House Noivern: Screams in the Night
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.
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.
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.
As soon as I land in Anistar City, I receive a call from Professor Sycamore. He wants to meet in Couriway Town, the next settlement on my route, to discuss recent events. Understandable. I’m curious to know his thoughts myself. The road to Couriway Town features a diverse ecosystem of mountain Pokkemon for me to capture, including Torkoal, Graveler, Durant, Heatmor and Lairon, as well as Ariados in the abandoned mine that stretches beneath much of the area. The mine is also inhabited by Noibat, a small, weak, purple bat Pokémon who seems utterly unremarkable aside from the fact that he is apparently a Dragon-type. I’m… you know, I’m honestly not even sure what a dragon is anymore. The mine, which is known as Terminus Cave, has a very deep and complicated structure, not all of which is open to me yet – only a Champion-level trainer can access all the tunnels. I try bringing out Xerneas and telling the story of that one time when I, y’know, saved the Kalos region from the annihilation of all Pokémon and most humans all out of the ‘goodness’ of my ‘heart’, but the guard seems unimpressed, so I give up and return to the surface for now. Goodness only knows what else is down there. Probably awesome treasure. The other notable feature of this part of Kalos is the home of a human Psychic named Inver, who practices a strange form of battle which he has named after himself (or possibly the other way around) – the inverse battle. Thanks to Inver’s vaguely specified mystical powers, resisted moves become super-effective (finally, being a Grass Pokémon specialist pays off!) and super-effective moves are resisted instead. The fact that these relationships can all be uniformly reversed by a single application of psychic power might go some way to suggesting that Pokémon types are meant to be regarded as fundamental forces, rather than just a descriptive framework created by humans (one of the debates I have with myself from time to time), but then again, since the whole thing is clearly just an excuse for a fun new battle format, I’d be cautious about reading too much into it. The real question is… can Inver learn to make his powers apply only to some Pokémon, some of the time, and if so, can I recruit him for my imperial army…?
Dominated by a massive waterfall from which the locals collect and bottle crystal clear water, Couriway Town is a comparatively small settlement with a few houses, a Pokémon Centre, a railway station, and not much else. After spending a little time gazing at the waterfall, I go to find Professor Sycamore, who has some interesting things to say about Lysandre. He seems to think that Lysandre’s actions are at least partially his own fault for not taking action long before now to put his friend back on a somewhat saner path, and reiterates his belief that Lysandre could have been a great leader and done a lot of good for the world. Apparently, by stopping his plans, I “saved” not only Kalos, but Lysandre himself – wait, wait, so he’s alive? Have you actually seen him? Or do you mean “saved” in more of vague, spiritual, “well, at least he died without the deaths of billions on his conscience” kind of sense? Sycamore, to my irritation, declines to comment further. I will have to look into this. For now, though, he wants a battle! Professor Sycamore has been practicing – his Bulbasaur, Charmander and Squirtle have increased dramatically in level since my last battle with him, and have all reached their final evolutions, but he’s still not much of a trainer himself, and is unable to lead them to victory. Ever gracious in defeat, Sycamore claims he left a ‘treasure’ in this town a long time ago, and invites me to search for it. He then leaves to work on a ‘surprise’ for me and my rivals to reward us for our efforts against Team Flare. I sweep the town with my dowsing rods, but the most valuable thing I find is a Prism Scale, and something tells me that isn’t what he’s talking about (I mean, it’s neat, but I already have one, and I feel like I should expect something more unique). He might be talking about a more metaphorical ‘treasure’ – like an old friend, or a place he has fond memories of – but what, I have no clue. Maybe something to come back to. I have more important things to do, like get my last badge so I can conquer Kalos at last.
To get to Snowbelle City, I have to cross a deep valley with a murky swamp at the bottom. I encounter only one Pokémon I haven’t met before here – Gligar – which may well be a first for my travels in Kalos, so I very quickly move on to the rope bridge that spans the chasm, where I am met by Shauna. To my immense surpise, Shauna wants to battle! I haven’t fought her since she started out with her Froakie – hell, I wasn’t even aware she was capable of battling, but she has three Pokémon now, and at a respectable level too. She opens with a Delcatty, who survives Pan’s Seed Bomb and slows his assault with Charm – and then switches out. Shauna sends in a new Pokémon I haven’t seen before: Goodra, apparently the evolved form of Sliggoo, who is at last recognisable through her slimy coating as a true Dragon, if a soft-edged and friendly one in the tradition of Dragonite. Goodra intercepts my next Seed Bomb and absorbs the attack with Sap Sipper. What? Shauna is competent!? What is this sorcery!? I briefly consider summoning Xerneas to blow her dragon away, but feel that wouldn’t be sporting under the circumstances and instead send in Orion… who gets crushed by a Sap Sipper-boosted Earthquake. Okay. Now she’s asking for it. I have Xerneas hit Goodra with a Moonblast, then go to Ilex to finish off her Delcatty. Her final Pokémon is her starter, who was a Froakie when we last met – now a swift, sleek warrior frog called a Greninja (Gren- presumably from the French word for frog, grenouille)… but still a Water-type, and still vulnerable to Petal Dance.
Our battle over, Shauna is keen to reminisce, but we have company – Tierno and Trevor, who are also, it seems, in a fighting mood. Wait, you guys know how to battle too!? Has Serena been giving you lessons in secret? Tierno challenges me first, and I open with Pan – right up against a Talonflame. Clearly this isn’t going to work, so I switch to Odysseus, who suffers some nasty Acrobatics hits before bringing it down. Tierno’s next Pokémon is a Roserade, so I switch in Ilex to soak up the incoming Petal Dance and hit back with Sludge Bomb. That leaves Tierno’s partner, Crawdaunt, who, again, is still a Water-type. Trevor kindly heals my Pokémon before our battle, sabotaging his only real chance at losing with dignity, then opens with his Raichu, who seems to have no better option than Thunderbolt against Pan and doesn’t last long. Then, out comes… wha- where the hell did you get an Aerodactyl!? I know Trevor’s good with obscure stuff, but wow. Kid’s actually made me jealous! I won’t willingly leave Pan in against a Flying-type, so I switch to Odysseus, who takes a Sky Drop relatively unscathed and blasts back with Surf. Finally, Trevor sends out his partner Pokémon, Florges. Odysseus does heavy damage with a well-placed Crabhammer, but can’t handle the Energy Ball that Florges sends back. Florges is now in no shape to defeat Orion, though, and falls to a Shadow Ball. In the aftermath of our battles, my rivals feed me some of the standard lines about how wonderful it is to travel with Pokémon. I can’t help but feel a little swell of pride; they’ve managed to acquire some pretty strong partners (hell, I don’t even have a Goodra yet; I’ve been clued in on Sliggoo’s unorthodox evolution method – rain in the overworld, and at least level 50 – but the moment Pytho hit level 49, Kalos was swept by an annoyingly mysterious drought) and might even make decent lieutenants in my new regime. Tierno and Trevor mention that Serena is in Shalour City training at the Tower of Mastery (perhaps the next time I see her one of her Pokémon will be able to Digivolve… her Absol, maybe?), make their excuses, and leave. Shauna also has a parting gift for me: the Waterfall HM. It’s no good to me until I have the Snowbelle Gym Badge, though, so let’s get on with it!
Ridiculous quote log:
“Do you see that hiker running back and forth across the bridge? He’s been doing that for the last few days. I wonder if he’s okay.”
“Come to think of it, I’ve been standing in the same spot for the last couple of days too!”
The drones are becoming self-aware! Quickly, initiate quarantine protocol six-three-eight-alpha! The contagion must not be allowed to spread!