Let’s talk about dragons.
If there’s one thing Game Freak are good at, it’s thwarting English-speaking fans’ expectations of what a ‘dragon’ is (odd, considering that the Japanese name for the Dragon type in Pokémon is a transliteration of the English word ‘dragon’). If I had a dollar for every time I’d ever heard someone complain about how cutesy Dragonite is a Dragon Pokémon but badass, firebreathing Charizard isn’t, I would have… like, eight, maybe nine dollars, easy. Then of course there’s fluffy Altaria, the Eon Twins, Shelgon, Mega Ampharos (who owes her existence to a Japanese pun – Ampharos’ Japanese name, Denryu, can be taken to mean either “electric current” or “electric dragon”), and now Charizard actually is a Dragon (sort of), but we also have these adorable things: Goomy and Sliggoo, two blind swamp-dwelling molluscs whose most remarkable feature is their ability to constantly secrete disgusting slime. One might be forgiven for thinking ‘Dragon’ now really just means ‘weird $#!t.’
…so, wouldn’t it be fun if I told you there are not one but two snail dragons this thing could be based on, one from Japanese folklore and one from southwestern France?
I suppose by this point I shouldn’t be surprised at the weirdness and inventiveness of folklore, let alone Japanese folklore, but things like “there is actually such a thing as a snail dragon” still kind of sneak up on me. The Japanese snail dragon is called the shussebora, which means something like “ascending spiral” (Google Translate comes up with “career screwed,” which funnily enough is exactly what happens to anyone who relies on Google Translate for anything remotely official). The shussebora is a conch that manages to live for three thousand years – one thousand in the sea, one thousand on land, and one thousand in the mountains (…perhaps corresponding to Kalos’ three subregions, the last of which is where Goomy are found?) – and is then transformed into a magical dragon, apparently keeping its spiral shell. Its French counterpart is lou carcolh, which I’m pretty sure is just Occitan for “the snail.” This is much like calling the First World War “a good run for the coffin industry,” since this creature is basically a giant, evil snail that supposedly lives in a cave near the town of Hastingues, using its mile-long snake-like tentacles to grab people, slime them, and drag them back to its mouth. This probably says something rather worrying about the psychology behind the French culinary speciality escargots à la bourguignonne. Calling this one a ‘dragon’ might be a bit of a stretch, and I think the shussebora explains Sliggoo more elegantly; however, apparently the carcolh has… somehow… penetrated Japanese cultural consciousness to a sufficient extent to warrant an appearance as an enemy in Final Fantasy XIV, and the fact that it’s French is reason enough to suspect that it might have influenced the designers in creating a snail-dragon Pokémon for their France-inspired region.
The interesting part about the whole shussebora myth is that it (and other similar stories featuring any sort ‘ascension’ after a long period of trials; there are a zillion of them) sounds a lot like how Dragon Pokémon in general tend to work: traditional Dragon-types are weak and often rather unimpressive for a very long time, growing at a slower rate than most Pokémon, but eventually undergo a grand transformation into something very different and much more powerful. It’s the ‘ugly duckling’ story that is Pokémon evolution, pushed to its logical extreme. Dratini and Dragonair, with their long-delayed and extremely dramatic change into Dragonite, provide the template for this, of course, but it’s mainly the third-generation Dragons who seize it with both hands: useless little Swablu, nondescript Trapinch and flightless Bagon become majestic Altaria, Flygon and Salamence. Magikarp and Gyarados, despite not being Dragons-with-a-capital-D, also deserve mention. A three-thousand-year-old snail becoming a dragon just fits the way Dragon Pokémon tend to work extremely well. Goomy’s Pokédex entry even references the theme obliquely by calling out her status as “the weakest Dragon-type Pokémon” (perhaps paralleling Magikarp, who is, in-universe, infamous for being the weakest Pokémon of all) – their weakness is probably the most notable thing about young Dragon-types. The end result of all this is Goodra: a squishy, slimy and extremely affectionate creature who, despite her somewhat inglorious origins, possesses all the strength you might hope for and expect in a Dragon-with-a-capital-D. Her dinosaur-like form, probably meant to justify her typing (after all, the shussebora has to actually become a dragon in the end), reminds me, mostly because of the way her ‘horns’ sweep back behind her head, of the Parasaurolophus, which was my childhood favourite dinosaur – although of course she’s probably still more like a mollusc biologically, and we know from the Pokédex that her horns, like a snail’s eye stalks, are retractable. This one definitely aims at ‘cute,’ and succeeds – she’s all soft and smooth lines, with a simple colour palette and a docile expression, the way the curl in her tail recalls the spiralling shell of her previous form is a nice touch, and she seems to display an almost maternal attitude towards trainers. Goodra’s love of slimy hugs sounds a little worrying once you recall that Sliggoo’s slime is a dangerous acid that she uses to defend herself from predators, but it’s probably fair to attribute to her a degree of control over her biochemical abilities that would prevent any… mishaps.
A final word of caution: Goodra is… one of those Pokémon you want to be really careful about image searching, put it that way. I’m not sure who decided, or when, or why, that Goodra was one of the most erotically desirable Pokémon of the sixth generation, but apparently it happened and now humanity will have that on its collective conscience for all eternity, along with the crusades, Arceus and the Jewel of Life, and the extinction of the mammoth, so if you’re out there I hope you’re happy.
Despite all the hype over the elusive element, Dragon isn’t even all that good anymore, because Fairy-types’ immunity to their attacks renders them extremely vulnerable to opportune switch-ins, and what was formerly their greatest strength – the fact that almost nothing resisted their attacks – no longer applies. Many of the biggest Dragon Pokémon themselves, like Dragonite and Garchomp, are so powerful that they can stay afloat no matter what, but many of the lesser Dragon-types like Druddigon are now left wondering what they did to deserve this. How does Goodra deal? Well, she has Dragonite-level stats, and there’s only so much a Pokémon can possibly do wrong at that point. Unlike her predecessors, Dragonite, Tyranitar et al., Goodra is a special tank, and a damn good one. She’s not great at sitting through physical attacks; she’s not terrible at it either, and she can learn Counter, but her greatest strength is her colossal special defence. There are things with greater special bulk than Goodra, such as Regice, Cresselia, and Blissey’s ass, but they are few in number and mostly don’t hit back very hard. Goodra, on the other hand, sports a nasty variety of special attacks and an excellent stat to back them up: Dragon Pulse, Fire Blast, Sludge Bomb, Ice Beam, Thunderbolt, Focus Blast, Muddy Water and, last but not least, for when you just really want to turn an opposing Pokémon into a smoking crater, Draco Meteor. She even has a solid attack stat and Earthquake (as well as Aqua Tail, Power Whip, Body Slam and Outrage, for quirkier versions) in case anything thinks it can out-special-tank her, or Heatran comes calling. In general, Goodra doesn’t have the offensive presence of a Salamence or a Garchomp, especially as she’s not very fast and has no set-up options aside from maybe Curse if you’re a bit eccentric, but can hold her own just fine. Goodra doesn’t ‘do’ support in general, which is a bit surprising for a such a friendly, maternal-looking Pokémon; more options there would be nice, of course, but this does also make her one of the surprisingly few Pokémon who do really well with an Assault Vest. This thing is pretty much the first item since Leftovers aimed mainly at giving options to defensive Pokémon, and trades a special defence bonus – increasing Goodra’s to titanic levels – for the inability to use status techniques, something that doesn’t really bother her. The more mainstream items like Leftovers and Life Orb are fine too, of course.
Probably the biggest downside to Goodra is that she can’t easily heal herself (hence the Assault Vest). One of her abilities can potentially change that: Hydration cures all status problems every turn as long as it’s raining, which means Goodra can do one-turn Rests on a rain team. As long as you’re doing rain, you can throw Muddy Water and Thunder in as well (she’s a slime creature and her evolution method is based on rain; of course she likes things moist). It’s awesome on paper, but do remember that weather is just not as powerful in X and Y since Drizzle and friends are no longer permanent-until-cancelled, making weather-based stalling strategies less than ideal. I reckon there’s better than even odds that Goodra will eventually get Giga Drain one way or another, though, so maybe someday healing will be on the cards for her. The alternative abilities are Sap Sipper, which gives Goodra a helpful immunity to Grass moves (including status techniques like Sleep Powder, Leech Seed and Spore), raising her attack stat whenever she’s hit by one, and Gooey, a hidden ability unique to her, which slows any opponent who touches her. Sap Sipper gets you free switch-ins on Grass attacks, though it’s unfortunate that Goodra isn’t really in the best position to take advantage of the resulting attack boosts and Grass attacks aren’t really common enough that you can plan on being hit by one, so it’s more of a good ability than a great one. Gooey is very cool, and a nasty surprise to many physical attackers who suddenly find that Goodra actually outruns them and can get in an extra hit. If you have no particular plans to abuse Hydration or Sap Sipper, it’s a great go-to ability and gives her something else to make her special.
Goodra – let alone Goomy and Sliggoo – may not be the first thing most of us think of when we hear the word ‘dragon,’ and they don’t really fight like most Dragon Pokémon either, but there’s little doubt in my mind now that they’re where they belong. A firebreathing badass is nice to have once in a while, but personally I think it’s best to take each type from as many different aesthetic angles as possible. Give us Mega Charizard, Hydreigon and Salamence, by all means, but Dragonite, Altaria and slimy-but-adorable Goodra have their place too… just as long as that place isn’t on my clean carpet.