It’s time for the third part of Monster Spotlight’s ongoing exploration of the Pokemon franchise’s critters, which is getting more weirdly emotional and personal with each installment. This time we’re focusing on monsters who debuted in the Hoenn region, i.e. the Third Generation of Pokemon!
Ok, so, after Gold and Silver came out on the Gameboy Color, the next generation of games, Ruby and Sapphire, would debut on the all new Gameboy Advanced handheld console… which, at the time, my family could not afford to get me. I was also getting close to adolescence, and there was a mounting pressure by my peers and the world at large to “let go of childish things,” of which Pokemon was surely counted. So there was a good seven or eight years where I not only didn’t play the pokemon games coming out, but honestly thought I would never return to the franchise – it would just be a fond childhood memory. And hey, I could even find a sentimental justification for leaving – the new games couldn’t transfer pokemon from Red/Blue/Gold/Silver, meaning my old favorites wouldn’t be usable, so what was even the point, right? And everyone said the new pokemon designs weren’t worthy replacements, so I might as well just let it go.
When I got to college, though, the world did a 180. EVERYONE was playing pokemon again – my room-mate even showed me how to set up a gameboy emulator that could play ROMs of Red and Blue on my computer. This phenomenon was apparently common among millenial college students – Awkward Zombie even made a comic about it – and, while this is only speculation on my part, I think it’s because the absolute terror at realizing just what adulthood entails in this day and age made the prospect of revisiting something as sweet and kind as pokemon appealing.
There was also a BIG comic book store in my college town, and one day while visiting it with some of my friends I saw they had a used Nintendo DS (which could play GBA games as well) and a copy of Pokemon Emerald, the “Best of Both Worlds” semi-remake of Ruby and Sapphire, both for “cheap enough to buy on a college student budget” prices. So I picked them up – and quickly realized that I had waited too long to return to Pokemon.
The Hoenn Six
My Gecko, My Underdog, My Starter: The Treecko Line
After having two reptiles among the starter pokemon in gens 1 and 2 (Bulbasaur is a frog, gang), Hoenn would begin a three generation stretch of there being only one, followed by two gens with no reptiles whatsoever before going back to one in gen 8. Hoenn also started the trend of the sole reptilian starter being a grass type, and did so with a particularly clever real world inspiration. The Treecko line is based off of leaf-tailed geckos, a species of lizard whose tails are flattened and shaped to resemble leaves as a form of camouflage. This being Pokemon, Treecko and is evolutions have actual leaves for tails – and, eventually, for arm blades as well.
Geckos are some of my favorite animals in the world – I have one as a pet – and the Treecko lines are excellent monster versions of them, keeping their adorable bug-eyes and built-in smiles of their jaw-line, while giving them a bipedal stance and some other flourishes to firmly establish them as gecko-monsters rather than just geckos. Mega Sceptile even has the ability to shoot-off its tail like a rocket, which is an exaggeration of the tail-dropping defense mechanism most geckos have.
While the grass typing made it a bit hard for me to utilize Treecko effectively, I still love the little bugger, and it’s a worthy cohort to Charmander in the only-recently-finished trinity of lizard starter pokemon.
My Beldam, My Witch, My Lady in White: The Gardevoir Line
Maybe it’s just the social circles I run in, but it feels kinda “cringey” to admit you like the humanoid looking pokemon these days – like it’s one step below having an ahegao avatar or a blog that alternates between posts of MLP porn and alt-right talking points. But, like, humanoid monsters are prevalent in literally every society and mythology, for obvious reasons, so it would be a conspicuous absence in Pokemon’s bestiary not to have some.
Like, “a pretty but vaguely uncanny/inhuman woman with mysterious powers” is a monster archetype. There are dozens of mythological entities that fit that description – witches, fairies, angels, et cetera. It’s as common as dragons and ogres and sea serpents, and I think having a few in Pokemon is fine. And Gardevoir is a really cool take on the concept – beautiful yet uncanny, human-ish while still decidedly inhuman, and the kind of monster the previous generations really didn’t have (I mean… unless you count Jynx, I guess, but we’re all trying to forget Jynx exists, aren’t we?).
So yeah, I put a Gardevoir on my team. It’s a cool archetype, it’s a rad pokemon, and I feel no shame.
My Earthshaker, My Kaiju, My Unstoppable Titan of Terror: The Aggron Line
While not quite as full of Ultraman-style notzillas as Kanto, Hoenn is nonetheless cemented as “the Kaiju region” in my mind, and one of the reasons for that is Aggron here. Aggron is a big, super-tough, stony skinned retrosaur like Tyrannitar and Rhydon, but unlike those two, you can get Aggron’s first form super early in the game. It is not hard to get an Aggron – you don’t have to wait till a late game (or POST-game) dungeon, you don’t have to spend hours helping it catch up to your team who by that point are twenty-five or more levels ahead of it. It’s almost as easy to get as a frickin’ geodude. They want you to use the super-powerful kaiju.
And hell, challenge accepted, I used the fuck out of this guy. I mean, it’s a big kaiju with a skull-like helmet and big ol’ chompy jaws. It’s name is AGGRON, which sounds like it came from a Jack Kirby monster comic. Hell yeah I’m using Aggron!
My Gremlin, My Goblin, My Close Encounter of the Third Kind: Sableye
Ok, so, Sapphire/Ruby/Emerald eventually got a flashy set of remakes, Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire, which I also played the hell out of because I REALLY love the Hoenn region’s story for reasons I’ll elaborate more on later. These came after Mega Evolution was added as a game mechanic, and a number of the Hoenn pokemon were given Mega Evolutions. As a result, my Hoenn team was tweaked a bit to reflect the viability of one of my favorite gen 3 designs, Sableye.
Inspired by the Hopskinville Goblins (a “real” extraterrestrial sighting that’s famous in UFO-ology circles both in the US and Japan), Sableye is a cheeky little gremlin with jewels dotting its body (including two diamonds for eyes and a bunch of rubies and sapphires embedded in its skin). It’s a single stage pokemon, but, like Dunsparce before it, has the stats of a first-stage pokemon – which meant it wasn’t really viable for long-term use in-game, as it would quickly be outpaced by the competition even if you over-leveled.
But Mega Sableye is more than capable of playing with the big boys, and I couldn’t be happier to have this grinning little goblin in my Hoenn team. I mean, just look at that scamp’s toothy grin! What a wonderful little mayhem maker it must be.
My Punk, My Muscle, My First Signature Mon: Seviper
Seviper isn’t just one of my favorite pokemon – until Gen 6 came along, it was tied with Charmander for being my favorite pokemon of all time. That may sound strange, since Seviper is generally viewed as kind of a C-List pokemon at best. Its stats aren’t great (Arbok tier), its typing isn’t particularly useful, and its design has a lot of the traits that people generally disparage about the Hoenn pokemon (i.e. weird stripes and spikes, geometric shapes instead of more natural markings, etc.).
But, like… that’s kind of why it’s one of my top three favorites. When a pokemon is super popular like Charizard, it can be hard to explain how personal your feelings for it are – people assume you’re just jumping on a bandwagon. But when you reveal you’re really into a third-stringer like Seviper, people are more willing to accept the love as genuine – most people forget Seviper exists, so there must be something more than nostalgia at work here.
And, like, I really love Seviper’s design. It’s got the most snake-y head of any pokemon ever made, taking the angular features of a viper and tweaking them just enough so their naturally angry expression becomes one of a sort of mildly-malevolent mischeif – Seviper is a snake who’s ready to start some shit, the little punk! The diamond-shaped scutes recall the diamond markings of a rattlesnake, but their more solid design also gives Seviper a vaguely industrial feel – which makes its sort of punk-rock motiff shine a bit more. The purple scars on Seviper’s body give it a sort of graffiti-ish vibe while also showing its antagonistic relationship with the mongoose-inspired pokemon Zangoose, which is likewise covered in slash-like markings that are the same shade of red as Seviper’s kickass tail blade (and originally had claws the same shade of purple as Seviper’s scars, though in all recent appearances Zangoose’s claws are black instead). That’s a cool as hell detail, isn’t it? I even love the little nubby spikes on Seviper’s underside, and its fun tendency to hold its body in a sort of scrunched up Z shape.
While I include Seviper in my Hoenn Six team, the most notable Seviper I ever played with was the one I caught in my first of several playthroughs of Pokemon X. See, Pokemon X and Y did two things to make me break my normal routine of only using the new pokemon for a first playthrough: first, it introduced Mega Evolution as a fun new mechanic but failed to give any of the new pokemon Mega forms, meaning you’d have to use an older pokemon to experience it; second, it allowed you to use a Charmander before the post-game for the first time since Pokemon Fire Red and Leaf Green, and combined those things were too hard to resist. So while the majority of my team for my first Pokemon X playthrough was composed of new pokemon, I allowed myself two major exceptions: a Charmander, and a Seviper.
Now, if you know Pokemon X, you’d know that Seviper only appears in horde battles in it – specifically, in a horde made mostly of Zangooses (in Pokemon Y, this is inverted, with Zangoose only appearing in a horde made mostly of Sevipers). Because Seviper and Zangoose are natural enemies, the Zangoose horde will try to kill the Seviper first before attacking your pokemon, and usually succeeds within one round. This means it’s almost impossible to catch a Seviper in Pokemon X despite it technically being in the roster.
…well, guess who did the impossible.
It took a lot of persistence and luck, but eventually, after watching three other Sevipers die, my Charmeleon managed to kill all the Zangooses in a horde with one hit while leaving the Seviper alive with a small scrap of health. I know that these creatures are just a bunch of ones and zeroes in reality, but if that Seviper was real, I’m sure it would have been pretty damn grateful – and he managed to be a vital member of my X team, since his poison attacks proved very helpful against the new fairy type pokemon.
My Dreamer, My Firedrake, My Big Lizardy Dragon: The Salamence Line
Like Sableye, Salamence was a pokemon who got onto my Hoenn team in the Alpha/Omega remakes, as in Emerald it was too difficult to find. Like Dragonite and Tyrannitar, Salamence is a pseudo-legendary, with ridiculously high stats and a damn good selection of moves. Salamence is so versatile, in fact, that it’s considered overused/overrated by a sizable chunk of the fandom, particularly those who play PVP.
But, like, I don’t give a crap about that – what I give a crap about is how Salamence is the most lizardy-looking dragon in all of Pokemon. That low-slung build with the sprawling gait, that long, thick, muscular tail, and that komodo-dragon-like face – it’s basically a monitor lizard with wings, and if you’ve seen my own dragon designs, you know how much that appeals to me. I love the weird crescent shape of Salamence’s wings in particular – it’s very abstract and simple, but in a pleasing way.
The Runners Up
The Hoenn region has (infamously) the most water pathways of any of the pokemon regions, so you really need a water type on your team to get through it, because you’ll be using surf a lot. Luckily, it offers a lot of great options, and my primary choice was Sharpedo, the disembodied shark head that is also a torpedo. Sharks are some of my favorite animals, and Sharpedo manages to capture the slightly vacant gaze and the big frowny mouth that make them so charming. While Sableye eventually took its spot for me, I still have a lot of love for ol’ Sharpedo.
The Flygon line sated my need for a dragon in my run of Pokemon Emerald when Salamence was too hard to come by, and is just as lovely a dragon if being a bit less conventional (which probably makes it more appealing to some of you – I have frequently admitted to having a preference for “boring” dragons over stranger takes). Taking the concept of a “dragonfly” incredibly literally, Flygon begins as a snappy-mouthed bug-mimic to a very bug-like dragon, complete with organic goggles that make its eyes superficially resemble those of an insect. It’s a design that’s both really clever and adorable.
Ruby and Sapphire mark the point in the franchise where Legendary pokemon transitioned from “hidden characters to reward players who search every nook and cranny of a map” to “the key to the central conflict of the story,” and for me they did this particular plot point better than any of the games to come since. Why?
Because they basically turned Pokemon into a kaiju movie.
The villain teams of Hoenn – Team Magma and Team Aqua – both want to alter the environment to their liking, and to do so they try to awaken and control a giant primeval pokemon. Team Magma wants to take over Groudon, a Godzilla-like monster who can shift continents, while Team Aqua wishes to take over Kyogre, an enormous killer whale who can raise the sea levels by generating enormous rain storms. Both of these monsters are held in check by Rayquaza, an ancient dragon of Air who can bring both the land monster Groudon and the sea monster Kyogre to heel.
When I played Emerald in college, I lost my shit when I realized that to save humanity I had to summon Rayquaza to pull a Mothra and force the dueling Groudon and Kyogre to calm the hell down. Omega Ruby managed to take it even farther by having me confront Groudon itself as it was going full Burning Godzilla in the heart of a volcano, and followed it up by having my character ride Rayquaza out into space to fight an alien invader pokemon.
It’s a rad as hell plotline, and while later Pokemon games have had better stories, the Hoenn games are still my personal favorite. It’s not often I get to play the hero in a kaiju story, and it helps that these three are some of the best looking legendaries Gamefreak has produced.
Did I say three? I should have said four, because while Deoxys isn’t technically part of the Kaiju Trio up there, its battle with Rayquaza in OR/AS makes it feel like an honorary team-mate – the Ghidorah to their Godzilla, Rodan, and Mothra, if you will. And goddamn is Deoxys cool, with its DNA strand arms, Evangelion angel core, and spooky alien face.
More Fine Hoenn Monsters
Ok, now that we’ve got my most personal favorites out of the way, let’s just look at some more fun monsters from this gen.
I said Hoenn had a lot of good water types to offer, and I meant it. Some of my favorites they introduced include the elegant sea serpent Milotic, who is explicitly a “pretty” counterpart to Gyarados; the deep sea eel Huntail, who has a delightfully manic expression that I absolutely love; and the ancient Relicanth, a ceolacanth-inspired pokemon whose rock/water typing is a clever nod to its real life inspiration’s status as a “living fossil.”
Speaking of fossils, gen 3 has great options among its fossil pokemon. The Anorith line is inspired by Anomalocaris, a bizarre arthropod that was one of the first apex predators in earth’s evolutionary history. Anorith itself is pretty much just a slightly embellished Anomalocaris, though its evolution, Armaldo, is more of an anomalocaris/stegosaurus hybrid, which is bizarre and wonderful.
The other fossil is the Lileep line, which is inspired by Crinoids, a kind of echinoderm (i.e. the invertebrate family that starfish belong to) that once dominated the ocean ecosystem, to the point where entire stratas of fossils from the Paleozoic era will be made of nothing but Crinoid remains. It’s not the kind of prehistoric creature most people would think of, but paleontology nerds would surely get a kick of seeing a monster based on one of the most common organisms in the fossil record.
While nowhere near as lizard-heavy as the Kanto region, Hoenn still has a lot of good reptiles in it, including Kecleon, a chameleon who can change elemental types, Tropius, a sauropod that is also a banana tree, and the fire-breathing tortoise Torkoal. Though none of these made my team, they were strong contenders for it, and I appreciate that Hoenn had so many good reptiles to choose from.
Hoenn also has some rad spooky monsters too – Duskull is a cute little take on the Grim Reaper (whose evolutions sadly abandon that motiff), while Banette and Mawile are Pokemon-y takes on classic Yokai concepts. I mean, technically every pokemon is a spin on yokai, but these two are based on specific yokai, instead of the general approach Japanese folklore has to monsters in general.
As if having a great design for the grass type starter wasn’t enough, Gen 3 also gives us a rad ass hell cactus scarecrow in Cacturne and a bizarre yet adorable mushroom-o-saurus in Breloom, both of whom tempted me to almost have a team with more than one grass type on it despite me not being very good at utilizing that type. I mean, look at Breloom’s face. It’s friend shaped!
While Salamence is my pseudo-legendary of choice in Hoenn, the region actually gives you a second option in the Metagross line. After three pseudo-legendary lines that end with big burly lizard monsters, it’s pretty novel to have one that morphs from a disembodied eye to a sort of metal spider monster, and the fact that this line is the signature monster of the Hoenn Pokemon League’s champion gives it some good clout to go with its excellent stats.
Finally, the “I just think they’re neat!” pokemon for this gen: Exploud joins the rank of “pokemon that remind me of Ultraman kaiju and barely missed being on my team”, Absol is an omen of doom that’s subtly demonic in appearance and just really weird and cool overall, and Slaking is still the closest thing we have to a King Kong Pokemon.