The three Legendary Birds of the Kanto region are still some of the most famous Pokémon even from the widely known first generation. For many of us Pokemon gamers they were the very first Legendaries we ever encountered. They required extra exploration and careful effort in battle to capture, and our first necessary use of Ultra Balls. But once they joined your team, they were power houses, hurling icy, fiery, or electrifying destruction upon your foes.
But even after being in multiple Pokemon games over 20 years, there is still a great deal of mystery surrounding Articuno, Zapdos and Moltres. Like almost every Pokemon, there are details in their design and mechanics that are not widely known. As so many new legendary Pokemon get introduced in Sun and Moon, we're taking some time to brush up on a trio of classics.
Here are 13 Things You Never Knew About Articuno, Zapdos And Moltres.
The naming scheme for the Legendary Birds is pretty well known by now. The prefixes for their names are all inspired by the element they represent, ("Arctic", "Zap" and "Molten") and the suffixes are all the Spanish words for “one” “two” and “three” (Uno, Dos, Tres). But like with plenty of Pokemon, their names vary in cleverness and impressiveness across different languages.
In Spanish and Italian the names off all three Legendary Birds are the same as in English. In French, each of the Legendary Bird names have suffixes that are inspired by deities. Articuno is called Artikodin (after Odin), Zapdos is called Électhor (after Thor) and Moltres is called Sulfura (after Ra the ancient Egyptian god of the Sun). In Japanese, their names translate to ‘Freezer,’ ‘Thunder’ and ‘Fire.’
Mandarin and Cantonese also have very literal names for the Legendary Birds. Articuno’s name literally means ‘Quick-freezing Bird,’ Zapdos is literally called ‘Thunder Bird’ or ‘Lightning Bird’ and Moltres is ‘Fire Bird’ or ‘Flaming Bird.’
In the first generation of Pokemon games, the stat categories for all the Pokemon were HP, Attack, Defense, Special and Speed. Since generation 2, the categories were changed to HP, Attack, Defense, Special Attack, Special Defense and Speed.
Since generation 2, the base stat totals of each of the three Legendary Birds were equal at 580. But in generation 1, the base stat totals of each bird were not equal to each other. Articuno’s base stat total was 485, Zapdos’s was 490 and Moltres’s was 495, making Moltres the best of the three. The differences are still reflected in their post generation 2 stat pools but their totals have been balanced out to be equal.
Articuno has the best defense out of the three birds, but with the worst attack and speed. Zapdos and Moltres are tied for best Special Attack while Zapdos has the best Speed and Moltres has the best regular Attack.
As a trio of Ice, Electric and Fire Pokemon, they each have a unique moveset typical to their types. Articuno’s got the spectacular Ice Beam and Blizzard, Zapdos has got Charge and Thunder and Moltres has Sunny Day and Heatwave (not to mention Solar Beam, too).
The Legendary Birds also have some moves that can play off each other if used in double or triple battles. For example, Articuno and Moltres can learn Hurricane, but it has a not-guaranteed 70% accuracy. However, Zapdos can use Rain Dance, during which Hurricane is guaranteed to hit as well as its own Thunder.
Also, all the Legendary Birds have a chance to start off learning Roost, if you can somehow find them below level 1. At varying levels they each learn Agility. All the Legendary Birds can learn the Rock type move Ancient Power at level 29. Even though it’s a Rock type move, many Legendary or exceptionally powerful Pokemon can learn it. Ancient Power would be an average move, except for the fact that it has a chance to raise all of the user’s stats at once!
In Super Smash Bros. the Pokeballs have always been one of the most exciting and varying items you could use in the game. Throw them on the ground or at your opponents and watch which Pokemon appeared to wreak havoc. These could include Legendaries like the Legendary Birds.
The three Legendary Birds could each appear from Pokeballs in Super Smash Bros. Melee. Articuno would use Blizzard and shoot fighters upward, Zapdos would use ThunderShock and inflict persistent damage and Moltres would knock fighters around with its wings.
Moltres was the only Legendary Bird to make a Pokeball appearance in Super Smash Brothers Brawl and Super Smash Bros for 3DS and WiiU. Even in SSB4, Moltres is among only eight first generation Pokemon to make a reappearance. Even though it could not be summoned from a Pokeball in the original Smash Bros, Moltres could still rarely be seen flying in the background on the Saffron City Stage.
Being Legendary Birds, Articuno, Zapdos and Moltres have several inspirations from various cultural myths. Articuno is believed to be based on two similar mythical birds of prey from Persian and Middle Eastern traditions. The Roc, was said to be a colossal bird of prey large enough to lift an elephant into the air. ‘Roc’ is a Romanization of the Arabic and Persian word for the creature, which means castle, fortress, or chariot. Similarly, the Simurgh is an amalgamated mythical bird which has been used in Iranian art and literature for more than a thousand years.
On the more natural side, Articuno shares some striking partial resemblances to two kinds of birds. The Meso-American Quetzal has bright, spectacular red and green plumage. Although both birds are meant to be beautiful, the Quetzal is mostly found in humid highlands. Not exactly conducive to ice. But probably the closest looking bird to Articuno is the White-throated Magpie-Jay. It has blue and white plumage and a three-pronged crest of feathers.
The Thunderbird is a legendary creature found in the cultures of indigenous peoples throughout North America. It is most common in art, songs and oral traditions among peoples from the Pacific Northwest, but it can also be found in American Southwest, East Coast, Great Lakes and Great Plains cultures. Depictions of the Thunderbird can often be found as the cap of a totem pole.
In the Algonquin mythology, the Thunderbird ruled the upper world, throwing lighting down to the water below and could create thunder by flapping its wings. Also similar to Zapdos, it is frequently depicted as being roughly shaped like an X.
Other Native American myths of the Thunderbird describe them as a race or species of mythical beings reside in a floating mountain in the Western Sky. They strive for feats of greatness and do battle with the great horned serpents, protecting the Earth and preventing them from devouring humanity.
The Phoenix may be the most widely known legendary bird of fire throughout the world, but there are plenty of other similar myths that could have inspired Moltres. The Phoenix itself may have been inspired by the Ancient Egyptian Bennu, an avian deity linked with the sun, creation and rebirth. There are also myths of the Huma firebird in Persian Mythology and the Slavic Firebird, both supposedly imbued with supernatural powers.
Perhaps the closest mythical inspiration for Moltres comes from the Vermillion Bird as it’s collectively known in many Asian cultures. It is called Suzaku in the Japanese tradition, and it is associated with elemental fire, the direction South, and the season of Summer. Like Moltres, it is usually described as having perpetually flaiming, bright red plumage.
As far as real-world avian inspirations go, Moltres most closely resembles a heron, with long necks, harpoon-shaped beaks and impressive wingspans. The Bennu hieroglyph is very similar to the hieroglyph for a regular heron and it is possible that these birds could have inspired many of the myths upon which Moltres is based.
In Pokemon games, you can usually take out most opponent Pokemon with one or two hits if you play smart, use the right type match ups, stats and STAB bonuses. But there are four unique moves in the game known as One-Hit-Knockout moves. Horn Drill, Fissure, Guillotine, and Sheer Cold are all guaranteed to inflict damage equal to the target Pokemon’s current health, if they hit. To balance out these ludicrous moves, their base accuracy is 30% but it increases the lower the target’s level is compared to the user.
However, Articuno has access to Mind Reader which guarantees a hit for its next attack, including a one-hit-KO move. And, as a Legendary Ice type it learns Sheer Cold at level 78. This combo can be foiled with Protect but it’s still an enormous threat. There are only two other Pokemon in the game with access to both accuracy focusing moves and one-hit-KO moves, and Smeargle and Poliwrath aren’t even Legendaries.
Like many other Legendaries, The Legendary Birds cannot breed. They are genderless and cannot breed with other Pokemon to produce Pokemon with moves only available through breeding. Presumably, they just suddenly appeared one day.
In the Pokemon Snap game for N64, though, there’s a detail that contradicts this aspect of their nature. After a bit of clever puzzle solving and backtracking it is possible to catch snap shots of Articuno, Zapdos and Moltres. There are three giant eggs that can be found in the Power Plant, Volcano and Cave courses. If you knock the Volcano egg out of your path and into the lava, it will hatch into a Moltres. If you use apples and the Pokeflute to bring a Pikachu over to the Power Plant egg, Pikachu will shock the egg until it hatches into a Zapdos. If you play the Pokeflute for the Jynx gathered around the egg in the cave, it will hatch into an Articuno.
Since generation 1 was pretty straightforward with the Pokemon type combinations, the dual types of Articuno, Zapdos and Moltres were almost unique when they were first introduced. Most of the Flying types in generation 1 were Normal or Bug types. Unfortunately for Moltres, Charizard’s secondary Flying typing meant that there was already a Fire/Flying Pokemon, even if they were each special for being a starter and a Legendary.
Articuno’s Ice/Flying typing was unique until generation 2, with the introduction of Delibird. This silly looking red penguin is clearly meant to be a festive winter holiday Pokemon.
Zapdos’s unique typing endured much longer in the franchise. The second ever Pokemon with Electric/Flying typing was actually a sub form of a Pokemon. Rotom is usually an Electric/Ghost type, but when it possesses an electric fan it becomes Fan Rotom, an Electric/Flying type. The first true Electric/Flying Pokemon introduced after Zapdos was Emolga, the electric flying squirrel from Generation 5.
Shiny Pokemon is a term coined by fans and canonized by the franchise and the games to describe some of the most unusual color variants of Pokemon. There have been different formulas that calculate whether an instance of a wild Pokemon will be shiny but their chance to appear has always been miniscule, usually a one in several thousand’s chance.
Some Pokemon’s Shiny colorations are drastically different form their typical color schemes, like Rayquaza or Gyarados. Articuno’s, Zapdos’s, and Moltres’s Shiny sprites are nearly identical to their respective usual selves. Shiny Articuno is just a slightly paler and icier blue. Shiny Zapdos is barely a deeper shade of yellow. Shiny Moltres is the most noticeable with a Red/Pink body instead of an orange body.
Curiously, each Shiny Legendary Bird’s different colors were the most noticeable in generation 2 and/or 3, partially because the Gameboy Color's rendering was comparatively basic next to today’s handhelds.
One of the nefarious schemes Team Rocket hatched in the Pokemon Adventures Manga was to fuse the three Legendary Birds into one incredibly powerful Pokemon. They had done a preliminary experiment with Eevee’s three evolutions and then went on to capture each of the Birds at their usual locations.
With the help of Sabrina’s Kedabra and a trigger set off by all of Red’s eight collected gym badges, the three legendary birds were summoned. They combined into the monstrous, Thu-Fi-Zer, a colossal amalgamation of Articuno, Zapdos and Moltres, with three heads!
The heroes’ initial attempts to contain it were totally futile. Thu-Fi-Zer easily blasted the trainers Red, Blue and Green out the window of a skyscraper with Sky Attack. Red’s Ivysaur saves them with a net of vines. Just before Thu-Fi-Zer is about to destroy Saffron City, Ivysaur evolves into a Venusaur. Red, Blue and Green’s Pokemon all use Flame Thrower, Hydro Pump and Solar Beam to subdue Thu-Fi-Zer. Defeated, Articuno, Zapdos and Moltres return to their individual selves and fly away.
It was a fine way to get us excited for Pokemon Go by including Mewtwo in that live action Time Square trailer, but where are the Legendaries, Niantic? There’s already thoughts of introducing Pokemon from generation 2 and onwards but there’s not even an announced event for the opportunity to catch Articuno, Zapdos and Moltres?
I mean, granted, the goal of Pokemon Go is to recreate the experience of finding and capturing Pokemon in the wild, in the real world. So setting up the Legendary Birds in the wild will need to feel like something really special and adventurous. Does that mean we’re going to see millions of Pokemon Go players migrating across the country to Yellowstone or a real power plant or the Grand Canyon to catch Articuno, Zapdos and Moltres?
That sounds awesome and terrifying. It has also been rumored that whichever team among Mystic, Instinct, or Valor a player has chosen will affect their access to one of the corresponding Legendary Birds. Hopefully Niantic will find a way to make them a bit more widely available while still feeling special and challenging.
Are there any other bits of trivia you've found about Articuno, Zapdos and Moltres? Share them in the comments!