Look at this big, round, friendly kiddo. She’s barely the front third of what a whale would be (gee, where have we heard that just last week?), leaving her joyous sphere that reminds me more of an inflatable pool toy than a marine mammal.
It does make for a fun, roly-poly junior ‘mon, though, and isn’t a bad reference to how real whales control their altitude in the water by using their lungs as ballast tanks. Wailmer just takes it to the logical, cartoony extreme and ends up looking a bit like a balloon. She probably swims like one, too – she’s got no tail fin in back to keep her level – but such problems are below the goal of absolute cuteness.
I’m kind of impressed how little work they had to do to make a whale look unique; this isn’t too far off how a preschooler might draw one, up to and including the simple baleen “teeth”, but her silhouette is so close to Jigglypuff territory that doesn’t register for a second as anything other than a Pokémon to me.
She’s looking a lot cleaner these days, too. Wailmer has two blow-holes up top rather than just one, which it turns out was tricky to render as a 64×64 image back in 2002. The result was a bit ambiguous, and plenty of players would swear up and down that she had two wide nostrils down below with two beady eyes close together up top her noggin. As much as I’m nostalgic for those old pixel-art days, the series does stand to gain from its slow increase in fidelity, even if it causes the series more and more scope creep as time goes on.
And speaking of scope:
What an absolute unit.
Like, seriously, it’s impossible for the stock art to do this massive lass any justice. Let’s pull some reference pictures, shall we?
There’s some amount of charm to a Pokémon whose core schtick is “look at the sheer size of this thing”, even above and beyond the one that everybody recognizes from marketing. And, just like Wailmer, she has a great mash-up with balloons to capitalize on the theme – she just aims bigger. Multiple finny “wings, a tubular body shape with regular chin-ridges, and even her “float whale” moniker; this chonker is meant to be an aquatic blimp.
Which is a funny little turnabout to me. Blimps, zeppelins, and their brethren are so often referred to as “airships”, especially in other JRPGs. But if you take that structure and put it back in the water, it doesn’t go back to being a ship, and she isn’t especially submarine-flavored, either. She really has to be called a “marine airship”, which is the kind of goofy, circular logic that I’m here for.
I’m more middling on her as a team-mate, though. While Wailord was always a great ferry in the games – she can handle every water-traversal move and then some – she’s slow with silly amounts of HP compared to her iffy defenses, which results in a monster who will absolutely devour your stock of potions. Her attack stats are both perfectly average, but that results in her hedging her bets rather than shoring up her weak points, leaving her kind of underwhelming overall. She can work quite well at stalling for time, especially deployed tactfully, but that kind of drawn-out fight is just so rarely fun to play in the main game. Sorry, gal – you’re kinda destined to sit in the back of my party and use Dive in the overworld.
I’d also like to pass a note along that Wailord is one of the Pokémon whose flavor text still mentions the fact that both they and humans will actively eat other Pokémon. Which, on one hand, duh, of course they do. Circle of life. But with the series’ target age hitting as low as six years old, that feels like something they’ve shied away from as time goes on.
Wailord, on the other hand, are so darned massive and require so much food to sustain themselves – a whole school of unevolved fish ‘mon at once, if you’ll buy into the lore – that they cause fishing shortages for humans who want to catch their own seafood. The ‘dex at least files off the edges by saying that they’re “chasing out” the Wailord when they’re “too numerous”, which is a bit more ambiguous.
Of course, chasing out a species in the name of preservation is flirting with the notion of “population control” in hunting. And that, in turn, touches close to how “whaling” got started out of a perception that the species were over-abundant, which… well. I encourage you to continue that line of thought either here or maybe here.
And this article wouldn’t be complete without a passing nod to how arbitrary Pokémon classification can be. With the sheer number of critters running around, the developers saw fit to put Pokémon into broad “families”, reasoning that two creatures vaguely related, like both being birds or plants, should be close enough for the two to do a mating dance together. Fair enough. Except Wailord is a whale, which is technically a mammal, putting it in both the “ocean life” and “mammalian” buckets. This results in a situation where a Wailord and a Skitty, by the fluke of them both being based on real mammals, can go into the game’s “day-care” and come back having laid an egg together.
Don’t think about it too hard.
Wailord is one of those cases like Diglett where, for all her simplicity, she makes for a fantastic sight gag. Sure enough, every single time the game sees fit to render the Pokémon in a new way, like having them follow behind you as you walk or their toy-like forms in the Rumble subseries, one of the first questions is inevitably “okay, but how big is Wailord?” as a short-hand for how generic or individualized each Pokémon will be. She’s just immediately striking, to the point that spotting them is a tourist attraction in-universe as well as it is in real life, and that’s hard to do away with entirely.
That said, many of the Pokémon games don’t take place in environments where it makes sense to encounter a fifty-foot whale, leaving her out-of-place in, say, a dungeon-crawler. This is one that we love, but that ultimately makes more sense to keep in Reserve for when she can make the right impact – though hopefully often.