Before we begin, I want to point out, for the benefit of people who might not usually pay attention to this kind of thing, that Palossand has one of the best French names I’ve ever seen for a Pokémon: Trépassable. It’s a portmanteau of trépas, demise, and sable, sand, but it also sounds like très passable – “good enough,” which is a phrase that everyone who has ever built a sandcastle has uttered at least once.
Anyway. Haunted sandcastles!
Haunted castles make perfect sense to anyone with even a vague familiarity with 19th century gothic horror or its 20th century cinematic inheritors. Beginning with Horace Walpole’s 1764 novel The Castle of Otranto, any gothic horror worth the name has a menacing castle on a windswept crag in the middle of a dark forest in Molvania or some similarly dismal place, and said castle is regularly infested with a range of “local colour” including but not limited to bats, vampires, mad scientists, werewolves and, of course, ghosts. Ghosts and castles go hand in hand right down to contemporary fiction, with the entertaining spiritual population of Hogwarts in the Harry Potter series, and ghosts in the haunting business are commonly depicted as pursuing “unfinished business” or grudges left over from their lives. But a haunted sandcastle might be something of a new one…
Sandygast and Palossand are an odd juxtaposition of an innocent childhood pastime and a terrible curse. Their sandy bodies begin life as ordinary sandcastles built by kids playing on the beach, but are empowered by the grudges and vengeful thoughts of Pokémon “and other creatures” (humans? Bacteria? Can bacteria hold grudges? Is that why it’s so dangerous to stop a course of antibiotics before you’re supposed to?) that have died in battle. Aside from being a rare and always-fascinating reference to Pokémon dying in battle (this is from the Sun and Moon website rather than the more squeamish Pokédex), it suggests something interesting about the places where Sandygast live. If they are created by violent deaths and vengeful spirits on beaches, then areas where you can find them in large numbers, like Hano Grand Resort, could be areas of historical bloodshed: places where so many lives have been claimed in violence that an entire ecosystem can be propped up by nothing but their thirst for vengeance. It would have been clever to have them appear on beaches outside Hau’oli City, Alola’s analogue to Honolulu, as a reference to the attack on Pearl Harbour in World War II – but for a Japanese company, that would arguably have been in extremely poor taste. As it is, they’re found at Hano Beach on Akala Island, and although the island of Maui did see its share of battle during the 19th century unification of Hawai’i by Kamehameha the Great, the bloodiest fighting was at ‘Īao Valley, which more closely matches the mountains between Heahea City and Konikoni City. Exactly what happened on Hano Beach to cause so many Sandygast to form there will have to remain a mystery.
Wikipedia reports a notion that the concept of sand sculpture originated in Hawai’i, which would make this an especially fitting Pokémon to put in Alola, but the claim has one of those little blue  tags and I can’t find corroboration for it. The idea of building things out of wet sand on a beach is also a simple enough one to grasp that I can imagine people all over the world coming up with it independently, long enough ago that it’s pointless trying to make a claim about who was first. In the Pokémon world, humans might not even be the only ones who do it; there could easily be Pokémon who play with sand on the beach – the games give us no indication of exactly how long Sandygast have existed. Palossand have bodies shaped with a little more architectural skill, so they could be a recent adaptation, one that only exists now that humans are around to “build” them. Like jellyfish or corals, Sandygast and Palossand are collective organisms, made up of millions of grains of sand, each grain with its own rudimentary consciousness. Presumably it doesn’t take one death to possess every grain, or even a single Sandygast would have to be the product of a full-on genocide, but we could speculate that more violent deaths or more powerful grudges result in more grains of sand becoming cursed, potentially enabling the creation of more or larger Sandygast. But the spiritual component isn’t all it takes for one of these Pokémon to form – someone needs to build the body. The Pokédex actually cautions you to destroy any sand mounds you build on the beach before you leave, just in case they become cursed and turn into Sandygast. That brings us to the tool used in shaping the sand: shovels.
Sandygast and Palossand are oddly possessive of the shovels sticking out of their heads, apparently for no other reason than because they like them. It’s not absolutely clear whether these are actual shovels or just a part of the Pokémon’s body that looks like a shovel, but probably the former. Try to take the shovel and the Pokémon will fight you (or worse), but supposedly they have been known to lose the things, and it appears to send them a little bit peculiar. According to the Sun and Moon website, Sandygast deprived of their shovels will set up tree branches, flags or other similar objects in their place and become what the website charmingly terms “wanderers in search of their own shovels.” It’s possible that a Sandygast won’t form in the first place without a shovel, but that would take a vengeful spirit with a weirdly specific type of grudge. I think it’s more likely that they try to acquire some kind of rudimentary digging stick soon after being created, and human-manufactured shovels happen to be extremely good digging sticks. As for why they need shovels… Placing one’s hand in a Sandygast or Palossand’s gaping mouth, or touching its shovel, allows it to bring you under its supernatural control, with one of two effects of varying degrees of disastrousness. If you’re lucky, it will mentally enslave you and get you to collect more sand to add to its pile – possibly using the shovel (although in the anime, in a flashback scene in which Kiawe is possessed by a Sandygast, he just uses his hands). New sand grains added to the heap presumably become part of the curse and gain their own limited sentience, and the more the Pokémon grows, the greater its powers become. This is how Sandygast evolves, according to the Pokédex – by controlling others as labour. If you’re unlucky… well, it will still use you to build itself higher, but in a more literal sense. Sandygast and Palossand feed on the life force of Pokémon – and perhaps humans too – and the dry bones of their victims become part of their foundations. If those deaths count as “deaths in battle” capable of contributing grudges and vengeful thoughts, this might also be how they reproduce, and so the great circle of death goes on…
On that cheerful note, let’s talk about Palossand’s moves and abilities.
In battle, Palossand is a physical tank that mainly trades on its three immunities, impressive physical defence and good healing. Its signature move, Shore Up, is normally a straightforward healing technique that will restore half of Palossand’s health, just like Recover. This would be, for a lot of Pokémon, quite frankly good enough, and it will often serve Palossand accordingly. Under sandstorm conditions, however, when Palossand has easy access to more material for repairing and fortifying its walls, Shore Up restores two thirds of Palossand’s health, the same amount granted by Synthesis, Morning Sun or Moonlight with Sunny Day in effect. What’s more, unlike those other moves, which will restore only a pitiful quarter of the user’s health during rain, sandstorms or hail, there is no weather condition that will sabotage Shore Up’s effectiveness; it’s always good for at least 50% (you’d think rain or hail would complicate sandcastle-building, but luckily for Palossand this is apparently not the case). Together with Palossand’s excellent defence, decent HP and passable special defence, this gives you a pretty solid physically defensive Pokémon, albeit one with five weaknesses, including Water, Ice and Dark – and Palossand can hit back pretty well too.
Shadow Ball and Earth Power make for solid but ordinary primary attacks; our previous Ghost/Ground Pokémon, Golurk, is a physical attacker, so gets Earthquake on the Ground side but has to make do with placeholders like Shadow Punch on the Ghost side. Palossand’s special attack stat is good, but not brilliant, so without really high-power attacks, it can take a few hits to bring down bulkier foes. Its main attacks also leave it with no recourse against the immunities of Normal/Flying Pokémon like Staraptor and Braviary, and it doesn’t learn any special Rock-type attacks to scare them off. You could take Sludge Bomb or Psychic just to have something against the birds; they also have the advantage of stinging bulky Grass or Grass/Poison-types that are generally a huge pain for Palossand. Energy Ball and Giga Drain are also on offer for making you a little bit less vulnerable to Water-types. There is an argument for just picking four of these attacks with an Assault Vest to bolster Palossand’s weaker special defence, and turning it into a more blasty sort of tank; it’ll end up with very different capabilities to what your opponents might be expecting and be much less helpless against several of its usual counters. You do lose out on Shore Up, as well as Palossand’s other support options, some of which are quite good, and it bears repeating that Palossand isn’t the most powerful special attacker, so I wouldn’t make this the default strategy, but it’s not a terrible idea.
Palossand is quite good at bullying Fighting and Electric Pokémon, and can make good use of the time bought by a forced switch to deploy support moves. It gets Stealth Rock, which is always helpful for wearing down opposing teams; in this capacity, it’s also useful that Palossand is immune to Rapid Spin, but take note that quite a lot of Pokémon with Rapid Spin are Water-types or otherwise able to do nasty things to you. Toxic fits quite well with Palossand’s general endurance-oriented style, and makes as much sense here as on any other non-Poison-type Pokémon; if you really want to maximise its effectiveness, you can take Infestation to trap poisoned opponents in play, but at that point you have to sacrifice one of Palossand’s core moves, which I’m not so confident about. Hypnosis is inaccurate, but gives you a decent chance to neutralise one of Palossand’s counters as it switches in. Finally, Amnesia is another way of helping Palossand deal better with special attackers, but it’s probably better off with something more threatening – except in one particular situation, dealt with below.
Palossand’s signature ability, Water Compaction, raises its physical defence by two stages (about +100%) every time it is damaged by a Water attack, though it does not negate Palossand’s weakness to Water. Physical Water attacks might initially maim Palossand, but unless the first blow deals really terrible damage, actually finishing it off with physical Water attacks can be a surprisingly difficult task. In doubles, there is a notorious strategy that has Palossand boost its mediocre special defence with Amnesia, then gain ridiculous amounts of defence by taking multiple hits of a Water Shuriken attack from a friendly Smeargle (who can learn any move) while simultaneously increasing its special attack power with the item Weakness Policy. If it all goes off without a hitch, you have a nearly indestructible Palossand ready to go to town with its boosted special attacks. Unfortunately, in singles Water Compaction isn’t nearly as useful. Water attacks are more likely to hit Palossand’s weaker special defence, which won’t be helped by the ability, so it may just take enough damage to force it to switch out, losing the defence bonus as well. Still more unfortunately, Palossand’s other ability is Sand Veil, which grants a 20% evasion bonus during sandstorms – it’s unreliable, and it’s not fun to play against. If you’re playing Palossand as part of a Sandstorm team (arguably where it does its best work, because of Shore Up), Sand Veil is probably the more generally useful ability, though.
With the exception of the Smeargle-assisted Infinite Defence Palossand, which is a special category of nonsense all on its own, Palossand actually turns out to be a surprisingly conventional sort of Pokémon in battle. Healing, good defences, passable attacks; the signature ability is only situationally relevant (outside of doubles, anyway) and the signature move is straightforward. Mostly Palossand is unique because of its unusual type, shared only with Golurk (and although Golurk is basically a tank, it doesn’t really play like Palossand does). Which is fine, there’s nothing wrong with that and it does what it needs to; it’s just odd, considering how unrelentingly weird Palossand’s design is. This is one of Jim the Editor’s favourite Pokémon of generation VII, and after squinting at it for a while I’m beginning to see why; I wasn’t really expecting a sandcastle Pokémon to even make sense, but it sort of does, in an offbeat way. It’s an embodied curse with built-in ways of perpetuating itself, it references a standard literary trope in a way that’s at right angles to the norm, and it amusingly juxtaposes light-hearted themes with ominous ones. I guess there’s only one way I can possibly sum it all up: très passable.