Finizen and Palafin

I've joked a lot over the years about bottle-nosed dolphins being terrible, wretched creatures, and that's lead a lot of people to believe that I don't like bottle-nosed dolphins, when in fact they are magnificently bizarre and astonishing products of a fascinatingly circuitous evolutionary history. What I actually don't like that they're unrealistically romanticized as angelic, genius sea-babies while sharks continue to be cast as mindless brutes, and that this even translates to unnecessary biases in science education and environmental conservation.

It's a bit of a let-down, then, that the very first (non-orca) dolphin in Pokemon takes a route so predictable. It's not just that it's far too cute for what is actually one of the sea's most lethal and violent pack hunters, but there isn't anything interesting about its design as a Pokemon, either. It's really just a little grey-blue baby dolphin, save for the ring around its tail I guess. Inoffensive, but also fairly boring. This is an animal that's topped the fandom's most wanted list since the very first generation, so you'd really have expected a more exciting visual twist...but oh? What's that? It evolves you say???


So...yeah. Finizen "evolves" into "Palafin" only when leveled up during a multiplayer feature that not everybody uses (or even can use), Palafin being exactly identical to Finizen save for a heart-shaped marking on its chest. But oh? What's that? The point of this Pokemon is that it has a form change you say?!

Haha. Oh man.

What we're seeing here, the Finizen with the heart on it, is called Palafin's "zero form." But if switched out during battle, it takes on its "hero form:"

...What??? Are they serious?!

The idea here is basically a "superhero" dolphin, with the zero form as its "secret identity." I'm not really a superhero fan to begin with, but it's a concept that could work, if it were designed pleasantly, but it is not, and it's hard to pin down which decision was really the worst here. The stripey tail that tapers far too much, ultimately looking like a squirt of minty toothpaste spurting from a tube? The presence of a bulging muscular human chest and stumpy arms on a porpoise? The "gloves" that look like blue condoms with udder-like fingers? Or maybe just the unpleasant red, white and blue motif overall?

A "dolphin," by which we specifically mean the bottle-nosed variety, has topped the fandom's all-time most wanted creature rep since the very first generation, and if you plug "dolphin pokemon" or "dolphin fakemon" into any given search engine, I think you'll find that even the crudest, least inspired fan creations are still easier on the eyes than this uncanny mess. Thousands, perhaps even millions of players waited over twenty years to catch Flipper in a pokeball, hoping for something at least as elegant as Milotic, as cool as fellow delphinid Kyogre or even as inoffensive and passable as previous sea mammals like Wailmer or Dewgong.

Instead, what they get is the bastard offspring of Captain America and Charlie Tuna.

Actually... like 90% Charlie Tuna.

I respect anyone who loves this Pokemon for the cornball premise and awkward design. After ragging on it this hard, I kind of started liking it myself. But it's so counter to what I imagine most would have wanted from the concept, it feels almost like a prank. It's the kind of mean thing I'd have done if I were in charge of this game and actually had the contempt for dolphins that you thought I did. "Ha ha, here's your dolphin, losers" is what I would have said in this scenario, upon unveiling Charlie Toothpaste America to a fanfare of airhorns and confetti. No one speaks. Somewhere in the crowd a baby begins to cry. I peel out in my sports car with a "FCKDLPHNZ" license plate and disappear into the sunset with giant bags of Nintendo money.

I would not do this, of course, but on a spiritual level, Gamefreak sort of did.

All Scarlet/Violet sprite animations ripped by adamsb0303!