You’ve often complained about the unoriginality of bird pokemon, and you did a great job of suggesting ways to increase the relevance of the two most original ones of the bunch, those being Farfetch’d and Delibird.
So, suppose you had the freedom to redesign all of the flying/normal pokemon in the game (Pidgeot, Fearow, Noctowl, Swellow, Braviary, Unfeazant, Staraptor, Chatot) and possibly Svanna, Mandibuzz, Honchkrow and Dodrio (although the latter seems original enough to me, and the others have the benefit of their typing to make them stand out enough that they at least don’t look like mere copy-pasted concepts), how would you do it?
You’re free to do anything – suggest altered looks, change the stat-lineup and/or typing, create new moves or abilities, modify the amount of evolutionary stages – other than removing them; each species ought to remain as something that exists in the game.
And I know I’m leaving a handful of birds out (the legendary trio, Pelipper, Talonflame, Hawlucha, Dartrix), but I feel those are original enough, and/or sufficiently competitive, as not to need any redesign.
Really looking forward to how you’d do that – your series on “upgrading the worst 10 pokemon in the game” was a really interesting read.
So… cut me some slack here; I can’t do all of these, because… well that’s twelve Pokémon to review and redesign, and think of the precedent it sets if I signal that I’m willing to throw together a project like that every damn week. Game Freak has a whole team of people who design 60-odd Pokémon every two years, and I’m one disgruntled archaeologist with a termite-infested soapbox and no artistic skills. So what we are going to try to do here is make it very clear that I don’t want to make a habit of this, and then address the question by prioritising: get some kind of ranking system in place to isolate the worst of the suck. Who most needs a buff or redesign?
In ascending order of blandness:
Honchkrow – it’s a magical mobster; I love it
Mandibuzz – bones and $#!t; honestly I’ve warmed to Mandibuzz since generation V
Toucannon – Toucannon thought it could leave itself out when it submitted this question and escape my judgement, but it needn’t have worried; we’re cool
Dodrio – three heads; the whole joy, sorrow and anger thing is flavourful
Braviary – kind of a Sioux brave aesthetic going on?
Chatot – had unique mechanics related to sound, but they’re underutilised
Pidgeot – focus on wind powers gives some independent identity
Staraptor – admirable ruthlessness stat, but lacks clear direction
Swellow – Aerial Ace was cool as a signature move; swallows have some interesting cultural associations, but Swellow doesn’t do much with that
Noctowl – Mostly loses the themes of time and rhythm that made Hoothoot interesting
Unfezant – I mean, there’s the dimorphism thing, sure, but… so?
Swanna – what is this Pokémon even for
Fearow – I know I’m going to get flack for putting one of the Sainted Hundred and Fifty in the bottom slot, but seriously, guys, it’s fµ¢£ing Fearow
In descending order of approximate power:
Staraptor – kicks ass and takes names with Intimidate and Close Combat
Pidgeot – mega evolution saves it from being terminally useless
Honchkrow – exceptionally murderous and tricksy
Swellow – frankly has always been a bit underrated; Guts Swellow is an absolute beast, and +25 special attack in Sun and Moon makes Boomburst a niche option
Mandibuzz – a bit apples-to-oranges since Mandibuzz is the only support tank on this list, but this feels about right
Braviary – can feel like a worse version of Staraptor, but benefits from added bulk
Dodrio – stats in all the right places, including +10 speed in Sun and Moon, but has no real spark
Toucannon – Toucannon is really interesting and does unique things; it’s just unfortunate that they’re not very good
Noctowl – Traditionally really bad, but Tinted Lens is a great ability, and it got +10 special attack and Moonblast in Sun and Moon, and Hurricane (as an egg move) in Ultra Smoon
Swanna – Water is better than Normal, and Swanna is okay if it has Rain Dance support, but without that support it’s pretty terrible
Chatot – again, a bit apples-to-oranges, because Chatot is a special attacker, and Boomburst is a hell of an attack, but wow those defences are bad
Unfezant – +10 attack in X and Y, and it gets Hypnosis, which is cool, but it’s the only Pokémon on this list with no good Flying attacks (no, Sky Attack does not count)
Fearow – aside from Drill Run, basically a worse Dodrio, and frankly Fearow you should be ashamed of yourself at this point
So the pattern is that we have Swanna, Noctowl and Unfezant in the bottom five of both lists, and an extra-special demerit to Fearow for being in last place twice. Some kind of buff to Chatot probably wouldn’t go amiss either.
Chatot – Chatot basically existed to show off the fact that the Nintendo DS could record sound. Its signature move, Chatter, could be used out of battle to record a sound that became Chatot’s new cry and would also play whenever Chatter was used, giving the move a chance to confuse that scaled with the sound’s volume. Since X and Y, this has been done away with, and Chatter now just always confuses the target. That actually gives Chatot an interesting niche, because confusion is so unusual in competitive play, but Chatot is so fragile it can’t tank even the weakest hits that get through confusion. You could easily buff Chatot’s defence and special defence by 10-20 points each and still have them qualify as weak points, and Chatter itself could get a modest power buff and probably still be fine, but I want to make Chatter more interesting. My suggestion is to let Chatot mimic the cries of other Pokémon, and change Chatter’s effect based on whose cry is being used. Higher-pitched cries have lower power and a higher confusion rate; lower-pitched cries are the reverse. The move also gets extra side effects, à la Secret Power, based on the type of the Pokémon whose cry Chatot imitates. I also think we can plausibly justify giving Chatot access to even more sonic attacks, particularly Heal Bell (its voice is just that good, okay?) and maybe even Sparkling Aria for a type coverage option.
Swanna – I still don’t understand why Swanna even exists (see also my review of Swanna; I don’t 100% stand by the Unova stuff anymore, but it’s right that there is no good reason for Swanna), but given that it does, we can do something with it based on the association between swans and purity that exists in multiple cultures. Give it things like an empathic instinct, a sense of justice, even the ability to detect and cure poisons. Not sure of the best direction for a physical redesign, but even something with mediaeval/royal tones to it, since swans are also associated with royalty (Galarian Swanna, anyone?). We can also expand the dance theme that shows up in the Pokédex – Swanna learns both Feather Dance and Rain Dance, but neither of those are good moves for what is essentially a mixed attacker. Shifting Swanna’s stat distribution more in the direction of making it a special tank (not an unheard-of role for a Flying-type, but a reasonably unusual one) would give it more call for support moves and resonate better with the themes I want to go for. A dance-related signature move would be nice, maybe something that “pacifies” an enemy by reducing attack or special attack while doing damage. A tankier Swanna would also get more use out of the Hydration ability, which is nice since that already fits with a “purity” theme (as it lets Swanna “purify” itself of negative effects. A slight boost to its base stat total wouldn’t be too out of line either. And this is just extravagance at this point, but I want some kind of reference to the idea of a “swan song” – giving it Perish Song, for instance.
Noctowl – Again, I actually think Hoothoot is a pretty good Pokémon design, with a cuckoo-clock aesthetic and unique traits related to time and rhythm, whereas Noctowl is just an owl. Noctowl could be redesigned with a more stylised form in line with Hoothoot’s (maybe make its horns resemble the hands of a clock?), and given a greater form of Hoothoot’s time intuition, where Noctowl’s psychic abilities manifest in battle as a feeling for the “rhythm” of combat and an intense awareness of the right time to strike or defend. Changing up Noctowl’s actual in-game fighting style to complement that would help too. Noctowl received quite a few buffs in generation 7, and I suspect it’s on the verge of being decent. Calm Mind would be a useful and flavour-appropriate addition to its movepool, since it’s fairly tanky by bird standards. The item Metronome applies a stacking power boost each time a Pokémon uses the same move consecutively, and I sort of want Noctowl to have something like that as an ability to add to the rhythm theme, but that would compete with Tinted Lens. Instead we could give Noctowl a Psychic-type signature move that works similarly to Echoed Voice, ramping up in power each time it’s used consecutively, but maybe starting from a higher base than Echoed Voice. Combined with Tinted Lens, this would be pretty powerful, but since Noctowl doesn’t get Psychic-type STAB and Dark-types can still stop it dead I think I’m okay with that.
Unfezant – (my old Unfezant review is more a rant about generic birds than a review, but again, it’s there) Look, you can’t make cosmetic gender differences a Pokémon’s entire schtick when we’ve had Nidoran since Pokémon began. Because the real world has a tradition of pheasants as game birds, I would love it if Unfezant subverted that by being a high-class hunting bird instead (which, y’know, does fit the aggressive stats it was given), like a falcon – make it a bird that Unovans have historically trained for hunting and military scouting (and hey, its first form is a pigeon, and pigeons also have real world military history). We need to do something with the gender thing, and I’d lean towards a Meowstic-style division where the males and females have slightly different move availability. Here you could turn Unfezant’s glaring lack of a decent physical Flying attack like Brave Bird or Drill Peck into a design opportunity by giving them distinct signature attacks that play differently. Playing into my falconry theme, you could give one of them an attack that has relatively low power but “marks” a target, reducing its defence and special defence, and give the other one a “go for the kill” attack that works like Brine, doing bonus damage to Pokémon at less than 50% HP (maybe make it more consistent than Brine though, with higher base power and a lower bonus, or a scaling power bonus that starts when the target is at 75% or so).
Fearow – Drill Run actually gives Fearow something useful and distinctive, a way of threatening Rock- and Steel-types – the same thing that makes Staraptor amazing. I think we can actually buff the power of Drill Run itself without incident, since most of the Pokémon that learn it either already get Earthquake, or need a buff almost as much as Fearow does. I think we’d be justified in tweaking Fearow’s attack, defence and/or HP upwards, to bring it more in line with other early-game birds who’ve been buffed over the last two generations. Drill Peck is a rare move too, and could be given, say, a high crit ratio like Drill Run’s (especially given Fearow has the Sniper ability). I don’t think it would be out of the question to give Fearow more utility moves too, like Knock Off or even Taunt. A flavour redesign is harder to get at, because Fearow just doesn’t give you a lot to work with – it’s just a bird, and one of the few Pokémon with apparently no supernatural abilities whatsoever. It might be interesting to build on that bizarre line from the Yellow Pokédex about it being “a Pokémon that dates back many years,” which just stood there unexplained and unelaborated for six generations until Moon version clarified that Fearow’s image has been identified in ancient murals. Fearow might also be a good candidate for a Pokémon historically used in hunting, but since I’ve used that already, I like the idea of Fearow being a kind of nemesis for Kanto’s first Pokémon trainers, where humans and weaker Pokémon alike had to live in fear of these dangerous aerial predators that could strike from the sky without warning (compare mythical birds like the thunderbird or the roc in world mythology, and note Fearow’s aptitude for flying very long distances at extreme altitudes). This is the kind of threat that leads humans and Pokémon to form their first partnerships at the beginning of recorded history. A physical redesign could make Fearow look more unnatural, even demonic, in keeping with the presence of the word oni (demon) in its Japanese name.
Please no one ask me to do this again.