I should probably begin this entry with a disclaimer: for various reasons, I don’t actually have a Zorua or a Zoroark. In theory I know everything about them I need to know to write the entry, but their powers are rather complicated, as I’ll explain later, and I’m not sure I can really do justice to their impacts on the flow of battle. Then again, I’ll probably just do exactly the same thing as I always do: stare at their numbers for a while, research what everyone else says about them on the internet and then make dozens of wildly unsubstantiated assertions laced with bizarre and confusing metaphors before declaring victory and passing out on the sofa.
What, you mean you didn’t know?
Anyway. Zorua and Zoroark are clever and elusive fox Pokémon, not actually malicious but fond of deception and mischief. Their main power is their ability to create flawless illusions; they normally use their powers to disguise themselves as other Pokémon, but they can also take human form or even create false images of landscapes. So far, this is giving me flashbacks to Ninetales – another highly intelligent fox Pokémon with magical abilities related to trickery – probably because she shares a common inspiration with Zorua and Zoroark: the kitsune fox spirits of Japanese legend. The newer Pokémon focus on a far more specific aspect of kitsune in mythology, though – I think Ninetales can actually shapeshift as well, but Ninetales has been around so long that just about every kind of magic has been attributed to her one way or another by now, while Zorua and Zoroark’s whole personality is based around it; they seem to enjoy fooling people and Pokémon with their illusions just for their own sake (the Pokédex is indirect about this, but Zorua at least seems to be portrayed that way in the TV show). Ninetales fights through confusion and distraction, but when she wants you dead she can be refreshingly direct about it. The other point is that, while Ninetales seems to keep to herself for the most part, Zorua and Zoroark have very strong communal ties and are utterly dedicated to protecting members of their packs. The idea that they’re sociable creatures seems to be backed up by the fact that the only wild Zorua in Black and White is actually hanging out in Castelia City, the largest town in Unova, disguised as a human. They can’t mimic human speech, so it’s strange that one would choose to stay in the city in human form, so I suppose it must enjoy being around humans. The only wild Zoroark in the games (also in human form), oddly enough, is hiding out in a broken-down RV in the middle of a dingy forest with a sign at the entrance saying “abandon all hope, ye who enter here,” which seems like a fairly solid indication that she doesn’t want to be bothered by anyone, ever. I’m not going to try to probe that too much, though, since I think this is supposed to be the same Zoroark as the one from the thirteenth movie, which I sincerely hope I will never see.
Zorua’s art is brilliant; he’s cute without being obnoxious about it, that lovely little smirk gives him some attitude, and the little red-tipped tuft of hair on his head, while it does seem a little out of place on a fox Pokémon, nicely recalls the white tip of a fox’s tail and isn’t trying to grab too much attention. Zoroark’s hair, on the other hand, is utterly ridiculous. In fact I honestly think his hair is bigger than him (and possibly just as dangerous; watch out for the spiky bits). Without it he’d look rather weedy, to be honest. What’s more, he actually seems to wear a tie in it, which raises all kinds of questions better not raised. He’s depicted as a biped but looks like he should be a quadruped – he just doesn’t wear his physical form very well, with his long forelegs and hunched posture (seriously, try to imagine Zoroark standing erect), which is somewhat jarring. I’m rather inclined to regard Zoroark as a disappointing evolution to Zorua; he hasn’t come out of the dramatic shift in body type very well and I cannot think why the designers decided to make that absurd hairdo his brightest and most obvious feature. I think in this case it would have been better to stick with something a little more foxlike.
If, unlike me, you have a Zoroark, and if you want to use it in battle, you have many options. Zoroark is as frail as a used napkin and will die instantly if you try to switch him in at the wrong moment but he’s very fast, hits extremely hard with special attacks, and can pump himself up even more with Nasty Plot. He doesn’t learn all that many special attacks, but he has enough for a perfectly threatening set: Dark Pulse, Flamethrower, Grass Knot and Focus Blast are all sensible choices. His physical attacks are strong too (and he gets Swords Dance) but he doesn’t learn many good ones; U-Turn, Sucker Punch and Pursuit are always useful for their side-effects though. None of this is what’s interesting about Zoroark, though. Zorua and Zoroark are all about illusions, and have a passive ability called, fittingly enough, Illusion, which causes them to take on the appearance of the Pokémon in the last slot of your current party list. Taking damage from direct attacks breaks the illusion and restores their normal appearance. Unlike Ditto, they won’t take on the other Pokémon’s type or any of its traits or powers – Zoroark is, for all intents and purposes, still Zoroark. But your opponent doesn’t know that. Now, unlike previous games, Black and White will show you your opponent’s entire team at the beginning of any battle, so you’ll know in advance whether your opponent has a Zoroark, which (thankfully) limits the shenanigans the wily little bastard can pull off. There are a few Pokémon Zoroark can’t properly imitate – some abilities, like Mold Breaker, will display a message like “the foe’s [Pokémon] has Mold Breaker!” as soon as the Pokémon in question is sent out, and Zoroark won’t trigger those. Moreover, once either Zoroark or the Pokémon he’s mimicking has taken damage it should be fairly easy to tell them apart if you’re paying attention. The trouble is, early on in the battle you can never really be sure whether the Pokémon you’re facing is really what it claims to be, or a Zoroark in disguise, which means you can never be sure what you need to switch in to stop it. Send in a bulky Psychic-type to scare off a big Fighting Pokémon, for instance, and you might just take a Dark Pulse to the face for your trouble and get killed. On the other hand, if that Kingdra really is a Kingdra and you’ve just spent your turn switching in something to stop a Zoroark, Kingdra gets a free turn or two to pump herself up with Dragon Dance and you’re stuffed like a turkey dinner. It doesn’t help that Zoroark himself can take advantage of exactly that kind of confusion with Nasty Plot. Just having Zoroark around opens up a whole new level of mind-games that will probably drive many experienced players utterly bonkers. There is one last thing I should mention about Zoroark, and that is that he has a signature move, Night Daze, a Dark-type special attack that sometimes reduces its target’s accuracy. Normally I say that this game should have more signature moves to emphasise the uniqueness of certain Pokémon, but here’s the thing… only Zoroark can learn Night Daze, and Zoroark’s tactics revolve around the opponent not knowing that he’s Zoroark. This isn’t quite a “why, Game Freak, why?” moment, but I really have to question the wisdom of this one. Just use Dark Pulse; Night Daze is only slightly stronger anyway.
Illusion may be a maddening ability to deal with, but it’s also a fascinating mechanic that makes Zoroark an entirely unique game piece, which is a major point in his favour. I don’t like his artwork much and have serious reservations about many aspects of that design, but it’s not so blatantly dumb that I want to toss the baby out with the bathwater – the baby, in this case, being Zorua. Their flavour is entertaining enough, not especially intriguing but perfectly solid, and their unusual powers have been translated quite well into useful, interesting in-game abilities. They’re badass, they’re clever, and they’re different – what more can I ask for?
I hereby affirm this Pokémon’s right to exist!