We should probably talk about these ones next. I didn’t use Litleo for very long, because my Fletchling unexpectedly evolved into a Fire-type and I didn’t want two of them. Still, I had one on my party for a little while, and I feel like I got to know her, so it makes sense. So, these Pokémon are lions. I am notoriously ill-disposed to Pokémon that are just animals, because I want more. Granted, of course, these are lions that breathe fire, but hey, Beartic is a polar bear that shoots icicles and just look how well I got along with him. That was three years ago, though; I’m being nice now. Well… okay, ‘nice’ is a bit much. I’m being marginally less irritable now. Let’s give these two a shot and see what I can make of them.
So let’s start with the obvious: gender differences. Pyroar is one of only two Pokémon in X and Y with major sexual dimorphism, the other being Meowstic. In Pyroar’s case, it obviously mimics one of the most famous and recognisable examples of sexual dimorphism in the real world: lions have manes, lionesses don’t (although female Pyroar get that long flowing crest so that they don’t seem too boring). Sort of an predictable choice for a lion Pokémon, but major gender differences are something that Pokémon underexploits, so I’m hardly going to complain about seeing more of it. The way the pattern of red-and-yellow stripes on a male Pyroar’s mane recalls the distinctive shape of a Fire Blast attack – the Japanese symbol for “large” or “great” – is also a nice touch. The divergences between male and female Pyroar also come through in their behaviour, which is nice – you can compare Nidoking and Nidoqueen, or contrast Jellicent and Unfezant, who draw attention to gender but don’t make much of it. Male Pyroar, specifically the male with the most impressive mane, are said to be the leaders of their prides, which obviously draws on the male leadership of real leonine social structure. It’s also worth noting that only ¼ of all Pyroar are male, reflecting the composition of real prides, which will generally include only 1-2 males and perhaps 5-6 females. Interestingly the Pokédex chooses to emphasise the females’ role in raising cubs, when in fact real lionesses are generally responsible for hunting (something for which the stronger but slower males are less suited) and tend to leave the males to protect the cubs in their absence; otherwise the males and females are equally involved. I suspect the reversal comes from the fact that the activity of raising children tends to be gendered ‘female’ in most human societies, while hunting is more likely to be gendered ‘male,’ and the designers attributed a standard feminine activity to female Pyroar without thinking about what lions actually do. It’s a little disappointing that Pyroar should be made to conform to human gender stereotypes in this way when there exists such an obvious reason for them not to (I always thought the role of lionesses in literally bringing home the bacon was fairly well-known, but perhaps not…).
Litleo and Pyroar don’t subdue prey with claws, teeth, and brute strength like real world lions – why bother with any of that when you can breath fire? Probably because of the sunburst shape of the males’ manes, there’s a long-standing association between lions and solar imagery going back to the Near Eastern Bronze Age, which male Pyroar are happy to accentuate. That does make Fire something of an obvious choice, granted, but not as obvious as Ice on a polar bear. I sort of wish they had played up the solar idea a bit, maybe with a sun-related ability (goodness knows none of Pyroar’s current abilities would be missed). Another critical aspect of what these Pokémon are about is also drawn from real lions – their roar. Lions roar; aside from the males’ glorious manes, their fearsome roar is probably the most iconic thing about them (for fans of A Song of Ice and Fire, think of the crest and motto of House Lannister: respectively, a golden lion and the phrase “Hear Me Roar”), and Litleo and Pyroar have two skills related to that: the relatively rare Hyper Voice attack, and their signature move, Noble Roar. This, I think, is the reason they’re Normal dual-types and not straight Fire, which would otherwise make just as much sense; they rely as much on their explosive vocal range as on their fire, and sonic abilities remain among the ‘miscellaneous’ powers still associated with the Normal type (compare Jigglypuff, who became Fairy/Normal in X and Y while Clefairy is now pure Fairy).
The other interesting thing about Pyroar is that the male seems almost made to be Lysandre’s signature Pokémon (and Lysandre is, to my recollection, the only NPC in the game who uses a male one): the bright red mane is reminiscent of Lysandre’s extravagant hairdo, the species designation “the Royal Pokémon” matches Lysandre’s royal Kalosian heritage, lions are a common symbol in Mediaeval heraldry, perhaps furthering the ‘royal’ associations, and they are traditionally associated with pride (to the point that the word even became the collective noun for a group of them), which is probably Lysandre’s most significant flaw – the pride that led him to believe he had the right, indeed the duty, to decide who would live and who would die all around the world. Even the fire abilities recall the name of Lysandre’s organisation, and Lysandre himself is regularly described metaphorically as ‘burning’ with passion. This wouldn’t be the first time a human character has taken certain cues from a Pokémon – Wake’s lucha mask is modeled on a Swampert (though he doesn’t actually have a Swampert, in any of his incarnations), Chilli, Cilan and Cress match the distinctive hairstyles of Simisear, Simisage and Simipour, Alder’s hair seems to be styled after Volcarona, and I believe Gardevoir inspired Diantha’s dress. The intended implication may be that Pyroar was Lysandre’s first Pokémon (Gyarados is now his strongest, but seriously what kind of troll Professor starts a kid off with a Magikarp?) and the one with whom he has the deepest relationship. Can you push that even further? Maybe – Pyroar’s ‘royal’ designation might come from being a traditional starter Pokémon given to children of the Kalosian monarchy, and even today given to their descendants.
Pyroar seems intended to serve as a special sweeper. Although her defences are poor and her physical attacks not worth the effort, she’s very fast, and her special attacks pack quite a punch. Defensively, Normal/Fire is a mixed bag – six resistances (including Fire, Ice and Fairy) and a Ghost immunity (something which is shaping up to be quite valuable in this generation) are nothing to sniff at, but Pyroar’s four weaknesses are all to powerful and common offensive types: Ground, Rock, Fighting and Water. Offensively, though, Fire Blast and Hyper Voice are a pretty solid combination, even if they leave her in a bit of trouble against most Rock-types. The neat thing about Hyper Voice is that sound-based attacks have been improved in X and Y and can now bypass Substitute, which makes Pyroar very dangerous to certain Pokémon who rely on Substitutes to stall for time. Beyond that, options are sadly limited – there’s Dark Pulse on the side, and if you’re planning a sun team, Solarbeam is an option, though bear in mind that weather in general is substantially weaker now that the effects of Drought et al. have limited durations. The usual package of alternate Fire moves is available – Flamethrower for greater reliability and Overheat for single-shot power. Other than that, you’re probably looking at either Hidden Power or a support move for the final slot. Hidden Power is easier to use now, since its power rating is always 60 rather than randomly determined for each individual. A Grass-type Hidden Power is probably the best complement to Pyroar’s main attacks, if you can get it, but a move with 60 power is not exactly a brilliant deal. The signature move, Noble Roar, seems like more of a flavour thing than something that would be especially useful in battle – it reduces the target’s attack and special attack, which is irritating, but can be shaken off by switching out and won’t protect Pyroar from critical hits. The nice thing about Noble Roar is that it’s good for catching Pokémon as they switch in, since it doesn’t matter whether the target favours special or physical attacks. Still, it might be better suited to a somewhat tougher Pokémon. Burning incoming opponents with Will’o’Wisp is probably a better option if you’re looking to give Pyroar stronger defensive capabilities. Yawn could also be interesting; most people will switch out after being hit by Yawn rather than let a Pokémon fall asleep the next turn, so that could be good for keeping Pyroar’s most dangerous opponents off her back. Finally, she’s fast enough to make good use of Taunt, and can more effectively break defensive Pokémon that way by denying them access to their support moves.
None of Pyroar’s abilities are much use, sadly. Rivalry gives a damage bonus against Pokémon of the same gender, but a corresponding penalty against Pokémon of the opposite gender – certainly flavour-appropriate for a Pokémon with strong gender differentiation, but too unpredictable to plan strategies around, since there’s no way to know the gender of Pokémon you’ll be facing ahead of time. Moxie is an attack boost every time you knock out an opponent – great, except Pyroar doesn’t use physical attacks. If for some reason you do want to focus on Pyroar’s physical side, well, get used to disappointment, because her strongest physical Fire-type attack is Fire Fang, and her coverage options basically extend to Crunch and Wild Charge. Flame Charge lets you do damage while increasing your speed, and is generally a good secondary attack, but speed isn’t really high on Pyroar’s list of concerns anyway. Her final ability, Unnerve, prevents opponents from eating berries. Whoop-dee-f*cking-doo. In short, Normal/Fire is actually pretty solid and Pyroar certainly has the stats to back it up, but she’s just not a versatile Pokémon, and her lack of relevant, useful abilities makes it difficult for her to sparkle.
I think overall I lean a little on the ‘meh’ side with Pyroar. On reflection I don’t think there’s anything really wrong with her; as far as the whole ‘being a lion’ thing goes, she does a solid job, and the focus on her roar as a weapon makes sense with the design while giving her a pretty good combination of primary attacks. I come away from this one feeling like there’s room for more, though. Playing up the royalty aspect somehow might have been more interesting, and Pyroar would be an excellent Pokémon to give a sun motif and solar abilities, which would also make a good combination with a royal theme, particularly in Kalos (given the presence in the background of Louis XIV, the ‘sun king,’ as a historical model for the Kalosian monarchy and the Parfum Palace). Drawing on the heraldic associations of lions, maybe going for a more stylised look, might be a good way of doing that. I like Pyroar well enough, particularly the female form which makes an effort to match the male form in overall majesty while still creating a very different impression of her nature, but I feel just a little underwhelmed.