Pokemon X: The Chesnaught Solo Run

And with that, I covered all three Kalos Starters, making X and Y the third pair of games that gets the Full Starter Coverage treatment. Just four more Gens to go! 

Little Chespin, resident Grass Starter of the Gen VI entries, could as well have been called 'Missed Opportunity' or even 'Giant Blunder'. His overall design, although inventive and cohesive, is so utterly repulsive that it tainted his whole legacy and probably deterred countless players from selecting him. Heck, I can honestly say that were I not so hell-bent on running solo with all Starters from all gens, I would never have touched the chesnut-meet-rodent creature in a million solo runs. And mind you, I'm still absolutely not sold on the Chespin line's designs and probably never will be; while I moderately like Chespin himself, Quilladin and Chesnaught were a constant insult to my retinas. However, I have to bow down to Chespin&evos when it comes to battle prowess; because let's face it, we're totally dealing with one of the best offensive Grass Starters ever created since the dawn of the series.

It's fairly well known that GameFreak wanted the Kalos Starters to emulate traditional classes in RPG. In that regard, having the Grass Starter don the role of the Warrior/Paladin made perfect sense: trees can be associated with strength and solidity, while the intangibility of fire and the slipperiness of water makes them perfect fits for the Mage and Ninja classes respectively. Not only were those design choices beautifully spot-on, but they also treated us to a Grass Starter that's not a complete pushover on the battlefield. Chesnaught is a pure Physical powerhouse, with sky-high Attack and even higher Defense. That allows him to take a million hits comfortably while he obliterates foes, which beautifully compensate for his lousy Speed and make his whopping six Type weaknesses hardly noticeable. Chesnaught's double Grass/Fighting typing works really well on the battlefield, and he's treated to an absolutely stellar Move pool another nice change for a Grass Starter. Chesnaught's levelling-up learnset comprises offensive Moves belonging to a whopping seven different Types; such variety is rare, even amongst Types that are traditionally more flexible than Grass when it comes to offensive coverage.

I definitely had fun with my Chespin's Move pool, let me tell you that. It was already thrilling enough to handle powerful Grass Moves, which is something I don't get to do often since I hardly ever play with Grass 'Mons; but Chespin&evos also have access to other Moves that I had never handled before. Moves such as Take Down, Hammer Arm, Low Sweep or even Mud Shot quenched my thrist for Move experimentation and totally made my day so much so that I didn't even feel compelled to use my beloved Return. After copiously switching between Moves, I finally settled on Seed Bomb (Grass), Take Down (Normal), Hammer Arm (Fighting) and Rock Tomb (Rock) in the late stages of my run. Once on Victory Road, I couldn't be arsed to make a detour to pick up Dragon Claw; and with hindsight, that was a bit of a mistake on my part. Wielding Dragon Claw instead of the rather weak Rock Tomb would undoubtedly have made my Elite Four showndown a trifle smoother, instead of the Battle Item-littered trudge it turned out to be. Oh, well. I was crowned Champion all the same in the end, and that's all that matters.

Long story short: Chesnaught looks like shit, but he can strut his stuff like a boss on the battlefield. He can claim the honour of being my second favourite Kalos Starter when it comes to battle prowess: not quite as awesome as Delphox, but still way better than Greninja. And I have to admit that Chespin&evos somewhat renewed my faith in Grass Starters and made me want to try more of them. I sure hope that my next Starters Runs pack pleasant surprises on the Grass front! And as usual, dear fellow gamers: thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!


Pokemon Y: The Greninja Solo Run

I wanted to perform a speedrun of sorts with that particular playthrough, just to see how much I could squeeze my playtime on Gen VI; and boy, did that work well. At 10 hours and 15 minutes, my Greninja run is undoubtedly my shortest Pokemon solo run ever. And well, isn't that good to know that I can get a quickie run out of the Gen VI entries as well! Now I just have to check if I can perform the same kind of time compression in the Gen VII games. But not right now; for some reason, I developed some kind of aversion to everything Gen VII after my recent Ultra Sun & Moon playthroughs. Weird, really.

But I digress. This post is all about Greninja, a beloved 'Mon if there ever was one; so beloved, in fact, that it was crowned Most Popular Pokemon in Japan and was granted a half-cringy, hald-badass exclusive transformation. I expected a lot from Kalos' resident Water Starter; and, well... Dare I say that I was a teeny-tiny bit disappointed? Yep, I'll say it: Greninja didn't live up to my expectations. It's not a bad 'Mon by any means, but it's not stellar either at least in a solo run setting. Here are my two main issues with the ninja frog:

—Greninja's double typing doesn't do him any favour. The addition of the Dark Type gives him three extra weaknesses compared to a pure Water Type; weaknesses that are, in my opinion, not quite compensated by the two resistances and the one immunity gained in the process. Sure, it's nice to be resistant to Ghost and Dark; but in a game that features no Dark and Ghost Gyms and very few 'Mons belonging to those types, it's a bit of a waste. As for the Psychic immunity, it'll probably only ever come in handy in the Anistar Gym. Fighting and Fairy 'Mons, on the other hand, are bloody everywhere in Kalos; and wouldn't it have been nice not to be weak to these two particular types. Greninja can also only learn a paltry two Dark Moves by levelling up; not too glorious, methinks. I daresay that the issue stretches beyond Greninja: so far, I have yet to encounter a 'Mon that profits significantly from secondary Dark typing. Either the secondary Dark type doesn't add anything and is treated as an afterthought, or it plainly hampers and weakens the involved 'Mon. I surmise that Dark works better on its own or as a primary Type in double typing although I have yet to check that assumption by tackling solo runs with such 'Mons.

—For a Starter, Greninja is surprisingly weak and slow-growing. He's afflicted with the lowest HP and defensive stats of the three Kalos starters; and while his offensive stats are pretty decent and balanced, his offensive prowess is hampered by the fact that his learnset comprises mostly weak Moves like, Moves with an average power of 40-60. The poor frog can only learn three paltry Moves with a power above 60 through levelling up, and he has to wait until lv.49 for the first of those Moves to be handed to him. Ouch. Only in the very late stages of the game did I manage to put together a Move pool containing solely Moves with a Power of 80 and beyond, thus pretty much guaranteeing one-shooting; before that, well... I hardly ever one-shot anything unless a Type advantage was involved. Or unless I used Return, my eternal ace in the hole in solo runs.

But enough complaining; my Greninja run was entertaining nonetheless, and the Kalos Water Starter does have undeniable qualities along his flaws: a varied learnset with good Type coverage, a sky-high speed that pretty much always offered me the first strike in battle on a silver platter, and an awesome and inventive overall design. Last but not least, he offered me a super-slick Elite Four showdown. With Surf (Water), Ice Beam (Ice), Extrasensory (Psychic) and Return (Normal) as my final Move pool, I was more than well armed to face the Kalos Pokemon League. I neatly took down Malva's Fire 'Mons, Wikstrom's Steel 'Mons and Drasna's Dragon 'Mons with Surf and Ice Beam; as for Siebold's and the Champion's teams, they were easily disposed of with Return. No Battles items, no fainting. At the end of the day, Greninja did the job, and that's all that matters. Now I just have to tackle a Chespin solo run, and I'll be done with the Kalos Starters! Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!


Pokemon Y: The Tyrantrum Solo Run

Back to beautiful Kalos, for the second part of my fossil runs! I managed to squeeze my playtime even more and was crowned Champion after a mere 14 hours of roaming 'n' grinding. Not that shrinking my Pokemon solo runs is a goal per se, mind you; but it's undeniable that I like them better on the short side, a sweet and grindy treat that leaves me sated yet hungry for more. Honestly, I'd much rather have two 15-hours runs in a row than a single 30-hours run. But let's go back to the subject at hand, dear fellow gamers.

Tyrunt is much more straightforward than his fellow fossil Amaura: he's a pure Physical Attacker, with the Attack and Ability to match. Although he doesn't have the widest Move pool of them all, he's granted sufficient Type coverage to take care of most of the Kalos fauna. My Tyrunt wielded four Moves belonging to four different Types during my whole run, and those Types were — amusingly — pretty consistent: Dark, Normal, Dragon and Ground/Rock. The evolution of my Move pool pretty much consisted in replacing my initial Moves with more powerful Moves of the same Type as I progressed — my final Move pool comprising Crunch (Dark), Return (Normal), Dragon Claw (Dragon) and Earthquake (Ground). I unfortunately had to renounce a couple of interesting Moves because they lacked precision or involved self-damage, all things that are hardly beneficial in a solo run. As for Type weaknesses, Tyrunt is afflicted with a whopping six, just like Amaura; however, unlike Amaura, Tyrunt doesn't have to deal with double Fighting and Steel weaknesses, and that made fights against 'Mons of those Types a bit less of a struggle.

These two barebones, no-frills runs of X and Y allowed me to entirely reassess the Gen VI pair. I used to think that they were too darn long — and mind you, they were; however, they were too long only because I spent inordinate amounts of time doing things I didn't like much, things that didn't add anything valuable to my Kalos runs. Sure, Pokemon Amie is cute, but I don't play Pokemon for mini-games. Sure, being able to change my Trainer's attire is neat; but I don't care about fashion in real life, and neither do I in video games. Sure, fighting wild 'Mons gives good XP; but X and Y are so easy anyway that you can make it do just by fighting Trainers. Sure, Lumiose is the biggest Pokemon city ever created, with all sorts of fun places to visit; but if I want to stroll down fancy boulevards, I'd rather go to the real Paris, merci beaucoup. It all boils down to what I actually want to do in my Pokemon solo runs; and as it turns out, I want to grind and cruise regions in one fell swoop, from my modest hometown to the Elite Four summits. I totally approach and play Pokemon games like dungeon-crawlers: cute, mellow, heartwarming dungeon crawlers, but dungeon crawlers all the same, with each region acting as a giant self-contained dungeon. In that regard, the less fluff and diversions along the way, the better.

Kalos also went through a well-deserved bit of rehabilitation in the process. Once I got rid of all the unecessary interruptions, I could at least feast my eyes on Kalos unhindered and take in the region's sheer beauty. And boy, is there a lot of eye-candy to be found there indeed. Kalos is undoubtedly the Pokemon region that offers the most variety in terms of landcape and decor: no town is similar to the next, no Route looks like the one that preceeds it, and even the interior design of houses is unique to each and every locale. Kalos features every possible type of landscape, from the traditional forests and grassy plains to more exotic locations such as mires, a rocky defile, french gardens and a windy steppe, without forgetting a bit of shoreline and what is probably the most gorgeous snowy area ever featured in a Pokemon game. Not only that, but Kalos also offers the most beautiful, well-designed and inventive Gyms in the whole series. They all take full advantage of the 3D to offer exciting puzzles and crawling, as well as splendid designs that are really easy on the retinas. GameFreak truly reached the apex of region and Gym design with Kalos; how sadly ironic, then, to see them drop all their progress on those fronts in the Gen VII games and revert to designs even more barebones than the ones featured in Gen I.

At any rate, those runs gave me the precious opportunity to reassess the Gen VI games in the most glorious way. Soloing those games used to be a bit of a hassle; but thanks to all my clever tweaking, it's now pure, unadulterated pleasure. And that's an most excellent development indeed, because Kalos bristles with solo run candidates that are just itching to prove themselves on the battlefield. (My imagination running wild.) Expect much, much more Kalos goodness in the future, dear fellow gamers! Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!


Pokemon X: The Aurorus Solo Run

If you have an eye for detail, dear fellow gamers, you might have noticed that I've played Pokemon X every summer for the last four years; and, well, this is no coincidence. See, I played the game first in june 2015 as I was staying at my beloved grandfather's place; I have the fondest memories of that trip, and those memories somehow coalesced and crystallized around Pokemon X. The dear old fellow has since passed away; but the memories and the game are still there, and I now replay X every summer to remember those precious moments. This summer is no exception, and that's how I found myself tackling yet another X solo run.

I wanted that run to be a return to basics, a return to all the things I love about Pokemon. I have a complicated relationship with the 3DS entries: although I love them dearly, they usually fail to enthrall and satisfy me as much as the DS and GBA entries. I reckon that this sorry state of affairs is solely due to the sheer length of the 3DS games: soloing them routinely takes around 20 hours, and that's a good 5 hours too much as far as I'm concerned. A good shearing was in order, and that's exactly what I decided to do during that playthrough. The formula was simple: no touching Pokemon Amie (I ignored the feature entirely during my first run of X anyway and things turned out just fine), Repel in all caves and tall grass areas, no shopping for clothes, Potion-gobbling on the road to avoid backtracking to Pokemon Centres, no exploring Lumiose City and, last but not least, an unwavering focus on Gyms and dungeons. It worked like a charm, with my run clocking at 16 hours and being my most enjoyable playthrough of X/Y so far.

My lone 'Mon du jour was Amaura, one of Kalos' two resident fossils. It boasted a double Ice/Rock typing that was unusual and thus interesting, but also promised a bit of a challenge on the battlefield: with six weaknesses including a double weakness to Fighting and Steel, battling could easily get hairy. And, well, it did get hairy. The first roadblock was the Lucario fight in Geosenge, which I won using a purely defensive strategy: give Amaura the Rocky Helmet, then use an X Defense on the first turn to survive Lucario's first hit; then, heal on every turn while Lucario hurts himself to death on the Rocky Helmet. Kinda underhand; but hey, it worked. After that first hurdle, the rest of the Type obstructions was easily dealt with: rely on my boosted speed to one-shoot Fighting and Steel 'Mons before they can hit me, use the Rocky Helmet when necessary, occasionally bypass Trainers, and gobble X Defenses during the Elite Four fight against Wikstrom. All in all, cruising Kalos with Amaura was actually much smoother than I expected, due to his decent and balanced stats and powerful Moves.

And since I'm mentioning Moves, I was a bit surprised by Amaura's orientation in that department. Instead of being an Sweeper or a Tank, as I hoped, he's a Status effect caster with a couple of offensive Special Moves thrown on top and the high Sp. Attack to match think Male Meowstic rather than Charizard. I literally only wielded two Move pools during my whole run: Icy Wind, Aurora Beam (Ice), Round (Normal) and Ancient Power (Rock) in the first half of the game, and then Ice Beam (Ice), Thunderbolt (Electric), Return and Hyper Beam (Normal) in the second half. But wait, there's a catch: because of Amaura's Refrigerate Ability, all my Normal Moves automatically became Ice Moves. This means that I played the whole game with three Ice Moves at all times, which could have been a recipe for disaster; but surprisingly enough, it was not. I was never in a pinch on the battlefield, and my Amaura always hit hard enough to take down even 'Mons resistant to Ice. I had a Flying Hidden Power in my inventory just in case, but I never needed to resort to it. With the 'refrigerated' version of Return, I had access to an extremely powerful and precise Physical Ice Move, which was definitely an ace in the hole against many a 'Mon with low Defense. Despite its vast array of weaknesses, Amaura is a nicely polyvalent 'Mon that can probably fit in all manners of teams: he's a Status effect and Weather caster that can take hits, strike back with a vengeance and resist both Hail and Sand Storm. And as my run abundantly proves, he's also great solo run material. Well done, you.

My Amaura solo run might be over, but I'm far from being done with Kalos. Now that X and Y are back in my good graces, I can plot all the solo runs I want in that Frenchiest of Pokemon regions starting with a run of Y starring Amaura's counterpart and polar opposite Tyrunt. See you soon for more Kalos goodness, dear fellow gamers! Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!


Xenoblade Chronicles 2: All's well that ends well

162 hours, 24 minutes and 44 seconds. I was right when I said last that there was not much left to do and that the end of my run was nigh. After having maxed out all my Rare Blades' affinity charts, I went back to the story and quickly found myself facing the last boss. It turned out that my crew towered a good 30 levels over said last boss, which made that ultimate showdown a complete cinch of a fight. I was a trifle disappointed by that easy victory, so I tried again in Normal Mode; that didn't make the fight any harder, just considerably longer. I'm glad I played the whole game in Easy Mode and saved myself copious amounts of fighting; had I played in Normal, I would probably still be stuck in Mor Ardain.

That being said, I'm a bit saddened by this abrupt ending; because the truth is that I wanted to play more. I wanted to fulfill more sidequests, grind more Rare Blades, explore more dungeons and areas, kill more Unique Monsters. Of course, I could still tackle a New Game +, which comes with heaps of benefits and lets you carry over pretty much everything you've gained over the course of your first run; but with the game being still so incredibly fresh in my mind, I just don't feel like restarting right now all the less so as I already restarted the game a couple of weeks ago. So I'll just leave it at that for the time being, and carefully preserve my save file for a future playthrough on steroids.

My, what a fine playthrough this was. I love everything about that game, from the thrilling fighting system to the enchanting atmosphere, without forgetting the sidequests, Rare Blade management and dungeon crawling. I only have three real beefs with XC2, and I'll mention them quickly for fairness' sake:

  • The soundtrack: Yeah, I know everybody raves about that game's OST, and even I have to admit that we're dealing with high-class music there; however, that stellar soundtrack didn't make me feel anything. I cannot even think of a track that I genuinely liked from beginning to end. But hey, that's just me, not the music itself; it's similar to the way Mozart leaves me cold while Bach makes me feel all mushy inside. 
  • The graphics: It's no secret that I'm a retro whore and that I abhor photorealism in video games. Monolith Soft's attempt at photorealism in XC2 obviously doesn't sit well with me: not only does it make the game boring to look at, but it also interferes with the gameplay. It's much less pleasant and cathartic to kill realistic-looking foes than highly pixelated ones: it ruins that sweet, sweet RPG immersion and leaves you soon wandering why the heck you're slaughtering the whole fauna of the world you're supposed to care for. 
  • The story (SPOILERS): Too much nonsensical fluff, too many deus ex machina, too many cheesy lines, too much telling instead of showing, too much eye-rolling emotional porn, too many ideas lifted straight from Gunnm (up to the orbital station connected to the planet by an elevator). That story was bloated beyond belief and could have used some serious shearing. Just drop the whole Torna shebang, Jin and his shitty crew, the war from 500 years ago that no one cares about and Pyra's useless alter egos; the search for Elysium in order to save humanity from a certain death, spearheaded by a Pyra who just wanted to go back home, would have been more than enough to carry that game all the way through. All the sparing and political intrigues between regions would have provided ample amounts of bosses (cue Bana's scheming and the Tirkin 'conspiracy'), and the story would have been much more mature and elegant. And we could have had an touching reunion between Pyra and Rex at the end, instead of seeing him fidget and ponder which girl he should hug and kiss first. (END OF SPOILERS)

But make no mistake, dear fellow gamers: XC2's pros largely outweight its cons in my book. I could rave on endlessly about the things I love in that gem of a game: the icy, etheral landscape of Tantal and its high-level monsters that only appear when the land is shrouded in fog, the auroras in Leftheria, the dusty grittiness of Mor Ardain, the way huge weapons feel genuinely heavy when your MC swings them, the flexibility of the fighting system that lets you mix and match fighting options and play it your way (I was all about Driver Combos during my first run, and rolled solely with Blade Combos during my second run), the highly adjustable difficulty level, my sidekicks' stellar intelligence in battle (my jaw dropped when I first realized that they could switch Blades on their own I didn't even think that was possible!), the mouth-watering names of all the food on offer, the mellow vibe at night, the fact that I could fight the last boss with Morag instead of Rex and many, many more things. It's safe to assume that I'll replay XC2 at some point, all the more so as my Switch library is shaping up to be quite tiny indeed. Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!


Xenoblade Chronicles 2: 150 hours

Playing XC2 has become a bit of a soothing habit over time: I pick up the game, grind until I'm sated, and turn it off until the next day. Now I understand better how people can pour hundreds of hours into MMORPG or long-winded games à la Skyrim; once you get into that sweet grinding rhythm, it's really easy to keep going. The question is, will my XC2 playthrough beat my 200-hours Dragon Quest IX playthrough and become my newest longest run ever? It would be sweet, but I'm not too sure this will happen. I'm slowly but surely running out of things to do; and since I'm currently standing at the beginning of chapter 10, wrapping up the story will probably require but a mere couple of hours. Just for you, dear fellow gamers, here's a summary of all the neat and nice things I managed to accomplish in the last 50 hours.

—I developed all areas to the max; and as I promised, I did it without resorting to FAQs. I can safely say that I managed to pinpoint the requirements for developing, and that they are pretty similar for all areas: explore, talk to people, do merc missions, clear side quests, and most importantly, buy and sell a LOT of stuff. I got my paws on all the available Deeds (except the one from that Torigoth shop that's tied to a side quest triggered by a Rare Blade I don't own) and boy, do they make things smoother and nicer indeed. Faster running speed, better item drops, larger item collecting range you name it, the Deeds will provide it to you. Most definitely worth the hassle and spending, oh yes precious. 

—I expanded my roster of Rare Blades, with only Kassandra, KOS-MOS and Dahlia still missing. Not bad for somebody who wasn't even planning on collecting Rares, methinks. And since I got hold of all these nice Blades, why not max out their affinity charts while I was at it? That's exactly what I'm been doing for the past 50 hours, and it was tremendously fun. Although requirements can be a tad repetitive at times ("Kill monster x in place y" was visibly a developer's favourite), they are nicely varied and entertaining for the most part. The difficulty variation was also a nice touch, with some Blades requiring significantly more work than others. My personal top 3 of high-maintenance Blades comprises Ursula, who required days of Merc Mission grinding; Boreas, who required a crap ton of foraged items; and last but not least, Sheba, who required no less than a bloody million gold. Fun anecdote, by the way: I was about to start grinding Sheba just as I got the Nopoon Doublon side quest, which also requires a hefty amount of money. I needed two millions for those two tasks; and as I checked my balance, I saw that I had only roughly 800,000 golds. Grumbling a little bit, I proceeded to farm more money until I realised half an hour later that I had read too fast and that I owned not 800,000 golds as I though, but 8 bloody millions golds. I swear I had no idea how I got so filthy rich; the last time I had checked my balance seriously, I had something like 600,000 golds. Grinding for hours in side quests sure pays off, ain't it?

—My whole crew reached the big 99, which is a tad disappointing but also strangely relaxing. My active fighting party is pretty much set, with Morag as my MC and Zeke and Nia as my sidekicks. I use Rex solely when I need to grind his Blades, and I all but ditched poor Tora: the little chap has not been strutting his stuff on the battlefield for dozens of hours. Although he was doing a great job in the early stages of the game, he became a giant gimmick as time went on a time-consuming, high-maintenance gimmick. Not only is he stuck with the three versions of Poppi only, but I cannot even max out the affinity charts of said Poppies because there's some heavy Tiger Tiger playing involved. Why should I even bother with that pervy Nopon and his measly three blades when Morag does as good a job as him as a tank? 

—I slaughtered all Unique Monsters so far, apart from a nasty pair that are still too powerful for my party: the lv. 100 Driver in the Cliffs of Morytha and the lv. 130 creature in Temperentia. There's nothing quite like that feeling of accomplishment you get when you finally take down such powerful foes after a long and arduous fight. Now I understand better why Monster Hunter is so immensely popular.

And that's the gist of my XC2 adventures for the time being, dear fellow gamers. Unless I'm sorely mistaken, I'm probably getting close to the end of my playthrough. I'm not planning to farm Core Crystals in order to gain the three Rares I'm still missing; and since I only have two Rares left to grind, max levels and a paltry single chapter to polish off, my run might very well come to an end in the next days. Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!