Zygarde

Zygarde.

I’m down to the last few legendary Pokémon now (well, the last few legendary Pokémon… and Carbink, whom I’m still intending to do together with Diancie on account of their weird relationship).  By necessity, these final four entries are going to be… more than a little speculative.  There’s still a lot that we don’t know about Zygarde and Diancie, and heck, I don’t think we’re even supposed to know that Hoopa and Volcanion exist yet (I mean, we’ve all known about them for months, but no one dares tell Game Freak that, because it would hurt their feelings and they might cry, which would be awkward).  I may have to make up a lot of stuff.  Should be fun.  Anyway, let’s do Zygarde.

I already spoke at some length in Xerneas’ and Yveltal’s entry about my reasons for being generally dismissive of the Norse mythology interpretation of this triad that’s become popular.  Still, I suppose it’s worth quickly going back over my objections as they apply to Zygarde specifically.  Zygarde, the great serpent of order, the internet would have us believe, is likely based at least partially on either the dragon Nidhoggr, the world serpent Jormungandr, or both.  Certainly Nidhoggr makes a decent parallel, as a giant snake who lives underground; what I don’t like about this is that both of these creatures are very much on the side of chaos and destruction in the Old Norse cosmology, which doesn’t seem at all appropriate for the role that Game Freak appear to have in mind for Zygarde in whatever conflicts are yet to come.  This role actually bothers me for other reasons as well – mainly, it seems almost too obvious.  The Pokédex calls Zygarde the ‘Order Pokémon,’ and credits it with a “secret power” which it uses to protect the Kalosian ecosystem from disruption.  Meanwhile, on the gameplay side of things, the mechanics of the Aura Break ability (which we’ll talk about later) seem intended to let Zygarde nullify the most dangerous powers of its two trio-mates.  The analogy with Rayquaza’s Air Lock, which likewise nullifies the effects of Drought and Drizzle, should be obvious, and at that point it seems like Zygarde’s cosmological role is likely to be parallel too – a balancing force between Xerneas’ influence on life in Kalos and Yveltal’s influence on death, presumably coming into play to resolve whatever bastardry Lysandre attempts next.  This makes a lot of sense.  It’s kind of intuitively obvious to most of us why Kyogre and Groudon need to be kept in balance, but it’s not so immediately clear why we would want to balance Xerneas and Yveltal, who seem almost like “good and evil” – one of the themes X and Y deal with, though, particularly X and particularly through Diantha’s dialogue, is the idea that change, age and death are all parts of life.  The reference to Zygarde as a protector of Kalos’ ecosystem also works well here – life, spreading without limit and unchecked by death or decay, would consume resources at an exponential rate and ultimately destroy itself, which is more or less what Lysandre believes is happening to humanity already.  The whole thing could very easily be spun as a more nuanced and philosophical version of the same story we were originally told in Ruby and Sapphire… to which I would have no objection, if not for the fact that we are about to get remakes of Ruby and Sapphire anyway.  If I were Game Freak, I would want to do something very different with Zygarde.

Probably the way I would spin Zygarde’s involvement in Z Version (assuming that is what they call it; after Black and White 2 I’m not prepared to rule out the possibility of another curveball) would be to have Lysandre know about Zygarde from the start and make it the main goal of Team Flare’s campaign.  Lysandre might well believe that Zygarde, as a Pokémon who values order and balance in the ecosystem of Kalos, could potentially be won over to his side – after all, what Lysandre sees in X and Y is an ecosystem thrown out of balance by the reckless consumption of humans.  What Maxie and Archie do by accident in Emerald is instead Lysandre’s whole gameplan: summon Zygarde by provoking a big enough fight between Yveltal and Xerneas that the serpent feels compelled to intervene.  After that, even once the player is able to calm down the other legendary Pokémon, Zygarde still goes on a rampage because it’s been convinced by Lysandre that human civilisation is the real imbalance.  At this stage, we could go one of two ways.  The first is to have Zygarde abandon Lysandre and take matters entirely into its own… er… coils, I suppose, immediately destroying Team Flare and working its way towards Lumiose City but leaving Geosenge Town and Shalour City largely untouched, apparently in accordance with its own understanding of what constitutes ‘harmony’ in Kalos.  The plot from there involves convincing Lysandre that modern civilisation shouldn’t be given up on, and him going on to earn his redemption by helping to show Zygarde the same thing.  The other way I could see this going is for Zygarde and Lysandre to keep working in unison, Lysandre becoming visibly more irrational as events unfold and Zygarde being corrupted by his influence as well, until they can be defeated and convinced that destroying humanity and filling the gap with new life isn’t the way to achieve harmony.  I’m not sure which of those two I like better; at the moment though I think probably the first.

 The last underwhelming third member of a legendary triad...

Much like Kyurem in Black and White, Zygarde seems to have been left out in the cold a little bit when you compare him with the other two members of its triad, the almighty Xerneas and Yveltal.  The most obvious reason for this is that, while Xerneas and Yveltal enjoy broadly applicable and extremely powerful passive abilities – Fairy Aura and Dark Aura, which give major damage bonuses to their already strong primary attacks – Zygarde is lumped with the decidedly underwhelming Aura Break.  Aura Break reverses the effects of all other ‘Aura’ abilities… and there are only two of those, Xerneas’ and Yveltal’s, so if you happen to be fighting an opponent who is not Xerneas or Yveltal, it just doesn’t do anything.  Even if you are, well, frankly Xerneas still murders Zygarde with Moonblast, in spite of the damage penalty imposed by the reversed Fairy Aura, and Yveltal is still in with a chance too thanks to his immunity to Ground attacks and the excessive healing provided by Oblivion Wing (which isn’t weakened by Aura Break).  What else can Zygarde do?  Well, something with legendary stats can’t be that bad; Zygarde is a perfectly solid physical attacker by almost anyone’s standards, with pretty good high-power type coverage from Earthquake and Outrage, Stone Edge for backup, and even a strong priority move in Extremespeed.  Its stats also allow it to choose comfortably between very aggressive strategies with Dragon Dance to boost its power and more defensive ones with Glare (which is 100% accurate as of X and Y and thus unambiguously better than Thunder Wave, which can be blocked be Ground-types – Zygarde is also only the seventh Pokémon to get it, by the way) or Coil.  As is by now tradition, Zygarde gets a signature move too: Land’s Wrath.  It’s a bit of an odd one, in that it doesn’t appear to be all that good at first glance.  In fact, in a single battle, it’s strictly worse than Earthquake; they’re both physical Ground-type attacks, and they have the same accuracy and PP, but Land’s Wrath does a little bit less damage.  Like so many of X and Y’s signature moves and abilities, it only really has potential in doubles, where it acts as a ‘party-friendly’ version of Earthquake – which is kind of a big deal, since most Ground-types, if you want to avoid the possibility of friendly fire, don’t actually have any good alternative, or even any tolerable one.  Still, there’s no way this competes with the amazing healing provided by Oblivion Wing or the ridiculousness that is Power Herb Geomancy.

Just comparing Zygarde to Xerneas and Yveltal, it seems almost certain that there’s more to it than we have yet seen.  Giratina in Platinum was given a vastly expanded role in both the plot and the backstory, along with a new form and new powers.  Kyurem in Black and White 2 got a whole new subsystem entirely unique to him, the unprecedented ability to fuse with another Pokémon and thus become one of the most powerful Pokémon in existence (well, in terms of raw stats, anyway), surpassed only by Arceus and, as of X and Y, both variants of Mega Mewtwo.  There were also a couple of new signature moves; they were and are total garbage, but hey, it’s the thought that counts, right?  These perks also came with an important place in the story’s mythology as a ‘remnant’ or ‘fragment’ of the original dragon that gave rise to both Zekrom and Reshiram.  More to the point, like Black and White’s ‘ruined’ Kyurem, Zygarde has noticeably lower stats than the other two Pokémon who seem clearly intended to make up a trinity with him.  Considering that Rayquaza is getting a Mega form in Alpha Sapphire and Omega Ruby, and that Groudon and Kyogre too are expecting a new toy in the form of this ‘primal’ nonsense, whatever that means, I would, frankly, be utterly floored if it turned out that Game Freak didn’t have something extremely dramatic planned for Zygarde’s eventual involvement with the plot of Generation VI.  Exactly how that will happen, I wouldn’t like to guess, though I imagine Zygarde’s physical form will change quite a bit (maybe it will become the first sixth-generation Pokémon to get a Mega evolution [EDIT: the SECOND, after Diancie.  Herp derp.]).  As far as mechanical changes go, higher stats are practically a given, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see its ability upgraded, maybe to something that just nullifies all other abilities, or weakens all Fairy and Dark attacks around Zygarde, not just Xerneas’ and Yveltal’s.  There are also two unused moves lurking in the game’s coding, in the same way as Kyurem’s Freeze Shock and Ice Burn were before the release of Black and White 2 – Thousand Arrows and Thousand Waves, both Ground attacks with the same power as Land’s Wrath.  Thousand Arrows, apparently, can hit Flying and Levitating Pokémon despite being a Ground attack, and also knocks them to the ground in the same way as Smack Down; Thousand Waves, on the other hand, can trap the Pokémon it hits (for one turn?  Until the user leaves play?  Not sure).  Those probably belong to Zygarde, and the fact that there are two of them could suggest that there are options involved in whatever power-up Zygarde will receive – possibly, like Kyurem, two different forms, each one associated in some way with one of the other two members of Zygarde’s triad.  Thousand Arrows would certainly do a number on Yveltal, so maybe each move is supposed to help it defeat one of the others?  Anything more than that is hard to say.

There was a lot you could say about Kyurem long before Black and White 2 were actually announced (and indeed I did), if you were willing to think about how exactly he could work with the Yin-Yang thing that Reshiram and Zekrom were apparently doing and how a third dragon would fit into what we knew about their origins.  There isn’t, as far as I can see, any similar big tip-off for Zygarde (perhaps partly because the internet’s dominant interpretation for his design is one that has me utterly unconvinced).  I’m perfectly fine with this.  I’ve liked generation VI so far, and despite my usual cynicism about their abilities I’m confident that Game Freak have something interesting in mind for the serpent of order – and it’s the mystery that makes it worth the wait.

Noibat and Noivern

Noibat.

What would Pokémon be without bats?

Well, at the moment I’m picturing a pristine world of peace and harmony where everything is sweetness and light and nothing painful ever happens, but maybe it’s just a tiny bit unfair to blame all the world’s economic, social, military and ideological strife on Zubat.  Only a tiny bit, mind you.  Like it or (more likely) not, Zubat and Golbat have been fixtures of the Pokémon games since the beginning, their combination of high speed, confusion-inducing attacks making them incredibly and infuriatingly effective at harassing Pokémon trainers travelling through caves.  They appeared in practically every cave of every Pokémon game up until Black and White, when Game Freak were so traumatised by their absence that they had to create Woobat and Swoobat to keep us from suffocating in the horror of a batless existence.  In Kalos, the Pokémon region with by far the greatest biodiversity we’ve yet seen, Zubat and Woobat are both back – there’s no need for a Pokémon to fill their role as bloodsucking nuisances.  Maybe this made Game Freak excited about the possibility of a designing a bat who’s not an awful blight on the world, because they went and gave us Noibat and Noivern – giant dragon-bats with a mean streak a mile wide and a voice like dynamite in a thunderstorm.  That’s a new one.

Admittedly, bats with sonic powers is… not exactly a fresh idea, although in fairness it’s something of an obvious and logical route to take, and whereas Zubat and Woobat mainly have sonic powers as a form of navigation like real bats do, Noibat and Noivern weaponise it – fittingly enough, seeing as they belong to the Dragon type, the element of unbridled destructive power.  Sound can do surprisingly nasty things to physical objects if its frequency matches the ‘natural’ or ‘resonance’ frequency of the system it’s acting on; vibrations induced by the sound stack up with natural vibrations in the material, storing more and more energy until something ridiculous happens – we’ve all heard of singers who can shatter wine glasses by wailing at precisely the right pitch (the same pitch produced by the glass itself when struck).  The somewhat more sobering equivalent is the violent shaking or even total collapse of huge bridges and towers (most famously the first Tacoma Narrows bridge in the northwest United States) due to resonance created by wind, the engines of vehicles, or even (in one particularly memorable case in downtown Seoul) a group of seventeen middle-aged Koreans performing aerobics to the rhythm of 1990 Eurodance hit The Power – which is my private imagining of what Noivern and Exploud’s Boomburst technique sounds like, and now yours too.  Making effective use of such attacks to, for instance, pulverise boulders implies that Pokémon with sonic attacks, including Noivern, possess not only extremely loud voices but also tremendous range and flexibility – destructive, but also finely tuned and precise.  This is exactly what Noivern is; the Pokédex describes her as an opportunistic ambush hunter, swooping down from the night sky to snatch up and carry off the unwary.  With no need for light to see by, Noivern can move and hunt in total darkness – this is a frightening Pokémon.  Noibat, by contrast, is more than a little on the derpy side, and more interested in defending herself with nauseating ultrasonic pulses than in blowing apart rocks with resonant sound waves or stalking unsuspecting prey as a lethal hunter of the night.  Are we surprised, though?  A traditional trait of Dragon-types is their tendency to be less-than-inspiring in their infancy, and then transform dramatically when they evolve.  Noibat is phenomenally useless, with a base stat total just barely higher than Combee’s, and she stays that way until as high as level 48, when she abruptly becomes the unholy terror that is Noivern.  It’s not quite a Magikarp-to-Gyarados metamorphosis, but it’s a pretty impressive change, and entirely in keeping with what we should expect.

 A typical heraldic wyvern.

To continue with what makes these Pokémon dragons, the name Noivern, which keeps the –vern ending through Japanese, English and French, seems pretty clearly meant to reference the word ‘wyvern.’  This is a term for a dragon-like creature whose exact shape and powers vary, though it’s used most often and most consistently in heraldry, and the common thread seems to be that wyverns have serpentine lower bodies and only two legs, while dragons tend to have four (they also tend to have spiked or barbed tails not unlike Noivern’s, though western heraldic dragons regularly have these too).  Significantly, Noivern is the only winged Dragon Pokémon apart from Altaria with only two other limbs – the others (Dragonite, Flygon, and so on) have both arms and legs as well as wings, but Noivern’s wings are arms, like a real bat’s.  It makes sense – although the typical depiction leaves much to be desired from an anatomical standpoint, the leathery wings seen on most modern European dragons are commonly described as ‘bat-like,’ and it’s hard to imagine what else could have been the original inspiration for wings in that style (illustrated Mediaeval bestiaries actually seem to have no shortage of dragons with feathery birds’ wings as well, but the leathery ‘bat-like’ style is common too).  In a way, Noivern brings that full circle.  It’s probably no coincidence that she is, at present, the only Flying dual-type in the game who’s listed as Flying first and something else second – mechanically it makes no difference how a Pokémon’s types are ordered, but it sometimes seems like Game Freak intend to place emphasis on the primary type; consider Aggron (Steel/Rock) and Bastiodon (Rock/Steel), for instance.  This follows on from Tornadus, the first straight Flying-type, in generation V, and might indicate that they’re still putting serious thought into what they think Flying should be and how they want to treat it as a type.  For Noivern, the implication seems to be that they want the emphasis of the design to be on her “flying animal” elements rather than her “mythical reptile” elements – she’s a bat with draconic features, not a bat-like dragon.  Comparisons to pterosaurs are perhaps inevitable, though it’s hard to say whether any resemblance is intentional – take a bat and add reptilian features, and you’re bound to get something that recalls popular depictions of real winged reptiles.  It certainly adds another layer of badass to what’s going on here, though.

Noivern is built for speed.  She enjoys a cool little niche as the fastest Dragon Pokémon in the game by a significant margin, leaving even the Eon Twins in the dust – a niche that she pays for by having less raw strength than most of the other top-tier Dragons.  With a special attack score that’s good, but not brilliant, Noivern needs to rely on powerful techniques to make up the shortfall.  Luckily, she’s a Dragon-type, and Dragon-types, by definition, get to learn Pokémon’s great kill-it-now button, Draco Meteor.  Hurricane doesn’t hurt either, although its accuracy leaves much to be desired unless you’re using Noivern on a rain team – likewise Focus Blast (which can’t even get help from the weather).  Another helpful option is Noivern’s almost-signature move (she shares it with Exploud, Chatot and, for some reason, Swellow), Boomburst, a catastrophic blast of sound intended to level anything that isn’t resistant to Normal attacks.  This move has its problems – because it doesn’t get Noivern’s same-type attack bonus, Hurricane and Draco Meteor are both stronger; Normal is also a bad offensive type at the best of times.  On the other hand, it’s 100% accurate and doesn’t cut your special attack in half the way Draco Meteor does.  It’s probably worth noting that Boomburst is a sonic attack, which means that it can’t touch Pokémon with the Soundproof ability (not that this is likely to come up, since arguably the only Pokémon with Soundproof who doesn’t have a better option is Electrode), and more importantly that it can bypass Substitutes.  However, this isn’t really a big deal for Noivern since she can do that anyway with the Infiltrator ability, which also lets her bypass Reflect and Light Screen, and her other choices are less than inspiring (checking opponents’ items with Frisk, or avoiding allies’ area attacks in double and triple battles with Telepathy).  Since Noivern is extremely fast already but lags behind some of the other Dragons in power, the natural item choice for her is Choice Specs, to wring every last drop of power you can out of that special attack stat.  As always, this makes perfect sense with Draco Meteor, since they’re both options that like you to switch often, and it also fits well with another of Noivern’s cool toys, U-Turn – with the free switches it offers, it’s very easy to get a sense for what your opponent’s go-to answer to Noivern is likely to be, and how you might anticipate it in future, mitigating the inflexibility caused by your Choice item.

Noivern.

 

That’s the basics of what Noivern does.  The frills include a couple of ways to seriously mess with defence-, setup- and support-oriented Pokémon.  Noivern is one of the fastest Pokémon in the game to learn Taunt, behind maybe a dozen others, several of them high-tier legendary Pokémon, making her extremely efficient at blocking support techniques – obviously you’ll want to forgo the power of Choice Specs if you pick this technique.  The alternative that does work with Choice Specs for a similar goal is Switcheroo, which is an absolute pain to get onto her because it comes from Malamar, via Crawdaunt, via Archeops (which… is certainly among the stranger lineages out there, courtesy of Archeops’ somewhat incongruous membership in the Water 3 family).  It’s a tried-and-tested way of crippling supporters, though – make use of your Choice item as you normally would until you see a Pokémon who would absolutely hate to be locked into a single attack, then make the switch and stick them with your painfully restrictive spectacles.  Less aggressive versions of Noivern may enjoy the healing offered by Roost, while Dark Pulse and Flamethrower sacrifice power but win her some nice coverage (Flamethrower in particular provides a more reliable alternative to Focus Blast for dealing with Steel-types).  Air Slash, similarly, is there if you dislike the poor natural accuracy of Hurricane, but the difference in power is so great that it’s almost not worth it, particularly given that Noivern needs all the power she can get.  Finally, I think it deserves mention that Noivern can learn Super Fang, because it’s quite an unusual move.  She’s not really the kind of Pokémon that jumps to mind when you think of Super Fang – the ability to chop a foe’s health in half works wonders for stuff like Pachirisu, but Noivern can do that to a lot of stuff anyway.  Still, it’s an extremely nasty surprise for any Fairy- or Steel-type planning to soak a Draco Meteor, and deserves to be added to Switcheroo and Taunt on the list of reasons why you can’t necessarily ignore Noivern just because you have a special wall like Blissey or Umbreon or whatever.

Some Pokémon are just so badass it becomes difficult not to like them, and Noivern is one of these.  Her heavy influence from a real modern animal gives her a very different feel to most Dragon-types, making her ability to inspire fear and awe that much more real as well.  Where Golbat and Crobat are sinister and Swoobat is… kinda weird and dorky… Noivern is just downright terrifying, and yet another reason not to wander around Kalos alone at night.  The whole “quick and stealthy hunter” thing is also something we haven’t seen from a Dragon-type before.  She may not quite live up to her appearance in battles with a prepared and trained opponent, just a little short of oomph, but foes nonetheless underestimate her at their peril.  This one… yeah, this one works.

Goomy, Sliggoo and Goodra

Goomy

Let’s talk about dragons.

If there’s one thing Game Freak are good at, it’s thwarting English-speaking fans’ expectations of what a ‘dragon’ is (odd, considering that the Japanese name for the Dragon type in Pokémon is a transliteration of the English word ‘dragon’).  If I had a dollar for every time I’d ever heard someone complain about how cutesy Dragonite is a Dragon Pokémon but badass, firebreathing Charizard isn’t, I would have… like, eight, maybe nine dollars, easy.  Then of course there’s fluffy Altaria, the Eon Twins, Shelgon, Mega Ampharos (who owes her existence to a Japanese pun – Ampharos’ Japanese name, Denryu, can be taken to mean either “electric current” or “electric dragon”), and now Charizard actually is a Dragon (sort of), but we also have these adorable things: Goomy and Sliggoo, two blind swamp-dwelling molluscs whose most remarkable feature is their ability to constantly secrete disgusting slime.  One might be forgiven for thinking ‘Dragon’ now really just means ‘weird $#!t.’

…so, wouldn’t it be fun if I told you there are not one but two snail dragons this thing could be based on, one from Japanese folklore and one from southwestern France?

Continue reading “Goomy, Sliggoo and Goodra”

Skrelp and Dragalge

Skrelp.

I’ll be honest here; I’m not wild about these things.  My first impression of Skrelp during my X playthrough was ‘so, it’s a diseased Horsea?’ and I’ve not really moved past that in any major way (the fact that Dragalge is equally, at first glance, ‘a diseased Kingdra’ didn’t exactly help).  Nothing about them really offends me in any sense, but they’re not particularly ones for the ‘favourite’ pile either.  Still, may as well see what we can turn up.  Here we go.

Continue reading “Skrelp and Dragalge”