Ho-Oh vs Lugia: Johto's Apex Avians

By Aurora, brightobject, Codraroll, FellFromtheSky, GatoDelFuego, Pikachu315111, Pilo, RODAN, and {Pokemon_Vigilante}. Art by monomite.
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Aurora

Aurora

The release of the 20th Pokémon movie, I Choose You, in Japanese theaters is imminent. Eschewing terrible late-90s cel animation for more modern technology, the movie serves as a retelling of the beginnings of Ash Ketchum's foray into the world of Pokémon training. This means that Ho-Oh, the first Legendary Pokémon to ever hit television, gets to grace cinema screens across Japan, and eventually the world, once again. As if that weren't enough, it was recently announced that the original Pokémon Gold and Silver are being ported to the 3DS Virtual Console! What better time, then, than to pit the mighty, colorful Ho-Oh against its regal counterpart Lugia in the latest Judge A Pokémon Express? Our writers will analyze these Pokémon down to the roots of their tail feathers in a bid to answer the age-old question: which Johto analogue to Sesame Street's Big Bird is the best? Seriously, these things are massive. If you ever see one in your local park, try not to feed them.

Pilo

Pilo

When presented with the decision of whether to defend Ho-Oh or Lugia, I was initially unable to make up my mind on which one to side with, so I decided to take a different perspective on the matter: who would win in an all-out, no-holds-barred fight? Well, the answer is obvious then. Lugia is so powerful it can cause forty-day storms with just a flap of its wings, and I'd expect no less from a Pokémon based off of Ryujin, the literal dragon god of the sea with the ability to control the tide who resided within an undersea palace of coral, not unlike Lugia in some ways. Now, what about its looks? Well, sadly Lugia loses out somewhat in that department compared to Ho-oh's and its iridescent plumage, but nevertheless it manages to impress on almost all fronts with its sleek, majestic, and dragon-like design making it nice looking and easy on the eyes.

"Well," one might ask, "how does Lugia fare in battle?" If its astonishingly high stats, great matchup versus the Elite Four, and incredible level-up movepool consisting of moves like Aeroblast, Hydro Pump, and Extrasensory are any indication, Lugia does pretty well for itself. Bottom line: Lugia is a powerful and elegant sea god, something Ho-oh barely even holds a candle to.

Pikachu315111

Pikachu315111

Guardian of the seas, master of the winged mirages, and mascot of Pokémon Silver Version (the version I got 17 years ago). Ever since I saw it on the big screen as the star of Pokémon the Movie 2000 I've been fascinated by Lugia, so for me this is a no-brainer.

Starting off, Lugia looks cool. While Ho-Oh looks like a giant bird, Lugia looks more like a bird-shaped dragon, like a wyvern. The sleek body, the navy blue plates lining its back, and the white and blue color palette blend nicely together to make a unique-looking monster. The only part of its design that is arguably reprehensible is the hand-like wings, which personally I think look fine when they're wide open but do look awkward when they're laid flat. However, it is more visually interesting than Ho-Oh, whose distinct features are a broom-shaped tail, curly comb, and green-tipped wing feathers that clash with its orange and gold color palette.

But Lugia is more than its appearance. As a mascot Legendary, Lugia is essentially a deity, treated as such in ancient Johto. Lugia nested on top of the Brass Tower in Ecruteak City, the tower where Pokémon were said to go to "rest" (aka pass away), making Lugia a pseudo-death deity (13 years before Yveltal). When the Brass Tower was burned down, it fled to the Whirl Islands, where it became the guardian of the seas, needing to rest at the bottom of the sea, since a single flap of its wings causes a 40-day-long storm! Much more interesting than Ho-Oh's dex entry, which is mostly about it looking for a pure-hearted trainer and creating a rainbow behind it as it flies. Admittedly Ho-Oh has the interesting myth about it resurrecting the Legendary Beasts, which serve as its harbingers, but it's not the only bird that's a master of a legendary trio. Lugia was made the master of the Winged Mirages (Articuno, Zapdos, and Moltres) of yester-gen, and that was used as the basis of the second Pokémon movie. According to the movie, if the Winged Mirages begin fighting one another, it's up to Lugia to stop them, or else the world will end! Actually, the way the Pokémon Company has treated the Tower Duo is interesting. Ho-Oh had the honor of appearing in the first episode of the anime, but not until now is it getting its own movie (where it isn't a transformed Mew). Lugia not only was the star of the second movie but also had a multi-episode storyline in the anime and a supporting role in the 18th movie, helping Ash and Hoopa. Ho-Oh has only made a few cameo appearances in the anime, usually to give Ash a confidence boost. As a final note, in HeartGold & SoulSilver, both got their own battle themes. Both sound nice, with Ho-Oh's theme using classical Japanese instruments, which makes you feel you're battling a Legendary. However, I feel Lugia has the more intimidating theme, starting off with a warning siren before going into a cacophony of chaotic and calm melodies, making it feel like you're struggling against a Legendary.

Finally, it wouldn't be a full analysis without seeing how it does in battle. I'm going to do something different and just talk about traits that are interesting to me and not really get into competitive talk. First off, despite all the talk about its destructive power, Lugia is more of a wall. Actually a fast wall, which is an oddity but a useful one. It's no slouch in offense either, decent in both offense stats and move variety. Its standard ability is the standard Pressure *yawn*, but its hidden ability is Multiscale, which is really helpful (though brings up some questions, like it has scales?). Finally, Aeroblast sounds like an awesome signature move... on paper, and not for Lugia. Between the Tower Duo, Ho-Oh may be the heavy hitter, but Lugia can take a lickin' and keep on wingin'!

Cool look, epic lore, media prominence, killer theme, and speedy waller, Lugia is not only the whole package but quite a unique one that's hard to match.

FellFromtheSky

FellFromtheSky

Johto is home to two of the most intriguing mascot legendary Pokémon and, honestly, it's really difficult for me to rank one of these well-designed Pokémon higher than the other. After all, both have interesting mythologies surrounding them, as well as exciting in-game depictions. Ho-oh gave life to Raikou, Suicune, and Entei and also has tendencies to be wish-granting, rainbow-spreading, and magical, while Lugia can supposedly cause biblical-scale storms as easily as it can quell them. However, not all is equal between the two behemoths of Johto, and it's worth taking a look at some of the qualities that separate them.

Ho-Oh certainly has the advantage over Lugia in terms of battle location and subordinate trio. The "guardian of the skies" is fought atop the Bell Tower, at the heart of the Johto region, in the center of Ecruteak, honored and revered by all, while Lugia has abandoned the Brass tower for the secluded Whirl Islands, of which at least half the residents of Johto have likely never heard. In addition, Ho-Oh's subordinate trio of Raikou, Suicune, and Entei have a much more captivating origin story, as well as a much stronger connection to their leader than Lugia's avian trio of Articuno, Zapdos, and Moltres. Raikou, Suicune, and Entei were literally revived from the ashes of Lugia's fallen tower, by Ho-Oh, and now represent the three events of the tragic fire that caused Lugia to retreat to the Whirl Islands—the "lightning bolt" that struck the tower, the "raging blaze" that consumed it, and the "sudden downpour" that put the fire out.

At this point, anyone reading this likely thinks I was placed in the wrong section—that I'm arguing on the side of Ho-Oh's superiority. Such a person ought to be forgiven, as I was very torn about which of the Tower duo I ought to rank above the other. While all of those things I described about Ho-Oh are true, I've yet to discuss what makes Lugia (slightly) superior. While this is purely subjective, I find Lugia to be superior to its colorful counterpart in terms of design and aesthetic. While both are, to be sure, regal and dignified in appearance, Lugia's design is simplistic, yet elegant, in a way that Ho-Oh's is not. Lugia is a lovely synthesis of draconic, avian, and ichthyoid elements, tied together by a simplistic silver-white and navy color scheme that effectively communicates the depth and duality of the waters it is master over. In addition, Lugia holds the record for being the game mascot the largest number of times (three times—Silver, XD: Gale of Darkness, and SoulSilver). Speaking of XD: Gale of Darkness, in addition to being the star of that great game, Lugia is the only Pokémon with an appearance that is visibly different as a shadow Pokémon from its typical form. Simply an inverted Lugia, with dark where standard Lugia is light and vice versa, Shadow Lugia (or Subject XD001, as it is known in that game) makes a terrifyingly striking boss for XD: Gale of Darkness. Given that XD and Colosseum are my favorite games in the entirety of the Pokémon series (perhaps excluding the PMD series), perhaps it's no wonder that Lugia has a special place in my heart (edging out its avian counterpart).

{Pokemon_Vigilante}

{Pokemon_Vigilante}

I'm going to look to make this battle as simple to look at as possible, and after I've done so, the only thing you'll be left understanding is that Lugia is the true aerial titan in this battle. Ho-Oh versus Lugia couldn't be more lopsided if someone tried to bill it that way. Starting with the obvious parts of this matchup, and going so far as to consider the little details, I'm going to cover what I feel are the necessities of this battle.

First, we need to start with the battle style and typing matchups. Lugia obviously wins the typing matchups based on STAB support alone from its massive movepool. It's true that both of these flying titans can hammer out the damage almost point for point with each other, but Lugia has access to some of the most powerful move combinations thanks to its ability to use Telekinesis, which guarantees a move to hit for three turns. That means Lugia could set up to do major damage with Hydro Pump and/or Blizzard if you wanted to go that route. The reality and gravity of the situation simply is that Psychic-types like Lugia have more diversity in their move sets, including the ability to call on the Dragon-type moves that Ho-Oh can't access. Then you have to consider the fact that Lugia can use moves that allow it to conceal itself in water, whereas Ho-Oh can only use two-part moves that remove it from harm in the air. There isn't much that could be said in defense of Ho-Oh on this issue in my opinion to persuade my thinking to change. Lugia can take down many more Pokémon without batting an eye, while Ho-Oh could be walled a bit easier. But if you need more convincing, let's look at the overall design, including color scheme.

Sleek, powerful, majestic, and fierce. It's true that you could easily describe both of these colossal creatures with those adjectives, but those four words better describe Lugia in my opinion. Ho-Oh has too many fringes and edges for my liking with all of its feathers on display. Then you have to consider that there isn't really much else that would make Ho-Oh stand out from a common bird other than Ho-Oh's sheer size, Lugia, on the other hand, can easily cut through water without any concerns. That's due to its amazingly SLEEK design. Lugia is also POWERFUL enough to affect change in the world, which was on full display in Pokémon: The Movie 2000 by quelling the titans of Fire, Ice, and Lightning. The sheer fact that Lugia is MAJESTIC is conveyed in its gorgeous white and blue design with stone cold eyes that can pierce your soul. Ho-Oh has a great color design, but at the same time, there are too many colors to focus on that at times can hurt my eyes. True elegance and majesty is often shown through simplicity, and Ho-Oh is way too busy for my liking. Finally, we see how FIERCE Lugia is in the anime in the episode A Parent Trapped, as Lugia's baby (known as Silver) is captured by Team Rocket. The damage and power that Lugia creates during that episode and the following one, entitled A Promise is a Promise, is enormous. Even without a Team Rocket power amplifier, we can see how easily Lugia can devastate and level the surroundings as she fights to save her baby. Still need more convincing? Then why don't we look at one of the smaller details, and we'll see where you stand after that.

Both of these titans have their own respective game versions made in their honor, but only one has a game centered around a storyline that shuts the door on this case all the way around. That game, of course, is Pokémon XD: Gale of Darkness. It doesn't matter how you look at it, if the Pokémon that has a storyline centered around it leaves out the other half of the Tower Duo, then we know who the creators of Pokémon believe the stronger of the two to be: obviously, it's Lugia. It just can't be made any more cut and dry than that. Point made. Game over. I have always loved Lugia more than Ho-Oh, and my beliefs and feelings haven't been swayed by much of anything that I have seen of Ho-Oh.

GatoDelFuego

GatoDelFuego

Back in 1999, Pokémon design was in its infancy. Ho-Oh is definitely not one of my favorite designs, but looking back at what else was around in those days, it is a bit of a standout. I think the best way to judge Ho-Oh is off its hand-drawn original art—the slight fade on all the official artwork really gives some character to all the Gold and Silver Pokémon.

Ho-Oh is quite a pretty Pokémon to look at (BTW, I'm on team Ho-Oh if you haven't figured that out). It looks like it's bursting through the page in a fierce but not directly dangerous manner. It doesn't look spikey like Tyranitar or mean like Hydreigon, but instead it is radiant and elegant. Its wide wingspan juxtaposed with that expression really give you some respect for the Pokémon. Back in GS, the official artwork was often quite small; anything large like Tyranitar or Gyarados actually looks sort of shrunken in the drawings, but Ho-Oh manages to convey that it's HUGE. Meanwhile, Lugia's design just sort of flops. The perspective is off, so it looks more like a shot of Superman flying by. Except Lugia's pose is ruined by the shovelhand syndrome, where its massive paws overshadow everything else. Its gaping mouth and weird neck/head twist look kind of silly too. From a snap judgement to me there's no contest over which looks cooler.

However, most of what I love about Ho-Oh comes from the theme. Yeah, disclaimer: I bought Gold when I was a kid, so with the story Ho-Oh is the top dog. But when you think about it, Lugia doesn't make sense. It's the... sea guardian, I guess? It lives at the bottom of the ocean. So why is it a Psychic / Flying Pokémon? They're both legendary birds, but only Ho-Oh gets official, canon dominion over the sky. Lugia winds up seeming like an afterthought. Kyogre is the sea lord in the next generation, so poor Lugia gets nothing. And Ho-Oh's signature move Sacred Fire is damn cool: a massive blast of fire? Sign me up. Back in those days Fire moves were prized: you didn't even get a TM of Flamethrower, and Fire Blast has that sucky accuracy, and it's not like farming and trading TMs was happening on a huge scale. So Ho-Oh is automatically elevated as cool. Meanwhile, Lugia basically has a Hyper Beam ripoff. And it's a Flying-type move? Yawn.

Playing through the story, meeting Ho-Oh first makes sense. You've got the Burned Tower, where you meet the legendary beasts. The Kimono Girls are all inspired by traditional Japanese stuff, just like Ho-Oh's roost. It's all connected in Ecruteak City. Meanwhile, Lugia literally is just hiding in a cave off in the middle of nowhere. What's it got to do with the main game at all? It's nothing more than a prize. And yeah, back in GS there wasn't a lot of "legendary Pokémon cause huge disaster destroy the world you are the chosen one please catch it" vibe going on, but I still feel that Ho-Oh fits naturally in the setting where Lugia seems like it was shoehorned in after Ho-Oh's story was designed. Which sucks for Lugia, I guess. So in the end, I think Ho-Oh wins, half by its own merits and half by Lugia's lack of them. Or maybe it's just cause I'm an ingrained Ho-Oh fanboy for buying Gold version both times it came around. But maybe that's what everybody in this whole JAPE edition is!

brightobject

brightobject

Ho-Oh boasts one of the more exciting and iconic color schemes of the Pokémon universe, with its red / green / gold tones evoking rainbows, rebirth, and seasonal changes, fitting its position as master of the Burned Tower. Its wings are elaborate but not overdesigned, with the simplistic bands of color working well with the complex layers of feathers. Its slender neck and head seem well-contoured, not scrawny or cartoonishly long, giving off a certain sense of majesty, strength, and poise. I'll admit that one thing I do find a bit strange about Ho-Oh's design is the light blue-ish color of its feet, which can be found nowhere else on the design and doesn't sync up with the color scheme, being a cool color. I would have liked a dark gray for the claws perhaps, which would stand out more against the white belly and match with its black eye markings. But hey—with a design this good, I'm really just nitpicking.

In contrast, Lugia is pretty bland aesthetically. Nothing stands out, to the point where I am having trouble finding anything to write about... what do I even say? That the blank canvas of its body is too vast and empty? That aside from its angry little head everything looks vaguely unwieldy and chubby? That it kind of reminds me of NeoPets? I don't know what kind of vibe the design team was going for, but unless they were going for big fat dinosaur with massive hands, they lost me. What does Lugia even do anyways? Master of the seas? Kyogre fits that niche better. Master of the bird trio? They seem to be doing fine on their own—and Lugia's relationship with them was never even satisfactorily explained.

RODAN

RODAN

I'm a notorious defender and champion of Ho-Oh, it is one of my favorite Pokémon ever. I have gotten into many debates with many users over its merits, and in the past I have made threads solely to find out which one people like more. Of course anyone who voted Lugia in those polls has obscenely bad taste so I don't count their votes, so Ho-Oh wins 100% of the vote every time. Crazy stuff. I'm the type of guy who is aesthetics first always, and damn if Ho-Oh doesn't look amazing. Its color palette is super vibrant, and it has that ferocious turkey look in its eyes—perfectly captures the spirit of a disgruntled bird. On the other hand though, Lugia is STUPID looking. Like unbelievably stupid, what are its wings? Do they have hands? Or is that just the feathers at the end? Either way it looks super goofy and detracts so much from what could honestly be an OK design. Lugia has my favorite color pallette ever, but it does absolutely nothing with it. It's dumb and the only reason anyone likes it is because they are nostalgic for Pokémon 2000. BTW—Pokémon 3 is better. Namaste.

Codraroll

Codraroll

No doubt about it, Ho-Oh is one of the most fierce Pokémon to ever grace the sky. While Lugia is a strange conglomerate—a psychic, flying creature that is white and lives underwater for some reason, has a body like a kangaroo, fangs, and so-called "wingers"; Ho-Oh is a straight-up, no-nonsense phoenix. A graceful bird with a majestic red and gold color scheme, a mighty wing span, and even the ability to grant life, according to the legend of Entei, Raikou, and Suicune.

Ho-Oh has been criticized for looking like a turkey. If that is so, it is also the Pokémon that managed to make turkeys look badass. The short, stubby body works great for it, and its legs are not overly pronounced. Lugia looks like its legs were made for skipping around the Australian outback, Ho-Oh's are made for short landings or for tearing limbs off prey. Lugia has a face like a herbivore dinosaur for some reason. Ho-Oh has a conventional beak and a classy plume, completing the image of a legendary bird. Ho-Oh is all about flying, creating rainbows where it goes. Lugia is sulking at the bottom of a cave somewhere.

Or what about abilities? Sure, Lugia is said to stay calm under Whirl Islands, otherwise it causes terrible storms. But need I remind you that Ho-Oh's offensive stats are almost 50 and 30 percent higher than Lugia's? Whatever storms Lugia can summon must pale in comparison to the seas of fire Ho-Oh could spread across the landscape if it wanted. But Ho-Oh doesn't retreat to a secluded cave underneath the ocean, too scared of its own power to move. It flies gracefully around the skies, spreading joy and searching for pure-hearted trainers. It does have terrible powers, but it has learned to control them. And in case something goes wrong, such as when somebody else burned down the Brass Tower, it can bring Pokémon back to life anyway. Confident in its ability to control its power, and taking responsibility for the damage it could cause if it slipped, there's our pal Ho-Oh. Lugia, by comparison, fled the Brass Tower to hide in a cave after the incident.

In myths and legend, Ho-Oh wins the comparison easily as well. It is revered as a deity in the Johto region. Its home tower is kept in a pristine condition and guarded by an order of monks, whereas nobody bothered to even clean up the ruin left of Lugia's tower—a century and a half ago. The residents of Ecruteak City probably tell each other they'll get around to doing it some day, but today the weather is nice and the garden needs weeding and there's this new game that just came out, and besides, it's not like anybody expects Lugia to come back and claim it any time soon. Lugia is the Pokémon that fled, currently living on as a sailor's legend and doing a terrible job of herding the legendary birds. Seriously, Lugia and the Legendary birds hardly ever appear in the same game; HGSS, Pokémon XD, and FRLG (event only) are the only exceptions. By comparison, Ho-Oh appears in every game pair containing the Legendary beasts, and vice versa.

So there you have Ho-Oh. Good-looking, powerful, confident, and revered. Lugia is only one of those four things, and that to a lesser extent than Ho-Oh.


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Final Thoughts

Aurora

Aurora

Hopefully, this instalment of Judge A Pokémon Express has helped you make up your mind about which of these behemoths is best. It might also help you decide which version to buy for the 3DS over Virtual Console! …Or you could just buy both. If you're rich enough.

Planned by Tikitik | Avatars by brightobject, bubblymaika, Bummer, FellFromtheSky, and Tikitik | HTML by anto and The Dutch Plumberjack | Script by Toast++.
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