Relatable villains and rivals that experience character growth make for the best stories
- by Lowell Bell
Pokémon games aren’t going to win a Hugo Award anytime soon for their narratives, but that doesn’t mean our many myriad adventures forwent interesting story beats. From Kanto to Galar, quirky villainous teams have strived to dominate Pokémon and people, trainers have risen up to stop them, and Legendary Pokémon have almost always shown up to wreck some PokéHavoc.
Recently, the Pokémon Presents for Pokémon Scarlet and Violet revealed that the region of Paldea will have three separate stories. With the ninth Generation of Pokémon on the horizon, what better time to rank all the stories that came before?
Despite what we said in the headline, we’ll start with the worst first. Read on to find out which Generations – and their remakes – we think had the most engaging stories and which we found laughably nonsensical…
Generation VIII – Sword, Shield, Isle of Armor, and The Crown Tundra
We wish there was a letter grade lower than F to award Gen VIII’s story. Game Freak managed to take the worst parts of a Pokémon story and pack them into Galar. Hop, instead of simply being a boring rival, comes off as legitimately annoying – especially during battle. His character arc of wanting to defeat his brother to become the Champion of Galar never comes to fruition as the player defeats him at every turn and becomes Champion instead. In fact, Pokémon Sword and Shield would have fared better if we took the role of Champion Leon’s younger sibling and Hop had a separate role.
Hop isn’t even the worst of it. Team Yell, the villainous team in Galar, simply acts as an annoying fan club for another League challenger, somehow becoming more forgettable than Team Flare (which we’ll get to). And at the story’s climax, antagonist Chairman Rose interrupts the championship match with Leon to bring about the ‘Darkest Day,’ which basically means destroying the Galar region by awakening Eternatus.
Rose does this to prevent an energy crisis predicted to happen…one thousand years in the future. He could’ve waited until after the championship match, don’t you think? His plan doesn’t even make sense – awakening Eternatus, a Pokémon capable of destroying Galar, so there won’t be a Dynamax energy crisis in the far future. What?
Rank: An obvious F for Flapple
Generation VI – X and Y
Pokémon’s stories live and die on their rivals and villains. Unfortunately, the four rivals in Pokémon X and Y – Serena/Calem, Shauna, Trevor, and Tierno – collectively have as much character growth as a Magikarp left forgotten in a PC box. Team Flare doesn’t fare much better, and neither does their leader, Lysandre. In the story, his goal is to use Xerneas/Yveltal’s power to activate the ‘ultimate weapon’ in order to kill all people and Pokémon because humanity sucks, or something, and he wants to make everything more beautiful. The whole thing is rushed and comes tacked onto the latter half of the game, like Game Freak forgot about Lysandre until development was almost finished.
There’s also a 3000-year-old King that reunites with his lost flower Pokémon, creating one of the most meme-worthy scenes in Pokémon history, yet somehow this is less nonsensical than Gen VIII.
Rank: F for Floette
Generation IV – Diamond, Pearl, Platinum
Prior to Gen IV, Game Freak continually improved upon the stories that came before. Here, they dropped the PokéBall. An intriguing villainous team? Not here. Team Galactic leader Cyrus makes a few pretentious appearances before bowing out after an anti-climatic battle in Pokémon Diamond and Pearl. What about a rival with depth? Unfortunately, Barry’s about as deep as the shallow end of the pool in Misty’s gym.
Pokémon Platinum helped by giving Cyrus a proper conclusion after Giratina sucks him into the Distortion World. And we’d be lying if we said we didn’t enjoy the lore surrounding the Legendaries of Sinnoh or appreciate Cynthia as one of the better Champions – and definitely the most frightening. But even with these few saving graces, we struggled to remember significant plot points even after playing Pokémon Brilliant Diamond not too long ago.
Rank – D for Drifblim
Generation I – Red, Blue, and Yellow
We can’t fault the original Pokémon games too much for lacking a sophisticated plot on the original Game Boy. Pokémon Red and Blue’s simple story of an adventure to collect eight gym badges and defeat the Elite Four laid the foundation for every game that came after.
In Gen I and its remakes, Team Rocket causes a lot of trouble to keep things moving, from burglarising a home to steal the TM Dig, causing a hostage situation with Mr. Fuji that resulted in the death of a Marowak, and infiltrating Silph Co. to steal the plans for the Master Ball. The reveal of Giovanni, Team Rocket’s boss, being the eighth gym leader blew our pre-pubescent minds. The rival – Blue, Gary, ButtFace, whatever – also added a layer of animosity we wished they’d bring back to later Generations.
Rank: C for Charizard