It was, of course, a statistical inevitability that we would eventually get a set of chess-themed Pokémon – and here they are, the sword-wielding Dark/Steel Pokémon, Pawniard and Bisharp. In fact, not content with merely using bladed weapons, these Pokémon are literally made of interlocking blades, just to make absolutely sure that they can cut you to ribbons just by running into you. As always, the first question is: what were Game Freak thinking here? I don’t mean that rhetorically or sarcastically, I’m genuinely curious. This design seems to be going in a couple of different directions and I’m not sure which one they started from or where they’re trying to take them or how they’re supposed to fit together. Their vicious and aggressive personalities seem to follow sensibly from the blade theme, which seems to be Pawniard’s main schtick (or alternatively, simply from the fact that he’s a Dark-type; the vast majority of them are born to be jerks). Then, on a completely different tack, we have the chess idea, with their names referencing the pawns and bishops of European chess. Pawniard’s body shape, particularly the rounded head, seems intended to mimic the shape of a pawn, and Bisharp could likewise be seen as fairly similar in appearance to a bishop, although that one’s a bit of a grey area. I’m not sure what to make of the chess motif since it doesn’t seem to extend beyond that. Pawniard hunt in groups led by a single Bisharp, which might be taken to imply that Bisharp have an aptitude for strategy, but that’s all I can find (also, if chess is what the designers had in mind there, one would expect to find two Bisharp in a band, since there are two bishops to a side in chess). Honestly, that seems to me like a really weird design choice – naming a pair of Pokémon Pawniard and Bisharp hits some very specific and very obvious notes, and I don’t understand why you’d want to hit them unless you intended to go somewhere with them. From what I’ve been able to find out, the chess pun isn’t as strong in their original names, Komatana and Kirikizan – koma is the word for a piece (any piece, not a pawn specifically) in Japanese chess, and Kirikizan doesn’t seem to be a chess pun at all (there are bishops in Japanese chess, which work in exactly the same way as European bishops, but the word for them is kakugyo) – or in the names they have in other languages. I’m left wondering whether the translated names are just inappropriate. If not chess references, though, what is the point of these two?
The thing about Bisharp that sticks out the most at me is how much he reminds me of Gallade, the Psychic/Fighting knight Pokémon of Diamond and Pearl. I see a humanoid body shape, I see arm blades, I see rounded helmet-like heads and I see curved head crests (I even see similar combat attributes – switch their physical defence and special defence scores, and Bisharp and Gallade would be uncannily similar – but I’ll talk about that later). Bisharp would actually be strikingly appropriate as a dark counterpart to Gallade: a “black knight” to Gallade’s “white knight.” Unfortunately that’s not what he is; he’s just something that the designers thought was cool the first time and might be cool this time too. Again I don’t really know whether this is actually the idea they had in mind, because if so, it’s not really referenced at all. This brings me back to my initial point: Pawniard and Bisharp seem to be made up of a whole bunch of ideas jostling against each other, any of which could be done extremely well, but they’re all jumbled up to produce a result that’s vague and confusing, and not nearly as cool as it should be. To his credit, though, Bisharp is one seriously badass Pokémon. Gallade may have done it first, but the art is still a nice take on that idea. It’s a shame there isn’t something more coherent to back it up.
So, what can Bisharp do for you? He is not, for the most part, a subtle Pokémon. He likes to stab things, and stabbing things is very much what he is geared for; he has an excellent physical attack stat. He can also weather physical attacks fairly well, though special attacks are another matter. Unfortunately, his speed is average at best, so he’s unlikely to make it as a sweeper out of the box. Bisharp can buff either his speed with Rock Polish or his attack with Swords Dance; now, normally with an attack stat that high I would suggest that he could plausibly do without Swords Dance but unfortunately Bisharp’s offensive movepool is quite sad. His primary Dark attack is the relatively uninspiring Night Slash, and his main Steel attack, Iron Head, while somewhat stronger, is still a Steel attack, and Steel attacks are comparatively easy to resist and strong against only two elements (Rock and Ice). For backup attacks, he learns Brick Break, which compliments Night Slash brilliantly but is only slightly stronger, X-Scissor, which suffers from similar problems to Iron Head, and Stone Edge, which is a legitimately good attack but will have you beating your head on your desk every time it misses. This is all Bad News. The Good News is that Bisharp is a Dark-type, and Dark-types know how to fight dirty: they get Pursuit and Sucker Punch. Pursuit lets Bisharp chase down Pokémon as they’re being recalled and deliver a nasty hit before they escape, but does little damage to opponents that stand and fight, while Sucker Punch lets him attack before a faster Pokémon and is far stronger than moves like Quick Attack, but only works on opponents who are about to attack Bisharp directly (it just fails if your target is about to use, say, Recover, or if it switches out). These attacks are difficult to get the hang of, but extremely useful. They’re also exactly the kind of thing most Dark Pokémon can do; Sucker Punch in particular is very popular for Pokémon with Bisharp’s unfortunate disjunction of power and speed, like Absol, Spiritomb and Honchkrow, so it’s hardly new. Moreover, Sucker Punch is just about Bisharp’s strongest source of damage, which is worrying considering its hit-and-miss nature. It’s hard to see why anything that resists Sucker Punch would even care about Bisharp; you shouldn’t take him too lightly but for a Swords Dancer with his natural strength he’s surprisingly lacklustre. Probably the best reason to use Bisharp over, say, Absol is his ridiculous number of resistances, but honestly that says less about Bisharp than it does about how easy it is to make something at least decent by slapping the Steel type on it. Probably the thing I like most about Bisharp is his cool Defiant ability, which gives him an attack boost equivalent to a Swords Dance whenever an opponent tries to lower his stats. Situations where this would give him the advantage aren’t likely to come up often, but it’s a handy deterrent to a particular kind of aggression, and more importantly it’s his; it’s not a common ability and it fits his flavour nicely.
In summary, I’m disappointed in Pawniard and Bisharp. They have potential, certainly, but I’m simply not convinced that the designers actually knew what they were aiming for. I almost suspect that two or three different people who didn’t speak to each other very often are responsible for these Pokémon. The things that make Bisharp good at fighting (and he is at least vaguely competent; now that we’ve got him you may as well use him if he appeals to you) are, quite simply, the things that make other Dark-types and other Steel-types good at fighting. I am, to put it bluntly, not “feeling it.”
I hereby deny this Pokémon’s right to exist! Let it be sliced into fragments by a billion paper-cuts!