Okay, I’ve had some time with this hack I mentioned a little while ago, I’ve played it, I’ve finished it, I’ve become possibly the first person in the world to legitimately complete the Pokédex (I was the first person known to the creator, at any rate), so I think I’m in a good position to talk about some of the Pokémon designs a bit.
In case you’re just now joining us, or need a reminder, Ephemerald is a ROM hack of Emerald where almost every Pokémon has been redesigned and had its type changed. The result is a bizzarro alternate-universe version of the classic Hoenn region experience, featuring “Sapphosian” forms of every Pokémon from generations I-III, crammed into a single region. All the dual-types are unique and every possible combination is covered, but there are multiple single-typed Pokémon of each type. Because this is generation III, attacks are classed as physical or special based on their type, rather than individually; for this reason, a lot of Sapphosian Pokémon have had their usual attack and special attack stats flipped to whatever suits their new type and movepool best (a courtesy that was not always given to officially designed Pokémon pre-gen IV). There are also a couple of changes to the type chart balance, a heightened level curve, smarter movesets on most bosses and a couple of fun little extras here and there (although the story and most of the dialogue are basically untouched).
Anyway. I can’t, and frankly don’t want to, discuss every last one of Ephemerald’s 382 redesigns, so I’m going to get a random number generator to pick ten of them, and hopefully this will serve as a rough barometer of How Good, collectively, all the Sapphosian Pokémon are. I propose we tackle this enterprise as a field test of a perfect new rating system for Pokémon that came to me in a dream. This system is based around five key attributes that were revealed to me through mystical channels as the cornerstones of good Pokémon design. These are:
All of which are, I think, self-explanatory.
I will also mention a sixth attribute of each Pokémon, which is not part of what makes a Pokémon good but is very important anyway, and that is how much Respect I have for it. Thus, we shall arrive at ultimate Truth.
So, let’s fire up the numberationer and get started! Obviously, do not read on if you wish to play this hack unspoiled.
81: MAGNEMITE (and Magneton)
Type and inspiration: Poison → Poison/Psychic; flasks of chemicals
Ability: Liquid Ooze/Natural Cure
Evolution: Level 32
First available: Mauville City
Cunning: Has a lot to live up to, because the standard Magneton is very cunning indeed; Sapphosian Magneton is fine, I guess, but doesn’t really stick that landing. Toxic by level-up is nice. Gets Calm Mind, but only has Psychic attacks to use it with, and a decidedly meh special attack stat, although it is nice that being a physical attacker means it can use Tri Attack much better than pre-gen IV Kantonian Magneton. Refresh is mostly redundant with Natural Cure. Like 4/10.
Mystique: The simplicity of Magnemite’s design works in its favour, I think. Magneton adds this second separate creature that comes out of nowhere, and its purpose isn’t really clear, except that it’s probably the one with the psychic powers? The Pokédex describes it as “fae” so I think if this were post-gen VI this design would be Poison/Fairy. I’m gonna call this category a 5/10.
Disco: Imagine the psychedelic colours you could cook up with this thing, and the even more psychedelic substances you could try! The lights flickering through the glass of Magnemite’s body and the mysterious brightly coloured chemicals within! A solid 8/10.
Chewiness: Poison/Psychic is a much chewier type combination in Ephemerald than in standard gen III, largely because Steel-types don’t resist Psychic attacks. Early Sonicboom is quite good (as it is for vanilla Magnemite), but drops off fast. Also can be used to synthesise rubber, which pushes it up to maybe 7/10.
Curiousness: The flasks of mysterious liquid are a very clever take on a regional form of Magnemite. I don’t think it would fly as a real form in an official Pokémon game, but Ephemerald’s designs do a pretty good job of establishing their own collective aesthetic and this fits it well. Pokédex entry doesn’t capitalise pH correctly but does know that low pH = more acidic, which earns points. I think in this category it gets an 8/10.
Respect: I have moderate Respect for this Pokémon. Vanilla Magneton is a pretty hard act to follow, and Sapphosian Magneton has its shortcomings, but I think it holds its own.
125: ELECTABUZZ (and Elekid)
Type and inspiration: Fighting; masked wrestler
Ability: Hyper Cutter
Evolution: Level 32
First available: Oldale Town
Cunning: Much more cunning than you’d expect from a wrestler, with elemental punches to throw around, and has the special attack to back them up (remember, this is gen III), unlike standard Hitmonchan. Some interesting egg move options as well, including Knock Off (which is buffed in Ephemerald to bring it closer to its modern power level) and Spikes. Like a 7/10.
Mystique: Seems like it ought to have mystique in spades, on account of being a luchador and knowing how to perform. The Pokéball motif is nice, the contrasting red and blue are good, I don’t think for me it has anything that really jumps out as brilliant, but I’m happy to give it a 6/10.
Disco: Thanks to its sheer flamboyance, lucha libre is arguably the only athletic pursuit aside from roller derby that can claim to be truly disco, and at any rate is certainly one of the most disco. At least a 7/10, and I could be pressed to go higher.
Chewiness: Available very early as Elekid, but is a pain in the butt to catch (Pokéballs are cheaper in this hack because there are so many different things to catch, and I still spent all my goddamn money on it). Elekid is flimsy and takes a while to evolve, but this thing gets some solid attacks very early, is pretty straightforward to use, has an ability that helps a lot in single-player, and can take you through a good chunk of the game without complaint. Like a 6/10.
Curiousness: At best a 3/10; it has quite a few tricks up its sleeve but is ultimately nothing we haven’t seen before from a bunch of other Fighting Pokémon, and it’s not super interesting as a take on Electabuzz either. They can’t all be winners.
Respect: I have some Respect for this Pokémon. It’s not that interesting, but I like that it’s here.
321: WAILORD (and Wailmer)
Type and inspiration: Bug/Normal; the biggest Pokémon becomes the tiniest
Ability: Natural Cure/Illuminate
Evolution: Level 42
First available: New Mauville
Cunning: Dangerously cunning, as one of Ephemerald’s trickiest Baton Passers and the tiniest Pokémon in existence, so small that you can’t even see individual ones (pay no attention to the unchanged Pokédex height and weight fields). Its egg move options have some real gems in Will-o-Wisp, Heal Bell and Wish, its level up list and TMs aren’t too bad either, and Natural Cure gives it a lot of flexibility. Perhaps a 10/10.
Mystique: Frankly, I think the fact that individual Wailmer are too small to actually see limits their mystique somewhat, and it’s more of a joke than a real design anyway. However, is there not mystique also in the unknown? The unknown that is hundreds of tiny glowing bugs? On that account I am willing to go as high as 4/10.
Disco: Well, it falls short of being very disco, but it does have those flashing lights, not to mention Tail Glow, Silver Wind and Signal Beam, so I think I can stretch to calling it moderately disco, say a 6/10.
Chewiness: Terrible type combination, takes a really long time to evolve, is designed almost entirely around its support role so very dependent on team construction, is so tiny that even a dozen of them would barely serve as a snack – all factors that contribute to Wailmer and Wailord being hardly chewy at all. 1/10.
Curiousness: Although it is clearly a joke design, it is a fairly clever one. Very like Wishiwashi in concept, but doesn’t have access to the mechanics that make Wishiwashi unique. Kind of a “best I could do” to fill the Bug/Normal slot in Ephemerald’s comprehensive array of type combinations. I suppose I’m prepared to give it a 5/10 in this category.
Respect: It is my regrettable duty to report that I have an outlandish level of Respect for this Pokémon.
17: PIDGEOTTO (and Pidgey and Pidgeot)
Type and inspiration: Grass/Electric; thunderbird spirits
Evolution: Level 20 and 38
First available: Route 102 (Oldale Town → Petalburg City)
Cunning: Not a terribly subtle Pokémon, but isn’t lacking in variety on the offensive front, with TM access to Water Pulse (buffed in Ephemerald) and Ice Beam. Unfortunately has the garbage gen III version of Lightningrod that attracts Electric attacks but doesn’t actually absorb them. Perhaps the single most cunning thing it can do, which also adds significantly to its mystique score, is get Explosion from a move tutor. Probably a 6/10, all things considered.
Mystique: Borrows from the traditional mystique of Kantonian Pidgeot and adds a cool origin story, phenomenal nature powers, and just generally a much better kit than the Pidgeot we know. Luster Purge as an egg move is well placed and does it a lot of favours here. The Sapphosian Pidgey line is mystical, wrathful, awe-inspiring and as fickle and terrible as the storm. 9/10.
Disco: It could certainly stand to be more disco. Although the storm aesthetic is powerful, vanilla Pigeot’s vibrant pompadour is arguably more disco still. Nonetheless, Sapphosian Pidgeot’s rhythmic, booming thunderclaps are surely worth a 6/10 in this category.
Chewiness: Will progress through the game with you smoothly from the beginning until fairly late, after which it will make a plump roast dinner serving as both meat and vegetables. Suffers a bit from the lack of really good Grass moves in gen III, although this is mitigated somewhat in v.1.1 where it gets Leaf Blade. At least a 7/10 but I could be persuaded to go higher.
Curiousness: Certainly its weakest category; what you see is very much what you get with this Pokémon. Pidgeotto has this kinda tesla coil setup on its tail that doesn’t go anywhere and disappears from Pidgeot, and historically I haven’t been a huge fan of design elements that seem to “dead-end” like that. There is undoubtedly potential here for deeper lore, though… ah, let’s call it a 3/10.
Respect: In deference to its stewardship of the natural world, I have great Respect for this Pokémon.
111: RHYHORN (and Rhydon)
Type and inspiration: Poison; fused with scorpions
Ability: Serene Grace
Evolution: Level 44
First available: Route 114 (Fallarbor Town → Meteor Falls)
Fun trivia: Rhydon was the very last Pokémon to be redesigned in this hack (Wooper was the first), thus bringing its journey as the first Pokémon ever created full circle.
Cunning: While not a genius Pokémon, this is certainly much more cunning than the traditional Rhyhorn, with a variety of surprising moves like Conversion, Encore, Moonlight, Fake Out and Mimic. Dragonbreath from its egg moves is bad as an attack but becomes an interesting utility option with Serene Grace. Cunning is still a weakness of this Pokémon, but I don’t think it can get lower than a 5/10.
Mystique: Mystique for days, augmenting Rhydon’s existing storied legacy and powerful physical presence with the mighty crushing claws and deadly venom of the scorpion. It’s like one of those mythical Greek hybrid monsters, terrifying as fµ¢£, and it somehow has the Serene Grace ability while doing all that. Just bonkers mystique, 10/10.
Disco: The crucial question here is: are scorpions disco? Scorpions are certainly metal, no one’s arguing about that, but I think disco is more of a stretch, and they are clearly less disco than crabs. Then again, they can glow in the dark, and Sapphosian Rhyhorn gets some points for its acid-green highlights and dance-like-no-one-is-watching attitude. I think I can just about stretch to a 7/10 here.
Chewiness: Rhyhorn is historically much more crunchy than chewy, because of its armour plating, and because it takes such a long time to evolve and has to be handled with so much care around special attackers. Sapphosian Rhyhorn doesn’t really change that, but at least has a better defensive typing (it’s also notable that Poison is buffed to be super effective against Dragon-types, and Ephemerald has a lot more Dragon Pokémon than vanilla gen III). Let’s call this a 5/10.
Curiousness: Somehow fits in with Pokémon without feeling quite like a Pokémon, like it’s drifted in from an adjacent but very similar monster-world somehow – which I suppose is the intended aesthetic of Ephemerald. Not an especially deep or interesting design, although it arguably doesn’t need to be. Maybe a 6/10.
Respect: Towards this Pokémon my feelings are primarily of Respect and Fear in equal measure.
328: TRAPINCH (and Vibrava and Flygon)
Type and inspiration: Fire/Rock → Fire/Steel; magma robots
Ability: Hyper Cutter/Own Tempo → Blaze/Own Tempo
Evolution: Level 37 and 47
First available: Fiery Path
Cunning: Certainly retains more of Trapinch’s innate cunning than does vanilla Flygon, who has never been subtle. Can get the Baton Pass/Spider Web combo, which isn’t very useful in single-player and doesn’t play to Flygon’s strengths, but is definitely worth points in this category and would probably be very strong in any kind of competitive setting, especially since it also gets Curse. Can use Explosion, which is always hilarious, and is actually one of the strongest non-legendary users of Explosion in Ephemerald. Something like a 9/10, I think.
Mystique: Huge mystique; a powerful type combination together with Flygon’s strong all-round stats have made it one of the most popular Sapphosian Pokémon among players so far. And, y’know, it lives in volcanoes and has volcano powers, what more can you want? Again, probably a 9/10.
Disco: Y’know, molten lava Trapinch and lava robot Flygon have a lot going for them, but they’re really not particularly disco. I mean, they’re not square or anything, but Trapinch can’t dance for $#!t and Sapphosian Flygon is less of a disco-cyberpunk robot and more of a Bond villain-Terminator robot. I don’t think this is more than a 3/10.
Chewiness: Has most of the same problems as original recipe Flygon in this category, in that Trapinch is weird and tricky to use, then Vibrava is just very bad for a long time, and it wants to use both physical and special moves but has an unspectacular special attack stat. On the other hand, it’s extremely good at setting things on fire, which at least helps make other Pokémon easier to chew. And really, what more do any of us want than that? Hard to justify less than a 6/10.
Curiousness: I love the Rock/Fire to Steel/Fire progression, as well as the idea of Vibrava bathing in magma until it’s ready to evolve. It’s not the most interesting Sapphosian form for me, and the robot/“droid” angle to me is a bit weird and doesn’t harmonise well with the other stuff going on in the design, but again I don’t think I can give it less than a 6/10.
Respect: I’m definitely going against the grain on this one because Sapphosian Flygon seems very popular, but honestly I just have a lot of Respect for vanilla Hoennese Flygon and not as much Respect for this version.
230: KINGDRA (and Horsea and Seadra)
Type and inspiration: Psychic; muses and harps
Ability: Serene Grace
Evolution: Level 34 and 41
First available: Route 104 (Petalburg City → Rustboro City)
Cunning: Certainly more cunning than standard gen III Kingdra, and it can play the harp, which has to count for something and also comes with a slate of flavourful sound-related moves. Serene Grace is less powerful than Swift Swim but is certainly one of the more cunning abilities out there, and Sapphosian Kingdra has a decent slate of moves to use with it. 9/10.
Mystique: Vanilla Kingdra has buttloads of mystique and it’s a rough legacy to live up to, but Sapphosian Kingdra gives it a solid try; the angelic harp aesthetic blends really well into the Horsea line’s existing body plan and its musical powers have no doubt lured countless sailors to their deaths. Also borrows some bonus mystique from Emerald’s final gym leader, Juan, whose Kingdra is pretty powerful in Ephemerald too. This is a hard one but I think I can just about stretch to an 8/10.
Disco: Not very disco, on account of its strong commitment to a more classical genre and its slumbering-focused lifestyle, but the fact that it has musical talents at all, together with its bright colour scheme, makes it at least passably disco. Hard to justify better than a 5/10 but I don’t think you can go much lower than that either.
Chewiness: Surprisingly chewy; Horsea is available very early and picks up Extrasensory at a surprisingly low level, which is a move that can take you through pretty much the whole game. Faint Attack, Icy Wind and (to a point) Sonicboom offer some solid variety as you progress. Definitely gets a bit mushy in the 20s and early 30s, but overall you can chew on this Pokémon for most of the game. 8/10.
Curiousness: Some very cool lore in the Pokédex about Seadra’s scales, which definitely qualifies as a curiosity, and the transmutation of vanilla Kingdra’s devastating sea storms into a vast, mind-altering symphony, a psychic version of a natural disaster, is a clever twist. I think there’s a lot more you could do with this design in later generations with other sound-related mechanics available. Tempted to go as high as a 9/10 here.
Respect: Sapphosian Kingdra was one of the Pokémon that took me through Ephemerald’s Elite Four and accordingly I have great Respect for it.
381: LATIOS (and Latias)
Type and inspiration: Water/Normal and Fire/Normal; indoctrinated by Team Aqua and Team Magma
First available: Post-Elite Four
Fun trivia: Archie and Maxie have Latios and Latias on their teams in all of your encounters with them in Ephemerald (at a lower level than their other Pokémon at first, so your early-game weenies don’t get completely blown out of the water).
Cunning: Considering they’re powerful legendary Pokémon with close and well-documented ties to organised crime, Sapphosian Latias and Latios are not that cunning; for the most part they’re actually fairly straightforward. Taunt and Pain Split are definitely cunning moves though, and obviously their offensive movepools are flexible. I guess a 6/10.
Mystique: The remarkable thing about Sapphosian Latias and Latios is that they almost entirely abandon the mystique of their original selves and attempt to forge a totally new form of mystique as arch-criminals and international mons of mystery. It is hard not to acknowledge their daring, and I must award them a 9/10.
Disco: Sapphosian Latios and Latias can only be as disco as Team Aqua and Team Magma themselves, and while Archie and Team Aqua in Alpha Sapphire are very disco, their original gen III designs are much less so. Maxie and Team Magma are no better. They certainly aren’t the least disco of Pokémon’s villains, though, and I can stretch to awarding them a 4/10.
Chewiness: Like most legendary Pokémon it is very difficult to properly chew Latios and Latias, as they will rebel and devour you themselves in retribution. Latios is certainly the chewier of the two in the abstract, although the distinction is pretty fine. I’m just going to play this safe and give them a 5/10.
Curiousness: Much to be curious about. How did Archie and Maxie brainwash Latios and Latias into joining their villainous enterprises? Did the villains’ evil tailors make custom accessories for them, or did those just manifest through psychic power alone? Can we ever undo the indoctrination they have been subjected to? 8/10.
Respect: I have no Respect whatsoever for these Pokémon and their treacherous ways.
231: PHANPY (and Donphan)
Type and inspiration: Bug/Fire; cigarette lighter
Evolution: Level 27
First available: Petalburg Woods
Cunning: Truly very little cunning about Phanpy or Donphan, as is the case for their original selves as well. The Compoundeyes ability is worth a lot in this category and they eventually get Fire Blast and Megahorn to use with it, which is certainly good in theory, but they are a little one-trick-pony-ish. I think we’re talking about like a 3/10 at best.
Mystique: Well, if you imagine a Donphan rolling towards you like an out-of-control cartoon snowball, about to crush you and everything you stand for… and then also imagine that that rolling Donphan is suddenly and for no apparent reason on fire… I mean, I wouldn’t ever call what it has “mystique” but it certainly has something and that’s worth a 6/10 in my book.
Disco: So disco. Like, vanilla Phanpy and Donphan are at best moderately disco, and the Sapphosian forms have this whole spinning flaming Catherine wheel thing going on, and the fire adds a lot to what would otherwise be a bland colour scheme. Bonus points for being able to change the colour of the sky, which is remarkably disco. 9/10.
Chewiness: Somewhat prone to exploding when chewed. Maybe you’re into that. I don’t know. But Phanpy is one of the Sapphosian forms that’s had its attack and special attack flipped, and its level-up list has no good Fire attacks for an uncomfortably long time. You certainly can chew on this Pokémon but I cannot in good conscience advise it. 4/10.
Curiousness: Being elephants they’re more intelligent than you’d expect for Pokémon with so little cunning, and Phanpy shows this with its complex pyromaniac “writing” behaviour. The design is a little difficult to follow as it goes from cigarette lighter Phanpy to… whatever the hell Donphan is doing, but it’s certainly unique. Certainly not less than a 7/10.
Respect: I have scant Respect for these Pokémon.
Type and inspiration: Dragon; jade
First available: Granite Cave
Cunning: Vanilla Chimecho is a terrible Pokémon that manages to survive by being at least relatively cunning, and Sapphosian Chimecho has many of the same tricks that allow it to do that, but not much of its own. For its lack of any really interesting additions to Chimecho’s reservoir of cunning, I think I have to give it a 4/10.
Mystique: Bolstered by the inherent mystique of jade and its imperial draconic heritage, but let down by being Chimecho. It’s just a very difficult Pokémon to take seriously in a lot of ways, although it does try. 5/10.
Disco: Not very disco, but… well, no, actually, on second thought I guess you can imagine wearing this thing around your neck as you dance to ABBA songs in a glittering Parisian nightclub, so I guess an 8/10.
Chewiness: This thing is available pretty early and has Dragon Rage at a shockingly low level, which can trivialise a lot of early challenges. However, without a boost to its base stats it can only do so much later in the game. If you want to go on using it, it has little choice but to transition to a support role, which it’s… kinda ‘meh’ at. Also, like, you can’t chew jade. I know it looks smooth and tasty, but you’ll break your teeth on that $#!t. 6/10.
Curiousness: Certainly has some curiousness as a regional form of Chimecho, a Pokémon who tends to hang out in holy places, with the sacred qualities of jade and of the Dragon type. The line about being “vindictive if provoked” could be taken in interesting directions too, like maybe it’s stuck being a Chimecho because it’s the caged spirit of a much more powerful dragon. Y’know, I’m convincing myself here, I’m prepared to go as high as a 9/10.
Respect: I really have to have a lot of Respect for anything that starts off as Chimecho and manages to be even a little bit okay.
Well… y’know… s’pretty good. I have no frame of reference because I have never used this rating system before, but I am confident that these numbers reveal some innate truth about the universe itself, and demonstrate unquestionably that these Sapphosian forms are, at the very least, Pretty Good. Like I said in the section on Magnemite, I think Ephemerald very much has its own aesthetic and does a lot of things that I personally would have trouble accepting as Pokémon (as well as many things that just clearly wouldn’t work because they’re outright references to other media, or even verging on memes). On its own turf and with the context that this project is responding to and warping Pokémon, though, I think it holds together remarkably well; there are obviously some duds, but there are also some designs that come together quite nicely and that I would be happy to see in a real Pokémon game (and there are some that have traumatised me forever). What is also clear to me from this test of my new rating system is that the system itself is flawless; however, it may be too powerful for the limitations of my brain, and I may need to go through special training to continue using it in the future.
Thank you as always to Patreon supporters Name (Required), James Crooks, Leo M.R., hugh_donnetono, Esserise and PMCR for helping to pay for this absolute nonsense, and special thanks also in this instance to Shibarianne for creating Ephemerald, which was a lot of fun to play and should only improve with future planned updates and polish!