The quality of Pokemon rivals has differed greatly over the years. Game Freak managed to capture the hearts of fans with Nemona from Scarlet & Violet, but pretty much anyone would’ve been an improvement over Hau and Hop. Great rivals should be characters that you love to beat, and there is no greater satisfaction than getting in the same room with a friend or relative, jumping into a battle, and sitting there smugly as you bask in your victory.
Over the past year or so, my brother and I have been meeting up on occasion and playing Pokemon games together, acting as each other’s rivals. We’ll keep our teams a secret and battle each other once we reach a certain city or earn a gym badge. Usually, we’ll have some kind of limitation that means we don’t have the same team of ‘mons, but it varies depending on the game. We then battle each other nine times over the course of the journey, jotting down who wins each time to find out who the “Champion” of that generation is.
It started out as a fun little thing we do to spice up the games we’ve already played to death, but it’s quickly become my favorite way to play Pokemon. The games have gotten easier (plus we’ve gotten older), and the rivals you encounter nowadays don’t stir up the same hatred that older ones like Blue and Silver did. Gone are the days when your rival was a complete bastard, and the ‘may the best man win’ attitudes of characters like Hau and Hop have dampened the stakes of having a rival to begin with.
I don’t want to beat my rival and have them wax lyrical about how strong I am – I want them to seethe with anger. I want them to know they’re worse than me at Pokemon battles and go off and do something about it, because that’s exactly how I would feel and what I would do if the roles were reversed. Your rivals are meant to be opponents that test your skills as a trainer, but there’s a limit to how far the AI can push you. That’s why getting a friend or relative that also loves Pokemon is the ideal rival experience.
Playing in the same room as your rival immediately raises the stakes. If you lose a battle against an AI rival, you black out and can immediately try again, and your rival will pretend their victory didn’t even happen. If you lose against a friend, there’s no scrubbing that from anyone’s memory. Gloating will ensue and all you can do is grin, bear it, and do everything in your power to ensure you win the next one. The competition brings out the worst in you, but also the best, as you tweak your team to try and take all your opponent's possible moves into consideration.
Even if you’re not as competitive as my brother and I are, you’re still given a reason to try and get stronger. It’s very easy to coast through a Pokemon game these days, but the threat of a tough fight after every Gym means that you constantly need to plan out your team in advance to ensure you cover every possible weakness. With a friend acting as a rival, you can’t just send out a Tinkaton and spam Gigaton Hammer to deal with all major threats. Any Pokemon trainer worth their salt would see straight through that and punish you for doing it.
You’ll also have moments in which things happen that you just can’t predict – something you’ll never experience playing against an AI. One example I always look back on fondly (despite being on the receiving end) is when we were locked in an intense battle with one Pokemon remaining each. I had a Victreebel while my brother had a Dugtrio, so it was type advantage versus speed. Naturally assuming I’d won, the gloating was about to ensue before I was brutally put in my place with Dugtrio’s Fissure, an OHKO move with roughly 30 percent accuracy.
That’s just one of many clutch moments we’ve both pulled off over the past year or so, and a perfect example of why making your own rival will always be better than having to put up with any character that Game Freak wheels out for future games. If you have another Pokemon fan in your life of similar skill, I highly suggest giving it a try. You’ll quickly find that the added challenge and pressure make a world of difference, even if you do have to brush off the odd ‘smell ya later’ here and there.
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