#386 – Deoxys

Deoxys is a new curveball – mythic in the sense that they originally weren’t available in the video games unless you went to a physical distribution event, but more like the region’s other legendaries in that Deoxys is decidedly more battle-oriented than other mythic ‘mon’s tendency toward being in-universe fairy tales.

Deoxys is also a lot more like other non-mythic Legendary Pokémon of its generation in that they have a fairly unique gimmick that emphasizes their specific backstory: in this case, the then-new concept of forms:

From left to right:
Attack, Normal, Defense, and Speed form(e)s

Unlike Castform‘s dynamic form changes, though, this thing’s forms were locked to which version of Ruby, Sapphire, & Emerald you owned – and since they weren’t shown until after most kids already had their copies, you were also locked into one form or another of Deoxys. A little frustrating, but also really cool that you might have a different version of the same Pokémon as your sibling with an entirely different gameplay role.

Luckily, they all look really cool, somewhere between the vaguely-abstract extraterrestrial angels from Evangelion, the chunky grey Roswell aliens from pop culture, and the action-figure-like aliens and monsters from Dragon Ball Z around the early ’90s. It probably helps that they lack discernable faces for expression – gotta love any creature design that deliberately omits obvious features to throw you off. It’s like Deoxys has totally sunk down into their malleable putty-armor, making it less clear what the “true” form of the beast is.

And, to the tune of good game design, all their silhouettes clearly communicate what they’re up to. The Defense form is broad and bulky, Attack form features aggressive spikes and sharp tentacle-arms, and Speed form sheds most of its armor mass to become a goofy, lanky fella. You even get a neat little double-helix pattern in its Neutral arms to advertise its potential to become those other forms. Coat that with a fun (if unnatural) orange-and-blue contrast and add a visible crystaline “core” for its brain, and you have a fantastic morphing sci-fi monster design that I’d love to see in a tussle against Ultraman.

And all of those non-Neutral forms are functionally min-maxed for a specific role that makes them an absolute force to reckon with in the main games. Its Neutral is already plenty souped-up, and its Defense form will tank-and-recover all day. But the Attack form and, to a lesser extent, the Speed form, is absolutely monstrous. Attack Form will crumble in a single hit, sure, but that doesn’t seem to matter – with a stupidly-potent signature move and base attack stats that clock in double the average of the rest of the roster (still the highest of any base-form Pokémon in the series), they’ll be outrunning nearly everything in the game and crushing them before they can retort. If you need a reason they locked Deoxys behind an event rather than in a quest at Mossdeep Space Center, breaking the combat wide open is a pretty good one.

Deoxys is yet another layer of evidence on the “Pokémon are Extraterrestrial Life” pile, right alongside its Hoenn-mythic counterpart Jirachi in being an explicit creature from space. Except where Jirachi was a benign visitor from the stars, Deoxys comes to us in a more stereotypical space-invader way, stepping all over Rayquaza‘s ozone turf on entry. And what’s more invasive life than a virus – one mutated and energized to life by human interference, to boot?

You know, like a certain virus that’s been mutating and invading its way around the world for the last two years at time of writing.

And that’s a whole exciting category of life we haven’t seen as Pokémon yet! Animals and plants, sure, and fungi get lumped in with plants for colloquial use anyway. But a living bacteria colony or sentient virus as a Pokémon? Now that’s something you could get creative with in ways I’m probably not even thinking of right now. Shame they didn’t leverage that to make a Poison-type legendary, but hey, ESP is a whole thing with spacenoids, so I’ll take it.

It’s also a nice call-out to the working scientific expectation around extraterrestrial life – that if we did find it at some point, that it’s substantially more likely to be a form of simple bateria or virus than anything remotely animal-like. Granted, Pokémon doesn’t need to be serious about its take on alien life – Clefairy rode to earth on a comet like Le Petit Prince – but it’s always nice when they try, even and especially for a monster who takes after pulpy B-movie sci-fi creature features.

It does seem odd to me that they haven’t solved the issue of Deoxys needing to visit a specific meteorite to change their form in every game since 2005. Especially considering that the games are open to changing Pokémon like Leafeon and Glaceon to evolve through more streamlined methods, not devising a simpler solution for a one-off Mythic Pokémon of all things is a head-scratcher. If nothing else, that’s a great reason to only use them on occasion – one less awkward one-off obligation to design into every game world going forward.

In fact, given their performance in the seventh series movie – and especially given that in-game animation shows Deoxys morphing its arm into a hand-shape in Generation IV – it feels like a shame that they can’t change form on-the-fly – if not in-battle in the same way that Mega Evolution or Dynamax works, or through a teachable move, than at least from the party menu in some way.

One solution here might be to look to the Adventures manga, where Deoxys has more or less control over its from depending on its terrain – in turn not that different than the form originally being different in different games. Normal used to be its only form option outside of Hoenn back in Generation III, after all, implying something special about Hoenn in particular. Considering that a similar terrain-based form-change ability is about to pop up next generation, maybe this can be another soft retcon. As it is now, having the boring Pressure attached to a Legendary monster with such a disctinctive contextual ability is almost a disappointment.

And for a last, more neuteral point of interest – Deoxys has its own battle theme, and was the first Pokémon in any game to get one, despite the vanishingly-small percentage of people who would have actually triggered it before Omega Ruby & Alpha Sapphire. A shame, since it’s a pretty near little sci-fi piece that sounds like the last area you explore in a Metroid game – another Nintendo story featuring aggressive, mutating space-viruses. Gotta wonder if they had a composer on loan for that.

I adore Deoxys, and I’m happy to see that they got a more prevalent role in the remakes of Ruby & Sapphire. With that re-appearance, they’re safely in the Reserve roster to come back around whenever the series wants to do a new outer-space story or re-visit Hoenn, and I’ll be happy to see them whenever it happens.

Any and all appreciation for Deoxys is welcome in the comments!

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