I think we should talk about regional variants, don’t you? I was going to do the Alolan forms at the end of generation VII, and the timing got so tight at the end, but now that we’ve got a bunch of Galarian forms as well, it seems like something we could do all at once. So here’s the plan: Alolan forms first, Galarian forms after that, and I dunno if I have all that much to say about each one individually but I could certainly take ‘em three at a time, trying as far as possible to put them into groups that are in some way thematic. Sound good? Okay. We’re going to begin with the Alolan Rattata and Raticate, Meowth and Persian, and Grimer and Muk – not because they are all Dark-types, which is a reason, but not a very good one; we’re putting them together because all three forms exist in Alola as the result of human intervention. Let’s discuss.
Alolan Rattata and Raticate
I’ve actually talked quite a bit already about Alolan Raticate’s inspiration when I reviewed Yungoos and Gumshoos ages ago, and you can get the whole story there, but it’s worth a quick recap. In the late 19th century, Asian mongeese (this is the plural of mongoose; I will fite u IRL) were introduced to Hawai‘i in an attempt to control the rat population that failed disastrously, because – as it turns out – mongeese are active during the day and rats are active during the night. Yungoos, likewise, were introduced to Alola to control the Rattata population, but the Rattata responded by adapting to a nocturnal lifestyle, resulting in the unique Dark-typed Alolan breed, and the Yungoos failed to keep up (presumably switching to native Alolan Pokémon as their main prey and making the whole situation much worse). This is why Yungoos appear in random encounters during the day and can only evolve during the day, Alolan Rattata appear and evolve during the night, and Ilima’s totem Pokémon is Gumshoos in Sun and Ultra Sun but Raticate in Moon and Ultra Moon. Because they’re supposed to work as a pair, Rattata and Raticate have a mobster aesthetic (hence their Normal/Dark typing) to stand opposite Yungoos and Gumshoos’ noir detective aesthetic. They’re black in colour to be harder to see at night, while Rattata’s whiskers are styled like a moustache and mafia-don Raticate has grown plump on the food brought to it by its Rattata mobsters. The Pokédex describes in some detail their gangster-like social structure, with a single Raticate controlling a large crew of Rattata (much like Honchkrow commanding lesser Murkrow) and getting into vicious turf wars with rival Raticate; it also notes that Raticate’s greed is so outrageous that its minions will gather and stockpile far more food for it than they can actually eat. Like many invasive species in the real world, they’re a veritable menace – and the introduction of Yungoos has apparently done nothing to slow them down.
I mentioned in my Gumshoos entry that I was unsettled by how the designs of these Pokémon make fairly specific references to real invasive species in Hawai‘i while whitewashing most of the disastrous ecological consequences, and I have to stand by that. However, the Pokédex does also go out of its way to establish ways in which Rattata and Raticate have had a happy ending of sorts in Alola. Kantonian Rattata and Raticate will famously eat literally anything, including a wide range of things that are not, even on an extremely generous assessment, actually food. Alolan Rattata and Raticate, by contrast, are famously picky with regard to both flavour and nutrition, gathering and eating only the finest food available (which I suppose you can afford to do when you live in a tropical island paradise and have no natural predators). Ultra Sun recommends that you take a Rattata with you when you go grocery shopping, because of their extremely refined taste, while Moon tells us that a restaurant with a Raticate living in it (in stark contrast to real restaurants frequented by rats) is sure to enjoy a good reputation – these things have such good taste, they’ll even avoid below-average human eateries! Although they’re an invasive species that is recognised as a pest in Alola, they’ve developed into a unique subspecies with their own place in Alolan culture and their own relationships with Alola’s people, which nicely illustrates how difficult it is to treat Pokémon exactly like real animals.
Competitive assessment is a bit moot at the moment, because Raticate isn’t in Sword and Shield (yet?) but we may as well get into it briefly. The traditional Kantonian Normal-type Raticate is, frankly, rubbish in battle. The Alolan Normal/Dark version is… well, I’m not going to rip into it because it didn’t have a lot to work with, but it’s not good. It’s quite a bit slower and its attacks are weaker, but it’s also a much chonkier boi all around, and crucially its second type gives it more power on Dark attacks like Crunch and Sucker Punch, which are already a mainstay of Kantonian Raticate’s offensive movepool. The movepool differences are pretty fine distinctions. Normal Raticate can learn several Electric attacks, which Dark Raticate can’t, but most of these are not particularly useful; the only real exception, in my opinion, is Wild Charge. Alolan Raticate gets the more useful Bulk Up instead of Work Up, and also has a couple of dubiously useful Dark-type support moves, the standouts being Knock Off and Switcheroo. The Alolan breed unfortunately lacks Raticate’s best ability, Guts, but can still crank out some pretty hefty damage with Hustle, or pick up two bonus resistances with Thick Fat. I feel happy saying that Alolan Raticate is basically an upgrade because of the added Dark type, but handles differently enough that it doesn’t really eclipse Kantonian Raticate either (…not that Kantonian Raticate ever needed eclipsing).
Meowth and Persian
Alola’s Meowth population is a legacy of the luxurious tastes of the ancient Alolan royal family. They were deliberately imported to Alola as expensive upper-class pets and companions, but have turned feral since the Alolan monarchy fell (fell? This is a whole thing, because the fall of the real Hawaiian monarchy was the result of some extremely seedy $#!t, and 100 years later the US legislature basically admitted that the US had supported an illegal coup against Queen Lili‘uokalani in order to clear the way for an American annexation of Hawai‘i, but there is no way in hell Pokémon is going to stick its neck out by alluding to any of that, so Alola just… had a monarchy in ancient times, and kinda no longer does, for reasons that no-one ever sees fit to explain, not even Acerola, a descendant of the Alolan kings who now seems to be an impoverished orphan? Y’know, just a little footnote to the backstory of Alolan Persian; none of us will ever be free of the sins of the past). So Alolan Meowth and Persian were probably selectively bred for decades or centuries to bring out traits that the Alolan royalty found appealing, which is why Meowth has a sort of regal bearing and elegantly curving hair and whiskers, while Persian has… uh… a really fat, round head? I mean, I think its face looks extremely derpy, but this is apparently a feature the Alolans consider highly appealing; the Ultra Moon Pokédex even claims that it’s a symbol of wealth, and the rounder the face, the more beautiful a Persian is considered in Alola. Look, to each their own. The Pokédex also references an extremely soft, velvety coat that must have been prized in a breed meant as a pampered lap pet.
Alolan Meowth and Persian aren’t just cuddly pets for royals who have everything, though – they’re vicious. I mean… to be fair, Persian generally are haughty, fickle, often cruel Pokémon, but multiple generations of royal luxury did little to improve them, and abruptly losing that luxury when the monarchy collapsed and they went feral may have made them even worse. The Moon Pokédex actually says explicitly that the Kantonian Persian is a stuck-up jerk, but “not to the same extent as the Alolan Persian.” They’re Dark-types, not Normal-types like their cousins – they will fight dirty at the slightest provocation (represented by all their Dark-type moves) and they will happily amuse themselves by torturing their prey to death (yes, the Pokédex literally uses the word “torture”). Maybe this is a reference to the behaviour of tyrannical monarchs in general, or a specific allusion to what the kings of Alola were like (hell, there’s got to be some in-universe reason they aren’t in charge anymore), or maybe Meowth and Persian were just spoiled rotten in previous generations and have never forgotten this. In any case, this is another Pokémon that you can imagine having… let’s say somewhat detrimental impacts upon the ecosystem on which humanity has foisted it. Because they’re a traditional pet animal we don’t talk about them as much as, say, rats or mongeese, but feral cats are a seriously dangerous invasive species in Polynesia that pose a major threat to many indigenous Hawaiian species – and, just like Alolan Persian, real cats have a cruel tendency to “play with their food,” often while it’s still alive. In both cases, these animals are valued as pets, but their population has grown unsustainably and surpassed the human population’s desire to keep them as companions. As in the real world, humanity has much to answer for.
Alolan Persian’s stats haven’t been rejiggered nearly as much as Raticate’s; they’re basically the same except that the Alolan form focuses on special attacks instead of physical ones (both of them are definitely on the lacklustre side either way, though). There are also much fewer differences in Dark Persian’s movepool – pretty much the only notable addition I can see is Parting Shot. Kantonian Persian already has a surprisingly good special movepool, featuring Dark Pulse, Power Gem, Hyper Voice, Thunderbolt and Shadow Ball, as well as a powerful Icy Wind boosted by the Technician ability, and Alolan Persian is in a better position to take advantage of all of these. It’s worse at physical attacks too, of course, but to be honest Persian’s physical movepool was never anything to write home about. Alolan Persian can also use Furfrou’s very powerful Fur Coat ability, which halves all physical damage it takes and is much better than anything the Kantonian breed gets, although it does come at the cost of Icy Wind, which is one of Persian’s best coverage attacks. On the other hand, Persian does get Nasty Plot, and Fur Coat offers the survivability it needs to set up and start laying into the opposing team. Neither form of Persian is really a strong Pokémon, but the Alolan breed is clearly the more versatile and interesting.
Grimer and Muk
Grimer, like Meowth, were brought to Alola on purpose by humans and have adapted to the needs of their special role in the region. Generation VII’s entries for the Kantonian Grimer and Muk mention repeatedly that these Pokémon are on the verge of extinction in many areas because humans have been making more of an effort to keep the environment clean and reduce pollution: green movements are great for most Pokémon, but pollution and toxic waste are Muk’s primary food sources! Alola attempted to solve two problems at once by enlisting Grimer and Muk to devour industrial waste – the archipelago stays clean even as Alola moves its developing economy forward into the future, and these unique, bizarre Pokémon live on. While the introductions of both Rattata and Meowth to Alola are not what I personally would regard as success stories in ecosystem management, importing Grimer – as far as I can tell – actually seems to have gone rather well. While Muk are undeniably dangerous Pokémon because of their toxic bodies, they’re not really aggressive; in Kanto they’re as much a symptom of greater environmental problems as they are problems in themselves (I mean, they’re foul, but they also metabolise all forms of toxic waste; that can’t be an unambiguously bad thing). The Moon Pokédex actually describes the Alolan strain as “unexpectedly quiet and friendly,” a striking description for a Dark-type with just as many “dirty fighting” techniques as Alolan Persian. As far as we can tell from the games, they’ve taken to their new role quite well, happily working away in Alolan rubbish dumps (one of which we can visit outside Malie City).
Like all creatures brought into a new environment and made to fit into a new niche, Alolan Muk has adapted. In their “native” state, Grimer and Muk feed on “sludge” (sewage?) and “industrial waste,” forming and gathering in bodies of water where these waste products are dumped. In Alola, their abilities were harnessed specifically with a view to cleaning up “garbage” and “trash,” which sounds like it refers mainly to non-biodegradable solid waste, primarily plastics. Muk’s psychedelic colours, which ripple across its body in shifting stripes, are reminiscent of an oil slick. According to the Pokédex, these are a result of the breakdown of a wide range of chemicals from its varied diet, a constant bubbling vat of reactions that constitute Muk’s life force – plastics decaying back into crude oil, perhaps. The jagged white lumps all over its body might at first be taken for undigested pieces of trash, but according to the Pokédex they’re actually growths of crystallised poisons. Because some of these are positioned around its mouth like teeth, Alolan Muk can actually bite, tear and chew its food (and thus learns Bite, Crunch and Poison Fang), which isn’t necessary for Kantonian Muk but makes sense for a Pokémon that has transitioned to eating mainly solid food. The bright colours could reflect the fact that, because Muk’s presence is actually welcome in Alola, it has no need for camouflage or stealth; the Kantonian strain can actually sink into the ground and blend in with the soil to hide itself, which would be quite a bit more difficult for an Alolan Muk with its rainbow palette and solid body parts.
The Alolan Muk’s stats are actually identical to those of the Kantonian Muk, but it nonetheless has a lot going for it that original-recipe Muk doesn’t. For one thing, Poison/Dark is an extremely strong type combination that completely nullifies Muk’s weakness to Psychic attacks, leaving only one weak point (Ground). Muk is even tougher than fellow Poison/Dark Pokémon Skuntank and Drapion, and has stronger attacks, making it a pretty menacing tank. Alolan Muk is missing a lot of Kantonian Muk’s special attacks, including Sludge Bomb and Thunderbolt, but instead gets Stone Edge and Rock Polish (Rock Slide was already on Muk’s list), as well as several Dark attacks like Crunch, Pursuit and Knock Off. Thunderbolt will not be missed, as Muk is rubbish at special attacks anyway, whereas Stone Edge is an excellent coverage move and Rock Polish can bring Muk up to vaguely sweeper-ish speeds (although its base speed is very poor), while Pursuit and Knock Off are both great utility moves. Finally, it has a unique ability (well, unique-ish; it does the same thing as Passimian’s Receiver signature ability): Power of Alchemy, which lets Muk transmute its own form to copy the ability of a defeated doubles partner. This is, of course, useless in singles and frankly pretty niche even in doubles, so the basic abilities Poison Touch or Gluttony are probably the way to go unless you think you’ve come up with some kind of really clever, abusive combo with Power of Alchemy.
These three Pokémon all have regional variants in Alola because of the actions of humans: Grimer and Meowth were imported on purpose to fill specific niches in human society, while Rattata were probably brought there by accident, but then provoked the deliberate introduction of Yungoos to deal with them, which was what actually prompted them to develop into a new subspecies. Rattata and Meowth have since become harmful pests, although they can still have positive roles through their interactions with humans; Grimer, on the other hand, is a harmful pest in its “native” context but has become a pillar of Alolan environmental policy in the islands. That is, as far as I can see, the whole point of humans in the Pokémon world; we’re supposed to balance the needs of other species and figure out how to use their powers in service of a greater harmony (an idealised vision of how humans might govern the real world). Alola is more aware of the importance of that mission than maybe any other region we’ve seen, and provides examples of both successes and failures – which is something that’s bugged me in the past. As I tried to illustrate in my Yungoos review, it’s difficult for Pokémon stories to express how damaging invasive species can be to an ecosystem or how harsh we often have to be in dealing with them, because the whole universe is dogmatically optimistic and Pokémon themselves are usually considered fundamentally good. Of course, it’s obviously fine for a series about children training their magical pets to be wildly unrealistic about all kinds of things. The trouble is that humans’ relationship with nature is one of Pokémon’s core themes, one of the topics on which it actually does act like it has something to say, and it’s not a topic where we always get happy endings. I’m not sure you can balance this; something has to give – either sanitise the designs more and keep problematic themes out (which unreasonably limits design space) or accept that the world can’t always be so optimistic. Or… y’know, ignore the problem, because who the hell reads Pokémaniacal, anyway?
I’ve gotta have something to talk about, after all…