What would Pokémon be without bats?
Well, at the moment I’m picturing a pristine world of peace and harmony where everything is sweetness and light and nothing painful ever happens, but maybe it’s just a tiny bit unfair to blame all the world’s economic, social, military and ideological strife on Zubat. Only a tiny bit, mind you. Like it or (more likely) not, Zubat and Golbat have been fixtures of the Pokémon games since the beginning, their combination of high speed, confusion-inducing attacks making them incredibly and infuriatingly effective at harassing Pokémon trainers travelling through caves. They appeared in practically every cave of every Pokémon game up until Black and White, when Game Freak were so traumatised by their absence that they had to create Woobat and Swoobat to keep us from suffocating in the horror of a batless existence. In Kalos, the Pokémon region with by far the greatest biodiversity we’ve yet seen, Zubat and Woobat are both back – there’s no need for a Pokémon to fill their role as bloodsucking nuisances. Maybe this made Game Freak excited about the possibility of a designing a bat who’s not an awful blight on the world, because they went and gave us Noibat and Noivern – giant dragon-bats with a mean streak a mile wide and a voice like dynamite in a thunderstorm. That’s a new one.
Admittedly, bats with sonic powers is… not exactly a fresh idea, although in fairness it’s something of an obvious and logical route to take, and whereas Zubat and Woobat mainly have sonic powers as a form of navigation like real bats do, Noibat and Noivern weaponise it – fittingly enough, seeing as they belong to the Dragon type, the element of unbridled destructive power. Sound can do surprisingly nasty things to physical objects if its frequency matches the ‘natural’ or ‘resonance’ frequency of the system it’s acting on; vibrations induced by the sound stack up with natural vibrations in the material, storing more and more energy until something ridiculous happens – we’ve all heard of singers who can shatter wine glasses by wailing at precisely the right pitch (the same pitch produced by the glass itself when struck). The somewhat more sobering equivalent is the violent shaking or even total collapse of huge bridges and towers (most famously the first Tacoma Narrows bridge in the northwest United States) due to resonance created by wind, the engines of vehicles, or even (in one particularly memorable case in downtown Seoul) a group of seventeen middle-aged Koreans performing aerobics to the rhythm of 1990 Eurodance hit The Power – which is my private imagining of what Noivern and Exploud’s Boomburst technique sounds like, and now yours too. Making effective use of such attacks to, for instance, pulverise boulders implies that Pokémon with sonic attacks, including Noivern, possess not only extremely loud voices but also tremendous range and flexibility – destructive, but also finely tuned and precise. This is exactly what Noivern is; the Pokédex describes her as an opportunistic ambush hunter, swooping down from the night sky to snatch up and carry off the unwary. With no need for light to see by, Noivern can move and hunt in total darkness – this is a frightening Pokémon. Noibat, by contrast, is more than a little on the derpy side, and more interested in defending herself with nauseating ultrasonic pulses than in blowing apart rocks with resonant sound waves or stalking unsuspecting prey as a lethal hunter of the night. Are we surprised, though? A traditional trait of Dragon-types is their tendency to be less-than-inspiring in their infancy, and then transform dramatically when they evolve. Noibat is phenomenally useless, with a base stat total just barely higher than Combee’s, and she stays that way until as high as level 48, when she abruptly becomes the unholy terror that is Noivern. It’s not quite a Magikarp-to-Gyarados metamorphosis, but it’s a pretty impressive change, and entirely in keeping with what we should expect.
To continue with what makes these Pokémon dragons, the name Noivern, which keeps the –vern ending through Japanese, English and French, seems pretty clearly meant to reference the word ‘wyvern.’ This is a term for a dragon-like creature whose exact shape and powers vary, though it’s used most often and most consistently in heraldry, and the common thread seems to be that wyverns have serpentine lower bodies and only two legs, while dragons tend to have four (they also tend to have spiked or barbed tails not unlike Noivern’s, though western heraldic dragons regularly have these too). Significantly, Noivern is the only winged Dragon Pokémon apart from Altaria with only two other limbs – the others (Dragonite, Flygon, and so on) have both arms and legs as well as wings, but Noivern’s wings are arms, like a real bat’s. It makes sense – although the typical depiction leaves much to be desired from an anatomical standpoint, the leathery wings seen on most modern European dragons are commonly described as ‘bat-like,’ and it’s hard to imagine what else could have been the original inspiration for wings in that style (illustrated Mediaeval bestiaries actually seem to have no shortage of dragons with feathery birds’ wings as well, but the leathery ‘bat-like’ style is common too). In a way, Noivern brings that full circle. It’s probably no coincidence that she is, at present, the only Flying dual-type in the game who’s listed as Flying first and something else second – mechanically it makes no difference how a Pokémon’s types are ordered, but it sometimes seems like Game Freak intend to place emphasis on the primary type; consider Aggron (Steel/Rock) and Bastiodon (Rock/Steel), for instance. This follows on from Tornadus, the first straight Flying-type, in generation V, and might indicate that they’re still putting serious thought into what they think Flying should be and how they want to treat it as a type. For Noivern, the implication seems to be that they want the emphasis of the design to be on her “flying animal” elements rather than her “mythical reptile” elements – she’s a bat with draconic features, not a bat-like dragon. Comparisons to pterosaurs are perhaps inevitable, though it’s hard to say whether any resemblance is intentional – take a bat and add reptilian features, and you’re bound to get something that recalls popular depictions of real winged reptiles. It certainly adds another layer of badass to what’s going on here, though.
Noivern is built for speed. She enjoys a cool little niche as the fastest Dragon Pokémon in the game by a significant margin, leaving even the Eon Twins in the dust – a niche that she pays for by having less raw strength than most of the other top-tier Dragons. With a special attack score that’s good, but not brilliant, Noivern needs to rely on powerful techniques to make up the shortfall. Luckily, she’s a Dragon-type, and Dragon-types, by definition, get to learn Pokémon’s great kill-it-now button, Draco Meteor. Hurricane doesn’t hurt either, although its accuracy leaves much to be desired unless you’re using Noivern on a rain team – likewise Focus Blast (which can’t even get help from the weather). Another helpful option is Noivern’s almost-signature move (she shares it with Exploud, Chatot and, for some reason, Swellow), Boomburst, a catastrophic blast of sound intended to level anything that isn’t resistant to Normal attacks. This move has its problems – because it doesn’t get Noivern’s same-type attack bonus, Hurricane and Draco Meteor are both stronger; Normal is also a bad offensive type at the best of times. On the other hand, it’s 100% accurate and doesn’t cut your special attack in half the way Draco Meteor does. It’s probably worth noting that Boomburst is a sonic attack, which means that it can’t touch Pokémon with the Soundproof ability (not that this is likely to come up, since arguably the only Pokémon with Soundproof who doesn’t have a better option is Electrode), and more importantly that it can bypass Substitutes. However, this isn’t really a big deal for Noivern since she can do that anyway with the Infiltrator ability, which also lets her bypass Reflect and Light Screen, and her other choices are less than inspiring (checking opponents’ items with Frisk, or avoiding allies’ area attacks in double and triple battles with Telepathy). Since Noivern is extremely fast already but lags behind some of the other Dragons in power, the natural item choice for her is Choice Specs, to wring every last drop of power you can out of that special attack stat. As always, this makes perfect sense with Draco Meteor, since they’re both options that like you to switch often, and it also fits well with another of Noivern’s cool toys, U-Turn – with the free switches it offers, it’s very easy to get a sense for what your opponent’s go-to answer to Noivern is likely to be, and how you might anticipate it in future, mitigating the inflexibility caused by your Choice item.
That’s the basics of what Noivern does. The frills include a couple of ways to seriously mess with defence-, setup- and support-oriented Pokémon. Noivern is one of the fastest Pokémon in the game to learn Taunt, behind maybe a dozen others, several of them high-tier legendary Pokémon, making her extremely efficient at blocking support techniques – obviously you’ll want to forgo the power of Choice Specs if you pick this technique. The alternative that does work with Choice Specs for a similar goal is Switcheroo, which is an absolute pain to get onto her because it comes from Malamar, via Crawdaunt, via Archeops (which… is certainly among the stranger lineages out there, courtesy of Archeops’ somewhat incongruous membership in the Water 3 family). It’s a tried-and-tested way of crippling supporters, though – make use of your Choice item as you normally would until you see a Pokémon who would absolutely hate to be locked into a single attack, then make the switch and stick them with your painfully restrictive spectacles. Less aggressive versions of Noivern may enjoy the healing offered by Roost, while Dark Pulse and Flamethrower sacrifice power but win her some nice coverage (Flamethrower in particular provides a more reliable alternative to Focus Blast for dealing with Steel-types). Air Slash, similarly, is there if you dislike the poor natural accuracy of Hurricane, but the difference in power is so great that it’s almost not worth it, particularly given that Noivern needs all the power she can get. Finally, I think it deserves mention that Noivern can learn Super Fang, because it’s quite an unusual move. She’s not really the kind of Pokémon that jumps to mind when you think of Super Fang – the ability to chop a foe’s health in half works wonders for stuff like Pachirisu, but Noivern can do that to a lot of stuff anyway. Still, it’s an extremely nasty surprise for any Fairy- or Steel-type planning to soak a Draco Meteor, and deserves to be added to Switcheroo and Taunt on the list of reasons why you can’t necessarily ignore Noivern just because you have a special wall like Blissey or Umbreon or whatever.
Some Pokémon are just so badass it becomes difficult not to like them, and Noivern is one of these. Her heavy influence from a real modern animal gives her a very different feel to most Dragon-types, making her ability to inspire fear and awe that much more real as well. Where Golbat and Crobat are sinister and Swoobat is… kinda weird and dorky… Noivern is just downright terrifying, and yet another reason not to wander around Kalos alone at night. The whole “quick and stealthy hunter” thing is also something we haven’t seen from a Dragon-type before. She may not quite live up to her appearance in battles with a prepared and trained opponent, just a little short of oomph, but foes nonetheless underestimate her at their peril. This one… yeah, this one works.