So, what is Water-type?
Water-type is not an invention of Pokémon, however they way it is represented sort of is. Though Water element exists in both Greek and Chinese alchemy, and has been present in all RPGs starting from Dungeons and Dragons, early JRPGs like Final Fantasy and SMT never used Water as a true element, but rather a thematic element. Pokémon is the first JRPG to make Water element completely unique from Ice element.
To compensate for this demarcation, Ice-type was made into an upgraded version of Water, a variant that is only accessible late-game and can defeat most types, especially the best type in the game, Dragon. However, as time passed, Water's inherent ancient associations, combined by Junichi Masuda's clear bias towards it, made Water one of the best types in the game.
Similarly, Water is the most abundant type in the game, having three Egg Groups dedicated to it, and having been combined with all other 17 types in the game. Water is still lacking in moves and contains several weak or mediocre Pokémon, but there is no question of who is the dominant one of the three starter types.
The History of Water-type in Pokémon:
Water-type was quite powerful ever since the first generation. Having access to two of the strongest non-legendary Pokémon in the game, Cloyster and Gyarados, with several moderately powered species in-between, there was no question about who was the best starter type. Sadly, this meant the starter itself, Blastoise, wasn't really all that significant.
Though Ice and Water were considered different types, this did not come to pass in thematic and mechanical sense. All Water-types had Ice moves, and all Ice-types had access to Water-type moves. Most Ice-types were part-Water, and the only non Water Ice-types, Jynx and Articuno, were also associated with Water-types, Jynx was obtained by trading in Poliwhirl, Articuno appears in Seafoam Islands, one of the few areas player can obtain Water-types on terrain. In TCG, Water and Ice were the same Water-type, and Ice-type E4 leader, Lorelei, had access to species that were Water-type without the Ice-type as a secondary type, such as Slowbro.
With the introduction of Special split, Water-type was nerfed significantly. Gyarados and Cloyster were no longer the strongest non-Legendary Pokémon, all Water-types got much less Special Attack or Special Defense(generally Special Attack, as wast majority of Special stats went to Sp. Def) and newly introduced Pokémon were also quite pathetic. However, the sheer abundance of Water-types caused the type to be split in three Egg Groups for sake of breeding, Water 1 covering the primary Water-types, Water 2 covering Fish-based Pokémon and Water 3 covering aquatic invertebrates.
Similar to Groudon in Gen 3, this generation introduced a main mascot Legendary who was Water-type all but in name, Lugia. However, in addition to Lugia, there was a real Water-type legendary, Suicune, which served as sort of the first third main mascot legendary for Crystal. Suicune's replacement of Ice-type in the Legendary Beast's triad of types showed that Water-type no longer needed Ice-type as its upgraded version, and could easily take its place, which it would in the next generation onwards.
This generation introduced two significant Water-type moves, Whirlpool, a new HM that was exclusive for Lugia's domain, Whirl Islands, and likely only introduced because of removal of Water-type TMs Bubble Beam and Water Gun. The other was Rain Dance, the weather effect for Water-type, which would become notorious in the next generation.
Newly introduced moves were sadly not significant, as Water Pulse was largely introduced as a replacement for former TM Bubble Beam, and Water Spout was far too limited to be fun. However, Doubles provided a good reason to use Rain Dance and Surf to finish off all opponents. This generation also introduced the current statistically strongest vanilla starter, Swampert. Introduction of Huge Power also made Azumarill-line finally useful, and they would get only better.
The next generation of special/physical split has been largely great for Water-types, save for maybe Ludicolo's elemental punches. Many physically oriented Water-types now had a reason to be used, which led to the emergence of "bulky waters" bulky offensive Water-types that can take in and dish out enough damage for the OU. Emergence of this split also introduced two new moves, Aqua Tail and Jet, but sadly Water-type had no elemental punch for itself. Ice-type association have also bled into the new physical Ice-type moves which are also obtained by Water-types.
Two of the prominent legendaries of this generation, Palkia and Manaphy were Water-types. However, other Pokémon introduced in this generation would only gain some prominence later, particularly in the case of Gastrodon. Lack of new powerful Water-types continued to haunt Water-types, though Empoleon's presence has made things more acceptable.
The fifth generation was the generation that broke Water-type for good. Emergence of Drizzle on a non-legendary Pokémon, Politoed, made Drizzle legal for conventional competitions. This meant that anyone could set up Rain Dance, permanently, in the first turn. With this, Water-types immediately became the single most dominant type, and Rain became the single most dominant gameplay. No other type had enough toys to make themselves useful, so there was nothing stopping this.
Emergence of Hidden Abilities also helped Water-type, as many Pokémon get truly powerful abilities, like Regenerator, Lightningrod, Adaptability, and Swift Swim again. Two new moves, Scald and Razor Shell, helped this breaking of the metagame. Razor Shell became the most dominant physical move for Cloyster, whereas Scald became the single most common move in the game. New legendary Keldeo has helped to break apart things with its Secret Sword move. However, the new Water-types were not too powerful, they just had great typing in the case of Jellicent or great moves in the case of Carracosta.
The sixth generation put another massive nerf on Water-types. With Drizzle no longer the dominant weather, Water-types have largely retreated to their original positions. With no new non-signature moves, Water-types were left largely without new toys to mess with. Emergence of Fairy-type have also hindered Water-types, as many Water-types were used as surrogate Ice-types, but with Fairy, this was no longer necessary. New Water-types were not a lot, nor too strong, but they still served their purpose. The exception to this was the starter Greninja, who, with Protean, became a broken Pokémon, and Volcanion with its oxymoronic type, became a dominant species.
New Megas have been good, but great. Mega Blastoise, Gyarados, Slowbro Swampert and Sharpedo were not as strong as their base forms in their high in Gen 5, but they still served their purposes and most importantly justified giving new moves to these Pokémon.
The seventh generation was interesting for Water-types, to say the least. Emergence of Ash-Greninja was probably the most significant thing for the type, but other Water-types were not as strong, though Wishiwashi is currently the strongest non-legendary non-Mega form in the game besides Ash-Greninja. With only one new Water-type move, Liquidation, Water-type continued to get limited toys. Drizzle was reintroduced, this time for Pelipper, which made a quick rise in OU, but failed to bring back Weather Wars. The new legendary, Tapu Fini, remained the weakest of its group, the most successful Water-types this gen were largely defensive.
With power creep rising, Water-types master of none schtick can longer keep. It is hard to see what waits this great type with lots of weak Pokémon, but things will likely be bright.
The Overview of Water-types:
Water-type is weird.For all intents and purposes it should be bad type, but it isn't, despite being the most abundant type it is only the fifth weakest statistically and has remained one of the most dominant types in the game, but in-game and competitively. This hilarious success likely comes from Masuda's favouritism, but outside of that, Water-type's prominence also comes from the fact that:
- Water is the most abundant element in the surface of Earth, therefore aquatic life covers most of the biosphere, which Pokémon takes its inspiration from.
- Early abundance of Water-type caused a large momentum that allowed Water-type to get a lot of representation in every generation, and this will likely remain unless there is a demarcation of other Egg Groups and body styles.
- Water-type has been the most abundant HM type, with four of the overall HMs belonging to Water-type, and two of them being present in all generations before HMs were abolished.
This meant that most trainers would always carry a Water-type for transportation, therefore Water-type had to be good. Lack of proper demarcation between Ice-types and Water-types also helped Water-type to completely take over Ice-type in every role, and weakness of Grass-type has allowed Water to take all the roles that would be given to it, allowing Water to disrupt the intended shift from Grass to Water to Ice to became solely covered by Water-types.
Because of their sheer abundance, it is functionally impossible for Water-type to ever go back, as all nerfs given to Water-type have been overruled by new buffs. Regardless of how irrelevant Water will become in the future, there is no way logically for its competitors to regain its role. Only new types can overrule Water's role.