Interlude: The Pokémon Power Bracket – Round 1b
This week’s Pokémon will be all those involved in the tournament who didn’t compete last week, so we’re looking at a completely different set of match-ups, some interesting, others… a little bit one-sided (although, with both Kyogre and Arceus on the other side of the table, the most absurd ones have already been decided). Here we go…
Deoxys vs. Suicune
I never liked Deoxys. Maybe I was just annoyed at not being able to get one (Nintendo rarely bothered to hold events in New Zealand, so event-exclusive Pokémon were pretty much off the menu until the Wi-Fi age), but that hasn’t tarnished my opinions of Mew or Celebi. Maybe the whole “shapeshifting psychic virus from space” thing was too weird for me, but normally I like quirky designs. Did I hate it for being so gimmicky? Usually I hate gimmicks because Game Freak think they’re a valid excuse for a Pokémon to be terrible (see: most of my Top Ten Worst Pokémon Ever), which Deoxys isn’t. Anyway. All of Deoxys’ four forms are quite superior to Suicune, though she’s certainly not a bad Pokémon either. Possibly the strongest of her trio, Suicune, like Raikou, is known for Calm Mind tactics, though hers tend to emphasise gradually building power while absorbing hits with her brilliant defences (unfortunately for Suicune, Rest has lost its lustre in Black and White). I’ve mentioned already why I like the Johto beasts, so I won’t rehash it, and Suicune, the embodiment of the north wind, has always been my favourite, but even though it makes me vaguely uncomfortable for reasons I can’t put my finger on, I have to admit that Deoxys is a really interesting Pokémon who dares to be different, and you could probably do a lot of cool stuff with the concept if you wanted to. I actually like Suicune better, but objectively…
My vote goes to DEOXYS!
Heatran vs. Mew
Mew is sort of a problematic Pokémon, because she’s supposedly the common ancestor of all Pokémon, which clashes rather unfortunately with Arceus, the Original One and creator of the universe, whose first children were Dialga, Palkia and Giratina, followed by Mesprit, Uxie and Azelf. All of these are Pokémon, Arceus definitely came before Mew, and the others probably did as well. My working theory is that Mew was the first creature to be born with a complete soul consisting of intellect, emotion and will, courtesy of the lake trio, and that the seven primordial Pokémon are either ‘soulless,’ or possess something else fundamentally different from a soul. Anyhow. Heatran’s story, mercifully, is contradicted by nothing because there is nothing there to contradict. I think he’s something of a throwback to the days when “legendary Pokémon” just meant “Pokémon with ludicrous stats” but even Articuno, Zapdos and Moltres had the decency to be mysterious creatures, spoken of in hushed tones, whose existence remained a subject of conjecture. Heatran just kinda chills in his volcano being awesome, with his phenomenal Fire attacks and incredible toughness. Mew, of course, can traditionally do everything and do it well, but she’s stayed a jack of all trades and master of none while other Pokémon around her have been mastering more and more as the generations roll by. She remains a brilliant Pokémon, though, and although her flavour is hard to reconcile with the creation myth, I sort of prefer a problematic story to none at all, because it at least provides fodder for speculation (besides, she was there first; it’s not her fault Game Freak disregarded her established backstory).
My vote goes to MEW!
Groudon vs. Regigigas
Oh, Regigigas, you poor sad creature. You towed continents in your time! You shaped the face of the earth as we know it! Or… wait, wasn’t that Kyogre and Groudon? Ah, whatever. Regigigas, master of the legendary golems, has clearly fallen far from his glory days. He is utterly useless in a fight, with his Slow Start ability making him totally unable to use his ludicrous attack and good speed unless he stays in play for five turns straight… which, without any healing (no, not even Rest) and without Protect, just isn’t going to happen. Though his physical design is more complex and interesting than his rather bland progeny, he has none of their intriguing backstory; he’s just a great big Pokémon who dragged continents in ancient times, presumably for reasons, created three other Pokémon in his own image, presumably for other reasons, and then went to sleep far beneath the Snowpoint Temple, presumably for further reasons. Against this, we have the creator of the continents, Groudon. Like Kyogre, he has a powerful presence, as well as a fascinating dual characterisation in his Pokédex descriptions, being portrayed as a destroyer in his own game, Ruby, and as a saviour (from flooding) in Sapphire. He is, almost unarguably, weaker than Kyogre, because he gets relatively little direct benefit from the brilliant sunlight he creates around him – his Fire attacks are mostly for backup, while Solarbeam is at best a gimmick. Still, though… are you really going to argue with him with Ho-oh and Reshiram at his side?
My vote goes to GROUDON!
Ho-oh vs. Uxie
Little Uxie is probably my favourite of the lake trio, partly because his sleepy eyes and large, creased skull give him a little character-appropriate differentiation that his siblings, sadly, lack. What I really love about Uxie, though, is his frightening hidden power. “It is said,” the Pokédex notes, “that it can wipe out the memory of those who see its eyes,” leaving them totally lost, not even knowing who they are or where they come from. This also clues us in on how to interpret one of the myths found in the Canalave library, so we learn that anyone who touches Mesprit’s body will lose all emotion, while anyone who harms Azelf will slip into a coma. Sadly, none of these abilities come up in fights; Uxie is sadly underwhelming in battle, as a supportive tank whose excellent defences are undermined by his difficulty with healing. Ho-oh not only has obscene special defence, as well as Recover to rid herself of Uxie’s problems, but also packs a huge punch with her Sacred Fire. Ho-oh’s flavour seems pretty one dimensional – the rainbow phoenix is a source of joy to all who see her, a being of absolute purity, goodness, and light. Actually, though… there’s no other Pokémon like this. Most legendary Pokémon are portrayed as primal forces; Cresselia and Shaymin are possibly the only others who are unambiguously benevolent towards humankind. Ho-oh does fill a necessary niche, and I feel that she also represents the ‘sweet spot’ after the designers started making legendary Pokémon that were really ‘legendary’ but before they decided every game had to include an ‘avert the apocalypse’ plotline and started creating Pokémon with the power to unravel the universe or what-have-you. I love Ho-oh just for that.
My vote goes to HO-OH!
Lugia vs. Manaphy
So, two rival ‘guardians of the sea’ – Lugia, who despite being an ocean spirit is not a Water-type but a Psychic-type, and Manaphy, who despite having notable psychic abilities is not a Psychic-type but a Water-type. Hmm. The thing to get out of the way straight off is that Lugia is possibly the toughest Pokémon in the game, though Manaphy can be pretty damn dangerous if he gets a free turn to cast Tail Glow, which sends his special attack score through the roof. One-turn Rests as long as it’s raining, courtesy of Hydration, is great too. I don’t think there’s really enough to choose between them to decide this contest on battling ability. Lugia’s place in the world is… odd. It’s stated repeatedly that he stays hidden beneath the ocean to protect others, since his power is so great he can inadvertently cause storms when he surfaces. Then again, he’s also said to have the ability to calm storms. I’m left imagining that Lugia’s relationship with storms and the ocean is actually rather complicated; possibly he’s the lynchpin of some sort of fragile balance, and has to create and calm storms to regulate the climate of large areas. If Lugia has oddly large-scale powers, Manaphy’s are oddly low-key. His one significant ability is that he’s really good at making friends. I’m sort of left feeling that he’s a little out of place in a game that gives only cursory attention to emotions and relationships, as Pokémon does – which is a shame because that’s one of the very things that I think Pokémon should give more attention to. Theoretically this is a game about partnership, and I think Pokémon with abilities like Manaphy’s are quite underutilised… so, much to my own surprise…
My vote goes to MANAPHY!
Latias vs. Phione
Game Freak, what is Phione doing here?
Phione… Phione isn’t just bad, she’s barely even usable; her stats would be average even on a mortal Pokémon; her movepool is pretty bland, with all the Water-type standards and nothing of real interest bar U-Turn; Hydration is great, but Lapras, Vaporeon and arguably even Dewgong do it better (and when you’re being outclassed by Dewgong, it’s time to pack up and go home). Heck, I’m not sure Phione is even officially a legendary Pokémon! Apparently Game Freak have both confirmed and denied her legendary status at different times. She’s inexplicably banned from the Battle Frontier and Battle Subway, as well as from most official tournaments, which pretty much eliminates most of the chances she ever gets to do anything. I don’t think she’s ever been the star of anything, and she has no interesting powers, other than the ability to dissolve her body into water, which she shares with Vaporeon. She’s basically just Manaphy’s useless, gimmicky little sister, and Game Freak have tossed her into the Pokémon Power Bracket and put her up against one of the bloody Eon Twins, for goodness’ sake, probably just so they can laugh at her.
Ah, you know what? Screw it. If any other Pokémon wins this tournament, it’ll be “just another awesome thing I did.” If Phione wins, it’ll be the one and only moment in the sun she’s ever likely to get.
My vote goes to PHIONE!
Palkia vs. Regirock
(I’m coming to think I gave Registeel a bit of a raw deal in the last entry, so take everything here as going for Registeel vs. Dialga as well)
I don’t actually hate Regirock, Regice and Registeel. I think the concept is very interesting. The fact that they were entombed by humans to keep them controlled has fascinating implications for the history of the relationship between humans and Pokémon. Even the fact that they’re so inscrutable and alien arguably helps by emphasising the divide between them and humanity… but that’s something of a double-edged sword. It’s hard to look at them as living things, near impossible to relate to them as we can to more expressive Pokémon designs. Other Pokémon pull it off, somehow; maybe it’s because most of them have eyes and humans are obsessed with eyes, but Staryu and Starmie have none, and manage to be mysterious but also attractive. Honestly I think I would really like the legendary golems if Pokémon were less of a breeding-training-fighting game and more of an exploration-discovery game, but we are where we are. Against this, we have Palkia. Apart from undeniably being ludicrously powerful in comparison to Regirock, she, like Dialga, represents the way Diamond and Pearl pushed the boundaries of sanity to their absolute limit by introducing Pokémon that might actually be legitimate divine beings. I’ve always been a little annoyed by this because I feel it’s symptomatic of Pokémon’s irrational need to be ‘epic’ when ‘epic’ is neither inherently desirable nor a particularly good fit for the basic premises of the franchise… that’s a discussion for another time, though. For now, the point is that Regirock and Palkia each annoy me in their own ways, but Palkia clearly blows Regirock out of the water as far as battling goes.
My vote goes to PALKIA!
Rayquaza vs. Azelf
Undeniably the strongest of his trio, Azelf, the embodiment of will, is good at blowing things up. That includes himself, because Azelf has always been quick to pull an Explosion when things start looking bad. He’s noted for using his excellent attack and special attack to commit serial murder, but also has a useful support movepool and can use it quite well thanks to his great speed. Rayquaza is a similar idea on a grander scale, with his fundamentally ridiculous offensive scores, access to Dragon Dance, and wide offensive movepool. Rayquaza is stronger, obviously, but I’ve always maintained that mechanical strength matters to me much less when analysing legendary Pokémon, since power is their birthright anyway, and I care more about their background and story. Rayquaza, unfortunately, has offended me: I must doggedly insist that, as I suggested long ago, his presence in Emerald is actually detrimental to the storyline, rendering the events of the Sootopolis crisis upsettingly anticlimactic and denying the player agency in their resolution to a large extent. Deus ex machina stopped being trendy when Euripides died, people. Azelf and his siblings do something similar in Diamond and Pearl, but there the player still has to fight Cyrus and Palkia/Dialga to resolve the climax, and the lake trio are implied to have shown up in the first place because of their gratitude to the player for saving them earlier (and possibly because the player has a special bond with Mesprit). To get Rayquaza to help you just have to show up and say “yo. Ray-dogg. Shiz be goin’ down.”
…I’m paraphrasing, but you see what I’m getting at.
My vote goes to AZELF!