I’ll be honest here; I’m not wild about these things. My first impression of Skrelp during my X playthrough was ‘so, it’s a diseased Horsea?’ and I’ve not really moved past that in any major way (the fact that Dragalge is equally, at first glance, ‘a diseased Kingdra’ didn’t exactly help). Nothing about them really offends me in any sense, but they’re not particularly ones for the ‘favourite’ pile either. Still, may as well see what we can turn up. Here we go.
Skrelp and Dragalge are based on the leafy sea dragon, an adorable little fish from the same family as the seahorse (as you can probably tell by looking at it) and native to southern Australia. This creature has gone to some evolutionary lengths to make itself look like a tattered piece of kelp, thus avoiding most of the less-perceptive predators in its environment, which is good because, like its seahorse cousins, it’s a bit of a rubbish swimmer and can do little more than pick a direction to float in. Understandably, they are not particularly active animals and have been known to remain more or less stationary for days at a time. This is fine, because their main food sources – plankton and several varieties of diminutive shrimp, which they suck up their tube-like mouths – are both ubiquitous and really bad at running away. Leafy sea dragons are very docile, gentle animals with little defence beyond their camouflage, at the mercy of the wind and currents. Skrelp and Dragalge, in contrast, are vicious ambush predators who use their kelp disguises to keep their prey from noticing them until it gets too close, at which point a spray of foul acid cripples the target and seals its fate (if their mouthparts are anything like a real leafy sea dragon’s – and they look as though they are – there’s probably a digestive function there as well). For Skrelp, the camouflage also serves as a means of evading predators long enough to evolve, which, as it does for many Dragon Pokémon, takes a long time. Most wild Skrelp probably don’t make it all the way to level 48, which is a very good thing for the world at large, because Dragalge are vile-tempered and intensely territorial, and will attack anything that comes near them with the aforementioned foul acid. Dragalge can sink large ships with this stuff, which presumably makes monitoring their populations and movements imperative so that no-go zones for ferries, oil tankers, cruise liners and other ships can be defined and enforced. Kingdra are downright tame by comparison; the damn things spend most of their time sleeping to conserve energy, and when they do wake up, it’s kind of difficult to miss, what with all the whirlpools and cyclones. The first warning you get that a group of Dragalge has moved into an area is when you suddenly realise there’s a gaping hole in the bottom of your ship and everyone dies. Still, it could be worse – Dragalge can only take your lives; Jellicent will take your souls. It really is a miracle anyone travels or ships goods anywhere by sea in the Pokémon world.
One thing I quite like about Skrelp is how defiantly uninterested she is in being pretty. Her survival depends on looking like an unpleasant piece of decomposing brown algae, and she is damn well going to look as unpleasant as she has to, right down to a constant surly expression and what looks like a suggestion of bags under her bloodshot eyes. This Pokémon resents you. She resents you deeply. Her head looks like an 18th century tricorne hat and if you dare to laugh at it she will melt your face off. Dragalge has a rather different aesthetic going; she’s still very unpleasant, no doubt about that, but her body is also a lot sharper, more angular, almost skeletal, and the ‘cubicle-worker-before-morning-coffee’ expression is gone. This thing is downright sinister, especially once you know what she can do. To be honest, ‘diseased Horsea’ and ‘diseased Kingdra’ still sound to me like fairly accurate representations of these things, but I have to admit that if that’s what you want, they do it very well. Having them be actual diseased Horsea and Kingdra whose rotting bodies come to resemble seaweed as they grow more and more tattered, eventually learning to excrete the toxic fluids produced by their necrotic tissue and use them as a potent biochemical weapon, would be… probably way, way, way too dark for this universe, but what the hell, I’m still tucking that one away as an origin story. Despite their common origins and obvious physical similarities, Skrelp and Dragalge make remarkably different impressions to adorable little Horsea, prickly Seadra and majestic Kingdra, and they’re quite different in temperament (it also helps that Dragalge stops being a Water-type, which is a daring thing for an aquatic Pokémon to do). I’m sort of okay with them on those grounds – although I’m going to keep calling them ‘diseased Horsea’ and ‘diseased Kingdra’ because it makes me giggle.
What Dragalge does very much have in common with the leafy sea dragon is that she is slow, almost painfully so. Dragalge is statted out as a special tank, with very high special defence, and good defence and special attack. Her HP score is disappointing, but training can compensate for that since you’re probably not going to bother investing any effort in her speed. The result is a very strong special defender with passable physical bulk and a nasty sting in her attacks. She has a nice niche as the only Dragon Pokémon aside from Dialga with a secondary type that lets her do super-effective damage to Fairy-types, using Sludge Bomb or Sludge Wave, which makes it much more dangerous for them to switch in against her to absorb her Dragon attacks. She’s also not weak to Fairy attacks, and has the formidable special defence necessary to deal with all but the most horrible Moonblasts. The corresponding bad news is that Steel-types stop her core attacks cold, and her only move that gets super-effective damage on them is Focus Miss-I mean Focus Blast. Still, that’s not the only trick Dragalge has up her decomposing algal sleeve. Her Water-type heritage grants access to Surf and Hydro Pump, but perhaps more importantly to Scald, which is one of the best moves a special tank could ask for thanks to its ability to burn physical attackers and neuter their offensive capabilities – something that many of the nastiest Steel-types in the game, like Bisharp, Mega Mawile, Scizor and Metagross, will certainly not appreciate. Shadow Ball discourages Psychic-types, and is just a good move all around now that Steel-types don’t resist Ghost attacks anymore. Thunderbolt, similarly, is simply nice to have, though it doesn’t really cover anything specific that Dragalge would otherwise be threatened by. Her primary Dragon attack should probably be Dragon Pulse, although as always there’s something to be said for the overwhelming power of Draco Meteor, if you don’t mind making Dragalge into more of a hit-and-run Pokémon. The main selling point for Dragalge in all of this is her unique type combination, in particular the fact that she isn’t weak to Fairy attacks like most Dragon-types. In other respects she’s nothing terribly special – although certainly not to be underestimated.
Given her relatively tanky set-up, you’d sort of expect Dragalge to have a few good support moves, but although she’s not completely barren in that regard, the pickings are slim. As a Poison-type, she never misses with Toxic, and she’s certainly tough enough to use it, although the fact that she can’t heal herself effectively makes stalling unattractive. Much more interesting is Toxic Spikes, the auto-poison trap, which is available to her by chain-breeding through Omanyte – never the most powerful entry hazard since it does nothing to Flying-types, Steel-types or Levitators, and an opposing Poison-type can absorb it and get it off the field completely, but there are worse ways for Dragalge to spend her time. Finally, and a decent combo with Toxic Spikes, Dragalge also gets Dragon Tail for forcing things out of play, and is slow enough anyway not to care that it forces her to go second (her poor physical attack stat is unfortunate though). Throw on Protect to help her use Leftovers more effectively and there’s probably just enough there for a dedicated support set, although I don’t think that’s really her calling. Dragalge’s ability choices are Poison Touch and Poison Point, which basically both do the same thing: poison the opponent at a 30% success rate, either when Dragalge is hit by a contact attack (Poison Point) or when she hits with one (Poison Touch). Normal poison is a terrible status effect, being strictly inferior to ‘Toxic’ poison and burns, and some opponents will even thank you for inflicting it upon them since it renders them immune to more debilitating conditions, but this is what she’s got. Poison Point is probably the one to go with since Dragalge doesn’t actually use any contact attacks except for maybe Dragon Tail, but I suppose there’s an argument for Poison Touch as well (particularly if your Dragalge uses Scald or Toxic) if you feel that ordinary poison is just so useless that you actually want to avoid inflicting it. Her hidden ability is far better, and is sadly still unavailable: Adaptability, which increases the normal 50% bonus that Pokémon get on moves of their own type to 100%, resulting in Dragalge’s Dragon and Poison attacks becoming extremely powerful (notably giving her the strongest Draco Meteor this side of the big legendary Dragons). It almost goes without saying that this will or would be the one to pick.
This is one of those Pokémon that grows on me a little as I go through it. They’re not terribly strong, but they don’t have any gaping flaws – I mean, a more interesting support movepool would certainly be nice, don’t get me wrong, and I could easily see Dragalge using Recover, but slap some Leftovers on her and she should do fine. The unique type combination is also nice, although I can’t help but wonder whether Dragon/Poison could have resulted in something a little more offbeat. So… yeah. They’re okay. I’m fine with diseased Kingdra. That will be all.