Oh, Farfetch’d. You deserved so much better.
I’m guessing that most of you who followed my Top Ten list thought Farfetch’d was going to get a spot on there somewhere – so much so that I feel I need to do an entry on him just to talk about why he didn’t turn up! For the benefit of those of you out there who had no childhood, Farfetch’d is a vanishingly rare wild duck Pokémon from the original one hundred and fifty, so rare in fact that on Red and Blue he can’t be caught in the wild and must be obtained from a trainer in the game by trading away a Spearow. The reason he is vanishingly rare is because he tastes delicious and carries his own garnish: a stalk of green onion, a common ingredient in recipes for duck stew. His Japanese name, Kamonegi, literally “duck with leek,” is apparently an abbreviated form of an expression meaning either “something fortunate but far-fetched” or “a person naïvely walking into a con or dangerous situation” – like a duck carrying its own garnish (it’s also the name of a popular Japanese noodle dish). This is a frighteningly bad survival strategy but since it’s acknowledged as such in-universe I can live with that. Interestingly, although it’s one of the most well-known facts about Farfetch’d, only the anime mentions that people eat them – as far as I am aware, it never explicitly comes up in the games; his Japanese name and his design certainly seem to suggest it though. Farfetch’d’s leek isn’t just to make him taste good, of course; it’s his main defensive weapon, which he needs to survive. According to the Pokédex, he also uses it to build his nest but, annoyingly, it’s not made clear whether he uses it as a tool or a building material (I’m tempted to say it depends on the quality, since Farfetch’d are supposedly very discerning about their sticks and often fight over the best ones). Most of Farfetch’d’s strongest attacks are executed with his stalk, which he wields like a sword, striking attackers with lightning-fast cuts. He will defend his weapon with his life, since without it he might as well be dead. Farfetch’d is a weird, quirky Pokémon, that much is certain, but everything in this design makes sense in context, there’s nothing superfluous, and it’s actually really clever once you get the joke. Very few Pokémon manage to pull off cute and badass at the same time, but I think Farfetch’d manages it with his spunky attitude and his refusal to give up, whatever the odds against him. Honestly, I think he’s one of the best-designed Pokémon of the original generation (certainly the best of the four different Normal/Flying Pokémon available in Red and Blue) and that’s why he didn’t feature in my Top Ten, regardless of how weak he is in battle – and, as we’ll soon discover, he really is horrible.
Farfetch’d is better than Unown, Luvdisc, Dustox and, arguably, Pachirisu. I realise this is probably not very encouraging but I have to work with what I’ve got. Normal/Flying is a distressingly bad type with redundant offensive coverage, critical weaknesses, and few useful resistances outside of the helpful immunity to Ground attacks. Farfetch’d’s best stat score – physical attack – is at a level that would be considered a significant weak point on most Pokémon. Thankfully, his other scores are not significantly worse, but this is small comfort. As this stat distribution attests, Farfetch’d is primarily a physical attacker; Brave Bird and Return offer spectacularly powerful Flying and Normal attacks that fail just as spectacularly to make up for his lack of physical strength, while he can access several attacks of other types courtesy of his green onion sword, such as Poison Jab, Leaf Blade and Night Slash. Like most bird Pokémon, he can also learn U-Turn and Steel Wing. Except for Leaf Blade, which helps a great deal against Rock Pokémon, these techniques will rarely be more effective than his primary attacks anyway (U-Turn is still a good choice though, as always). Notably, Steel-types resist every single one of them. To hurt Steel-types, Farfetch’d has to rely on Revenge, which forces him to take his turn after his opponent even when he’s faster, or Heat Wave, which does special rather than physical damage and, worse, is only available to him on Platinum version and is thus incompatible with what is easily his best passive ability, Defiant (which he gets from the Pokémon Dream World). Farfetch’d can attempt to increase his meagre damage output with Swords Dance (or Work Up if you’ve decided to use Heat Wave and want to boost special damage as well), but that requires that he live long enough to use it. He can also use Agility to redeem his poor speed stat, but that will leave him without the necessary power to hurt anything. He can try using both, but finding time to do that is even more difficult than trying for just one, and also leaves him with only two attacks to work with. Finally, if you’re really masochistic you can get Farfetch’d to heal himself with Roost and prolong his suffering, or try to turn him into a sort of physical tank with Curse.
The one great blessing Farfetch’d enjoys is a custom item: the elaborately titled Stick. Holding a Stick dramatically increases his chance of scoring a critical hit (the base rate is 1/16, which the Stick increases to ¼; high critical-ratio moves like Leaf Blade and Night Slash jump from 1/8 to 1/3). With this in mind, and given his flavour, what mystifies me is that Farfetch’d doesn’t have the Super Luck ability, especially considering that the vast majority of Pokémon with this ability are birds. Super Luck would give Farfetch’d even more critical hits (1/3 for normal attacks, and ½ for attacks like Leaf Blade – the hard limit in the game’s programming), which on its own isn’t enough to make Farfetch’d effective but would certainly help. The first addition I would want to make to Farfetch’d, therefore, is Super Luck, replacing one of his current two absurdly situational abilities, Keen Eye and Inner Focus (while we’re at it, might as well replace the second one – Sniper doesn’t fit quite as well as Super Luck thematically, but triple-damage criticals make sense in the context of what I’m doing with Farfetch’d). The second thing he needs is a reasonable way of penetrating the manifold resistances of Steel Pokémon, which include about two thirds of the elements in the game (honestly I think this is a major game balance concern in itself but that’s not what we’re here for). Water, Fire, Electric and Ground attacks don’t really suit Farfetch’d, but you could probably make a solid argument for giving him a Fighting-type signature move (a lot of Farfetch’d cards have an attack called Leek Slap, but I’d also be tempted to give it a really ridiculous name like Onion Kata, just because it’s Farfetch’d); something with a high critical rate to keep up the theme, and probably more power than Night Slash but not a lot more. What I’m dancing around is the fact that none of this will be enough unless Farfetch’d evolves and earns some stronger stats to back it up. Much as he needs it, I just don’t know what to do with him. Unlike all the other Pokémon I’ve been talking about Farfetch’d has a very neat design, which I don’t want to tamper with. It’s not so much that the design is utterly brilliant, although it is very good; it’s more that Farfetch’d hits some very specific notes, culturally speaking, and it’s hard to think of a meaningful way to develop on that (especially given how little I actually know about Japanese culture). If pressed, I would try to work with the idea that a duck carrying a green onion is symbolic of naïveté; in his evolved form, which I think should have perhaps a small crest and slightly more varied colours but nothing bright or gaudy, Farfetch’d becomes wiser and worldlier. He still carries his green onion, since he still needs it to survive, but he is normally quite reclusive and is highly practiced at keeping himself hidden. While in the open, he often walks along the ground to conceal his own agility, only to spring into the air when attacked. Rather than foraging for food himself, he often prefers to trick other Pokémon into leaving their own food unguarded, or even con them out of it. His stats all increase, but their distribution doesn’t change much; his biggest strengths are still physical attack, special defence and speed, in that order.
I could actually sympathise, strange as this may seem, with a designer who consciously chose not to evolve Farfetch’d. He may be desperate for the extra power, but I am wary at seizing if for him at the expense of his significant appeal. Nonetheless, after more than ten years, I would have hoped someone could have come up with a design for a Farfetch’d evolution that wouldn’t ruin the adorable little guy. I’ve seen suggestions by a number of people that Farfetch’d is supposed to suck, in keeping with the idea of naïveté, but I hope that’s not true; he’s an awesome Pokémon and doesn’t belong at the bottom.