Treecko, Grovyle and Sceptile

Treecko.  Artwork by Ken Sugimori; beauty is in the eye of Nintendo.Sometimes it’s good to have trends within a Pokémon type.  They add a sense of identity, a feeling that these Pokémon are defined by more than just an arbitrarily assigned set of elemental powers.  Of course, half of the joy in having trends and stereotypes is in finding fun ways to break them, and so it is that the third Grass-type starter was something quite unusual indeed; a highly mobile, aggressive Grass Pokémon.  Treecko, Grovyle and Sceptile belong to the inherently badass jungle fighter archetype, which is appealing because Grass Pokémon don’t normally go for ‘badass’ – their power is typically of a very understated sort.  Ruby and Sapphire were the beginning of a shift towards more diversity in that respect, introducing Grass-types like Shiftry, Cacturne, Breloom… and these guys.  They’re geckos, of course, and as geckos their padded feet can grip onto just about any surface; they can climb walls and walk on ceilings, no problem, which means they can come at you from any direction they damn well please.  They’re also difficult to spot in their natural habitat, so they can come at you from any direction they damn well please without you knowing about it.  Unlike geckos, they’re also ridiculously agile; so they can come at you from any direction they damn well please without you knowing about it and then be back in the canopy again before you even know what you’re fighting.  The sharp-edged leaves that sprout from Grovyle’s wrists are the icing on the cake.  You can’t beat these Pokémon in the jungle, short of burning the jungle down (the major tragic weakness of the jungle fighter archetype, as revealed time and again throughout history).  In short, they’re very unusual among Grass-types for exploiting speed as their greatest asset; the only older Pokémon with comparable speed was Jumpluff, who’s a supporter through and through.  Accordingly, while Venusaur and Meganium channelled ‘wise forest sage’ and ‘gentle natural healer’ in their designs, Treecko, Grovyle and Sceptile take on far more militant roles as the guardians of the forest.  Treecko is said to nest deep in the heart of old forests and protect them from intruders, while Sceptile uses his powers to grow and nurture trees.  These are good things to know; ultimately, “this Pokémon is fast and good at stabbing things” is something we should be able to figure out from the way Sceptile handles in a fight, so telling us about their role in a forest ecosystem is far more valuable to developing a complete and detailed picture of what they’re really like.

 Grovyle.  Artwork by Ken Sugimori.

I wouldn’t call these Pokémon perfectly designed.  In particular, I’ve never been totally happy with the progression from Grovyle to Sceptile.  I remember thinking, when I first played Sapphire, that Grovyle might evolve into a Flying-type; it seemed like it would be the logical extension of the progression from Treecko, and part of me still thinks so (and he wouldn’t be the only Hoenn starter without a dual-type).  Maybe it’s just me, but although Sceptile is clearly stronger physically, I have trouble accepting that he’s as quick and accurate as Grovyle.  That enormous leafy tail seems it would just get in the way leaping from branch to branch.  Moreover, it gives the wrong impression of how Sceptile stands and moves; a tail like that is surely a counterweight for standing upright on the ground, not a high priority for a creature who spends most of his time in the canopy, relying as much on his hands for support as on his feet.  You could link this with Sceptile’s emerging role as a caretaker of the plants more than a combative defender, as symbolised by the seed pods growing on his back, but he’s still supposed to be a lightning-quick fighter mainly reliant on agility.  I think Grovyle’s art is a better expression of the concept than Sceptile’s, which is an unfortunate blemish on an otherwise pleasing and unconventional design.  From an artistic perspective, Sceptile definitely could have used a bit more emphasis on speed, and less on strength.  He’s still as composed, confident and dangerous as Treecko and Grovyle, but perhaps not as practical, or as directly intimidating.

 Sceptile.  Artwork by Ken Sugimori.

Sceptile is the second-fastest Grass Pokémon in the game, after the legendary Shaymin in Sky form.  He also has one of the higher special attack stats among Grass-types.  Everything comes at a price, though, and Sceptile is just about the most fragile of all the starter Pokémon.  Sceptile’s major selling point in Ruby and Sapphire, when he was first released, was his signature move, Leaf Blade, which at the time was just about the best Grass attack in the game (it wasn’t even particularly good; it’s just that the other Grass attacks weren’t much competition).  Still, it cemented Sceptile’s position as one of the better Grass-type attackers, with Crunch, Dragon Claw and (on Emerald) Thunderpunch for backup.  Clearly Game Freak had learned from their mistake with Feraligatr, since they made Sceptile best at using special attacks when his flavour suggests he should be a physical attacker – Leaf Blade, weirdly, was a special attack at the time (like all Grass attacks), and the most important thing was making him good at using his own signature move.  Of course, what happened next was that Diamond and Pearl started classifying attacks individually instead of by type and suddenly all of Sceptile’s best moves were physical attacks.  You just can’t win with these people.  Diamond and Pearl did also give him Dragon Pulse and Focus Blast (something many Grass-types would kill for – a powerful, if unreliable, way of dealing with Steel-types), as well as, finally, better Grass attacks, like Grass Knot, Energy Ball and Leaf Storm, and that’s pretty much where Sceptile is today; he doesn’t have enough attacks to score many super-effective hits, but between Dragon Pulse and Focus Blast he can manage neutral damage against most anything, and those Leaf Storms hurt.  Sceptile does get Swords Dance, too, so you can make a physical attacker of him, between his decent attack stat, his excellent speed, and his wider physical movepool (which has always included Earthquake, and gained X-Scissor and Rock Slide in Diamond and Pearl and Acrobatics in Black and White).  Leaf Blade got a damage buff too in Diamond and Pearl, probably to compensate Sceptile for switching it to physical.

 Grovyle being awesome, by AbusoRugia (http://abusorugia.deviantart.com/), whose fanart is extensive and beautiful.

Of course, just because you can use Sceptile as an attacker doesn’t mean you have to.  Sceptile lacks the huge support movepool of a typical Grass-type, but he does get Leech Seed, which means the old standby of Leech Seed/Substitute is open to him.  The way this works is that you slap a Leech Seed on something with a lot of hit points and sacrifice your health to create Substitutes that block attacks while the seed keeps you healthy and steadily weakens your opponent, leading to slow and painful death.  This is tricky to pull off, but – somewhat counterintuitively – speed actually helps much more than toughness, because being able to move before your opponent is crucial to staying in control of the situation if something unexpected happens, so Sceptile is extremely good at it (not as good as Whimsicott, thanks to her lovely ability, but still good).  Pretty sure the only other thing left to talk about it abilities… Sceptile is one of the few starters who’s probably better off with the generic starter ability, Overgrow, than with his Dream World ability, Unburden.  Unburden gives Sceptile a free speed boost when he loses or consumes an item he’s holding and, well, honestly speed is the least of Sceptile’s worries.  I’m sure you can turn Unburden to your advantage with a bit of thought because in general it’s quite a useful ability in combination with berries and the like, but most of the time you’ll likely be better off with Overgrow; the devastating power of Sceptile’s Leaf Storm is possibly his biggest selling point, so anything that can potentially add to that is probably a good idea.

I can’t help but feel that what should have happened with Sceptile is for Game Freak to swap around his attack and special attack stats with the advent of Diamond and Pearl.  Tinkering with a Pokémon’s stats like that is admittedly very unorthodox; apart from the splitting of special into special attack and special defence in Gold and Silver, Game Freak have never done anything even remotely similar.  Still, the reason for Sceptile’s current stat distribution is Leaf Blade’s former status as a special attack – surely it makes sense that when practically his entire offensive movepool, including his signature move, flipped to physical, he should have flipped with it?  Personally I place a great deal of value on Pokémon being good at the things that they’re good at.  Still, Sceptile’s a solid Pokémon, and even if I think Treecko and Grovyle did a much better job of conveying the point of the design, Sceptile’s regal bearing makes him a decent “lord of the forest.”

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