I was taken by Pokemon's Z-Moves the moment I saw a trainer literally toss a Pikachu for an attack. It's a moment fans have dreamed of since first hearing iconic little beast's plaintive "Pika Pika" as it flew into the sunset in Super Smash Bros.
These new attacks are in essence limit breaks—flashy super moves that are designed to provide a little more oomph to an individual attack. You earn elemental Z-Crystals throughout the game's main plot, picking them up when you complete Island Trials and defeat powerful trainers. You can then attach them to compatible monsters to boost their elemental attacks.
Key to understanding Z-Moves is knowing that they aren't standalone attacks. Rather, they boost existing moves, granting variable attack power and effects even as they run the same animation. So for example, an All-Out Pummel based on the fighting move Close Combat is much more powerful than one based on Brick Break.
In the early going, Z-Moves pack quite a bit of punch, and it can be fun to unleash them on Totem Monsters and watch them melt. But as the game goes on, they start to provide significantly less oomph, and their unskippable animations become repetitive. I think Jeremy had the right of it when he wrote in his review, "... I didn't feel particularly compelled to make use of Z-Moves], since they remind me a bit of old Final Fantasy summons: Lengthy, flashy animations that slow the pace of battle without necessarily yielding the results to justify it."
So what are Z-Moves good for if not the story, which in any case doesn't require too much thought to complete? Well, competitive battlers seem pretty interested in them.
little vid of Z-Splash in action just to give you a better idea how Z-status moves work. pic.twitter.com/OejBLuuGPp— Mike S. (ΩDonut) (@pokemon_PhD) November 10, 2016
While much of the early focus is bound to be on their wallbreaking ability, competitive battlers are much more interested in their massive status boosting effects. In an amusing twist, Splash, of all moves, is the focus of much speculation in the wake of datamining that suggests that it will give a +3 boost to attack. That's a Swords Dance plus one more boost—more than enough to seriously mess up and possibly sweep an opposing team.
Just think about that for a moment: Splash, Magikarp's joke of a signature move, might be the best Z-Move in the game.
Outside of Splash, there's been talk that Parting Shot, which lowers an opponent's attack and special attack before swapping out to another monster, might be viable owing to the Z-Move's ability to fully heal an incoming teammate. Z-Belly Drum is also interesting because it maximizes attack and fully heals the user rather than cutting its HP in half as usual. And finally, Z-Destiny Bond can redirect all attacks to a ammate in Double Battles, setting up some interesting possibilities in the Video Game Championships.
As for actual attack moves, the achilles heel of Z-Moves is that they are held items, which precludes pairing them with attack-boosting items like Life Orb. Boosters are mostly touting them as a way to lure in a traditional counter and kill them, such as a well-timed Z-Earthquake by Latios. In the upcoming episode of Axe of the Blood God, I speculate that a Z-Move might be effective on a sweeper that needs that extra bit of oomph to knock out a powerful wall so that it can finish off an opposing team.
The problem facing Z-Moves, ultimately, may be that they are just aren't flexible enough. With only one use per battle, you have to call a perfect shot and pray that your stat boosts won't just get hazed or roared away. And even if you grab a +3 attack, you might have to account for the fact that your monster isn't fast enough. Gyarados, for example, has historically needed an accompanying speed boost from Dragon Dance to avoid being worn down and defeated before it can complete its sweep, and trying to shoehorn Z-Splash alongside Dragon Dance doesn't really work.
They also might not be powerful enough. Datamining suggests that Z-Moves will top out at about 200 attack power—slightly better than what you might get with your typical attack boosting item. If that's the case, then you have to consider whether you want to sacrifice more damage over time for a slightly more powerful alpha strike.
In trying to keep Z-Moves from becoming so powerful that they break the game, Game Freak may have inadvertently made them unappealing to both casual and hardcore fans alike. Certainly, it's tough to imagine them having an impact on the metagame on par with that of Mega Evolutions, which sent the game's power creep through the roof.
But we'll see, won't we? It's often impossible to predict what the metagame will look like a year or two after launch, and it's quite possible that certain Z-Moves will become incredibly popular. But if they do, it's more likely that a previously inocuous move like Splash will be leading the way rather than Draco Meteor or Flare Blitz.