Yay; more Grass-types! Like Bulbasaur, Chikorita was part of my childhood (less so, since I started to splash out a little on Silver and actually picked one of the other two starters from time to time) so, of course, I love her to bits. However, I must be strong. I have to talk about what these Pokémon mean for me personally, but I’ll do my best to discuss them objectively too…
Here’s something you might not know about me: I was a dinosaur kid. Now, I don’t mean that like how all boys go through the dinosaur phase and learn to rattle off the names of the dozen or so coolest ones that were in Jurassic Park and play with models. I mean some of my first words were dinosaur names, I had the evolutionary lineage of the whole damn Order Archosauria memorised by the time I was ten, I used to get really ticked off with people who called Pteranodon a ‘flying dinosaur,’ I was genuinely remorseful that humanity only existed because dinosaurs had gone extinct, while all the other kids were playing with T-Rex and Triceratops I was into the really hipster dinosaurs like Scutellosaurus and Homalocephale, and I’m even worse now because I’ve studied Latin and Greek and know what all the names actually mean. Chikorita, Bayleef and Meganium were basically my ideal partners, because as well as being Grass-types they were also clearly based on sauropods (‘lizard-feet,’ from the Greek σαυρος, lizard, and πους/ποδ-, foot – booyeah!). Their plant characteristics are a little light, but add to their existing cuteness, and I like the way the buds of Chikorita’s ‘necklace’ grow larger and then burst into bloom, much like the pattern we saw with Bulbasaur’s bulb – it’s odd, though, that the leaf on her head grows when she evolves into Bayleef but then disappears entirely when she finishes up as Meganium, replaced by those weird antennae. I mean, I guess they’re supposed to resemble the stamen and anther of a flower, which does fit, but attached to an animal they have a strange insectoid feel; still, they’re a small enough detail that they don’t mess with the design, and Meganium’s head would look too plain without them, so I’m okay with it (would’ve preferred something more obviously herbaceous, that’s all). Anyway; Chikorita’s thing is scent. Her leaves and buds release a sweet, relaxing aroma with mild soporific properties; breathing in Chikorita’s scent makes people and Pokémon calmer and friendlier, though not enough to have any effect in battle (bizarrely, until Diamond and Pearl Chikorita couldn’t even learn Sweet Scent). Meganium’s flower has a similar effect, while Bayleef’s spicy aroma does just the opposite, stimulating and energising Pokémon to get them in the mood for fighting. That reversal is strange, but I suppose you could handwave it as, like, Bayleef’s rebellious teenager phase or something; I don’t know. Meganium’s other power is her restorative breath, which can miraculously bring dead plants back to life – again, not something tremendously useful in a fight, but awesome nonetheless, bringing out the same ‘forest guardian’ aspect as Venusaur has. Like the sauropods they’re based on, Chikorita and her evolutions are very gentle creatures; they don’t like to fight and so have powers related to peace and healing. It’s straightforward, and it makes sense. This isn’t a design that makes me want to jump up and down singing about how clever it is, and it makes no particularly brilliant conceptual leaps. Actually, I think Tropius, from Ruby and Sapphire, is a more interesting take on the same idea. Nonetheless, for what she is, Chikorita is far from a failed design; she’s cute, she has well-defined character traits, and Meganium’s healing powers make her an ideal Grass Pokémon leader.
Meganium’s stat spread is almost exactly the same as Venusaur’s, but with two of the scores switched around – as you might expect, her special attacks are much weaker than his, in exchange for greater physical defence. She’s pretty tough, though her attacks lack pepper (they’re not unusable, though – I mean, people stick physical attacks on Venusaur, and his stat is the same as hers). As a defensive Pokémon, Meganium is attractive because of her support moves: she has Reflect, Safeguard and Light Screen to protect your team, Synthesis for recovery, good old Leech Seed if you want to be a pain, and Aromatherapy to cure your own side’s status problems. Basically, we’re looking at a traditional Grass-type support Pokémon, with a particularly pronounced defensive bias – as of Gold and Silver, the only fully-evolved Grass Pokémon with a primary attack stat lower than Meganium’s was Jumpluff. Meganium’s main problem isn’t her offensive capabilities, though – like I said, her attacks aren’t unusable by any means. Her problem is that she’s, well, a dinosaur, in more ways than one. Meganium has hardly changed at all over the years since she was created. Picking up Counter as a hereditary move (via Breloom) in Ruby and Sapphire gave her a nice surprise to spring on powerful physical attackers, especially since there aren’t many who can one-shot her, Aromatherapy is nice, as mentioned, and Black and White’s addition of Dragon Tail gives her a new potential role shuffling opponents in and out of play, but that’s pretty much it. Grass-types in general have benefited from the eventual creation of Grass attacks that, y’know, don’t suck, like Energy Ball and Leaf Storm, but offense has never been Meganium’s thing anyway. Picking up a physical Grass-type move, Seed Bomb, in Platinum was cool, I guess, since Meganium’s only other Swords Dance material was (and remains) Earthquake and Body Slam. Her (as-yet unavailable) Dream World ability, Leaf Guard, protects Meganium from status ailments while Sunny Day is in effect, which… is ‘nice’ but, because of Aromatherapy, Meganium doesn’t really give a fig about status effects anyway. For the most part, Meganium handles exactly the same way as she did when she was introduced, while everyone else has been learning awesome new tricks around her, and since Meganium wasn’t exactly a top-shelf Pokémon when she was introduced anyway, that’s kind of a problem.
Objectively, I have to admit Meganium’s got her problems. I’ve always had a vague notion that Gold and Silver had the least interesting starters, overall, and Meganium has to take some of the blame for that; other than being a dinosaur (which, let us not forget, is awesome) she just has a bunch of plant-themed traits and abilities that really aren’t all that unique or clever. To be fair to her, no other Grass-type has the same degree of focus on the healing properties of plants; she does represent an important archetype and it’s another of the reasons I love her, but even that feels a little tacked on. She’s not particularly strong, either; as a starter she’s automatically decent because of her good stats, but she lacks offensive presence, and that’s not just a question of her actual attack and special attack stats because they aren’t that bad. Her problem is more that she doesn’t learn many moves with which to threaten her enemies; she has few direct attack options, and equally few indirect options. With no Stun Spore or Sleep Powder, or for that matter anything bar Toxic (which everyone gets) and Leech Seed (which is annoying but difficult to use effectively, especially for slower Pokémon), there’s just not a whole lot she can do to threaten anything. Part of the problem is that there are relatively few attacks that it’s ‘okay,’ thematically speaking, to give to Grass Pokémon, and “just give them all Sleep Powder and Stun Spore” isn’t really a solution (you could probably get away with giving Meganium, say, Calm Mind and Dragon Pulse though…).
Y’know what, though? I still love Meganium, and that’s not likely to change. In a sense, the kind of comments I make on Pokémon are ultimately futile, because however rational and objective I try to be, and however I argue my points, there’s always going to be someone who loves the Pokémon I judge poorly – and the proof is that, today, that someone is me! That’s why – in my opinion – it’s probably best to view what I do as more an exercise in prioritising. There’s nothing wrong with making new Pokémon. I could probably find positive things to say for just about everyone in the whole damn Pokédex (with… certain noteworthy exceptions); I just question whether forging ahead with 100+ new Pokémon in every generation is really the best use of the developers’ limited time and money when there’s actually a whole lot more that could be done with the Pokémon that exist already. Very few of these designs are legitimately bad; it’s all a question of how much time and effort goes into developing them.
Eheh… had a bit of an introspective moment there. What can I say? Talking about Grass-types just makes me mushy, I guess.