These Pokémon bore me.
I’m sorry, but it’s true. Totodile, Croconaw and Feraligatr bore me. I honestly think they’re the most boring starter Pokémon in the history of ever. Why would I think that? They’re crocodiles; crocodiles are awesome, aren’t they? What with the biting, and the ripping, and the tearing, and the biting, and the shredding, and the biting, and the…
…what… what else do these Pokémon do, exactly? Game Freak, help me out here.
I’m dead serious; they bite stuff and that’s pretty much it. I’ve looked through all the Pokédex entries for all the games, and every single one of Totodile’s entries, every single one of Croconaw’s, and about half of Feraligatr’s are about how awesome they are at biting things. It’s like that was all they could think of. The other traits of Feraligatr’s that the Pokédex describes are his ability to move around easily even out of water thanks to his strong legs, and the fact that he normally moves slowly but can strike with incredible speed. So… he’s exactly like a crocodile. I don’t know why they even bothered to design a Pokémon; you totally could have just put an ordinary real-world crocodile in Gold and Silver as the Water starter and it would have worked just as well. I mean, yes, it would be a bit strange, but it could also be interesting; like, you could explore the position of being the only ‘trainer’ in the world who doesn’t use Pokémon at all but just sics wild animals on people, and the ethical issues of what happens when your random pet crocodile eats some poor kid’s adorable fluffy Pokémon, and I’m pretty sure I’m taking the piss now but sometimes even I can’t tell. Remember how, when I did Blastoise, I complained about Game Freak designing Pokémon that are basically just a water animal that’s been given a Water Gun attack? Well, this is it. I mean, they’ve been done up in anime style and painted in bright contrasting colours, and I have to admit the art isn’t bad, but other than making them really spiky and standing them up on two legs, there’s not a whole lot of evidence for actual creative thought here. If you check out the Bulbapedia article, they point out that Croconaw looks a little bit like a stereotypical caveman, and yeah, now that they put it like that, the pattern of spots on his body does remind me of Fred Flintstone’s spotted animal skin, but that just invites the question… why? There’s a comment on the discussion page from this one dude who thought it might be because of the similarities between the words “caveman” and “caiman” but… what? I’m not sure whether I’d rather believe that the caveman thing is just an accident, or that the only original creative insight put into this design is a relatively obscure pun that has a small but bizarre effect on the visual aesthetic of the Pokémon’s intermediate form and is then never referenced again.
You know how I said that I thought Johto had the worst starters? Yeah. This guy. Blame him.
I wouldn’t even mind if they had done a caveman thing with Totodile, Croconaw and Feraligatr. It’d be a very odd choice, and it would probably wind up perpetuating some unfortunate stereotypes about prehistoric humans, but heck, it would still be better than “this Pokémon is a crocodile and does crocodile things.” Alternatively, if they’d decided on reflection that the caveman thing was dumb, maybe a mystic, ancient Egyptian-style aesthetic, lots of gold, drawing on the cult of Sobek, the crocodile-headed god of the Nile? If that doesn’t appeal, what about just pushing the boat out and turning him into a full-fledged death-dealing aquatic horror with webbed feet, spines and blades, a long body tapering to a whiplike tail, and heck, making him a Poison-type with vicious, dripping fangs… or going in completely the opposite direction and making him into the Barney the friggin’ Dinosaur of crocodiles? Seriously, any of that would be fine by me, as long as the result isn’t just a crocodile.
…okay, I think I’ve made my point now.
Breathe, Chris. Breathe.
Okay. Sadly the problems don’t stop there because Feraligatr, as he was originally implemented, had some serious flaws in his skill set. Feraligatr is primarily a physical attacker, but he’s also a Water Pokémon, and the problem with Water attacks is that, until Diamond and Pearl anyway, all of them were energy-based. As of Gold and Silver, Feraligatr was pretty bad at using Water attacks. In fact, since Dark attacks (like Bite and Crunch) were all considered energy attacks as well for some bizarre reason, he was actually really bad at biting things too, which makes all those Pokédex entries terribly ironic, when you think about it (the same thing happened to Granbull). Anyway, Feraligatr can dish out a pretty nasty Earthquake, he can get Rock Slide, and… you might as well throw in a Normal attack like Return? Or I guess Surf, since it’ll still be useful against Pokémon with awful special defence? Screech might be fun to soften up targets for his physical attacks, and I suppose there’s Curse, since Feraligatr’s not a particularly fast Pokémon anyway and he’s got worse options than trying to play tank. Really, though, original Gold and Silver Feraligatr is a pretty mediocre Pokémon. Emerald made him much less mediocre by giving him Swords Dance for pretending to be a sweeper; he’s not fast enough to be really good at that, but he is generally tough enough to set up Swords Dance without being killed right away, so there’s that.
Diamond and Pearl were what fixed Feraligatr’s real problem, by reclassifying all attacks into physical and special based on individual characteristics rather than element. All of a sudden, Waterfall, Crunch and Ice Punch are physical attacks, Feraligatr learns Superpower as a devastating (if somewhat inconsistent) Fighting attack, someone decided he should get Dragon Dance and Agility so now he can be fast if he wants to, and the icing on the cake is that, if you really want to stick with Swords Dance for the power, Heart Gold and Soul Silver added Aqua Jet to his list of egg moves, so he can even beat faster opponents if he’s had time to dance first. A lot of Pokémon benefited from the transition to Diamond and Pearl and the way so many attacks suddenly started making sense, but Feraligatr got a better deal than most. Like Typhlosion, Feraligatr hasn’t got much out of Black and White yet, but he’s awaiting the release of his Dream World ability the most eagerly of all three Johto starters because his is Sheer Force. Sheer Force trades away the side effects of attacks that have them (like the rather insignificant 10% freeze chance on Ice Punch) for a 33% power boost, and incidentally also allows you to use a Life Orb for even more power without paying the item’s normal cost of 10% of your health for each attack (only attacks that work with Sheer Force get this last benefit; you still lose health when using attacks without side effects, like Earthquake). Quite a few of Feraligatr’s core attacks are compatible with Sheer Force – Waterfall, Ice Punch, Crunch, and Rock Slide – so this may well be what he needs to finally get out from under the shadow of the other monstrous Water-type physical sweeper, Gyarados.
I suppose in some ways Feraligatr is a success story, in that he shows just how much more powerful you can make a Pokémon even after it’s been released and all the details of type and stats are set in stone. True, he’s largely a beneficiary of a major change that needed to happen anyway, but Agility, Dragon Dance, Aqua Jet and Sheer Force are all sensible and thematically appropriate additions that give Feraligatr the kind of power a starter really deserves, so I have to admit that his development through the games has been fairly well handled. I mean, it would’ve been better if they’d gotten that right from the beginning (I would have thought that making him good at biting things was a no-brainer since that’s his whole schtick), but we can’t have everything. This design really is bottom-of-the-barrel stuff, though. Why go to the effort of designing a Pokémon if you aren’t going to… y’know… design a Pokémon? Several Water-types are like this, which is one reason I’m so annoyed that it’s the most common element – so many of those hundred-odd Pokémon are distressingly half-assed – but from a starter I really do expect more of an effort.