Oh look. Another bird Pokémon. Whoo. I am ecstatic. Can you tell?
Luckily for him, Braviary is a huge badass eagle Pokémon that knocks the stuffing out of Pokémon like Fearow and Pidgeot. Even more luckily for him, that’s not all he is. The single feather on Rufflet’s head, and Braviary’s feather ‘headdress,’ seem to be intended to call to mind the headgear of Native American warriors of the central United States, like the Comanche and Cheyenne. As such, their personality is centred around a warrior outlook; they fight each other often for practice, but protect each other ferociously when attacked. Battle scars are a mark of prestige with them and they never back down from fear of a strong opponent. Braviary is incredibly strong and can lift small cars in flight (no, I’m sure it’s not possible but who cares?) and Rufflet can… crush berries with his claws? Am I missing something here? The Pokédex reports that as though it should sound impressive, but… what? Despite this non sequitur I think Rufflet and Braviary are a lot of fun. Compare them to some of the old generic Normal/Flying bird Pokémon: Pidgeot has supersonic flight, wind powers, brilliant eyesight and famously beautiful plumage (relatively obvious concepts for a bird of prey), Fearow can pretty much fly forever and reach ridiculous altitudes (again, sort of boring), Dodrio has three heads that try to kill each other, which is crazy awesome, and Farfetch’d (…poor, poor Farfetch’d…) is a near-extinct wild duck who uses a leek as a sword and quite honestly is probably the coolest of the lot, if only he could actually do anything. In terms of design, I don’t think Braviary is leagues ahead of these but he’s definitely one of the more interesting Pokémon of the group. I can’t help but think that Game Freak got his element wrong, though. The aesthetic imitation of a class of human warrior, the obsession with combat, the focus on courage, the conception of honour… honestly, if those aren’t characteristics of a Fighting-type Pokémon I don’t know what is, but Rufflet and Braviary, like all the other Pokémon I just mentioned, are Normal/Flying-type Pokémon. Fighting/Flying is a combination that doesn’t exist yet and I’m not certain why the designers didn’t pick that instead, unless they were specifically aiming to create another Normal/Flying-type. Actually, now that I think of it, that’s probably exactly what they had in mind. Gods, I hate them.
If Braviary’s going to distinguish himself on mechanical grounds, there is one thing he has to do. He leaves Pidgeot, Fearow, Dodrio and Swellow in the dust, sure, but they’re not important. What matters is whether or not Braviary can be stronger than – or, far better, completely different to – Staraptor. Staraptor is basically Fearow revamped for Diamond and Pearl; his defences are terrible (though still marginally better than Fearow’s) but he’s fast, he hits hard, he has a wonderful ability (Intimidate: when you send out Staraptor, he frightens his opponent to weaken its physical attacks) and, most importantly, where most of the bird Pokémon are stuck with just their Normal- and Flying-type attacks with few other options, Staraptor has a powerful Fighting-type attack, Close Combat, which he can use to demolish the Rock and Steel Pokémon that can safely ignore Swellow, Dodrio and Pidgeot completely (in Black and White Fearow can smack them with a Ground-type attack, Drill Run, which gives him a much-needed edge over his cousins, but Staraptor’s Close Combat is still better). The addition of a useful ability and a strong Fighting attack made Staraptor unique and special; it let him rise above the perpetual obscurity of his predecessors and actually do some damage. So, what does Braviary have that makes him special?
…a strong Fighting attack.
Braviary’s main selling points are as follows. He’s tougher than all the others by a long way (Staraptor can take physical attacks just as well after Intimidate, but is painfully vulnerable to energy attacks). His physical attack score is excellent, slightly higher than Staraptor’s. Most importantly, he learns Superpower, which is as strong as Staraptor’s Close Combat but carries with it disadvantages that make it less useful. Specifically, Close Combat weakens your defences against both physical and special attacks after you use it (Staraptor doesn’t really care because he’s all-offense anyway and fast enough to pull it off) while Superpower weakens your physical defence and your own physical attacks, making Braviary significantly less useful and more or less forcing him to switch out after using it once – both attacks are so crazily powerful that it’s often worth it but Superpower is generally a poorer option, and either would be problematic for a tougher Pokémon like Braviary because they compromise his ability to take hits. The high stats are really just gravy; in particular, Braviary is missing some important features that would make him a good tank (Normal/Flying is defensively poor, and since Roost isn’t a TM anymore Braviary has no way to heal himself), so his high defences don’t help him nearly as much as his relative lack of speed hurts him (he’s slower than all the other Normal/Flying Pokémon except for Farfetch’d and Noctowl). It’s access to Superpower that sets Braviary apart, and unfortunately it sets him apart in the same way as Close Combat sets Staraptor apart, just not quite as well. Braviary’s ability, Sheer Force, should set him apart because it’s wonderful: it lets him ‘trade in’ a move’s side effect, if it has one (such as the chance that Thunderbolt will paralyse its target), for extra damage. The trouble is, Game Freak have been extraordinarily mean to most of the Pokémon that have Sheer Force naturally; Braviary, like Druddigon, Darmanitan and Conkeldurr, has very few worthwhile attacks that it actually applies to. The only one worth using is Rock Slide, which is admittedly quite helpful for extra super-effective hits on Fire, Ice and Flying Pokémon, but just isn’t strong enough to be a spectacular advantage. The other thing that should make Braviary uniquely capable but doesn’t is Bulk Up, a move that increases its user’s physical attack and defence at the same time. It’s a great set-up move for a tank-style Pokémon but, as I mentioned, Braviary has been denied the things that would make him good at that style of play; without either a lot of resistances or a source of healing, his defences just aren’t that strong.
I will admit I’m somewhat prejudiced against Rufflet and Braviary just for being Normal/Flying dual-types. They’re the tenth family of Pokémon to fall into the category (the eleventh if you count Pidove, Tranquill and Unfezant… which I don’t) and that alone is enough to annoy me. Their flavour is cool, I admit, but not outstanding, and they’re definitely not weak, but they seem to have been designed in just such a way as to draw attention to the things Staraptor does better. So, if I’m so clever, how would I make them work? Well, the answer is emphatically not “give them Close Combat over Superpower and make them faster”; I have no interest in cloning Staraptor. I would hone down Braviary’s attack stat a little bit (he doesn’t need to have more raw power than Staraptor to be good) boost his special defence and maybe his physical defence, give the poor thing Roost so he can heal himself, for heaven’s sake, and change his type to Fighting/Flying, adjusting the attacks he learns accordingly (might need to invent some new Fighting attacks that would be thematically appropriate for a bird Pokémon, but why not?). I literally came up with that stuff as I was writing this entry, it doesn’t require his design to be rethought at all and it expresses that design, if anything, better than what he’s got now. It’s really not that hard!
I hereby deny this Pokémon’s right to exist! Let it be deep-fried and sent in a bucket to the Pokémon Fan Club chairman!