Visit an island near Nuvema Town, the starting location in Black and White, and you might meet a Pokémon Ranger with a mysterious egg to give away. This mysterious egg will hatch into a fascinating insect, which will probably set you on fire. With any luck this, like that regrettable incident between Ash and Pikachu, will signify the beginning of a lifelong friendship. Unless you just decide to squash it. Meet Larvesta, the torch Pokémon!
Personally I think Larvesta is cute but I could understand if she had her dissenters. I don’t think there’s any question, though, that it’s a fun design. The solar image created by her horns stands out nicely, and the idea of a larval insect that lives around volcanoes is just cool. Combining the Bug and Fire elements is something Pokémon hasn’t done before and frankly I think it would have been a difficult idea to screw up, which illustrates something that I don’t think Game Freak have cottoned onto yet – there’s still a bunch of type combinations they haven’t tried yet, and just picking one at random is almost certain to suggest some interesting flavour as well as creating a mechanically unique Pokémon. Even if they had picked the boring, obvious choice as the base for this Pokémon – a firefly – I think it could have worked. They didn’t, of course, and instead we get a caterpillar which evolves (at a ridiculously high level, I might add – I used this thing in my first play-through and believe you me, she takes patience) into… yet another moth. There have been no fewer than six butterfly and moth Pokémon in the past and I am getting sick of it. Beautifly and Dustox from Ruby and Sapphire were sad, depressing knock-offs of Butterfree and Venomoth and everyone knows it. I honestly believe the pitch for them went something like this: “Okay, guys, this is gonna be great. Let’s draw new art for Caterpie, Metapod and Butterfree, mess with their stats a little bit, tack on an alternate evolutionary path that leads to an inferior version of Venomoth, and presto! We’ve made five new Pokémon and hardly done any work at all! And best of all, no-one will notice the similarities because we’re not going to put Caterpie in the new game anyway! It’s foolproof!”
That had nothing to do with Volcarona, but I really needed to rant about it.
Number five, Masquerain, I actually don’t mind because he has both flavour aspects and mechanical abilities to distinguish him from all the others; like many real-world insects, he uses the huge eye patterns on his wings to trick and frighten predators (and thus has the ever-useful Intimidate ability) and he has vague associations with weather, rain and water (he evolves from a water-strider, Surskit, and can predict rain) and so can learn Hydro Pump, Rain Dance, and Ice Beam. Masquerain’s a good example, actually, of a Pokémon that’s not all that strong but is nicely designed and deserves to live anyway. Mothim, on the other hand, deserves to die in a fire but I should really get back to Volcarona. Volcarona is one of those honorary legendary Pokémon that crop up from time to time; there are stories about how her fire provided light and heat for people in times when the sun was blocked out by volcanic activity, and it’s implied that at least one ancient civilisation worshipped Volcarona as a solar deity – you find a wild one lingering in a room that looks like it used to be a shrine to them. “Pokémon that were worshipped as gods” is a fun theme, and I like that Volcarona does it without going over the top the way many legendary Pokémon do (case in point: Palkia and Dialga, who are pretty godlike in their powers over space and time, and Arceus, who may very well be a legitimate divine being – remember, Game Freak, people are going to capture these things). Like many of the larger moths of the real world, Volcarona has a touch of majesty about her that makes her a very impressive ally to have at your side.
So, is Volcarona powerful? Hoo boy. Volcarona is fast, has one of the highest special attack stats in the game, and isn’t a pushover defensively either. She learns Quiver Dance, one of the most wonderful new moves Black and White gave us, which enhances special attack, speed and special defence all at once (it’s also exclusive to butterfly and moth Pokémon, plus Lilligant, so Volcarona is the strongest Pokémon to learn it by a long way). She even has a cool signature move, Fiery Dance, a Fire attack which is weaker than the traditional standby, Flamethrower, but makes all her special attacks even stronger every time she uses it. Sadly, besides her various Fire techniques and her primary Bug-type attack, Bug Buzz, the only notable special attack she has is Psychic, which is not known for wide type-coverage. If you want to put her on a sun-themed team, there’s also Solarbeam, which is nice because Grass and Fire attacks complement each other fairly well, but it’ll never be viable without a source of sunlight (she also has access to Morning Sun for healing, which is normally somewhat unreliable because most weather conditions reduce its effectiveness, but on a sun team it would work like a charm if you wanted a bulkier Volcarona). Compared to many other sweeper-type Pokémon, Volcarona can’t score as many super-effective hits – but between Quiver Dance, Fiery Dance and her already ridiculous special attack score, her destructive potential is already so immense that I honestly don’t care. Volcarona isn’t perfect, of course. Bug/Fire isn’t exactly a bad type, with five resistances and only three weaknesses, but one of those is a double-weakness to Rock attacks. The Pokémon community at large has two words for anything with a double-weakness to Rock attacks: Stealth Rock. Using Stealth Rock, a technique introduced in Diamond/Pearl, scatters dozens of pointed rocks that defy gravity and float in the air, stabbing your opponent’s Pokémon every time a new one switches in. It’s not much use against AI trainers because they rarely switch at all but when you’re fighting a real person chances are both of you will switch practically every other turn, so everyone uses Stealth Rock. The thing about Stealth Rock is that, unlike the older Spikes, which has a similar effect, Stealth Rock has an element (Rock) and so its damage scales according to how a Pokémon feels about rocks. If it doesn’t mind so much, Stealth Rock does hardly any damage at all. If, like Volcarona, it hates rocks with a passion, Stealth Rock will knock off a full 50% of its health every time it switches in. Thus, if you are going to use Volcarona, you must have a Pokémon with Rapid Spin on your team, even if you have no idea what that means, because using Rapid Spin will clear away nonsense like Stealth Rock and allow Volcarona to wreak havoc like the god of fiery devastation she is.
Volcarona is a crazily powerful Pokémon, but she has a couple of flaws – a narrow movepool and that horrid weakness to Rock attacks – that stop her from going overboard, which I guess is nice as a nod to game balance, even though the notion of “game balance” is something that the Pokémon series has repeatedly beaten, tarred, feathered, raped, set on fire and crucified (and not necessarily in that order). She’s also a good illustration of just how easy it really is to do something new if only the designers would stop thinking there’s some reason they have to reinvent Pidgey and Rattata every generation – just pick a couple of elements that sound like they’d be fun together and see what happens! More of this, please, Game Freak – and also, more stuff like that shrine I mentioned; places and events that describe a Pokémon’s place in the world are fun.
I hereby affirm this Pokémon’s right to exist!