Remember when you first encountered this Pokémon? Just wandering around Akala Island, minding your own business, when suddenly the lead guitarist of a My Chemical Romance cover band challenges you to a battle, enters some kind of drug-induced seizure-trance, and sends out what is clearly about six different Pokémon, stitched together by the bastard child of Victor Frankenstein and Josef Mengele. That first appearance makes quite an impact; it’s clear from the start that Gladion is an important character mixed up with some grade-A X-files $#!t, and that his partner Pokémon is not a typical Alolan species. In fact, it’s an artificial creature designed by the Aether Foundation, the antagonists (more or less) of Sun and Moon, with a very specific purpose in mind.
Type: Null is an odd combination of mammal-, reptile-, bird- and fish-like features that evokes mythical hybrid creatures like the griffin, chimaera or qilin. It wears a heavy bronze helmet, which the Pokédex calls a control mask. Documents from the Aether Foundation, as well as the Pokédex, explain that the mask was developed to suppress its powers, after the first tests of its abilities resulted in a disastrous rampage. Unfortunately, the masks worked too well; all three of the individuals created by the Foundation turned out to be unable to use their special powers at all after being fitted with the helmets. The new species had originally been designated Type: Full (in reference to the particular nature of its special abilities – see below), but after the failure of the masks it was redesignated Type: Null, and all three of them were put into cryo-sleep “for the rest of eternity,” like the Pokémon we see in Lusamine’s private laboratory. Or at least… it was supposed to be “for the rest of eternity,” until Gladion, in an uncharacteristic fit of conscience, released one of them, took it as his partner Pokémon, and fled Aether Paradise. After months on the run together, Gladion wins his partner’s trust, allowing it to evolve into a Pokémon that he names Silvally – or rather, I say “evolve” and the game treats it as “evolution,” but I don’t think it involves any actual physical changes. The only change to its stats is an increase to speed, which just represents Type: Null becoming strong enough to destroy its heavy, limiting control mask. At that point, because its trust in its trainer gives it the necessary focus to control its powers, the mask becomes unnecessary anyway.
The power that the masks suppress, the power that the Aether Foundation originally created Type: Null to harness, is an ability called the RKS System. To my knowledge, no official source ever reveals what the letters RKS actually stand for, but when you say them out loud – Ar-Kay-Ess – they sound a lot like the name of the legendary Pokémon Arceus. The suppression of the control mask results in Type: Null having the fairly standard Battle Armour ability, but when it frees itself from the mask as Silvally, Battle Armour is replaced by the RKS System, and we learn where exactly the name comes from. Silvally, like Arceus, can change its type depending on what item it holds, but rather than using mystic Plates, Silvally uses “Memories” created by the Aether Foundation. The Memories appear to be data discs, which are apparently accepted by the round metallic-looking feature on the side of Silvally’s head. I suppose this implies that its brain has cybernetic components or is otherwise able to interface with some sort of disc reader. Then again, the discs resemble TMs, and I don’t think anyone’s ever explained how those work, so maybe the discs transfer literal memories by the same obscure techno-wizardry that lets TMs transfer skills. The point is that they contain some sort of information that is artificially made accessible to Silvally’s mind. Development files from the Aether labs describe the collection of “materials” from the Canalave Library in Sinnoh, followed by cells from Pokémon of all eighteen known types. It sounds as though they were using mythological texts from the library to research Arceus’ capabilities and inform the necessary content of the “memories,” then trying to emulate every type with a grab-bag of whatever genetic material they could get hold of (hence Silvally’s chimeric appearance), with each memory “activating” different clusters of cells and genes. However, it’s also possible they could have bought actual ancient artefacts linked with Arceus to study their properties (I mean, I say “bought” but I think we all know Faba probably broke in wearing a lime green ski mask and brandishing an electrified torsion wrench and stole the fµ¢&ing things).
Gladion claims – and Foundation documents confirm – that Type: Null was engineered for a very specific purpose: it was supposed to be a “Beast-Killer,” a Pokémon specialised to hunt and destroy Ultra Beasts that got loose in Alola. Exactly why the Foundation felt they needed something like that is not absolutely clear. In the original Sun and Moon, Lusamine is obsessed with the Ultra Beasts and secretly trying to summon one to Alola in order to make it her partner, so the idea that she would instruct her scientists to engineer an artificial “Beast-Killer” Pokémon seems incongruous with her other motives. It’s possible that Faba was the driving force behind the project, but we know Lusamine approved the budget for it (yes, there is an actual paper trail on this $#!t) and was angry when Gladion stole the experimental Pokémon, so it’s not like the nature of the project was being hidden from her. In Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon, Lusamine’s motivations are completely rewritten and she’s trying to protect Alola from the Ultra Beasts, particularly from Necrozma, so in that version of the story the utility of a Beast-Killer is a lot more obvious.
What remains somewhat unclear is why the Aether Foundation thought in the first place that a Pokémon with the powers of Arceus would be a particularly effective answer to the Ultra Beasts. Something that can counteract their “auras” would make sense; something that can counteract the effects of the Beast Boost ability they all share would make sense; the ability to change type doesn’t obviously help all that much. Perhaps the thinking was that the Ultra Beasts are very mysterious opponents; the Foundation might not have had any information about what types they would be strongest or weakest against, and decided that the best solution would be to engineer a flexible Pokémon, able to change its own powers to respond as more data became available about the unfamiliar enemy. Or… there could conceivably have been more to the project that was never realised. We know that Type: Null was ultimately discarded as a failure, and Silvally lacks a lot of interesting moves from Arceus’ level-up list (Cosmic Power, Gravity, Future Sight, Perish Song… the most interesting move they do share is Punishment, which is arguably a counter of sorts to Beast Boost). Maybe Type: Full and its RKS System were only the first of several planned iterations on the “Beast-Killer,” and the project, if it hadn’t failed so quickly, would have culminated in the creation of a full-blown “angel” that could use Arceus’ mastery of dimensions to seal Ultra Wormholes and banish Ultra Beasts. Plausibly the Foundation didn’t even know how to fight Ultra Beasts at first, and researched the powers of Arceus in mythological texts from the Canalave Library because they hoped they would find something that would create a Pokémon capable of enforcing cosmic order.
Although Gladion seems satisfied with his partner’s powers, “enforcing cosmic order” is perhaps a bit of a stretch. Like Arceus, Silvally is a difficult Pokémon to evaluate succinctly because it’s really eighteen Pokémon in one: the RKS System means you can use it as any type. It’s a very jack-of-all-trades kind of Pokémon, a theme reinforced by its strong across-the-board stats, but unfortunately Silvally is very much a master of none. Because you can’t change its Memory and type during a battle, you really have to pick one type for your Silvally to fight as, and stick with it. And… well, for most of the things it can conceivably do well, there is some other Pokémon of the appropriate type that can do it better. Silvally can be a Fighting-type Swords Dance sweeper, sure, but not as well as Lucario can; it can be a Bug-type revenge killer, but not one of Scizor’s calibre; it can be a Water-type special tank, but not like Gastrodon can. Silvally can be all of those things, but not all at once. You should also bear in mind that Silvally’s Memories, unlike the Plates that Arceus uses to change its type, do not confer a 20% bonus to the power of moves of the corresponding type, which makes the sacrifice of Silvally’s item slot hurt a lot more than it does for Arceus. There’s an argument that Silvally is at its best in its Normal form for just that reason, though Normal is generally a weak type (and Silvally, unlike Arceus, doesn’t have the lure of the most powerful Extremespeed in the game to entice it towards normality).
What Silvally does potentially have over other Pokémon is an offensive movepool with an unusual variety of different attack types. Pokémon of most types tend to be limited in what kinds of attacks they can get for flavour reasons – like, Fire Pokémon rarely get Electric attacks, and Electric Pokémon rarely get Ice attacks, because the elements just don’t “go together.” Silvally cares nothing for such restrictions, and gets a wide range of strong special attacks, including Flamethrower, Thunderbolt, Ice Beam, Shadow Ball, Surf, Hyper Voice, Grass Pledge, Flash Cannon and Draco Meteor. Physical attacks are a little skimpier and mostly not as powerful, but there’s Crunch, Double Edge, Rock Slide, U-Turn, Outrage, Zen Headbutt, Iron Head and, in a pinch, the elemental fang attacks. Silvally’s signature move, Multi-Attack (a toned-down, physical damage version of Arceus’ Judgement) also ensures that it will always have a solid physical attack of whatever type it happens to be at the moment. It is a little unfortunate that Silvally has a physical signature move but a movepool that is otherwise stronger on the special side, but it has the stats to be at least competent with both, as well as access to both Swords Dance and Metal Sound. The point is, if for some reason you want a Grass-type with Flamethrower, a Steel-type with powerful Dragon attacks, or a Bug-type mixed attacker with Surf, then Silvally can make that happen. And it is perfectly willing to sit here and wait until someone wants one of those things.
Silvally’s high all-around stats, and lack of any one excellent stat, make it naturally a decent choice for tank movesets that include some kind of support or utility. Pick a type that covers some hole in your team, pick an attack or two that goes well with your Multi-Attack, and then comb Silvally’s movepool for support moves that look useful. The standout here is Parting Shot, formerly Pangoro’s signature move, and now also shared with the Alolan form of Persian: this is a switch-out move like Baton Pass or U-Turn that slaps the target with attack and special attack penalties before the user disappears. Those penalties provide valuable cover to your incoming Pokémon, which makes Parting Shot a useful way of getting fragile setup sweepers or slow but powerful sledgehammer Pokémon into play. Because Silvally can be any type, not just Dark, you can also tailor it to share no weaknesses with your favourite setup sweeper, or whatever else you were planning to switch in with Parting Shot. Thunder Wave is a generally useful move but not especially unique; more intriguing is Silvally’s access to Defog, which is really useful on a team that isn’t using its own entry hazards to clear those of opponents. Most Pokémon that get Defog are Flying-types (and therefore weak to Stealth Rock); you might find it handy to have Defog on a fairly tanky Pokémon that can be any type you want. Finally, I want to mention some interesting flavour moves on Silvally’s list. Heal Block and Imprison aren’t really useful moves in general, but they’re cool choices for the movepool of a Pokémon designed to fight enemies that needed to be sealed off from a mysterious otherworldly source of power. It’s also really interesting that Silvally can learn Grass Pledge, Fire Pledge and Water Pledge (well, it’s supposed to; due to a bug it actually only gets Grass Pledge), since those moves have, until now, been exclusive to starter Pokémon. I think it’s most likely that this is meant to reference Silvally’s plot status as Gladion’s partner, though I’d also be willing to entertain the idea that the “pledge” or “oath” aspect of those moves represents Silvally’s role as a guardian of our world against invaders.
Type: Null’s nature and powers hint at a lot of interesting things, its very existence says something about the aims of the Aether Foundation, and its connection to Arceus might be a hint that Game Freak are eyeing up the possibility of a future Diamond and Pearl remake. I suppose in that sense it does everything I would expect a legendary(…ish?) Pokémon to do, and does so reasonably well; it’s also a fairly interesting Pokémon to use, even if it’s not all that strong. It just seems like it doesn’t go anywhere. The plot of the second half of Sun and Moon feels rushed, and the plot of Ultra Sun and Moon spirals off into an infinite and uncaring cosmos in a way that I still haven’t really taken the time to untangle. And Silvally, I think, ends up being something of a casualty of that. It feels like it’s going to be very important, like Nebby, but in the end all it really does is help Gladion beat Nihilego when Lusamine summons it to Aether Paradise; they don’t take any other action against the Ultra Beasts. I don’t know whether this counts as an indictment of Silvally specifically or of Pokémon’s storytelling (which has come a long way since the 90s, sure, but since 2011, not so much). Still… something here is lacking.