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.

Xerneas and Yveltal

Xerneas.

To my amazement, we’re already coming quite close to the end.  Only a handful of Pokémon from eastern Kalos remain, then I’ll have to think of something else to pass the time until I pick up Alpha Sapphire or Omega Ruby (at the moment it’s looking like I’ll finally do that series on the rival characters that I’ve been putting off forever).  Meanwhile, my unfathomable whims decree that now is the time to take on the flagship Pokémon of X and Y: the divine guardian of life and the terrifying shadow of death, Xerneas and Yveltal.  I’m not even going to bother talking about stats or moves or any of that nonsense; I know I usually do, but you really don’t need me to tell you that these things are godlike, right?  Stick some attacks on them and go commit brutal murder; whatever.  I’mma talk about themes and stuff.

I will admit, I was not terribly inspired by these two when they first appeared in the teaser trailer for X and Y last year.  “Wait, so they’re… based on the letters X and Y?” I asked myself.  “What?  Why would you- what does that add?  What is the point of that?”  I’m still not really sold on the alphabet thing, and only partly because it led to that ridiculous line where Professor Sycamore says the only thing he knows about Xerneas is that it “resembles the letter X.”  No, it doesn’t; it resembles a massive f#%$ing stag.  I suppose there doesn’t really need to be any point to it, though – there was no reason for Palkia to associated with pearls and Dialga with diamonds, and Xerneas and Yveltal have plenty of other significance to them.  It’s just rather strange, after the previous generation used the titles Black and White to tie in with the Yin-Yang ideas and the themes of balance and duality that those games were so insistently pushing, that the best anyone can come up with for X and Y is that Game Freak and Nintendo were just really proud of their 3D graphics.  It wouldn’t exactly surprise me, and it even makes some sort of sense with Y conventionally representing the vertical dimension (Yveltal can fly) while X and Z are the two horizontal dimensions (Xerneas and Zygarde have two different modes of earthbound movement), but it’s not really a satisfying conclusion.  Maybe it was just coincidence that the titles and associated legendary mascot themes of Black and White worked so well – or maybe there’s something tremendously dramatic planned for Alpha Sapphire and Omega Ruby (which, of course, also include letters of… well, an alphabet) that will make sense of everything; I don’t know.  In any case, that’s not what I most want to talk about here, and again, I don’t think it matters.  Their curious alphabetic structures do nothing to detract from Xerneas’ obvious majesty or Yveltal’s palpable malice.  These are Pokémon who know which notes they want to strike, and do so quite effectively.  What I really want to do with this entry, for the most part, is take apart the Norse mythology interpretation of Xerneas and Yveltal that seems to have so thoroughly convinced the internet.

 Yveltal.

At some point shortly after that first trailer, someone latched onto a variety of figures from Scandinavian myth, primarily inhabitants of the great ash Yggdrasil, as the most likely source of inspiration for Xerneas and Yveltal’s designs, and I think everyone’s just had trouble letting go of that idea – sometimes to the exclusion of all common sense.  Personally I struggle to find much merit in the interpretation.  It sounds really clever when you take it as a whole because it gives you an eagle, a stag and a snake that all have something in common (a tie to Yggdrasil), but the individual identifications make little to no sense.  The original argument seems to have wanted Xerneas to be based on a quartet of stags who live in the branches of the World Tree and feed on its leaves.  They are described in the Grimnismal (Sayings of Grimnir), one of the poems that make up the Poetic Edda, the major surviving body of pre-Christian Norse myth.  Nothing else is known about them aside from their names: Dain, “the Dead One,” Dvalin, “the Slumberer,” Duneyr, whose name’s exact meaning is uncertain but possibly something like “Murmur,” and Durathror, who is again obscure but perhaps means “Delay.”  These, of course, all make such perfect sense for a Pokémon whose raison d’être is to invigorate life, particularly “the Dead One,” that it’s hard to believe anyone could doubt there is a connection.  The idea also seems to have circulated that each stag had a different coloured gem in its horns – red, yellow, blue and purple, the colours of the glowing projections in Xerneas’ horns – but as far as I can find there’s actually… like… no evidence for that… anywhere… so yeah.  Yveltal, similarly, is linked to an eagle who roosts at the top of Yggdrasil, a figure to whom the Eddas do not even give a name, and spends his days insulting the dragon Nidhoggr (who lives at the bottom of the tree and gnaws on its roots), by way of a squirrel messenger named Ratatoskr.  Like the four stags, the eagle forms part of the scenery of the World Tree but is otherwise not a terribly important figure, and, also like the four stags, seems to be the subject of an erroneous detail that seems to have been concocted to make the whole concept seem more likely – namely, someone seems to have put it about at some point that the mythical eagle was blind (…it wasn’t) and suggested this as an explanation for Yveltal’s unsettling blue eyes.  Finally, again like the four stags, it’s difficult to see what the Yggdrasil eagle could have given to Yveltal other than simply being a mythical bird of prey.  He’s not really linked with death or destruction, any more than the stags are linked with life.

Bulbapedia offers related alternatives to each, which do little to improve my estimation of the idea.  Yveltal, in their view, might be based on Hraesvelgr, a giant who takes the form of an eagle and lives at the edge of the world; I think the main attraction is his badass name, which means ‘Corpse-Swallower.’  This guy is a seriously obscure character.  He’s attested in a poem called the Vafthrudnismal (or Sayings of Vafthrudnir), another part of the Poetic Edda, which is basically about Odin asking the giant Vafthrudnir stupid questions.  Odin’s ninth question is “where does wind come from?” and Vafthrudnir answers “there’s a huge f#$%ing eagle-giant at the edge of the world who flaps his wings really hard” (that is, of course, my own literal translation from the Old Norse, or whatever this stuff is supposed to be written in).  The later Prose Edda quotes this passage word-for-word, and that is the sum total of what Hraesvelgr does in the extant Norse texts; how he got his sinister name is never touched on.  You may as well just say Yveltal is based on a really big eagle.  Similarly tenuous links are drawn from Xerneas to the great stag Eikthyrnir, who stands on the roof of Valhalla chewing branches of Yggdrasil and distilling the sap into the water that supplies the world’s rivers.  This one, I will grant you, actually does make some degree of sense because Eikthyrnir, like Xerneas, is a sort of wellspring of life, in the form of fresh water, though I would rather expect Xerneas to have water-related powers if that were the case – I mean, it’s not like you need a lot of justification to put something in a legendary Pokémon’s movepool, and this is literally the only thing we know about the character being identified as the inspiration for Xerneas.

 The four stags, Dain, Dvalin, Duneyr and Durathror.

All of this was discussed ad nauseam before X and Y were ever actually released.  People thus inferred that the third legendary Pokémon, whom we now know as Zygarde, would be based on Nidhoggr, and successfully predicted that it would therefore be serpentine (seriously, though, it had to have a Z-shaped body; what else could it possibly have been?).  In some ways this is the most appealing identification to me because a terrible serpent who lives underground certainly sounds like Nidhoggr, and the –garde termination could well be a reference to Asgard and Midgard (though it could equally just refer to Zygarde’s position as, well, a guardian).  In other ways it actually makes the least sense of the lot because, rather than simply being generally nondescript like most of the other beings we’ve talked about, Nidhoggr has enough of a personality to be strongly opposed to the role Game Freak appear to have in mind for Zygarde.  He’s described as “the Order Pokémon” and is supposed to be a guardian of balance in Kalos’ ecosystem, which sounds as though he’s supposed to fill a Rayquaza-like role in checking the excesses of both Xerneas and Yveltal (since overabundant life and unchecked destruction could both devastate an ecosystem; the way his ability relates to theirs reinforces this idea).  Nidhoggr, by contrast, is a far more malevolent character than any of the minor figures suggested as an inspiration for Yveltal; he spends his time chewing on the corpses of the dishonoured dead in Hel, and seems to be one of the figures on the side of evil and chaos in Ragnarok, the Norse apocalypse.  If Zygarde is based on Nidhoggr, why isn’t he the Pokémon who symbolises death instead of Yveltal?  Similar attempts to locate Zygarde’s origins with the World Serpent Jormungandr – the arch-enemy of the universally loved and admired Thor, and a major player in bringing about the end of the world – are, if anything, even worse.  In any case, there will be more on Zygarde when he gets his own entry.

Finally, just to cap it all off, people point at Xerneas’ dormant form – a white tree – and say “ooh, look, it’s clearly a reference to Yggdrasil.”  Xerneas is a stag, for heaven’s sake; stags being associated with trees and forests is really nothing unusual; it’s certainly not specific to Norse myth.  Besides, where does that leave Yveltal’s cocoon?  There’s no reason Yveltal couldn’t have lain dormant as a black tree, and if Yggdrasil were really as important a unifier as this concept makes out, it would have made a great deal of sense, whereas a cocoon doesn’t give you anything to work with.

The Yggdrasil eagle, along with the hawk that inexplicably roosts between its eyes (the hawk, evidently, was important enough to be given a name - Vedrfolnir.).

 

So, now that I’ve spent all this time picking apart why I don’t think the currently popular mythological identifications work, am I now going to present something much cleverer that explains Xerneas and Yveltal perfectly?  No, actually, I’m not.  I’m really not sure there is one.  Legendary Pokémon are not usually based on specific mythological characters in this way; with a few notable exceptions, they more often tend to be the Pokémon world’s expression of generalised archetypes.  They may very well relate to mythological characters, but in most cases (again, with notable exceptions) I don’t think trying to pin them on specific characters from specific mythologies is a productive exercise.  In fact, you can count on one hand the number of specific mythological figures who are clearly identifiable in the designs of legendary Pokémon: the phoenix (Ho-oh), and the Japanese gods Fujin, Raijin and Inari (Tornadus, Thundurus and Landorus).  I suppose you can also argue the nine Muses for Meloetta, Nike for Victini, or the golem of Prague for Regigigas and friends, but I don’t think those are nearly as solid.  We don’t actually need an answer to this question.  There’s nothing that should lead us to expect that there is one.  If we have to find a mythological antecedent for them, I rather prefer the idea that the forces represented by Xerneas, Zygarde and Yveltal correspond to the three deities of the Hindu Trimurti, Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva – or, more accurately, not to the deities themselves but to the forces they represent, creation, preservation and destruction.The idea that Yveltal is a reference to the Black Death, I’m also fairly partial to; first of all, it’s got ‘death’ in the name, and although Game Freak shied away from actually calling Yveltal “the Death Pokémon” (going for “Destruction” instead), it’s pretty clear that that’s what it is, in opposition to Xerneas, “the Life Pokémon.”  The Black Death is generally understood to have been caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis – starts with a Y, which is apparently one of Yveltal’s defining features.  Like Yveltal, the Black Death appeared mysteriously to ravage a huge region centuries ago, then vanished just as mysteriously (and, if certain current ideas about the Justinian Plague of 6th century Byzantium are to be believed, it had already done so once before).  Locating such a Pokémon in a European region would also make sense.  The physical designs of Xerneas and Yveltal, though, I think were dictated partly by the X/Y theme and partly by the general feeling the designers wanted to get across.  Stags appear in a lot of fiction as guardians and avatars of nature – look no further than the stag-like forest spirit from Princess Mononoke, whom I would accept as a possible influence on Xerneas far more readily than Eikthyrnir – and Xerneas’ rainbow horns evoke the vibrancy and diversity of life.  Birds of prey can descend from the sky to snatch life away without warning, an unsettling trait that is reflected in stories found around the world of giant birds that can prey on people, like the Roc and the Thunderbird.  Xerneas and Yveltal are best seen as the Pokémon universe’s take on these broader ideas, not as attempts to ape specific mythological animals whose stories don’t even fit them.

That isn’t exactly the way I envisioned this entry going; I suppose dissecting these mythological identifications was more important to me than I realised, and in fact I’m coming to realise I haven’t actually said much about Xerneas and Yveltal themselves.  A quick assessment to finish, then.  Life and death were bold choices, and I feel there’s a lot more room to play with this story than we saw in X and Y – Zygarde will doubtless complicate the relationship between these forces a great deal.  The designs are perhaps a little over-the-top, even in comparison to previous legendary Pokémon – I mean, Xerneas is almost literally “rainbow crystal stag Jesus” – but they certainly work.  They also led to the creation of an interesting kind of threat in Team Flare and Lysandre, although I’m on the record as believing that Lysandre isn’t nearly as morally ambiguous as the game seems to think he is.  In short – if you ask me, these Pokémon work.

Hawlucha

Hawlucha.

Right; I’m going to leave Carbink for now and do her with Diancie at the end, by which time I’ll hopefully be clearer on how they work, so that leaves only one Pokémon in the Coastal Kalos subregion: Hawlucha, the… lucha libre Pokémon… which is another one stricken from the list of phrases I never thought I would live to say.  Game Freak are responsible for a disconcerting number of those.  Funnily enough, though, Hawlucha’s been making more and more sense the more time I spend on this entry, and may even be one of my favourites of this generation now, which I didn’t really expect.  Let’s have a look.

Continue reading “Hawlucha”

Scatterbug, Spewpa and Vivillon

Scatterbug.
Scatterbug.

I didn’t really intend to leave these Pokémon so late, but I kind of forgot about them for a while, and here we are, with only one other set left in the Central Kalos sub-region.  It’s not like I forgot they exist or anything like that; I think I just assumed I must have done them already.  By contrast, I regularly forget that Mothim exists.  It used to be an oversight, but now it’s become a matter of principle.  Butterfly and moth Pokémon are one of the stock design types like Normal Bird, Normal Vermin and Electric Rodent; at least one appears in every region aside from Johto, and the rapid caterpillar-cocoon-butterfly succession originally seen in Butterfree (and paralleled by her vicious opposite, Beedrill) was repeated by Beautifly, Dustox, and now Vivillon herself.  Years ago I declared Beautifly and Dustox the joint third-worst Pokémon of all time on a combined assessment of their nonexistent battle capabilities and the highly derivative character of their designs, which borrow a great deal from Butterfree and Venomoth.  Game Freak’s decision to come out with yet another of these things represents, to my warped psyche, something of an invitation to a grudge match.  Let’s get to it.

Continue reading “Scatterbug, Spewpa and Vivillon”

Fletchling, Fletchinder and Talonflame

Official art of Fletchling by Ken Sugimori.

I didn’t do the Unova Pokédex in order, and I’m not going to do Kalos in order either (more for variety than anything else).  I’m planning to start with Central Kalos, then the Coastal Pokémon, and then the Mountain areas, but beyond that, I’m just going to play it by ear – starting today with the second Kalosian Pokémon to join my main party, Fletchling.  For obvious reasons, Fletchling didn’t exactly move me to excitement when I first met him: “oh, here we go again; another Normal/Flying fast physical songbird-to-raptor progression with wind powers and no other remarkable traits to eat the local obligatory caterpillar.”  One of the things I was particularly interested in decrying with my Unova reviews – something I’m still very easily annoyed by – is ‘template’ Pokémon, Pokémon who start not with an actual idea but with a principle that every game ‘should’ have a sequel to Pidgey, or Caterpie, or Pikachu.  It’s lazy, it’s boring, and most of all, it doesn’t actually provide any benefit.  There is nothing about these templates that makes the game better, except maybe that they provide an easy introduction to the concept that some Pokémon are just bad.  Part of the reason I’ve always been so irascible about these things is that, although all generations have them, Unova was particularly obnoxious about it, needing stand-ins for things like Geodude and Machop in addition to the usual suspects, which made the absence of any older Pokémon feel like nothing so much as an irritating charade.  Kalos is something else.  Kalos has the templates, but it tries much harder than previous generations to play with them.  On principle, we ‘needed’ a Normal/Flying songbird Pokémon for the early game – so Kalos decided to make one that was as badass as possible.

It’s a simple idea, really.  Take the standard songbird-to-raptor pattern, and set it on fire.  What could possibly go wrong?

 Fletchinder.

The question here is, how far does a different type go?  Fletchling, Fletchinder and Talonflame still share a lot of traits with Pidgeot et al. – does the fact that they also have fire powers make that okay?  And what does that say about how we look at elements in Pokémon?  Most Pokémon have supernatural powers of one sort or another, and as I’ve recently discussed, it is to an extent the powers that make the Pokémon, but if the essence of Pokémon design is just giving elemental traits to an animal, the Normal-types who mostly lack such traits are damned from the start.  Part of designing these things is matching up the powers to the creature in a clever way.  Birds with wind powers are very straightforward as Pokémon go, since wind and flight ‘go together’ intuitively, while birds with fire powers are a little more interesting, and Talonflame doesn’t just take the obvious phoenix angle, which Moltres and Ho-oh have already done to death anyway.  On the other hand, what makes attaching fire-related abilities to a falcon particularly insightful?  The most interesting Fire Pokémon aren’t just “this animal, but on fire;” they’re ones that play with the idea of fire, either by combining it with another element (like Magcargo, whose body of lava hardens into a stone shell, or Chandelure, whose ghostly lights lead wanderers into another world), or by focusing on an unusual aspect of fire (like Torkoal, who mines and burns coal for energy).  If I like Fletchling and his evolutions, then I’m going to have to dig a little deeper than “new type” – I need to find the flourishes.  Let’s have a look at them.

 The hoopoe, the bird Fletchinder reminds me of (it helps that I named my Fletchling, Tereus, after a mythical Greek king who gets turned into a hoopoe).

Fletchling, obviously enough, is a robin, while Talonflame has made the transition to peregrine falcon, while keeping the distinctive red colouring of his juvenile form that also evokes his fire powers.  There doesn’t seem to be any consensus on exactly what Fletchinder is, but he reminds me very much of the hoopoe, a medium-sized bird common throughout most of Eurasia who shares the red colouring of his head, as well as the striking black-and-white striped pattern of Fletchinder’s tail.  The hoopoe is also a larger and more powerful bird than a robin, but not a major predator like a falcon, so he’d be a sensible intermediate.  All three stages incorporate arrows into the design as well, in the form of the distinctive shape and stripes of their tails, like the fletching of an arrow – perhaps making their beaks serve metaphorically as the arrowheads.  The swept-back posture of Talonflame’s wings in the official art might even be meant to recall the shape of a bow, with an ‘arrow’ nocked and ready to fire, formed by the line from his beak to his tail… but maybe that’s getting a little far-fetched.  The famed 310 kilometer per hour dive of the peregrine falcon (which Talonflame insistently one-ups, at 310 miles per hour) is reminiscent of a falling arrow too, particularly in its effects on the health of whatever stands at its destination.  As generic bird Pokémon go, this is already quite a good one, without even mentioning the fact that it’s on fire.  What’s more, Fletchinder and Talonflame’s fire powers do relate in some ways to the rest of their design, adding a little depth to them.  Fletchinder supposedly flies faster the hotter his fire burns, for instance (linking the Fire and Flying elements, the way I talked about with Chesnaught), which makes a good tie-in to the presence of Flame Charge on his level-up set.  The assumption of fire abilities as the Pokémon ages could also be linked to his taking on a more predatory ecological niche as he becomes more powerful, and indeed Fletchinder hunts by starting fires to drive his prey out of hiding.  Flaming arrows, of course, were also a staple of a wide variety of ancient and Mediaeval armies, so giving fire to a Pokémon whose name and appearance are intended to evoke arrows makes good sense.  I actually would have liked to see a greater focus on the arrow motif, which is neglected in the English and French translations of Talonflame’s name, because that’s one of the cleverest things in terms of tying the whole design together.  In balance, though, I think it works.  Talonflame is far from a masterful Pokémon, but I can certainly appreciate the effort to do something unexpected with a highly standardised form, in a manner which integrates the new and different features with the common traits of the traditional early-game Flying-type.

 Talonflame.

Another common thread with Pokémon from the Pidgeot mould is that they are not normally very powerful.  Staraptor excepted, none of Talonflame’s predecessors have ever been important Pokémon for the competitive scene, though Swellow is a persistent dark horse.  The difficult thing about Talonflame, of course, is the double-weakness to Rock associated with his otherwise strong Fire/Flying type combination, because Stealth Rock is showing every sign of continuing to be a thing.  Like all Pokémon with this trait, Talonflame needs diligent Rapid Spin support to keep him from dying painfully, and also needs something pretty special to make him worth that support.  Good news: he’s got an amazing hidden ability.  I don’t want to knock Flame Body, because the combination of Flame Body and Fly makes Talonflame one of the best solo Pokémon to keep with you while hatching groups of eggs, like Volcarona on Black and White (Flame Body causes eggs in your party to gestate at twice their normal rate), but Gale Wings is where it’s at.  This ability gives all of Talonflame’s Flying-type attacks priority, which means, combined with his already excellent speed, that almost nothing will ever be able to outrun his devastating Brave Bird attack – he can beat higher base speed, he can beat Choice Scarves, he can beat Agility, and he doesn’t even care if you paralyse him (but he can’t beat Extremespeed, so watch out for that).  In flavour terms it’s an odd ability because Talonflame doesn’t really have wind powers (‘Gale Wings’ sounds like something Pidgeot should get), but it also happens to make him one of the game’s best revenge killers – Pokémon whose job is to take advantage of the free switch you get after losing a Pokémon to come in and destroy a powerful aggressor – as well as just a frightening thing to face in general.  Flare Blitz provides a secondary attack just as powerful which turns out to combine quite well with Brave Bird; stay away from Rock-types, Heatran, Lanturn, certain legendary Pokémon you shouldn’t be tangling with anyway, and toasters, and you’re golden (you can always take Steel Wing for the Rock-types, but the low power combined with Talonflame’s merely average attack score may disappoint).  Finally, I would be remiss if I did not mention that Talonflame still enjoys the one really spectacular feature shared by most bird Pokémon: U-Turn, which has been called ‘the best move in the game’ for allowing a player to postpone a switch until after seeing whether the opponent will switch that turn, and even doing damage into the bargain.

 Pidgeot actually gained +10 base speed in X and Y.  Pretty sure it hasn't helped.  I'm holding out for Mega Pidgeot, though.

So, what’s the bad news?  Talonflame’s other stats are mediocre all around; his attacks lack punch by the standards of offensive Pokémon, and he’s not tough either.  However, these failings are not as significant for Talonflame as they are for most of his ancestors.  The ease with which Talonflame can outrun his foes using Gale Wings, for instance, means that he doesn’t actually need the maximum possible training investment in his speed, and can afford to spend more time shoring up his defences than most offensive Pokémon (focusing on HP will make Flare Blitz and Brave Bird recoil sting less too).  Furthermore, it’s worth bearing in mind that Roost enjoys Gale Wings priority too!  This bird can be much tougher than his mediocre defensive stats suggest.  He also has options to boost his own attack power – Bulk Up and Swords Dance – which Pokémon like Unfezant, Pidgeot and even Staraptor lacked.  Talonflame really has to work for his power, though; a Choice Band makes Roost infeasible, and Life Orb recoil takes too heavy a toll when combined with Brave Bird and Flare Blitz, so things like a Sharp Beak, Expert Belt or Muscle Band will often have to do, supplemented by Swords Dance and the naturally high power of Talonflame’s main attacks.  Remember that his attack stat is only average, and make sure you look for opportunities for him to switch in and scare something away for a free set-up turn.  Other options… well, Taunt could be neat, to make Talonflame into a total nightmare for defensive and set-up Pokémon, especially with Roost to back him up in a more drawn-out fight, and Will’o’Wisp is weird on such an aggressive attacker but between the attack penalty from a burn and a potential Bulk Up boost Talonflame would actually be pretty hard for a physical attacker to take down.  Talonflame’s special attack is actually not far off his attack, but sadly his special movepool sucks – it’s pretty much just Fire attacks plus Solarbeam and, critically, no special Flying attacks to spam with Gale Wings.  In short, don’t go there.  Finally, and bizarrely, Talonflame is said to prefer devastating kicks when striking finishing blows against its prey – bizarrely because Talonflame has no kicking attacks.  A line like that seems tailored specifically to justify the inclusion of Blaze Kick on Talonflame’s level-up list, but the move fails to make an appearance, an odd lack of nuance for an otherwise quite carefully put-together Pokémon. 

Talonflame’s effective movepool isn’t really very wide – basically everything he can do is variations on the theme of Gale Wings abuse – so finding something for your team that can take at least two of those Brave Birds and hit back is the key here.  He’s not a subtle Pokémon, which makes sense for a bird of prey based on a flaming arrow, but he knows what he does, and he does it well.  Talonflame makes me optimistic for the future.  I feel like Game Freak is trying to say “we’re sorry for all the $#!t birds.  We’ll make better ones in future, and we’ll even make them more than just birds!  See?”  Now, if only poor Pidgeot got Gale Wings, maybe he could feel slightly less miserable about himself…

Charmander, Charmeleon and Charizard

Charmander.  Artwork by Ken Sugimori; Nintendo is Luke's father.There’s something about Charizard.  Maybe it’s the inherent awesomeness of Fire as an element.  Maybe it’s the allure of his base set trading card, whose Fire Spin was pretty much the most powerful attack in the game.  Maybe it’s the fact that he’s a goddamn freakin’ dragon.  Charizard is easily the most popular of the first-generation starters and, despite my perpetual love affair with the Grass type, I have to admit that it’s easy to see why.  Charmander may be cute as a button but one look at his burning tail shows that he means business nonetheless.  Charmeleon has the look of a proud fighter who loves to punch above his weight.  Charizard simply demands respect, and incinerates anyone who denies him.  What more could we possibly want?

Charmander and his family are just what you’d expect from Fire-types: figuratively and literally hot-headed Pokémon who believe quite firmly that if there is a problem that can’t be solved with fire, it’s only because you aren’t using enough fire.  Although this seems like it would be the default stance for most Fire Pokémon, none of the other first-generation Fire-types (with the possible exception of Flareon) embrace “Flamethrower first, ask questions later” with the same gusto that Charmeleon and Charizard do.  Similarly, Charmander’s connection with fire is so strong that his tail flame is actually an indicator of his life force – the stronger and brighter the flame, the healthier the Pokémon.  It’s a very straightforward idea, but again, it helps to establish Charmander as the archetypal Fire Pokémon, to a much greater degree than Bulbasaur or Squirtle can be considered exemplars of their elements, which probably goes some way towards explaining his popularity.  The dragon factor is significant as well, especially since Charizard was – and arguably still is, even with Salamence around – the closest thing in Pokémon to a traditional Western dragon and, for much of Pokémon’s English-speaking audience, that’s a pretty big deal.  The actual Dragon-with-a-capital-D Pokémon of Red and Blue, for a Western audience anyway, don’t quite deliver; Dratini and Dragonair clearly have Eastern dragons in mind and, while Dragonite’s physical form owes something to the European conception of what a dragon is, he’s a softer-toned, almost ‘cartoonish’ (if I can even say that) representation of that idea; like a gentle parody of what Charizard is playing straight.  Dragonite’s personality, too, comes from a profoundly different tradition; he’s a benevolent ocean-dweller, very much at odds with the European dragons of, say, the Icelandic sagas.  Charmeleon and Charizard, on the other hand, have a definite malevolent streak, which brings me to something else I like about them, or rather about the way they’ve been handled – there’s definite evidence that the writers of the Pokédex have been trying to build up different aspects of their personality over the years to create a more detailed picture of these Pokémon.  The obsession with combat, for instance, seems to be something Charmeleon developed after the release of Red and Blue.  Also, remember the way Ash’s normally disobedient Charizard would voluntarily step up to the plate if he felt there was a worthy opponent on offer?  As of Ruby and Sapphire, that’s actually a recognised trait of Charizard as a species; in nature, they search constantly for powerful opponents to fight, and never use their fire against weaker enemies.  If you’ve been hanging around here long enough to be familiar with my philosophy of ‘doing more with less,’ well, this kind of thing – the gradual accretion of details that expand our view of a Pokémon’s nature and powers – is a big part of what I mean.  It’s really not that hard.

 Charmeleon.  Artwork by Ken Sugimori.

As Pokémon types go, Fire is pretty high up in terms of awe-inspiring elemental fury.  However, in Red and Blue, Fire actually got shafted pretty badly.  In a world where a lot of Pokémon relied on Normal attacks like Body Slam and Hyper Beam for type coverage, having primary attacks that were resisted by Rock Pokémon was not an enviable position, especially since most of the Fire-types had nothing else worth using – Magmar got Psychic and our dear friend Charizard managed to score Earthquake, but that was it.  Charizard had a further specific problem, which was that in Red and Blue his attacks were – despite what that awesome trading card might suggest – actually fairly lacklustre.  Not exactly bad but Venusaur, believe it or not, could do better; Charizard’s strength was not power but speed – very useful if you wanted to abuse the way Fire Spin worked in Red and Blue, but honestly, if Fire Spin abuse is your thing you’d probably be better off with Rapidash or Ninetales anyway.  Charizard’s attacks were lacklustre because neither his attack stat nor his special stat was particularly high – pretty good, but nothing to write home about.  Then, of course, Gold and Silver split special into special attack and special defence, and suddenly Charizard’s Fire attacks started looking a lot more attractive.  Until Diamond and Pearl came along he still had few workable special attacks other than Fire-type ones, but Gold and Silver also brought Charizard the gift of Belly Drum, which can turn him into a devastating physical attacker at the cost of half of his health.  Again, speed is his strength – Charizard was, and remains, the fastest Belly Drummer in the game (well, tied with Linoone now, but who’s counting?), an important attribute to keep other Pokémon from preying on his weakened health bar.

 Charizard.  Artwork by Ken Sugimori.

Diamond and Pearl eventually gave Charizard physical Fire attacks to use with Belly Drum and special Flying attacks (as well as Focus Blast and Solarbeam) to bulk out his other sets.  Unfortunately, they also gave the world Stealth Rock, a pox of a move that almost every serious player uses.  It’s similar in concept to Spikes, introduced in Gold and Silver, in that it creates a trap to damage Pokémon as they switch in, but with a number of differences.  Stealth Rock can be set up in a single turn, while Spikes takes two uses to match Stealth Rock’s average damage output, and three to exceed it.  Spikes is a relatively exclusive move, while Stealth Rock was available as a TM and therefore accessible to all and sundry.  Finally, Stealth Rock accounts for weaknesses and resistances.  Pokémon doubly weak to Rock attacks, like poor Charizard, lose 50% of their health just for switching in against a team with the foresight to set up Stealth Rock.  The notion of game balance has never really existed in Pokémon anyway, but if it had, Stealth Rock would have killed it by making a weakness to Rock attacks far more important than any other single aspect of a Pokémon’s resistance profile.  The point for us here today is that, from Diamond and Pearl onwards, you can’t use Charizard without a Pokémon with Rapid Spin to clear away Stealth Rock when it turns up.  Well, I mean… you can.  You’ll just lose.  Repeatedly.

 This little slice of awesome is from the Destroyed Steak Pokémonathon (http://destroyedsteak.deviantart.com/), a sadly short-lived attempt by two artists to draw every Pokémon in order.  Seems to have been pretty epic while it lasted, though.

The transition to Black and White didn’t significantly alter Charizard’s movepool; he’s never been much of a tank, so losing the potential for healing with Roost doesn’t bother him much, and Thunderpunch was nice but it’s not like he doesn’t have plenty of other physical attacks to toss around.  The big change for him, as for Venusaur, was his Dream World ability.  There’s nothing wrong with the standard Fire starter ability, Blaze, which adds a little spice to Fire attacks when your health is low, but Charizard’s new Solar Power ability – like Chlorophyll for Venusaur – is something else.  Only two other Pokémon, Sunflora and Tropius, possess this lovely ability, and both of them are far too slow to take advantage of it.  Charizard is another story.  Solar Power burns a little of Charizard’s health every turn while Sunny Day is in effect, but in return boosts his special attack by 50%.  Meanwhile, the normal effects of Sunny Day will be jacking up his Fire attacks anyway.  Keeping a solar Charizard alive for any length of time is profoundly difficult, since Charizard isn’t exactly renowned for toughness anyway, but even the toughest of Water Pokémon will wither in the face of his Fire Blast.

In some ways I think that Charmander, Charmeleon and Charizard provide the best example from the first generation of what a starter should be, a Pokémon that embodies the essential characteristics of its element – in this case, Fire’s destructive nature and passion for combat.  Unfortunately Red and Blue let them down a little, as they let down all Fire-types, but ever since Gold and Silver, Fire has held a prestigious position as one of the few elements able to reliably damage Steel Pokémon, and Charizard has been generally well-supported throughout the games’ development, in spite of his present difficulties in dealing with Stealth Rock.  In summary, then, while they aren’t my favourites, I believe these Pokémon are the result of strong designs that have been quite well-handled from start to finish – good pieces of work.

The Top Ten Worst Pokémon Ever, Honourable Mention: Farfetch’d

Oh, Farfetch’d.  You deserved so much better.

 Farfetch'd.  Artwork by Ken Sugimori.

I’m guessing that most of you who followed my Top Ten list thought Farfetch’d was going to get a spot on there somewhere – so much so that I feel I need to do an entry on him just to talk about why he didn’t turn up!  For the benefit of those of you out there who had no childhood, Farfetch’d is a vanishingly rare wild duck Pokémon from the original one hundred and fifty, so rare in fact that on Red and Blue he can’t be caught in the wild and must be obtained from a trainer in the game by trading away a Spearow.  The reason he is vanishingly rare is because he tastes delicious and carries his own garnish: a stalk of green onion, a common ingredient in recipes for duck stew.  His Japanese name, Kamonegi, literally “duck with leek,” is apparently an abbreviated form of an expression meaning either “something fortunate but far-fetched” or “a person naïvely walking into a con or dangerous situation” – like a duck carrying its own garnish (it’s also the name of a popular Japanese noodle dish).  This is a frighteningly bad survival strategy but since it’s acknowledged as such in-universe I can live with that.  Interestingly, although it’s one of the most well-known facts about Farfetch’d, only the anime mentions that people eat them – as far as I am aware, it never explicitly comes up in the games; his Japanese name and his design certainly seem to suggest it though.  Farfetch’d’s leek isn’t just to make him taste good, of course; it’s his main defensive weapon, which he needs to survive.  According to the Pokédex, he also uses it to build his nest but, annoyingly, it’s not made clear whether he uses it as a tool or a building material (I’m tempted to say it depends on the quality, since Farfetch’d are supposedly very discerning about their sticks and often fight over the best ones).  Most of Farfetch’d’s strongest attacks are executed with his stalk, which he wields like a sword, striking attackers with lightning-fast cuts.  He will defend his weapon with his life, since without it he might as well be dead.  Farfetch’d is a weird, quirky Pokémon, that much is certain, but everything in this design makes sense in context, there’s nothing superfluous, and it’s actually really clever once you get the joke.  Very few Pokémon manage to pull off cute and badass at the same time, but I think Farfetch’d manages it with his spunky attitude and his refusal to give up, whatever the odds against him.  Honestly, I think he’s one of the best-designed Pokémon of the original generation (certainly the best of the four different Normal/Flying Pokémon available in Red and Blue) and that’s why he didn’t feature in my Top Ten, regardless of how weak he is in battle – and, as we’ll soon discover, he really is horrible.

 Art of Falkner's Farfetch'd from the trading card game, by Atsuko Nishida.

Farfetch’d is better than Unown, Luvdisc, Dustox and, arguably, Pachirisu.  I realise this is probably not very encouraging but I have to work with what I’ve got.  Normal/Flying is a distressingly bad type with redundant offensive coverage, critical weaknesses, and few useful resistances outside of the helpful immunity to Ground attacks.  Farfetch’d’s best stat score – physical attack – is at a level that would be considered a significant weak point on most Pokémon.  Thankfully, his other scores are not significantly worse, but this is small comfort.  As this stat distribution attests, Farfetch’d is primarily a physical attacker; Brave Bird and Return offer spectacularly powerful Flying and Normal attacks that fail just as spectacularly to make up for his lack of physical strength, while he can access several attacks of other types courtesy of his green onion sword, such as Poison Jab, Leaf Blade and Night Slash.  Like most bird Pokémon, he can also learn U-Turn and Steel Wing.  Except for Leaf Blade, which helps a great deal against Rock Pokémon, these techniques will rarely be more effective than his primary attacks anyway (U-Turn is still a good choice though, as always).  Notably, Steel-types resist every single one of them.  To hurt Steel-types, Farfetch’d has to rely on Revenge, which forces him to take his turn after his opponent even when he’s faster, or Heat Wave, which does special rather than physical damage and, worse, is only available to him on Platinum version and is thus incompatible with what is easily his best passive ability, Defiant (which he gets from the Pokémon Dream World).  Farfetch’d can attempt to increase his meagre damage output with Swords Dance (or Work Up if you’ve decided to use Heat Wave and want to boost special damage as well), but that requires that he live long enough to use it.  He can also use Agility to redeem his poor speed stat, but that will leave him without the necessary power to hurt anything.  He can try using both, but finding time to do that is even more difficult than trying for just one, and also leaves him with only two attacks to work with.  Finally, if you’re really masochistic you can get Farfetch’d to heal himself with Roost and prolong his suffering, or try to turn him into a sort of physical tank with Curse.

 Farfetch'd and Baby Farfetch'd being adorable.  I can't actually read the signature, but I am reliably informed that it reads "Hisakichi" and that the original artist may be found at http://www.pixiv.net/member.php?id=127257.

The one great blessing Farfetch’d enjoys is a custom item: the elaborately titled Stick.  Holding a Stick dramatically increases his chance of scoring a critical hit (the base rate is 1/16, which the Stick increases to ¼; high critical-ratio moves like Leaf Blade and Night Slash jump from 1/8 to 1/3).  With this in mind, and given his flavour, what mystifies me is that Farfetch’d doesn’t have the Super Luck ability, especially considering that the vast majority of Pokémon with this ability are birds.  Super Luck would give Farfetch’d even more critical hits (1/3 for normal attacks, and ½ for attacks like Leaf Blade – the hard limit in the game’s programming), which on its own isn’t enough to make Farfetch’d effective but would certainly help.  The first addition I would want to make to Farfetch’d, therefore, is Super Luck, replacing one of his current two absurdly situational abilities, Keen Eye and Inner Focus (while we’re at it, might as well replace the second one – Sniper doesn’t fit quite as well as Super Luck thematically, but triple-damage criticals make sense in the context of what I’m doing with Farfetch’d).  The second thing he needs is a reasonable way of penetrating the manifold resistances of Steel Pokémon, which include about two thirds of the elements in the game (honestly I think this is a major game balance concern in itself but that’s not what we’re here for).  Water, Fire, Electric and Ground attacks don’t really suit Farfetch’d, but you could probably make a solid argument for giving him a Fighting-type signature move (a lot of Farfetch’d cards have an attack called Leek Slap, but I’d also be tempted to give it a really ridiculous name like Onion Kata, just because it’s Farfetch’d); something with a high critical rate to keep up the theme, and probably more power than Night Slash but not a lot more.  What I’m dancing around is the fact that none of this will be enough unless Farfetch’d evolves and earns some stronger stats to back it up.  Much as he needs it, I just don’t know what to do with him.  Unlike all the other Pokémon I’ve been talking about Farfetch’d has a very neat design, which I don’t want to tamper with.  It’s not so much that the design is utterly brilliant, although it is very good; it’s more that Farfetch’d hits some very specific notes, culturally speaking, and it’s hard to think of a meaningful way to develop on that (especially given how little I actually know about Japanese culture).  If pressed, I would try to work with the idea that a duck carrying a green onion is symbolic of naïveté; in his evolved form, which I think should have perhaps a small crest and slightly more varied colours but nothing bright or gaudy, Farfetch’d becomes wiser and worldlier.  He still carries his green onion, since he still needs it to survive, but he is normally quite reclusive and is highly practiced at keeping himself hidden.  While in the open, he often walks along the ground to conceal his own agility, only to spring into the air when attacked.  Rather than foraging for food himself, he often prefers to trick other Pokémon into leaving their own food unguarded, or even con them out of it.  His stats all increase, but their distribution doesn’t change much; his biggest strengths are still physical attack, special defence and speed, in that order.

I could actually sympathise, strange as this may seem, with a designer who consciously chose not to evolve Farfetch’d.  He may be desperate for the extra power, but I am wary at seizing if for him at the expense of his significant appeal.  Nonetheless, after more than ten years, I would have hoped someone could have come up with a design for a Farfetch’d evolution that wouldn’t ruin the adorable little guy.  I’ve seen suggestions by a number of people that Farfetch’d is supposed to suck, in keeping with the idea of naïveté, but I hope that’s not true; he’s an awesome Pokémon and doesn’t belong at the bottom.

The Top Ten Worst Pokémon Ever #3: Beautifly, Dustox and Their Associated Spawn

Why?  Just… why?

I understand that they like their Pokémon templates – things like “rodent-based Normal-type trash” and “Grass-Fire-Water starter trio.”  I know I spent most of last year complaining about it non-stop, but I understand.  I do.  It has to be comforting to have something in your game that you know will work the way you expect it to work, so you can go and innovate somewhere else without worrying too much about the basics.  I get it.

To design exactly the same Pokémon and act like no-one was ever going to know, on the other hand; that… just… look, it isn’t even that I don’t understand how they weighed up the pros and cons of what they were doing; it’s that I can’t actually comprehend what the pros were supposed to have been in the first place!

But that isn’t the worst part.

 

Ladies and gentlemen, meet Wurmple, Silcoon, Cascoon, Beautifly and Dustox, a family of Bug-types native to Hoenn.  Wurmple is basically Caterpie and Weedle shoehorned into a single body; every single characteristic of his design is shared by one of the two.  That’s… pretty much all you need to know.  Wurmple evolves into either Silcoon or Cascoon, based on factors which are randomly determined and impossible to predict or influence.  This is sort of a troll way to evolve, if you ask me, but it’s far from the worst (*cough*Vespiquen*cough*).  Silcoon and Cascoon themselves are, likewise, basically Metapod and Kakuna, except round and largely featureless.  There’s a bit in Cascoon’s Diamond version Pokédex entry which I initially thought was interesting, stating that the inside of Cascoon’s shell is very hot because all of its cells are working so feverishly towards its evolution, but then I found out that this same factoid was originally from Kakuna’s Sapphire version entry, so it’s official: the designers are completely shameless.  The one genuinely interesting thing about either of these Pokémon is that Cascoon apparently remembers every opponent it ever faces and every injury it ever suffers while waiting to evolve, so that it can get revenge when it finally does.  This doesn’t really tie in to what Dustox is like at all, though, so… eh, whatever.  Silcoon evolves into Beautifly, who is Butterfree, except that she makes no sense.  I guess I should elaborate.  Apparently Game Freak were, let’s be fair to them, aware of what people would think when they met Beautifly (this is also, I assume, the reason Beautifly’s art is so much more naturalistic than Butterfree’s) and decided to tell us that she actually has a brutal dark side; Beautifly is a savage hunter who will drain her prey’s vital fluids through her proboscis!  However, they spend just as much time talking about how Beautifly is a pollinator, which means, pretty unambiguously, that her main food source is nectar, not the blood of the innocent (exactly the same as Butterfree).  To top it off, the whole “she looks beautiful but actually she’s a vicious blood-sucker” thing was also done in the same set of games by Gorebyss, who pulled it off far more effectively.  Now, Dustox, to his credit, is not Beedrill.  Unfortunately, he is Venomoth.  Everything Dustox does – nocturnal behaviour, attraction to bright lights, scattering toxic powder, radar senses – was attributed to Venonat and Venomoth first, except for his irritating habit of swarming in brightly lit cities and devouring all the foliage he can find.  I admit that this is an interesting ecological detail and just the sort of thing I like, but it’s too little, too late for a Pokémon that is blatantly a cheap rip-off of a far more awesome pre-existing design.

But that isn’t the worst part either.

 

If you really want to use Butterfree, you can.  She has poor stats in everything except for special attack and special defence, coupled with one of the most awful type combinations in the entire game (Bug/Flying), but she does get one of the most useful abilities, Compoundeyes – a substantial accuracy boost to all of her attacks, including Sleep Powder.  A 97.5%-accurate sleep attack is nothing to sniff at.  I mean, if that’s really your thing you should probably just use a Pokémon that learns Spore, but if you really want to use Butterfree, you can.  Beautifly, on the other hand, has poor stats in everything except for special attack and attack (which she doesn’t use), coupled with the same awful type combination, and has abilities that are far less helpful in comparison.  Beautifly has a decent special movepool.  Pretty much all of her attacks are resisted by Steel-types, but otherwise she has impressive variety: Bug Buzz, Air Slash, Shadow Ball, Energy Ball and Psychic.  This is what she’s got.  Let her enjoy it.  Dustox has similar options (swapping Air Slash for Sludge Bomb) but minimal firepower; his focus is on defence and special defence.  Unfortunately, with his low hit point total, he fails at this even more comprehensively than Beautifly fails at offense. His support movepool basically consists of Light Screen, Toxic and Whirlwind.  If you’re going to use Dustox, you should probably get one from an older game so he can learn Roost and Giga Drain, because his low stats and unhelpful typing are quite enough for him to worry about without having to rely on weather-dependent healing from Moonlight.  Black and White have been very kind to both Beautifly and Dustox by giving them Quiver Dance (a.k.a. special sweeper in a can), which boosts speed, special attack and special defence all at once.  However, Beautifly is too slow and too delicate to get a chance to use it in the first place, while Dustox is too wimpy to do a respectable amount of damage anyway, and Steel-types in general still laugh at both of them.  The Dream World mocked Beautifly and Dustox mercilessly by giving Beautifly the Rivalry ability (when facing an opponent of the same gender, she does more damage with physical attacks – which she doesn’t really use anyway) and Dustox the Compoundeyes ability (even though he doesn’t learn a single attack that is less than 90% accurate).

But even that isn’t the worst part.

 Beautifly using Silver Wind, by Pearl7 (http://pearlsaurus.fc2web.com).

The worst part is that now I have to save them.  And since it is an iron law of Pokémon design that nothing ever evolves more than twice, further evolution for either of them is out of the question; no ifs, no buts.

Fetch me a case of Bitter Poffins and four bottles of twelve-year-old Max Elixir.  It’s going to be a long night.

The easiest thing to do would have been just to use Butterfree and Beedrill, because even though they’re pretty bad, at least they aren’t rip-offs as well.  That would be a cop-out though.  Leavanny and Scolipede proved that it isn’t impossible to do this concept in a way that’s different and fresh.  I can’t exactly do a complete redesign, though, because that would be missing… whatever vaguely-defined point I’m trying to make here.  I do have… one idea.  It’s a little trippy, but sacrifices must be made; this is Beautifly and Dustox we’re talking about, so here we go.  Butterflies traditionally symbolise the human soul, right?  I can work with that.

 Dustox using Toxic, by the same artist.

Beautifly is now Bug/Psychic and Dustox is now Bug/Ghost (with appropriately adjusted movepools, and matching colour schemes; I wouldn’t change them radically, but give Beautifly a more vibrant and surreal palette and Dustox a darker, more sinister one).  I know I made a bunch of uncomfortable noises about retconning things like this when I was doing Sunflora, but, well, desperate times and all that.  Wurmple are found in all the usual forest-type places where Bug Pokémon like to hang out, but adult Dustox are associated with Mount Pyre and Beautifly with Sootopolis City and the Cave of Origin.  In general, Beautifly are ‘active’ – they’re feisty and can be aggressive if provoked, but are also playful – while Dustox are ‘passive’ – they prefer to avoid fights and spend a lot of their time zoning out.  Their presence stirs up corresponding emotions in people and Pokémon, and they grow healthy and strong by spending time with people whose personalities match their own.  I would fold Silcoon and Cascoon into a single Pokémon, and have them split off at the final stage instead – that way, we can say that the determining factor in the split is the kind of emotions that the Pokémon is surrounded by in its cocoon stage.  Like many real-world moth species, Dustox do not eat after reaching adulthood (the mass defoliation mentioned in the Pokédex is a result of the soporific aura emitted by large groups of Dustox causing trees to prematurely shed their leaves as they do in Autumn).  Beautifly can and do consume sweet liquids for enjoyment or for quick bursts of energy, but both species are believed to live primarily off the psychic emanations of humans and Pokémon.  I could go on, but I need to give them some actual toys.  Quiver Dance is sure nice for Beautifly but she’s still hamstrung by her slowness and frailty.  In keeping with the flavour I have in mind for her, I want to give her an ability that doubles her speed, analogous to Medicham’s Pure Power (call it Blinding Speed or something) and a signature move, Energy Flare (a powerful Psychic attack that often reduces a target’s special defence).  Dustox gets one too, Energy Drain (a Ghost attack that converts damage to health for Dustox, like Giga Drain), as well as access to Reflect, Sleep Powder and Stun Spore.  For an ability… I want to give him Dragonite’s Multiscale (if you’re at full health, attacks that hit you do half damage), because, hey, moths have scales!  Both of them get Aura Sphere too, because it fits and it will help.  That’s… a lot of very cool stuff.  I doubt it’s cool enough to get them into the élite, but at least the other Bug-types will stop laughing at them.

I warned you it was going to be trippy.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to polish off the last of my Max Elixir and pass out in the bath.

The Top Ten Worst Pokémon Ever, #10: Delibird

Alone of all the Pokémon on my Top Ten list, Delibird makes me feel a little guilty about putting him on here, which is why I’ve shunted him all the way down to #10, of course.  Why?  Well, on my very first play-through of Silver version, all those years ago, I had a Delibird.  He was absolutely useless, bless his little heart, but he tried his best and I loved him for it (I was young and naïve, and still believed the Nintendo propaganda that any Pokémon could be powerful if you worked hard enough at it).  A rare Ice Pokémon found in the coldest part of Johto, Delibird is a cute if somewhat awkward-looking red-and-white bird with a long, wide tail that he wraps around himself to serve as a sack for carrying food.  He looks a little like a penguin, and some aspects of his design make me think of puffins and similar seabirds, nesting on rocky cliff-faces and carrying food to their chicks all day.  Delibird aren’t actually marine Pokémon; they live in high mountains, although I suspect that the specialised tail is an indicator that they naturally have a very wide foraging range, possibly covering many terrain types.  They seem to be an inherently altruistic species, as they have a reputation for sharing the food they’ve gathered with lost travellers.  In various contexts outside of the main series of games, Delibird are often employed by humans as messengers and couriers because of their natural delivery habits and unusual intelligence.  The associations with delivery make clear the real inspiration for Delibird’s design: with his red-and-white colour scheme, his sack of goods, and even a white feathery ‘beard,’ this is nothing other than the Pokémon Santa Claus.  It’s a strange idea, to be sure, but it hasn’t been pushed beyond the boundaries of good taste; Delibird’s dedication to collection and delivering food to his offspring is a sensible way of translating the gift-giving idea onto an animal, especially since it exaggerates the habits of many real birds rather than coming completely out of nowhere.  Physically, Delibird looks a bit odd, and you have to wonder how he manages to fly with those penguin flippers (I suppose it doesn’t require that much more suspension of disbelief than, say, Dragonite with his dinky little wings), but the bright scarlet of his body and the white of his downy tufts make him look cheerful, cute, and most importantly different from all the other innumerable bird Pokémon.  What I’m saying, in short, is that my guilt about putting Delibird in the Top Ten Worst Pokémon Ever, even at number ten, isn’t just about my own fond memories of the little guy; I genuinely think this is a well-executed concept.  If that’s the case, you may well ask, then what on earth did he do to deserve this treatment?


Artwork of the Delibird card from the Heart Gold and Soul Silver set of the Pokémon trading card game.

To be blunt, although I may have a soft spot for Delibird, he is undeniably one of the most useless Pokémon ever created.  To start with, his stats are terrible; in fact, Delibird has the worst stats of any adult Pokémon (discounting Ditto, Smeargle and Shedinja, and tied with… one of the other Pokémon on my Top Ten list).  His speed is barely average, his attack and special attack scores are worse, and his defences are nothing short of appalling.  To add insult to injury, left to his own devices Delibird will only ever learn one attack: his phenomenally bad signature move, Present, a Normal-type attack with variable power; sometimes it’ll be terrible, sometimes it’ll be decent and occasionally it will do a great deal of damage… but, then again, sometimes it will actually heal its target.  Needless to say, if you’re brave enough ever to use Delibird, you should avoid Present at all costs and teach him something worthwhile.  The trouble is, there’s very little you can teach him.  Since we’ve established that Delibird is marginally less terrible offensively than defensively, you might look at his available special attacks… and learn that he can only manage Ice attacks, plus Future Sight (a Psychic attack which is admittedly powerful, but doesn’t hit until two turns after being used).  His physical movepool is arguably better; Ice Punch is weaker than Ice Beam, but if you’re importing Delibird from an earlier game, old TMs and move tutors give him access to Focus Punch for punishing Steel-types, Seed Bomb for Water-types, and Body Slam to spread paralysis (as well as Signal Beam and, if you’re desperate, Water Pulse on the special side), none of which make me jump up and down with excitement, but Delibird needs everything he can find.  Even though Delibird himself is even more inept with physical attacks than special attacks, his Hustle trait compensates by letting him trade accuracy for power on all of his physical moves (and since Aerial Ace can never miss anyway, that’s win-win for Delibird).  The sad thing is that even with Hustle, Delibird’s attacks are fairly impressive but not game-changing, especially considering that Brick Break, Ice Punch and Aerial Ace are quite low-power anyway, and that missing even once will probably doom Delibird thanks to his papery defence stats.  The two alternative abilities to Hustle, Insomnia and Vital Spirit, do exactly the same thing, just to troll the poor bird – they grant Delibird immunity to sleep, which is useful, don’t get me wrong, but only a minor benefit, and it’s hard to forego Hustle for that since it represents the closest thing to a niche Delibird can ever hope to attain.  Delibird’s support movepool is, if that’s possible, even worse, with but a single gem: Rapid Spin.  Rapid Spin clears away the nasty pointed things scattered by the very popular Stealth Rock, Spikes and Toxic Spikes techniques, which would otherwise cause damage to your Pokémon every time you switched one in.  There are perhaps a dozen Rapid Spinners in the entire game, and Delibird bears the dubious honour of being the worst one, since he’s the only one afflicted with a double-weakness to Stealth Rock, and therefore loses a full 50% of his health just from switching in while the move is in effect.

Delibird portrayed in a more realistic style by Luckybaka (http://luckybaka.deviantart.com/).  I sort of wanted a picture of a fake Delibird evolution, but I couldn't find any that I liked; this is very well done, though.

Now, then: how do we fix this?  With the right attacks or abilities, you can go a long way on surprisingly little, but I think Delibird’s stats are just too far gone, barring some sort of absurd custom item or ability, which means we have little choice but to evolve him.  I am loathe to do so, since much of the appeal of Delibird’s art is in its neatness and simplicity, and I’m not sure where evolution could take the design; in particular I am worried about the risk of inflating the Santa Claus influences, which would quickly make the whole thing irredeemably tacky.  Again, though, there is little choice; Delibird needs a boost to all of his stats.  The second thing to do is repair that dreadful signature move.  Delibird is the Delivery Pokémon, and Present signifies an attack using the eclectic contents of his delivery sack.  There’s already an attack that lets a Pokémon throw its held item – Fling, a Dark attack – and Delibird actually learns it; he just doesn’t want to use it because the only item that does enough damage to make a single-shot Dark attack worthwhile is an Iron Ball, the weight of which strips Delibird of the solitary advantage his Ice/Flying typing gives him (immunity to Ground attacks) until after he’s thrown it.  Flinging a Flame Orb or Toxic Orb does only minor damage but provides a reliable, accurate burning or poisoning attack; again though, those items will make Delibird suffer as long as he holds them.  Now, we’ve established that Delibird’s Dream World ability, Insomnia, is completely redundant to one of his regular abilities, Vital Spirit (do you see where I’m going with this yet?).  So, when he evolves, let’s have Insomnia change to Klutz, Lopunny’s ability, which renders a Pokémon both unable to use items and immune to their negative effects.  Then, let’s rewrite Present into a version of Fling that can be used multiple times; Delibird doesn’t have just one Iron Ball, he’s got a whole bag of them (also, change the dumb rule that says a Pokémon with Klutz can’t use Fling).  Lopunny takes advantage of Klutz by using the Switcheroo technique to swap harmful items onto her opponents while stripping them of their beneficial items; Delibird is going to take advantage of it by simply bombarding targets with whatever dangerous cargo he’s carrying.  Fighting with items is exactly what Delibird’s flavour and signature move suggest he should be good at doing; this would allow him to do it properly.  He’s going to need some more attacks as well (I’d suggest U-Turn, Acrobatics, Air Slash, Light Screen, Stockpile, Endeavour, Baton Pass and Agility, for starters) but that’s the substance of what I’d want to change.
 
Unlike most of the Pokémon in my Top Ten, I really genuinely want to see Delibird succeed… I just know in my heart it’s never going to happen.  So I’m going to have to take out my frustrations on the other nine!