Last one! Let’s do this! Booyeah! Volcanion!
I’ve wanted to see a Water/Fire Pokémon for a long time (and indeed my readers were kind enough to give me one early last year), mostly because I’m interested in the relationship between the two elements. They’re often considered opposites, and Water is Fire’s greatest and best-known weakness, but the combination of the two produces something that’s incredibly powerful in its own way – steam, which drove many of the machines of the industrial revolution and is still an important component of multiple ways of generating electricity today. The fact that we even deal with steam on a regular basis is pretty amazing in itself, because there’s actually no other compound besides water that naturally exists on Earth as a solid (ice), a liquid, and a gas, which is one of the many things that make water a bizarre and incredible compound. Volcanion commands this stuff, the most dynamic and potentially destructive form of the substance all life on Earth depends on – not a bad gig for a legendary Pokémon, if you ask me.
Volcanion, it turns out, is the mysterious Pokémon who has been occupying the time of the long-absent editor-in-chief of Lumiose Press. She has been gathering information about Volcanion for fifteen years, and has apparently learned precious little in that time, much of it not terribly interesting. The gist is that Volcanion has a variety of steam powers. Some of these are quite low-key: he can create a cloud of obscuring fog around himself, for example, making it easier to maintain his isolated existence in the mountains. Others are terrifying and destructive: Volcanion can vaporise water almost instantly inside a specialised organ (presumably similar in nature to the fire sacks that fuel the attacks of many Fire Pokémon) to create devastating steam explosions. These are the natural result of water boiling extremely rapidly when it hits something ridiculously hot – gases take up a lot more space than liquids do, and the force created by all that water expanding at such a tremendous rate can cause pretty heavy physical damage to anything in its way (not to mention any damage caused by the heat of the boiling steam). In the real world, we most often see major steam explosions during volcanic eruptions when lava flows reach water, which presumably is where Volcanion’s name comes from; we might conjecture that he creates steam by combining water and lava – though if so, it’s odd that he doesn’t seem to learn Lava Plume. Steam explosions are also a major hazard in nuclear power plants – if molten nuclear fuel comes into contact with the coolant water during a meltdown, damage from the resulting steam explosion can make it much harder to bring the system back under control. I’ve actually seen people speculate that Volcanion’s rather odd physical design is somehow based on a nuclear reactor, with the two interlocking arms that arch over his back representing coolant rods. Although I must admit I can’t really come up with a better explanation for Volcanion’s body shape, I’m rather inclined to doubt that Game Freak would really want to go there, given that Japan is still dealing with the effects of the second-worst nuclear disaster ever, the 2011 Fukushima crisis. It just seems like kind of an insensitive move. Obviously my insight into their creative processes is limited, but even if the designers themselves had no problem with the idea of a Pokémon based on a nuclear reactor, I don’t think they’d be willing to take the risk of one of their legendary Pokémon being suppressed in the way that poor Whiscash was following earthquakes in 2004. This means, of course, that I have absolutely no idea what Volcanion is supposed to be.
Volcanion, of course, is a legendary Pokémon, which means that he must by definition be capable of true absurdity in the exploitation of his steam powers – supposedly, the steam explosions he creates can actually demolish entire mountains. In fact, Volcanion is said to be revered in southern Kalos for precisely this reason; supposedly southern Kalosians believe that the plain on which they live was created when Volcanion blasted a mountain to rubble. Now, there’s actually not a whole lot in southern Kalos. Kiloude City is described as a “typical example of southern Kalosian life,” and the same is (speaking very broadly) true of its real-world equivalent, Lyon, which is the second-largest city in France. Kiloude City is not on a plain, though – not even close; it’s surrounded by mountains, to such an extent that it’s actually inaccessible in the game except by air or high-speed train. This is more or less what that part of France is actually like – it corresponds to the Massif Central, a large elevated region of difficult hills, mountains and plateaux created by volcanism throughout the Cenozoic era, the most recent eruptions being as little as six or seven thousand years ago (in geological terms that’s practically last Thursday). Other than Kiloude City, the southernmost town in Kalos is… well, the player’s home, Vaniville Town. Vaniville Town doesn’t really correspond all that closely to any real towns in France, as far as I can see, but it is fairly close to Clermont-Ferrand, the largest city in France’s Auvergne region (I would be readier to identify it with the larger Aquacorde Town, except that Aquacorde sits right on what seems to the fork where the Allier river joins the Loire, and Clermont-Ferrand is further south than that). Clermont-Ferrand is right on the eastern edge of France’s largest volcanic formation, the Chaîne des Puys (which… literally just means “Chain of [volcanic] Hills,” puy being a local word specific to the Auvergnat dialect). The Chaîne des Puys is extremely unusual for being an area of significant volcanic activity that is nowhere near a plate boundary; studies of the siteby 19th century English geologist George Poulett Scrope have become classics of the field and made terribly important contributions to the development of volcanology as a modern science, and the whole chain of hills is currently the subject of a campaign to have it declared a UNESCO world heritage site. More interestingly to me, the area has been exploited as farmland on and off for at least the past two thousand years, since the Gallo-Roman period. Volcanic soil is extremely rich, and the more level zones in and around the Chaîne des Puys are no exception. I’m inclined to suspect, then, that what Volcanion did all those millennia ago was pulverise a good chunk of the Kalosian equivalent to the Chaîne des Puys, in the process reducing huge amounts of volcanic rock to mineral dust that still contributes to the fertility of the land, including the part of Kalos where X and Y’s protagonists grew up. For what reason Volcanion did this, I couldn’t say; hell, maybe the people who lived there before the ancestors of the modern Kalosians had offended him somehow and paid the price.
I’m not entirely sure this actually tells us anything about Volcanion, and I’m certainly not sure that Game Freak even had this specific volcanic field in mind when they designed him, but on the bright side, I can now legitimately deploy the sentence “yes, of course I know about the geology of south-central France; I have a blog about Pokémon,” which I am fairly confident is something no one on Earth has ever before had cause to say.
As with Hoopa, spending too much time navel-gazing about what exactly Volcanion can do is somewhat counter-productive since it could still change quite a lot before Game Freak ever even admit that Volcanion exists, but hey, if you’ve gotten through all that stuff about the hypothetical geology of Kalos you will have figured out that “somewhat counterproductive” is basically my highest aspiration in life. Volcanion is a special tank – slow, quite tough, and with all the firepower you could want. Fire/Water is not a great offensive combination, leaving both Dragon and Water as holes in Volcanion’s coverage, but it’s decent defensively, and the extra immunity to Water attacks that he gets from the Water Absorb ability certainly doesn’t hurt (the fact that Volcanion can’t heal himself, barring Rest, makes it doubly important). Fire, as always, comes with a choice of two extremely powerful special attacks, Overheat and Fire Blast, while on the Water side, Volcanion has a nasty signature move – Steam Eruption, as powerful as Hydro Pump, significantly more accurate, and carrying a solid chance to burn its target. Focus Blast rounds out his special movepool, and Earth Power seems like a solid bet for the Alpha Sapphire and Omega Ruby move tutors. Flash Cannon and Solarbeam are in there too, but Solarbeam needs sunlight to work properly, and sunlight is something that Volcanion, unlike most Fire Pokémon, will generally want to avoid, while Flash Cannon is really only useful against Fairy Pokémon, and even then Volcanion’s primary attacks are better against most of them. Volcanion also has a perfectly respectable attack stat and can use Flare Blitz, Earthquake, Stone Edge, or even Explosion in a pinch to take out Pokémon with very strong special defence. Flame Charge is also notable for being the only way he can increase his speed, and although it’s not a great one, the prospect of this thing sitting on a speed stat high enough to actually sweep is really quite terrifying. There’s not a whole lot in there for a support angle, to be honest. Volcanion is tough enough that Roar isn’t a terrible idea, but I don’t think there’s anything to particularly recommend him as a user of that move either. Will’o’Wisp is neat, but an odd thing to spend a moveslot on for a Pokémon whose best attack already has a 30% chance to cause a burn. Body Slam’s paralysis possibilities are amusing for a fairly slow Pokémon like Volcanion, but it doesn’t help your type coverage and Volcanion’s damage is weaker on the physical side. This Pokémon blows things up. He’s pretty good at it. Why complicate things?
So, that’s Volcanion. It still bugs me that I don’t know what’s behind his weird six-limbed, diamond-bodied design; I’m also slightly bothered that the editor of Lumiose Press managed to get a little bit of Volcanion’s mythology but stopped short of any specifics, but then again, Volcanion’s odds of starring in a movie, like Keldeo and Genesect did, are pretty good, and I suspect the vague references to destroying mountains in southern Kalos are meant to form a hook for that. It’s kind of difficult to figure out what exactly Game Freak mean to do with these Pokémon they try to hide – or even whether they have anything particularly momentous in mind at all; Meloetta didn’t really do anything special, and I don’t think we ever found out what the deal with her lost red shoes was supposed to be. Fingers crossed for Volcanion, I suppose. And…
…that’s it! I’m done! Yes! Go me!
…oh, GODS, I’m done! Now I have to do SOMETHING ELSE for you bloodsucking vulture-hounds! And it probably has to MAKE SENSE too, and you have no idea how AWFUL that is.
Just… I don’t know, go away and eat some cake for a little while. That’s what I’m going to do, anyway.