Ranking All Pokemon Starters is Hard Work
A new generation of Pokémon starters has been revealed with the proper announcement of Pokémon Sword and Shield. Arguably the most important decision a player makes in a Pokémon playthrough, selecting a starter defines the journey a player is about to embark on, and it comes as no surprise that starters tend to be some of the most popular Pokémon generation to generation as fans become attached to their partner Pokémon. Starters, like cover Pokémon, are also divisive, dissecting the community as the fandom rallies behind their starter of choice only for those allegiances to be shaken up and the community re-divided with the reveal of the starters’ final evolutions. All of this begs the question, though: which starter Pokémon is actually the best?
To celebrate the announcement of Grookey, Scorbunny, and Sobble, I’m ranking the first seven generations of starters to decide once and for all which starter is the best of all time by systematically ranking them in consideration of stats, design, moveset, typing/ability/general usability, and historical competitive viability by comparison to one another. While this list doesn’t just reflect my personal preferences, they inform it as impressions of aspects like design are, by nature, opinion, and even the most rigorous interpretation of stats still boils down to player preference. These rankings also aren’t exclusively informed by each Pokémon’s competitive viability, though will take it into consideration, as that is an element of overall usability, and will be measured through usage. Further, this list won’t heavily take into consideration Mega Evolutions as not all starters have them and I want to keep the playing field as even as possible, though in instances they do impact competitive usage and, as a consequence, this list. Eevee and Pikachu will also be left off of the list as even their enhanced stats aren’t comparable as basic Pokémon. With all of that out of the way, here are all twenty-one Pokémon starters ranked from worst to best.
Anyone expecting Chikorita in this position is well aware of the second-generation grass starter’s bad reputation. While you’ll have to wait for that, Oshawott ranked as the worst starter for a number of reasons. It literally has the lowest total stats of any water starter, but even more so, the distribution of those stats is the real disappointment. It has a fairly high Attack and Special Attack stat, and a higher than average HP stat, but with no Speed or Defense to speak of, those stats won’t be given opportunity to shine if Samurott’s already been blown out of the water.
Everything else about Oshawott is bland. Its single, water typing is dull and the corresponding movepool is perhaps the worst of any starter, drowned in water and normal type attacks. Design wise, Oshawott looks washed out or maybe seasick. While Dewott is a marked improvement, honestly ranking up there as one of the best “teen stages” of any starter, Samurott’s design sinks the positive direction Dewott steered this sea otter in. Bearing little resemblance to either of its namesakes, a samurai or an otter, Samurott ends up awkward and just another seal or sea lion amongst many better-designed ones.
The wait wasn’t long. Chikorita is all too frequently viewed as the worst starter, but edges out Oshawott if only for Meganium’s charming design, being historically more viable, and the fact that it could handily best Samurott in a fight. Everything else about Chikorita is bland to the point of being bad. Its stats are balanced to a fault, with an uninteresting emphasis placed on its Defenses. Its singular grass typing leaves it with an equal number of weaknesses and resistances, but with one of the most lackluster movesets of any starter, Meganium can’t exploit much beyond those Pokémon it resists.
Meganium does have access to some interesting, supportive type attacks, but these moves probably won’t appeal to the more casual player and the competitive player has much better options available, including other starters. It’s not all bad, though. Bayleaf and Meganium’s designs are the perfect sequel to Venusaur resulting in a far more pleasant and flowery design than the toady, monstrous form Bulbasaur takes in the end. In the end, Meganium’s appearance matches its character all too well: intriguing, but lacking any edge to speak of.
When Chespin was first revealed, I had high hopes that it would bear resemblance to a grass type Typhlosion or Sandslash. Instead, we got the worst designed starter to date. While Chesnaught is almost passable, I guess, or at least on par with some of the other goofy starter final evolutions, Quilladin is the most awkward of the “awkward teen stage” Pokémon, beyond just the starters. If this were only about design, this would be a no contest, but Chespin does actually have a couple of things going for it. Chesnaught boasts the highest Defense of any starter and, quite suitably considering its distinct grass/fighting typing, also packs a considerable punch.
Chesnaught also has access to a strong lineup of physical attacks to take advantage of its formidable Attack stat and plenty of coverage (a wide variety of move elements). Unfortunately, there are too many holes in Chesnaught’s “spiny armor,” and any Pokémon with a decent Special Attack stat, including Pokémon Chesnaught should be effective against, like Greninja, can easily crack this nut. With a terrible Special Defense, slow Speed, and more weaknesses than any other starter at a whopping six, including a double weakness to flying, the case against Chespin is harder than the Pokémon’s spiky, nutshell.
The weakest fire starter by a wide margin, Tepig has a lot working against it. The most notable is that Emboar is the third fire/fighting starter in a row and horribly outclassed by its predecessors, Blaziken and Infernape, despite its strong Special Attack and two of the highest stats of any starter, Health and Attack. Tepig’s formidable movepool is as deep as Chesnaught’s, with shocking type variety ranging from poison, to electric, to even water! The only perceivable drawback is that while many of Emboar’s physical attacks are immensely powerful, they harm the user.
This seems like a major drawback at first, however, Emboar seems to have been designed with its secret ability, Reckless, in mind. Reckless, which boosts the power of moves that have recoil damage by twenty percent, paired with Emboar’s impressive HP stat, makes this boar a devastating tank that can easily absorb the aftershock of the punch it packs. This is all great in theory, however, with truly terrible Defenses and Speed, Emboar’s bacon will be fried before it can throw its first punch. That, paired with its ridiculous, if kinda funny, design and players are better off with literally any other fire starter.
Despite being the weakest of Sun and Moon‘s starters, Popplio is by no means a bad Pokémon. Primarina boasts both the highest Special Defense and Special Attack of any starter, the latter of which pairs perfectly with Primarina’s unique water/fairy typing, and turns this disarming mermaid into a tsunami of a special sweeper (a Pokémon who reliably gets Knock Outs). Despite a shallow moveset, Primarina learns some powerful moves that take full advantage of its stats and typings including Sparkling Aria, Moonblast, and Hydro Pump. For a casual playthrough, Primarina will perform perfectly.
While its secret ability, Liquid Voice, is intriguing at first, turning any sound based attack into a water type move, with an arsenal of powerful water attacks already at the “soloist” Pokémon’s disposal, this ability doesn’t really add much value. Primarina is also slow, slower even than Chesnaught, and has a low Defense, making it easy prey for any Pokémon with a decent Attack, like counterpart Rowlet. While I don’t love the design, at least I can ship Primarina and Samurott now. In the end, there are plenty more fish in the sea, and better special sweepers than Primarina.
The last piece of what’s undoubtedly the worst generation of starters, Snivy might be the best fifth generation starter, but its inadequacies are still pretty on par with its counterparts. Snivy is a compilation of familiar grass starter traits and tropes, but distributed in the most incoherent way imaginable. The third fastest starter, its concept, and design are immediately reminiscent of Sceptile. Its stat distribution, however, is comparable to Meganium’s, emphasizing its Defenses, but leaving both its Attack and Special Attack woefully underpowered, especially with the weight given to Speed. Consequently, Sereperior’s lightning fast strike has virtually no bite and’s anything but superior. Snivy’s one saving grace preventing it from a position lower on this list amidst its peers is an exceptional hidden ability, Contrary, which reverses the effect of stat altering moves used on the Pokémon including effects of the user’s moves. Paired with Leaf Storm, with what’s usually the drawback of harshly lowering the user’s Special Attack, and Snivy has a devastating move that simultaneously substantially enhances its lethality.
Any ability that can so effectively turn a gentle gardener snake into a vicious viper deserves recognition, though this strategy isn’t without its faults. Leaf Storm only enhances Snivy’s special attacks, so any physical moves will still be rather timid. It also takes time to maximize special damage this way and won’t be very effective against Pokémon who resist grass, not to mention Serperior’s mediocre movepool limiting the moves that benefit from this effect. This goes without mentioning that any Pokémon faster than Snivy will have no trouble working around its substantial Speed. A Contrary Serperior can be an amazing asset in the correct matchup, but only situationally, and a standard Snivy simply has no legs to stand on compared to its competition.
Turtwig is undoubtedly one of the most underrated starters in existence, presumably a consequence of his Speed, the lowest of any starter. That, paired with its critical ice weakness courtesy of its unique grass/ground typing, and many are too quick to write this tortoise off. Trained and tech’d properly, however, and Torterra can be a seismic force to be reckoned with. His stats are weighted on the physical end of the spectrum (HP, Attack, Defense), and Torterra’s Attack and Defense rank up there with the best of them. Its physical moveset, intrinsically including brutal moves like Wood Hammer and Earthquake, compliment Torterra’s stats perfectly and offer some truly devastating STAB (same type attack bonus) attacks or cover its weaknesses.
More intriguingly, Torterra has access to support and sustain type moves including Protect, Substitute, Leech Seed, Rest and Sleep Talk, Synthesis, and more that, paired with its hearty Defense and HP, make Torterra an aggressive attritional attacker. Additionally, with easy access to ground and rock type attacks, Torterra can cover many of its own weakness. Plus, with a design inspired by the World Turtle myth, the “continent” Pokémon looks incredibly cool. Trained and raised with Speed in mind, and Turtwig can be tough to take down. Sometimes, slow and steady truly can win the Pokémon battle.
The antithesis of Chesnaught, the Fennekin line is statistically weighted to favor its special stats (Sp. At, Sp. Def, and Speed) resulting in a much more reliable Pokémon than its grass counterpart. Fennekin is notably the fifth fastest on this list and features the second highest Special Attack of any starter, allowing the fire fox to burn through its opposition. These stats blend perfectly with its somewhat unique fire/psychic typing and allow Delphox to make the most of its strong if somewhat focused specialist moveset. Delphox more than makes up for its limited move types with its fierce Special Defense and seven resistances, enabling Fennekin to take some of the heat this special attacker can dish out.
My primary complaint with the Pokémon is its design and generally how unoriginal it feels. Its classification, “Fox Pokémon,” is shared with Ninetales on top of its fiery fox concept while the mystic “kitsune” fox concept is shared with the Alakazam line. While Delphox’s witch theme is somewhat charming, with a weird fur robe and ridiculous fiery ear tufts, Fennekin’s features fail to bewitch especially when compared to other lupine designs including the aforementioned Ninetales, Alakazam, and Lucario (yes, I know Lucario is based on a jackal/Anubis). It’s hard not to feel that Game Freak burnt their better fox design on Zoroark the generation prior. Zorua even has a fiery sort of appearance! In the end, there are statistically and aesthetically better special sweepers, and while Fennekin is perfectly suitable for a casual playthrough, it’s hard not to be disappointed with the end design, especially if you were expecting something fierce and majestic like Okami and ended up getting Cat Hermione.
At first glance, Treecko is really good. It looks pretty cool if a little cobbled together (Sceptile’s seeds and tail always felt a little forced to me). It’s extremely fast, the second fastest of any starter, and has a strong Special Attack to take advantage of that Speed, all the makings of a great glass grass cannon. While its movepool is restricted by its single-typing, it’s chock-full of powerful attacks. Sceptile’s hidden ability, Unburden, if situational, doubles the Pokémon’s Speed when its held item is consumed ensuring that Sceptile always hits first. That all sounds sensational, but, unfortunately, there’s a complete disconnect between this moveset, which emphasizes physical type moves, and Sceptile’s stats, which prioritizes Special Attack. Consequently, with only a passable Attack stat, Sceptile can’t take full advantage of the moves it learns including Leaf Blade, which premiered with Sceptile, and Sceptile’s signature Dual Chop.
This disconnect is the result of a system shift that started with the fourth generation of Pokémon that defines each move as physical or special independently of the elemental damage it deals, whereas damage type, physical or special, used to be defined exclusively by the move’s element. In the end, all of this completely undermines Sceptile. If unable to secure the OHKO, Sceptile’s poor bulk will be more than exposed. It’s worth noting that Sceptile’s Mega Evolution does improve the Pokémon’s overall utility, particularly in a doubles format with its intriguing Lightning Rod ability, but, barring that, Treecko remains perfectly usable if unfortunately outclassed.
This is the point in the list where the competition gets particularly fierce and any Pokémon from this point on could have conceivably cracked the top ten. Decidueye is no exception and, as the only owl and ghost type on this list, could have been higher on this list where I’m concerned. Statistically, Rowlet looks similar to Oshawott, with Special Defense emphasized instead of Health but its most notable stats being its Attack and Special Attack. The big difference is that, thanks to its ghost, grass typing, Decidueye has access to a deep movepool with wide type variety. While it’s certainly capable of utilizing special attacks, Decidueye’s moveset is brimming with powerful physical attacks perfectly suited to the owl’s strongest stat. Beyond its quiver full of aggressive moves, Decidueye even has access to some substantial strategic or supportive type attacks including Swords Dance, Substitute, Synthesis, Haze, and Baton Pass.
Perhaps more intriguingly, Decidueye has a unique role amidst the other starters as a potential trapper Pokémon ideal for hunting or chaining. Its signature move, Spirit Shackle, tethers Pokémon to the spot so they can’t escape. Its ghost typing grants it immunity to normal and fighting type attacks while its grass typing make it immune to spore type attacks. It has access to False Swipe to whittle down an opponent’s health, while Synthesis and Substitute allow Decidueye to sustain itself. Foresight even allows it to False Swipe fellow ghost types for easier chaining! All of this goes without mentioning Decidueye’s brilliant design and concept. Rowlet is great at getting through the waters of Alola in a casual playthrough but even better for any clever collectors out there.
A fan favorite and the first original starter to make an appearance, I suspect some Squirtle enthusiasts may feel sort of slighted by the “Tiny Turtle’s” position on this list, to which I would respond: Just. You. Wait. Again, the competition was incredibly fierce and unbelievably close; any Pokémon at this point in the list has more than earned a position in almost any party. In reality, I love Squirtle, and one only has to look at the cover art of Pokémon Blue to see Blastoise’s appeal. Despite the prominent water jets protruding from its shell, Blastoise doesn’t have remarkable Attack or Special Attack stats, though both are relatively balanced, so the “Shellfish” Pokémon can make use of both physical and special attacks. Instead, Blastoise obviously emphasizes defense with the third highest Defense and second highest Special Defense of any starter. Blastoise’s utility, however, extends beyond its bulk and its true value is in its versatility.
Its natural defenses make Blastoise a solid tank type Pokémon, while its hidden ability, Rain Dish, gives it some sustain in rainy conditions it wouldn’t otherwise have. Rest and Sleep Talk can get around some of that or Rain Dance and Iron Defense can help Blastoise build up its bulk directly. Blastoise makes a natural fit into the role of a defensive spinner, named for the move Rapid Spin, which clears the field of hazards, an essential element in a lot of competitive play, while its Mega Evolution seamlessly allows it to transition into an offensive spinner or an all-out assault tank more effectively than ever before. And with a wide variety of attack types available to Blastoise courtesy of TMs, Blastoise can often drown unsuspecting opponents’ hopes. Not to mention its impeccable design from start to finish. While there are better bulk water types and more efficient all-out attackers, Squirtle is always effective for a Red and Blue playthrough and is, in a phrase, always a sturdy pick.
Cyndaquil fits into my favorite category of Pokémon, fast and furious. Statistically, Cyndaquil’s stats will look a little familiar to anyone who’s played with a Charizard as the two Pokémon’s stats are a perfect mirror of one another. While Charizard has the edge over Typhlosion with an extra typing, a wider movepool, and not one but two Mega Evolutions, Typhlosion is still a reliable special attacker elegant in the simplicity of its approach. With reliable Speed and a formidable Special Attack, Typhlosion easily erupts into life with lethal force. Those stats paired with ungodly attacks like Eruption, which hits with excessive force until the user’s HP drops, and Typhlosion makes for a sure-fire sweeper.
While other fire starters offer a wider utility for much the same strategy, including the faster, better specialist Delphox, Typhlosion benefits from better-balanced stats overall, ensuring the “Volcano Pokémon” can utilize physical attacks too. That tradeoff becomes all the more worth it since Cyndaquil has access to Thunder Punch amongst other strong physical moves. Not that Typhlosion necessarily needs a strong physical arsenal with special attacks Focus Blast, Hidden Power Grass, and even Extrasensory available to it. While situational, if Typhlosion with its hidden ability, Flash Fire, can lure an opponent into hitting it with a fire type attack, perhaps through a well-timed switch in, not only will Typhlosion not take damage, but its fire type moves will also deal fifty percent more damage, bringing likely half of Typhlosion’s moveset to blisteringly high power levels. Not to mention that the Cyndaquil line maintains one of the absolute best starter designs throughout all of its evolutions. While Typhlosion could unbelievably benefit from a Mega and an additional typing, it remains a reliable favorite and absolute top ten starter.
Unlike Sceptile that peaked during its premiere generation and quickly declined, Totodile was ahead of its time. Introduced in an era when all water-based moves were special attacks, Totodile couldn’t adequately utilize its best stat or make the most of its moveset. Where the physical/special system introduced in Diamond and Pearl thoroughly undermined Sceptile, for Feraligatr it was an absolute game changer. Paired with Feraligatr’s hidden ability, Sheer Force, which boosts the power of moves with a secondary effect by thirty percent at the cost of losing that effect, and Feraligatr’s potential damage output has gone from mediocre to truly monstrous. With a solid arsenal providing decent type coverage to take advantage of this ability, including STAB moves Waterfall and Liquidation that can suddenly hit harder than a Hydro Pump but with far more consistency, this gator makes a mean sweeper that can take down some almost any opponent through, well, sheer force.
With exception, ideal starter designs should, in my eyes, start off incredibly cute and end in a fairly fierce looking monster, a precedent set by the original starters. Feraligatr and Typhlosion typify this for the Johto region with designs that rival and blend with the Kanto starters perfectly. While Totodile certainly had a bad case of the awkward tween levels, it culminated in one of the best designed, most ferocious looking starters. It’s not all smooth sailing with Totodile, though. Feraligatr’s largest liability is its Speed. Luckily, the “Big Jaw Pokémon” can be bred with Dragon Dance, which boosts both its Speed and its Attack stat. Totodile also has access to Aqua Jet, which, while not boosted by Sheer Force, is a physical water attack with turn priority. While later water starters would inevitably make a bigger splash than Feraligatr, the Pokémon has near unrivaled bite and I can only hope the Johto starters eventually get the Mega treatment and a proper place in the spotlight.
Despite being the least popular of the Kanto starters, Bulbasaur has maintained its status as consistently the most competitively viable original starter and the best early starter for a Kanto playthrough. Anyone who remembers the broken Toxic/Leech Seed combo immediately recognizes the utility of the “Seed Pokémon,” and while Venusaur still makes an excellent defensive, attritional attacker, its utility extends far beyond that. Bulbasaur is beautifully balanced maintaining respectable bulk and sustain with its high Special Defense, decent HP and Defense, and access to restorative moves including Leech Seed, Giga Drain, and Synthesis while still making for a strong attacker with its high Special Attack. In fact, with hidden ability Chlorophyll, which doubles Venusaur’s Speed in strong sunlight, Venusaur becomes a sensational special sweeper capable of an instant Solar Beam! Set up with a Sunny Day or paired with popular competitive picks with the Drought ability like Groudon and Mega Charizard Y and even the most passive Venusaur easily becomes the aggressor.
Alternatively, Venusaur can persist in the passive approach with the ever-venomous Leech Seed, Toxic build, which has only been enhanced by Venusaur’s bulky, easily sustainable Mega Evolution. While Venusaur offers a lot of versatility, it has a fairly limited range of attack coverage, not that it makes much difference with the level of efficiency Venusaur reaches with what it can do. Aesthetically, Venusaur also leaves something to be desired, especially with how attractive Bulbasaur and Ivysaur both look, but that’s easily overlooked for such a classic monster. The last grass Pokémon on this list, too often grass starters get the short end of the stick. Bulbasaur is the exception. Fans may have flocked to this flower’s counterparts early on, but with time Bulbasaur has blossomed into one tough toad that should never be overlooked.
Some see Empoleon’s slow Speed, ground weakness, or limited move coverage and incorrectly assume it’s not a good Pokémon, when, in reality, Empoleon is perhaps the single most versatile Pokémon on this list. Empoleon has an exclusive water/steel typing, eliminating its grass weakness and providing it with an insane ten resistances and one full on immunity. That’s the second most possible, period. While its base Speed is low, Piplup boasts the third highest Special Attack and Special Defense of any starter while its Hit Points, Attack, and Defense are all respectable in their own right. With its unique, defensive typing, substantial bulk, intimidating Special Attack, reliable physical Attack, and specific moveset Empoleon can conceivably fit into the roles of special wall, support, staller, pivot, special sweeper, physical sweeper, or an uncanny hybrid of any of these.
While type coverage is limited, Empoleon has access to everything it needs to fulfill these diverse roles beautifully. With Scald, Defog, Stealth Rock, Toxic, Yawn, Knock Off, and Roar, Piplup can play a special support with a nasty punch all its own. With Protect and Aqua Ring on top of those, Empoleon plays a mean stall game. With access to agility or built into a Trick Room team, it can also easily overcome its weak Speed and transition into a daunting special sweeper packed with Surf, Ice Beam, Grass Knot, and Flash Cannon. Or, with Swords Dance on top of the hidden ability Defiant, raising its Attack two stages when its stats are lowered, Empoleon can make an unexpected physical sweeper. Empoleon can also play the pivotal pivot position, utilizing its defensive disposition to absorb hits, retaliate, and transition into teammates while providing checks and counters across the board. Minding the Earthquakes, Empoleon can be an enormous asset or even core of a team. Plus, aesthetically, they don’t come much cuter and then cooler than the “Emperor Pokémon,” with its bladed wings and trident crown. Vive l’empereur.
The most divisive starter in recent memory, Incineroar is wildly popular with some audiences and laughed off by others. Initially, with its low-Speed stat matching Empoleon’s and only one base stat breaching 100 (never mind that it’s the third highest Attack stat of any starter), Litten was written off as bad. Context, it seems, is everything. Incineroar began gaining traction in the VGC (Video Game Championships or competitive Pokémon play) at the end of the 2017 season prior to the release of intimidate. According to Pikalytics, it was the most used Pokémon for the entirety of VGC 2018 and, for the past four series, Incineroar’s usage hasn’t dipped below sixty percent in VGC 19, decisively making it the most used Pokémon competitively this year. Some might point to the advent of Litten’s hidden ability, Intimidate, to explain the change. In reality, little actually changed beyond knowledgeable players seeing the insane utility of a written off Pokémon in a doubles format.
That utility can’t be understated. Incineroar’s fire/dark typing offers a lot of offensive and defensive benefits, including immunity to popular psychic picks, an incredibly deep movepool with immense coverage, and strong supportive moves. Though frequently supportive, Incineroar is far from passive, supplying brutal but beneficial blows with Fake Out and Knock Off or outright incinerating opposition with Flare Blitz. Intimidate, which lowers both opponent Pokémon’s Attacks upon entry, paired with generous bulk ensures Incineroar will last in a fight and can provide a perfect pivot. Not only does Incineroar have access to Fake Out, it supplied perhaps the best fake out in Pokémon history when it was first leaked and later revealed with its suggestive, fighter-like appearance only to end up dark in what seems like an almost calculated move from The Pokémon Company. Admittedly over the top, Incineroar’s appearance has really grown on me since then and this cat’s inclusion in Smash Bros. is a welcome one. Like Empoleon before it, popularity, or lack thereof, doesn’t define a Pokémon’s potential.
Here we are, the top five, and probably the most controversial position on this whole list. I’ve approached this list as objectively as possible, taking as wide a perspective as I’m able to supply, all in an effort of achieving the most accurate ranking list as possible…but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t feel great to put Blaziken in its proper place. Uber tier or not, Blaziken is not the best starter, despite frequent fan perspective and historical usage. Blaziken does supply a consistent sweeping strategy with its god-tier hidden ability, Speed Boost, which boosts Blaziken’s Speed one stage per turn. By using Protect turn one, Blaziken can safely receive a boost to its Speed at which point it’s likely to be faster than it’s opponent and can exploit its exceptional Attack and Special Attack stats with a strong set of typically fire and fighting moves.
While Blaziken’s movepool has some truly amazing moves including Flare Blitz, Blaze Kick, Sky Uppercut, High Jump Kick, and Brave Bird, it lacks coverage depth, and failing to supply the proper coverage or an answer to Trick Room can result in this build failing flat on its face. Its also predictable, and all too easily checked post X and Y, especially with Blaziken, and even Mega Blaziken’s, poor bulk. Failing to net the OHKO means this chicken is fried. Speed Boost is too good to overlook, but, without it, Blaziken might pack a mean hook, but not much else. All of that had minimal impact on Blaziken’s rank; it’s an admittedly top tier Pokémon. Why Blaziken is only rank five and not two or three is its aesthetic. Blaziken is a stupid looking man-chicken, and not in a cool way like Hawlucha (who’s actually a hawk guy). Flaming bellbottoms, blonde, winged hair running into chest hair, maybe Blaziken is a 70s martial arts movie citation I don’t get, but I can’t dig this Digimon looking mother clucker. Conceptually cool and on the verge of greatness, its ultimately just too humanoid. Its Mega is a bit better with the Tekken hair, but not much. Not the best in Ruby and Sapphire, and not a bad starter by any means, but to each his own.
The follow up to Blaziken and the second fire/fighting starter in a row, it is easy to understand why the Hoenn and Sinnoh fire starters are compared so often. With better Speed, more reliable move coverage, a stronger moveset, and less reliance on the one or two strategies Blaziken implements, Infernape makes for a stronger, more versatile pick nearly every time even without Speed Boost. Actually, with access to priority moves like Fake Out and Acrobatics, Infernape can reliably counter Mega Blaziken, even securing an OHKO after one Swords Dance, after Blaziken has received entry damage or inflicted self-damage having missed an attack, or by simply holding a Flying Gem. Barring Brave Bird, which Infernape can use Protect against, Mega Blaziken has nothing in its arsenal to do the same.
While it doesn’t have Speed Boost, Chimchar is in a reliable Speed tier and the fourth fastest starter. What it does have is hidden ability Iron Fist that boosts the power of punches by twenty percent. That includes Fire Punch, Thunder Punch, priority move Mach Punch, and stat boosting Power-Up Punch. Securing a hidden ability Infernape isn’t overly necessary though as even standard Blaze Infernape has access to some stellar moves including Focus Blast, Vacuum Wave, Grass Knot, U-Turn, and Gunk Shot. Plus, with a design based on Sun Wukong, the Monkey King from classic Chinese epic Journey to the West and inspiration for Dragon Ball’s Goku, you really can’t go wrong, especially with flaming hair that may be a very direct Super Saiyan citation. Now if we could only get a Mega Evolution for the “Flame Pokémon,” maybe one that turns his hair blue or white and with a new signature ability called “Super Blue” or “Ultra Instinct,” or something along those lines, that would be super.
Hoenn counterpart Blaziken may benefit from one of the best, hidden abilities in the game, but since its debut Swampert has boasted one of the best typing of any starter. Not only does Mudkip’s water/ground typing nullify its weakness to electric types, but it also leaves Swampert with only one weakness. Statistically, Swampert is very comparable to Incineroar, but with a bit more bulk and a slightly less powerful Attack stat, still leaving it with the fourth best Attack of any starter and just shy of even Blaziken’s. Paired with decent move type coverage and exceptional STAB moves including Waterfall and Earthquake, Mudkip makes for a powerful pivot and defensive core endlessly enduring hits with its stellar bulk and capable of hitting back even harder.
While its hidden ability, Damp, is only situationally helpful, negating suicide strategies involving self-destructive moves, Mudkip is one of the rare examples that can make exceptional use of its standard ability Torrent courtesy of its bountiful bulk. Consequently, bringing Swampert below one-third its HP can be a costly mistake as suddenly its water-based attacks are doing fifty percent more damage. More often than not now, Swampert is used as a sweeper thanks to its Mega Evolution, which greatly enhances its Attack and bulk while giving it access to the ability Swift Swim, which doubles its Speed in rain. Paired with Kyogre or rain dance, this “Mud Fish” is sure to rain on your parade. Plus, based on a necturus (mudpuppy) or axolotl, Mudkip remains one of the most unique and creative designs in all of Pokémon. This “Mud Fish” might know how to get down and dirty, but make no mistake, competitively and casually Swampert can consistently clean up.
One of the most recognized Pokémon in the world and potentially the most popular Pokémon in franchise history, Charizard ranks in at number two. To veteran players, that position might seem a little inflated for what Charizard offers, but despite the blasé reception the original fire starter instills in many long-term fans these days, carefully examining everything from design to utility, Charizard is genuinely an exceptionally well-designed, versatile Pokémon. Rank undoubtedly boosted by its design, Charizard boasts one of the best, if not the very best (like no one ever was!), designs of any starter. Don’t even get me started on its charcoal colored shiny variant! Not that its stats are anything to scoff at, with an impressive Speed and strong Special Attack, making Charizard an ideal special sweeper. With Dragon Dance to enhance Speed and Attack and its hidden ability, Solar Power, to boost its Special Attack in sunlight at the cost of some of its HP, the “Flame Pokémon” is an excellent play on a warm, sunny day!
Charizard also offers pretty insane coverage with access to flying, fire, fighting, grass, ground, rock, dark, and dragon moves, plus an electric move in Thunder Punch! While a secondary flying type has a lot of the same effectiveness as fire, it eliminates and ground weakness Charizard might otherwise have and gains it access to Roost for solid health regeneration. That does leave Charizard even weaker against rock type moves, but with a potential Solar Beam and Focus Blast under its wing, rock Pokémon should be weary facing off against this fiery fiend. Its difficult to distinguish base Charizard from its two Mega Evolutions, Mega Charizard X and Y, which give immense utility as a sweeper and wallbreaker with new abilities (Tough Claws and Drought), a new typing for X (fire/dragon), and stellar stat boosts for both, which have made Charizard a staple in the metagame since X and Y. Maybe not the strongest candidate on the list, Charizard is a fan favorite for a reason and more than deserving of a high position on this list.
Greninja is emphatically the greatest starter of all time. Well designed if unassuming at first, no one could’ve anticipated that Froakie the “Bubble Frog” would transform into the absolutely lethal ninja that Greninja is known as today. In an obscene Speed tier amidst Megas and legendaries, Greninja boasts the fastest Speed of any starter. That Speed, paired with a menacing Attack and Special Attack, makes the “Ninja Pokémon” the biggest offensive threat on this list. With a truly expansive movepool courtesy of a strong water/dark typing, Froakie can strike down almost any opposition before they have time to react.
Equipped with its ungodly hidden ability Protean, which alters its typing to purely match the move its about to use, Greninja can pick apart entire teams with exclusively STAB attacks while circumventing common checks and counters simultaneously. A fighting Pokémon, for instance, that should normally be super effectiveness against Greninja’s dark typing might suddenly find itself resisted or entirely ineffective if Greninja is about to use a psychic or ghost type move depending on the coverage Greninja runs, all that assuming the fighting Pokémon is faster in the first place. Alternatively, Battle Bond ability Greninja see frequent use thanks to its Ash Form, Mega Evolution alternative which enhances its Speed and both of its Attacks while boosting the power of Greninja’s signature move, Water Shuriken, making it a devastating priority move. Able to overcome its lack of bulk with insane Speed, Greninja’s greatest weakness is perhaps its “four-move syndrome” and limitations to the maximum coverage it can run at a given time. On top of all of that, the list of Pokémon with better designs than Greninja in the entire franchise is incredibly short, its tongue-scarf an impeccable touch. The list of cooler shiny variants compared to Greninja’s ninja black variant is even shorter. Greninja’s caliber not only makes it the number one best starter, but proves it’s a top tier Pokémon in general.
Not all starters are created equal, and that’s a shame. Some have inescapable weaknesses; others have been granted god tier abilities so phenomenal they’ve historically earned those Pokémon bans. Despite that, each starter has fans rallying behind it, using them and enjoying them in spite of their flaws and status. Who’s your favorite, and, if I got it wrong, who’s the best starter (just be ready to support your claim!)? One thing’s for certain, Grookey, Scorbunny, and Sobble have some mighty big shoes to fill, though, if you ask me, they seem more than up to the task. Where they’ll rank amongst the previous generations, well, that’ll be exciting to see in time to come.
Final Fun Facts:
Pokemon Generations Ranked by Starter Average
- Generation One- Kanto (Red, Blue, Yellow)
- Generation Three- Hoenn (Ruby, Sapphire, Emerald)
- Generation Four- Sinnoh (Diamond, Pearl, Platinum)
- Generation Seven- Alola (Sun, Moon, Ultra Sun, Ultra Moon)
- Generation Six- Kalos (X, Y)
- Generation Two- Johto (Gold, Silver, Crystal)
- Generation Five- Unova (Black, White, Black 2, White 2)
Pokemon Starter Types Ranked by Starter Average
The Best New Nintendo Characters of 2019
Here is something to believe in!
There are just too many Nintendo characters to choose this year…
When we first started tracking our favourite new Nintendo characters back in 2015, it was during the Wii U era and unfortunately, there weren’t many to choose from since Nintendo wasn’t releasing many games at the time. The opposite can be said for 2019 and now our staff has an even bigger problem which is deciding who to add to this list and who to leave out— which isn’t an easy task if only because Fire Emblem Three Houses features over fifty amazing characters to choose from. We considered including the entire roster, to be honest— back in 2018 our list of best new Nintendo characters included everyone from ARMS, but after much debate, we decided to instead, choose just a few characters from Three Houses.
What follows is a list (in alphabetical order) of the best new characters introduced to the Nintendo universe this past year — and yes Fire Emblem: Three Houses is heavily represented this
Bede (Pokémon Sword and Shield)
I’ll be honest, when I first saw Bede I questioned why one of my rivals was a granny in a pink coat. Turns out I’m an old man myself and my bias was showing, as Bede isn’t a granny but a young lad that was endorsed by the Chairman to compete in the Champions Cup.
Bede is one of the very few characters in Pokémon Sword and Shield that undergoes some development. He starts out as an arrogant, self-obsessed jerk and ends the game as an arrogant, self-obsessed jerk, just with the experiences of being thrown out of the Champions Cup after undergoing a brutal perfidy by the Chairman and his assistant. He later becomes the understudy for Gym Leader Opal, but his transition from a Champions Cup hopeful to a trainer with purpose is one of few elements of story that Pokémon Sword and Shield offers. (James Baker)
Bernadetta (Fire Emblem: Three Houses)
Bernadetta is an incredibly shy Black Eagles student who tends to stay in her dorm room whenever she can. She’s reclusive, anti-social and incredibly awkward, and I can say without any doubt that I’ve never related to a character so much before. Bernadetta is a noble teenager of House Varley who was treated terribly by her father as a child. To train her to be an obedient wife, he would tie her up and force her to be still and silent for hours. He also ensured that she didn’t have any companions, having the only friend that she ever had -a commoner boy- beaten almost to death. This instilled a fear of social interaction within Bernadetta. She assumes that she is constantly making errors, afraid to make friends in case they reject her or end up hurt and views herself as generally useless. I myself have suffered similar self-esteem issues (though not due to being tied to a chair for hours!) and I could genuinely relate to some of Bernadetta’s struggles. Her skittish nature and her awkwardness can be pretty funny- such as in various support conversations with the other students where she will freeze, scream or just up and run away from them- but as they progress they can become heart-warming.
Watching Bernadetta slowly open up to the students that she was once too terrified to even talk to is great to see. Finding her outside of her room whilst exploring Garreg Mach is also a lovely surprise. If interest is taken in leveling up her supports, the growth in confidence from her throughout is astonishing. What I really love is that it is realistic growth. As I said, I saw myself in Bernadetta a lot. I know that with these kinds of issues, you can’t move faster than one step at a time. This slow but steady growth is portrayed excellently with Bernadetta. Even if you get her to the maximum support with everyone possible, she still has her moments of fear and dread. She still has days where she wanted to be reclusive in her room. But, just as in real life, it’s okay to have those days. Her growth continues throughout and I remember feeling immensely proud of her after the time-skip due to her newfound battle confidence. She was no longer pleading to go home in her voice lines but instead cheering herself on when she was doing well. Though her shyness is often played for laughs, Bernadetta is a character who can show those with similar issues that it’s alright to take your time when it comes to overcoming your fears. One step at a time is more than enough and Bernadetta helped me realize that. Now if anyone needs me I’ll be locked in my room for the next 48 hours. (Antonia Haynes)
Claude (Fire Emblem: Three Houses)
I can’t say enough about Claude von Riegan, the heir of the noble family that leads the Leicester Alliance and the fearless leader of the Golden Deer house. Of the three leaders of the three houses, Claude is by far the best. Don’t get me wrong, I love Edelgard and Dimitri, but Claude is the most charismatic of the bunch— he’s calm, cool and seemingly always in control. Yes, at first he may come across as lazy or irresponsible due to his nonchalant attitude, but we quickly learn he is far more astute than he lets on and always a few steps ahead of his peers. And unlike the other house leaders, Claude refrains from letting his personal feelings or his tragic past get in his way. In other words, there’s little drama to be found when spending time with Claude.
It helps of course that Claude is also strong, capable, intelligent, compassionate, quippy and downright handsome. I love his hair and his big green eyes but beyond his mysterious, sexy and charming demeanor is someone who deeply cares about the people around him. Claude’s support conversations are some of the most entertaining to watch and his voice acting is some of the most expressive in the game. Even Lorenz, who is arguably the most hated character in Three Houses, eventually falls for Claude’s charm – and towards the end of the game, you can’t help but like Lorenz thanks to Claude who not only accepts him for who he is but helps Lorenz grow to become a powerful ally.
On the battlefield, Claude is an absolute beast. He specializes in the sword, bow and authority and can easily excel as a sniper, a deadly Swordmaster and/or an unstoppable Wyvern Lord. He’s a cunning strategist too, and he possesses a wealth of knowledge about his allies and enemies alike — and if that isn’t enough, Claude pretty much carries his team and leads them to victory in just about every battle.
But what I really love about Claude is that he’s a downright good person and unlike many of his peers, he does not relish in killing unless necessary. He also never once betrays any of his classmates and although he comes across as untrustworthy at the start, Claude ends up being the most loyal person in the entire game. Despite the school setting, Fire Emblem Three Houses is a story of war that tears people apart. Choices must be made. Ideals will be tested. Loyalty must be earned. People die and some kill—but despite the harsh realities of war, Claude never loses his way. He’s not just the best Golden Deer student there is, he’s also the best there was, and the best there ever will be. (Ricky D)
Cyril (Fire Emblem: Three Houses)
Cyril is one of the most polarizing recruitable characters in Fire Emblem: Three Houses, and for good reason. He’s an incredibly hard worker who’s always busy in one way or another, but he can also be rather short with slackers or anyone who tries to keep him from his duties. There’s no place for laziness in Cyril’s world and, though he can be admittedly harsh about it, it’s a refreshingly no-nonsense attitude that’s rarely seen in modern JRPGs.
His hardened personality makes sense in the context of Three Houses, too. The victim of war between Fódlan and Almyra, he was an orphan with nowhere to go until Lady Rhea found him and took him in at Garreg Mach Monastery. Ever since then he’s worked tirelessly to serve Rhea keep Garreg Mach in the best condition possible. Cyril’s rather tragic childhood instilled values similar to Leonie’s: take nothing for granted and only progress through honest hard work.
Of course, Cyril isn’t perfect; his devotion to Rhea can be troubling at times, and it’s clear that he lacks standard social queues (in his defense, though, he is only 14 pre-time skip). Ultimately, however, he excels at being someone you can always rely on to tell it like it is. From chiding Hilda for being a lazy bum to delivering the fantastically relatable line “Why do I gotta talk about stuff I don’t wanna talk about just because you’re bored, Ignatz?” Cyril speaks the truth so many other characters simply mutter under their breaths. His support conversations with Manuela are simply icing on the cake. (Brent Middleton)
Dimitri (Fire Emblem: Three Houses)
It’s safe to say that the Blue Lions are juggernauts on the battlefield and have earned a reputation as the strongest house in Fire Emblem Three Houses. Leading these noble warriors who serve the Holy Kingdom of Faerghus is none other than Dimitri Alexandre Blaiddyd, the only surviving royal of the Tragedy of Duscur. Of all the characters in Three Houses, Dimitri’s story of avenging his parent’s death is by far the most compelling. Dimitri suffers from survivor’s guilt and despite growing up to become a sincere young man, the prince just can’t shake the ghosts of his past. Of the three leaders of the three houses, Dimitri’s has by far the best character arc, albeit tragic— as he goes from humble and down to earth pupil to a ferocious one-eyed warrior hellbent on getting revenge on those who wronged him and his family. In combat, Dimitri has incredible strength, the highest of any student at max levels, and has excellent hp, strength, speed, dexterity, and defense. He’s no doubt a great warrior but his journey is dark and twisted making him someone you admire, sympathize with, and fear. While Claude may be my favourite character, Dimitri is a close second. He’s the center of some of the best cutscenes in the entire game, including this scene which is my personal favorite. (Ricky D)
Dorothea (Fire Emblem: Three Houses)
Dorothea is the songstress of the Black Eagles House with a charming nature, desire for equality and a witty repertoire of quips. Despite her outwardly pleasant nature, it is what is underneath this charismatic exterior that makes her so endearing. As a commoner child, she was thrown out of her home alongside her mother by her father for not having a Crest. Her mother died and so she was left to fend for herself on the streets until she was recruited by an opera company.
As a commoner who was treated with such disdain, Dorothea would have every right to hold a burning grudge against the nobility. But she doesn’t. She holds a dislike to some of her fellow students but only the outwardly arrogant ones who flaunt their nobility such as Lorenz. She also has a dislike of Ferdinand but this is due to a misunderstanding when they were children and she was a street urchin. She has every right to be angry, bitter and callous. But she isn’t. She is reasonable, kind and caring. She usually gets the upper hand in most conversations that she has with her fellow students due to her street smarts, beauty, and intellect. But she is never arrogant about any of it.
Dorothea is flirtatious and flits from one suitor to the next, but this is only because of her crippling fear of being poor and on the streets again once her talent and beauty have faded. She longs for someone to have by her side as both a financial and emotional crutch which is honestly pretty realistic. Despite all her bravado, she is just a young woman with not quite as much self-esteem as you might think. She is a survivor but she is also desperate for love, security and a place to call home. Dorothea has worked her way out of poverty and she will do anything to ensure she doesn’t go back. The depth of her character is superb, with multiple layers to her personality unveiled in each support conversation. Loyal, strong-willed and compassionate, Dorothea is one of the best new Nintendo characters as well as one of the best Fire Emblem characters. (Antonia Haynes)
Felix (Fire Emblem: Three Houses)
In a game loaded with interesting character contradictions, Felix may just be the most fascinating example of a person at odds with himself. While openly and brazenly despising the notions of idealism, knighthood, general likability, and sweets, this haughty swordsman is also a principled defender of the people, a fanatical trainer, a secret protector of his many childhood friends, and a possible fan of cake. The loss of his brother to honor has clearly cut him deep, but beneath the scarred facade of cynicism is a fierce, loyal compatriot who pretends he hates everything, but will die for those he loves.
More than anything, however, Felix is just plain entertaining in his resistance to connection. His standoffish demeanor and arrogance contrasts humorously with the more naive students (Bernadetta and Flayne), who remain oblivious to his insults while wrapped up in their own obsessions, and plays just as good (if not better) off those who call his over-the-top mean bluffs. Whether it’s Dorothea convincing him to drop the act and catch her opera, Ingrid (a reminder of his brother’s sacrifice) scolding him into remembering the amiable boy he used to be, or Lysithea convincing him to eat one of her baked creations, it’s both funny and poignant to watch this wounded young man’s pragmatic outlook be challenged by thrusts he can’t parry. (Patrick Murphy)
Ferdinand (Fire Emblem: Three Houses)
It’s easy to come to Fire Emblem: Three Houses with preconceived notions against the idea of a class of nobles who rule the populace while living in luxury paid for by the toil of their subjects, but damned if Ferdinand doesn’t almost make one want to believe that this system could work. Though his quaintly formal parlance at first comes off as cocky and elitist, and he is certainly is rife with ignorance when it comes to the lives of commoners, one quickly discovers that his belief in his overall purpose to serve and protect the population is completely sincere and utterly selfless. In short, Ferdinand might be the nicest, most honorable, most self-reflective character in the game.
He’s also one of the most endearing. Though his often complete obliviousness to his fellow students’ subtle digs at his idealism (Dorothea comparing him to a bee) provides plenty of comic fodder, and his lack of perspective causes hilariously goofy tripping over his own feet (‘helping’ Bernadetta), Ferdinand unceasingly continues to seek understanding of others in order to become a better person himself. And when tragedy strikes? He considers his own behavior and place in the world with such humility and rational analysis that it’s hard not to root for the guy to one day become the leader he so desires to be. Also, he apparently gives really good hugs. (Patrick Murphy)
Gooigi (Luigi’s Mansion 3)
Does a clone have a mind of its own? Is a facsimile anything more than that which it was copied from? Can a pile of animated snotty goop help a frightened plumber fight ghosts? These are the heavy-hitting questions that Gooigi inspires. It is true, technically Gooigi’s first appearance is in the updated 2018 version of Luigi’s Mansion for the 3DS, but it feels as if it’s here, in 2019’s Luigi’s Mansion 3 that Gooigi has become its own new and wonderful Nintendo character. Is Gooigi simply another ghost-busting trick created by Professor E. Gadd, or does he have a mind of his own? Is he Luigi devoid of all feeling, or is he Luigi bereft of all fear? In the moments when he liquifies through some doorway that Luigi could not go through, is he simply finding a secret treasure, or is he opening doors inside of Luigi himself? Such high-minded philosophy can be debated by sages for ages, but at the end of the haunted hotel, there’s a new fun character to play co-op Luigi games with who adds a unique twist to the gameplay mechanics. This new clone makes Luigi’s Mansion 3 even more fun than it was, to begin with, and that is a spooky goopy triumph. (Marty Allen)
Leonie (Fire Emblem: Three Houses)
There’s no student in Fire Emblem: Three Houses that has as direct a connection to Byleth’s family as Leonie. Though her obsession with the player’s father, Jeralt, might be off-putting to some, it all starts to make sense the deeper you dive into her support conversations.
Leonie was only a child when Jeralt visited her village as a traveling mercenary, but he left a major impression on her nonetheless. In the short time he was there he taught her combat techniques and basic strategies, and by the time he left Leonie was so inspired that she decided to devote herself to becoming a mercenary just like Jeralt. Not only is her admiration of him touching, but the fact that she dedicated her entire life to become stronger and capable enough to get into the Officer’s Academy is simply astounding. As one of the commoners in the Golden Deer house, she truly had to fight tooth and nail to gain her spot.
Outside of her impressive backstory, Leonie is simply a great role in her own right. She’s studious, a hard worker, is incredibly frugal, and she never takes her opportunities for granted. Though she comes off as a bit of a tomboy in the first half of the game, Leonie also has one of the better post-time skip designs of the bunch. More than anything, however, her honesty and reliability are never in question for a second. If there’s anyone in Golden Deer that I could legitimately rely on to have my back, it’d be Leonie (with Raphael as a close second, of course). (Brent Middleton)
Marianne (Fire Emblem: Three Houses)
There’s no character in Fire Emblem: Three Houses that needs a hug more than Marianne. She’s also a character that didn’t appeal to me on her own, but rather how she interacted with others. Her low self-esteem and tendency to put herself down results in some of the most depressing support conversations in the game, and even the franchise as a whole. A classic example of the hedgehog’s dilemma, Marianne avoids getting close to others to avoid hurting them. Yet unlike many other characters in other media that exhibit such a trope, keeping such as distance causes her visible anguish that deeply resonates with the player, much to the credit of her voice actress, Xanthe Huynh.
That makes watching her fellow classmates gradually bond with her and pull her out of her shell all the more beautiful. Lysithea getting mad at her for not speaking for herself, Raphael sincerely trying to understand her hobby, and Hilda teaching her to not let people walk all over her were all pivotal in getting Marianne to accept herself and that manifests in such a pure way in the second act of the story. She exemplifies the stutter-step process of overcoming depression or severe bullying and that’s certainly not something I thought to be explored in a Fire Emblem game. (Matthew Ponthier)
Marie (Astral Chain)
Marie is at the heart of the otherwise underwhelming cast of Astral Chain. She’s unique in that she doesn’t carry weapons and never appears in combat scenarios; instead, she works hard to maintain Neuron Headquarters and keep everyone around her in great spirits.
It’s easy to brush Marie off as a simple gag character. After all, she’s first encountered masquerading around as Lappy, the energetic puppy-like mascot of the Ark Police Force and honorary member of the welcoming committee. Her tour of HQ—while trying to maintain anonymity as Lappy—isn’t just hysterical, but highlights just how hard she tries to make things fun for the officers on duty. For as pristine and beautiful as Neuron HQ is, the world outside those walls is on the brink of collapse thanks to endless attacks from otherworldly beings; keeping morale high is no easy feat.
Aside from learning early on that she’s secretly been rescuing cats around the city, the most endearing glimpses at Marie’s character don’t come into focus until relatively late in the game via several Public Affairs Records. It’s clearer here than ever that she thinks of everyone at Neuron as family, and that she takes the utmost pride in her work to support everyone from the sidelines. Just when the fight to protect the Ark seems futile, Marie’s there to remind you just how important your work really is. (Brent Middleton)
Morty (Luigi’s Mansion 3)
Between the original Luigi’s Mansion to Luigi’s Mansion 3, the series went from slightly creepy to downright goofy. Both concepts work extremely well for Luigi’s Mansion and nothing highlights the hilarity that the series can bring more than Morty and his ghoulish Godzilla production.
All the ghosts have bags of personality but none are less threatening than our humble film producer Morty. Indeed, after helping him film his tragic Godzilla film, Morty just gifts Luigi the elevator button and glides on his merry way to produce his film. Naturally, as a keen ghostbuster, you’ll interrupt his hard work and suck him up regardless of his generosity; besides, it’s the easiest boss battle in the history of gaming, this ghoul struggles less than your standard Goob.
Whether the player decides to attack Morty or not, he remains the friendliest ghost in Luigi’s Mansion. His passion for film comes before any flyer on the walls reminding the ghosts to find Luigi. His reason to exist is his film and it made for some of the most wholesome gameplay in Luigi’s Mansion 3. (James Baker)
Shamir (Fire Emblem: Three Houses)
In a world with this much drama, it can be amazingly refreshing to run across a character who simply takes everything in calm, measured stride. Life happens, and Shamir is Three Houses‘ level-headed voice of reason, even when she can’t be bothered to utter a single syllable. This mercenary comes from another land, and often seems like a world apart; no one has less at stake in the events that take place, yet no one is as mysteriously compelling as this mercenary archer.
Sure, a few hints are dropped about the tragic fate of a former lover, and an amusing fear of bugs (which she still manages to be cool about) adds nice cracks to her otherwise uniformly steely armor, but so much is left to the imagination. What kind of life has she led until now? Why the distant demeanor? How did she become so skilled? The most telling and entertaining elements of Shamir’s character are garnered through her terse replies (especially the silent ones) to more bombastic characters, which at least indicate who she is, if not how she became so. Interactions with Raphael and Caspar also depict a person of such confidence and fairness that it’s no wonder why she is (sometimes to her annoyance) sought out as the wise teacher.
Battle-tested and pragmatic, Shamir establishes herself as someone who lives in the real world, is utterly reliable, and is a very welcome safe haven for those who need an occasional break from Three Houses‘ soap opera. (Patrick Murphy)
From ‘dnd’ to ‘Death Stranding’: Good Old Fashioned Boss Fights
If Death Stranding proves anything, and it does, it’s that there’s nothing quite like a good old-fashioned boss fight.
There’s nothing quite like a good boss fight. With the creation of dnd in 1975– a Dungeons & Dragons inspired RPG for the PLATO system– video games would be introduced to bosses. It’s hard to imagine the medium without bosses, those perpetual protectors of progress. For dnd, an incredibly primitive RPG, a boss allowed the game to feature these miniature climaxes — memorable events independent of the core gameplay loop. Bosses demand players pay attention or die, and beating one is a triumph in and of itself. Looking back, dnd’s concept of what a boss is amounts to little more than the average random battle, but video games could now build towards emotional highs like any other medium.
A good boss can make or break a game, but they’re almost always a given. dnd essentially set an inherent basic of game design: video games have bosses. As the seventh generation of gaming ushered in more narrative driven and “cinematic” titles, however, boss design fundamentally changed. Where bosses had evolved from dnd to often serve as explicit rewards or a means to thoughtfully challenge a player’s grasp of the core mechanics, developers started to primarily embrace the “spectacle” of fighting a boss.
Spectacle and boss fights naturally go hand in hand, though. After all, a boss is spectacle in nature. dnd’s spectacle is comparatively primitive, but it’s there and bosses do feel like events. Boss fights have always demanded our attention as an audience, isolating the world of a game into a singular objective. Some of the best bosses in gaming are almost pure spectacle: Baby Bowser in Yoshi’s Island, Ganondorf in Ocarina of Time, and Metal Gear REX in Metal Gear Solid. None of these bosses are particularly hard, but they make up for their lack of challenge with scale, scope, and gravitas. Spectacle.
At the same time, they engage with the mechanics of the game even if they don’t outright challenge them. Of course, it would be disingenuous to go on without mentioning that all of these bosses appear near the end of their respective games. They’re easier and focus on spectacle as a means of rewarding the audience for coming so far. Anyone who’s played A Link to the Past in full will likely remember Moldorm as vividly as Ganon, but it’s the latter who fans will remember. Ganon is a spectacular duel to the death inside of a pyramid where the environment changes over the course of the fight. The former is just a good old fashioned boss fight. Who wants that?
As it turns out, a good chunk of AAA developers. BioWare director Casey Hudson infamously spoke out about boss fights after the release of Mass Effect 3, criticizing them for being “too video gamey.” While, contextually, Hudson’s comment refers to narratively convenient bosses specifically, it’s a sentiment that clearly rang true with developers throughout the late oughts & teens. This isn’t to say games with amazing bosses didn’t release over the course of the decade -– very far from it -– but boss design has changed, to the point where the Iggy Koopas and Revolver Ocelots of the world seem almost out of place.
That’s just a consequence of consuming only AAA content, though. The indie scene has been thriving, and Japanese game development is the best it’s been in quite a while. In a generation where gaming is more mature and grounded than it’s ever been, the medium needed to end the decade with a reminder of video games in their purest form. Death Stranding is anything but, but its core philosophies play to the strengths of the medium with an evident passion. Death Stranding demands that audiences slow down and play by the game’s rules.
In a generation where holding a player’s hand is the norm, this is a welcome breath of fresh air. It’s not only appropriately old-school, it’s a step back in the right direction. Like any facet of game design, bosses need to be thoughtfully considered. Being “too video gamey” can indeed be a bad thing depending on a titles tone, but swinging in the wrong direction and playing it too safe is never a good idea. Especially since Death Stranding proves mature, grounded AAA titles can absolutely still have the same over the top, pattern-based boss fights of yore — and comfortably, at that.
“No BTs. No Voidouts. No bullshit. Just a good-old fashioned boss fight.”
– Higgs, Death Stranding (2019)
What’s interesting to note about Death Stranding’s boss fights is that they all play up the spectacle. Now, given the context that’s been established, that might seem like a step in the wrong direction, but any medium has to evolve with time. AAA developers haven’t historically used spectacle well, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t try. Not every boss should be Ganon, but they should always be memorable. The problem with modern spectacle is that it doesn’t go beyond the surface level. It often carries little to no weight or context. Players are expected to care for the spectacle of the spectacle, but that’s simply not where the medium shines. Games are inherently about interconnectivity, and nothing demands more interconnection than a boss fight.
From the moment players formally meet Higgs and he floods Port Knot City, it’s clear that Death Stranding’s boss fights are more Snake Eater than they are Peace Walker. They’re all incredibly meaty with tons of health, typical of a modern Hideo Kojima boss, but they’re not bullet sponges, and Sam’s limited inventory means that players will constantly be cycling through different weapons over the course of a fight. Couple this with bosses having identifiable patterns and Death Stranding’s boss loops end up being real highlights.
As expected of a first boss, the Squid BT is on the simple side. At this point in the game, Sam really only has hematic grenades to fight back with. Anyone who hasn’t taken the time to learn how to use the grenades are now forced to do so as it becomes the only means of making progress. Since Higgs also ambushes Sam, players won’t be prepared for a fight on their first playthrough, forced to scavenge the flooded environment for gear. Most bosses strip Sam of his gear, but this approach only results in tense, well crafted battles that offer plenty of variety. Should Sam already have grenades on him, players can rush in to fight the Squid. Should they not, however, they’re going to have to search while staying alive.
Starting with the next boss, the first fight against Cliff, Death Stranding begins allowing players to choose exactly how they approach a fight. Much like in Metal Gear, there’s no right or wrong way to tackle a boss. Where bosses in MGS2 onwards could be tackled lethally or non-lethally, Death Stranding’s bosses are more about action versus stealth. Both approaches are totally viable, and they lead into their own isolated boss loops. As Cliff Unger hunts Sam through World War I era trenches, players can stealth their way around him or just dive in guns blazing.
It’s an incredibly tense battle, but it doesn’t let the spectacle of the situation outdo the actual fight. Cliff isn’t a set piece even if he looks it. He’s a genuine boss and players have to play well to beat him. Stealthing around to hit him from behind is safer, but it means players will be fighting Cliff for much longer, requiring more mental stamina. On the flip side, cutting to the chase and unloading the moment he rears his head will end the fight sooner, but only for players who know how to get in & out of combat fast. Otherwise, Cliff’s personal army will slaughter Sam.
Cliff is fought twice more over the course of Death Stranding, and each encounter builds off the last. The World War I trenches provided plenty of cover for players regardless of which approach they chose, so naturally the second fight takes place in a World War II city. There’s still plenty of hiding spots, but Sam is now out in the open. Just as easily as Sam can see Cliff, so can he be seen. Getting to Cliff is harder in general. Stealthing towards him means taking advantage of any and all blind spots, no matter how brief. Starting a gunfight either requires some pre-established course of action or quick reflexes.
By the third and final fight, Sam is taking on Cliff in an open Vietnamese jungle. Stealthing through and fighting back are both harder, but players will have built up the proper skills over their past two fights to adequately stand a chance. The fights against Cliff are the most video gamey Death Stranding ever gets, with each one sharing the same definable patterns, but they’re ultimately a net positive for the game. Having to learn a pattern, finding a way to fight back, and reveling in the scope of a great boss fight makes Death Stranding better on a whole.
Honestly, the final fight against Cliff isn’t going to be a challenge for most players, but it’ll still stand out as a highlight. Each boss fight is a playground in and of itself. If Sam’s not being transported to a secluded battlefield, areas will be flooded with tar so that they can be molded into proper boss arenas. Even Dark Souls, a modern series that rightfully prides itself on its bosses, often won’t give the same level of care toward boss arenas. Good bosses need good level design just as much as they need good patterns.
Perhaps more important than anything else, Death Stranding’s boss fights are long. Even if players know what they’re doing, they still have to endure an endurance match of sorts. Boss fights aren’t just about overcoming a challenge, they’re about surviving and making progress. Cliff’s not particularly difficult, but one mistake can result in Sam getting torn into. The majority of BT boss fights will try to overwhelm the player in the second half, the final one even featuring a nasty one-hit-kill that can easily sneak up on players wading through tar. Bosses should feel like events, from how players can engage mechanically, to how they’re presented narratively.
No discussion of Death Stranding’s good old fashioned boss fights would be complete without mentioning the boss fight: Higgs. After serving as the game’s main villain for dozens upon dozens of hours, Sam finally gets his chance to fight back in a three phase boss fight that could have (very) prematurely ended the game on a high. Unlike the fights against Cliff, Sam really does have nothinghere, no matter what. He’s stripped of his gear, his weapons, and even BB. “Stick versus rope. Gun versus strand.” It’s a great way not only to wrap up Higgs’ arc, but it also challenges a player’s mastery of the most basic mechanics.
Phase 1 of the fight requires players understand not only Sam’s hand to hand combat capabilities, but his ability to throw packages. Throw a package at Higgs, beat him up, rinse, repeat. All the while he’s hunting Sam in one of the most constricted boss arenas in the game. Popping up too early means taking a few shots courtesy of Higgs. Popping up too late means needing to find him all over again.
Phase 2 puts Sam on the offensive, and expects players to fight back with his strand. Higgs needs to be countered, hog-tied, and then kicked into oblivion. On-screen button prompts make the ordeal easier than it would otherwise be, but it’s thrilling to fight a boss who requires players to pull off reflex-based inputs that go beyond the typical QTE flare. Players need to set themselves up accordingly to counter Higgs, actively taking him head on.
By the time fighting game health bars pop up for the third phase, it’s fairly obvious Higgs’ boss fight is a love letter to the very concept of the boss fight. It’s over the top, almost nonsensical, but it has the right narrative and emotional context to stand out as one of the best moments in an already spectacular game. The fight against Higgs is a miniature climax in a massive story that spans half a hundred hours, and is about to keep on keeping on for half a dozen more.
When it really comes down to it, there’s no right or wrong way to conceive a boss fight. Those spectacle bosses have their place, and this generation has seen a lot of amazing ones. What’s important is that developers build and contextualize spectacle accordingly. Boss fights aren’t just an inherent part of gaming, they’re a tool that can make a title better. Opportunities to shine light on the core mechanics, or an interesting aspect of game design. Death Stranding’s penultimate mission essentially pits Sam against a boss gauntlet across the entire UCA, a last chance for players to really indulge in everything at their disposal before the grand finale.
Death Stranding would still be good without its boss fights, but it certainly wouldn’t be great. Each one elevates the game, not only by presenting a visually memorable and mechanically engaging challenge, but by existing as natural consequences of the story. Each boss is contextualized properly with enough weight where each victory has a considerable amount of impact. Boss fights have come a long way since dnd, but they’re recognizable for what they are: a reminder that games are games, and the medium should be embracing those video gamey elements. It’s through this “video gameyness” that the most memorable titles are made. If Death Stranding proves anything, it’s that there’s nothing quite like a good old-fashioned boss fight.
‘Life is Strange 2’ Episode 5 Review – “Wolves”: A Worthy Send-off
The final episode of Life is Strange 2 may take a while to get going but it does offer a solid conclusion to the Diaz brothers’ journey.
Life is Strange 2 hasn’t made any bones about being a political game over the course of the last year. The 5th, and final episode, “Wolves”, doesn’t just continue with this message, it doubles down, and in a big way.
Set near the Arizona-Mexico border, “Wolves” follows the Diaz brothers on the final leg of their journey. Having escaped from the cult that held Daniel up as a messianic figure in the previous episode, Sean and Daniel are camping out in a sort of pop-up town filled with outsiders like themselves.
The location provides Life is Strange 2 with its final breath of relaxation before the story enters its high tension endgame, and it’s a much needed reprieve. Unfortunately, it does seem to go on a bit longer than the player might like, and that makes things drag a smidge.
To give you some idea of how long you’ll be spending in the village, 4 of the 6 collectibles are found here. So, yes, this starting area is the main place you’ll be spending “Wolves” in. To be clear, the area isn’t bad per se. There’s a lot to see, a scavenger hunt to go on, and a few interesting characters to speak with, including a surprise cameo from the original game. The bummer of it all is that players will be feeling the time here more laboriously simply because there isn’t much of anything happening.
In the 2nd or 3rd episode of this story it’s perfectly fine for an extended bit of down time. Episode 3, in particular, benefited greatly from allowing you to settle into the setting and get to know a diverse and likable new group of characters. However, by the 5th episode, players will be so eager to see how things are gonna settle up, they won’t be able to get out of this area fast enough.
On the upswing, once Sean and Daniel leave the village, the story moves at a pretty solid clip to the credits. As the key art and trailer for “Wolves” might suggest, the Diaz brothers do indeed challenge the border wall in the final leg of Life is Strange 2. Where things go from there, I won’t spoil, but rest assured that Daniel will absolutely go through the crisis as you’ve trained him to do.
By this I mean, you will see the final results of your choices throughout the game, and they’re pretty impressive. With 4 possible endings, and 3 possible variations on those endings, Life is Strange 2 can ultimately play out in a variety of ways. How yours plays out will, of course, depend on the choices you’ve made and how you’ve influenced your brother throughout your journey.
Either way, though, Life is Strange 2 closes off “Wolves” with an emotionally satisfying and generally fulfilling conclusion to your journey. It might be a necessary evil that the events can’t be intense the whole way through, being that this is not an action or combat-focused game, but the fact that things take so long to get going in the final episode is a bit of a problem.
Still, fans worried that Life is Strange 2 might fail to stick the landing can rest easy. “Wolves” might not be the best, or most satisfying, episode of the series but it does what it needs to do and it does it well, particularly in the back half.
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