Leo M. R. asks:

So, last time we talked a little bit about signature Pokémon and how (ever since Ruby/Sapphire) most Gym Leaders’/Elite Four members’/Champions’ signatures are always newly-introduced Pokémon. Let’s talk about that more. I’m of two minds about this paradigm.

On the one hand, I do think new generations *should* showcase new Pokémon in major battles, since that is the major draw of new Pokémon games. On the other hand, I feel like it’s gotten to the point where Game Freak design certain Pokémon specifically to fit a particular character they’ve come up with, regardless of the Pokémon’s own merits. XY was particularly bad with this: Vivillon was the only new Bug-type introduced in Gen VI and half of its raison d’être was just to be Viola’s signature. I would argue a similar case for Heliolisk/Clemont, Avalugg/Wulfric, and to a lesser extent Pyroar/Lysandre. SwSh may have begun moving away from this somewhat, but I still get the same impression with Drednaw/Nessa, Centiskorch/Kabu, Coalossal/Gordie, Alcremie/Opal, and like the entirety of Bede’s teams. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying those are badly-designed Pokémon necessarily; I’m just saying it seems to me they only exist to be the signatures of their respective Trainers, and not much else. What are your thoughts?

Continue reading “Leo M. R. asks:”

Litleo and Pyroar

Official art of Litleo by Ken Sugimori.

We should probably talk about these ones next.  I didn’t use Litleo for very long, because my Fletchling unexpectedly evolved into a Fire-type and I didn’t want two of them.  Still, I had one on my party for a little while, and I feel like I got to know her, so it makes sense.  So, these Pokémon are lions.  I am notoriously ill-disposed to Pokémon that are just animals, because I want more.  Granted, of course, these are lions that breathe fire, but hey, Beartic is a polar bear that shoots icicles and just look how well I got along with him.  That was three years ago, though; I’m being nice now.  Well… okay, ‘nice’ is a bit much.  I’m being marginally less irritable now.  Let’s give these two a shot and see what I can make of them.

So let’s start with the obvious: gender differences.  Pyroar is one of only two Pokémon in X and Y with major sexual dimorphism, the other being Meowstic.  In Pyroar’s case, it obviously mimics one of the most famous and recognisable examples of sexual dimorphism in the real world: lions have manes, lionesses don’t (although female Pyroar get that long flowing crest so that they don’t seem too boring).  Sort of an predictable choice for a lion Pokémon, but major gender differences are something that Pokémon underexploits, so I’m hardly going to complain about seeing more of it.  The way the pattern of red-and-yellow stripes on a male Pyroar’s mane recalls the distinctive shape of a Fire Blast attack – the Japanese symbol for “large” or “great” – is also a nice touch.  The divergences between male and female Pyroar also come through in their behaviour, which is nice – you can compare Nidoking and Nidoqueen, or contrast Jellicent and Unfezant, who draw attention to gender but don’t make much of it.  Male Pyroar, specifically the male with the most impressive mane, are said to be the leaders of their prides, which obviously draws on the male leadership of real leonine social structure.  It’s also worth noting that only ¼ of all Pyroar are male, reflecting the composition of real prides, which will generally include only 1-2 males and perhaps 5-6 females.  Interestingly the Pokédex chooses to emphasise the females’ role in raising cubs, when in fact real lionesses are generally responsible for hunting (something for which the stronger but slower males are less suited) and tend to leave the males to protect the cubs in their absence; otherwise the males and females are equally involved.  I suspect the reversal comes from the fact that the activity of raising children tends to be gendered ‘female’ in most human societies, while hunting is more likely to be gendered ‘male,’ and the designers attributed a standard feminine activity to female Pyroar without thinking about what lions actually do.  It’s a little disappointing that Pyroar should be made to conform to human gender stereotypes in this way when there exists such an obvious reason for them not to (I always thought the role of lionesses in literally bringing home the bacon was fairly well-known, but perhaps not…).

 A lion and a lioness.

Litleo and Pyroar don’t subdue prey with claws, teeth, and brute strength like real world lions – why bother with any of that when you can breath fire?  Probably because of the sunburst shape of the males’ manes, there’s a long-standing association between lions and solar imagery going back to the Near Eastern Bronze Age, which male Pyroar are happy to accentuate.  That does make Fire something of an obvious choice, granted, but not as obvious as Ice on a polar bear.  I sort of wish they had played up the solar idea a bit, maybe with a sun-related ability (goodness knows none of Pyroar’s current abilities would be missed).  Another critical aspect of what these Pokémon are about is also drawn from real lions – their roar.  Lions roar; aside from the males’ glorious manes, their fearsome roar is probably the most iconic thing about them (for fans of A Song of Ice and Fire, think of the crest and motto of House Lannister: respectively, a golden lion and the phrase “Hear Me Roar”), and Litleo and Pyroar have two skills related to that: the relatively rare Hyper Voice attack, and their signature move, Noble Roar.  This, I think, is the reason they’re Normal dual-types and not straight Fire, which would otherwise make just as much sense; they rely as much on their explosive vocal range as on their fire, and sonic abilities remain among the ‘miscellaneous’ powers still associated with the Normal type (compare Jigglypuff, who became Fairy/Normal in X and Y while Clefairy is now pure Fairy).

The other interesting thing about Pyroar is that the male seems almost made to be Lysandre’s signature Pokémon (and Lysandre is, to my recollection, the only NPC in the game who uses a male one): the bright red mane is reminiscent of Lysandre’s extravagant hairdo, the species designation “the Royal Pokémon” matches Lysandre’s royal Kalosian heritage, lions are a common symbol in Mediaeval heraldry, perhaps furthering the ‘royal’ associations, and they are traditionally associated with pride (to the point that the word even became the collective noun for a group of them), which is probably Lysandre’s most significant flaw – the pride that led him to believe he had the right, indeed the duty, to decide who would live and who would die all around the world.  Even the fire abilities recall the name of Lysandre’s organisation, and Lysandre himself is regularly described metaphorically as ‘burning’ with passion.  This wouldn’t be the first time a human character has taken certain cues from a Pokémon – Wake’s lucha mask is modeled on a Swampert (though he doesn’t actually have a Swampert, in any of his incarnations), Chilli, Cilan and Cress match the distinctive hairstyles of Simisear, Simisage and Simipour, Alder’s hair seems to be styled after Volcarona, and I believe Gardevoir inspired Diantha’s dress.  The intended implication may be that Pyroar was Lysandre’s first Pokémon (Gyarados is now his strongest, but seriously what kind of troll Professor starts a kid off with a Magikarp?) and the one with whom he has the deepest relationship.  Can you push that even further?  Maybe – Pyroar’s ‘royal’ designation might come from being a traditional starter Pokémon given to children of the Kalosian monarchy, and even today given to their descendants. 

 Male Pyroar, with his distinctive mane.

Pyroar seems intended to serve as a special sweeper.  Although her defences are poor and her physical attacks not worth the effort, she’s very fast, and her special attacks pack quite a punch.  Defensively, Normal/Fire is a mixed bag – six resistances (including Fire, Ice and Fairy) and a Ghost immunity (something which is shaping up to be quite valuable in this generation) are nothing to sniff at, but Pyroar’s four weaknesses are all to powerful and common offensive types: Ground, Rock, Fighting and Water.  Offensively, though, Fire Blast and Hyper Voice are a pretty solid combination, even if they leave her in a bit of trouble against most Rock-types.  The neat thing about Hyper Voice is that sound-based attacks have been improved in X and Y and can now bypass Substitute, which makes Pyroar very dangerous to certain Pokémon who rely on Substitutes to stall for time.  Beyond that, options are sadly limited – there’s Dark Pulse on the side, and if you’re planning a sun team, Solarbeam is an option, though bear in mind that weather in general is substantially weaker now that the effects of Drought et al. have limited durations.  The usual package of alternate Fire moves is available – Flamethrower for greater reliability and Overheat for single-shot power.  Other than that, you’re probably looking at either Hidden Power or a support move for the final slot.  Hidden Power is easier to use now, since its power rating is always 60 rather than randomly determined for each individual.  A Grass-type Hidden Power is probably the best complement to Pyroar’s main attacks, if you can get it, but a move with 60 power is not exactly a brilliant deal.  The signature move, Noble Roar, seems like more of a flavour thing than something that would be especially useful in battle – it reduces the target’s attack and special attack, which is irritating, but can be shaken off by switching out and won’t protect Pyroar from critical hits.  The nice thing about Noble Roar is that it’s good for catching Pokémon as they switch in, since it doesn’t matter whether the target favours special or physical attacks.  Still, it might be better suited to a somewhat tougher Pokémon.  Burning incoming opponents with Will’o’Wisp is probably a better option if you’re looking to give Pyroar stronger defensive capabilities.  Yawn could also be interesting; most people will switch out after being hit by Yawn rather than let a Pokémon fall asleep the next turn, so that could be good for keeping Pyroar’s most dangerous opponents off her back.  Finally, she’s fast enough to make good use of Taunt, and can more effectively break defensive Pokémon that way by denying them access to their support moves.

 Female Pyroar, with her impressive crest.

None of Pyroar’s abilities are much use, sadly.  Rivalry gives a damage bonus against Pokémon of the same gender, but a corresponding penalty against Pokémon of the opposite gender – certainly flavour-appropriate for a Pokémon with strong gender differentiation, but too unpredictable to plan strategies around, since there’s no way to know the gender of Pokémon you’ll be facing ahead of time.  Moxie is an attack boost every time you knock out an opponent – great, except Pyroar doesn’t use physical attacks.  If for some reason you do want to focus on Pyroar’s physical side, well, get used to disappointment, because her strongest physical Fire-type attack is Fire Fang, and her coverage options basically extend to Crunch and Wild Charge.  Flame Charge lets you do damage while increasing your speed, and is generally a good secondary attack, but speed isn’t really high on Pyroar’s list of concerns anyway.  Her final ability, Unnerve, prevents opponents from eating berries.  Whoop-dee-f*cking-doo.  In short, Normal/Fire is actually pretty solid and Pyroar certainly has the stats to back it up, but she’s just not a versatile Pokémon, and her lack of relevant, useful abilities makes it difficult for her to sparkle.

I think overall I lean a little on the ‘meh’ side with Pyroar.  On reflection I don’t think there’s anything really wrong with her; as far as the whole ‘being a lion’ thing goes, she does a solid job, and the focus on her roar as a weapon makes sense with the design while giving her a pretty good combination of primary attacks.  I come away from this one feeling like there’s room for more, though.  Playing up the royalty aspect somehow might have been more interesting, and Pyroar would be an excellent Pokémon to give a sun motif and solar abilities, which would also make a good combination with a royal theme, particularly in Kalos (given the presence in the background of Louis XIV, the ‘sun king,’ as a historical model for the Kalosian monarchy and the Parfum Palace).  Drawing on the heraldic associations of lions, maybe going for a more stylised look, might be a good way of doing that.  I like Pyroar well enough, particularly the female form which makes an effort to match the male form in overall majesty while still creating a very different impression of her nature, but I feel just a little underwhelmed.

Getting Bogged Down

Not without a little trepidation, I promptly answer Professor Sycamore’s summons and enter Lysandre’s lurid crimson café.  As far as I can tell, Sycamore just happened to be having lunch with Lysandre there and wanted to get me in on the conversation, mostly to give Lysandre an opportunity to congratulate me in person on becoming a Digidestined, something he has always wanted to do.  I also get a more explicit introduction to Lysandre’s philosophy.  According to Professor Sycamore, Lysandre is exceptionally high-born, descended from Kalosian royalty – although Lysandre himself downplays this, since he wants to leave a different legacy.  Lysandre believes that there are two kinds of people in the world – those who give, and those who take, like the legendary Pokémon of Kalos, who gave life and took it (this refers, I presume, to Xerneas and Yveltal – so they represent life and death?).  He regards the second group as scum, and notes that “there will be no foolish actions if the number of people and Pokémon doesn’t increase,” which is… an odd, faintly Malthusian and very worrying sentiment.  Apparently, the old king of Kalos only took from the world, but Lysandre wants to give back, both through his inventions and by funding Pokémon research.  The king did achieve one good thing, though – he created some kind of “ultimate weapon” and used it to “wash the era clean of its filth.”  I stare at Lysandre, trying to keep my expression neutral, nibbling anxiously at a croissant, and occasionally shooting worried looks at Professor Sycamore, who gives no indication of any concern whatsoever.  Finally, lunch is over and I am freed of this troubling man’s presence.  Lysandre wants to create a world where everything can stay young and beautiful forever… and where all population growth halts completely… and there are legendary Pokémon in this region with power over life and death.  I have a terrible feeling I can see where this is going.  More importantly, if he tries to replicate this ‘ultimate weapon,’ he’ll scour the age of all its filth – and that probably includes me!  He must be stopped at all costs!

Another call on my Holo-Caster informs me that my erstwhile rivals are meeting on the northern outskirts of Lumiose City to catch up.  Why not?  I think they’re the only people in this country who give me any respect; I might as well keep the silly little people happy.  Trevor and Serena are already waiting outside the city gates when I arrive.  Trevor, as he usually does, challenges me to what he calls “his own kind of Pokémon battle” – seeing who has the more complete Pokédex.  He’s never beaten me on that score, and doesn’t start now.  Nor does Serena overcome my Pokémon in a more conventional battle, even though her Braixen has now evolved into a mystical Delphox (I love this name, by the way; obviously it’s fox + Delphi, so connotations of mysticism, magic and secret knowledge, but I’m also reminded of phlox, one of the Greek words for fire – not sure whether that’s intentional).  Maybe they should branch out into things that I’m less good at.  That works for Tierno and Shauna; I’m sure Tierno and his Pokémon would curb-stomp me in a break-dancing competition, and Shauna by now is probably really good at… whatever the hell it is that she claims to be doing on this journey.  Something that involves spending lots of money and whistling all the time.  And, speak of the devil, Tierno and Shauna turn up as Serena and I wrap up our battle.  Now that everyone’s together, Shauna wants to check out a rumoured haunted house further up the road.  Serena, buzzkill that she is, thinks it’s a frivolous waste of time and heads straight for the next town, Laverre City, to train her Pokémon, but I consider that a haunted house may provide an opportunity to meet new Ghost Pokémon and cautiously follow.  The road we’re on is euphemistically known as the ‘Laverre Nature Trail,’ which appears to be Kalos-speak for ‘depressing fetid swamp of death.’  Everything is waterlogged and half-dead and covered in gravestones, and even the grass looks like it’s about to give up, turn black, and start preying on small animals and less agile children.  Someday I will put a penal colony here.  There are some neat Pokémon here, though: Weepinbell, Stunfisk, Shelmet, Karrablast, Haunter and Carnivine, all of which I capture… and then I meet Goomy.  Goomy is a little pink blobby polyp-like creature who blasts me with a Dragonbreath attack.  Once caught and questioned, Goomy continues to insist on being a Dragon Pokémon, albeit the weakest one of all.  Okay, Goomy, far be it from me to call such a cute little Pokémon a liar, but are you sure you’re a Dragon-type and not, say, a Poison-type with delusions of grandeur and trouble dealing with the cold?  Look, fine then; stick to whatever story you like, but you’re coming with me, because if there’s one thing I know about weak Dragon-types it’s that they repay your investments.  I was getting bored of Tereus anyway.

The haunted house, when we reach it, turns out to be a spectacular bust.  It’s a perfectly ordinary house, somewhat poorly lit, with a man inside who tells moderately disturbing stories about people with no faces and then demands a tip.  The rivals disperse, disappointed, and I decide to take some time to train up my new Goomy, whom I have named Pytho (after the dragon slain at Delphi by the god Apollo, whose name is etymologically linked with the ancient Greek word for rot), along with some of my other Pokémon who have been languishing in the PC box for a while.  Here, I learn many new things.  At level 35, Honedge becomes Doublade, splitting into two swords and gaining greater physical power.  There’s one more empty slot in the Pokédex after Doublade, which seems to indicate either that Doublade will evolve again or that Honedge has a branched evolution I’ve missed – I’m kind of thinking the latter is more likely, because where can you go after evolving from one sword to two?  Three swords?  Litleo, also at level 35, becomes Pyroar – I’m still betting this thing has major gender differences, so maybe I’ll train a male later, or just look up what they look like on the internet.  Trial and error reveals that a Sun Stone and Shiny Stone will evolve, respectively, Helioptile and Floette into Heliolisk (who is still a frilled lizard and flares his neck frill while channelling electrical power – something Clemont’s Heliolisk never got a chance to demonstrate) and the somewhat overstated and elaborate Florges, still a pure Fairy-type, but one who draws energy from flowers and claims gardens as her territory.  Amaura gets all the way to 39 and becomes a majestic Aurorus, a huge crystal-studded sauropod with long, glowing crests along the back of its neck (I want to say I’ve seen sauropods reconstructed with crests like that before, but names escape me).  Binacle, at level 39, undergoes a… surprising… transformation into a seven-headed barnacle-golem called Barbaracle (yes, seven, because his four arms and his feet are also heads), a great bulky physical tank-type thing.  I just want to draw attention, for a moment, to Barbaracle’s Pokédex entry: “When they evolve, two Binacle multiply into seven.  They fight with the power of seven Binacle.”  Really?  I would have thought that a group of seven Binacle would have fought with the power of maybe four and a half, on a good day; a pair of them can barely manage to fight with the power of one, after all, lazy little $#!ts that they are.  Finally, getting Pytho up to 40, bringing her in line with the rest of my active party, causes her to evolve into a Sligoo – a large, blind purple snail.  This… is the weirdest Dragon-type I’ve ever seen.  There’s another empty space in my Pokédex between Sliggoo and Karrablast; presumably I can expect another evolution at some godawful level around 60 or so, so I slap an Eviolite on her and hope for the best.  My Skrelp, meanwhile, still hasn’t evolved; since Clauncher had a plain old levelling evolution I’m pretty sure Skrelp will too, but I kind of expected they would evolve at the same time… either I’m missing something here, or Skrelp is going undergo a pretty dramatic transformation. From what I’ve been told, there aren’t all that many new Pokémon in Kalos compared to previous regions – I think by now I must have seen more than half of the damn things.  I wonder what’s left?

I also evolve my Flaaffy into an Ampharos, which means I get to test out another of these Mega Stones.  When Ampharos digivolves, she gains a luxurious mane of silky white hair, studded with red orbs like the one on her tail, along with tremendous offensive and defensive power, Mold Breaker (take that, Lanturn!), and… a secondary Dragon type?  That- hmm.  Does… does Ampharos actually learn any Dragon attacks?  Maybe she gets Dragon Pulse or something now, or maybe having a Dragon-type mega form would make her eligible to learn Draco Meteor?  Might be something to experiment on later; tempting as it is, I don’t particularly want Ampharos in my party (after all, I used one on my recent White 2 playthrough and I do like to mix things up a bit).  I guess I can add Mega Ampharos to Altaria (and, for that matter, Goomy and Sliggoo) under the heading of ‘non-draconic Dragon Pokémon.’  Being a ‘Dragon,’ it seems, is really no longer about being a majestic and imposing magical reptile – you can also be a… giant sheep, or giraffe, or whatever Ampharos is supposed to be.  Personally I tend to think that the uniting idea of the Dragon-types is their mystical quality and connection with life-force anyway, but it’s neat to watch the design process.  Also, it’s interesting that they chose Ampharos in particular to digivolve; to judge from the Pokémon that are receiving this honour so far, it seems like it’s at least partly a matter of popularity – and Ampharos has definitely been a fan favourite since her release Gold and Silver, in spite of her long decline on the competitive scene.  And here I was, convinced they never listened to us!

Ridiculous quote log:

Nothing for today, but rest assured, this is not because the people of Kalos have suffered a sudden outbreak of sanity, but rather because after my prolonged exposure to the light and chaos of Lumiose City I felt an inexplicable compulsion to go out into the wilderness and stick my head into soft peat for six hours.