Moltres vs Articuno vs Zapdos: A Summer of Legends

By Aurora, Codraroll, DHR-107, FellFromtheSky, GatoDelFuego, Pikachu315111, Pilo, and {Pokémon_Vigilante}. Art by monomite
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skylight

skylight

Word has it that Zapdos, Articuno, and Moltres are currently touring the world and forcing people to battle them for candy. It is truly awful. We thought: what better time to pit them against each other in one final showdown? Our JAPE panelists have again come together to defend their legendary bird of choice and tell us why the other two suck. This summer JAPE will be legendary.

DHR-107

DHR-107

Articuno has always held a soft spot in my heart. Whilst Zapdos was the first of the legendary birds I captured all those moons ago, my first descent down into the Seafoam Islands will always be the one I remember. The icy white bird had already been spotted flying to this particular roost from the binoculars on Route 15. After seeing it then, I immediately needed this Pokémon in my collection. Battling my way through hordes of Shellder, Seel, and Zubat only to find a ridiculous Strength puzzle blocking my path. Eventually I managed to find my way all the way down to Articuno's roost. An island amongst ravaging tides and difficult terrain. The perfect spot for a titanic battle. After many turns and a lot of Poké Balls, I eventually captured the guardian of the Seafoam Islands. My own original Articuno would go on to become a powerhouse on my team and become the first Pokémon I soloed the Elite Four with. Even back then, with the limited design choices available to the designers, Articuno stands head and shoulders above the other two birds in its trio. Its long, flowing tail feathers and dynamic sprite give it life that talon-forward Zapdos and upside-down Moltres simply don't have. How they managed to give off a vibe of cool, calm elegance back then is beyond me. It definitely worked. It wasn't until Pokémon: The Movie 2000 that we truly saw each of the legendary birds' outright power brought to the fore. All three birds made a complete mess of the island chain where they were hiding, bringing to bear the power of Ice, Electricity, and Fire. Articuno's powerful Ice Beams compared incredibly favorably with potent Thunderbolts from Zapdos and the ravaging Flamethrowers of Moltres.

Articuno's design grew on me even more after that film. Its color scheme and overall design tied into its Pokédex entries wonderfully. Whilst Pokémon: The Movie 2000 displayed it as a rage-filled Pokémon (mostly due to the unbalancing of power because of Lawrence), Articuno would appear to lost souls and protect them. Noland also appeared to befriend an Articuno and used it to challenge particular people after his Knowledge Symbol. Ash managed to defeat the bird with Charizard in a titanic battle. Its light blue color scheme and white chest plumage gives it incredible camouflage in its native habitats whilst also giving lost travelers the sense of a guardian angel. I am sure Zapdos and Moltres can't hold a light to that! Comparing it to the other two birds, Articuno's design seems rather simple, but it really works with its majesty. Zapdos looks more capable of stabbing you than electrocuting you, and Moltres just looks like a turkey that has stumbled into oil and then been set alight! While Zapdos has a few redeemable features, Moltres's design has only gotten worse as the franchise has gone forward with more complex sprites and then moved into 3D models. Articuno, on the other hand, has gone from strength to strength. Its 3D model highlights its flowing tail and powerful, fully formed wings.

FellFromtheSky

FellFromtheSky

Articuno is, without a doubt, the most graceful and regal of the three legendary birds. Its long shimmering tail and tripartite crest stir up images of majestic birds of myth, such as the divine simurgh or even an icy version of the immortal phoenix. What's more, its wings are supposedly translucent and refract light in a similar manner to ice, causing Articuno to take on an altogether otherworldly and ethereal appearance. In addition, Articuno's flight chills the atmosphere, causing snow to follow wherever it may go, increasing its otherworldly majesty. Articuno is, simply put, an incredibly well-designed Pokémon (especially when you consider it was designed in a generation when the visual development team thought it was a good idea to create a Pokémon named "Seel" that happens to look almost exactly like a real-life, albeit simplified, sea lion).

Similarly positive traits cannot, unfortunately, be ascribed to its kin, the thunder bird Zapdos and the fire bird Moltres. The former is exciting, but when you really think about it, it's really just a very spiky—and very yellow—hummingbird. The latter is similarly exciting, but when you attempt to visualize it without its flaming feathers, you realize that it's actually shaped like either a very fat (plucked) heron or an underweight (also plucked) turkey. Nevertheless, both Moltres and Zapdos still have special places in my heart, as they are still very cool despite their shortcomings (and both, particularly Zapdos, are awesome characters in PMD: Red/Blue Rescue Team). They just cannot compare to Articuno's particularly beautiful and well-crafted design.

{Pokémon_Vigilante}

{Pokémon_Vigilante}

Like shimmering diamonds found in a cave, Articuno gleams of beauty and grace. Of the three Legendary Birds, Articuno has the style, beauty, and fierce appearance of a power unrivaled by Zapdos and Moltres. Articuno can be considered the most majestic of the three simply by comparing their appearances. Zapdos looks like a whacked-out version of Big Bird on steroids with a static charge. Moltres, by comparison, is a little more tame than Zapdos, but it still looks like an overweight phoenix that spent a little too much time eating and not enough time flying. Articuno looks svelte, is slightly muscular, and has the appearance of aerial precision as it flies through the sky with a tail longer than the train of Princess Diana's wedding dress. I can only imagine how glorious it would be to see Articuno airborne as it fires off an Ice Beam straight into the air simply because it can. Say what you want, but nothing can compare to the royal blue majesty of Articuno, and anyone who thinks otherwise just hasn't looked close enough.

Codraroll

Codraroll

Overall, Zapdos is easily the coolest of the Legendary Birds. OK, technically that's Articuno, being an Ice-type and all, but Zapdos is the... uhh... raddest! Just start with the concept. "Ice bird" sounds lame. "Fire bird"... slightly better, but nothing really special. "Thunder bird", though. You can almost hear a faint guitar solo whenever those words are uttered. Zapdos follows the radness up with its name. It is commonly accepted that Z is a much cooler letter than A or M. Zapdos is miles ahead of the others, and we haven't even started on its looks and abilities yet!

Even in a franchise where Jolteon, Corsola, Qwilfish, and Mega Pinsir exist, Zapdos remains the spikiest creature. Its beak is a spike. Its head has ten spikes, sticking out in every direction. Its tail is a bundle of spikes (they are hard to count, but nine are usually seen at any time in official art). Its wings are spikes with spikes on them, and another layer of black spikes on top of that. One would consider the talons of such a creature to be menacing too, and they are indeed, but they are actually the bluntest parts of Zapdos's entire body. Of course, all those spikes make no sense aerodynamically or even biologically, but who cares, they still look awesome. Zapdos tops it all off with a striking yellow-and-black color scheme, which is generally considered to be the most imposing and easily seen of all color contrasts—that's why those colors are so commonly seen on warning signs. It makes for poor camouflage, but Zapdos has no need for that. It has no predators, and prey can't escape from it anyway. Its legs deviate from the color scheme, with dull grey feathers and copper talons. They dampen the overall visual impression a little, but they seem reasonable for grounding purposes, or for transferring electricity into its prey's bodies more efficiently.

Zapdos even has power to back up its menacing look. Canonically, thunderstorms will always follow Zapdos wherever it flies. It is always found against a backdrop of heavy, black clouds, soaring in the midst of a web of thunderbolts. This trait is downplayed in the games, but Zapdos is still a fierce Pokémon to face. It can fire off strong Electric attacks, has good speed, and has a typing that lets it get away with a mere two weaknesses; the oft-inaccurate Rock type, and Ice, where STAB is rarely seen. Base 125 Special Attack might not be enough to cause thunderclaps at the flap of a wing, but it's powerful enough to hurt most targets harder than they appreciate, and its base 100 Speed has served it well historically. Having been around ever since Gen I, Zapdos has an amazing repertoire of TM moves and Move Tutors to fall back on. Still, its most consistently used coverage move throughout the generations (source: Smogon's Strategy Pokédex) is actually Hidden Power, which it has used to round off its arsenal of moves and create near-perfect coverage, usually through the old "BoltBeam" combo with Thunderbolt/Discharge and Hidden Power Ice. However, even with good offensive moves and stats, and a rather good Speed too, Zapdos has rarely had the taste for raw sweeping. Because of its amazing typing, Zapdos's defensive qualities are often brought out, and they have gotten better and better as time has passed, and it has gained a PP-depleting ability, access to Roost, and the recently buffed Defog. No wonder why Zapdos has been seen in the OU tier with amazing consistency since the days of Red and Blue. It dropped to (and excelled in) UU in Gen V, but it shot right back up in Gen VI and remains there to this day. Power plants, Lightning Island, the OU tier, and our hearts: Zapdos and its bolts of lightning seem to fly anywhere, roost wherever it finds itself comfortable, and stay there for as long as it pleases.

GatoDelFuego

GatoDelFuego

Ok let's get this out of the way: Moltres looks dumb. Right now we've got basically a giant orange turkey that's mostly made up of pure fire. You ever seen it without fire? It looks really stupid. And in the earlier games, trust me, it looked even worse. So Moltres loses because its body shape is really bad.

So now that we're to the real candidates, let's break it down. Articuno has: a giant tail that is about half of its pixel count in the sprites and is... blue, I guess? And when you consider that it's only shown with its wings spread constantly, you realize that Articuno really isn't that much bigger than Pidgey. Of the three Legendary Birds, Zapdos is the only one that doesn't look like Nintendo just took an animal and added elemental effects. It has a really cool dual-layered wing design, with the front side of its wings yellow and the back side black. And because its wing-to-body proportion is a bit more even, it actually gets the privilege to fly in the stadium games. Also, it has a cool beak, head crest, and tail design. Normally, spikey Pokémon are a lazy design choice meant to make a Pokémon look intimidating easily, but since Zapdos's spikes are all carved out of its wings rather than tacked on, I give it a pass. Electricity is cool, and Zapdos doesn't even need to shoot lasers out of its mouth to attack and just shoots lightning instead, which is a welcome difference from the other two birds. Overall, Zapdos just looks the most intimidating, which is what I think the Legendary Birds' design goal was, and the others fall flat on that front.

Pikachu315111

Pikachu315111

When it comes to the Winged Mirages, I don't really have much of an opinion about them. Unlike later Legendary Trios, they don't really have a cohesive theme, at least when they were first made. That makes picking one over the other like comparing apples to oranges; they're too different from each other and only connected by a superficial reason. Originally I was going to pick Moltres because I like Fire-types, but upon looking at all three I think Zapdos is the most interesting of them visually. All of them have features that stand out. Articuno has its long tail and Moltres is on fire, but otherwise they're normal looking birds. Zapdos, meanwhile, has all its feathers spiky, and often it's in a pose that makes it look like a star or a comic action bubble. That's more attention grabbing, as it's purposely sticking out (pun not intended) compared to the others, whose unique traits are blended into their design so they look more natural.

Not much to go on from description, all of them just note how they represent their element. So instead I'll more focus on their depictions, mainly their most outstanding one. Articuno's and Moltres's most outstanding moments were in the anime proper, but Zapdos's outstanding moment was in a movie. In Pokémon: The Movie 2000, the main plot was that the antagonist of the movie, Lawrence III, wanted to capture Lugia, and so, to draw it out, he began capturing the Winged Mirages. After capturing Moltres, Zapdos started to cause a storm as it went over to Moltres's island to claim it. Ash & co. (followed by Team Rocket) had gone to Moltres's island to collect an orb that was part of an island ceremony when they encountered Zapdos. Wondering why Zapdos was there, Pikachu had a "discussion" with Zapdos via electric shocks where it explained, translated by Meowth for Team Rocket (and the audience), that Moltres had been captured and it's here to claim the island. Zapdos is the only Winged Mirage to get a "speaking" role, giving plot-important information to the main characters. Of course, after that scene it gets captured (along with Ash & co. and Team Rocket, which moved the plot along), and once freed it joins the other Winged Mirages in mindless fighting. Still, it was given slightly more plot relevance and was possibly the only Winged Mirage that could have been, due to the unique way it communicated with Pikachu; doesn't sound quite right if Articuno or Moltres could have talked with Lapras or Charizard via ice or fire. Zapdos has made other appearances in the anime, some notable and centered around it, but not on the level of Articuno's and Moltres's most outstanding moments.

Battling trivia time! Of the three, Zapdos is the fastest (base 100 Speed) and has the lowest number of weaknesses (which only comes from its Flying typing, as Flying is immune to Ground, which is Electric's only weakness; speaking of which, being part Electric-type neutralizes Flying's weakness to Electric, leaving it only weak to Rock and Ice). Also, if the birds were pit against each other, Zapdos has an advantage over the other two, as they're both weak to Electric-type moves (while Articuno's Ice-type moves are strong against Zapdos, they're not so much against Moltres. Moltres' Fire-type moves are strong against Articuno, but neither of its STABs are super effective against Zapdos). Zapdos is also the only Winged Mirage not to get Hurricane, possibly because it'd then have two powerful STAB attacks that are 100% accurate in rain (so, in other words they had to purposely not give it a move there's no reason it shouldn't get, since otherwise it'd be OP on rain teams; at least that's the theory). Of course, this wouldn't be the last nerf that Zapdos would see: its hidden ability originally was Lightning Rod. Had it been released, it would have been REALLY good, making it immune to Electric-type moves that it draws in plus increasing its already high Special Attack. But in Gen VI, its hidden ability was changed to the alright-but-not-as-good Static, which would make opponents think twice before hitting it with a physical attack (which targets its lowest Defense stat) or possibly be struck with paralysis (assuring the already fast Zapdos keeps its natural Speed advantage).

While all the Winged Mirages have their own uniquenesses, out of all of them I think the Thunder Bird is the one that shines above them all.

Aurora

Aurora

Moltres is the only legendary bird that really appeals to me. The main draw of Moltres lies in its aesthetic factor, which is by far the best of all. Depending on my state of mind, Zapdos reminds me of either a floating, yellow sea urchin or a hastily constructed illustration of an explosion by a primary school student desperate to get by in Visual Arts class. Neither of these visual analogies are particularly appealing. Articuno, on the other hand, is quite stylish; it is probably the Giorgio Armani male model of the legendary birds. Unfortunately, this doesn't make it any less boring to look at: there is nothing about Articuno that stands out to me save for its extremely long tail feathers, which seem to me that they would be more of an inconvenience than anything else. What makes Moltres's design so hot is that it's literally on fire. How awesome is that?! I'll be the first to admit that it probably does have the simplest design of all the birds, drawing strong inspiration from the mythical phoenix. However, Moltres at least exudes its elemental typing in the most flamboyant sense possible, which is something that cannot be said about its counterparts.

Moltres is also the strongest of the three birds. While Zapdos is just as powerful and very speedy, it has evidently shirked on its homework. Zapdos thinks it can get by with Thunder and a few moves that do not get STAB. You would expect an avian behemoth such as Zapdos to know how to use Air Slash; for goodness' sake, Zapdos's pointy wings make it not being able to learn a "slash" move a nonsensical, yet very real, prospect. The knowledge of Hurricane also eludes it, which is even more bizarre; thunderstorm activity is a hallmark of hurricanes, and Zapdos embodies thunderstorms. Shameful! Articuno, on the other hand, clearly tries very hard. Its hours of study mean that it knows every Ice- and Flying-type move worth knowing. Unfortunately, Articuno's natural lack of power precludes it from being as formidable in practice as its counterparts. In this respect, Moltres again proves its superiority. It is as strong as Zapdos yet, through many eons of toiling through the sacred arts of its Fire- and Flying-type brethren, can actually choose from a searing Fire Blast and a brutal Hurricane to assert its dominance. Can Zapdos or Articuno do this? No! If I needed one of these birds to help send a strong, firm message to bullies at university, I'd choose Moltres any day.

Pilo

Pilo

Choosing between Moltres and Articuno was never destined to be easy. I am omitting Zapdos, of course, because it looks like a chickadee that had a bad hair day. But I digress. This was definitely a tough choice, since I like both Moltres and Articuno a lot, but when it comes down to it I think that less is more, which is why I chose to side with Moltres.

Moltres is, in essence, a bird on fire with a sleek, rounded design and wings of billowing flame. While this simplicity may be off-putting to fans of the other two legendary birds, it is what makes Moltres's design so strong. So many Pokémon designs that would otherwise be fantastic are brought down by extraneous details and add-ons that only bring down their designs, but not Moltres, which sports a nice, simple, clean aesthetic.

Possibly one of the biggest reasons as to why I like Moltres so much comes from the variety it introduces. Moltres's rounded design is comparatively a breath of fresh air when measured against the abundance of Generation One Pokémon whose designs employ triangular elements and sharp edges. And if that weren't enough, Moltres also wins by a landslide biology-wise with its ability to heal by submerging itself in magma.


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skylight

skylight

For all those attempting to catch the birds: best of luck! What do you think the next Judge a Legendary will be? Share your thoughts on our Facebook or Twitter!

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