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).

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.

Bergmite and Avalugg

Bergmite.

Single-typed Ice Pokémon do not have a terribly good record on this blog.  Black and White produced three of them, and I condemned all three (for different reasons, of course); later on, Glaceon was partially responsible for my coming to the conclusion that we should just be done with Eeveelutions and move on to something else.  For some reason Game Freak’s designers seem to have trouble getting past “this Pokémon has ice powers” as the central feature of what these Ice-types are and do.  Bergmite and Avalugg… well, there’s something there… let’s take a look.

The Pokédex describes Avalugg, with a group of Bergmite huddled on its back, as resembling “an aircraft carrier made of ice.”  This would strike me as a rather uninteresting and honestly pretty silly comparison (which, let’s be honest, would not be atypical for the Pokédex), if not for the fact that there was in fact a time during World War II when the Allied Powers actually tried to build an aircraft carrier made of ice.  Well, to be more precise, due to the difficulties involved with working in ice it would have been more of a great big floating mass than a ‘ship’ in the traditional sense, and it wasn’t exactly ice, either; they tried to develop a new composite material for the purpose.  Known as pykrete, from the name of the man who first suggested the idea, Geoffrey Pyke, it was a tough, relatively lightweight and extremely cheap construction material made by freezing water mixed with sawdust or wood pulp.  The binding effect of the cellulose fibres in the wood makes the ice dramatically less brittle, comparable in strength to concrete, and because wood is a poor conductor of heat it also insulates the ice from temperature changes and makes it melt far more slowly than normal ice.  The material is – naturally – far, far cheaper than steel, as well as being naturally buoyant.  For obvious reasons, pykrete ships would have been most useful at fairly extreme latitudes, and a low surface area-to-volume ratio is also important (so the ship needs to be very large, preferably with an enclosed design).  Several promising tests were conducted and enthusiasm for the idea was high for a while.  Eventually though, the Allies started to win the war without it, and thought it was better just to keep doing what they were doing rather than rely on this bizarre experimental material, so the idea’s never really been properly tested (people like the Mythbusters have tried small pykrete ships, which just don’t have the thermal mass to survive above the freezing point of water for long; you need to think big with this stuff).  It’s a cool little bit of military history.  It’s entirely possible that Avalugg is just an iceberg Pokémon and nothing else, and that the “aircraft carrier made of ice” thing is just a really dumb simile, of course, but personally I think this is much more interesting.

One of many recent attempts to build a pykrete boat.

Anyway… so what?  There’s a reference in the Pokédex to a cool story about a wacky military experiment, which I like, but where does that leave us?  Avalugg, this reference seems to be telling us, is based on what is, essentially, a huge block of ice.  As a result, Avalugg is… well, a huge block of ice.  Other than a flat top and the fact that it can apparently swim – it can learn Surf – which makes sense since ice floats (though it’s a bit odd that it lives in the mountains), it doesn’t seem to have taken anything from being based on an aircraft carrier, although to be honest I’m not sure what else you could take from that.  Maybe a symbiotic relationship with Flying Pokémon – perhaps Wingull and Pelipper come to rest on their backs as they drift across the sea, or maybe land-dwelling Pokémon even spread between continents on the backs of Avalugg?  That might have been neat.  I’m reminded a little of Geodude, Graveler and Golem, who are living rocks and not much more; that’s not bad in itself because just the idea of a living rock creature or a living iceberg is cool on its own, but I’m also drawn to make unfavourable comparisons with Cryogonal and Glalie, who are basically living ice as well but have a bit more personality to them.  Having said that, the Pokédex’s references to Bergmite living in herds are nice, and the idea of a large group of them sitting on an Avalugg’s back is a nice image that ads a bit more to our impression of how these things live.  Maybe they bunch up like that for protection while sleeping, or whenever they have to travel long distances, perhaps by water?  Avalugg’s art is pleasing enough; it has a sort of reptilian, tortoise-like feel that creates an impression of tremendous mass and slow but overwhelming force, like the millennia-long advance of a glacier.  We’re a little short on Ice Pokémon that have tried to convey that sense.  Bergmite is a bit odd because it seems to have a body underneath the ice, which vanishes when it evolves, perhaps being completely absorbed into the ice over time somehow.  I guess it’s… kind of cute, though, in a weird, bug-eyed sort of way.  I wonder whether these things eat?  Possibly not, or very little; if their bodies are mostly made of ice they can probably survive on water for the most part.  Bergmite, apparently, can repair fissures in their frozen bodies using nothing more than cold air (or, presumably, the water in the air), so even drinking might be unnecessary for them.  They just keep going, oblivious to everything happening around them – like a glacier.

The Franz Josef Glacier, one of the reasons my home country is exactly what you've seen in Lord of the Rings.

Game Freak have tried to make defensive Ice Pokémon before.  It doesn’t usually end well, because Ice is almost indisputably the worse defensive type in the game; you get four weaknesses, three of them to very common and powerful attack types, and only one resistance, to Ice itself.  That’s not to say an Ice-type can’t do defence; it’s more that only Cloyster and Walrein have ever really been good enough at it to rise above the shortcomings of their element.  A defensive Ice-type, practically by definition, has to have some pretty impressive assets to succeed.  What does Avalugg have?  Well, for one thing, the fifth-highest defence stat in the game, behind Shuckle, Regirock, Steelix and Mega Aggron, and a good deal more HP than any of those four (awful, awful special defence, but hey, who’s counting?).  Recover, for another.  Being one of the slowest Pokémon in the game makes Recover a bit tricky to time correctly, but it lets Avalugg survive and heal off practically any physical damage that isn’t super-effective, and a good deal that is.  Excellent attack power and a solid physical movepool help too.  Avalugg’s primary attack is Avalanche, which is only powerful if Avalugg has already taken damage that turn and messes you up a bit if your opponent, say, uses Swords Dance or something, or switches out (it also forces Avalugg to move after its opponent, but that’s something Avalugg will usually be doing anyway), but is otherwise very nasty.  Earthquake combines well with Avalanche, giving you at least a neutral hit on everything except for Bronzong, Cryogonal, Shedinja, some of Rotom’s forms, and Surskit.  Stone Edge offers a few more super-effective hits.  Crunch gives good neutral coverage, which Avalugg has anyway.  Gyro Ball is attractive, since its power increases when used by a slower Pokémon against a faster one and Avalugg is one of the slowest there is, but there actually aren’t that many Pokémon who take significantly more damage from Gyro Ball than they do from Avalugg’s main attacks.  Any and all of these can mix with Curse to continue building up Avalugg’s defence and power, though I don’t think I’d really recommend that since it isn’t a difficult Pokémon to force out.  Unfortunately, if we use Avalugg as something of a tank, capitalising mainly on its physical power, the literal elephant in the room is Mamoswine.  Mamoswine lacks Avalugg’s obscene physical defence and ability to heal, but has much more powerful Earthquakes and can use Ice Shard to beat things that outrun it (and really, why doesn’t Avalugg get Ice Shard?  It’s made of ice!).  There’s no way Avalugg can compete with that kind of power – so what are its support options like?

Avalugg.

Rapid Spin is the main option to keep in mind.  Even with Defog available as an alternative means to clearing Stealth Rock, Spikes and Toxic Spikes, Rapid Spin is still important if you want to be able to do that without blowing away your own entry hazards, and there still aren’t all that many Pokémon who learn it.  It’s an important move to have.  Unfortunately, Avalugg’s not really a good Rapid Spinner, since it’s an Ice-type and takes fairly severe damage from switching in while your opponent has Stealth Rock up, which is exactly when you need Rapid Spin.  Other than that… well, I guess it can force switches with Roar, potentially ending an attempted sweep from a physical attacker who managed to power up.  It’s not the worst Pokémon to use Toxic.  That’s… kind of it.  Huh.  I was sort of expecting there would be more in there.  Avalugg’s abilities aren’t great either.  Own Tempo makes a Pokémon immune to confusion, which just doesn’t come up often because confusion is such a gamble anyway, but I suppose if you really hate Klefki it couldn’t hurt.  Ice Body, which heals the Pokémon every turn during hail, was the staple of Walrein’s defensive strategies in generations IV and V, but now that permanent weather effects are no longer a thing it just doesn’t work so well anymore.  What you probably want is Avalugg’s hidden ability, Sturdy.  Sturdy makes it impossible to knock a Pokémon out if its health is at maximum, which is slightly silly because if you’re using Avalugg for Rapid Spin you can almost assume it’ll take at least a little bit of damage as it switches in, and in any case, there’s a very clear and threatening line between things that can one-shot Avalugg (special attackers) and things that can’t (physical attackers).  On the other hand, thanks to Recover it can get back to full health after being damaged, so it’s not the worst Pokémon to have this ability, and it certainly beats the other two ability choices.  Also, bear in mind that Avalugg can learn Mirror Coat as a hereditary move from Corsola, via Squirtle, to reflect back twice the damage it just took from a special attack, provided it survives (which Sturdy can sometimes ensure it will).  It’s a risky way to play Avalugg that could easily backfire, but the possibility of turning the tables on special attackers seeking to take advantage of its weakness on that side is extremely attractive.

In order for a really defence-focused Ice Pokémon to work, either the Ice type itself needs to be seriously buffed so that it isn’t such a massive drag, or the Ice Pokémon in question needs a really spectacular unique advantage – an awesome signature move, a perfect stat distribution, a really mind-blowing support movepool, or a cool ability (maybe something really ridiculous like being able to absorb all physical attacks directed at friendly Flying-types – Talonflame and Gyarados, meet your new best friend), preferably more than one of those things.  Avalugg… well, Avalugg is a huge block of ice, and it has none of those things.  The design doesn’t suggest anything particularly remarkable that it should have, and so it doesn’t get anything.  It’s not really bad at what it does, nor is it a markedly uncreative or unoriginal design, it’s just… adequate.  It’s one of those Pokémon that makes me feel like it’s missing that little something extra to make it really awesome – maybe a mega evolution somewhere down the road.  At the moment, it’s not grievously flawed, just a little bit bland.

Goomy, Sliggoo and Goodra

Goomy

Let’s talk about dragons.

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

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

Continue reading “Goomy, Sliggoo and Goodra”

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”