So, last time we talked a little bit about signature Pokémon and how (ever since Ruby/Sapphire) most Gym Leaders’/Elite Four members’/Champions’ signatures are always newly-introduced Pokémon. Let’s talk about that more. I’m of two minds about this paradigm.
On the one hand, I do think new generations *should* showcase new Pokémon in major battles, since that is the major draw of new Pokémon games. On the other hand, I feel like it’s gotten to the point where Game Freak design certain Pokémon specifically to fit a particular character they’ve come up with, regardless of the Pokémon’s own merits. XY was particularly bad with this: Vivillon was the only new Bug-type introduced in Gen VI and half of its raison d’être was just to be Viola’s signature. I would argue a similar case for Heliolisk/Clemont, Avalugg/Wulfric, and to a lesser extent Pyroar/Lysandre. SwSh may have begun moving away from this somewhat, but I still get the same impression with Drednaw/Nessa, Centiskorch/Kabu, Coalossal/Gordie, Alcremie/Opal, and like the entirety of Bede’s teams. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying those are badly-designed Pokémon necessarily; I’m just saying it seems to me they only exist to be the signatures of their respective Trainers, and not much else. What are your thoughts?
I’m not sure I’m following, sorry… what is it about those Pokémon that makes you think they were created specifically to be partners for those trainers? I mean, Vivillon is in X and Y to be the obligatory regional early-game Bug Pokémon, and to have its special gimmick where it has different wing patterns depending on your real life region, as part of Pokémon’s ongoing desire to show off how global and international it is. I honestly don’t think those are great reasons for Vivillon to exist, but they’re more specific and obvious reasons than a lot of Pokémon have, and there’s nothing about Viola that makes me think Vivillon was made for her specifically. For those other Pokémon… well, where are you getting this? I mean, Clemont has a pretty prominent invention/machinery theme – other than simply being an Electric-type, Heliolisk is not at all what I’d expect to see if someone created a Pokémon specifically to be his partner. It has the solar energy theme, I guess? I can believe the reverse – that the character designers gave Clemont that… sun-shaped… ray-gun… thing… that he has, after deciding that he’d use a Heliolisk – but Clemont-first-then-Heliolisk doesn’t ring true to me. Wulfric and Lysandre I buy a bit more, because Avalugg fits Wulfric’s “colossal Nordic iceberg-man” vibe and Lysandre has the Pyroar hairstyle (but also his strongest Pokémon is Gyarados, not Pyroar, which itself has obvious logic to it because the developers wanted to show off Mega Gyarados), but even then, the characters could have come after the Pokémon; Lysandre/Pyroar in particular is pretty superficial.
Then in Sword and Shield, well… Nessa’s a glamorous model, and Drednaw is a big, cronchy, ornery brute of a Pokémon. Opal is an actress whose gym is a theatre, and Alcremie is whipped cream that evolves into a cake. Kabu is a stoic, serious-looking middle aged martial artsy dude, and Centiskorch is… Centiskorch. That doesn’t mean those pairings can’t work, or can’t say anything about the characters, but I really struggle to see the line of thought that starts with concept art of Nessa and ends with creating Drednaw. Coalossal/Gordie fits well enough, but Coalossal also has such obvious thematic reasons for existing in Galar that I don’t think I could ever be persuaded it was made for Gordie; it’s from a part of the region that mines coal, and the coal industry was a huge part of the British industrial revolution, which was a defining moment in the history of Britain. For Bede I can see what you’re getting at because it’s striking that Hatterene and Rapidash both have the Psychic –> Fairy/Psychic progression (and in my opinion it’s kind of a weird choice for Ponyta and Rapidash). On the other hand, I don’t think there’s any story reason Bede’s original type specialisation needed to be Psychic (in fact, I’m not even sure any dialogue in the game ever mentions that he’s a Psychic trainer?), and Galarian Rapidash and Hatterene are both Pokémon that independently make sense in a British region, so again I think it’s just as plausible that Hatterene was already there and Bede’s storyline was adjusted to fit.
I’m also not sure that I think it would even be a bad thing, if it were true? If we were talking about almost any other game, I would probably say “yes, of course the monsters should be shaped to fit the boss fights they’ll appear in and the characters who’ll be working with them; that’s just obviously good design.” And, well, Pokémon is sort of its own thing, true; its creatures are supposed to outlive the game and story that introduce them; they’re supposed to be “modular,” if I can put it that way, able to form part of a player’s party, able to be dropped into a range of areas or future games without all that much thought. You can’t tailor a Pokémon to be part of a specific boss fight the way you could with a monster in another game, because every Pokémon has to be able to do more than that (the closest to this that I can think of in a Pokémon game is the way Wishiwashi slots into the structure of Lana’s trial in Sun and Moon, but I suspect that was the other way around; the trial was built for Wishiwashi, not vice versa). But ultimately, I think there are worse reasons to create a Pokémon than “we thought of this character we really like and we want a really good partner for them.” If the design’s good in other respects and feels like a believable part of the world – and I don’t see why a Pokémon made with a particular character in mind couldn’t be – then more power to ’em.
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