Not Enough Of You Talk About Pokemon Ruby & Sapphire’s Fortree City

If you’re one of the few people in the world who can recall Pokemon Ruby & Sapphire’s Fortree City on command, it’s probably because of how much you hate Winona’s stupid Altaria. Honestly, people will complain about Whitney’s Miltank without even recognizing the true issue with bird lady’s giant cuckoo dragon. I’ve successfully Nuzlocked Gen 3 a few times, but the sixth gym never ceases to give me the shivers, even if I’ve technically got ‘mons who are super-effective against Flying-types. I’ve had actual nightmares about Winona’s Altaria.

That’s not why I’m talking about Fortree City today. I’m not going to bang on about the Devon Scope and invisible Kecleon either, although I still reckon that’s a pretty cool gimmick obstacle relative to more standard stuff like cuttable trees and pushable boulders. What I’m talking about today is Fortree’s layout – the wooden bridges that connect all of the birdkeepers’ huts together, and their brilliant juxtaposition with the seaborne planks of Pacifidlog Town at the opposite end of the map. It creates this remarkably cyclical structure between the sea and the sky, which is endemic to the mythology behind Hoenn’s Legendary Trio. I don’t think it’s unintentional.

When I say that Fortree City and Pacifidlog Town are posited as opposites to one another, I don’t mean they’re at directly opposing vertices – if you look at the map of Hoenn, you’ll see that Pacifidlog is slightly more eastern than Fortree. I think this is done mostly to balance the map out a bit more, which is incredibly west-leaning in this region, with the eastern seas being only sporadically populated compared to the vast metropolis of Rustboro City, and the volcanic backdrops of Lavaridge and Fallarbor. And so it doesn’t matter that they’re not staring each other straight in the eye – Fortree and Pacifidlog are still diametrically opposed twins.

This motif is echoed throughout Hoenn, with the western, active volcanoes being perfect opposites for the previously underwater volcanic city of Sootopolis in the east. Dewford’s deep Granite Cave is at vertical odds with the Mossdeep space center, while rushing waterfalls that lead to Evergrande City are pretty disparate from the harsh magmascapes of Mt. Pyre. In a game so inherently tied to ecocriticism, it’s no wonder that all of its pairs are doled out to be a clean geographical polarization of their corresponding opposite, both in terms of global position and climate conditions.

The reason I’m so interested in Fortree in particular is because it’s the most stark example of this. Located in the middle of Hoenn’s northern region, Fortree is the perfect lens to view the rest of the map’s symbolism through. The Weather Institute is to the west, where you encounter nefarious schemes to violently terraform the world, whereas Lilycove to the east is the last continental civilization before venturing off towards island cities. It might be because the Sky Tower is located near Pacifidlog Town that the opposition began to seem so clear to me, but there’s such a clear divide between east and west in Hoenn that I think people sometimes forget to consider the difference between north and south. It’s easy to differentiate two sides of a map into land and water – especially in a game so obsessed with the pros and cons of expanding both – but it’s much more fascinating to look at verticality, which is ultimately what determines the true integrity of Hoenn. I’m far more interested in volcano peaks, underwater cities, isolated towers that stretch into the sky, and caverns that descend to the Earth’s core than like, a path vs a pool.

But it’s the Fortree/Pacifidlog dichotomy that serves as the centrifugal force that governs all of the other connections. They’re so strikingly similar in layout that it’s almost hamfisted – rope bridges that are suspended high in the sky, or rope bridges hovering above water to support foundations on the ocean’s surface? One city is designed to aspire upwards, whereas the other is fascinated by the mystery that lies below. Pacifidlog is missing a gym, mind, presumably because it’s a late-game area and has absolutely no business competing with the majesty of Sootopolis City, one of the best single locations in a Pokemon game ever. Still, it has the Sky Tower next to it and is pretty close to the underground cavern where shit hits the fan in the main story, so I reckon it’s sufficiently significant to the narrative to hold its own weight without having some monotype trainer acting like they’re the dog’s bollocks in an oversized indoor playground. Because let’s be real, Pokemon gyms are like escape rooms for five-year-olds.

I love Gen 3 for its story, its ‘mons, and the general atmosphere of Hoenn, but I also love how much attention it paid to its ecocritical basis – even in terms of how stupid its villains are. Fortree City is renowned for Winona and her git of an Altaria, but do you know what? You should remember it for its relationship to Pacifidlog, too, and how that single link serves as the key for connecting the rest of the map.

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Cian Maher is the Lead Features Editor at TheGamer. He’s also had work published in The Guardian, The Washington Post, The Verge, Vice, Wired, and more. You can find him on Twitter @cianmaher0.

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