I think I may have been born an old man. I’ve always been jaded, crotchety, forgetful and averse to change, and my whole life has just been building up to the day when I’ll finally be able to use my age as an excuse for it. It is for this reason that my spirit Pokémon is Druddigon, who lives in a cave and hates everyone, but I have a certain sympathy too for today’s Pokémon, an elderly, white-haired berserk dragon known to the Alolans as Drampa.
According to the Sun and Moon website, Drampa live alone in high mountains at elevations above 10,000 feet (3000 metres), but have to descend every day to feed because they eat berries that only grow at lower elevations. Just to put some real world numbers on this, Mount Lanakila (Drampa’s natural habitat in the games) corresponds geographically to the real volcano Mauna Loa on the “Big Island” of Hawai‘i, whose summit is about 4170 m above sea level; with a tree line around 2500 m. Why Drampa live in such remote and inhospitable places is something of a mystery to me. It isn’t because they’re curmudgeonly or antisocial, like Druddigon – quite the opposite. Drampa are friendly, gentle and compassionate towards both humans and Pokémon, and particularly enjoy the company of human children, earning them the species designation “the Placid Pokémon.” Nor do they seek isolation to avoid predators, or at least, we don’t know of any predators they have. Maybe they just like the cold – but then again, they’re Dragon Pokémon, and therefore vulnerable to cold. I think it’s most likely something to do with the weather magic that Japanese dragons often command in folklore, and Drampa does have a few moves that seem like they fit with that: Twister and Fly on the level-up list; Mist, Razor Wind and Hurricane as egg moves; Cloud Nine as a hidden ability (while we’re here, it’s interesting that the website mentions lowland berry trees as important to Drampa’s lifestyle, because he also learns Natural Gift and therefore has a lot of incentive to look for specific berries). He may well have mystical reasons for needing to spend time at high altitudes, close to the clouds – but then, conversely, why not adapt to a food source that’s available at those higher altitudes? Rayquaza survives on cosmic dust and photocopier fumes, after all.
Aesthetically Drampa combines two fairly straightforward ideas: he’s an old man (a “grampa,” if you will), with long white hair, rheumy eyes, a hunched back and a kindly face; but he’s also an East Asian dragon, with a sinuous, serpentine body and small, fluffy wings (East Asian dragons commonly don’t have wings at all, but when they do, they tend to be small and feathery, not the great leathery bat-wings often sported by European dragons). The fusion of the two aesthetic angles is also pretty straightforward: both Chinese and Japanese dragons can assume human form, and regularly do so in the guise of elderly men. They are also associated with great wisdom, and can be mentor figures to their favoured mortals. They aren’t fiery, tyrannical monsters like European dragons, they’re guardians who bring rain for parched cropfields, along with general luck and prosperity. Traditionally, the way to tell the difference between a Japanese dragon and a Chinese one is by counting the toes: Chinese ones generally have four, except for the patron dragons of the imperial household, which have five; Japanese ones tend to have only three, regardless of status. This is a super fuzzy rule that gets broken all over the place, and I half suspect it may actually have been codified by western mythographers who wanted a firm canon for the different East Asian mythologies, but it’s kind of useful as a rule of thumb. Drampa, inconveniently, has no visible toes at all – just the fluffy wings – and is also missing the stag horns that a lot of eastern dragons have (compare Rayquaza’s horns or Dragonite’s “antennae”), though his long old-man hair may allude to the lion’s mane that such dragons often possess, and the shape of his face suggests a curly moustache, another common feature.
Drampa further picks up on the benevolence of Asian dragons and their capacity for mentorship with that fondness for children I mentioned before. We’re told that, during his daily jaunts to the lowlands of Alola, he loves to hang around places with large groups of children, like parks and schools, and is trusted to protect children from all harm. Of course, a dragon is still a dragon, and Pokémon’s Dragon type actually isn’t named with any of the Japanese words for dragon like ryū or tatsu, but with the loan-word doragon – a transliteration of the English “dragon,” which normally refers exclusively to European dragons. If you manage to piss Drampa off, you can expect an explosive blast of Dragonbreath, empowered by his signature ability, evocatively titled “Berserk.” The very best way to piss Drampa off (or worst, depending on your perspective) is by hurting the kids under his protection. This apparently extends to the acts of other children who bully Drampa’s protégés. Drampa has a zero-tolerance approach to bullying: “find the bully’s house and burn it [presumably the house, not the bully] to the ground.” Pokémon do their best to work with people, but if you’re going to live in a world full of magical creatures, you just have to accept that occasionally a minor miscommunication will leave a family homeless because one of their kids is a little $#!t. Drampa’s unusual Dragon/Normal type combination might be an attempt to express his human-like nature, fondness for humans, and general willingness to integrate into human social interactions (to a… variable degree of success). That’s not something I’ve previously regarded as a general trait of Normal-types, and there are plenty that aren’t particularly humanlike and don’t have anything to do with humans, but if we can all agree on one thing, it’s that no one knows what the Normal type is supposed to be.
Finally, I am also compelled to note a certain resemblance to another dragon who is specifically famed for befriending a child, and later helped that child get revenge on some bullies: Falkor the luck dragon, of The Neverending Story. Falkor has a more doglike face, but the similarity of his floppy ears and fluffy white serpentine body is striking. Of course, Falkor himself is also pretty obviously influenced by depictions of traditional East Asian dragons; even his name (Fuchur in the original German novel) is thought to have been taken from the Japanese fuku ryū, “lucky dragon.” Neither the book nor the movie has any particularly great following in Japan, so I’d normally be inclined to chalk any resemblance up to coincidence and common origin, except that the stuff in Drampa’s Pokédex entries about getting revenge on bullies is so specific that it makes me feel as though I must be missing something.
Drampa drags his feet a bit in battle but has very powerful attacks and decent defences to make up for iffy speed. Outside of Mega evolutions and legendary Pokémon, he actually has the highest special attack stat of any Dragon-type, and handily beats such luminaries as Hydreigon, Mega Charizard X and Naganadel. He even has a stronger Dragon attack than Mega Ampharos and Mega Sceptile, despite their superior raw stats, because they can’t learn Draco Meteor. Turning enemy Pokémon into smoking craters with Draco Meteor is one of the most fun things you can do with Drampa – really, with almost any Dragon Pokémon. Because Draco Meteor’s recoil halves your special attack, it incentivises a lot of switching to refresh the user’s power, making it naturally synergistic with Choice items, which also promote frequent switching. Drampa is so slow that the speed boost of a Choice Scarf can’t do much for you, but the stratospheric power of Choice Specs plays to his strengths. Hyper Voice is Drampa’s strongest special attack of his second type, and a useful go-to if a fight might become drawn-out. Draco Meteor does more damage over two turns against just about anything other than Fairy-types. Over three or more turns, though, Hyper Voice pulls ahead again due to the stacking special attack penalties of Draco Meteor. It also ignores Substitutes because it’s a sonic attack. Other than that, Drampa has an impressive selection of attack types, but even when they’re super-effective, only the strongest will outpace Draco Meteor on a single shot. Fire is great because it deals with Steel Pokémon, and Fire Blast is another high-power move. Focus Blast is powerful and gets plenty of super-effective hits, in spite of its lamentable accuracy. Solarbeam is a weird choice, but since Drampa gets Fire attacks as well, I can just about imagine him on a sun team. Hurricane, Surf and Thunder are likewise available for a rain Drampa (and hey, weather manipulation suits his flavour). Other moves, including Thunderbolt, Ice Beam, Energy Ball, Extrasensory and Shadow Ball, are theoretically respectable, but you need to have in mind specific targets with particular combinations of weaknesses (you might want Thunderbolt for Gyarados or Azumarill, or Energy Ball for Gastrodon, or something) – otherwise, Draco Meteor is usually better.
If you’re not absolutely committed to the maximum power of Choice Specs, you can try to build Drampa as more of a tank with Roost, Calm Mind, or both, with the aim of outlasting enemies (in any of these scenarios, you ought to substitute the weaker but more consistent Dragon Pulse for Draco Meteor). Trying to fit in both Roost and Calm Mind seems attractive for the snowball potential, but will leave you with substantial type coverage gaps, depending on which bit of Drampa’s Dragon/Normal/Fire core you leave out; personally I’d be inclined to keep Dragon and Fire attacks. We should also bear in mind that, even with Calm Mind, Drampa’s physical defence is average at best – on the other hand, since there’s little point in training him for speed, there’s room to invest in his defences instead. As with the logic of a Choice Specs set, Roost or Calm Mind tank sets can be reconfigured to fit into sun or rain teams, or to target specific Pokémon that you think your team might be vulnerable to. Drampa doesn’t have much of a support movepool; Thunder Wave is moderately attractive because it helps to compensate for his own poor speed, but as far as I can see, that’s about it. A consideration for all of these options is that Drampa’s very low speed makes him vulnerable to having his non-damaging moves locked by Taunt, but not as vulnerable as some other similarly slow Pokémon, since he’ll always have powerful special attacks and solid neutral type coverage to fall back on.
Drampa has three abilities to choose from, and they’re all… eh. I mean, they’re fine. They’re all fine. One of them is a signature ability and it would be nice if that one were the best and the most defining, but it isn’t. The unique one, Berserk, gives Drampa a free special attack boost when his HP is knocked below 50% by direct damage (i.e. it won’t be triggered by poison and the like), like a sort of faux-Petaya Berry effect. I can almost see this working in a Trick Room scenario, where Drampa’s poor speed becomes a sweeping asset, but the setup seems a little too delicate for my liking. In theory you can get Berserk to trigger multiple times if you use Roost and/or Leftovers to heal Drampa back above 50%, but considering how slow he is and the finesse it would take to time your Roosts, the whole idea seems much too fiddly to be workable. In doubles, you could try giving Drampa a partner to serve as a dedicated healer, using Heal Pulse (or Comfey’s Floral Healing) to keep him going instead of Roost, but I’m not quite convinced that this makes keeping your balance sufficiently easier. Assuming you don’t have some plan to stack multiple activations of Berserk, the better choice is probably Sap Sipper. Sap Sipper absorbs Grass-type attacks to boost Drampa’s attack. Drampa resists Grass attacks anyway, and doesn’t really use his physical attack stat, so this is not by any means a fantastic ability for him, but total immunity to Grass attacks is still good, and it also covers crippling Grass-type disruption moves like Sleep Powder and Leech Seed. Finally, Drampa’s hidden ability is Cloud Nine, which negates the effects of all weather conditions (but not the effects of special terrain), reflecting the Asian dragons’ mastery of weather and water magic. As a Dragon-type, Drampa resists a lot of the go-to attacks for sun and rain Pokémon, so countering weather strategies is certainly not something he’s bad at, and arguably there’s not much in it either way, but the guaranteed immunities from Sap Sipper strike me as more obviously useful.
Drampa isn’t, frankly, Alola’s most interesting Pokémon, from any angle. From a mechanics perspective, he benefits from a unique type combination (albeit one that includes Normal, the type that can be slapped onto practically anything, regardless of how truly abnormal it is), a unique ability, and a diverse offensive movepool, but is ultimately an unremarkable artillery Pokémon like so many others in Alola. From a lore perspective… well, Drampa is a pretty straightforward cartoon version of an oriental dragon, with a “kindly old man” twist. Having said that, though, it’s actually surprising to me how few Dragon Pokémon there are that answer to a conventional Japanese or Chinese description of a dragon. I mean, granted, there are few Dragon Pokémon that answer to a conventional description of almost anything, but the “winged dinosaur” model seems like a greater influence on the whole than the “divine serpent” model. After Rayquaza, the closest is Dragonair, who evolves out of it. It’s kind of a surprising gap, and I can see why the designers might have wanted it to be filled by something straightforward, and… frankly, Normal.