They grow up so fast!
This is the first time they’ve ever officially shown the full evolutionary line of the starters pre-release, but I’m sure there are many reasons why they decided to break the trend (but I’m also sure YOU have NO IDEA what some of those reasons are…..) In any case, these are one of the most foundational aspects of a player’s experience with the game, so maybe just getting the whole thing out of the way will help them get the most of Sun/Moon, focusing on the game itself rather than agonizing over starter choices – besides, we haven’t been completely spoiled, as there’s still more for us to discover (although I’m sure YOU have NO IDEA what any of those things are…you animals.)
While the previous forms were mainly transitional and didn’t openly indicate their “true” theme, all three of the final forms go all-out with those themes. Decidueye takes the little hints of something present in its earlier incarnations and runs it as far as it can go – the whole line has been all about shooting feathers, so now it’s a straight-up archer, with the visual aspects cleverly integrating all the different ideas (which also allows them to continue with their awesomely unique animations, as we saw when Decidueye zips up its hood – I love it.) It even uses its leafy drawstring as its bowstring – it comes together quite well.
Gaining the Ghost type (never-before-seen on a starter – and while all three have completely new type combinations for starter Pokémon, two of three secondary types have never been used as a starter type before, so they were clearly aiming to surprise here) also adds something interesting to the concept – I mean, owls are pretty spooky enough as it is, but all the descriptions in this family mention their stealthy ability to move around unnoticed, and that seems to culminate in an archer with supernatural-level aim and cunning – it moves around and fights like a ghost rather than being an actual ghost. There’s a lot of different conceptions of the Ghost-type that ties into this, much broader than expected – it adds a lot to the type, and add another layer to Decidueye as well. It’s all very original.
There’s a few wrestling-themed Pokémon in the series, but now we’re entering a far more specific realm of wrestling concepts (not even counting what a cat wrestler Pokémon is probably meant to reference) – and that not only adds a lot of depth to their reference pool, it makes a ton of sense in terms of the gameplay, too. The Dark type is primarily about shady, underhanded fighting tactics, many of which (sucker punching, biting, taunting, etc.) are already things that heel wrestlers do on a regular basis, and now that we have one, it almost feels strange that it took them so long to get to this concept. More interestingly, its description plays up the performance aspect – Incineroar plays the jerk role, but it loves getting the audience pumped, so it’s more like an actual wrestler than any of the wrestler Pokémon before this – and that actually seems to be the overarching theme of the starters in Sun/Moon (we know that overarching starter themes exist, because they mentioned it once, and it was quite obvious in X/Y), as all of them are different kinds of entertainer/performer, with Incineroar (and Primarina as well) going the furthest with the idea. But really, with all the focus they’ve put on individualized animations (thus giving each Pokémon the ability to, well, perform), this shouldn’t be that surprising – they seem to have a good grasp of the technology, not just using it to show off, but to add tons of personality – and Incineroar is all about personality.
Primarina takes many of the details of its previous forms and ultimately streamlines them into a whole, with plenty of charming little bits and bobs – the outlandish aspects of Brionne’s design are made simpler and more coherent, all those frills finally being put to good use (I like how the “dress” gives its what looks like a mermaid tail, even though it has an actual tail that’s a different colour.) None of those details feel extraneous, all contributing to the visual theme of the design, which is both compatible and different from its earlier incarnations (it goes from general performer to dancer to singer, which makes sense as the Künstlerroman for little Popplio – although the idea of a sea lion becoming a beautiful singer is kind of funny), giving this family even more of a sense of progression than the other two. Compared to Decidueye and Incineroar, Primarina also seems to be more about poses than animation, or at least the animations seem less pronounced or vivid than the other two – which is not to say that it doesn’t have some interesting ones, such as the interesting way its hair unfurls during attacks (its descriptions also seems to suggest some pretty visually interesting fighting style, as well) – but it does have a lot of character just in the way it lounges about. As I’ve probably mentioned a nauseating number of times before, there seems to have been a real visual focus for these starters, and it has been very thoroughly maintained in all three stages.
Primarina also has the distinction of being the first Fairy-type starter Pokémon, just two generations in (it took Steel three generations to get there, and Dark four – clearly they’re trying to establish Fairy as a firm part of this series at an accelerated rate) – I don’t know if they’re going for a alternate type triangle like they did in X/Y, but Ghost/Dark/Fairy make sense as types playing off each other (they’re three of the more interesting types, at least.) Primarina fits into Fairy more in the broader “whimsical magic” sense rather than the mythological one (just as Decidueye is a Ghost-type mainly for the broader supernatural power angle), but the design and concept still works as a Fairy type while also filling the standard Water starter archetype. Really, I’m just happy that they’ve tried to go for some different angles here for the starters, the most well-worn of the Pokémon niches.
Taken as a group, the rest of the island guardian Pokémon follow the visual and conceptual themes established by Tapu Koko pretty closely, although they all have plenty of their own personality. There are so many recurring themes in the new Pokémon of Sun/Moon, and it’s been fun seeing all the connections and consistencies (for example, the colours of the Tapus follow the same colour schemes of the islands previously established by the four forms of Oricorio), but that they can do that while also making sure each one is its own thing is the most satisfying part. That they can come up with many variations on a single idea is a great strength.
Another of the fun ideas in the Tapus is that, despite being fairy-like things (they are, in a lot of ways, the archetypal Fairy-types), they all have the animal theme going on with their mask (and are four different “groups” of animal, too – no mammal bias here) which communicates the “connections with nature” concept – but once again, in a way that still allows them to take one idea in a lot of fun directions, as none of them transform in or out of their mask/shells in the same way, like those morphing robots whose names I forget. Their descriptions add to that as well – they’re all things that primarily exist to protect nature and Pokémon, and sometimes are okay with humans but not all the time (another trait that seems straight out of stories of fairy folk in myth) – so each of them has their thing that they do, and while those things might not be represented in the gameplay (except for Tapu Fini, whose powers more or less match its field-changing ability), they use the different animal spirits to bring some individual flair as well. Given that none of them have mouths or much other facial detail, the eyes do a lot of conveying for them – just as Tapu Koko looked all-out tough, so does Tapu Lele look curious and mischievous, Tapu Bulu look low-key dangerous (although having its bull tail stuck in a bell is quick to undermine much of the intimidation factor), and Tapu Fini look cool and detached – they each use all aspects of their visuals to explain themselves. Really, there are a lot of ideas at play in these Pokémon, and they are all neat in their own ways – a very cool set of legendary creatures, I say.
Cosmog seems to have been previewed to set up some last minute mystery just before the games release, having its importance to the events of the story prominently played out in the trailer (the Japanese one, mostly) – and although most of us already have a pretty strong inkling of what role it will ultimately play (for reasons that have already been implied – multiple times, in fact), I’d say that it telegraphs its possibilities quite clearly on its own, though that there are still many things for us left to learn about it. It is a unique Pokémon, in terms of its purpose in the game itself, and it lets us know that not just with its strange cosmic visuals, but also in its actual battle abilities – it’s supposed to be something that is not yet fully developed, a little naive and weak (giving it the ability Unaware feels more thematic than logical in a gameplay sense), just a little cloud of adorable star smoke (and the most interesting thing about its physiology so far is that it seems to literally be a cloud, although that’s more clear in the official art than in its animations.) Given the themes of Sun/Moon, that it looks the way it does is definitely an indicator that it is important, even if we didn’t have the aforementioned major story connections yet. In a game about the sun or the moon, the little adorable cloud of star smoke having some sort of significance doesn’t seem like a major leap.
The spoiled feral cat has fattened up (just like Alolan Raticate – apparently urban environments are just justification for Pokémon letting themselves go) – it’s probably one of the more radical changes seen in Alolan Pokémon, going from the lithe standard form to a much rounder one (although from what I can tell, it’s just the head and the rest of its body is pretty much the same.) There’s a pleasing cartoon quality that Alolan Persian has over the norm, exaggerated and full of personality while still maintaining the sinister air as well (and maybe doing it in a less generic way) – plus, I feel like that cartooniness actually fits as an extension of Meowth better (both Alolan and standard forms – though the half-lidded eyes of the latter makes it a bit more obvious.) Now that it’s a Dark type, the particular visual style fits even better – normal Persian mostly just looks like a cat, while Alolan Persian looks like a cat that cheats and steals and maybe even cusses, something larger (ha ha like its head you get it?) than life.