There have been eight generations of Pokémon games, beginning with Pokémon Red and Green in Japan. For the last seven generations of Pokémon games, each Pokémon has had six stats: Hit Points, Attack, Defense, Special Attack, Special Defense, and Speed. While the system for accruing stats has changed slightly over the generations, the base stats themselves have remained unchanged – and the vast majority of Pokémon have retained their base stat totals throughout the generations. The one exception is generation 1 (Pokémon Red, Blue, and Yellow in the United States), which had only five base stats. In Red and Blue, “Special” was a single stat encompassing what is now Special Attack and Special Defense. In this article for Pokémon fans and those interested in game mechanics, I will examine how the Special stat split affected Pokémon from generation 1 in generation 2.
The Generations of Pokémon Games
Before continuing, I will clarify what I mean when I say “generations” of Pokémon games.
There have been eight mainline entries in the Pokémon series. Each of these is referred to as a “generation.” Each generation brings with it new Pokémon and new game-play mechanics. Some have also introduced changes to the stat system, although Pokémon stats have been largely stable since generation 4.
In this article, we will be looking at a particular issue involving the Special stat in generation 1 and the splitting of the special stat in generation 2. However, for your reference, I will list the first mainline entries for each Pokémon generation (not including spinoffs or remakes).
(For those who are interested, I published my reflections on the 20-year anniversary of the North American release of Pokémon Gold and Silver in 2020
- Pokémon Red/Green (JP) and Pokémon Red/Blue (NA)
- Console: Game Boy
- First Released: February 27, 1996 (JP); September 28, 1998 (NA)
- Pokémon Introduced: 151
- Additional Mainline Entries: Blue, Yellow (JP); Yellow (NA)
- Pokémon Gold/Silver
- Console: Game Boy Color
- First Released: November 21, 1999 (JP); October 15, 2000 (USA)
- Pokémon Added: 100
- Additional Mainline Entry: Crystal
- Pokémon Ruby/Sapphire
- Console: Game Boy Advance
- First Released: November 21, 2002 (JP); March 19, 2003 (NA)
- Pokémon Added: 135
- Additional Mainline Entry: Emerald
- Pokémon Diamond/Pearl
- Console: Nintendo DS
- First Released: September 28, 2006 (JP); April 22, 2007 (NA)
- Pokémon Added: 107
- Additional Mainline Entry: Platinum
- Pokémon Black/White
- Console: Nintendo DS
- First Released: September 18, 2010 (JP); March 6, 2011 (NA)
- Pokémon Added: 156
- Successors: Black 2/White 2
- Pokémon Sun/Moon
- Console: Nintendo 3DS
- First Released: November 18, 2016 (JP/NA)
- Pokémon Added: 81
- Successors: Ultra Sun/Ultra Moon
- Pokémon Sword/Shield
- Console: Nintendo Switch
- First Released: November 15, 2019 (WW)
- Pokémon Added: 81
A Primer on Pokémon Stats
Every Pokémon has certain base stat values. These values are innate and cannot be changed. However, other factors affect what a Pokémon’s actual stats are. In modern games, these include individual values (think of these as Pokémon genetics), effort values (how the Pokémon has been trained), and since generation 3, natures (some natures give a 10% boost to one stat and a 10% penalty to another). Thus, while a Pokémon’s base stats are the most significant factor in what its final stats will be, trainers can make it stronger in certain areas and weaker in others by paying attention to individual values, effort values, and natures. Natures were first introduced in generation 3 while the systems for individual values and effort values have changed slightly over the generations, reaching their modern form in generation 4.
In this article, we will be focusing only on two base stats for the 151 Pokémon of generation 1 as they were in generations 1 and 2. (It is worth noting that the systems for individual values, also known as determinate values, and the accrual of effort values, were very different in generations 1 and 2 than in later games, but that is beyond the scope of our instant inquiry.)
I discussed Pokémon training and stats in generation 8 in an earlier article.
The Six (or Five) Base Stats
When I say “base stats,” the next question is “base stats in what”? Pokémon can accrue stats in six categories:
- Hit Points
- Special Attack
- Special Defense
In short, “Hit Points” provide a numerical value for how much health a Pokémon has. Attack corresponds to how strong a Pokémon’s physical attacks are while Defense corresponds to how well a Pokémon takes physical attacks. Special Attack corresponds to how strong a Pokémon’s special attacks are while Special Defense corresponds to how well a Pokémon takes special attacks. Speed determines which Pokémon in a battle moves first in a single turn. In generation 1, base speed also determined a Pokémon’s critical hit ratio, but this mechanic was dropped in subsequent generations.
The focus of this article is on a change that occurred in generation 2. In generation 1, “Special Attack” and “Special Defense” were a single stat called “Special” that reflected both how strong its special attacks were and how well it took special attacks from the opposing Pokémon. In generation 2 and thereafter, “Special” was divided into two base stats, “Special Attack” and “Special Defense.”
All 151 Pokémon from generation 1 were available in generation 2. Thus, when the Special stat was split, these returning Pokémon that previously had a single Special stat needed to be assigned new Special Attack and Special Defense stats. Instead of effectively keeping these Pokémon as they were in generation 1 and assigning them identical Special Attack and Special Defense stats, the team behind Pokémon assigned values for each of the two special stats, neither of which was necessarily the same as the generation 1 stat. This ultimately benefited some Pokémon relative to generation 1 while hindering others.
A Note on Physical and Special Moves
Every Pokémon has either one or two types. For example, in every Pokémon generation, the player begins the game by choosing a fire-, water-, or grass-type Pokémon. There were 15 types in generation 1. Two types (Dark and Steel) were added in generation 2, and two generation 1 Pokémon picked up steel-typing. The fairy type was introduced in generation 6, and four Pokémon that were part of the generation 1 set added it.
If a mono-type Pokémon uses an attack that corresponds to its type, it gains a 50% power increase. If a dual-type Pokémon uses an attack that corresponds to one of its types, it gains a 25% power increase.
Types will be an ancillary issue for our study in one respect. Every Pokémon attack corresponds with a single type. From generations 1-3, the type determined whether the attack would be a physical attack or a special attack.
Physical Attacking Types (gens 1-3): Normal, Fighting, Flying, Poison, Ground, Rock, Bug, Dragon, Ghost, and Steel.
Special Attacking Types (gens 1-3): Fire, Water, Grass, Electric, Psychic, Ice, and Dark.
Pokémon introduced a most-welcome change in generation 4 when it stopped binding whether an attack was physical or special to its type. To use a notable example. Surf and Waterfall are both water-type moves of similar power. In generations 1-3, they were both special attacks by virtue of being water-type moves. From generation 4 on, Surf remained a special attack but Waterfall became a physical attack – good news to certain water-type Pokémon with high physical attack stats.
While this article is not a competitive Pokémon battling guide, my Pokémon analysis will focus primarily on how each generation 1 Pokémon was affected by the Special split in generation 2. Thus, the fact that attacks in those games were physical or special based solely on type will be relevant to my analysis.
What’s In a Number?
Because we will be dealing with numerical values for the Special stats of various Pokémon, I ought to provide some context on what these numbers mean.
- Special Stat Ranking in Generation 1
- Special Attack Stat Ranking in Generation 2
- Special Defense Stat Ranking in Generation 2
In generation 1, the highest Special stat was unsurprisingly boasted by Mewtwo, which the player could only capture after defeating the main game. Mewtwo had an astronomical Special stat of 154. Due to the way the Special stat worked and the lack of viable options to check Mewtwo, Mewtwo in generation 1 stands (as it likely will forever stand) as the single strongest Pokémon within a particular generation.
Leaving Mewtwo aside, the highest Special stat for an ordinary Pokémon was Alakazam’s 135. 25 fully-evolved Pokémon or single-stage Pokémon with no evolutions or pre-evolutions had Special stats of at least 100 (five not-fully-evolved Pokémon also crossed the 100-point threshold).
If we look at the middle Pokémon in the Special stat ranking (76/151), we find a Special stat of 65.
The lowest Special stat for a Pokémon that was either fully-evolved or had no evolution or was pre-evolution was Onix with a base-Special of 30. However, in light of the fact that Onix received an evolution in generation 2, this is ultimately less-than-instructive. The lowest base-Special stats for Pokémon that did not evolve and did not receive evolutions in generation 2 were the base-35 Special stats of Hitmonlee and Hitmonchan.
Evaluating generation 1 based only on stats is a fool’s errand in light of the fact that generation 1 was poorly balanced and many Pokémon did not have access to moves to take advantage of their stats – but the numbers I provided should offer a general idea of what high and low Special stats were.
Rules for the Survey
Before we start examining specific generation Pokémon, I will set forth the ground rules for the survey.
I opted to focus only on Pokémon that had no evolution in generation 1. That is, the Pokémon must have (1) been part of generation 1, and (2) either have been fully evolved or a single-stage Pokémon in generation 1. This means that I will include the five Pokémon – Onix, Golbat, Seadra, Chansey, and Porygon – that received evolutions in generation 2. I will not include Pokémon that were not fully evolved even if those Pokémon still had competitive value in certain formats in generation 2. With a few exceptions, gains and losses in special stats were generally standard throughout evolutionary lines.
After detailing which Pokémon gained and lost in the generation 2 Special split, I will assess which Pokémon gained the most and lost the most. Here, I want to make clear that I am not offering an expert analysis on how the Special split affected Pokémon within the context of the very competitive meta-games for generations 1 and 2, neither one of which I partake in. Instead, I will use my knowledge of Pokémon, including my knowledge of the multiplayer competitive strengths of Pokémon, to assess which Pokémon gained and lost the most in and of themselves. Thus, a substantial loss in Special Defense for one Pokémon may be less harmful to it than a slightly smaller loss in Special Defense to a different Pokémon.
But before we can assess winners and losers, we must determine who gained and who lost in pure numerical terms.
The Full Special-Split Chart From Gen 1 to Gen 2
Below, you will find a poorly-formatted PDF created by yours truly showing how every fully-evolved and single-stage Pokémon from generation 1 was affected by the Special-stat split in generation 2. From the far left column to the right, you will find the Pokémon’s Pokédex number, the name of the Pokémon, the Pokémon’s generation 1 special stat, the Pokémon’s generation 2 Special Attack stat, the Pokémon’s generation 2 Special Defense stat, and the total amount of base stat points the Pokémon gained or lost compared to what it would have had in generation 2 if its generation 1 Special stat was applied to both its Special Attack and Special Defense. Gains are green while losses are red.
One thing you will notice is that every generation 1 Pokémon either had its generation 1 Special stat copied to both Special Attack and Special Defense in generation 2 or it lost or gained points in either Special Attack or Special Defense. Game Freak, the company behind Pokémon, was not so creative as to change both Special Attack and Special Defense for any single Pokémon. I will sort the Pokémon into sections and then provide by brief analysis.
The following are all of the Pokémon that had their generation 1 base Special stats applied to both their Special Attack and Special Defense stats in generation 2, effectively leaving them unchanged. The parentheticals here show he Pokémon’s base Special Attack and Special Defense stats in generation 2.
Venusaur (100/100), Butterfree (80/80), Pidgeot (70/70), Fearow (61/61), Persian (65/65), Rapidash (80/80), Dodrio (60/60), Kingler (50/50), Electrode (80/80), Rhydon (45/45), Ditto (48/48), Dragonite (100/100), Mew (100/100)
- 13 Pokémon had their generation 1 Special Stat applied to both Special Attack and Special Defense in generation 2
- The mean base Special stat of these Pokémon in generation 1 was 72
- The median base Special stat of these Pokémon in generation 1 was 70
- Three highest Special stats (100/100/100) and three lowest (45/50/60)
These 13 Pokémon were not made aware of the generation 2 Special split, and blissfully carried on in generation 2 as if nothing at all had happened.
As such, it is a bit more difficult to choose winners or losers than it will be for the Pokémon that either gained or lost in their Special Attack or Special Defense when compared to their unified Special stats from generation 1. A few of these Pokémon, however, could have very much made use of a boost.
I am a bit biased here since Butterfree is one of my favorite Pokémon – and the star of anime’s greatest tear-jerker episode.
Its base-80 Special was the best of its very modest stats in generation 1, and with a base-45 Attack stat, it could only hope to deal damage off its Special wing. Butterfree would have very-much welcomed a small buff to its Special Attack to make better use of Psychic and Giga Drain or Solar Beam in generation 2. (This oversight was rectified 13 years later in generation 6, where Butterfree received a 10-point buff to its Special Attack.)
Persian is another favorite of mine. The evolution of the much-better known Meowth had but one good base stat, its 115-Speed. It was effective in generation 1 not withstanding its base-70 Attack and base-65 Special Attack because critical hit ratios were tied to Speed. Once that mechanic was removed, Persian was left with few means of dealing meaningful damage. Despite being a Normal-type cat, Persian has access to Thunderbolt, the best Electric-type attack, and a few other Special moves. It would have enjoyed a small Special Attack boost to compensate for the change to the critical hit mechanics in generation 2.
(I gave Persian its moment in The New Leaf Journal Sun in an article about one of my recorded battles against Victor V. Gurbo.)
Kingler is a Water-type crab with a vicious base-130 Attack (tied for third-highest in generation 1). Unfortunately for Kingler, it could not make full-use of its Attack stat since its same-type Water moves were universally special attacks until generation 4. Kingler would have been better set-up for the long-term if it received a boost to its low base-50 Special Defense, which many other Pokémon with high physical Attack stats and low Specials earned in generation 2,
Electrode was the fastest Pokémon in generations 1 and 2 with a base-Speed stat of 140. The pure-Electric type’s most powerful attack was by self-destructing with Explosion, In the long-term, it would have benefited from a Special Attack boost from base-80 to make its Electric attacks more threatening in the times when it did not explode.
Rhydon was one of the best Pokémon of generations 1 and 2 with its Rock/Ground typing, massive physical bulk (base-105 HP and 120 Defense) and base-130 Attack (tied with Kingler, see above). Although Rhydon does have access to some Special attacking moves that one would not expect, it could have made use of a boost to its base-45 Special Defense. As of generation 4, Rhydon is no longer a fully-evolved Pokémon, and a Special Defense boost may have distinguished it a bit more from its new evolution with the introduction of Eviolite (an item that doubles defense stats for not fully evolved Pokémon) in generation 5.
Gain in Special Attack
The following Pokémon saw gains in their Special Attack stats in generation 2 as compared to their unified Special stats in generation 1. The parentheticals depict the amount of base stat points each Pokémon gained and their final Special Attack totals in generation 2. The Pokémon are listed in order by their amount of gain in Special Attack with ties being broken by which Pokémon appears earliest in the Pokédex.
Wigglytuff (+25 to 75), Charizard (+24 to 109), Arcanine (+20 to 100), Slowbro (+20 to 100), Jynx (+20 to 115), Golduck (+15 to 95), Magmar (+15 to 100), Nidoking (+10 to 85), Electabuzz (+10 to 95), Porygon (+10 to 85)
- 10 Pokémon received a boost to their Special Attack stats in generation 2 when compared to their base Special stats in generation 1
- The mean base-Special stat of these Pokémon in generation 1 was 79
- The median base-Special stat of these Pokémon in generation 1 was 80
- Three highest base-Special stats in generation 1 (95/85/85) and three lowest (50/75/75)
- The mean gain in Special Attack from generation 1 base Special was 17, leaving us with a new mean Special Attack stat of 96
The Middle Class Moves Up
Generation 2 is a defensive generation for competitive players. This is due in part to the fact that it introduced several mechanics that increased the ability of Pokémon to recover from damage as well as checks to the most formidable offensive Pokémon from generation 1, but did not introduce many boosts to damage-dealing to match the boosts to recovery. While the gains and losses of the Special split are not a decisive factor in how generation 2 plays, it is perhaps symbolic that only 10 Pokémon received Special Attack buffs.
One notable trend is that every Pokémon that received a Special Attack boost, with the exception of Wigglytuff, had at least a decent Special Attack stat in generation 1. Moreover, the boost beneficiaries all had at least some moves to take advantage of their boost.
Wigglytuff, the evolution of the far-better known Jigglypuff, boasted a huge base-HP stat of 140, which was third-best in generation 1 and fourth-best in generation 2. That was its only good stat – I suppose its base-Attack of 70 was barely adequate. Wigglytuff, a Normal-type at the time and a dual-Normal/Fairy-type from generation 6 on, had access to a plethora of strong special attacking moves. In generation 1, it could not do much with its special movepool off a base-50 Special Attack. For this reason, its being granted an average Special Attack in generation 2 off a 25-point boost was more than welcome. It subsequently received an additional 10-point boost in generation 6, making its Special Attack in modern games base-85.
(Bonus: Wigglytuff had the best battle sprite in generation 2’s Pokémon Crystal.)
Charizard is arguably the most-well-known Pokémon that is not a small, yellow, electric mouse. The fire-breathing Fire/Flying-type lizard received a sharp 24-point boost to its Special Attack in generation 2, giving it a top-20 base stat of 109. While some of Charizard’s most threatening offensive sets in generation 2 involved boosting its lower Attack stat instead of its higher Special Attack stat, the Special Attack boost would lay the foundation for Charizard sets in future generations as Pokémon continued to evolve.
Nidoking received only a modest boost to its Special Attack, raising it to a slightly above-average (for the time) 85. However, Nidoking, one of two Ground/Poison types, had balanced stats across the board and access to a terrific pool of special attacking moves to make good use of the 10 points. In context, Nidoking was a big winner of the special split.
Slowbro is a complicated case. The pink Water/Psychic Pokémon was one of the best of competive Pokémon in generation 1. One would think that giving one of the strongest Pokémon a 20-point boost to its Special Attack, which is its better attacking stat, would make it a major winner of the Special split. Alas, what the split gave Slowbro was in return for what it took away. In generation 1, Slowbro’s most-threatening move was Amnesia, which it could use to double its Special stat in a single turn. In generation 2, Amnesia only applied to Slowbro’s Special Defense, and it no longer had the means to boost its Special Attack. Thus, Slowbro’s Special Attack boost in generation 2 was much needed, but it had the effect of only partially making up for what Slowbro lost.
Gain in Special Defense
The following Pokémon saw gains in their Special Defense stats in generation 2 as compared to their unified Special stats in generation 1. The parentheticals depict the amount of base stat points each Pokémon gained and their final Special Attack totals in generation 2. The Pokémon are listed in order by their amount of gain in Special Defense with ties being broken by which Pokémon appears earliest in the Pokédex.
Hitmonlee (+75 to 110), Hitmonchan (+75 to 110), Snorlax (+45 to 110), Kangaskhan (+40 to 80), Beedrill (+35 to 80), Muk (+35 to 100), Marowak (+30 to 80), Scyther (+25 to 80), Blastoise (+20 to 105), Raticate (+20 to 70), Poliwrath (+20 to 90), Machamp (+20 to 85), Mr. Mime (+20 to 120), Onix (+15 to 45), Lickitung (+15 to 75), Pinsir (+15 to 70), Aerodactyl (+15 to 75), Arbok (+14 to 79), Nidoqueen (+10 to 85), Primeape (+10 to 70), Golem (+10 to 65), Clefable (+5 to 90), Farfetch’d (+4 to 62)
- 23 Pokémon received a boost to their Special Defense stats in generation 2 when compared to their base Special stats in generation 1
- The mean Special stat of these 23 Pokémon in generation 1 was 59
- The median Special stat of these 23 Pokémon in generation 1 was 60
- Three highest Special stats in generation 1 (100/85/85) and three lowest (30/35/35)
- The mean gain in Special Defense from generation 1 base Special was 26, leaving us with a new mean Special Defense stat of 86
The Poor Become Middle Class
Special Defense buffs were in vogue in generation 2 – and some were quite meaningful. Most of the beneficiaries of increases had their average Special stats converted into good Special Defense stats.
Three extreme cases at the top of the increase list had Pokémon that were difficult to use because of their Special frailty in generation 1 gain boosts that made their Special bulk good-to-elite.
The single biggest winner of the generation 2 Special split and everything that went with it was Snorlax, the Pokémon that dominated competitive play for generation 2. Snorlax is a case of the rich becoming richer – it was already a top-class Pokémon in generation 1 with its Normal-typing, monstrous base-160 HP, and strong base-110 Attack. Due to its HP and lack of weaknesses, it was already relatively solid on its Special Defensive side with a base-65 Special.
In generation 2, Snorlax was turned into a bona fide Special wall with a 45-point Special Defense buff, giving it a base-160 HP/base-110 Special Defense profile. Moreover, there would be no super effective special moves against Snorlax until generation 4. Snorlax’s bulk further benefitted from a new move called Curse, which allowed it to boost its physical Attack and Defense in return for decreasing its already-low Speed.
There is no doubt that for purpose of generation 2, Snorlax was the big (pun not intended) winner of the Special split.
Hitmonlee and Hitmonchan
These two biped fighting Pokémon, the former known for kicks and the latter for punches, have always been grouped together. In generation 1, their good traits were vitiated by their appallingly low-35 Special and their weakness to Psychic attacks, with Psychic being the dominant type in generation 1. In generation 2, the Pokémon team made it clear that they prioritized Special Attack in assigning those low generation 1 Special stats. With the split, both Hitmonlee and Hitmonchan were given 75-point increases to their Special Defense, bringing them from 35 to an elite 110. Both benefited greatly from the increases, although Hitmonchan would have to wait until generation 4 until it could use its elemental punches – Fire, Thunder, and Ice – off its physical Attack stat.
Kangaskhan is a pure Normal type with solid stats across the board in all the areas it needs. In generation 1, however, it was held back by its base-40 Special, which made it very vulnerable to Special Attacks. Generation 2 rectified the issue with a 40-point boost for Kangaskhan’s Special Defense, bringing it to a respectable base-80 to match Kangaskhan’s Defense stat. This was all-the-more solid when combined with Kangaskhan’s above-average base-105 HP.
Boost in Special Defense was the single most-popular category for Pokémon in the Special-split.
Muk is a pure-Poison-type toxic sludge Pokémon, and the spiritual predecessor to Garbador, a garbage bag Pokémon introduced in generation 5 that featured here on site on two separate occasions. In generation 1, it had solid bulk with its base-105 HP and decent 75 Defense and 65 Special. Although it was let down a bit by its typing in generation 2, combining base 100 Special Defense with its HP gave it above-average bulk on its special side. Moreover, because poison attacks were universally physical until generation 4, Muk could use its new poison moves in generation 2 off its better attacking stat.
There are plenty of Pokémon I could discuss here, including Marowak (one of the best offensive Pokémon in generation 2 with a new item), the always-solid Blastoise, Poliwrath, and Clefable. I will single-out Machamp, the best fighting-type Pokémon in generation 2,for special mention. Its Special stat in generation 1 was a respectable base-65, although it did not like the primacy of Psychic-type Pokémon in that generation. The environment changed positively for Machamp in generation 2, and its 20-point buff to its Special Defense greatly increased its durability. Machamp was also one of the most threatening Snorlax checks owing to its having same-type super-effective Fighting moves to use against it.
Loss in Special Attack
The following Pokémon saw losses in their Special Attack stats in generation 2 as compared to their unified Special stats in generation 1. The parentheticals depict the amount of base stat points each Pokémon lost and their final Special Attack totals in generation 2. The Pokémon are listed in order by their amount of loss in Special Attack with ties being broken by which Pokémon appears earliest in the Pokédex.
Chansey (-70 to 35), Hypno (-42 to 73), Tentacruel (-40 to 80), Gyarados (-40 to 60), Tauros (-30 to 40), Articuno (-30 to 95), Dewgong (-25 to 70), Parasect (-20 to 60), Dugtrio (-20 to 50), Ninetales (-19 to 81), Seaking (-15 to 65), Flareon (-15 to 95), Sandslash (-10 to 45), Golbat (-10 to 65), Lapras (-10 to 85), Kabutops (-5 to 65)
- 16 Pokémon lost points in their Special Attack stats in generation 2 when compared to their base Special stats in generation 1
- The mean Special stat of these 16 Pokémon in generation 1 was 92
- The median Special stat of these 23 Pokémon in generation 1 was 98
- Three highest Special stats in generation 1 (125/120/115) and three lowest (55/70/70)
- The mean loss in Special Arrack from generation 1 base Special was 25, leaving us with a new mean Special Attack stat of 67
Analysis – Yikes
There are two types of Pokémon in the loss of Special Attack sample. The first are those Pokémon that were clearly assigned Special stats for defensive purposes in generation 1. The second are those that were docked points in their Special Attack stats for no apparent reason at all (sadism?). With the exceptions of Dugtrio and Sandslash, every Pokémon in the sample could make use of its special moves in generation 2 with an adequate Special stat.
I start with the great pink blob, Chansey, Anime viewers who only saw Chansey working as a nurse in Pokémon Centers may have been surprised to know that the Normal-type Chansey was one of the strongest Pokémon in generation 1. It is a Pokémon of extremes. In generation 1 it had the highest base-HP stat by a wide margin (250, and it remains second only to its evolution today) while also having the lowest base Attack and Defense (5 – not a typo). Chansey’s absurd HP combined with a high base-Special and instant-recovery move in Softboiled made it almost impregnable on its Special side.
What was unique about generation 1 Chansey was that it could also deal meaningful damage with its base-105 Special and deep special move pool. Generation 2 removed its Special Attack, but I do not think that Chansey was a big loser. Firstly, Chansey completely retained its walling capabilities and it had other means of dealing damage and even boosting its Attack and Defense with Curse. Secondly, Chansey received an evolution in Blissey, which came with an even higher Special Defense and a more respectable 75-base Special Attack.
Hypno, a pure-Psychic type, had a very high base-Special of 115 in generation 1. It was decided that Hypno’s Special was for defensive purposes, but I think docking 42 points from its Attack was a bit harsh. Hypno went from having an upper-echelon Special Attack to a largely below-average one – matching its mediocre base-73 physical Attack. While Hypno still had utility, it would have been fairer to reduce its Special Attack to something in the 85-90 range instead of 73.
On the flip-side, Hypno learned Amnesia in generation 2 only. So at the time, one could trade it back to generation 1 in Amnesia and take advantage of doubling its unified Special stat in that game… scary.
Articuno is one of the three legendary birds from generation 1 – as well as a personal favorite Pokémon of both me and my New Leaf Journal colleague, Victor V. Gurbo. The Ice/Flying-type bird had the strongest unboosted attack in generation 1, base-120 power Blizzard with a 25% same-type bonus and Articuno’s base-125 Special stat. In generation 2, Articuno lost 30 points off its Special Attack while its two fellow legendary birds, Zapdos and Moltres, suffered similar losses to their Special Defenses.
To be sure, Articuno would have liked to keep its Special Attack. While no one could complain about Articuno’s elite Special Defense, it must be noted that Ice/Flying is a terrible defensive type combination, and that Articuno would be much more threatening with an extra 30 points of Special Attack base-power behind its ice (and today, special flying) attacks.
Dewgong is a seal Pokémon. It never left much of an impression, although it seems quite friendly. Dewgong is clearly built to be defensive, so I understand why it lost some Special Attack from generation 1. What I do not understand is why it lost 25 points off its Special Attack to take it to a below-average 70, matching its low Attack. It is not as if Dewgong would have been too scary if it kept its Special Attack. What did it do to deserve this?
Of all the strange Special Attack decisions, Ninetales may have been the most perplexing. This elegant white Fire-type fox is one of the best-designed original Pokémon. Its base 100 Special seemed perfectly fair for a fast Fire-type Pokémon. But if they insisted on docking it points in one Special stat, I must first ask why they chose Special Attack and second why they chose to take 19 points, making it relatively weak given its overall profile. Consider this too. Ninetales’ fellow canine Fire-type from generation 1, Arcanine, had one of the highest overall base-stat totals and a base-110 Attack. Why did it get 20 points added to its Special Attack for base 100 while Ninetales lost 20 points on its Special Attack?
Ninetales gained some notable tricks in later generations, but I think it deserves to have at least some of its Special Attack restored.
The last case I will study in detail is that of Tauros – which was recognized by many as the best generation 1 Pokémon short of Mew and Mewtwo. The Normal-type bull had above average Attack (100) and Speed (110) base stats. While it favored physical attacks, it was able to dip into its broad Special Attack pool to check certain threats thanks to its adequate base-70 Special. Generation 2 robbed it of its Special Attack, reducing it to base-40 and generally restricting it to using its physical attacks. However, Tauros would have likely made that transition naturally in later generations even if it kept its base-70 Special Attack.
Loss in Special Defense
The following Pokémon saw losses in their Special Defense stats in generation 2 as compared to their unified Special stats in generation 1. The parentheticals depict the amount of base stat points each Pokémon lost and their final Special Defense totals in generation 2. The Pokémon are listed in order by their amount of loss in Special Defense with ties being broken by which Pokémon appears earliest in the Pokédex.
Mewtwo (-64 to 90), Exeggutor (-60 to 65), Tangela (-60 to 40), Alakazam (-50 to 85), Magneton (-50 to 70), Seadra (-50 to 45), Gengar (-45 to 75), Omastar (-45 to 70), Victreebel (-40 to 60), Cloyster (-40 to 45), Moltres (-40 to 85), Zapdos (-35 to 90), Vemomoth (-15 to 75), Wheezing (-15 to 70), Starmie (-15 to 85), Vaporeon (-15 to 95), Jolteon (-15 to 95), Raichu (-10 to 80), Vileplume (-10 to 90)
- 19 Pokémon lost points in their Special Defense stats in generation 2 when compared to their base Special stats in generation 1
- The mean Special stat of these 19 Pokémon in generation 1 was 110
- The median Special stat of these 23 Pokémon in generation 1 was 110
- Three highest Special stats in generation 1 (154/135/135) and three lowest (85/85/90)
- The mean loss in Special Defense from generation 1 base Special was 35, leaving us with a new mean Special Attack stat of 75
A Necessary Correction
Every Pokémon that lost Special Defense in generation 2 had a Special stat in generation 1 that was at least above average. Eight of the eleven Pokémon with base specials of at least 115 lost points in Special Defense instead of Special Attack.
What we see in this section is that most of the Pokémon given high Special stats in generation 1 were given those stats with offense in mind. Once Special was separated, it was necessary to reduce their Special Defense status. With that being said, everything is a matter of degree. Some Pokémon, such as the Mewtwo, Zapdos, Moltres, and Alakazan, were left with solid Special Defense stats. Others were less fortunate.
Cloyster, a Water/Ice-type clam, had the best base-defense in generation 1 (180) and the second best in generation 2. Even with only base-59 HP, Cloyster was very hard to hit through with physical attacks. With base-85 Special, it had respectable ability to take Special attacks. Generation 2 took 40 points out of Cloyster’s Special Defense, making it very vulnerable to special attacks with its base 50 HP and base 45 Special Defense. Cloyster was still a top-performer in generation 2 notwithstanding its poor special bulk, but in subsequent generations when it could use physical water and ice attacks, it may have preferred to have those 40 points in Special Defense since its base-95 Attack is higher than its base-85 Special Attack.
Exeggutor is a strange Grass/Psychic-type walking tree that evolves from a collection of eggs. I do not know either. In any event, it was one of the best Pokémon of generation 1 thanks in part to its unified Special stat of 125. With base 95 HP and 85 Defense, it could take hits well on both wings. It received a harsh correction to its Special Defense in generation 2, which when combined with a few common weaknesses on the special side, made it less durable than it would have been with something better than base-65 Special Defense. Exeggutor had 10 Special Defense points returned to it with the release of Pokémon Sun and Moon in 2016.
Tangela, the only pure-Grass-type Pokémon in generation 1 (and one of the stranger ones) had limited use in its debut generation. Noting this, the Pokémon team decided to take 60 points from its base Special, reducing its Special Defense to a paltry 40. While it retained solid physical-bulk (65 HP/115 Defense), its weakness to any special attacks that it did not resist severely limited its utility in generation 2. To reduce Tangela’s Special Defense all the way to 40 was more than a touch extreme (60-70 would have seemed fair enough).
It received an evolution in generation 4 and from generation 5 on could benefit from Eviolite, an item that would double its defense and special defense.
Victreebel, a Grass/Poison pitcher-plant Pokémon, had a high base-105 Attack and 100 Special in generation 1. Moreover, Victreebel gained useful poison moves to work off its higher physical Attack stat in generation 2. For generation 2 purposes, Victreebel was probably hurt less by losing 40 points off its Special Defense stat than it would have been by losing the points from its Special Attack, owed in large part to the fact that its grass moves were tied to its Special Attack until generation 4. From generation 4 onward, I venture that Victreebel would have preferred to have those points in Special Defense while focusing exclusively on its superior Special Attack stat.
(However – Victreebel is a pitcher-plant with eyes, so the glass-cannon take on it may be the correct one.)
Magneton lost 50 points off its Special Defense, which was not desirable in light of the fact that its base-HP is and was only 50. However, Magneton also added Steel-typing to its Electric-tying from generation 1, giving it increased defensive utility. In generation 4, Magneton gained an evolution with better stats.
I conclude with Seadra, a pure-Water-type seahorse and the evolution of Horsea. Seadra was a rather indistinct water-type in generation 1, and one would think that reducing its Special Defense from 95 to a measly 45 would be unduly harsh. To be sure, Seadra did not like this Special Defense drop at all. However, Seadra gained an evolution in generation 2 in Kingdra, which boosted superior stats and a secondary Dragon typing, eliminated all of its type weaknesses at the time save for Dragon (Dragon is weak to Dragon). Thus, I suppose we cannot complain too much about the overly-harsh reduction of Seadra’s Special Defense.
The Special split that occurred between generations 1 and 2 is long past and forgotten by many who did not play the original games. However, no event similarly affected the current existing stats of so many Pokémon. The effects were not limited either. Most of the generation 1 Pokémon did not have their stats altered subsequent to generation 2, and those that did generally received minor 10-point buffs in a single stat. Since all of these Pokémon are available to use in at least one current-generation Pokémon game, the effects of the 1998 Special-split reverberate today.
I was not sure what my take-away would be going into this project. But having completed the project – I have two major take-aways.
With perfect hindsight, Game Freak (the team behind Pokémon) missed some opportunities in how it could have handled the Special split. However, it bears noting that packing Pokémon Gold and Silver into a Game Boy Color cartridge was a remarkable feat fraught with well-documented hardships, and there were likely technical reasons why Game Freak opted to handle the allocation of new Special Attack and Special Defense stats in a very simple way.
A Wholesale Reassessment
Firstly, opting to only change either the Special Attack or Special Defense stat of each Pokémon (and in 13 cases, change neither) tied the hands of Game Freak and left some Pokémon unduly hurt by the split. Some Pokémon may have benefited from distributing their losses or gains between both Special Attack and Special Defense. Other Pokémon, such as Dewgong and Hypno, and Ninetales may have benefited from having changes to some of their other stats instead of sinking large losses in a single special stat.
The original Pokémon games hold up well, but they were terribly unbalanced in terms of mechanics, move distribution, and a variety of other issues. Generation 2 made many changes to the mechanics that enriched competitive play and gave many Pokémon more tools to work with, but it did not in every case account for how these changes affected generation 1 Pokémon. For example, I noted Persian as a Pokémon that relied on generation 1’s rules for critical hit ratios to be effective despite its poor stats. Having greatly reduced critical hit ratios for all Pokémon in generation 2, Persian would have welcomed boosts to some of its stats to compensate.
The Special split presented a great opportunity to reassess and re-balance the base stats that generation 1 Pokémon were originally assigned in 1996, before the first two young Pokémon trainers in Japan connected their Game Boys with a link cable to have a multi-player battle. While most of the stat-allocation decisions related to the Special split were reasonable, they could have been implemented more effectively with a holistic look at the overall stat and move profiles of each Pokémon and a willingness to modify stats other than Special Attack and Defense.
Re-thinking the Foundation
I conclude with thoughts about the fact that the vast majority of Pokémon discussed in this article have the exact same base stat totals today that they had in 1998 when Pokémon Gold and Silver were released in Japan. While a good number of generation 1 Pokémon have roles and niches in today’s games (see Clefable in one of my battles against Victor), others lost their niche as the generations went on. Moreover, Pokémon has had a trend of “power creep” over the generations, with new Pokémon wielding high attack stats and an increasing number of powerful moves being introduced.
I think that Pokémon’s overall stat system works well. However, the ninth generation of games (or the tenth) could present a good opportunity – unlikely to be taken advantage of – to perform a wholesale reassessment of the base-stat totals of Pokémon from earlier generations. Does it make sense that Articuno, who had the most powerful un-boosted attack in generation 1, should have a relatively average base Special Attack stat (by today’s standards) because of a decision that was made during the development of Pokémon Gold and Silver one-quarter-century ago? This question should be posed not only for Articuno, but also for Pokémon from other earlier generations that lost their niches over time due to stats that they were assigned before many contemporary Pokémon players were born.
I will work on my ideas in this area for a future post.