are resisted for piddly damage. Meanwhile, Flamethrower is a 2HKO, so we'll take it.

Now Mina has a Granbull, which stacks a second Intimidate on Litten and threatens it with not only Earthquake, but Stone Edge too. Switching Haunter in on EQ would be great; the same is definitely not true for Stone Edge, and both moves have the same power (power that's certainly enough to clean up Litten from 2/3) so it's prone to pick randomly between them and not show a preference. As I still haven't changed off Set mode, this means I have to let Litten take the sack in order to get Haunter in safely, and that matchup goes better: outspeed, Sludge Bomb, OHKO. This prompts Mina's final Pokemon, Ribombee, who's even faster than Haunter and has Psychic for coverage--like a revolving door, I have to let it stay in and take the KO in order to bring out my own next in Golbat. Its Eviolite is comfortably enough to tank one Psychic, get in for over half with Wing Attack, faint to a second Psychic, then Wishiwashi takes a Pollen Puff before the final blow.

For all that, we get...a Pink Petal and a new objective: track down all the other captains and get their own colored petals. It's a trial that there's no backing out from, all of Alola is the staging ground for it and it follows me wherever I go. Better get going then, huh?

There's No Need to Fear...Okay, Maybe There Is

Hm, maybe not yet. Inspired by the recent battle, there's one other team change that I figure might be worth making. Now that Mina's sprung that Granbull on us, it's safe to encounter Granbull. And keeping an unevolved Ekans around for this long (as no trainers have yet pulled out an Arbok, and none will do so until at least Episode RR), I'm all too familiar with its deficiencies in the stat department, not to mention its redundant typing isn't much of an asset particularly now that Mina's battle is over. Sure, Glare and Acid Spray have their perks, but we're getting to a phase of the game where most opponents are capable of doing a huge chunk if not OHKOing it before it ever gets to use those moves, not really a recipe for success. I figure Granbull profiles better for an Intimidate slot (extra bulk is helpful in that kind of role if I intend to switch in and out of it several times), and it's even available just over in Poni Wilds at near-level parity with the team already. Compare to Mawile, which is also a newly unlocked Intimidator but it's only available at Ten Carat Hill, where it'd have about 30 levels to play catchup.

So once again I have to go back to the time-honored tradition of saving at the edge of the grass and hoping for a particular encounter. There's a 60% chance here that the encounter is something that makes me reset, 20% for Furfrou which I can freely run away from thanks to Dulse's first battle, and 20% for the Granbull I'm looking for. Beyond that, only half the Granbulls will have the right ability, but I can goad them into calling for help if they don't and have another chance (much easier than amassing 100 BP for an Ability Capsule, anyway) and half again will be at least level 43 so that they already start out with the sole obtainable move by this point in the franchise that provides a source of physical Fairy damage in its ground state: Play Rough. Not the most promising odds, but when I can keep trying without penalty, it's nowhere near the most tedious thing I could hunt for this way, and eventually I even find one right at the level ceiling of 44 for my trouble. Get in the ball, and at least temporarily displace Ekans from the team. (Who knows, maybe at some point I'll want the boon of double-sided Intimidate shuffling, but now isn't it.)

A Slightly Less Elite Four

The quest to hunt down all the other petals, begins with the only instance in the game where we ever have to go to Hau'oli Cemetery. This place is notably home to Pokemon Breeder Ikue, who "[addresses] the grave where Pikachu rests...using its words." I wouldn't want to come this far in the game only to get stuck with a Pikachu seen in the dex, so I'd better make sure to stay away from her. Even upon entering the place, I get ambushed by Hau, preceded by Decidueye running out of its Poke Ball, but there's no battle against him forthcoming just yet and Decidueye still doesn't count as seen.

What I am looking for here is Ilima, who insists on a battle to hand over the Orange Petal, but first a bit of preparation. The nice thing about having Granbull on the team now is that it can be an outlet for a few of these TMs that previously had no legal holders, including Brick Break. However, it's giving up a few levels to the rest of the team and seven levels to Ilima, which is rather much for someone that wants to be the workhorse (er...workdog?) of a battle, especially when it's starting from zero EVs. At the least, I can get it started with some of these vitamins I picked up in Festival Plaza binges, for the few marginal stat points they bring.

Ilima's lead is Gumshoos, who misses a Hyper Fang causing it to fall behind in the race and get 3HKO'd by Brick Break without needing to shuffle for position to get more Intimidates down. Good start so far, leading to the new addition to Ilima's team: Komala. Between STAB Slam with shaky accuracy, and non-STAB Wood Hammer with recoil, there's no telling what he's going to pick, but he opts for Slam and even upgrades it to a Z-move, which gets wasted on a switch to Haunter. Since Haunter isn't good for much else in this battle, I go for Destiny Bond and intentionally pick Shadow Ball next turn just so I can get preempted by Sucker Punch and spring the trap.

Ilima's Smeargle has a...rather thematic moveset, Extreme Speed/Energy Ball/Flamethrower/Surf. But again, it's a Smeargle. Golbat tanks a few hits and U-turns out to Wishiwashi, who can comfortably take an Energy Ball before Scalding to the finish line. Or at least the first checkpoint, as there are several more petals to get.

When In Aroma...

Ilima helpfully offers to escort us to the entrance of Lush Jungle, though it's worth turning back to heal before I barge on in. Lana and Mallow are enjoying some...Aromatherapy deep along the trail, and Mallow is the one who offers a battle. Something tells me Smeargle is going to like this as a source of artistic inspiration.

Mallow opens with Trevenant, and Golbat U-turns out of the way to Granbull to stick an Intimidate up, getting Leech Seeded in return. Trevenant only manages a weak Horn Leech on the switch back to Golbat, and the Leech Seed plus the tiny bit of Horn Leech recovery almost, but not quite, make up for the damage from that original U-turn. Another loop of the same, and on the third time through, Golbat's U-turn goes into Smeargle. This sets up an ace up the sleeve: Smeargle Sketches Leech Seed! (What, you were expecting me to hold off until Shiinotic was out and try to find a way to Sketch Spore?)

Still, Foul Play is weak enough now that I can't justify leaving Smeargle in to get sapped for more Leech Seed recovery, so back comes Golbat for a Wing Attack, another U-turn to Litten this time, and Litten can finally do something to the tune of a big Z-Flare Blitz. Big enough, at least. Cue Tsareena, who has the exact same type coverage matrix as Totem Lurantis, but now with a lot less urgency to take it out fast. This means I can switch in Golbat and tank a Low Sweep and other double-resisted hits long enough to wear the queen down.

Even the double-resists still do something, particularly when one of them gets to be the Z turn, so Golbat's actually pretty low on health as it's time for Shiinotic to come in. Golbat still outspeeds at -1, and has Sludge Bomb, but that's not quite enough to get the OHKO, and Shiinotic retaliates with Moonblast for its own KO. Still, no sweat, just have to bring in Haunter to clean up from here. Mallow hands over the Green Petal, and Lana gives a blue one without even asking for a battle. A minor respite, but I'll take it.

Too Fiery For a Hydrant

Before I set out to the next part of the trial, at Wela Volcano Park, there's something I want to pick up first. In addition to fishing up Pokemon, Alola's fishing spots let me pick up items, and at the very same hole where I added Wishiwashi all that time back, it so happens that one of the available items is a Shell Bell. I figure that might prove useful here...on the very same fish now that it's added 26 levels. So, keep trying until I reel one of those in, climb the of the trial guides beside the gate to the stage actually gives me a heal here, which is nice rather than having to take another diversion to a center...and let's go.

The leads start out with Granbull and Arcanine exchanging Intimidates, mostly because I just wanted to make sure Arcanine's got wasted. Granbull isn't staying in, and I switch in Wishiwashi to take the predictable Flare Blitz. Funnily enough, Arcanine has two 80-power move options, but a resisted Flare Blitz turns out to outdamage them, so it continues to go for Flare Blitz against the known Wishiwashi this time, before getting OHKO'd by Aqua Tail. I knew Arcanine's EV spread was Atk/SpD, so the physical attack was called for, but I couldn't simply lead into that because of Intimidate, hence the slight roundabout play with Granbull. Shell Bell does heal back a decent chunk of afterward, like it's supposed to.

Talonflame shows up next, going for Brave Bird and knocking Wishiwashi down to 12 HP. It gets bopped, this time by Scald (so I don't risk tripping Flame Body, or the slight miss chance Aqua Tail has), and Shell Bell recovers...up to exactly 28/112. That's right on the border to 25% range, but it turns out the edge case isn't good enough, and Schooling pops up to go back to solo. Oh well, guess that didn't pay off...but then again, if not for the juicy Shell Bell recovery from Arcanine, Brave Bird would have been a KO before Wishiwashi could even move.

This leaves me with a solo fish (plus of course 5 on the bench) to deal with Marowak. Oddly, it gave up its Thick Club in favor of Firium Z, which gives an essentially identical boost to what Thick Club would, but only on one of its moves, and only once, but who am I to question why they made Kiawe the captain, and not, say, Hiker David? I could simply sack Wishiwashi to get Haunter in safely, which is the real endgame here, but there's more experience to be had if I can salvage it. So, Granbull on a Shadow Bone, Smeargle makes another Shadow Bone whiff, Litten tanks the Z-move but still takes about 75%, Golbat to whiff Bonemerang, Smeargle to whiff Shadow Bone again, and now that Kiawe no longer has a Z-move to pick, I can finally go to Haunter knowing all it has to take is a -1 Flame Wheel. Even if this burned it wouldn't be a problem, and Haunter outspeeds to OHKO back with Shadow Ball. That was a bigger hassle than it needed to be to get the Red Petal.

A bigger hassle indeed, as who else should show up afterward but the hiker for a comic relief battle, no chance to heal in between? Makes all the gratuitous extra damage taken to get Haunter into position against Marowak seem a lot less funny, for sure. Granbull is stuck leading, let's see if I can get a Bulldoze off...nope, outsped and KO'd by Lava Plume. Screw this then, let's just stick Haunter back in, fire off Destiny Bond. Get some money, which is all this battle is good for.

Grounded Circuit

The sixth petal requires me to go to Sophocles, whose entire team is double-weak to Ground. First, a little peek in the side room where the trial took place and a chance to play the bonus Charjabug puzzles. The first two puzzles can be done in just 3 button presses out of the allotted 4, and the last two have the same solution as each other, and I don't really need a PP Max regardless. Still, it's one more way to check off a bit of completionism in a run that's decidedly anti-completionist in its main aspiration.

The lead Togedemaru (backed by offensive EVs) is no slouch, hitting Granbull for over 50% with -1 Zing Zap before I can get back with a Bulldoze. As Bulldoze isn't a contact move, Spiky Shield would have simply wasted time, and Sophocles didn't see the need to bother. Togedemaru is also notable in that it's the only one of Sophocles's team that doesn't have Sturdy. Sure, it could have Sturdy if he wanted it, but...Iron Barbs seemed like a better idea? Worried about someone bringing Mudsdale and spamming High Horsepower, I guess? (Stomping Tantrum is another one of those move tutors that has to wait until the Battle Tree.)

Magnezone comes in and predictably makes Granbull blast off like Team Rocket with its Flash Cannon, so I can bring in Litten unscathed and Z-Flamethrower down to Sturdy range. Of course, it doesn't stay unscathed for long, succumbing to a single Discharge, but from 1 HP even a Smeargle can finish it off (with Foul Play, but even if we were still using Vice Grip, that would be enough). Last up is Golem, and faced with something that can hit this hard with no resists to it whatsoever, I figure it's Smeargle's turn to be the Destiny Bonder, claiming the Yellow Petal that way.

Afterward, it's off to the Aether House where Nanu hands over Acerola's petal without a battle, Now I just have to track down a petal from Cap'n Crunch, who we've already established is the captain of the dragon trial. Where could he be, the Thrifty Megamart perhaps? Wait, what do you mean this whole thing was just a prank call? Oh well, guess that means we don't have to prepare for tanking quite so many Crunches after all.

Golem ends up being a key milestone, as it's the 100th entry seen in the Pokedex. This trial actually has some differences in the script between versions: in Ultra Moon, Mallow and Sophocles are the ones who give their petals without battling, and you have to fight Lana and Nanu instead. In all, this results in a few changes: those players will not see Trevenant, Tsareena, Shiinotic, Magnezone, or Golem. Instead, they'll see Gumshoos from Ilima's team (which has evaded their eyes until now; note that Rattata still isn't seen in my dex), Lanturn and Cloyster from Lana, and even though Nanu was fought fairly recently and doesn't have a very big jump, he still changes up one team member and shows off Absol in his rematch battle here. In all, Moon players get to take a lead for the time being, with only 99 seen instead of 100.

Don't Trial This at Home

So, since it turns out we don't need a petal from Cap'n Crunch after all, and since asking us to go to a far-off region and get pedals from one of the bike shops there would have demanded more programming time than Game Freak was willing to budget for, we can go back to Mina's place, for the trial to end exactly where it started after making a circuitous tour of Alola. Her parents are seemingly A-OK with the idea of a giant bug opening the door, flying in, and serving as the totem boss in a battle that's sure to make quite a mess. Whatever floats their (house)boat, I guess.

I still have a bit of prep to do before I'll be ready to take this boss on. Ribombee, as we know, starts out with +2 everything, which will be eye-popping to a lot of players. For one thing, that gives it an almost untouchably fast speed of 316--to put that into perspective, if you went back into the wormhole (on Moon) to catch a Pheromosa, and found one that was perfectly equipped for max speed, you would still need to raise it twelve further levels, for a total advantage of 17 levels over the totem, before you could possibly gain the speed advantage over it. (Assuming you didn't go with the whole "enter the battle at low health so you can pop a Salac Berry" approach--Unburden Hawlucha could theoretically use that to outspeed from as low as level 28, but what the hell is it going to do with that?) And yes, I can't afford to let either Blissey or Pelipper come in, so just like all the other totems after the first one, there's no flexibility allowed--this has to be another one-turn battle against an opponent with these +2 boosts.

Game Freak did show mercy with this one, though. It's at a lower level than Ultra Necrozma, despite being later in the game. Ribombee isn't the most threatening species they could have thrown out there either--other than speed, Ribombee's +2 stats are worse than Necrozma's +1s. For the attacking stats, it doesn't even stack up to what Necrozma would have at +0--locking its attacking IVs to 1 each and forcing an Impish nature, when it only uses special attacks, is a bone they're willing to toss us. It only has Bug and Fairy moves, too, when there are three types (Fire, Poison, and Steel) that resist both of those, all three can hit back SE, and the item slot can only cover defensively against one of those weaknesses (they chose Fire, with Occa Berry). Not the most flexible thing in the world, at least when it comes to things other than flying artistically through somebody's house. And if Ribombee goes first, so what? Unless you're playing by no-damage rules, or doing something like a Deino solo run, you have access to plenty of Pokemon that can simply tank the boosted hit.

In fact, my level 50 Haunter looks to have a good shot to KO the totem, even with +2 stats and +5 levels, using Z-Sludge Bomb...if I can get its supporting EV bank all the way to max. And while it's a very tedious-sounding task, it's goofy enough that I just might go for it anyway. There's a type of facility in Festival Plaza called a "bouncy house" that can be used to quickly train EVs, but the type that's responsible for raising the attacking stats this way (called Thump-Bump Park) is exclusively given out to Moon-sided players if I want it at anything other than its weakest, slowest level (which hands out only 4 EVs per stat per day). Guess we're chaining Zorua again, then.

First things first, cap out the Calcium as far as it'll go. Now I have 152 points left to get, which is 76 Zorua with the bonus for being in an ongoing chain. Equip Haunter with the Shell Bell so that I'll have some sustenance against an ankle-biter with Pursuit as the chain goes on (it's only 2-3 HP drained from each KO, but still) I need to find a way to get Zorua down to the red to maximize the call rate despite everyone being 40 levels above them, and I know the perfect move for that. No, nobody can learn False Swipe here (not even Granbull)...but instead I've got 1-power Frustration! Throw in some Growls to offset the Leers Zorua will inevitably be using, and we're all set. I count off 36 out of the 40 attacking PP Haunter has, then use a Roto PP Restore, and figure this is as good a pit stop as any for switching sides before the original Zorua runs out of its own PP. Switch back out to use Growl and Frustration against a newly-called Zorua, then to Haunter again and force them to set their Leers all over again. This time, running out of PP will mean exactly 76 KOs, and sure enough the SpA stat ends up at 181, like I need it to be.

Now everything's all set, at least after healing up to full and changing out the item again. It's not quite a guarantee like the last trial was: with low rolls, Haunter's Z-move can fall short of a KO on +2 Ribombee. Besides that, there's also the possibility of Ribombee leading with Quiver Dance, and then I certainly don't have the power to break through +3 without a critical. Still, I don't think I need to go through the trouble of chipping away a few HP to get down to a particular number before the battle, like what helped with a couple of the earlier ones: since Ribombee is quite obviously faster already, it's not as prone to picking Quiver Dance (a move that, among other things, boosts speed even further) the way Marowak or Togedemaru can seem automatic to go for their protect moves if they can't sniff a KO. There's still a chance though, especially if I had led out with Eviolite Golbat where they figure they can't do much else that's productive. But this...

+2 Lvl 55 0- SpA Ribombee-Totem Dazzling Gleam vs. Lvl 50 6 HP / 7- SpD Haunter: 90-106 (77.5 - 91.3%) -- guaranteed 2HKO

...that's a moderately productive use of a move, right? Alas, it's not Moonblast with that chance for a SpA drop, and:

Lvl 50 252+ SpA Haunter Acid Downpour (175 BP) vs. +2 Lvl 55 100 HP / 158 SpD Ribombee-Totem: 152-180 (94.4 - 111.8%) -- 68.8% chance to OHKO

Finally Haunter actually gets to survive and play out that little scene where it celebrates victory over a totem. Sorry about that splotch of poison all over your wall, Mina. Hopefully it'll blend in with the rest of the paint you've got there. Oh, and is that Fairium Z for me? How nice!

Hapu, Fini

After all this experience on the island challenge, I've become well-versed in proud Alolan traditions. Like..."After you complete all the trials on an island, it's time for the grand trial." Or..."Every grand trial always adds exactly 3 to the seen count." Sure, Hapu changes it up a bit by using a team of 4, but one of them is Flygon which we were already forced to see at Vast Poni Canyon. The prophecy must hold!

Hapu wants to meet on the socially-distanced stage of Exeggutor Island for that final battle (and Exeggutor Island is specifically locked out of being a valid fly location until you beat her there), but first I've got a little errand to run. It's finally time to spend that BP I got all the way back on that first trip out from Melemele Island.

...Okay, back. Since I can't fly there yet, guess I'll have to get in the Magikarp boat again, change up a few things, and...take a deep breath, it's time for grand trial 4.

Hapu starts with Golurk, and I've got Wishiwashi. I don't think she expects Golurk to go first against a lot of things (EVs in HP/Atk), but Wishiwashi is one of those things; since Scald is only a 2HKO, that means two opportunities to use moves before Golurk faints. It goes for Stealth Rock into EQ, and some of the EQ damage gets healed off by Shell Bell but that still left a dent, considering how hard these things can hit.

Ah, going straight for her signature, the Mudsdale. (But of course, as it's the only other team member to carry a move with as much as 100 power.) It wants to secure this KO with Earthquake, even upgrading it to a Z-move for lots of juicy overkill...but whoops! Here's Haunter instead! Good thing I can't evolve it into Gengar, and had no taste for attempting to keep a chain going on Haunter at the ghost trial site, with this team, long enough to lure in a direct Gengar encounter at 1% odds and catch that without having to trade. Tectonic Rage would have hurt Gengar a lot more than it ended up hurting in reality, of course.

And Haunter also has a Z-move! Sure, Sludge Bomb isn't going to be useful in a match like this, but that falls into what I call the "flex slot": a slot where I can stick freely reteachable TMs over each other for whatever move suits the current purpose best. As opposed to writing new moves over the other slots, which aren't TMs and thus can't be relearned until I'm up on Mt. Lanakila. Or in Shadow Ball's case, it is...but I can't get that TM without seeing an unacceptable dex entry. So instead of Sludge Bomb, for this battle the honor of that slot goes to Energy Ball, a TM that I could only reach from the Machamp-locked cave in Lush Jungle. And by powering that up with Grassium Z, it's a OHKO even on the mighty Mudsdale.

Now Flygon comes out, the one thing that's already been registered, and the one thing on this team that carries Speed EVs. It also carries a couple other things: two empty moveslots, with its real moves being Earth Power and Dragon Breath. This gives rise to a technique I call AI-trap pivoting, as there are immunities to both of those moves. When A is out, they're only willing to pick moves that B is immune to, and vice versa: A can switch in to be immune to anything they'd willingly pick against B. They're so dismissive of the thought of picking a move that would be useless against the currently-presented opponent, not even just to mix it up a bit, that they never get out of this rut, and for certain movesets (especially ones like this where the designers put in blank slots just to make them less likely to use a "filler" move that doesn't keep the pressure on) they're easy to read 100% flawlessly.

I don't quite have a perfect trap pivot going here, for one reason: Golurk managed to get rocks up against me back on turn 1, so each switch costs some HP even though they're immune to all the moves. Granbull wouldn't be able to survive all the switches I would need it to take to pull this off. Enter...the errand I was talking about earlier, spending that BP. Granbull comes in to waste a Dragon Breath, Golbat wastes an Earth Power (taking 25% chip damage), and stays in to take Flygon's second Dragon Breath. It gets the paralyze, but not an immediate FP, so as a result Golbat gets to use its new tutor move: Defog!

Now the rest of the pivoting does get to be perfect, with no further damage. I do have to make sure to count everything off, but it's not hard by any means. Golbat comes in to waste the 10th Earth Power, followed by one more switch to Granbull. Flygon now has nothing but 8 Dragon Breaths left, so there's no point in Hapu staying in against this, which she doesn't...making a PP-stall switch to Gastrodon instead, as her only other bench option. But of course I knew this as well, and call for my own switch back to Haunter. It doesn't need a Z-move to KO Gastrodon with Energy Ball (cue a voice from offstage: "Well good, because it doesn't have one left!")

As you can guess, it's right back to Granbull to witness Flygon's final, feeble effort, with nowhere left to run. I could tease her even longer if I wanted to, but it's more convenient for everyone, myself included, if I just put them out of their misery with a Play Rough 2HKO.

It's almost wistful now, looking back and seeing no more grand trials left to conquer in the whole region. Just one really tall mountain. The Pokedex looks like it's become downright pudgy with all these entries swelling it out to triple digits, and--knowing what waits at the top of that mountain--the outlook's only getting more morbid from there.

After 8 Trials and 4 Grand Trials
Pokedex Seen: 103 (Owned: 10)
Team -
Wishiwashi L51 (Scald/Bulldoze/Aqua Tail/Tearful Look)
Haunter L51 (Destiny Bond/Night Shade/Energy Ball/Shadow Ball)
Golbat L50 (Wing Attack/U-turn/Defog/Haze)
Litten L50 (Flare Blitz/Flamethrower/U-turn/Growl)
Granbull L48 (Bulldoze/Roar/Brick Break/Play Rough)
Smeargle L48 (Leech Seed/Poison Gas/Destiny Bond/Foul Play)

Boxed -
Ekans L46 (Glare/Acid Spray/Stockpile/Sludge Wave)
Grubbin L36 (X-Scissor/Thunder Wave/Mud-Slap/Volt Switch)
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Identity After Crisis

So Lanakila is supposedly opened up now, but I go there and of course the lift is missing. Oh, here it comes back down, with a passenger conveniently enough. Huh--Gladion? What kind of reason does he have for coming down the mountain, let alone with this impeccable timing? Turns out he just wants to thank me for saving Lillie and Lusamine, and the way it occurs to him to express that thanks if by forcing a battle on me. Adding more dex entries, like his lead, Crobat.

Now, I'd love to be able to thank him for giving me this Master Ball, by proceeding to chuck said ball at the Crobat 10 straight turns, long enough for it to solo my whole team, but that won't do. Unlike last time against Gladion, this is a battle I am required to win. That means by the end of it, I'll be stuck with not just Crobat but everyone else too. It's like everyone who's ever been around Team Skull can't seem to make up their mind about whether it's okay for them to win. No rhyme or reason, I tell you.

Well then, chance of plans. We have to figure out some way of actually beating this team. Gladion happens to be very one-dimensional with his team building, as everyone has Speed EVs as well as whichever attacking stat they aim to use, so we can expect to see a fast-paced battle in general. I'll start with Granbull to get the Intimidate down and lure a Cross Poison, which Haunter can take comfortably despite how frail it is, the power of double resistance.

No good challenge run would be complete without its obligatory Sticky Barb cameo (an item available from the Poni Island fishing spots), so here it is, clinging to Crobat in retaliation. My goal here isn't so much the chip damage, as making sure that Crobat is holding some kind of item; as nobody here can plausibly outspeed Crobat, this is the only way to do it without getting a move in. Crobat's only other move is Acrobatics, which is what it's inclined to use here, so by foisting an item upon it, that move's power is now cut in half--basically the same as sticking three more Intimidates on it at the same time. Those ghosts sure are tricky, huh. Or is it "these barbs sure are sticky"? Line?

Whatever it is, Haunter gets to survive not only the -1 Cross Poison, but what amounts to a -4 Acrobatics as well, so it gets a turn to use one move of its own. And while I didn't expect it to work so nicely, one Psychic (out of the "flex slot") from Haunter, plus two turns of Sticky Barb damage, is just enough to knock Crobat out of the skies. After that, it says "Pokemon Trainer Gladion sent out Lucario!" Specifically, a level 53 Lucario.

I mentioned earlier that in the Aether Paradise multi battles with Hau, players who chose Rowlet (and therefore give him Popplio) strangely get to cause Raichu's Electric move to be different than it is on the other two starters' teams. Here, too, there's a strange quirk in your starter choice, which defies explanation. Rowlet and Popplio starters will cause Gladion's Lucario to be level 53 in this battle, while players who chose Litten--and only those players--have to deal with Lucario at level 55 instead. But hold on here, why is Lucario level 53? Did Team Skull use sleight-of-hand to switch around my starter when no one was looking? Well, no, what's going on is that the Lucario is really Zoroark. If a Zoroark and its "costume" have different levels, then Zoroark's true level is shown throughout. For example, if you see a Team Preview screen in a wifi battle where the opponent has level 100 Zoroark and level 1 Rattata, but they send out what appears to be a level 100 Rattata, then that illusion wasn't very convincing, and you'll be able to see right through it immediately as long as you're aware of how the relevant mechanic works. So on the downside, Litten players have to deal with two extra levels on Lucario in this specific battle, but on the upside, that asymmetry (combined with Lucario being listed fourth on his team) means they alone get a bit of extra prize money, and get to have this method to tell apart Zoroark before it ever uses a move. It was pretty obvious anyway, as long as you're familiar with his team's moves...with Haunter being the current feature presentation after the first KO, were you really expecting to see the genuine Lucario, with 50-power Metal Claw as the only move Haunter isn't immune to?

Back in the first Gladion battle, we learned that using passive damage to dispose of Zorua without letting the illusion break, wasn't a successful means of keeping its dex entry undiscovered. Fresh off that experiment, then, I don't have to attempt the same type of gymnastics now that it's hitting a lot harder. And just as well, because Zoroark is extremely prone to breaking its own illusion, as a result of Gladion making it his Z-move user. In a decision that must have been intentional, and was probably added to this team so that players would have a sort of tutorial available for this exact mechanic, a Pokemon with an intact illusion will automatically unmask itself prior to using a Z-move. If I had to get it to keep the illusion from breaking in spite of this mechanic, that would essentially force me to have to reconfigure my battle route to keep Granbull as the active Pokemon at every KO boundary, as Zoroark would rather use Night Daze (making it strongly susceptible to upgrading to Z) against anybody else. Think of it as a much more unfortunate form of Pursuit trapping, without even needing the move Pursuit.

But since I'm stuck with Zoroark in the dex now anyway, regardless of what happens, it's fine that Zoroark really, really wants to use Night Daze against this tasty low-health Haunter. And since no one else can afford to take this hit, I have to let it (or else sack off someone else). I'll go ahead and click Destiny Bond just on the 1% chance that they choose not to take the Z-move and get a natural miss from Night Daze, but no dice. At least Granbull comes in pristine, fires another Intimidate that's useless this time, and tanks Hyper Voice before OHKOing back with Play Rough after the illusion has already been broken.

Lucario shows up again, but this time it's the real thing, at level 55. This calls for a straightforward switch to Wishiwashi on the Metal Claw, and it's still healthy enough to take two more Aura Spheres from there, 2HKOing with Bulldoze in return. It does drop down to solo form at the end of the turn, leaving it dead weight for the rest of the battle, but now the rest of the battle is just Silvally, calibrated against my starter type so with a Water Memory in this case.

I don't have any good coverage for water, and its bulk is still pretty decent, and Multi-Attack still hits hard (but at least it's only 90 power here, instead of the 120 it was increased to in Sw/Sh). So I'll need to wrangle something together, a plan that's helped as Silvally tries to go for X-Scissor as the finishing blow on what turns out to be a switch to Golbat, and does barely anything. Eviolite Golbat is tough enough to survive a Multi-Attack, allowing a slow U-turn to Granbull, then switch off to sack Wishiwashi so Granbull comes right back. One more sack to get Smeargle in at full health, and I now have the benchmark I'm looking for. Silvally needs to be at -2 before its Multi-Attack is too weak to OHKO Smeargle, meaning I can put up Destiny Bond and no matter what move Gladion orders now, it can't help but finish off and spring the trap (well, unless it's a Crush Claw miss, but AI logic doesn't make those kinds of leaps when it comes to playing around a known, active Destiny Bond).

This battle wasn't all downside, at least: because Gladion used Crobat, when Golbat says it's evolving at the end of the battle, I can finally stop pressing B for it! This means the Eviolite passes on, to...Litten (what, you think it's really going to do anything for Haunter, the only other remaining NFE on the team?) Still, four entries from one battle, ouch. Haven't had that since Faba 2, and that was painful enough.

One More Ice Block

Now the next stop is to turn right back around to heal, and make a genuine attempt up the mountain this time. Just like in Vast Poni Canyon, there's an unavoidable trainer right by the entrance. It's Ace Trainer Seth, who uses Scyther and Malamar. The decision to put Eviolite on Litten proves fortunate here, as it can tank an Air Slash and a Night Slash from Scyther to take that down. It doesn't have enough HP left to handle Malamar from there, using its forced Contrary Superpower gimmick, but Crobat deals a huge chunk with U-turn and the trainer goes by without a problem.

It's time for one last Roto Stealth, to sneak my way up the mountain cave with the help of Machamp. Along the way, what's this crater doing here...hi Necrozma! Bye Necrozma! Let's just leave it alone, even though it's safe to encounter. And while I have 17 typed Z-crystals right now (along with the specialized ones for Lycanroc and Incineroar), the 18th will have to remain off-limits, as the path to it (as well as to the Ice Beam TM, sadly) is blocked off by an optional trainer whose sight covers the entire width of that path.

The next mandatory trainer here is another Ace Trainer, Jada, who has Vanilluxe and Mismagius. The only difficult thing about this battle is that I want to intentionally sack off all but one of my team members over the course of the battle, and they only use standard level-up moves. For Vanilluxe, this means Ice Beam/Acid Armor/Mirror Coat/Hail, while Mismagius runs an even jankier set of Astonish/Psywave/Spite/Growl (the perils of having trainers use default level-up sets on stone evolutions, making an embarrassment of themselves ever since Gary's Exeggutor). It's a long slog waiting for enough Psywaves to hit, but I'm finally down to just Haunter left, who can put it away with Shadow Ball and not have to worry about much despite the faster opponent, that's how nonthreatening Mismagius's set is even in a ghost vs. ghost mirror. The Roto Stealth expires at the end of the battle, as expected.

After a regular Repel for the finishing stretch, we arrive at the reason for that odd behavior: there's a pair of menacing-looking trainers right by the cave exit. There's no way to get far enough away on the bottlenecked path to avoid their line of sight, and no alternative path around them. This is the single spot in the entire game where there's a double battle blocking further progress and "have only one healthy Pokemon on hand" is the mandatory technique needed to bypass it. As these trainers would otherwise bring a lot of nasty stuff like Tyranitar, it's a good thing they insist on fighting as a pair, and won't engage with my solo Haunter. One more grass patch after the cave is all that separates me from the second lift, and the last Pokemon Center in the game!

Prep's Cool

Up here I can finally access the move relearner, if there were any old moves I wanted to get back. Upon further inspection, there aren't really, and as for the guys at the Poke Mart counter, they don't seem to have gotten the message from atop their snow-colored tower: if it comes from a Poke Mart, and isn't a Repel or TM, I don't need it.

As I keep ascending, I get to pass by Veteran Aristo (the "route boss boss", who's impossible to unlock on your first trip even if you haven't been skipping so many trainers because one of the required route bosses is in Poni Plains), and keep going up until Kukui, unbuttoned shirt and all, welcomes me to the Pokemon League in the midst of an endless snowstorm. Since Litten is still in my party, this is followed by an "inspiration moment" where it pops out of the Poke Ball to have a face-to-face cutscene where we supposedly reflect back on how far we've come.

That last cutscene is implemented in a pretty neat way. Obviously, they expect most players who still have their starter this far in the game to have it fully evolved, in which case Incineroar shows up in the scene, but it works just fine with Litten as well (the line of text they speak is also different depending on evolutionary stage, in this case "Mrowr!" vs. "Mrawrrr!" vs. "Rawrrr!") How they actually keep track of this is...of course the game has a flag to check which starter I originally picked, which is used multiple times, for example to disambiguate which team should be pulled out for trainers like Hau or Gladion to use. But there's another field the game also saves at the time I choose a starter, which makes note of the random 32-bit encryption constant that gets assigned to that starter. This value is only used for the purpose of this cutscene right now, and when the player gets to this point, the game scans their party to see if any of the Pokemon have an EC that matches the previously noted value and is in the correct starter's evolutionary line. In the event that a player somehow ends up hitting a 1-in-4-billion collision to catch another Pokemon with the same EC, or (more likely) simply edits that EC onto a different Pokemon like Wishiwashi, the cutscene won't play for that. It also won't play if I have a Litten with a matching EC but it's in an unhatched egg--they thought about that much, and really didn't want to have to render anything other than their nine approved Pokemon models into this scene. If I had a starter from another source, like the Pokemon Bank HA event or its offspring, the game would (almost always) know via the EC-check method that it isn't my "real" starter, the one I've come so far with, so wouldn't grant me a cutscene for that either.

But enough about meaningless cutscenes. We're right on the doorstep of the league, and the door guards are telling me "You may pass!" as though they're giving play-calling advice to the Seahawks at the end of Super Bowl XLIX. Rather than indulge that advice right away, since I can't leave the place partway through, I'd better take assessment of what I have.

All the opponents I'm going to face at the league have full focused EVs in two stats each, so it would make sense to get our own EVs in order. By dutifully harvesting the Route 10 berry tree each day, I've amassed quite a few EV-reduction berries that I can use to get rid of points in places I don't need them and have more points to put in stats that are important. Certainly, someone like Haunter has little use for anything besides SpA/Spe, but for Litten (especially if I want to make Eviolite work somehow) I can afford to have it be more well-rounded and just feed vitamins up to the various caps. A vitamin spread also means fewer SOS chains I have to track down.

One other piece of prep I might want to do here: After Ultra Necrozma, I still have 5 Revives left. It stands to reason that with double Destiny Bond featured on the team, I might well be driven to make use of strats that require them to be revived, between battles if nothing else. Interestingly, there is a way to access the PC even when I'm stuck in the depths of the league chambers: by opening up the Battle Video menu and attempting to mock a battle, I get the option to choose a team to use: either a QR-code team (a feature that will never work on this file, as it doesn't have a Game Sync ID to decrypt the individualized codes), or the party, or one of up to six battle teams. At this screen, I also have the option of pressing Y to arrange my PC boxes, and shift things around onto the various battle teams. Unfortunately, the right-side pane there is locked to the battle teams; there's no way to put the party there, which means I can't cycle everyone from the party in and out of boxes to get free healing whenever I want, or to change up my team between battles.

I could get some more Revives, then...or, somewhat more obliquely, a Rare Candy can be used as an out-of-battle Revive (especially if I'm going to be healing up the HP anyway after that). The Rare Candy has the advantages of also helping me catch up a bit closer to them in levels (my team is currently at 49-53, while the Elite Four use 56-57), and being plentifully available as a reward from the Battle Agency every time I go up a grade. Plus, I also want to get my Festival Plaza rank up to 30 so I can unlock some extra purchase options after beating this very league,'s Agency time, where the Pokedex remains blissfully ignorant of everything!

Some tips about the Battle Agency:
  • The opposing trainers you face are equivalent to those who can appear that the Battle Tree, based on your current grade. For instance, at grade 3, you can only face trainers who would be eligible to show up if you had a 3-win streak in the tree, and were therefore heading into battle #4, such as Preschooler Kendra or Punk Guy Scoop. They do differ in one aspect, though: at tree, those early-introduction trainers have the small handicap of being saddled with a 19 IV tier, but at Agency everyone has all 31s, all the time. Also, the special trainers like Cynthia or Wally aren't eligible to appear in Agency, so on grades ending in 9 you instead get trainers from the previous grade's eligibility list, followed by the boss on the last battle before moving up a grade: either Sophocles if you haven't yet been to Episode RR, or Giovanni if you have.
  • The board refreshes with three new selections at midnight each day, or after you complete a set of 3 battles, or after you pay 10 FC at a Switcheroo facility to get a reshuffle. If you had already rented a Pokemon off a previous state of the board, you can still elect to go forward with that, except that after a set win that causes you to move up a grade (which, for the first 10 grades, is every set win), you're forced to relinquish the Pokemon that no longer matches your grade, and pick a new one.
  • Occasionally you might see a set on the board that has a blank item slot. What this really means is a set that should have its mega stone, but you haven't played far enough into the postgame to fight Dexio in the battle where he gives you the Key Stone (and on this particular file, I'm never going to). However, the trainers you team up with (even if they're nameless Festival Fans) can still bring mega sets, and these will have their stones, and you can power up to mega evolve them even if you haven't been to that Dexio battle that allows you to use mega stones for your own sets.
  • Whatever set you pick off the board will have maximum happiness, so the ten possible sets with Return (there are no Frustration sets) will get full power from your own chosen Pokemon. Your team-up partners (both Festival Fans and real players alike) are significantly less happy, as they only get the species default value on the Pokemon they lend to you. That means if you try to use Return with one of their Pokemon, it'll only have 28 power (with the sole exception of Ambipom, whose default is 100 and therefore gets 40 power).
  • In higher grades, where it takes multiple sets to move up a grade, there are also random weather conditions, and eventually terrain conditions, that get cycled through each day; the specified effect will last for the first 8 turns of every battle you partake in that day. I believe, but haven't yet fully documented, that if a weather is in effect and you're not already at grade 50, the board gives a bias to selecting Pokemon that synergize with that weather, or perhaps only for shuffles caused by a Switcheroo facility; the obvious way it would make sense to implement this is by looking up the rosters of the many tree trainers who have weather specialty as their overt theme (like Rising Star Sorley or Dancer Variel for rain), and pretend it's drawing a team for one of those while putting the board together. I don't think I'll go all the way to grade 10 here, so this facet is inconsequential to the current challenge, though I might explore it as a bread-crumb trail after the challenge is over.
  • Yes, there are ways to arrange to meet up with someone in-game for the primary purpose of borrowing their rental when you know they have something like Grade 50 Mega Salamence which can singlehandedly tow you through the first half of the Agency challenge with its own raw power and level advantage alone. As this file is remaining offline-only, I have to make do with the grade-0 fans, who lag further behind the opponents as I move further along, forcing me to rely on my own pick (the only one that keeps pace with their levels) for more of the heavy lifting, and there are only so many sets that can appear on the board to plausibly go 1v9 against a trio of opposing teams.

I'm still at the point where my teammates' 50s are going up against the opponents' 54-55 range, which isn't out of reach by any means, as I can personally attest from the progress I've had to make so far in the main game itself. There is an awkward run-in where my Starmie had its Focus Sash tripped and next up was a Toxicroak who had both Fake Out and Sucker Punch to box it out of further participation, and both of my teammates' Pokemon had nothing but resisted moves. I ended up having to use Z-Toxic on Virizion just for the defense boost, knowing it wouldn't do anything to Toxicroak, but reducing the damage from Brick Break enough that, combined with its zealous insistence on using Taunt at every possible opportunity, slowed down its performance enough in the damage race that resisted moves alone could get there. Chalk up a few more Rare Candies, a bunch more FC, as well as plaza rank 30, and I can finally get back out of there and into the real world again.

Scaredy Cat

It's an enthralling question, which of the Elite Four do I want to handle first? After a good amount of theorycrafting--and practicecrafting--against the different options, it looks like Acerola has the most reliable method for taking her on right now. No need to be afraid of ghosts, or put them off until later.

The match starts out simple: Banette vs. Smeargle. Banette has a Feint Attack all the way down into low yellow, but Smeargle retaliates with Foul Play for 100%. If only life were always that easy for Smeargle. Alas, it very seldom is, as Froslass gets to be second due to Blizzard. Though...for a ghost trainer, Acerola seems pretty willing to walk Froslass out there to meet...its nightmare.

Ice Shard, Blizzard, Shadow Ball, Confuse Ray. No one's immune to ice, but I can at least go for a half-trap pivot here. Smeargle actually starts out low enough on health that Froslass goes for Ice Shard on the first couple switches to Wishiwashi, so I have to get Granbull in a couple times for the Intimidates to weaken Ice Shard so it's not in KO range anymore. The Blizzards are the only real threat; Wishiwashi can survive three of them, Litten comfortably tanks one, and one missed. Now Smeargle obviously takes nothing switching in on Shadow Ball or Confuse Ray, and even on the half of the trap that's dealing damage, the damage only amounts to Froslass Ice Shards with several attack drops, which is pathetically weak.

Finally I get to a point where Froslass has nothing left but 8 Ice Shard PP. Litten comes in, make that 7. And after that cutscene, it's time for a real look back. What was the first TM I got? That's right, it's also the first one in numeric order: Work Up, way back at the Trainers' School. And it turns out...Litten can learn Work Up. Froslass can only keep using those feeble Ice Shards while we set up, and it looks like Acerola is well on her way to getting swept by an Eviolite Litten that's five levels down (with a Gentle nature!) The setup finishes just in time to achieve massive overkill on Froslass with a jet of fire on the same turn it uses its final Ice Shard.

Palossand would normally be extremely threatening to Litten, OHKOing with Earth Power even through Eviolite. The problem is, it's too slow. And while Froslass was flailing away, seemingly in vain, that Blizzard and all the Ice Shards were actually accomplishing something. They add up to drop Litten into Blaze range. Even at +6, Litten's Flamethrower can't KO Palossand from full health without Blaze, but when we do have it, it's just enough to be a guarantee. Dhelmise? Puh-leeze, anchor yourself to the nearest chair and sit down.

Finally there's Drifblim, and...I guess we can't have Litten blow through everything that easily, as Drifblim is actually faster. If I wanted to, I could have adapted my plan for Drifblim, deleting Flare Blitz in favor of Flame Charge to get a speed boost. But that's not to say I can't still adapt my plan. See, Drifblim has only one attacking move, and it's Ominous Wind--it's mainly a support set, designed to Baton Pass Agility, Focus Energy, and (if it's lucky) maybe an Ominous Wind boost to its teammates. But now there are no more teammates, so all I have to do is switch to Smeargle, and Drifblim can do absolutely nothing. It has such a huge PP supply, too, that Struggle isn't even remotely on the horizon.

And all that damage that Banette dealt with Feint Attack on the first turn? Such a distant memory, as Smeargle just has to use Leech Seed and suck up gobs of Drifblim's HP. Rather than wasting more Foul Play PP, I'm in a position now where I can unleash a barrage of Poke Balls purely to kill time while Drifblim's health gets sapped away. Acerola uses one Full Restore, then another. It doesn't matter, Full Restore won't get rid of Leech Seed, and there's not a damn thing Drifblim nor Acerola can do about it. Forget Froslass, sounds like Drifblim is living the real nightmare.

Finally, when there are no Full Restores left and Drifblim is sitting perilously at 2/250 HP, rather than make the balloon pop with Foul Play and take Aftermath damage, I figure it's time for one more switch to the real hero of the battle: Litten. Leech Seed takes the final bit of health at the end of the turn, and..."Mrowr!" Well said.

When it comes to healing up the team after a battle, it probably doesn't make much a difference overall, but there's a minor performance edge to doing out-of-battle healing from the bottom up, i.e. using your weakest healing items first. That means Oran Berries, then Potions/Berry Juice, then Fresh Water...That way, I save the high-end stuff for the heat of battle, where it matters how much impact you can get from the item in a single turn.

Second Wind

One down, so now I have to figure out who should go next. Nobody stands out as being quite so pivotable as Acerola's Froslass, and in fact I don't have a single Rock or Flying resist whatsoever on my team. Still, I go for Kahili's room and let her introduce herself in more detail than on that mad dash into Ten Carat Hill where I was in a hurry and she appeared out of nowhere to give the flying Z-dance.

All I can do against her lead Braviary is put Granbull in for the Intimidate (this one has Sheer Force, not Defiant). Turn 1 features a pointless stroke of good luck as Granbull puts up a Quick Claw Thunder Wave, not that it changes the outcome of my turn. From there, I have to use my best physical tanks, Granbull and Wishiwashi, to brace themselves against a storm of more Brave Birds while they put down more Intimidates and Tearful Looks to weather the storm (Braviary also has Air Slash on the special side, so Tearful Look discourages it from switching to that and rendering further Intimidates moot). Full paralysis turns buy me some time along the way, and even after significant stat drops, the bird is hitting hard enough that I have to heal a couple times...but while the Elite Four are using Full Restores as their items of choice, I'm up here with Moomoo Milk. Could there be sponsorship dollars secretly changing hands here? I won't tell.

The nice thing about Brave Bird is it chips away Braviary's own health without me having to do much to it. When it gets down to around 1/3, that's my cue to send in Haunter, who can now survive one last Brave Bird taking about 40%, and outspeed the paralyzed Braviary to KO with Psychic. The usage of Psychic is no deterrent to Kahili sending out Hawlucha next--Haunter would even have a OHKO against Hawlucha thanks to Expert Belt, but Hawlucha is faster and threatens with Throat Chop.

Okay then, so it's back to Granbull to tank that, but Hawlucha also has Poison Jab, so right back to Haunter. This isn't even a half-trap--I'm taking damage on both sides of the revolving door, but at least it's a very limited amount of damage, and with each loop sticking a further Intimidate, only getting less each time. My aim is to weaken Hawlucha enough that Granbull can survive a further Poison Jab even when Kahili finally gets to hit the intended target for once, and use Thunder Wave again (no help from the Quick Claw this time). Then back to Haunter for another Poison Jab, and this time Haunter is of course much faster, so the Psychic KO can go off properly.

Mandibuzz comes out to scare Haunter off--sure, I could pop a Destiny Bond right here and be rid of Mandibuzz's high bulk, but I think I can hang onto the Revives once again and skip making a sack. It's time to run Operation Nerf again, and the good thing about Mandibuzz being so bulky is it doesn't have as much left to devote to the offensive stats, so its Brave Birds are much weaker than Braviary's. I do have to use another heal to get Granbull back healthy to contribute, but Litten even gets to help out with a Growl of its own! Unfortunately, the sack-free nature of the battle plan doesn't hold up, as Crobat gets snuffed out of the aerial dogfight by a critical Brave Bird while it was trying to tank some hits.

Granbull finally gets a critical of its own, with Play Rough to finish off Mandibuzz (after getting confused by Flatter), and...bleh. Sure, Smeargle notably levels up to 51 here and takes a new instance of Sketch to overwrite Poison Gas, but just...bleh. Now I'm out of position as the ace, Toucannon, comes in: I can't switch Granbull in to stick an Intimidate when it's already in. So instead, I leave it out as Kahili busts out the Z-move, which KOs Granbull from nearly full thanks to its unhindered Attack stat at -0. Two KOs against me in this battle, and neither of them are the Destiny Bond users.

Time for Wishiwashi to clean up, and time to take advantage of shoddy AI once again. See, this Toucannon has Skill Link Bullet Seed which is hugely threatening, even to Wishiwashi. But no one ever told Kahili about that. You see, when trainer AI evaluates their moves to determine which one is the best bet, or which moves are in KO range, multi-hit moves like Bullet Seed and Rock Blast get looked at by only considering the damage of a single hit. Even if the user has Skill Link, that doesn't key it in to any kind of modification to that logic. They still make the same gaffe: "Bullet Seed? Hm, let's look in the move data table, that's...25 power! Super effective, so double it to 50. Why would I want to use that, then, instead of Beak Blast with 100 power and STAB to boot?"

In fact, Toucannon doesn't see itself as having a KO right now, so it goes for the setup move in Screech, while Wishiwashi Scalds into the yellow. Now it does see a KO, and Toucannon has a higher speed (just like pretty much everything compared to Wishiwashi). But here's where that multi-hit move logic costs her dearly, as instead of taking the KO with Bullet Seed, Kahili tries to get it with Beak Blast. Which is...a negative priority move, so it can't hit until Wishiwashi finishes off the Scald 2HKO. (I definitely don't want to use Aqua Tail here, both because of the miss chance and the needless burn trigger from Beak Blast's side effect.)

After Shell Bell recovers Wishiwashi all the way to full, Kahili only has Oricorio left, and the fire-type form no less. All it can try is a desperate gamble with Teeter Dance, hoping that confusion into -2 Defense pays off, but no luck. Halfway to powering up the final teleporter! I have to use up two of the five Revives, and restore everyone's HP, before we keep going and find another room.

Steel of Fortune

Only two rooms left, and I have to deal with everyone at some point. So I'll let Molayne be third, simply because that was the roadmap I managed to figure out sooner. If only the roadmaps always worked as planned and we never had to make detours for construction or anything, huh?

His lead Klefki is notoriously annoying particularly for players trying to sweep through the league quickly for experience or money: able to paralyze you with Thunder Wave or set up Reflect to guard against Earthquake spam or such, with Prankster priority to avoid caring about how fast you are, unless you're using one of a specific few sweepers that don't care about that nonsense. As for the current battle? Sure, it can do all that stuff, but as far as attacking moves...10 PP of Flash Cannon. That's it. Sounds like the ideal opportunity for Wishiwashi to float in front of the similarly floating keychain and troll it right back.

Granted, our brand of trolling consists of spamming Tearful Look, so the Flash Cannons deal even less damage, then passing the time with more Poke Ball chucking to avoid consuming any resources. I considered working in a plan for Smeargle to sketch Spikes off this Klefki, but the timing of getting a successful Sketch in against a Prankster opponent is way too finicky and easily disrupted, plus I don't really want to get into a Spikes war when I can only clear them away with Defog, which also clears theirs at the same time. Ultimately I deemed it not necessary.

After a careful tracking of Flash Cannon PP, I counted to 9, then on the turn where Klefki was scheduled to use #10, pulled out a Paralyze Heal to cure the Thunder Wave, and the timing worked out nicely enough that Reflect even expired on the same turn. I've seen opponents who run out of attacking PP sometimes choose to stay in for one more turn, especially if they have a desirable field effect like Reflect that they're encouraged to set, but here there's nothing of the sort. Klefki leaves immediately, meaning Wishiwashi can get a free Bulldoze on the switch against...Dugtrio?

In planning out the battle on practice runs, Magnezone usually showed up here and ate a big chunk from the Bulldoze. I'm not sure why Molayne opted for Dugtrio this time instead of Magnezone, but it might have something to do with one of Dugtrio's moves being Fissure. Fissure is listed as a 1-power move in the database, but while most 1-power moves get read as 80 for the purposes of the Forewarn ability (and possibly as a shortcut in other places), OHKO moves get read as 150 by Forewarn. A 150 estimate still wouldn't be enough to overcome the 90 x 2 readout from super effective Thunderbolt, but there might be something else wonky going on, perhaps relating to a 30% chance to simulate a Fissure accuracy check (or even a 32% chance if they really wanted to stay true in this case, as Dugtrio has a 2-level advantage on Wishiwashi). Whatever the motivation is, Dugtrio took an even bigger chunk from Bulldoze than Magnezone was normally taking, up around 80%.

This obviously portends an Earthquake coming, if not a Fissure (or perhaps a Full Restore depending on what his range is), so it's off to Crobat to neutralize that, and indeed it's EQ. Now even with the level disadvantage, Crobat has no problem outspeeding -1 Dugtrio, and since it had been casually holding onto the Flyinium Z ("just in case") ever since it evolved and relinquished its Eviolite, now would be a great time to actually use the Z move, sufficient to finish off Dugtrio as long as Molayne doesn't heal. Indeed he doesn't, but he does throw me for a bit of a loop again by pulling Sucker Punch, apparently just so that Dugtrio at least gets some damage down, rather than using Iron Head or Z-Iron Head. Oh well, the Sucker Punch isn't too bad, we can live with that.

Now is when Magnezone makes its appearance,, Crobat can't live with that, not really. Back in the captains' gauntlet for Mina's trial, I made note that Moon players got to take a 1-point dex lead due to the different configuration of captains that want to battle. One of them is Sophocles, who only battle Ultra Sun players and pulls out a Magnezone there; since both versions have to battle Molayne, Magnezone is a new one here on the Ultra Moon side only, so this is where those players lose their lead. As for Crobat, meh...I decide to blow away the spikes with Defog, knowing it's a pure sack job with the huge Thunderbolt coming, because it's not like anyone else could have fared much better on the switch.

Magnezone still has Sturdy intact, and is still highly threatening, so I guess we'll have to go for the quick and dirty solution. Haunter, get in there, for Destiny Bond of course. Sure, it cost two slots just to take down Magnezone, but the price is well worth it for how threatening that thing can be when it doesn't walk right into the Bulldoze, and at least I got rid of the spikes at the same time. So now it's...back to Wishiwashi, and Molayne sends out...Bisharp (Huh? Not Metagross? Zen Headbutt's 80 is greater than Night Slash's 70, with Haunter being the last known opponent...does the concept of last known opponent change when double KOs are a factor?)

Bisharp does have Defiant here, so Granbull would have been a terrible play, and attempting to use Tearful Look would be even worse. Fortunately, Wishiwashi has the 2HKO with 2x Scald, or even Scald + Bulldoze (just remember not to do it the other way around!) Bisharp makes things even easier for us by picking the dubious Metal Sound on one of its turns--bearing in mind that there are exactly zero usable special attacks left on his team at this point. Does Molayne simply use a lower AI level than the rest of the Elites?

Anyway, that leaves Metagross last. No sense trying to slow it down with Bulldoze, or fire off more Tearful Looks; Clear Body says enough to that nonsense. So instead, I can only try fishing for a burn with Scald, unsuccessfully, but at least getting Metagross into the yellow while it fires back with a couple hits to trigger Schooling range.

A Wishiwashi that's low enough on health to be in solo form, can understandably be sniped by Bullet Punch despite the resist. But what wouldn't be Bullet Punch fodder...oh, how about Eviolite Litten? Even with the Zen Headbutt the following turn (owing to Metagross's 97-94 speed advantage), there's no flinch, so Litten can wrap up yet another battle with Blaze-boosted Flamethrower. This cat is on fire!

Stage E-4: Beauty

There's not really a choice now. After the usual healing, I'm down to 1 Revive left, plus the makeshift revives of Rare Candies which have thus far been unnecessary. Shuffle around some moves, items too, and now we're ready for Olivia. "The most delicious bite for last," as she puts it, but don't go trying to sink your teeth into a rock as that wouldn't be tasty at all.

Olivia still has her fossils from the grand trial battle, only now they've evolved. Armaldo is out first, another battle that's fit for Wishiwashi to answer it. Only this time the answer is different: take about 40% from X-Scissor, then fire away with a huge Scald to...hang on, that didn't KO? Left it with a sliver? Oh well, that does put her solidly in "urgent Full Restore" range so I can try again for free, and this time it's a higher damage roll that does get it done. I can't imagine how Olivia having wasted a Full Restore for nothing is going to be a major help for the battle, but then again it can't possibly hurt my position.

Okay then, it's the other fossil, Cradily, ready to take advantage of that type weakness. It's not really offense-oriented, either in base stats or in the EV spread Olivia decided to use with it, but Wishiwashi stays in on its first Energy Ball to take about 50% and go deep into the red. This would send it to Schooling range at the end of the turn...except that it's holding a Wiki Berry to gain the 50% HP right back! Then, it's all aboard the Tearful Look train, getting that vital first usage in.

Now in its weakened state, Cradily decides it would rather take the opportunity to use Stealth Rock (hmmm...) than attack again, meaning it's at -2 for that next attack. I end up with 4 Tearful Looks before Wishiwashi is into Schooling for real this time, enough that on the switch to Crobat, it takes 25% from rocks...and then just 5 damage from another Energy Ball. Pffft. Cradily also has Rock Tomb, which at -4 isn't much of a hindrance as Crobat clears the rocks away with Defog, and still outspeeds the following turn to U-turn into Granbull and have that take a -5 Rock Tomb.

Crobat had a reason for clearing the rocks away, of course. Cradily can't do much of anything to Granbull right now, and is already faster, so using Stealth Rock again stands out as the runaway winner for it on this turn. But if rocks were already up, Olivia's decision making would instead go along the lines of "Meh...these other moves aren't doing much for me, but at least they'll do something, unlike using a redundant field-side effect that's already in place." In fact, SR is the move I want Cradily to use, as I switch into Smeargle...and then sketch Stealth Rock...and then use Stealth Rock. Olivia's certainly someone who can appreciate the beauty of a rock formation like that, so why would she say no?

Meanwhile, on those last two turns while Smeargle sketched and used SR, Cradily hit it with two Rock Tombs. Those are enough to make Cradily faster than Smeargle, so I can guess it won't want to pick Rock Tomb again, and instead use Energy Ball #6 on a switch back to Granbull. That's exactly what happens, and Granbull also takes a bit of damage from rocks but that's okay. If everything works out as expected, I never have to make another switch for the rest of the battle.

Litten isn't the only party member who can learn Work Up; Granbull gets it too. And I just might be able to pull off a sweep with it, but it's going to be very delicate. As meager as Granbull's speed is, I'll need every bit of it to remain intact. This can be a problem when I'm trying to set up in the face of something that knows Rock Tomb. Thankfully, though, we've seen how averse trainer AI can get to using speed-dropping when they already have the speed advantage. But on the flip side, Cradily's moveset is Energy Ball, Rock Tomb, Stealth Rock, Empty Slot. It only has a few Energy Balls left, and then it'll be forced into Rock Tomb as the only move that does anything. That wouldn't be good.

...Hm, yes, it appears I just barely have enough time to pull all this off. Granbull switched back in on Energy Ball #6, so 4 PP left on that. That's time to get four Work Ups. The last Energy Ball gets a pointless SpD drop, see if I care. Now...Cradily has only redundant Stealth Rock, and somewhat less begrudging Rock Tomb. And I have...exactly one Guard Spec. in the bag. Guard Spec. may be a fairly obscure item because it's equivalent to using Mist, itself a little-used move. That means Cradily's forced Rock Tomb return will still deal damage, but it won't drop speed. That's one of the five turns I get from the mist.
Turn 2. Take another Rock Tomb, adding up to leave Granbull at dangerously low health from all this chip damage. Work Up to +5.
Turn 3. Better heal now. No messing around, let's go straight for the Max Potion, then shave it down a bit from a -6 Rock Tomb.
Turn 4. Yet another Rock Tomb. Work Up to +6.
Turn 5. Rock Tomb again, the last one I can prevent the speed drop from. Better do something about that then, like...+6 Brick Break, KO. Granbull happens to be holding the Shell Bell this time, and offsets some of the damage from those three Rock Tombs with that. Level up to 54.

Now there's no longer so much pressure from time, but still plenty of pressure from...all these heavy rocks. Like...Gigalith. It runs full HP/Def EVs, and if I had anything less than +6 and Stealth Rock, Brick Break wouldn't be a reliable KO. That's why it was so important that I set up all the way in my frantic rush. Sandstorm boosts the special defense of Rock types, but not the physical defense, otherwise this would have been too tall of a mountain to overcome this way. Heal some more with the Shell Bell, then take sand damage.

Olivia's Lycanroc is back, but it's...different. Still night form, and it's still the Z-move user, sure...but instead of Atk/Spe as its EV distribution, it's now switched to HP/Def just like Gigalith. And instead of using the Z-crystal to power up a move she's loath to pick like Rock Tomb (as long as the opponent isn't faster, or already in KO range of the non-Z version of the move), it's used for the more fundamentally sound (and more powerful) Stone Edge. Even without speed EVs, Lycanroc is still faster than Granbull, but the lack of Attack EVs as well almost seems like a gesture of mercy, as with Granbull being close to full health, that means we can seriously try to tank this, without having to shuffle out and back in to make Intimidate stick (losing all those delicious Work Up boosts in the process). Sure enough, it's Z-Stone Edge right away (which thankfully doesn't inherit the elevated critical rate of regular Stone Edge), and the HP bar plummets, all the way down to...10. Great job, we're golden now. Brick Break KO, Shell Bell recovers to 33, and now sand damage isn't fatal. 21 HP left.

Finally, Probopass, the bouncer at her jewelry shop. This thing has phenomenal bulk, especially against special attackers in sand, but the glaring double weaknesses are there to take advantage of. There's also Sturdy to supplement that bulk, so if Probopass would be so kind...say hi to these Stealth Rocks for me! Oddly, it doesn't carry any Steel STAB--just Earth Power and Power Gem. If it did have such a move, then it would have come out earlier in the procession, and there also would have been the risk that Probopass might come in for a resist switch after I U-turned from Crobat to Granbull. But there's no super effective move against Granbull, so no chance of that...the moves it does have, even with Probopass's mediocre attacking prowess, are still plenty good enough to deal 21 damage if it gets the chance though.

I wasn't kidding when I said I needed every bit of speed here. After the mid-battle level-up to 54, Granbull's speed sits at a fairly unimpressive 67. Probopass? You guessed it, 66. If only Olivia used 31s in the IV columns instead of 30s, that would be good for one extra point and a speed tie. As it is, though, it can only mean one thing: *CHOP!* Got your nose! And that's the last of the elites, done. I still get to hold on to that last Revive too, for good luck.

A Final Word from the Law Firm of Dewey, Beatum, and Hau

Now there's enough energy to power the big teleporter at last, coincidentally with Kukui also disappearing from that spot. Up here there's nothing but 44 stairs, a chair, and the highest stage in Alola. Kukui uses Fake Out by first telling me I had already won the league, then trying to make me believe the final challenge is against him, but Crobat has Inner Focus to see right through it both times. Of course, the final is really against Hau, who I've been dodging a bunch of dex entries against thus far by repeatedly losing to him. Obviously, this is no longer a time I can afford to continue throwing the battle, so all those entries will finally get their reckoning now, along with one newcomer. No way around it now, plus I also get to even up the season series against him at 3 to 3. Let's go.

Raichu is still his lead, and this time I'm significantly less inclined to protect it at all costs. Still, nobody wants to take hits from this thing, and even Haunter isn't fast enough to Destiny Bond in time. Luckily, I don't have to take a hit from it. Crobat also its speed EVs all the way to max, taking the opportunity to do so for that and Haunter at the same time, and even with a six-level disadvantage, Crobat is fast enough to go first against Raichu. On top of that, Z-U-turn is just powerful enough to secure the OHKO. That was an easy start; hopefully not having Z-move access for the rest of the battle won't be too much of a handicap.

Speaking of ZU-turn, we get to move on to a Pokemon who's getting its turn in ZU: Crabominable. Holder of a huge Attack stat but not much else, Crabominable really wants to hit Crobat with Iron Fist-boosted Ice Hammer. But in addition to the Z-move, I can also simply use regular U-turn to shunt that hit off to Wishiwashi, where it still does over 25%. Stone Edge does slightly more, still outside of Schooling range though, as I get a slow U-turn off to send Smeargle out safely. Well, "safely" by its standards anyway, which aren't safe for long. And indeed it recognizes that by going for Destiny Bond right away. How sad is this:
Lvl 59 252 Atk Iron Fist Crabominable Power-Up Punch vs. Lvl 53 100 HP / 100 Def Smeargle: 222-264 (164.4 - 195.5%) -- guaranteed OHKO

Well, not very sad I guess, since it springs the trap and gets the score to 5-4, still in my favor. Just to be on the safe side in general, I throw Granbull out next, and Hau's answer to the double KO is...Vaporeon. Hau's Eevee slot is rather funny, as regardless of which form he evolves it into, it gets two separate status moves whose only effect is to drop Attack, plus Quick Attack, and a single STAB move. In Vaporeon's case, that STAB move is Hydro Pump, with only 5 PP. That sounds feasible to waste, so Granbull scouts for a turn with Protect, but Vaporeon's natural reaction is "I can't KO that, so I'd better get to work on lowering its Attack stat!" instead. Go figure.

Banking on the same reaction next turn, I take a bit of a gamble by switching Litten in on Vaporeon, and sure enough it only takes a Baby-Doll Eyes on the switch. Litten's bound to get Vaporeon salivating, but Litten also has Protect, to diffuse the first Hydro Pump PP. The second one goes on a switch to Wishiwashi, knocking it down to Schooling range, so I'd better switch again. Figuring that a Wishiwashi this low will be in range of -1 Quick Attack, the switch goes into Haunter. Haunter can likewise tempt out Hydro Pump, but has a third Protect ready, and the fourth PP goes on a switch to Granbull for about 75%. Now Granbull is in range of the last Hydro Pump PP, so Vaporeon sees that as a more urgent cause than spamming attack drops. But--you guessed it--another Protect sops up the last of that, and when I switch to Haunter, Vaporeon is left with nothing.

I know Hau will be switching now, but to who? Tauros has Zen Headbutt, Noivern has Dark Pulse, and Decidueye has Spirit Shackle--all 80-power moves, and all super effective against Haunter. Calling for Shadow Ball here would be a good play if Decidueye comes out, but a terrible one against Tauros. Rather than play into one of those cases, I pick the safe call and heal up Granbull from that Hydro Pump damage, while Hau goes to Decidueye after all. The final starter evolution, and finally unavoidable now in this last battle of the league challenge.

For the most part, Hau normally takes his EV-training advice from Gladion: everyone's speed and an attacking stat, with the starter (no matter who it is) being the only exception. Those get HP and an attacking stat instead (and notably, in league rematches, players who chose Rowlet will see Hau's Primarina put EVs into the wrong attacking stat, making it significantly less of a threat there). While Haunter is faster than Decidueye, those HP EVs are enough to get it out of range of a coin-flip roll from Expert Belt-boosted Shadow Ball, so now I can only KO with a critical. I'm not ready to sack Haunter with Destiny Bond yet either, so it's time to switch. Let's go, I don't have Smeargle anymore to absorb a Spirit Shackle like it was nothing, but Crobat will be able to take one. Wing Attack for some damage, knowing that Decidueye will finish the job with a second Spirit Shackle...or wait, no, it uses Smack Down instead to the same effect. 4 to 4.

Whatever the case, Haunter can come back out and thanks to that prior damage from Wing Attack, Decidueye is in range of Shadow Ball now, so I get to use that to pull ahead again. Next up is Tauros, which is...too fast for me (and sticks a useless Intimidate on Haunter). Bail out, then, and get an Intimidate of my own with Granbull while taking chip from the Zen Headbutt. Another Protect to scout what it wants to does have Iron Head, but prefers Double-Edge here, which makes sense from a pure numeric standpoint if it's considering both of these side effects to be immaterial. Then Granbull gets to tank the Double-Edge for real this time, and has no risk of flinching so it can use Bulldoze, getting a crucial Speed drop. Now Haunter will be faster than Tauros, if I can get it in...sure enough, Tauros still wants Double-Edge, so the switch is free. This means Haunter can live up to its name with--what else?--Destiny Bond, as it's probably safe to let Haunter go now. 3 to 2.

Noivern is the last member of the 80-power super-effective train yet to appear, and the last unseen Pokemon on Hau's team period, becoming the 133rd seen entry in the Pokedex. It gets to face Granbull, but I'm too low on health right now and have to heal one last time, foreboding an Air Slash down to 102/200 HP. Cutting it awfully close...but wait, there's a Quick Claw message! Play Rough...bleh, down to a sliver. At least that means I avoided any risk of a flinch. Noivern's second Air Slash...leaves Granbull with 3 HP! Live to fight another turn, at least!

Do I really want to bank on Quick Claw firing twice in a row here...wait. Hau's almost certainly going to be in Full Restore mode here, in which case any damage we put down opposite that will be free! That's just what he does, and the second try at Play Rough...lands again, that's good, and does enough for the KO! Now we're dealing!

It's not over quite yet, though. There's still Vaporeon who PP-stall switched away earlier with its 29 Quick Attacks left. Now that Haunter's fainted, I don't have anyone left to tank them quite so summarily, but just for theatrics, I let...well, I Protect on one first, then let Vaporeon finish off the 3-HP Granbull with another. 27 PP left, and time to end this how it all started: with Litten.

That's why Hau chose to evolve his Eevee into Vaporeon, right? Specifically to combat my starter. Even though it still hasn't evolved yet, and Decidueye obviously has. What does evolving even get me? More Pokedex entries? Bah, humbug! Vaporeon has nothing better to do against Litten than to spam Baby-Doll Eyes. That's fine, two can play at that game, because we still have Growl from the very beginning. Now when he can't drop the Attack any further and resorts to Quick Attack, that'll barely do anything either. And to top it all off, Litten can fish for a burn with its weak fire moves, plus whatever pittance of damage they do naturally--maybe 10-15% on Flamethrower, with Flare Blitz dealing even less and causing a tiny bit of recoil on top, so I'd better stay away from the physical move. Falling into Blaze range will add to these numbers a bit, but the raw damage still isn't the main attraction.

Once I get the burn, Vaporeon's Quick Attack drops from mostly dealing 5 damage per hit, to dealing 2 damage. In the mean time, I can pass turns by chucking a Master Ball at Vaporeon over and over to conserve PP, letting the burn damage add up until Hau goes for his second Full Restore. And then start attacking again until he uses a third, and a fourth. Vaporeon does get a couple criticals on Quick Attack, naturally, but its PP supply runs out with Litten sitting, sitting pretty, with exactly 6 HP left. Now Hau can do no more until he runs out of those 50 PP of attack-dropping moves to reach Struggle. Let's just rack up one more burn, and now the Master Balls can come back out again, this time with no more Full Restores to save him. To which I can only pose one more question: Who's laughing meow?

I'm not quite done yet, as there's still one very important thing to do after the battle is over. I can't forget to press B and cancel Litten's evolution for the 40th time! That would be a huge lapse, to be stuck with an extra Pokedex entry by not doing so. After that? Just sit back and watch the credits, and since this isn't original Sun/Moon, there's no mandatory Tapu Koko ambush waiting after the end of that! I can freely go home, and...there's still Episode RR to do, but that can wait. Right now, we're content to settle down after a job well done.

League Champion
Pokedex Seen: 133 (Owned: 11)
Team -
Wishiwashi L58 (Scald/U-turn/Aqua Tail/Tearful Look)
Granbull L56 (Bulldoze/Protect/Brick Break/Play Rough)
Litten L56 (Flare Blitz/Flamethrower/Protect/Growl)
Haunter L55 (Destiny Bond/Protect/Psychic/Shadow Ball)
Crobat L54 (Wing Attack/Cross Poison/Defog/U-turn)
Smeargle L53 (Leech Seed/Stealth Rock/Destiny Bond/Foul Play)

Boxed -
Ekans L46 (Glare/Acid Spray/Stockpile/Sludge Wave)
Grubbin L36 (X-Scissor/Thunder Wave/Mud-Slap/Volt Switch)
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Jokers Running Wild

The first thing after I resume the file and walk out of my own room, I'm greeted by Hau barging in the front door uninvited, to tell me about some guests who are too timid to do so themselves. It's Dulse and Zossie, of course, in a panic because something terrible is happening on Poni Island--more Ultra Beasts! And in a location we couldn't reach before for any significant length of time: Poni Grove.

There's one thing to watch out for when trying to get to Poni Grove, and that's that I have to stick to a very tight turn around the corner to avoid catching the eye of a Collector peeking through an open-air window. There was a totem sticker to get up there before that needed that same maneuver, so that's nothing new...what is new is Wicke standing at the area transition, to give me and Hau each a Big Malasada (...) and, since Hau didn't win the champion battle, the next gift is for me alone: a Type: Null. There is no way to turn this down (in case I wanted to reset for it at a more convenient time, for instance) except by having all 966 slots in the party and PC boxes full to the brim, and I'm not inclined to run around at the day care long enough to get almost a thousand eggs to pull that off just to reduce the "Owned" counter by 1, so the level 60 Null (higher than my entire team) promptly goes into the PC, almost certainly destined to stay there forever. This notably also bumps the big completion-level text on the top screen of the Pokedex up to 3%, oh well.

Poni Grove itself is another pseudo-numbered route with little else of note. I can traverse through it to reach the more wide-open Poni Plains, and even fetch the Kommonium Z from there, but the Plains are a dead end: I can't get to Poni Meadow without beating Dexio and his more expansive team, and in the northeast, Looker and Anabel block me off from walking to Poni Coast, Poni Gauntlet, or Battle Tree until I deal with the crisis at hand. But I can't even get as far as talking to them, as there's a trainer just before that who hogs the entire line of sight and uses Skarmory and Electivire. Nor is hunting the Chanseys available here a good idea for the Pokedex's sake, so all I can do is turn back around to the Grove and its ominous music again.

Luckily, because the ominous music is playing here, there's an opportunity to use Repels in a way that doesn't manifest anywhere else in the game. It's a time-honored technique that was most commonly associated with tracking down roamers, but in earlier games there were sometimes opportunities to put it to use in areas where different species were available at different levels. If you lead your party off with a Pokemon that's no higher in level than the highest-end Pokemon that can appear, but everything else is at a strictly lower level than your lead, using Repels will allow you to rule out any encounter other than the highest-level one as long as they remain active.

For example, in original G/S, you could find Ponyta at level 32 on routes 26 and 27, when none of the other Pokemon that could appear in grass there were at levels higher than 30 (unless you were hunting at night on route 26, where Quagsire would be able to equal the 32). This, then, opened up a two-level "arb window", where you could lead with exactly level 31 or 32, use Repel, and guarantee that the only things you would ever run into there were Ponyta, if for some reason you wanted to find that in particular. The roamer application in those games obviously provided a much wider range of acceptable levels to pull it off, as their level was always 40 and none of the other Pokemon on any of the routes they could roam to were higher than 27. But starting in Sun and Moon, they eliminated the concept of "each encounter slot is a combination of a particular species and level", in favor of having the slots control species alone, while the level range was applied to the entire encounter table as a whole (for example, one particular grass patch is the same encounter table, possibly split into day and night versions; fishing spots on a route are one encounter table if they're rippling and a different one if they're not...), regardless of what species it rolled. This meant that no species would ever peek out above the rest with a higher maximum level than anything else that could be found in the same patch of grass.

Well, other than the UB quests anyway. Poni Grove's encounter tables normally have a level range of 52-55, but Blacephalon (or Stakataka for anyone who dares to mimic this on the Moon side) is always 60 when it appears. As I don't want to see Riolu, Trumbeak, or Heracross here, using Repels to categorically exclude them while leaving Blacephalon eligible is very convenient, and as long as my lead is in the range of 56-60, that's exactly what will happen. The trigger for making progress in the story is that I have to encounter Blacephalon twice; it doesn't matter how the battle ends (catching it, KOing it, or even running away--I didn't check to see what would happen if I wiped out against it, but that wouldn't be productive anyway). Despite looking rather threatening with that huge Special Attack backed by a +2 aura, Haunter will outspeed it and have a guaranteed OHKO with Shadow Ball, so I can take the free experience points rather than running away. In fact, since the Ultra Beasts stay around the area until I specifically catch two copies, I can come back later on and get more free grinding if I ever need it (Haunter's KO won't be any less of a guarantee as it levels up), and this grinding spot never goes away as long as I make sure not to throw any balls at them. Other than Shadow Balls, of course.

After the two KOs, then (or run-aways or whatever), the following cutscene sees the Ultra Recon Squad thanking me for the valuable intel (Blacephalon is weak to Ghost! Who knew?) and then I get teleported back home. From here, I can only run around the confines of my room, or make excursions to Poke Pelago or Festival Plaza, as stepping outside my room will start a fairly lengthy autopilot section. So I might as well mess around in Festival Plaza a bit, as the premium facility options don't get unlocked until the first rank-up that specifically happens after becoming champion (and is to a rank of 30 or higher).

The Omen Before the...Wait, Wrong Way Around

The first interruption is from Sophocles, who's complaining that Festival Plaza, where we were just at and looked perfectly normal, has suddenly been infiltrated by Team RR. I'm not allowed to walk around the ring road and examine the damage or talk to anyone, all I can do is follow him into the castle while he assesses the damage. Looks like there's a lock that stops our party Pokemon from being usable, so...what now? The obvious solution here would be to use Battle Teams sculpted from the Pokemon in our PC boxes, like that guy in the Dimensional Research Lab seems to want so much, but that's not what they're trying to train us for in this case. We have to borrow Pokemon from the Battle Agency instead.

This Agency interlude uses slightly different rules than all other battles that take place there. For one thing, it's the only time you can play at the Agency without being forced to save the game immediately beforehand. Somewhat interestingly, the board to choose from is locked to whatever it was at the start of the day, even if your "real" board has been cycled a few times because of successful challenges earlier that same day. And to prevent the battle from being too easy, everything here gets treated as if you're grade 0. So I have a choice between...Toxic-stall Weezing, Toxic-stall Cradily, and a Noivern that comes with Psychic among other attacks. Given that two-thirds of the opponent's team is poison-type, that's a pretty nice choice, but instead of being level 56 (like these Pokemon were when they were officially on the board) or 59 (as would agree with a current grade of 9), everyone's stuck at 50.

While they don't want this battle to be trivially easy thanks to a level advantage, they don't want it to be hard either, as the opponent here is fixed to having rather non-competitive sets (including a Raticate with Oran Berry...hey, at least it's not a Blissey!) so that no matter what sets the board gives you, you'll have pretty good chances. Notably, all three of the grunt's sets manage to "waste" half their EVs (as well as their +nature) by dumping them in Special Attack when there's not a single special move on that team, and Noivern predictably dispatches of them without any trouble and without having to lean on the Festival Fan teammates. But as always, Battle Agency battles don't count for the Pokedex, meaning Arbok remains unchecked and I'm still not allowed to evolve Ekans.

There's one other oddity about Agency that this scene brings to light. Normally, if you lose a battle from among a three-battle set, but then go for a rematch later in the same day, you are assured of facing the same trainers with the same teams as before. However, as this battle is the trigger for being introduced to team RR in the first place, you can get to grade 9 and battle 3 of the set against Sophocles, lose that, then proceed to this point in the story, and challenge the Agency again still in the same day...but this time the third battle will be changed to one against Giovanni, using his own separate roster.

After I get my Eject Button and pop back out to the real world, there's another cutscene without any opportunity for character movement in between. This time we get to see Meowth turn on the TV, just in time to reveal a news bulletin in which Team RR and an ultra wormhole invade Lusamine's house, followed by Lillie coming to the door and alerting me about what I've already just seen. Welp, guess they need to make it blatantly obvious where the next place to go is.

Orbital Approach

Go figure that the back path of Aether Paradise, which was littered with Skull grunts last time I came here, is now littered with Rainbow Rocket grunts for them to use it as a staging area. This time there are four of them; the second and fourth ones have static lines of sight, while the first and third look back and forth but never in such a way that they invite a blind spot where we can slip past them for good. Even if I wait for them to reach the extremities of their turning cycle and then back out to go to Poke Pelago, Festival Plaza, or even save and reset the game, they will always flawlessly pick up their cycle from exactly the direction they were facing before--no using that trickery to slip past. They only bring one Pokemon each, namely Primeape, Persian, Haunter, and Golbat in that own Haunter OHKOs all except Persian, so they're barely more than a nuisance, but the first one does stick me with a new dex entry.

If I go back into the main building, the Aether receptionist at the left desk is no longer providing heals, but that's fine because the PC right next to them is still functional and I can cycle everyone through that for the same effect if I need it. What's coming up is Faba 3, which thankfully isn't as strenuous as 2. It's once again a multi battle, but this time my teammate is Lillie and she only has one Pokemon, so if that falls I just have to play 2-on-1 for the rest of the match, no worrying about her sending out a replacement that adds to the dex.

The Pokemon she does send out, though, is a new one: Clefairy. It mostly wants to set screens, and has almost no offensive presence, but this time I don't have to consign my team to playing the role of bait so I have enough firepower of my own to pick up the slack. Faba's own team is pretty much the same as last time, but now they're all level 63 and he uses full EVs instead of only half of them. Since the Aether grunt is fairly harmless here, my goal is to divide and conquer by dealing with Faba's team first. Repeated U-turn spam is enough to dispatch of Claydol, and while Hypno has a perfectly serviceable Psychic, his AI is driven by a burning desire to hit Hypnosis/Dream Eater instead, making it easy to manipulate around and bait him into obvious whiffs.

Bruxish is the most dangerous of Faba's team members as it now comes with Speed EVs, meaning it will outspeed either of my Destiny Bond users, and has STAB Strong Jaw Psychic Fangs to OHKO either of them without caring about any screens Clefairy might have put up beforehand. After all the damage Wishiwashi has taken in pivoting around against Claydol, Granbull is the only team member in anything resembling reasonable shape to take on Bruxish, but really all I need is to land one Bulldoze against it (which would have dealt friendly fire to Clefairy if Bruxish hadn't been tempted by its low health to finish Clefairy off for itself), and now after one more sack I can get Haunter in as it does outspeed -1 Bruxish to get the DB up, and wasn't in KO range from Aqua Jet before that could happen.

On the other side, the grunt's Granbull has nothing but Snarl, and rather than making a PP stall switch after it runs out, it persists all the way to using Struggle. That's convenient for taking it down, huh? In the back, he's got Scrafty who has a double weakness to Play Rough, and Shiinotic who likewise takes a double against Crobat's Cross Poison. Shiinotic is interesting because if you recall, I already had to fight one of those in the battle against Mallow as part of Mina's trial. However, Ultra Moon players don't battle Mallow in that trial, they get Lana instead. So Shiinotic in this multi battle will be new to them, and they fall behind by one dex entry because of it, a deficit that will haunt them all the way to the end of the run.

Now that Faba has revealed his true (rainbow) colors, I can enter the mansion, with its fresh new paint job as Team Rocket's Castle. Go figure, there are a couple RR grunts waiting to ambush me, and it's time for another Multi Battle. They use Raticate and Fearow, while my partner this time is Guzma. The only thing that can possibly be a problem here is if Guzma's traditional lead of Golisopod falls, and he decides to bring in Scizor (the only new mon on his team that I haven't seen yet) for some reason, but based on the power of its moves, Scizor should be way down in preference order. This is essentially a joke battle, as Golisopod is fully capable of soloing both opponents on its own, and there's none of that Scizor nonsense here.

Simon Sizzles

The RR color scheme in the castle has one hindering aspect to it: with the sheets on Lusamine's bed now blood-red, the game apparently doesn't think it's safe to sleep on them, and gives no prompt of any kind when attempting to do so. Some programmer at Game Freak had the bright idea of having the game keep track of variables that faithfully count how many times you gone back home to sleep in your own well as how many times you've broken in and slept in Guzma's bed, Olivia's, Lusamine's...any bed in the game that you can interact with has its own counter, basically. But in its disguise as Team Rocket's Castle, it's considered a different map than when it's Lusamine's mansion, and I guess they didn't feel like adding data for another bed to keep track of, so we can't sleep here at all. That poor programmer, nobody ever indulges him, huh? But in that same room, what I do have access to now is Lillie's stint of practicing as a Pokemon Center nurse, so at least I don't have to go into the main Aether building for the PC, or leave Aether Paradise entirely, if I want heals.

I also have two options of hallways to go through: the right side, leading to Maxie; or the left side which leads to Archie instead. I'll go right first, where the theme is that I get to play the memory game Simon using light-up panels on the floor (but first, a mandatory battle with a joke grunt who uses Golbat). After studying the system for a while, it's apparent that there are only three possible sequences for the lights in each room: the first pattern will always be either BRBR, RGBY, or YYGB; the second room can be YRBGYR, GBBRGR, or GYRGBB (and has a grunt making a "distracting pose," without battling me, after entering three lights of the sequence); and the third room can be RBYBGYRG, RGBYRGGR, or BGYRGBYR (featuring a grunt battle after 3 lights, and another one after 6).

The grunt battles in the third room force me to take Tentacruel as a seen entry. One thing to keep in mind here is that a lot of the grunt teams are extremely gimmicky, with many Pokemon having only one or two moves. For instance, this first Tentacruel sees fit to run a moveset of Toxic Spikes, Barrier, and nothing else, so it can't make anything stick except by getting me to switch in non-Poison-immune Pokemon on Toxic Spikes.
Haunter will gladly come in on that and delight in the opportunity to get free damage, and even the Persian she follows up with has only Play Rough to hit it.

Beating both of them and completing the third light sequence means I unlock the teleporter to the big door. The big doors in this castle are always guarded by two grunts, both of which are mandatory battles (one after the other, no healing or team rearranging in between), but at least they're only grunts and not something that's actually threatening. After they're both out of the way, I can...well, first, I can backtrack through the whole wing to reach Lillie in the center room, heal up to be at full preparedness, then head all the way back where at least they don't make me repeat the Simon puzzles over again. This time I can enter the big door to reach Maxie for real.

I decided to record videos of each of the RR bosses, which you can follow along with here, but a text analysis is included below them as well, explaining some of the insights and motivations that might not be apparent just from seeing the raw sequence of events.

Maxie's lead marks the first time I get stuck seeing an entry for a Pokemon outside the Alola dex: Mightyena. It gets to fire off its traditional Intimidate, which I manage to waste somewhat by using Crobat to hit and run for a modest amount of damage, and bring in Granbull to get my own Intimidate and take comparable damage from the return hit.

Mightyena has nothing compelling to do against Granbull, so after it takes a U-turn, the scales are tilted in favor of a resist switch here as there are three team members he has who all resist U-turn and all have super effective moves against Granbull. Maxie does go for the switch into Weezing, another entry that won't be counted in the in-game Pokedex after the battle, but of course I've been counting on this and double into Haunter at the same time. Now, Weezing has Shadow Ball, along with considerable bulk, so I go ahead and pull the trigger with Destiny Bond right away.

Maxie also has his own Crobat, which gets the nod here. Meanwhile, I send out Smeargle, who's obviously slower than Crobat, but--in a very fortunate look--has just enough bulk to survive one hit from Crobat at full health. Seeing that it doesn't have the KO, Crobat instead goes for Toxic, giving Smeargle unfettered time to set up a Destiny Bond--and now it turns out Crobat's Sludge Bomb does KO Smeargle from 94% health, springing the trap and limiting the spread of damage Crobat can inflict, as it would otherwise be troublesome for anyone on my team to take down.

On the fresh start, once again we reveal Mightyena against my Crobat, and I have the same idea as before: waste the Intimidate and get out of there with U-turn, as Granbull takes another menial Thunder Fang. But this time, there's no second resist switch coming. I considered hedging with Brick Break on a possible Camerupt switch, but ultimately went for Play Rough and it not only hit but got a Quick Claw boost as well, finishing off Mightyena with no further damage.

By now, Maxie is down to two Pokemon left. Groudon has the 120-power Solar Beam, while Camerupt doesn't have anything stronger than Earthquake at 100. Still, Camerupt is what comes out fourth, because Maxie--just like all the other RR bosses--has a special flag set that designates the last Pokemon on their team (the mascot legend) as an "ace" and strongly encourages them to save that slot for last, unless the decision is taken out of their hands with a move like Roar. Even though Maxie makes it no secret that he has Groudon at his side in the pre-battle monologue, he still doesn't want to send it out until everyone else has had their turn out first.

Well then, Camerupt. Hmm. Switch to Crobat to take a Flash Cannon for about a third (and a SpD drop, which is obviously meaningless as U-turn to get rid of the stat drop is the right play here even with it only dealing a pittance of damage), then Wishiwashi takes a Flamethrower on the switch and Earthquake next turn before it can retaliate with Scald and heal up close to half with Shell Bell. No avoiding it now, it's Groudon time.

Luckily this isn't Primal Groudon, so its sunlight has a timer and I can try to stall it out. Several switches back and forth between Crobat and Litten succeed in running out the sun turns without taking too much damage, but now I need to get Wishiwashi back in. It's too low on health to take two hits from Groudon, as long as it doesn't get greedy and go for Solar Beam out of sun on the second one, so I decide to sack off Granbull and at least get an Intimidate down, with Wishiwashi picking up the slack after that. Sure enough, Groudon tries Solar Beam since its SpA hasn't been lowered, Scald falls just short of the KO, and now I can shunt the Solar Beam onto Crobat and finish off with a weak move hopefully...but wait! Scald gets the burn, because that's just what it does, and the chip damage finishes off Groudon and the battle as a whole within the same turn. And behind the picture on the wall is a secret switch--who wouldn't press something like that?

Warping Up and Pouring Down

Now I can take the other route to Archie's side, where early on there appears to be a ten-grunt ambush. Luckily for the ideals of not wasting time, only one of them bothers to battle me, and they use another Tentacruel. Unluckily for that ideal, their idea for a gimmicky moveset is Toxic/Protect/---/---, leading to the time-honored tradition of throwing Poke Balls while they run themselves out of Protect PP so I don't waste my own moves attacking into that.

The rest of the area takes the theme of a teleport maze. All grunts here except that 1-out-of-10 ambush, another 1-out-of-2 ambush later on, and of course the door guards are skippable. And while there are items strewn about through the various rooms, there's no need to bother with them: at the conclusion of Episode RR, if you missed any items inside the castle, there's a janitor waiting outside who will hand over all the remaining items he found while cleaning the place up. Furthermore, it wouldn't be a Pokemon game without some of those items being fake Electrodes. While some players look forward to this phase of the game for an opportunity to hunt down those Electrodes and catch them in Beast Balls or whatever, on this run it's decidedly not an option, so it's best to leave everything that looks like an item ball there on the ground.

After the door guards with yet another Fearow and Muk, it's obviously backtracking time again, get healed to full and retrace my footsteps through the maze to get back here and battle...Archie!

Maxie and Archie both have a Mightyena and Crobat that are completely identical. Hence, I don't see any reason to deviate from the start that worked last time: -1 U-turn to bring in Granbull on Mightyena. Archie still has the resist switch available in response to this, but instead of Weezing, he's got a Muk with that hugely tempting 120-power Gunk Shot as its super effective move. And once again, Haunter comes in on a double switch at the same time.

Unlike Weezing, Muk doesn't carry Shadow Ball, or any move that's super effective against Haunter here. Other than Gunk Shot, the rest of its moves are a trio of elemental punches, and even with Attack EVs, it turns out those moves are too weak to OHKO Haunter. This means I don't have to play into the Destiny Bond route here (good thing, too, because I'd rather hang on to Haunter in this battle), and can instead put up a Psychic for just over 50%. Now, it is possible for Archie to make another resist switch after Psychic and go back to Mightyena, but with Haunter being at such low health from the first hit, that gives him enough temptation to stay in and go fo the KO...of course, it also means Haunter outspeeds and KOs with the second Psychic, while keeping itself available for later use in the same battle.

Archie brings out his Crobat next, but Haunter is out of position to fight this. The Smeargle Destiny Bond strat to dispatch of Crobat requires it to be at full health at the start of the turn, so the direct switch is out of the question. Instead, I bring in Litten (who might as well come in for this, as I don't expect to need it for much else in the battle), tank the Dark Pulse on the switch, take an additional Sludge Bomb, and now I can finally get a slow U-turn to Smeargle. Instead of going for Toxic to start, Crobat goes straight for Sludge Bomb, all the down to 22 HP...and get the free poisoning along with it, but that's not quite enough...poison damage drops Smeargle to 4 HP! This lures Crobat to attack again next turn, so Smeargle can get credit for Destiny Bond (as DB doesn't work if you faint on end-turn residual damage).

Instead of going for Crobat vs. Mightyena again, I let Granbull come out directly for the trade of Intimidates, figuring that as long as Play Rough hits (and Mightyena's Ice Fang doesn't freeze or flinch, of course), that's one fewer hit Granbull needs to take. Play Rough does hit, and even gets a critical, which I don't think makes a difference after the prior damage from the turn 1 U-turn.

Once again Archie wants to save his best for last, so he sends out Sharpedo now. Granbull should be able to OHKO this with a -1 Play Rough, but again there's that pesky accuracy problem, so I take the sure thing by switching to Crobat (and taking hefty, but survivable, damage from Liquidation) and making good on its position with Z-U-turn. Not only does this strengthen the move (a necessary step for the KO, even against something as famously frail as Sharpedo), it also makes it non-contact so Crobat doesn't get chipped by Rough Skin, and prevents the switch-out, as this is a case where I'd rather leave Crobat in.

Now there's only Kyogre left. A really big fish calls for a really big fishing expedition, and even though Crobat stays out, it's here as pure sack fodder right now. Just in case, I throw out a Cross Poison, and sure enough it gets the poison. This changes my outlook for the rest of the battle, so I send out my own big fish just to stall a turn with Protect and waste another turn on another sack by switching to Litten. By now, enough poison damage has racked up that I can send in Haunter. By not Destiny Bonding earlier, I have it around to use here, and while I could pop the DB right now, I expect Kyogre will be attacking with Hydro Pump which has that miss chance. Besides, Haunter doesn't get any XP when it uses Destiny Bond. Instead, I've got a better idea: Energy Ball, good for just under half but given where Kyogre is now, that's enough!

If not for the poison roll, not only would Haunter need to pull off the Energy Ball, I would also need Granbull to put in a Wild Charge to get the rest of the damage. This would require that I stall out the rain turns, and possibly either fish for a miss or Quick Claw, or else try and get Kyogre to run out of Hydro Pump PP so that Granbull can get its one move in uncontested. But the poison sure made everything a lot simpler.

Distortion Whirled

After both Archie and Maxie are down, they follow me back to the main foyer, approach each other, and promptly vanish into thin air. Guzma tries his hand(s) at physically restraining some more grunts, and more relevantly, two new paths have opened up to the upstairs hallways, with Cyrus on the left and Lysandre on the right.

This time I'll go left first, and find something that looks right at home in a Team Rocket base: spinner tiles! Compared to spinner-tile challenges in previous games, the fact that these take place in fairly small rooms mean that, at the least, we can have something closer to a full view of the puzzle space at once, and take that into account while planning the route. Of course, it also means there's less room for the puzzles to contain much complexity.

Cyrus's door guards are notable in that one of them finally pulls out an unavoidable Arbok. This means that, if I wanted to, I could finally go back to the PC, withdraw Ekans, and be allowed to evolve it! Of course, by this point it's lagging 15 levels behind the rest of the team, and I doubt there's anything useful that would be left for it to contribute so close to the end, certainly not to justify taking a gratuitous 13th "Owned" count. I do still have two other poison types on the team, after all.

As for Cyrus himself, he goes so far as to ask to see the Pokedex in his intro cutscene, and is probably disgusted by how empty it is. What can I say...I never promised anything else.

Cyrus starts out, fairly simply, as the Wishiwashi Show. Houndoom, Dark Pulse, no flinch...Scald return, OHKO. This opens the door for Honchkrow to fly in, and curiously it has Sky Attack. That's fine by me, as Wishiwashi can use Aqua Tail on the charge turn and Protect to make Honchkrow's attack whiff. The reason I went for Aqua Tail here is more consistency in knocking Honchkrow down into recovery range, as I want Cyrus to use his Full Restore now, while he's got something so eminently harmless out, rather than later on, due to the strat I'm hoping to use against his legend.

The Full Restore does come out, and Wishiwashi responds by knocking it right back down to red, and somehow Honchkrow evidently got really flustered from this as Cyrus calls for it to use Heat Wave, knowing it's still against a Wishiwashi, either just to get some damage down or possibly in reaction to some logic that sees I just used a physical move and possibly incentivizes them to try and fish for the burn--I'm not really sure. In any event, it barely puts up much of a fight.

And how predictable--Cyrus brings yet another Crobat. Unlike Maxie's or Archie's, this one's physically oriented, aligning slightly better with its stats, but Wishiwashi is close enough to full health here that it can power through on brute force alone--Scald is a narrow 2HKO while taking Shell Bell recovery, and Cross Poison doesn't do enough to outrace that. Even if one of them got the poison, Wishiwashi would still have won the race, though the poison damage would have left it in solo form afterward.

Wishiwashi finally has to evacuate as Weavile shows up--it's too slow and too low on health to handle the threat of a Night Slash. This matchup belongs to Granbull instead, for that juicy -1 on top of everything else. Unfortunately, while I did throw Protect onto Granbull before the battle, I had it replace Brick Break instead of Wild Charge like I really should have, so I can't use the picture-perfect Brick Break here. Instead I have to hope for another Play Rough hit, and at least it's not that unreliable as it comes through again.

Last up is the ace, Dialga (though Ultra Moon players would be facing Palkia instead), and it's a real doozy, hitting extremely hard with varied coverage when I don't have much to fight back against it in return. That's not to say I have nothing, though. The first big breakthrough in the battle comes when I manage to sack off a Roar of Time, the one thing that makes Dialga a bit more palatable to fight than Palkia. (Assuming I don't just take the easy Destiny Bond KO; for the sake of argument I'll just say flat out no Destiny Bond against the 680-BST aces throughout Episode RR.)

Because Roar of Time is a recharge move, that means I can bring in anyone I want knowing they'll have one free turn. And the best use I have for that turn is to send out Smeargle, to use Leech Seed. Once that connects, my mission is set: try to stall out turns until Leech Seed damage finishes it off. Unlike poison damage, though, Leech Seed doesn't sap health at the end of a turn where I've been KO'd; there needs to be a Pokemon to receive the sapped health or else there's no drainage at all. One easy way to pass the turn is by using Protect, but only if I can get the Protect user in safely. Given how unpredictable Dialga's move selection can be with so many moves in KO range, that's a pretty tall order.

Still, sometimes Dialga can't help but go all "YOLO" and claim a KO with Roar of Time, so that I can bring in Litten to do something like Flare Blitz on the recharge turn (knowing that Leech Seed will restore that health right back), then Protect to buy another turn of Leech Seed drain. Because Cyrus already used his Full Restore earlier, with Honchkrow (and he only gets one), there isn't one left to use here, so I don't have to buy quite as many turns, and the team slots I have manage to hold out long enough. Smeargle even gets a level up to 61 off Dialga's XP; just in case there's anything useful for another Sketch to do, I decide to throw that move over Stealth Rock.

Cat Fight

The final hallway is something vaguely reminiscent of the GSC version of the Team Rocket base, starring cat statues. Only, if one of them sees you (with its immediate and flawless line of sight all the way to the wall), you don't get ambushed by a pair of trainers, you only get sent back to the start of the room. Additionally, these statues can be rerouted by talking to their...back side. Whatever.

Oh, and just out of curiosity, "Meowth sees you" isn't the same thing as "You see Meowth", and the Pokedex doesn't care about statues. Meowth is still mercifully absent even as a seen entry, even though Persian has been seen. There are more RR grunts among the statue rooms, some of them tough to avoid with their timing, but all of them use only species we've already seen before so it's okay to fight them. Same with the door guards in this sector, where there's of course no choice but to battle them.

While Archie and Maxie had one secret switch in each of their rooms, Lysandre lays out two switches in plain sight. Of course, whichever one you press first, he tells you it's going to blow up the world, unless you hurry up and battle him so you can hit the other one. If you're willing to believe him at his word for that...well, maybe he's got a bridge to sell you, but I figure bridges are probably more of a Unova thing than Kalos.

Lysandre leads with Mienshao. It carries Fake Out, and like everything else in the game that uses that move, it loves to select it on the one turn where it can do anything, as long as the opponent isn't a ghost. Inner Focus opponent? Bah, who cares? Thus, Crobat gets to U-turn out to Granbull once again, as a slow pivot. The damage is nothing impressive, but it doesn't need to be.

Other than the no-longer-usable Fake Out, Granbull resists every move Mienshao has. Lysandre's team is structured so that there's no one eligible to come in for a resist switch after U-turning to Granbull either, so the best it can go for is the huge power of High Jump Kick. Too bad Granbull can block the first one with Protect, and the second one whiffs on a switch to Haunter, combining for 100% crash damage. That wasn't so hard, huh?

Lysandre one-ups Cyrus by having his own Honchkrow, and one that doesn't waste a moveslot on Sky Attack (as it's specially oriented). Too bad for him, it's still too slow to outspeed Haunter, and similarly frail to the ghost, and I have mine equipped with a nice move for the circumstance: Dazzling Gleam, boosted by Expert Belt for another OHKO.

Pyroar's next, and now I have the opportunity to be a bit tricky. Switch to Wishiwashi here, but rather than a STAB move, I go for...Bulldoze. This is, again, because I want to convince Lysandre to use up his only Full Restore right now. The Bulldoze damage might not have done enough to get into a healing mood, so I throw in a weak Crobat U-turn to avoid KOing, instead trying to drive home the point even harder. And this time, he gets the hint and heals up. Send Wishiwashi back out, and this time stop sandbagging so it can Scald like a real fish. Two left.

It's hard to imagine that this late in the game, I'm only now seeing Gyarados in the dex for the first time (and Magikarp has been completely absent the whole way), but that's how it goes sometimes. This Gyarados is going to be mega, our first introduction to megas outside the Battle Agency. The way trainer AI works with megas is that they will always take the first possible opportunity to mega evolve at the start of any turn where it presents itself, but in the extremely rare case that they voluntarily switch in a would-be mega only to find themselves incapable of using any of its moves the next turn (such as if you Imprisoned them perfectly on the switch), they obey the same restrictions as human players and will not be able to go mega on the turn in which they're forced to use Struggle instead.

One other AI quirk is that while they commit to going mega at the same time they choose a move, they aren't aware of the ramifications of going mega as it pertains to their move selection. In this case, Gyarados doesn't know that when it becomes mega, it will gain STAB on Crunch, so during move selection it still sees Earthquake as the more powerful move. Similarly, if I had Haunter out right now instead of Wishiwashi, Gyarados doesn't know that its ability will change to Mold Breaker, and therefore it can use Earthquake in spite of Levitate, so it wouldn't pick that move on the immediate mega turn (but all the better for it in that case). This is perhaps most glaring when it manifests with Mega Charizard X at the Battle Tree: there are a lot of things it would be easily able to OHKO with Dragon Rush, assuming that move hits, but on its first turn out, it doesn't know it will be getting a Tough Claws boost, or STAB on Dragon moves, or an Attack stat increase to 182. Unless it sees KO range already with its Fire/Flying type, and 136 attack stat, and no ability boost, it would figure "Guess they're not in KO range after all," making Charizard prone to go for something else, usually Dragon Dance--which generally leaves it even more dangerous in the long run, now with an attack stat of 273 (and speed of 250) that it is fully aware of for a change.

None of that is particularly relevant to me here because I just want to sack off Wishiwashi anyway, letting Gyarados take potshots until it's done. This Gyarados fortunately does not have Dragon Dance at all, preventing it from snowballing out of control. I needed the sack in order to get Haunter in safely, and--you guessed it--outspeed, and Destiny Bond ahead of the Crunch. This conveniently clears both sides of the field, so that I can get a pristine, full health Litten out to take on Lysandre's last, Xerneas (or Yveltal on the moon side).

What I was really hoping to do with Xerneas was use Smeargle's latest Sketch slot to acquire Encore, and switch Smeargle in on a turn where Xerneas would be tempted to go for Geomancy. Because of the timing of Encore, it expires halfway through the 2-turn commitment of a Geomancy, and I can keep replenishing the Encore lock forever, or at least until running out of PP becomes an issue, despite being slower which is usually a huge impediment to Encore. There are accessible Pokemon that get Encore at pretty reasonable-sounding levels (Hawlucha 20, Mime Jr. 18, Popplio 18), but nowhere in the game that I can battle them at those levels, or indeed any trainer anywhere who has Encore on a custom moveset. Sketching moves off a mock battle from a Battle Video doesn't work either. I could simply catch one of those Pokemon and have it use Encore at the right level directly, but adding one to the owned count this late in the run, just for a piddly thing like this, is rather overdoing it.

So instead, Litten gets to take matters into its own paws, by using...Toxic! Now the Protect Train is in full swing, with Lysandre again having wasted his one opportunity to use a Full Restore earlier, and unlike Leech Seed, Toxic keeps ticking on KO turns. Litten does end up becoming a sack in the end, but by then the damage has been done: Xerneas decided never to go for Geomancy the whole time, so Crobat is faster, and can shave off the final 6% health with Cross Poison.

Liberating Feeling

That's all the hallways covered, the mirror in Lusamine's room is done and the teleporter behind it active. All we have to do is walk in there and...hold up, before we can get in, there's someone walking out to examine the carnage. No more hallways or puzzles, only time to face...Ghetsis!

If the Cyrus battle was the Wishiwashi Show, Haunter is definitely the featured star here. Ghetsis's lead is Cofagrigus, known for being pretty bulky, but not quite enough. STAB, Expert Belt-boosted Shadow Ball is a marginal KO, before Cofagrigus can have any chance to retaliate in kind. The perils of being slow in a ghost mirror match.

But then, for reasons I can't guess, Ghetsis forgoes sending in either of his dark types to take on Haunter, when he can throw Bouffalant out there instead. Bouffalant has nothing more threatening than a double-resisted Megahorn--which, granted, still deals almost 1/3, so it's not being completely docile here. (No, serious. For whatever reason, all the NPC trainers in the game who use neutral natures, which is almost all of them in general, are coded to use Serious. Not even Hardy, which is number 0 on the nature list. Don't ask me why.)

Anyway, the way to go against Bouffalant is to alternate Psychic and Dazzling Gleam, because...sure enough, after drawing out his Full Restore, followed by another Psychic, Ghetsis salivates at the chance to do yet another resist switch, and...*OOF!*, that's gotta hurt. Hydreigon, threatening as it may appear, gets to be a complete non-factor in the battle.

Again Boufalant comes back after the Hydreigon KO, instead of Bisharp. Oh well...with Hydreigon down, time to try something a bit different. Instead of having Haunter take considerable chip from Megahorn, I can start a pivot cycle. Crobat switches in and takes significantly less damage from the Megahorn, then U-turns out for a tiny bit of damage and gets to send Haunter back out--this time for free, on a called Head Charge.

A couple more loops of that and I get to a point where it looks like Haunter can KO with one more Psychic rather than switching out again, and sure enough that's what happens. Now if Ghetsis wants to keep his ace in the hole, there's no choice but to send Bisharp out, which means it's time for Haunter to bow out in traditional fashion, with Destiny Bond. You did good, champ.

Last, and certainly not least, we have to deal with Zekrom (Reshiram for UM players, naturally; but in contrast to Cyrus and Lysandre's teams, the legend Ghetsis being is the opposite to the one that I could go into the wormhole and find for myself). As a physical attacker, this is a prime candidate to throw out Granbull and stick the -1 where it counts, but what I'm really looking to do is PP stall Bolt Strike. It takes a few sacks, and a couple Protects, but I manage to do just that as well as send Granbull back out to make Zekrom face a second Intimidate.

With no Bolt Strikes left, Ghetsis would rather go for the special attack in Hyper Voice than press his luck with a -2 Zen Headbutt. Sure enough, Hyper Voice comes close to the edge of hitting 50% against Granbull, and a second shot may well seal the deal...which it would need after a Play Rough leaves Zekrom deep in the yellow. But before Zekrom gets the chance to try's our old friend the Quick Claw! Another Play Rough hit, KO, battle over. And still, at no point in any of these RR battles have I had to use a mid-battle item (unless we count those Poke Balls I was throwing at the mook Tentacruel to waste time while it burned through its Protect PP, when I had the perfectly usable alternative available of switching between two poison types).

Waste the Rainbow

That's it, Colress dispatches Ghetsis after he tries to turn to physical abuse in retaliation for losing, and now there's only one battle left once I walk through that final teleport. I just have to duck back out of the mansion for a few, final preparations, to include depositing all but one of my team members in the PC just to style on the final opponent, Giovanni.

Let's do this. 1-on-5 against the final trainer of the episode, using an unevolved Litten. What could go wrong, anyway? (Before you ask: no, even though this battle ostensibly takes place in the same room as the matchup against Lusamine, this is not a battle I'm freely able to lose like that one was.)

The first observation here is of course that I'm trying to make this work with a solo Litten. The second observation, though, is that Litten no longer has its Eviolite (gasp!) Instead, it holds an Air Balloon, now obtainable from Malie Garden. This item is immensely helpful because of Giovanni's single blind spot: he leads with a Dugtrio, which has Earthquake/Sucker Punch/Sandstorm/Stealth Rock. Earthquake can't hit me because of the balloon, and Sucker Punch can't hit if we don't attack back,'s setup time!

Another thing you might notice is that Litten is already missing some health. After beating the league, going to Kukui's house means I can get the Substitute TM, and using that twice against wilds allowed me to get the HP down to a specifically controlled point before I put the finished moveset into place. You can probably guess the reason for doing so, as Dugtrio figures "might as well!" and leads with Sandstorm, putting on a timer of chip damage that ticks down toward Blaze range and beyond. After that, the only productive moves it has are the five Sucker Punch PP, so I can simply pass the time against those by using Work Up six times for free.

Dugtrio is now in position to make a PP stall switch, and goes to Rhyperior, while I take the opportunity to put down a +6 Flame Charge to get a speed boost. It doesn't deal much damage against the resistant Rhyperior with its huge defense, but the damage it does get is vitally important. Litten is in red health now, but if not for using both of those Substitutes earlier, it wouldn't be in Blaze range yet. +6 Blaze-boosted Flame Charge on the physical side, followed by +6 Blaze Flamethrower on the special side, is usually enough to bring the statue toppling down. But not just yet.

Because Dugtrio has a Smooth Rock, there's still one turn of sand remaining after Rhyperior takes the Flame Charge. While sand doesn't weaken fire moves per se, it does have that side effect of giving +50% special defense to Rock-types, a boon that affects Rhyperior and nobody else on Giovanni's team. This means that if I go for the Flamethrower right away, it will be well short of KO range. It's time for desperate measures, then: in order to accommodate the necessary moves, I had to delete Litten's Growl, the one move that it's held onto for the entire game prior to this battle. Instead, that moveslot needs to contain Protect, specifically for this contingency to waste the final turn of sand without getting obliterated by Stone Edge. Next turn, I can hit Rhyperior when it doesn't have the boosted SpD, and finish it off from about 80%. Four left.

Next up, Nidoking. Gets outsped by +1 Litten, and KO'd by Flamethrower from well within Blaze range before it can move. That was easy, and Litten levels up to 65. Next...back to Dugtrio for some reason. They must not be taking the balloon into account here, and figuring that Earthquake for 100 takes precedence over Earth Power for only 90. Giovanni does at least know better when it comes time to selecting the actual moves, and Dugtrio has nothing better than to replenish sand before it gets OHKO'd by the +6 Flame Charge (there's a risk of running into Sand Veil here, but thankfully not too bad). Nidoqueen comes along and meets the same fate as its partner in Poke-crime, and coincidentally--but not a coincidence I'm ever going to turn down, because of the sheer theatrics--end-turn sand damage drops Litten to exactly 1 HP, setting up a 1v1 finale.

That one on the other side is of course the sixth ace up the leaders' sleeves, Mewtwo. It's going to evolve into Mega Mewtwo X (Y on the moon side), because what did I expect? Well, I expected enough to make one final, very important step in the pre-battle preparation. (Who wouldn't?) Yes, I have access to a +7 levels meal from the Rare Kitchen. That never ended up being necessary. All that was necessary was using the EV facilities to drain some EVs out of Special Defense, which is useless in this battle (given that Nidoqueen takes a OHKO before it moves), and stick them in Speed by jumping around a Stomp-Stomp House.

Thanks to that bit of prep work, Litten's speed ended up reaching 127 after the mid-battle level up to 65. +2 from Flame Charges, so double that to 254. Giovanni's Mewtwo, fully invested in Atk/Spe and with four moves that could easily KO Eviolite Litten from full health, ends up with 252. That's just enough to give this little kitty one shot at plus...six...Blaze...boosted...Flamethrower...good DAY sir! You LOSE!

And I can't forget to B-cancel the evolution one last time, of course.

No one cares about the 55 Big Nuggets, or getting to see Faba's demotion, or being able to sleep in Lusamine's bed again. All that matters is that the Dexit Challenge is done, and no one has to play through that mess of a ruleset again. (Unless you want to experiment with how it turns out on other games, of course. If that strikes you as being up your alley for some reason, go right ahead.)

Final Tabulation
National Dex Seen: 161 (Owned: 12)
Alola Dex Seen: 146

Species that were seen, whose next evolution never was (27):
Mime Jr.
Eevee (x6, Vaporeon and Glaceon were the only evolutions seen)

Species that were seen, whose previous evolution never was (67):

Cast of Characters

1. Litten "Pest Control" ♂
Met: Route 1, level 5
Final level: 66
Gentle nature
Ability: Blaze
IVs: 13-9-21-15-29-13
EVs: 100-100-90-80-0-140
Moves: Work Up, Flame Charge, Flamethrower, Protect

Every run of course has its starter, and...who would have ever expected this much out of it in a challenge where it's forced to stay in first stage all the way to the bitter end? Early access to Fire Pledge when the game was being stingy with moves in that power range on everything else came in clutch for powering through Totem Lurantis and Togedemaru. It eventually took over as the Eviolite user after Golbat graduated out of its eligibility, and performed admirably in that role too. Beating Hau's Vaporeon to become champion is definitely a nice visual, even if the heavy lifting in getting rid of the more urgent Hydro Pump was done by other team members. And of course, that whole soloing Giovanni with a 4-5 level disadvantage and unevolved BST of 320 thing. How? Why? You tell me.

2. Grubbin "Shock Troops" ♀
Met: Route 1, level 4
Final level: 36
Relaxed nature
Ability: Swarm
IVs: 11-11-15-1-27-21
EVs: 76-48-15-30-17-37
Moves: X-Scissor, Thunder Wave, Mud-Slap, Volt Switch

The mandatory first encounter after obtaining Poke Balls, its moves like Mud-Slap were helpful at times for going on fishing expeditions, but never being able to evolve it to Charjabug (even though Vikavolt was unlocked later on, only obtainable via the totem if I wanted it) really hurt its ability to perform stat-wise, as well as preventing it from gaining the secondary type which led to me playing the whole game without ever having an Electric resist.

3. Ekans "I'm Shufflin" ♀
Met: Route 2, level 10
Final level: 46
Sassy nature
Ability: Intimidate
IVs: 22-19-30-14-14-21
EVs: 94-79-20-42-20-47
Moves: Glare, Acid Spray, Stockpile, Sludge Wave

Intimidate and Glare gave Ekans a definite niche even when the need to keep pressing B to leave it unevolved kept it lagging behind the curve. Unfortunately we wouldn't come across any mandatory Arbok encounters until extremely late, too late even for me to want to take it out of the box for one last hurrah. Until its slot got replaced, Ekans was a sneaky-good team member who slithered its way to some well-earned mileage in a lot of the "boss" trainers through islands 2 and 3.

4. Smeargle "Tech Mission" ♂
Met: Route 2, level 9
Final level: 63
Timid nature
Ability: Technician
IVs: 1-27-9-9-2-4
EVs: 100-0-100-0-100-210
Moves: Leech Seed, Sketch, Destiny Bond, Foul Play

At first I was beginning to worry that the limited battles available, and thus limited sources of moves to acquire, would have left Smeargle without a niche forever. But one night, facing the frightening prospect of a ridiculously constraining totem was destiny. With that foothold in place, it built up other niches to gain additional confidence. Foul Play as, essentially, the "Banette slaughter" button. Taking inspiration from Olivia's own Stealth Rocks at just the right time to get the assist in allowing a setup sweep through Sturdy...even being at the core of wearing down Cyrus's Dialga with Leech Seed. Smeargle's theoretical versatility has never been in doubt, but all the ways it was able to perform by the end were pleasantly surprising.

5. Crobat "Remote Drone" ♂
Met: Sandy Cave, level 9 (as Zubat)
First evolution: level 26
Second evolution: level 51
Final level: 63
Bashful nature
Ability: Inner Focus
IVs: 2-23-12-22-17-30
EVs: 100-100-38-0-20-252
Moves: Wing Attack, Cross Poison, Defog, U-turn

No matter what region you're in, it can't avoid getting swarmed by Zubats. Might as well work with them the best we can, then. Uniquely getting to evolve twice out of all the team members, this gave it a chance to change perspective as the run went on. From the very beginning, I knew it at least had its useful typing to stay, and even while it was still a Zubat, the early power of Wing Attack was just enough to draw Totem Araquanid, the first one that was a required OHKO, into its sights--even if it took a critical Z-move and slight overleveling to have any way to match up with the totem's numerical stat superiority. After being the first team member allowed to evolve at all, it wasn't long before it added U-turn, allowing it to throw in a bit of chip damage on any pivot loops it took part in, and Eviolite gave it passable bulk as a Golbat. Even the move tutors were good for it, taking Defog specifically for in-game purposes to help with Hapu's grand trial. Finally, Gladion's use of Crobat gave it the green flag to race ahead and evolve again, losing Eviolite but becoming the master of the hit-and-run, a phenomenally powerful tactic against trainer AI that's often highly predictable. Being sack fodder a lot went on to cost it some levels compared to its main teammates, but it still did plenty with what it had.

6. Wishiwashi "Acute Angler" ♀
Met: Route 7, level 23
Final level: 66
Brave nature
Ability: Schooling
IVs: 18-14-20-27-26-3
EVs: 252-80-80-70-28-0
Moves: Scald, Bulldoze, Aqua Tail, Tearful Look

Wishiwashi was the one member of the team who always had actual stats backing it up (except when it fell down into Schooling range, of course). Whether for dishing out hard hits (including at the very start of its tenure when it was the only thing available with enough oomph to fell Totem Marowak), tanking things to be a slow pivot with U-turn and get someone else in safely, or tanking things to spam Tearful Look so that the rest of the team might achieve some semblance of the same staying power, the fish was never bereft of opportunities to shimmer once it was reeled on board.

7. Haunter "Eerie-cature" ♂
Met: Memorial Hill, level 24 (as Gastly)
First evolution: level 41
Final level: 64
Rash nature
Ability: Levitate
IVs: 22-26-21-27-0-15
EVs: 3-1-0-252-2-252
Moves: Destiny Bond, Dazzling Gleam, Psychic, Shadow Ball

Originally resigned to being a cheeky plot device who could become overleveled to get Destiny Bond and hand it off to the underleveled Smeargle to solve the problem of Totem Mimikyu with sufficient hilarity, the level curve eventually got caught up...and Gastly/Haunter was still there to be welcomed back, where it eventually settled into its obvious role of special sweeper when that was able to work. That was also around the time when the team had settled into the mild comfort of figuring we would be slightly outleveled for the rest of the game, so there weren't as many opportunities to jump into that as we might have liked, but that wasn't all. Haunter also had its share of opportunities to pivot in safely on normal-types, while remaining almost deliberately frail against pretty much everything else, for the purpose of pulling out...that first key move. As a faster DB user than Smeargle, that perk was never something to be counted out.

8. Granbull "Miss Dealing" ♀
Met: Poni Wilds, level 44
Final level: 65
Hardy nature
Ability: Intimidate
IVs: 22-18-18-21-13-21
EVs: 152-100-138-0-100-20
Moves: Bulldoze, Crunch, Protect, Play Rough

Obviously the heir apparent to Ekans's team slot once I was legally able to encounter one, Granbull brought its own flavor to the classic Intimidator specialist. By not stacking so many poison-types on the same team, it was more amenable to favorable shuffles even when attack-dropping wasn't the main goal we had in mind. It had diverse coverage among all the TMs I had collected earlier on and finally had someone to be compatible with them, and an attack stat strong enough to hit reasonably hard with those moves. Just ask Olivia how that turned out. And being so impactful with its hits made it a naturally synergistic holder of the Quick Claw--not something you want to have to rely on very often, but a neat bonus when it does fire.

9. Type: Null "Scrapathetic"
Met: Ancient Poni Path, level 60
Final level: 60
Sassy nature
Ability: Battle Armor
IVs: 31-31-31-7-31-0
EVs: 0-0-0-0-0-0
Moves: Metal Sound, Iron Head, Double Hit, Air Slash

Yeah, it exists, because I was too apathetic to clog the PC with eggs or duplicate catches to avoid taking it. Can't say much else for it.
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