Volcanion

Last one!  Let’s do this!  Booyeah!  Volcanion!

Volcanion.

 

I’ve wanted to see a Water/Fire Pokémon for a long time (and indeed my readers were kind enough to give me one early last year), mostly because I’m interested in the relationship between the two elements.  They’re often considered opposites, and Water is Fire’s greatest and best-known weakness, but the combination of the two produces something that’s incredibly powerful in its own way – steam, which drove many of the machines of the industrial revolution and is still an important component of multiple ways of generating electricity today.  The fact that we even deal with steam on a regular basis is pretty amazing in itself, because there’s actually no other compound besides water that naturally exists on Earth as a solid (ice), a liquid, and a gas, which is one of the many things that make water a bizarre and incredible compound.  Volcanion commands this stuff, the most dynamic and potentially destructive form of the substance all life on Earth depends on – not a bad gig for a legendary Pokémon, if you ask me.

Volcanion, it turns out, is the mysterious Pokémon who has been occupying the time of the long-absent editor-in-chief of Lumiose Press.  She has been gathering information about Volcanion for fifteen years, and has apparently learned precious little in that time, much of it not terribly interesting.  The gist is that Volcanion has a variety of steam powers.  Some of these are quite low-key: he can create a cloud of obscuring fog around himself, for example, making it easier to maintain his isolated existence in the mountains.  Others are terrifying and destructive: Volcanion can vaporise water almost instantly inside a specialised organ (presumably similar in nature to the fire sacks that fuel the attacks of many Fire Pokémon) to create devastating steam explosions.  These are the natural result of water boiling extremely rapidly when it hits something ridiculously hot – gases take up a lot more space than liquids do, and the force created by all that water expanding at such a tremendous rate can cause pretty heavy physical damage to anything in its way (not to mention any damage caused by the heat of the boiling steam).  In the real world, we most often see major steam explosions during volcanic eruptions when lava flows reach water, which presumably is where Volcanion’s name comes from; we might conjecture that he creates steam by combining water and lava – though if so, it’s odd that he doesn’t seem to learn Lava Plume.  Steam explosions are also a major hazard in nuclear power plants – if molten nuclear fuel comes into contact with the coolant water during a meltdown, damage from the resulting steam explosion can make it much harder to bring the system back under control.  I’ve actually seen people speculate that Volcanion’s rather odd physical design is somehow based on a nuclear reactor, with the two interlocking arms that arch over his back representing coolant rods.  Although I must admit I can’t really come up with a better explanation for Volcanion’s body shape, I’m rather inclined to doubt that Game Freak would really want to go there, given that Japan is still dealing with the effects of the second-worst nuclear disaster ever, the 2011 Fukushima crisis.  It just seems like kind of an insensitive move.  Obviously my insight into their creative processes is limited, but even if the designers themselves had no problem with the idea of a Pokémon based on a nuclear reactor, I don’t think they’d be willing to take the risk of one of their legendary Pokémon being suppressed in the way that poor Whiscash was following earthquakes in 2004.  This means, of course, that I have absolutely no idea what Volcanion is supposed to be.

 One of many absurdly scenic vistas in France's largest volcanic formation.

Volcanion, of course, is a legendary Pokémon, which means that he must by definition be capable of true absurdity in the exploitation of his steam powers – supposedly, the steam explosions he creates can actually demolish entire mountains.  In fact, Volcanion is said to be revered in southern Kalos for precisely this reason; supposedly southern Kalosians believe that the plain on which they live was created when Volcanion blasted a mountain to rubble.  Now, there’s actually not a whole lot in southern Kalos.  Kiloude City is described as a “typical example of southern Kalosian life,” and the same is (speaking very broadly) true of its real-world equivalent, Lyon, which is the second-largest city in France.  Kiloude City is not on a plain, though – not even close; it’s surrounded by mountains, to such an extent that it’s actually inaccessible in the game except by air or high-speed train.  This is more or less what that part of France is actually like – it corresponds to the Massif Central, a large elevated region of difficult hills, mountains and plateaux created by volcanism throughout the Cenozoic era, the most recent eruptions being as little as six or seven thousand years ago (in geological terms that’s practically last Thursday).  Other than Kiloude City, the southernmost town in Kalos is… well, the player’s home, Vaniville Town.  Vaniville Town doesn’t really correspond all that closely to any real towns in France, as far as I can see, but it is fairly close to Clermont-Ferrand, the largest city in France’s Auvergne region (I would be readier to identify it with the larger Aquacorde Town, except that Aquacorde sits right on what seems to the fork where the Allier river joins the Loire, and Clermont-Ferrand is further south than that).  Clermont-Ferrand is right on the eastern edge of France’s largest volcanic formation, the Chaîne des Puys (which… literally just means “Chain of [volcanic] Hills,” puy being a local word specific to the Auvergnat dialect).  The Chaîne des Puys is extremely unusual for being an area of significant volcanic activity that is nowhere near a plate boundary; studies of the siteby 19th century English geologist George Poulett Scrope have become classics of the field and made terribly important contributions to the development of volcanology as a modern science, and the whole chain of hills is currently the subject of a campaign to have it declared a UNESCO world heritage site.  More interestingly to me, the area has been exploited as farmland on and off for at least the past two thousand years, since the Gallo-Roman period.  Volcanic soil is extremely rich, and the more level zones in and around the Chaîne des Puys are no exception.  I’m inclined to suspect, then, that what Volcanion did all those millennia ago was pulverise a good chunk of the Kalosian equivalent to the Chaîne des Puys, in the process reducing huge amounts of volcanic rock to mineral dust that still contributes to the fertility of the land, including the part of Kalos where X and Y’s protagonists grew up.  For what reason Volcanion did this, I couldn’t say; hell, maybe the people who lived there before the ancestors of the modern Kalosians had offended him somehow and paid the price.

I’m not entirely sure this actually tells us anything about Volcanion, and I’m certainly not sure that Game Freak even had this specific volcanic field in mind when they designed him, but on the bright side, I can now legitimately deploy the sentence “yes, of course I know about the geology of south-central France; I have a blog about Pokémon,” which I am fairly confident is something no one on Earth has ever before had cause to say.

 Volcanion's 'arms' unlock to fire off what is presumably his signature move, Steam Eruption.

As with Hoopa, spending too much time navel-gazing about what exactly Volcanion can do is somewhat counter-productive since it could still change quite a lot before Game Freak ever even admit that Volcanion exists, but hey, if you’ve gotten through all that stuff about the hypothetical geology of Kalos you will have figured out that “somewhat counterproductive” is basically my highest aspiration in life.  Volcanion is a special tank – slow, quite tough, and with all the firepower you could want.  Fire/Water is not a great offensive combination, leaving both Dragon and Water as holes in Volcanion’s coverage, but it’s decent defensively, and the extra immunity to Water attacks that he gets from the Water Absorb ability certainly doesn’t hurt (the fact that Volcanion can’t heal himself, barring Rest, makes it doubly important).  Fire, as always, comes with a choice of two extremely powerful special attacks, Overheat and Fire Blast, while on the Water side, Volcanion has a nasty signature move – Steam Eruption, as powerful as Hydro Pump, significantly more accurate, and carrying a solid chance to burn its target.  Focus Blast rounds out his special movepool, and Earth Power seems like a solid bet for the Alpha Sapphire and Omega Ruby move tutors.  Flash Cannon and Solarbeam are in there too, but Solarbeam needs sunlight to work properly, and sunlight is something that Volcanion, unlike most Fire Pokémon, will generally want to avoid, while Flash Cannon is really only useful against Fairy Pokémon, and even then Volcanion’s primary attacks are better against most of them.  Volcanion also has a perfectly respectable attack stat and can use Flare Blitz, Earthquake, Stone Edge, or even Explosion in a pinch to take out Pokémon with very strong special defence.  Flame Charge is also notable for being the only way he can increase his speed, and although it’s not a great one, the prospect of this thing sitting on a speed stat high enough to actually sweep is really quite terrifying.  There’s not a whole lot in there for a support angle, to be honest.  Volcanion is tough enough that Roar isn’t a terrible idea, but I don’t think there’s anything to particularly recommend him as a user of that move either.  Will’o’Wisp is neat, but an odd thing to spend a moveslot on for a Pokémon whose best attack already has a 30% chance to cause a burn.  Body Slam’s paralysis possibilities are amusing for a fairly slow Pokémon like Volcanion, but it doesn’t help your type coverage and Volcanion’s damage is weaker on the physical side.  This Pokémon blows things up.  He’s pretty good at it.  Why complicate things? 

So, that’s Volcanion.  It still bugs me that I don’t know what’s behind his weird six-limbed, diamond-bodied design; I’m also slightly bothered that the editor of Lumiose Press managed to get a little bit of Volcanion’s mythology but stopped short of any specifics, but then again, Volcanion’s odds of starring in a movie, like Keldeo and Genesect did, are pretty good, and I suspect the vague references to destroying mountains in southern Kalos are meant to form a hook for that.  It’s kind of difficult to figure out what exactly Game Freak mean to do with these Pokémon they try to hide – or even whether they have anything particularly momentous in mind at all; Meloetta didn’t really do anything special, and I don’t think we ever found out what the deal with her lost red shoes was supposed to be.  Fingers crossed for Volcanion, I suppose.  And…

…that’s it!  I’m done!  Yes!  Go me!

…oh, GODS, I’m done!  Now I have to do SOMETHING ELSE for you bloodsucking vulture-hounds!  And it probably has to MAKE SENSE too, and you have no idea how AWFUL that is.

Just… I don’t know, go away and eat some cake for a little while.  That’s what I’m going to do, anyway.

Hoopa

Hoopa.

And now we get to the weird stuff.  The last two Pokémon in generation VI – Hoopa and Volcanion – have never been officially revealed by Nintendo or Game Freak, and their existence has been kept a closely-guarded secret.  Obviously, we’ve all known about both of them for months.  There’s simply no way Game Freak can compete with the collective time, energy and resources of all the computer-literate Pokémon fans on the planet, so Hoopa and Volcanion’s names, Pokédex data, powers and sprites, along with the dialogue of the characters involved with their events, were all quite promptly extracted from the games and made public on the internet, just as happened for Genesect, Meloetta and Keldeo before them, and Darkrai, Shaymin and Arceus before that.  I’m coming to seriously wonder why they even bother to keep up the charade anymore; they must know that they can’t keep these things secret.  Then again, I suppose if the publicity blitz surrounding each big reveal helps them drum up customers for the inevitable movies, I’m not going to deny them their little bit of theatre.  Anyway, let’s get on with our penultimate sixth-generation Pokémon, whose secrets are much better kept than Game Freak’s – the mischievous psychic spirit Hoopa.

Most of what we know about Hoopa comes from a dialogue with a backpacker in the library of the Parfum Palace, which will apparently be activated if you speak to him while she is in your active party.  A vaguely humanoid Pokémon with two large bull-like horns and a wispy lower body, Hoopa appears to get her name from the three golden rings – hoops, if you will – that she wears, one on each of her horns, and one about her waist.  These things have the power to distort space and create wormholes that Hoopa can use to move objects (and people!) from place to place.  Hoopa herself can also travel through the rings, and uses them to make surprise attacks against her opponents from all directions with her signature Hyperspace Hole technique.  The rings can even distort their own sizes, allowing Hoopa to fit larger things through them… supposedly, up to and including entire islands when she achieves her “full power” (more on that later).  Hoopa is a mischievous Pokémon, and primarily uses her space-warping abilities to screw with people – she likes to steal things and send them to distant places.  She supposedly has a lair in the middle of a desert somewhere, filled with all the gold and other precious treasures she’s stolen from powerful rulers and aristocrats over the years.  No-one has ever been able to find this place, possibly because it’s not really a place at all, according to conventional human understanding.  If Hoopa’s power lets her warp space – not merely teleport as other Psychic Pokémon do but actually alter the physical distance between two points – perhaps Hoopa’s oasis and treasure pile have never been found because she has hidden them, folded them into a sort of pocket of space that doesn’t obey normal geography and can’t be seen or accessed from the outside.  I have no idea whether this is really within her power or not, but it seems like a logical extension of the way her wormhole abilities are said to work, and it certainly fits with her crafty, mischievous personality to have a clever way of concealing all her loot.

To illustrate the way Hoopa tends to work, a story is told about an unnamed organisation that tried to “manipulate Hoopa’s power for their own benefit.”  Who these people are is left vague, though I think it’s probably reasonable to infer that their group’s name began with the word “Team.”  Moreover, I’m inclined to suspect that their motives were less than noble – Hoopa uses her powers to steal, and it seems likely that anyone attempting to “manipulate” her had motives equally nefarious or more so (rather than, say, seeking to reverse-engineer Hoopa’s space-warping abilities into new forms of travel or storage).  Unfortunately for them, Hoopa apparently had no need of a plucky young Pokémon trainer to join forces with her at the eleventh hour and defeat the bad guys against all odds.  The moment she got wind of what our mystery antagonists were up to, their money and equipment started to disappear mysteriously.  Eventually, confused and frightened by these events, they boarded themselves up in their headquarters to wait it out… only to find, when they emerged, that the entire building had been moved to the middle of a huge desert!  The fact that Hoopa chose to put them in the desert is interesting, since her own lair is supposed to be in a desert.  Could it be the same place?  If so, was this not merely an act of self-defence but also Hoopa’s greatest heist ever – not just to steal from a group of thieves but to steal the thieves themselves?  Regardless of Hoopa’s exact motivation, it seems to be implied in the story that her enemies did manage to make it out of the desert and return home, where their group disbanded and was never heard from again.

 Eh... maybe not...

While I’m not really fond of trying to pick out specific mythical inspirations for legendary Pokémon, since I believe that they more often aim to channel general archetypes than individual characters from specific mythologies, I would not be the first person to have seen shades of Arabian djinn (singular djinni, whence the English ‘genie’) in Hoopa.  The wispy lower body and gold jewellery fit reasonably well with depictions of djinn, particularly modern imaginings, and the horns wouldn’t be terribly out of place either.  Certainly Hoopa’s penchant for theft and mischief accords well with djinn, who are sometimes equated with demons, although there is no shortage of supernatural creatures from mythologies around the world who enjoy playing tricks on humans.  Also, for me at least, the tales of her hoard of loot hidden in the middle of the desert are reminiscent of nothing so much as the story of Ali Baba and the treasure-stuffed cave of the Forty Thieves, from the Thousand and One Nights, the standard ‘big book of Arabian mythology.’  I think there’s enough in there to suggest that the designers may have had one eye on that part of the world, at least when putting together Hoopa’s appearance.  Data extracted from the recently-released demo of Alpha Sapphire and Omega Ruby indicates that Hoopa will have some manner of powered-up form as well, a frighteningly powerful Psychic/Dark attacker, and in terms of her physical appearance, the change is quite dramatic – Hoopa is surrounded by six disembodied arms, each apparently reaching out of a hyperspace ring, and another ring sits in her belly, opening into a void.  The six arms make this Hoopa more evocative of a Hindu deity – but then again, since she retains her horns and wicked talons, and gains an arrowhead tail, contributing overall to something of a ‘demonic’ appearance, perhaps it would be more appropriate to look to the Hindu gods’ perennial rivals, the demon asuras.  This form is presumably the “full power” described by the backpacker studying Hoopa who features in her event.  It seems like it’s probably not a mega evolution, because it has slightly different level-up moves to Hoopa’s regular form, including a new signature move called Hyperspace Fury, which seems to be similar to Hoopa’s existing Hyperspace Hole technique but is a Dark-type attack rather than a Psychic-type one and is significantly more powerful.  I don’t think there’s actually anything in the game mechanics that makes it impossible for a Mega Pokémon to have a different level-up set – just much more annoying, in all likelihood.  This form also gets a slightly smaller stat bonus than other Mega Pokémon do (although, so does Mega Alakazam – probably as a result of Alakazam’s normal form also getting a slight increase to special defence over his generation V stats).  What exactly is involved in attaining this ‘full power,’ assuming it’s not mega evolution, is currently unknown, as is the case for Zygarde.

The best-quality image anyone seems to have so far of the in-game model for Hoopa's alternate form.

Any conversation on the subject of using Hoopa is of course entirely theoretical at this stage, since Game Freak hasn’t yet admitted that she exists and we have no idea how that alternate form works.  However, we can certainly pick out several points from what we already know.  Ghost/Psychic, first of all, is something of an unfortunate type combination to be stuck with in the world of X and Y.  Ghost and Dark attacks are both far more popular now than in the past, in the wake of the elimination of Steel’s resistances to them, and Hoopa’s unique type combination saddles her with double-weaknesses to both.  Poor speed and defence – even by non-legendary standards – also make her a sitting duck for attacks like Pursuit, and her high attack stat isn’t much use to her, as her physical movepool is nearly nonexistent.  It’s not all bad, though – Hoopa enjoys fantastic special attack and special defence scores, and has a decent array of special attacks to choose from, including Shadow Ball, Psychic, Psyshock, Thunderbolt, Charge Beam, Energy Ball and Focus Blast, as well as the aforementioned signature move, Hyperspace Hole, which is weaker than Psychic but never misses, and ignores Protect and Detect.  Calm Mind is in her movepool, but seems inadvisable on Pokémon with poor physical defence and no efficient means of healing.  She gets Trick Room, but unfortunately isn’t that slow and can’t make the most effective use of it.  Overall, she seems to be a little on the weak side for a legendary Pokémon, partly because of an unhelpful stat distribution that emphasises a skill (attack) that she can’t really use very well anyway.  The alternate form only continues that trend, with most of her bonus points from the transformation going into attack, to further improve all those devastating physical attacks she has like Phantom Force, Return, Brick Break and… uh… Thief, and stuff.  The change to Psychic/Dark is, on the whole, probably a positive – losing Ghost-type immunities is painful, but they probably wouldn’t have been worth the hassle of those Ghost and Dark weaknesses anyway.  It also adds Dark Pulse to her movepool, although to be honest you’re probably just going to be using Hyperspace Fury for her Dark attack anyway; as far as I can tell the only other new thing in there of any consequence is Knock Off, which… well, it’s a physical attack, and Hoopa’s physical attack stat is going through the roof no matter what you do, so hey, may as well roll with it.  She’s certainly not going to be bad, though – I mean, her special attack goes up as well, and at that point she’ll be tied for sixth-highest in the game, behind Mega Mewtwo Y, Attack-form Deoxys, Mega Rayquaza, Primal Kyogre, and Mega Alakazam, so… yeah.  She’s gonna be nuking stuff.

Hoopa’s no mysterious primal guardian or embodiment of an eternal force – she’s legendary because she built herself a legend, a legend of increasingly daring and ridiculous thefts that spans entire centuries and has never been pinned down to fact or fiction, and that legend isn’t over yet.  For once, I’m actually kind of intrigued to see what will happen when Hoopa inevitably stars in one of those godawful movies.  Will she be a hero, or a villain?  It’s going to be a lot of fun finding out.

Carbink and Diancie

Carbink.

I’ve decided to do Carbink and Diancie together because, although not actually related by evolution in the normal sense, they are apparently part of the same species: according to the Pokédex, Diancie actually develop from Carbink who possess an incredibly rare mutation.  This mutation is impossible to predict or influence, so there’s no way to evolve a Carbink or breed a Diancie in the game, but take Game Freak’s word for it, that’s where Diancie comes from.  For this reason – and also because there’s, uh… actually a whole lot I don’t know about Diancie – today we’re going to cover both of them, and the relationship between them, which is sort of interesting in itself.  Here we go!

Carbink are incredibly ancient Pokémon.  Like Roggenrola, they are born and grow deep inside the earth, belonging to an ecosystem that is utterly alien to the humans and Pokémon of the surface world.  Like the diamonds (which, of course, are made of carbon) that dominate their bodies, Carbink are formed in conditions of extreme heat and pressure; they’re genderless, so presumably they don’t breed, but just grow spontaneously from diamond ore somehow.  Some Carbink have supposedly spent hundreds of millions of years in hibernation, awoken only by human mining activity – meaning that some individual Carbink are older than entire species of fossil Pokémon like Rampardos and Tyrantrum, and that their own species has remained almost entirely unchanged this whole time.  I once made the suggestion that maybe the reason all fossil Pokémon are Rock-types is because Pokémon originally evolved from rocks, and at the time I was being entirely tongue-in-cheek, but every now and then I do notice something that makes me think “oh, gods above, what if I was actually right?”  The realisation that possibly the oldest surviving species in the known world is basically a sentient diamond definitely makes today one of those times (it bears mentioning, though, that if any Pokémon were going to survive that long, of course it would be a Rock-type).  It’s entirely possible – if speculative – that Carbink are the original (non-legendary) Pokémon.  Most natural diamonds in the real world are over a billion years old, and a similar age for some Carbink doesn’t seem out of the question.  The other Pokémon you might suspect of being similarly ancient, Pokémon like Geodude and Roggenrola, are gendered; they reproduce – or at least, they can reproduce – by normal breeding, if anything about Pokémon breeding can be called ‘normal,’ so I’d presume their species are the end results of long-term evolutionary developments, in a way that Carbink apparently isn’t.  Forget Mew (my thoughts on her can be found elsewhere), here’s your ancestor Pokémon, or something like it, anyway: unimaginably ancient, with an extremely simple body structure, barely organic, born spontaneously from abiotic physical processes, and apparently incapable of ageing.

You know, I’m sort of used to regarding Rock as one of the more mundane elements, but when you stop to think about them, Rock Pokémon are weird.

 Diancie.

I remember being sure, when I first met Carbink on X, “this thing isn’t done evolving,” and being quite surprised when I realised that there was no empty space for an evolution in my Pokédex.  I now feel rather vindicated by the fact that, although Carbink don’t really evolve, as such, they do transform occasionally into a much more powerful Pokémon: Diancie, a pink diamond Pokémon with incredible powers.  Diancie can create diamonds at will by extracting carbon from the carbon dioxide in the air and condensing it – interesting, given the stuff I was just saying about Carbink, since this is basically a brute-force method of carbon fixation; Diancie does with raw magical power what plants and Grass Pokémon do by the more elegant and sophisticated biochemistry of photosynthesis.  That’s another point that I can semi-reasonably twist towards my interpretation of Carbink and Diancie as extremely basic ancestral forms of life.  Diancie features prominently in the movie Diancie and the Cocoon of Destruction, which was released in Japan earlier this year but has yet to make an appearance in English, as well as in a little anime short released ahead of the movie to introduce her character, entitled Diancie, Princess of the Ore Country.  I’ve only seen a little teaser from the movie, but from what I can gather, the gist of it is as follows.  Diancie is a kind and fun-loving, if somewhat capricious, Pokémon who is doted on by a community of Carbink, who call her their “princess” (Diancie and the Carbink can all speak telepathically) and believe that she has an important destiny.  Their home is protected by the magic of a huge pink diamond, which is nearing the end of its ‘life,’ and apparently Diancie is supposed to create a new one for them, but she, despite her best efforts, just can’t do it.  At his wits’ end, the eldest Carbink sends her on a quest to find Xerneas, who had once saved him and countless other Pokémon from a terrible, probably Yveltal-related destruction when he was young.  Presumably we can count on Ash to pull some kind of super friendship bull$#!t to help Diancie realise that the magic was inside her all along or whatever.  What we see here, then, is that Diancie are special Carbink who are revered for their extraordinary powers, and are believed to be destined to help and protect their communities.  As such, they are treated as royalty and waited on hand and foot – and not without good reason.  With her power to create diamonds, literally from thin air, Diancie could easily have some important role in creating new Carbink, ensuring the long-term survival of the community like the queen of an ant colony or a beehive.

In terms of its stats, Carbink has a similar shape to Shuckle, though not quite as extreme: all defence, all the time.  Its poor HP means that it can’t really make the best possible use of its titanic defence and special defence stats, but with appropriate training it can be pretty damn solid, and Rock/Fairy is a decent defensive combination too, netting it useful resistances to Dark, Fire and Flying attacks, as well as Dragon immunity.  The difficulty with Carbink is that it can’t do anything to hurt its opponents – not just through direct damage, but through… well, anything, really.  Other than Toxic, it doesn’t have any particularly interesting moves that weaken, restrict or disable.  Granted, Carbink’s not the worstPokémon ever to use Toxic, but Toxic-stalling itself simply isn’t a very effective way of killing things at the best of times.  For team support, you can use Reflect, Light Screen, Stealth Rock and Trick Room, all of which are available to plenty of Pokémon who are also actually good at other things.  You can try a Calm Mind set with Moonblast, Power Gem (which X and Y powered up into near-relevance) and Psychic.  I don’t really know why you would try that.  Carbink’s special attack is so abysmal that it takes one Calm Mind just to catch up with the likes of Aromatisse and Aurorus, who are not all that spectacular themselves, and it will still be horribly slow unless you want to tempt fate by using Rock Polish as well.  But you can.  You can also try ditching Power Gem and Psychic for Rest and Sleep Talk, which are Carbink’s only option for healing.  Rest + Sleep Talk + boosting technique + attack is a perfectly legitimate thing to do; it has been since at least generation III and possibly even II.  I don’t think I would go so far as to say that Carbink is good at it, but it’s marginally less bad than it is at most other things.  Carbink has two abilities, Clear Body (immunity to stat reduction) and Sturdy (immunity to being one-shot), and I think probably the one to go with is Clear Body, because one of Carbink’s few virtues is that only the strongest of super-effective attacks are likely to one-shot the damn thing anyway.

Diancie is another story entirely.

 Diancie's mega form.

When you look at how Carbink handles in battle, it seems a lot like it’s really just supposed to be an accessory to Diancie.  She has the same HP, defence, special defence and speed stats, but much better attack and special attack, allowing her to actually fight back against her enemies.  Diancie is a bit odd – she looks like she’s supposed to be a special attacker, and her main Fairy attack, Moonblast, is special, but her offensive stats are actually balanced, and her signature move, Diamond Storm, is physical.  She also doesn’t get Power Gem, which is doubly weird because (apart from the addition of Diamond Storm), her level-up list is otherwise identical to Carbink’s.  She just swaps Power Gem for Trick Room, which seems like a questionable choice, flavour-wise, for a gem Pokémon, but I suppose Diancie herself is slow enough to benefit from it, and tough enough to work as a supporter.  Anyway.  Anything Carbink can do, Diancie can do better.  Her main niche seems to be as a sort of mixed physical/special tank thing; she still doesn’t have any way to heal herself aside from Rest, which is unfortunate.  Diamond Storm is a big selling point for her, though – aside from being an awesome name for an attack, it’s a Rock-type move just as powerful as Stone Edge but much more accurate, and can raise her defence when she uses it.  What’s not to like?  As legendary Pokémon go, Diancie actually isn’t that great – she just inherits too much of Carbink’s terribleness, including awful speed and a fairly limited movepool.  However, she is also set to get a mega evolution with the release of Alpha Sapphire and Omega Ruby, which will flip her around completely; Mega Diancie has weaker defences, but is also much faster and more powerful, and gets the ridiculously awesome Magic Bounce ability, which reflects status attacks back on their user.  I am also given to understand that she will receive Earth Power in those games, probably from a move tutor, and I’m not sure how we know that – I think by ripping into the coding of the demo that was released earlier this week – but the internet has spoken.  In any case, her movepool could certainly use the upgrade.  With the kind of power Mega Diancie would wield – in combination with the fact that she can act as a very different sort of Pokémon with more defence-focused abilities until the moment you choose to mega evolve her – I can easily see her keeping up with the rest of the mega-evolved crowd.

The fact that gems and crystals apparently fall under the Rock element has been apparent since Power Gem was introduced as the only special Rock attack in Diamond and Pearl, but the closest thing to a crystal Pokémon we’ve had so far is Gigalith, whose crystal formations promise much and achieve little (they’re supposed to be used for powerful solar energy attacks, which is something Gigalith is extremely bad at).  It really is about time we had Pokémon like Carbink and Diancie.  I’m a little disappointed that Carbink is so bad – it kinda gets screwed over in the same way as Phione did, although at least Carbink isn’t going to have to deal with Nintendo banning it from tournaments as though it’s some overpowered monstrosity, like they routinely do to her.  Besides, Carbink and Diancie gave me an opportunity for egregiously bizarre and groundless speculation – and isn’t that what this blog is really all about?

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.

Pumpkaboo and Gourgeist

Pumpkaboo.

So, this may come as a bit of a shock to the Americans in the audience, but Halloween is not really a big deal in New Zealand, and certainly not for young adults; it’s normally just primary school children who get in on it.  We also don’t really do jack’o’lanterns, maybe because the whole principle of a jack’o’lantern is based on the fact that pumpkins are in season in autumn and for us October is in spring (then again, we use all the traditional winter imagery for our summer Christmases, so meh).  We actually don’t normally use the right sort of pumpkins anyway – ours have thin, grey skin – so, in my formative experiences, the orange ones that you use to make jack’o’lanterns are, like, the cartoon version of what a pumpkin looks like.  Of course, now that I actually live in America I just have to deal with it, along with everything else about this silly backwards little country, but it’s okay because seeing great big stacks of these bright orange things piled up all over supermarkets in October is absolutely hilarious to me and none of my friends here understand why.

Yes, this is NECESSARY BACKGROUND to understanding Pumpkaboo and Gourgeist.

 See, when you say 'pumpkin' I think of this.

Even to me, the cultural link between pumpkins and ghosts or spirits, via Halloween and the jack’o’lantern, is obvious enough.  Halloween is basically the Christian holy day All Hallows’ Eve – the last night on earth for the souls of all the people who died during the previous year, who might seize this last chance to cause havoc in the mortal world.  Traditionally, All Hallows’ Eve is a time to pray for these wandering souls, and to be especially wary of supernatural disturbances.  Like a lot of Christian festivals, elements of the tradition are also built on older pagan festivals at the same time of the year – in particular, the Gaelic harvest festival Samhain (which is not pronounced “Samhain,” because it is Gaelic), another time when spirits and fey supposedly had greater freedom to act in this world.  Exactly where jack’o’lanterns come from, whether they have anything to do with Samhain, and how they became part of the Christian tradition is not entirely clear because there are so many different explanations floating around.  The term “jack’o’lantern” was once another name for the will-o’-the-wisp, the mysterious floating lights seen by travellers in swampy areas and given a wide variety of mythological interpretations all around the world.  They’re commonly thought to be ghosts or spirits, and are often credited with leading travellers astray; probably the most likely scientific explanation for the phenomenon is the spontaneous combustion (or possibly phosphorescence) of gasses given off by decaying organic matter.  Hard to say how this eventually translated into the hollowed pumpkins you see at Halloween, though they’re probably something to do with warding off those marauding spirits – or else with leading the way for souls leaving the world on All Hallows’ Eve.  The Halloween jack’o’lantern has its own neat little origin story as well, which describes a character called ‘Stingy Jack.’  In life, Jack was a drunken blacksmith whose debauched lifestyle attracted the attention of the Devil himself, who came to claim Jack’s soul.  Jack was able to trick the Devil somehow (accounts vary, some kind of bet may have been involved), using a crucifix to trap him, and made a deal to release him in exchange for being spared condemnation to Hell.  Unfortunately, Jack’s plethora of sins ensured that he would never be allowed into Heaven either, and so his spirit was doomed to wander the mortal world for eternity, warmed only by a piece of the fires of Hell thrown at him by the Devil, which he keeps in a hollowed out turnip or pumpkin to make sure it doesn’t go out.

So how does all that relate to Pumpkaboo and Gourgeist?  Well, surprisingly closely, as it happens.  Much like Stingy Jack, Pumpkaboo is said to be a lost soul unable to leave the mortal world – and, although she can’t find her own way, she can lead other spirits to where they belong, like the prayers of worshippers on All Hallows’ Eve and some interpretations of the jack’o’lantern.  Their restless wandering on dark nights also recalls the belief that Halloween marks a time of unusual supernatural activity – and, of course, the related modern activity of trick-or-treating.  Pumpkaboo has little vampire fangs and a sort of mantle that you could liken to either bat wings or a dark cloak, maybe alluding again to the concept of dressing up as something menacing (common enough in the animal kingdom, after a fashion).  Gourgeist mixes it up with the full carved jack’o’lantern face on her belly and… “hairlike arms” that sprout from her head?  I’m… not totally sure I get that one; maybe they’re supposed to look like flickering flames or something?  Apparently, though, Gourgeist wraps up her prey in these arms and “sings joyfully” as it suffers, presumably from some sort of life-draining attack like Pain Split, or just from the general ethereal chill of her spectral touch.  Either way… bit of a sadist, I guess.  Her song, we also know, curses anyone who hears it, so being sung a creepily happy song by the Gourgeist who’s sapping your life away is probably not going to make you feel any better (odd that she can’t learn Sing or Perish Song; those seem like they should have been no-brainers).  I’m not sure where the singing comes from, although Gourgeist’s French name, Banshitrouye, contains a reference to the banshee, the wailing death spirit of Irish folklore, so maybe she’s one of the influences in there (would also go some way towards explaining the long hair).  The final thing that deserves mentioning here is that Pumpkaboo and Gourgeist have a weird little gimmick.  Like real pumpkins, they come in many different sizes (this isn’t immediately obvious in the game, although the largest ones do have a much deeper cry)… and, again like real pumpkins, the biggest ones are huge.  Has anyone ever looked at the actual size measurements given for these things?  The small, average and large sizes for Gourgeist range from 9.5 to 14 kilograms – and then there’s the super size Gourgeist, who is more than twice as heavy at 39 kilograms and is almost as tall as I am (like most Pokémon, she’s ludicrously light for her size, but in Gourgeist’s case that might actually make sense since her body is probably hollow).  That’s a hell of a jack’o’lantern!  Suddenly I’m not sure I feel safe wandering around Kalos’ route 16 at night…

Gourgeist.

 

As long as we’re talking about sizes, I may as well take the opportunity to make a graceful transition into how Gourgeist works mechanically, because her size does impact that: smaller Gourgeist are much faster, but larger ones are tougher and stronger.  A super-sized Gourgeist has pretty solid-looking stats for a physical tank, while a small-sized one seems more support-oriented, with her reasonably good speed and passable defences; you can also pick one of the two intermediate sizes if you feel like striking a balance between those extremes.  Gourgeist unfortunately lacks the more powerful Grass-type physical moves like Wood Hammer and Power Whip, meaning that Seed Bomb is the way to go; she also doesn’t have a wide selection of coverage moves (…Rock Slide.  She has Rock Slide), and there are no strong Ghost-type physical attacks, so in general it’s just very difficult for her to leverage her decent-to-good attack stat.  Because her special attack is rubbish and she doesn’t get Shadow Claw, her choices for Ghost attacks are Shadow Sneak and Phantom Force.  Even super-Gourgeist doesn’t have the power to do a lot of damage with Shadow Sneak, particularly as you’re likely to be investing the most effort in her defences, although I suppose the priority is nice on such a slow Pokémon.  Phantom Force, as I mentioned last time with Trevenant, is really not a good move to be stuck with, but as we’ve already established, Gourgeist really has to scrape the barrel for physical attacks.  Besides, thanks to Ghost’s excellent neutral coverage, it’s arguably not as bad as being stuck with, say, Fly or… *shudder* Skull Bash, and you can use it to stall for time with Leech Seed and Will’o’Wisp.  I mean… you could also do that with Protect and not be locked into your next move… but whatevs.  Those moves – Leech Seed and Will’o’Wisp – are staples for pretty much any size of Gourgeist, in lieu of more concrete offensive options… which brings us to the rather unfortunate point that most of what Gourgeist can do is very similar to what Trevenant can do – good physical defences, Leech Seed and Will’o’Wisp are some of her main selling points, and her abilities aren’t as useful for that role as Trevenant’s, who can get more efficient healing than what Leech Seed and Pain Split can provide (although Gourgeist is admittedly much tougher, physically).  Insomnia for sleep immunity: woo.  Frisk to snoop on enemies’ item choices: useful information, but not a huge help to Gourgeist herself.  Pickup to recycle items used by other Pokémon: kinda useful in doubles with appropriate planning but otherwise just silly.  So, what does Gourgeist have that Trevenant doesn’t?

I gotta admit, these things are pretty creepy when they're lit up at night...

 

Light Screen for covering her weaker special defence is worth note, particularly in combination with the protection from physical attacks offered by Will’o’Wisp and her naturally tough body.  Trick is normally a dangerous choice for tankish or support-oriented Pokémon because Tricking yourself into bagging a Choice item will do you more harm than good and it’s more difficult for you to carry items that will screw up your opponent in the first place – however, I mention it anyway because Gourgeist’s best ability is probably Frisk and knowing in advance what your target’s item is makes Trick a bit more interesting, if nothing else.  Explosion kinda stopped being worth it when Black and White cut its damage in half, but it’s there, and the idea of blowing yourself up and taking the enemy with you does have a certain je ne sais quoi.  Because Gourgeist is a jack’o’lantern, she has access to a small number of Fire attacks; unfortunately, most of them are special ones, but Flame Charge might be worth consideration on one of the larger, more powerful sizes to compensate for her poor speed, if you’re going to defy all logic and try to build some kind of godawful physical sweeper Gourgeist for some reason.  Small Gourgeist is one of the faster Pokémon in the game with the ability to use Destiny Bond, a move which really only makes sense on a fast Pokémon – she’s no Mega Gengar, that’s for sure, but I guess Gourgeist might catch an enemy off guard with a bit of luck.  Finally, there’s her fun little signature move, Trick or Treat, which makes more sense than Trevenant’s Forest’s Curse because the type it adds to the target (Ghost) is one that Gourgeist can deal super-effective damage to (though not, it must be said, very well), but is probably still more useful for helping a doubles partner score an unexpected knockout than for anything Gourgeist herself can do with it.  Trick or Treat also does bizarre and painful things to physical tanks who like to use Curse, since Curse is just a radically different move when used by a Ghost Pokémon.  This is much too specific an application to be useful.  However, it is hilarious.

Maybe judging them in comparison to Phantump and Trevenant is uncharitable to Pumpkaboo and Gourgeist – they can’t help but seem like very light, silly designs alongside them, and despite Gourgeist actually having superior stats to Trevenant she has surprisingly little else to recommend her, with their shared Ghost/Grass type combination making the comparison all too obvious (if she had been set up as a special attacker, I think it might have worked much better… ah, well, c’est la vie).  The designs are pretty fun though, I guess, and Gourgeist’s creepy songs and grasping hands are disturbing in a very different way to the more obvious bowel-evacuating terror that is Trevenant.  I don’t know if I think they’re bad, they’re just… very obviously not as good as the other ones – an unfortunate position for a Pokémon to be in.

Phantump and Trevenant

Phantump.

Ghost/Grass – another of those never-before-seen combinations that always make me so excited.  What’s more, we get not one but two interpretations of it – Pumpkaboo and Gourgeist, whom we’ll probably be looking at next time, and today’s Pokémon, Phantump and Trevenant.  These two Pokémon go for ‘sinister,’ and boy, do they nail it (I… immediately regret using the expression ‘nail it’ to describe a vengeful Pokémon made of wood).  Ghost Pokémon get to play with some of the most evocative ideas in the book, balancing between life and death, on the edge of the great unknown – let’s see where Phantump and Trevenant can take that.

As far as I know, these Pokémon aren’t based on any specific folkloric creatures (though Trevenant’s body shape and English name do seem to reference the treants of modern fantasy), just on more general ideas, fears and superstitions about old, dark forests.  How many fairy tales centre around dark and dangerous creatures that lurk in the deepest part of the woods?  The theme is a particular fixture of northern and eastern European tradition – Red Riding Hood, Hansel and Gretel, Baba Yaga, to name a few – but is far from unique to that region.  Phantump aren’t really dangerous as far as we know, but their origins are pretty sinister and sound a lot like the bad ending we’re supposed to be scared of in some of those dark forest fairy tales.  Like Yamask, these Pokémon are explicitly believed to have once been human (raising all kinds of questions even more thorny than usual about the ethical position their trainers are in) – Phantump are said to be born from rotten tree stumps possessed by the spirits of children who died lost in the forest.  In fact, Phantump’s spiritual form, a thin black wisp, does look a lot like poor, haunted Yamask, as well as giving it a somewhat childlike appearance, helped by those wide, staring eyes.  As with all Ghost Pokémon, it may be worth questioning how seriously we’re supposed to take the ideas in the Pokédex – which is not above reporting myth and folklore as fact – but whichever way you slice it, Phantump is pretty creepy.  I see it quoted everywhere that Phantump can imitate the sound of a child’s voice, although I can’t figure out where that information is supposed to come from (no, internet, “[Source: Bulbapedia]” is not helpful); it’s not in the Pokédex, and Phantump hasn’t appeared in the anime yet.  It certainly sounds plausible, though, and it would explain how, rightly or wrongly, people came to believe that they were the spirits of lost children – if a mysterious creature with spiritual powers lives in the forest where your kid got lost and never came home, and sounds exactly like him or her, a grieving parent isn’t going to have a lot of time for scepticism.  The more worrying question is why Phantump have this ability.  Are they really just lost souls calling out for help, are they malicious spirits luring others to their deaths in the dark heart of the forest, or are they just pranksters looking to have a little fun?  None of these options, on the surface, strikes me as particularly implausible.

 There is one tree in this picture.

When they mature, Trevenant take on the role of protectors and avengers of the forest, and fill that role with a much more frightening tone than Phantump.  Where Phantump is maybe a little cute if you look at it in a certain light – or at the very worst, pitiable – Trevenant is like something out of a nightmare; crawling spider-legs, long, grasping claws, a single glaring red eye, and darkness obscuring the inside of its rotting wooden body.  They can curse people who harm the forest and cause them to become trapped there forever… which, as a reader pointed out to me a while ago, could potentially mesh with Phantump’s origins in a slightly horrifying way: this is how they reproduce.  Phantump are the spiritual remains of children who did something to attract the ire of powerful Trevenant.  Well, okay, they are a gendered species, so we know they can also produce eggs, but there’s no reason both couldn’t be possible, and this way is much cooler; besides, it’s not like anyone has ever claimed that the basic concept of Pokémon breeding makes a whole lot of sense.  If it’s true, it lends a lot of weight to a more malicious interpretation of Phantump.  There’s a lighter side to these Pokémon, though.  Trevenant also possess the ability to control the trees in its forest by connecting to them with its roots.  At a glance, this is just a really cool power that explains how it can trap people in the forest; by controlling trees, it can rearrange and obscure pathways at will, weaving branches together to block safe routes while creating appealing trails that just lead you spiralling into a thicket.  Perhaps even cooler though, it also sounds like it could be a reference to colony-trees like Pando in southern Utah – things that look like huge forests made up of hundreds or thousands of trees, but are actually single organisms, genetically identical and connected by enormous interlinked root systems.  These colonies are among the largest and oldest living things on the planet, and a potent symbol of the interconnectedness of all life.  Like Torterra, Trevenant is also said to provide homes to smaller Pokémon that live in its leaves, branches and hollows, and is supposedly very kind to them despite its fearsome exterior.  Trevenant are deadly when called upon to protect their homes, but as always in Pokémon, we shouldn’t necessarily take their actions towards humans as the whole picture.  Powerful Grass Pokémon are often portrayed as mediators of the balance of nature, and even rot is just another form of life.

 Trevenant.

On the face of it, Trevenant looks like it should be a fairly lacklustre Pokémon to use, because it seems to be basically a slow, fairly tough physical attacker.  Its Ghost/Grass typing comes with some nasty common weaknesses, but useful resistances and immunities too (including the new Grass-type immunities to things like Sleep Powder), so it’s not terrible.  The problem with being a Ghost-type is that physical Ghost attacks remain few and relatively poor – their new attack, Phantom Force, which is effectively a powered-down version of Giratina’s Shadow Force, has decent power behind it and is perfectly fine for fighting AI opponents, but because it takes two turns to use (even if you are invulnerable on the first turn), it means giving a human opponent a turn when they know exactly what you are going to do, without question, and that is rarely a good idea in this game.  Unfortunately, the next alternative, Shadow Claw, is almost unacceptably weak; pick your poison.  Wood Hammer, its strongest Grass attack, is much more powerful, but on the other hand it’s, y’know, a Grass attack.  Trevenant’s physical coverage options aren’t great either – Earthquake is always nice to have, but beyond that… well, Rock Slide is relatively weak, X-Scissor has quite a bit of redundancy with Grass attacks, and Poison Jab is Poison Jab.  It’s not really good at being a physical attacker – Grass-types usually aren’t.  This brings us to Trevenant’s real niche, though: again like many Grass-types, it can actually put together very nice support-oriented sets.  Will’o’Wisp makes Trevenant much more difficult and dangerous for physical attackers to take down by threatening to burn and cripple them.  Leech Seed is a Grass-type staple that needs no introduction.  Horn Leech isn’t a powerful attack, but it adds nicely to Trevenant’s survivability.  Reflect is an option, though Will’o’Wisp will usually be a better choice for dampening physical attackers since you don’t have to keep setting it up again and again.  Trevenant is also capable of using Trick Room, which is unusual enough to be worth consideration, and benefits from it quite a bit too since it’s quite slow.  It’s not an incredibly tough Pokémon, though Will’o’Wisp helps a lot and allows you to focus on its special defence.  Its poor speed is also detrimental.  It’s not an amazing Pokémon, but it’s certainly not bad either, if you stick to what it’s good at.

The real draw to Trevenant is that it has two fairly rare and rather lovely defensive abilities, both of which can make it a lot harder to kill.  Natural Cure heals a Pokémon’s status problems when it switches out, which is just generally useful since it means you don’t care about Will’o’Wisp, Thunder Wave, Toxic and the like, and also adds Rest to Trevenant’s list of usable healing options.  The other one is Harvest, which is Trevenant’s hidden ability and worth mentioning mainly because so few Pokémon get it – it’s shared only by Tropius and Exeggutor.  What it does is give Trevenant a 50% chance every turn (100% under Sunny Day) to regenerate a berry that it has previously used during the battle – the most obvious applications are self-replacing Sitrus Berries for extra healing or self-replacing Lum Berries for instant Rests and status recovery.  There are probably weirder options out there to explore, involving things like resistance berries and stat boost berries, but for the most part you probably want to go with something that increases your survivability, since Trevenant is giving up Natural Cure for this.  The fact that Knock Off got a huge damage buff in Generation VI (with an extra bonus for hitting an item!), and is also strong against Ghost-types like Trevenant, also makes Harvest a little more iffy since you can swat Trevenant’s berry and deal horrible damage in one move, but it’s still not like everything uses that.  Phantump and Trevenant, like many of X and Y’s Pokémon, also come with one more thing worth talking about: a nifty little signature move called Forest’s Curse.  Like Pumpkaboo and Gourgeist’s signature move, Trick or Treat, this thing works by adding an extra type to its target, namely Grass, until that Pokémon switches out.  The target keeps its original type, and in fact will be treated as having three types at once if it was a dual-type already.  Unfortunately, while it’s fairly easy to see how Trick or Treat can be useful – Ghost-types are weak to Ghost attacks, which of course Gourgeist uses – the only things Trevenant has that can take advantage of giving a Pokémon Grass-type traits are X-Scissor and Poison Jab.  Turning something into a Grass-type also confers Leech Seed immunity (it won’t remove an existing seed, though).  This is another one of those moves that has its greatest potential in doubles, where you can easily set up a partner to take advantage of its effects; in a single battle I’d stay away from it.

I love these two.  They hit all the right notes and are some of the creepiest Pokémon we’ve seen yet, with stunningly eerie design, chilling backstory, and potential for a complex portrayal with strong positive and negative aspects.  Their battling abilities are kind of niche, but they have an interesting combination of skills, and I’m curious to see whether anyone’s been able to make anything clever out of Forest’s Curse.  All in all, they’re definitely among my favourites from X and Y (and no, I’m not just saying that because they’re Grass-types.  Well… okay, maybe a little bit).