For simplicity's sake, instead of saying "Lugia and Ho-Oh" when referring to both of them, I will refer to them as The Bozos
The Bozos mark the start of a special tradition for the pokemon series. Having a big ol exclusive legendary pokemon for each version to slap on the cover. The term for the legendaries chosen to go on the boxart are fittingly referred to as "box legends", and The Bozos stand out from the rest. They are dorks.
While Box Legends are a forced encounter in their respective game they usually have some kind of, you know, power. Or at least a raw mysticism or otherworldly air about them. They also tend to be tied into the main plot of the game pretty heavily, but The Bozos being the first of their kind are just kind of put into their games with no real significance. Don't get me wrong, The Bozos are a cool encounter, but there isn't a reason for you to fight them and they lack any kind of "legendary" abilities. I know what you're thinking, that Ho-Oh can restore life as is hinted at with Suicune Entei and Raikou, but what does it ever do with it? Bring three dogs back to life?
Its actually funny to think about, but I like to imagine Ho-Oh has literally no control over reviving things. Just a big ol bird with life-giving dust that falls on stuff sometimes. I can find no mention as to the reason Ho-Oh revived these three pokemon specifically, its not like they did anything heroic. They just died in a fire. A fire which Ho-Oh probably started being a fire bird and all. Ho-Oh has no confirmed relationship with these dogs after reviving them. It was speculated that they regarded Ho-Oh as a master of sorts, but this lacks any evidence.
LIST OF HO-OH ACCOMPLISHMENTS:
- Accidentally revived dogs, made magic (has no idea that dogs exist)
Impressive. Ho-Oh's pokedex entry is also just kind of not true. Every second entry literally just goes "Ho-Oh has wings that are seven colors." Except they never are. Not ONCE in ANY adaptation has Ho-Oh been depicted as having rainbow feathers. Just the regular yellow, green, red, and white. They never even try.
Ho-Oh is based on the Phoenix, a mythical bird famous for dying in a burst of flame and being born again from the bird-ashes. This is evidenced by Ho-Oh's obvious resemblance, as well as the fact that Ho-Oh is caught holding an exclusive item know as the Sacred Ash. The Sacred Ash, when used, revives all fainted members of your party to full which is a clever nod to the inspiration. Ho-Oh also has the ability Regenerator which restores 1/3 max HP on switching out, another well implemented reference when it comes to the Phoenix.
Unfortunately, an ability that encourages switching out isn't the greatest thing in the world when you are a / type in a meta over-saturated with Stealth Rocks. Despite this, Ho-Oh still manages to land in Ubers largely due to it having great defenses and a 50% burn chance with Sacred Fire, Ho-Oh's signature move. That Entei was given as well. Classy move Entei, stealing a signature move.
While Ho-Oh has a solid base for a concept, Lugia leaves me baffled. What myth is it based on as a counter-part to a Phoenix? Nothing. Lugia resembles literally no myth I can find, let alone one as well know as the Phoenix. OK, so what real animal is it based on? None. It resembles literally nothing on planet earth, except for the beluga whale and even then in color alone.
Unlike Ho-Oh who spends most of its time flying around, Lugia prefers to sleep at the bottom of the ocean which is a nice contrast. As far as I can tell, Lugia has never done anything. Even in its very own movie, the only noteworthy thing about Lugia is that it apparently has some authority over the legendary birds. However, much like Ho-Oh's dogs no real connection exists and it probably only intimidates them because its a bigger bird thing.
Also of note, in one episode of the show Lugia was shown to have a child, raising the question of whether or not Lugia is a "true" legendary if it can reproduce. Obviously how much weight the show's canon has is debatable, but its still interesting.
Luigia's / typing is a cause for confusion. It lives underwater and summons storms, so wouldn't it make sense for it to be part Water? Unfortunately I can't find any reasoning as to why it was denied Water typing. Lugia is never mentioned to use any vaguely psychic powers (except for in the show using telepathy, but again, dubious canon).
OK so what are its powers? No source makes this clear, only mentioning that it causes long lasting storms by flapping its wings. Neat. This is pretty much all we know about it in game-canon. I like to think that Lugia doesn't actually summon the storms though. It could just be that it can tell when storms are coming and is only active during them, leading to the myth.
As an aside, I thought I'd mention that Lugia is the fastest Box Legend at 110 speed. Those huge hands of theirs sure gets them where they want to be quickly I suppose.
As for what Lugia is, I am completely blown away by all of the things it could be. You would think it would be obvious whether Lugia is a fish, bird, mammal, or some kind of advanced barnacle but the more I dwell on it the further I am consumed. It has these HUGE HANDS that make you think its a mammal, but it flies, but it also has the ability Multiscale which in every translation uses the word "scale" so Lugia does have scales. Then again, Ho-Oh is a bird and they are counter parts so it'd make sense for Lugia to be a bird as well, BUT Lugia has a very reptilian beak.
I now realize what Lugia is based off of.
PHEW, mystery solved, that's a load off my mind.
Anyway, these Bozos are one of the very few Box Legends that don't fight each other at any point in any canon. Seriously I don't even think they've ever interacted. That's something others might see as a negative thing, but i digress. These two Bozos are tied for the highest special defense of any flying type (4th highest overall). They are both good buddies and neither has a clear type advantage over the other. Its almost as if they were both designed separately and then made the legendaries.
The Bozos feel more like cryptids than actual mythical beings. Just big rare animals and I genuinely do love them.
Unlike Ho-Oh, Lugia has no held item at all which is an odd imbalance, but at the end of the day they're both giant birds. I think.
In all seriousness, these guys are lame to the max. In equal seriousness I love them for it. Most legendaries, I feel, tend to go a little over the top with their powers and designs whereas The Bozos are really refreshing to look back on. Good stats, solid designs that instill awe at the first encounter, and no real malevolence behind them. Yeah, did you notice that? These guys are SUPER docile when compared to most legendaries who get ready to destroy the world when their mystic orb is stolen from its sacred perch.
When encountered in Silver, Lugia looks super intimidating
Noodle neck dork
And Ho-Oh looks like pretty much like an upset bird
Their sprites don't get any scarier either;
Funnily enough, if these guys WERE played as serious threats to the world or as super powerful or something I think I would like them less. Their mellowness and mysticism feels genuine, like they exude a kind of wild and unknown air. A huge wild animal that you've never seen before that is plain ol big.
World destruction?? No thank you, they would much rather yell at shiny things.