Posted by: Junahu | December 9, 2011

Junahu says stuff and you listen ~ Pokemon

Disclaimer// Warning, this meandering article about Pokemon by Junahu does not mention KingK.Rool’s Kangaskhan. Not even once, and this disclaimer doesn’t count

What is a Pokemon, and what is a Pokeset? Seemingly simple questions, but they lead to others. What is Pokemon syndrome? Why are Pokemon movesets so easy to make? Why does EVERYONE make them? Discussion on these fronts is, unsurprisingly, nonexistant. After all, it doesn’t benefit us to discuss something that just… is.

What is a Pokemon?

A miserable little pile of--'are you a boy, or a girl?'

Or, to put it another way, what makes a pokemon?

The main key here is that every Pokemon straddles the thin line between fantasy and reality. We can see, almost immediately, what each Pokemon is based off of. Whether it’s a ferret, a pig, or a bunch of honeycombs with faces on, they are instantly recognisable, and thus eternally memorable. But it’s the fantasy elements that make the Pokemon ~fun~. It can be as simple as colouring the animal differently, and adding some cute eyes. Or it can draw inspiration from mythology, emmotional constructs, or even philosophical ideas, in order to flesh out a Pokemon with an implied personality.

The third, and potentially most important ingredient to a good Pokemon, is arbitrariness. This is absolutely vital; leave some details out. What makes a Pokemon so universally likeable, is that we don’t know everything about it, and this extends through every part of a Pokemon, even into the visual design. Flat shades of colour. Stark, minimalistic crests. And body shapes that are barely biologically functional. So much about a Pokemon is left to us to figure out. And because of that, the Pokemon feels much more personal, because we’re the ones who filled the blanks with our own ideas.

Arbitrariness is a vital aspect of making anything suitable for children. But it’s also an excellent boon to us MYMers too. After all, what other gaming series gives us hundreds of half finished character templates to use for the base of our movesets? I mean, OTHER than Kirby

What is a Pokeset?

Leading directly from the previous point, anyone can take a Pokemon and derive a moveset from it. And the fact that everyone sees each Pokemon a little differently, means that everyone has their own unique approach to making a Pokemon moveset. But is this right? Should a Pokeset offer a specific interpetation?

From the perspective of us having fun while making sets and injecting our personal views into our work; Definitely. But from the perspective of us trying to give the Pokemon a definitive moveset that everyone can identify with?

Let’s rephrase the question.

What makes a good Pokeset?

Now we’re straying into personal opinion. But as I’ve just explained, the appeal of Pokemon is that they are designed with a much broader audience in mind, and yet manage to imply a great deal of individual character none-the-less. So I believe it makes sense that a truly great Pokeset should follow suit. It shouldn’t be a big tangle where you enforce your own ideas of the Pokemon onto the moveset. It shouldn’t be a Jellicent that uses its non-existant tentacles to attack “because it’s a jellyfish“. It shouldn’t be a Kabutops who summons water because the meta-game says its great in rain. It needs to be more laid back in its approach, more open to interpretation, and encompassing of the entire Pokemon, not just a snapshot of its cool parts.

Pikachu may look banal and simplistic, but a lot of work went into the way he feels to play as. He’s mouse like in his approach, abusing his speed and snapping out short combos whenever he gets the chance. But he’s also an electric dynamo, he ‘feels’ dangerous to touch, because his hitboxes are all so very focused on Pikachu’s entire body. And then there’s the supernatural element, where he can summon a bolt of lightning to crash down on him, send a cute bouncy spark of electricity across the floor, or move so fast that he almost appears to teleport (The “almost” being the most important part here). It’s all the small contextual clues in his actions and reactions, as opposed to some mandatory “fitting because it’s tangentally related” playstyle, that make Pikachu feel like a pokemon.

When you consider this, you’ll realise that the normally easy to interpret Pokemon characters are actually much the opposite. They are VERY tightly designed in order to offer a sense of freedom and personal attachment to the end player, and no design choice was made lightly. If you aren’t doing the same, then your moveset may as well be about a specific pokemon.


What make a good Pokemon Trainer moveset?

Team Rocket had whips. This makes them cool

Pokemon Trainer sets are a different breed of beast from a regular Pokemon moveset. Here it’s less about the Pokemon as a species, but more about an individual Pokemon, raised by an individual person, and put on a team with other individual Pokemon. With a Pokemon Trainer moveset, the MYMer is free to be a lot more specific with their interpretation. Surfing Nidoking? Sure! A Pikachu that attaches balloons to himself to float? Why not?

The restrictions here are not so much in how you make the Pokemon work (though it should still have a general feel of that Pokemon) but in how you make it work with the Trainer and his other Pokemon. Team Rocket Grunt is a superb example of this, using his normally mindless and feral Pokemon in a more sophisticated and intertwined way. It’s less about Zubat’s flocking mentality and fear of intruders, and more about underhanded tricks and bamboozling the foe’s sense of direction. It’s less about Houndour’s pack mentality, and more about his alpha dog aspirations, or “do as I do” commands. It’s less about Grimer’s repulsive, sticky slobbering and more about his viral, supportive clinginess. And the man behind it all, the person drawing this potential out of his Pokemon, is the Grunt himself. These AREN’T wild Pokemon, they’re HIS Pokemon. His underhanded stylings rub off on his Pokemon, developing their style to better fit his needs

A Pokemon Trainer moveset is more about the trainer than the Pokemon. The goal is to, without actually having the trainer DO anything, communicate his/her character and style. Characterisation by proxy; it’s a tricky thing to pull off correctly, especially since going overboard on personalising a Pokemon leads to…

What is Pokemon Syndrome?

Jigglypuff learns more than just Sing, you know. No need to make a moveset just about the singing.

We’ve had this question asked a myriad times in the past, and I’ve given my answer just as many times, but once more won’t hurt. Pokemon Syndrome is when a moveset doesn’t understand the moves that a Pokemon can do. Or rather, doesn’t understand ‘how‘ the Pokemon uses certain moves, and what those moves say about the Pokemon.

For an example, let’s take good old Arbok. He learns Leer and Glare, both of which are intimidation techniques suitable for a snake to unnerve the foe with. However, do not make the mistake of assuming Arbok uses his eyes for these attacks. That’s not how a cobra would do it, and it’s certainly not how Arbok would do it. The pattern on his hood is clearly a glowering face, and THAT is what the cobra Pokemon intimidates his prey with.

Also note what these attacks say about Arbok. A big running theme for this Pokemon, is intimidation. He scares the foe into immobilization, which gives his venom a chance to work its magic. Leer and Glare both play into this theme. The attacks aren’t just there for gameplay reasons, they help flesh out the characterisation of the Pokemon itself.

Ok, let’s look at a slightly harder example; Surfing Pikachu. I wheel this example out constantly, and for good reason. It’s just plain stupid to expect this attack to actually summon a tidal wave, just because that’s its in game effect. Surfing Pikachu has always been a special Pikachu that can surf on waves with a surfboard.

It’s a vital skill to be able to discern between an attack that is there because the Pokemon can actually perform that action, and an attack that is there because its name and effect tells the player a little something of the Pokemon’s behaviour and physiology. There’s always going to be a large amount of segregation between the gameplay of the games, and the fictional reality of the Pokemon world itself. We will always be unable to climb pithy little ledges using Rock Climb. New Pokemon will always be popping up all over the place, even though a worldwide study of the damn things has been in effect for years and long distance electronic transportation of Pokemon is possible. Banette will never come from abandoned pokedolls, like its pokedex entries always state. Marowak will never evolve into Kangaskhan. I know it’s hard, but we have to accept that the games are not real (and that making fun of the games for slips in real world logic is not funny at all)

It’s true, however, that an element of magic stays with Pokemon, regardless of how you interpret them, and that’s part and parcel of their charm. I guess what I’m saying is to exercise a little common sense. Nidoking and Clefable can both use Strength, do you think they do it in exactly the same way?

When making a moveset for a Pokemon, concentrate on what certain moves say about your Pokemon

What do moves say about Pokemon?

A strong temptation with pokesets, is to open up the Pokemon’s learnable moves, and just look for intrigueing combinations. While it could work out just fine, it can just as easily wind up a mess.

The key moves are almost always the ones which a Pokemon learns naturally, through levelling up. These are the moves which any individual from that species can be expected to know. These attacks are usually the most literal ones (i.e. these are the attacks the Pokemon can actually do for reals) though exceptions can always be present.

Based on Medusa, apparantly

For example, take a gander at Tangela’s level up moves;

Start Ingrain Grass Status —% 20
Start Constrict Normal Physical 10 100% 35
5 Sleep Powder Grass Status 75% 15
8 Absorb Grass Special 20 100% 25
12 Growth Normal Status —% 40
15 PoisonPowder Poison Status 75% 35
19 Vine Whip Grass Physical 35 100% 15
22 Bind Normal Physical 15 85% 20
26 Mega Drain Grass Special 40 100% 15
29 Stun Spore Grass Status 75% 30
33 Knock Off Dark Physical 20 100% 20
36 AncientPower Rock Special 60 100% 5
40 Natural Gift Normal Physical 100% 15
43 Slam Normal Physical 80 75% 20
47 Tickle Normal Status 100% 20
50 Wring Out Normal Special 100% 5
54 Power Whip Grass Physical 120 85% 10


Most of these are completely understandable. Various status effect powders (Poison Powder, Sleep Powder, Stun Spore), various vine and tentacle attacks (Constrict, Vine Whip, Bind, Tickle, Wring Out, Power Whip), various attacks about plants growing (Absorb, Mega Drain, Growth, Natural Gift, Ingrain). The big mystery move here however, is clearly Ancient Power. It’s move descriptions is thus;

The user attacks with a prehistoric power.

It’s hard to imagine Tangela actually throwing rocks around, though with its vines wrapped around who knows what, maybe it could brandish a stray rock as a weapon. In this case, the attack is hinting at how Tangela can improvise a bludgeon whenever it needs to fend off predators.

On the other hand, perhaps Ancient Power is simply stating that Tangela, as a species, dates back to prehistoric times, and that it has survived this long without an evolution (4th gen be damned) because it was so good at defending itself.

Either way, with these moves, and the Pokemon’s Pokedex entries, one can get a decent idea of the kind of organism Tangela is supposed to be, along with its approximate approach to fighting. In Tangela’s case, its messy vines tangle predators while keeping its actual body out of sight and mind.

But that’s not the end of it, not yet. There’s still the issue of TMs and Egg Moves. So first, here are Tangela’s Egg Moves;

Amnesia* Psychic Status —% 20
ExeggcuteExeggutor Confusion Psychic Special 50 100% 25
SunkernSunfloraCottoneeWhimsicott Endeavor Normal Physical 100% 5
Flail* Normal Physical 100% 15
Giga Drain Grass Special 75 100% 10
Leaf Storm Grass Special 140 90% 5
Leech Seed Grass Special 90% 10
LotadLombreLudicoloSeedotNuzleafShiftry Nature Power Normal Status —% 20
ExeggcuteExeggutorSeedotNuzleafShiftry Power Swap* Psychic Status —% 10
Rage Powder Bug Status —% 20


Now, Egg Moves are moves that the Pokemon doesn’t learn naturally, but is physically capable of doing through cross-breeding into other species. In this case, you need to look at the move and ask “what part of this attack couldn’t Tangela achieve on its own?”.

A couple of noteworthy attacks here, are Endeavor and Flail, two attacks that can be associated with a panicked victim, struggling against a vicious attacker. The fact that Tangela doesn’t naturally learn these, indicates that it has a more relaxed, calmed approach to encounters. Perhaps it feels more comfortable behind its natural viney defenses?

Other seemingly oddball moves, such as Confusion and Power Swap, come from more Psychically inclinced Pokemon. It seems to slot in with the mystery of what Tangela actually looks like under all those vines, as if Tangela naturally has a magical element to it, but never feels the need to call on it.

And, one last example, Leaf Storm. Personally, I think this is about Tangela’s natural habitat amidst the leafy undergrowth, and how a possible defense would be to throw up those leaves to confuse a predator. It seems to make sense, especially since the more focused Razor Leaf and Magical Leaf are completely unlearnable to Tangela.

Then again, this all comes back to how Pokemon are subject to many different interpretations, perhaps these attacks mean something completely different? For this reason, it is rarely a good idea to rely on Egg Moves for ideas for key parts of a Pokeset. You can use them to add a little flavour to the set.

What you should also avoid relying on, are TM moves;

Bag TM Poison Sprite.png TM06 Toxic Poison Status 90% 10
Bag TM Normal Sprite.png TM10 Hidden Power Normal Special 100% 15
Bag TM Fire Sprite.png TM11 Sunny Day Fire Status —% 5
Bag TM Normal Sprite.png TM15 Hyper Beam Normal Special 150 90% 5
Bag TM Normal Sprite.png TM17 Protect Normal Status —% 10
Bag TM Normal Sprite.png TM21 Frustration Normal Physical 100% 20
Bag TM Grass Sprite.png TM22 SolarBeam Grass Special 120 100% 10
Bag TM Normal Sprite.png TM27 Return Normal Physical 100% 20
Bag TM Normal Sprite.png TM32 Double Team Normal Status —% 15
Bag TM Psychic Sprite.png TM33 Reflect Psychic Status —% 20
Bag TM Poison Sprite.png TM36 Sludge Bomb Poison Special 90 100% 10
Bag TM Normal Sprite.png TM42 Facade Normal Physical 70 100% 20
Bag TM Psychic Sprite.png TM44 Rest Psychic Status —% 10
Bag TM Normal Sprite.png TM45 Attract Normal Status 100% 15
Bag TM Dark Sprite.png TM46 Thief Dark Physical 40 100% 10
Bag TM Normal Sprite.png TM48 Round Normal Special 60 100% 15
Bag TM Grass Sprite.png TM53 Energy Ball Grass Special 80 100% 10
Bag TM Normal Sprite.png TM68 Giga Impact Normal Physical 150 90% 5
Bag TM Normal Sprite.png TM70 Flash Normal Status 100% 20
Bag TM Normal Sprite.png TM75 Swords Dance Normal Status —% 30
Bag TM Normal Sprite.png TM77 Psych Up Normal Status —% 10
Bag TM Grass Sprite.png TM86 Grass Knot Grass Special 100% 20
Bag TM Normal Sprite.png TM87 Swagger Normal Status 90% 15
Bag TM Normal Sprite.png TM90 Substitute Normal Status —% 10
Bag TM Fighting Sprite.png TM94 Rock Smash Fighting Physical 40 100% 15
Bag HM Normal Sprite.png HM01 Cut Normal Physical 50 95% 30


TMs are very literally attacks which the trainer teaches a Pokemon. Sure, there is usually some physical limit on what exactly each Pokemon can learn, but TM moves are often quirky, and only tangentally related to the Pokemon itself. The idea of TMs to begin with, is one of customisation. The trainer makes each Pokemon his own unique Pokemon through these moves. This is especially evident in the first games, where almost every powerful move was a TM, and almost any Pokemon could learn a disgustingly broad range of them. I don’t want to even imagine the logistics of Kangaskhan using Blizzard, Thunder, Fire Blast and Earthquake (that was actually a Pokemon I raised back then), especially when its actual level up moves were all physical bites and punches, and rage.

So when looking at TM moves, you should be aiming to be a bit more abstract. Kabutops may learn Rain Dance via a TM, but so what? So can Moltres. Neither one strikes me as a rain summoning Pokemon. Even Ludicolo needs that TM. The only Pokemon I feel make sense summoning rain, are Zapdos, Kyogre, Suicune, Politoad and Tornadus (and maybe a couple more I forgot about). That’s personal opinion of course, but you get the picture, it’s still down to interpretation.

So you need to abstract some sort of meaning from the move. Dancing for Rain is a well known ritual that attempts to evoke rain, so Rain Dance the move can be seen as a desire for rain, rather than the outright summoning of it.

Another example of an easily misused TM, is Toxic. ANY Pokemon that can learn via TM can learn this move. This, to me at least, is meant to represent a trainer ‘corrupting’ a Pokemon, poisoning their natural behaviour with a move that likely makes no sense for them to have. By contrast, Hidden Power (as a TM) is about a trainer unlocking the potential of that particular Pokemon, giving them a move that is uniquely ‘theirs’.

That’s not to say that TMs moves can’t be used at all in movesets. Outside of the first Generation, most TM moves have some small logic being on a particular Pokemon. And some TM moves, with the right mindset, can be put to very good use. For example, n88’s Golurk moveset, a possessed golem, can be taught to Fly. It sounds insane, but the way the moveset makes Fly work is pitch perfect, communicating a ghostly presence in what is otherwise a mostly physical moveset.

And beyond that, since trainers use TMs, it makes all the sense in the world for a trainer moveset to have Pokemon using TM moves. In fact, the moves you choose can say a lot about the trainer him/herself, and their confidence (or lack of) in their Pokemon’s natural ability.

Teaching Tangela Giga Impact sounds rather silly, for example, as its body mass is hardly worthy of the name. Perhaps its trainer is frustrated at how little it directly attacks its foes. Or maybe the trainer reasons that if Tangela tackles the foe head on, they’ll be tangled up in Tangela’s tangles. Either way, the trainer is forcing the Tangela to do something it’s not used to, attack directly.

Then there’s the question of how Tangela would perform such an attack. Does he just run clumsily into the opponent? Does he use his prehensile vines to propel him in a flying tackle? Or perhaps by attaching himself to the foe, and then ramming against them repeatedly like a paddle ball?

Aren’t there better ways to make a Pokemon moveset?

I still wonder why Swift involves shooting stars, rather than "moving swiftly"

Why yes, imaginary strawman, there are. The whole point of looking at the attacks, abilities and whatnot to begin with is to help the MYMer understand the Pokemon on a more fundamental level, to discern just what it is that a Pokemon is trying to be. Even small details (such as how Ferrothorn does NOT learn Spikes, unless bred from the Cacturne line, even though Ferrothorn is known for shooting spikes) can say volumes about a Pokemon’s behaviour.

But there are still other routes to take;

For example, KingK.Rool’s Abra moveset explored the specifics of why a wild Abra ONLY knows Teleport, and how it can use that singular trait in Brawl to flummox its foes.

Plorf’s Sandshrew took a riskier approach, and played to Sandshrew’s weaknesses, its overly defensive nature, and the towering fear that comes with being a tiny ground Pokemon.

MasterWarlord’s Golem (a moveset I unfairly underestimated and shot down when it first came out) takes advantage of its bulk, momentum, and desire to make the stage fun to roll down, resulting in a strangely endearing fish-out-of-water story, where Golem rampages about until the stage is just right for him.

I’d still argue that these are interpretations though, and not the complete representations that Pokemon really deserve. But it’s not like I’m any better at it. My Victini doesn’t directly aid teammates, my Diglett is randomly stronger than the thousands of Diglett that formed Diglett’s cave over many years..

..and my Magikarp knows Headbutt.



  1. Today, I learned that Moltres learns Rain Dance.

  2. Just throwing in a generic comment on something that annoyed me – notice my having hit the like button on the article.

    I know you said it’s your opinion, but Politoed being in-character for summoning rain? Random Politoeds from an acid trip dream world are the standard now? I’m not arguing for putting on more, but Politoed feels very out of place there.

    • I agree. Personally, I think Ludicolo using Rain Dance is very much in-character for him. Why? Because that’s what Ludicolo is for me: a Water Pokemon who summons his needed rain by dancing.

    • This ties in with the magical element of Pokemon. Politoad is a Psychic pokemon who is also a frog, frogs being notable for predicting rain. Though then again, it’s not really acknowledged outside of its Dream World (i.e. fantasy) ability: Drizzle.

  3. A great article, by the way. It made me think back to Raichu, and actually helped me think of a couple of good ideas for him.

    Besides, an article like this was long overdue, in my eyes.

  4. Oh man, I’ve posted four pure poison-types in a row and I don’t even get an honourable mention, nor does that aspect of Pokémon movesets get a tiny sub-section? Can’t say I’m happy about that, though this kind of article was necessary [if pretty much self-explanatory].

    • Lots of great Pokesets didn’t get mentioned. It’s a gigantic topic after all, and this article barely scratches the surface of it.

    • So… you’re saying you’re angry the article wasn’t about you? That’s kind of silly.

      and it’s amazing how self-explanatory something can be after it has been explained

    • I’m not angry. But me and Junahu did discuss a lot of this in the Swalot roundtable comments. I just find it lame that all of that was ignored.

    • Perhaps he felt that all that could be said on the matter already had been said. Maybe he couldn’t fit it in, or just plain forgot. Whatever the case, it would have been a lot easier to just bring up Swalot’s mustache gun in the comments without the negative overtones and subsequent namecalling

    • Negative overtones, sure, but I just wanted to use wanker and fob in a sentence. As someone who sees the words in any common usage, Junahu and I know they are silly and not meant to offend.

    • you crazy brits and your wacky shenanigans

      As it stands, I do agree that the mustache gun (or lack thereof) is a good example of how the other half of the character template could be filled in. It’s a shame it wasn’t brought up in the article.

  5. Well yes, I kind of figured you’d be a wanker and fob me off with a reply like that. We were only just discussing Swalot a month ago, on the very subject of individual choice – pertaining to his stupid moustache. I find it hard to believe that this piece of information was missed when writing this article, but not sets from three years ago.

    • fob2    [fob] Show IPA
      verb (used with object), fobbed, fob·bing.
      1. Archaic . to cheat; deceive.
      Verb phrase
      2. fob off,
      a. to cheat someone by substituting something spurious or inferior; palm off (often followed by on ): He tried to fob off an inferior brand on us.
      b. to put (someone) off by deception or trickery: She fobbed us off with false promises.
      1350–1400; Middle English fobben; cognate with German foppen to delude; compare fob 1

  6. “After all, what other gaming series gives us hundreds of half finished character templates”

    Jump’n’shoot Man, for one (smirk2)

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