Today I get a tantalising glimpse of something I really wish the Pokémon games would spend more time on: the history of the Pokémon universe. There are a fair number of ancient ruins in the Pokémon world left behind by some now-defunct civilisation and there’s not a whole lot we know about them – personally I put this down to the fact that the archaeologists of this world are (speaking as an archaeology student) even more frighteningly incompetent, if that’s possible, than their zoologists. What we can figure out for ourselves, however, is that Pokémon were quite as important in the past as they are in the present, and a few in particular – such as this bizarre-looking creature, Sigilyph. Sigilyph’s curious appearance has a vaguely Native American feel to me but I don’t know a lot about American archaeology – I think a friend of mine said she looks sort of Hopi? The text of her Pokédex entries doesn’t draw on Native American themes so an alternative possibility is that they just started drawing and kept going until they got something that looked entirely spooky and alien – and either way, it worked. Sigilyph are mysterious Pokémon indeed; they’re found only in a desert in south central Unova and supposedly patrol the former boundaries of an ancient city, attacking intruders with their formidable psychic abilities (actually, if this is the kind of thing you have to contend with, maybe it’s not surprising that all archaeologists in the Pokémon universe are adventurers and treasure hunters). The Pokédex claims that they “remember” guarding this city in the past, and while I don’t trust the Pokédex as far as I could throw it that is interesting. Given that Sigilyph are powerful psychics, I suppose it’s possible that those memories could be passed on telepathically but it’s also possible that they simply have absurdly long lifespans, or just don’t age at all. Either way, the fact that this species is apparently unique to the area that used to be that city and single-mindedly devoted to protecting its ruins suggests that they had a very special relationship with the people who lived there – I half suspect they may even have been created somehow by the ancient Unovans. I think it’s a really fascinating concept with a lot of room for development.
As I mentioned before, several existing Pokémon, mostly Psychic-types, are strongly linked to ancient civilisations. Bronzong were once worshipped because of their power to control weather, Baltoy and Claydol were apparently born from ancient figurines exposed to a vague and poorly-understood animating force, Volcarona seems to have been viewed as some kind of solar deity by the same people who are connected with Sigilyph, and many legendary Pokémon, of course, used to be involved in all kinds of shenanigans in ages past. The most notable one, though, is probably Unown.
The Unown are extradimensional Pokémon that first appeared in Gold and Silver and are supposedly connected with the origin of writing, their twenty-six different shapes providing the archaic templates for the twenty-six letters of the alphabet. They communicate with each other telepathically and manifest strange powers when together in groups – in the third Pokémon movie, Spell of the Unown, a large swarm demonstrates the ability to significantly alter reality. Most people have no idea what they are, what powers they have or what they’re up to… and people who do learn more about them have been known to disappear. They sound like pretty cool Pokémon, but their presentation in the games is terrible. They’re probably among the top ten weakest Pokémon in the entire game – a skilfully-played Magikarp could wipe the floor with these things – because all of their stats range from outright bad to merely mediocre, and they can only use Hidden Power, which can be learnt by all but twelve other Pokémon. They are, quite transparently, in the games just to provide an excuse for a tedious and pointless side-quest – namely, to catch all twenty-six (twenty-eight since Fire Red and Leaf Green added “!” and “?”). It’s time-consuming, the rewards are, historically, not worth it, it doesn’t advance the story, and most importantly, catching all of the damn things doesn’t actually let you learn any more about them. The burning question is, though, why am I harping on about the Unown like this when I’m supposed to be talking about Sigilyph? Besides the obvious reason that I’m easily drawn into tangents about things I hate, Sigilyph’s design resembles Unown’s in certain respects – it’s most obvious in the head, but the whole aesthetic is vaguely similar and her name (a portmanteau of sigil and glyph) suggests that the designers did indeed have a similar concept in mind. This makes this entry an excellent time to make a point I’ve been wanting to for a while: game mechanics are a representation of a Pokémon’s concept just like art and flavour text. The point of setting out a Pokémon’s mechanical abilities should be to create the most awesome portrayal possible of that concept and allow a Pokémon to be good at doing, and contribute by doing, the things it’s supposed to be good at. Unless your concept is “a Pokémon with no useful skills whatsoever,” Unown is not a valid response. Sigilyph is. She hits all the same notes as Unown was supposed to, only she didn’t have to be useless in order to do it.
I should probably give at least a brief account of why I think Sigilyph is empirically awesome. She’s slower than she’d like to be but still very fast, her special attacks are impressive, and given those two points, she’s surprisingly bulky. Psychic/Flying is a so-so type combination in most respects and although her offensive movepool is pretty good, even with Ice Beam, Shadow Ball, Energy Ball, Air Slash and Psychic to choose from, she doesn’t have any way to reliably damage most Steel-types. Even if she did, of course, there are plenty of other Pokémon who are much better at plain old damage. Sigilyph is awesome for different reasons. Like many newer Psychic Pokémon, she has access to a dizzying array of support moves, and her combination of speed and reasonable defences allow her to make good use of many of them: with Reflect and Light Screen, she can provide protection for your team, Hypnosis, Thunder Wave and Psycho Shift allow her to disable opponents, Calm Mind, Roost and Cosmic Power can be used to give her formidable bulk, and if you’re prepared to design your team to exploit their effects, Gravity and Trick Room can significantly slant the conditions of battle in your favour. What’s more, one of the passive abilities she can have is nothing short of ridiculous. Magic Guard, an ability formerly exclusive to Clefable, renders a Pokémon completely immune to all indirect damage: burns, poison, Leech Seed, recoil, Hail, Stealth Rock, Spikes and goodness knows what else. A Pokémon with this ability can be very difficult to deal with, especially if, like Sigilyph, it’s not a complete pushover defensively. Magic Guard cements Sigilyph’s spot as a solid and unique support Pokémon. Her Dream World ability is also awesome, but Dream World Sigilyph don’t exist yet as far as I know, so we’ll just have to wait for it – it’s Tinted Lens, which doubles the power of all attacks resisted by the target, making its user’s assault very difficult to withstand. Sigilyph’s offensive movepool isn’t the best I’ve ever seen, but it’s still pretty good, and also probably the best of any Pokémon that can have the Tinted Lens ability – and fairly high speed and special attack stats combined with nigh-unresistable attacks are a dangerous combination indeed. She’s just slow enough and just fragile enough that I doubt she’ll take the game apart piece by piece, but this is one Pokémon to watch out for.
I think I’ve said all I really meant to say, but I suppose I should summarise to wrap it up. Sigilyph is a wonderful Pokémon. She’s creepy, yes, but in her case the creepiness is very clearly intended in the design, and it’s done pretty well. She has all of the same connection to the mysteries of the past as Pokémon like Claydol, Bronzong and Unown while having her own niche within that theme, and she’s pretty powerful to boot. Sigilyph is another example of the kind of Pokémon that keep my faith in this series alive, and damn, I love her for it.
I hereby affirm this Pokémon’s right to exist!