10. Rival (Red/Blue)
Your first battle! After listening to the boasting and bragging of your arrogant rival, it was time to finally put your Poke-money where your Poke-mouth was, taking these frightened, fledgling critters and putting their skills to the test. For this entry, we’re omitting Pokemon Yellow, because part of the appeal of this battle was the realization that your rival had taken a beast that had an advantage over your own, and would pose a constant threat to you throughout your adventure.
The low HP and shallow movepool made this affray even more tense, though you were fortunately aided by the questionable AI, which surmised that the best way of downing your Bulbasaur was by constantly growling at it.
This is one of the few fights where defeat doesn’t directly cause the protagonist to lose consciousness, but bragging rights suggested that your pride couldn’t stand to take the blow.
9. Mewtwo (X/Y)
Obviously, most people will reminisce back to their initial encounter with Mewtwo in the original games. The Elite Four bested, players took their mighty team into the depths of the Cerulean Cave for one final duel with the most powerful foe they had ever met. If they were clever, they would have held onto the fail-proof Master Ball for an assured capture. If they had been foolish enough to waste it frivolously (that Weedle looked pretty tough at the time), they were in for a challenge.
However, it was Mewtwo’s surprise return in Pokemon X and Y that makes it to this list, primarily because it was an unexpected reprise that really showed how much X and Y were endeavoring to appeal to our sense of reminiscence. It was bigger and buffer than ever, and standing before us in glorious 3D, like a brand new Mewtwo – a Newtwo, if you will.
With more legendary Pokemon lurking in the world of Kalos, could you afford to hold onto your Master Ball for Mewtwo? Or had it already been deployed in the throes of desperation? Those who conquered Mewtwo were also rewarded with a Mewtwonite that allowed us to elevate it further to power levels we had never imagined before. Indeed, this wasn’t even Mewtwo’s final form!
Also – that gen 1 battle theme remix? On point.
8. Silver (Gold/Silver/Crystal)
When you’re trying to decide who the best Pokemon rival was, Silver is certainly worth a mention. He just seemed malicious and cruel in ways that managed to trump even Team Rocket. He steals a Pokemon from Professor Elm’s lab, which through some sort of lucky coincidence, happens to be the exact one that is strong against your starter. You bump into Silver multiple times throughout your quest, and each humbling loss he takes appears to have an effect on him.
By the time you’ve conquered the Elite Four and proven your dominance as the very best (like no one ever was), he is a changed man; introverted, reflective and calm. He at long last realizes that Pokemon are more than tools, and the bond they now share is stronger than ever.
His team is both versatile and tough, and continues the established tradition of the rival using an Alakazam, because apparently they are evil incarnate. This particular battle only occurs on certain days of the week, with Silver choosing to take the weekend off. Rumors suggest that he takes this opportunity to go to TGI Friday’s, but we’re not so sure.
7. Team Rainbow Rocket (Ultra Sun/Ultra Moon)
Giovanni sure is a curious character. Sometimes he appears to simply be a particularly unscrupulous businessman who is merely acting out of greed, other times he goes full-on super villain, hoping to conquer the entire universe. Such is the case in Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon, where the most exciting chapter waits for you post-game.
It seems that our friend has assembled a team of wicked tyrants from different universes, and they aren’t pulling any punches here. Each of them holds a legendary Pokemon in their possession, all the way to the infamous Mewtwo itself.
It’s a trip down memory lane as you face off against all of these familiar baddies from yesteryear, complete with useless Rocket henchmen dotting the halls. Effectively, it’s everything you had loved from the previous games, all encapsulated into one dapper dandy little saga. Alas, as was the case on Nugget Bridge, when offered the chance to join their corporation, you are absent of the choice to answer in the affirmative. That would have been an absolutely excellent alternative.
6. Giratina (Platinum)
Many of the villains in the Pokemon series have machinations to manipulate the power of the legendary beasts in order to fulfill their dastardly plans, but few have done it with quite the ambition of Cyrus. Summoning Palkia and Dialga before him like Adam and Barbara Maitland, his dreaded scheme draws the ire of Giratina, a ghastly Pokemon that engulfs its enemies in shadow.
Pesky Cyrus is the latest to fall victim to this fate, and alongside the Sinnoh Champion Cynthia, you gamely chase after him into this alternate dimension. What follows is an existentialist fever dream of incredible proportions, with fractured landscapes and a distorted perspective.
Once you’ve reached the bottom (and beaten Cyrus, who chooses to challenge you now for no other reason than to be a jerk), it’s time to finally put an end to Giratina’s reign of terror. Catching it causes Cyrus to go into a tizzy because he’s feeling ‘incomplete’ and ‘ugly’, but you can ignore his tirade because you’re the proud new owner of a horrifying dead dragon, and you can now use it to lay waste to all that stand before you.
5. N (Black/White)
There is perhaps no character more intriguing in the series than N, the token leader of Team Plasma. Raised in isolation with only his loyal Pokemon to keep him company, he has grown to love these creatures as his brothers and sisters, and the selfish scheming of Ghetsis and his cronies has brainwashed this otherwise pure soul into carrying out their bidding. You encounter N on multiple occasions, but no battle is more impactful than the final duel within the Plasma castle.
Perhaps it’s the tragic nature of N that is so compelling; he is a puppet, a pawn in Ghetsis’ ambitions who acts out of a place of mercy and passion. As Vogler once opined, ‘every villain is a hero of his or her own story,’ and where is it ever more true than here? In N’s eyes, Plasma are the liberators of the Pokemon enslaved by humanity. Across from him stands a child whose very ambition lies in the exploitation and endangerment of these noble animals.
When phrased like this, we’re inclined to side with N. Lay down your arms, trainer, and long live Plasma!
4. Groudon/Kyogre (Ruby/Sapphire)
Storyline has never been a strong point of the Pokemon franchise. From Team Rocket’s ‘we do crimes because we’re evil!’ to Team Skull’s ‘we do crimes because it’s cool!’ – you probably don’t have to be paying close attention.
However, the stakes felt particularly high in Hoenn, where Team Magma and Team Aqua sought to either bathe the world in endless sunshine, or transform it into a water world that would make Kevin Costner proud. Once they had unleashed the legendary monster that would make their dreams come true, they saw the results of their efforts had floundered the land into chaos. Realizing the error of their ways, they declared an almighty ‘oopsie,’ and tasked you, small wandering child, with saving the planet from certain destruction.
In the first two generations, the overworld Pokemon sprites were little more than wiggling critters. Mewtwo even mewed at you in an adorable display of affection. But standing before Groudon and Kyogre felt different. It seemed more significant. Like the whole world depended on you.
These foes were not going down without a fight, and after an epic war had been waged, you came away as the victor. Either you had felled the hideous beast and laid it to eternal slumber, or you had successfully captured it – yours to wield however you saw fit, and name something stupid like ‘Blinky’ or ‘Mr. Snuggles’. How the mighty had fallen.
3. Whitney (Gold/Silver/Crystal)
Never before had a single gym leader caused so many headaches in the echelons of Pokemon, and perhaps none since have managed to quite do it like Goldenrod City’s Whitney. She is a normal-type specialist who has a Clefairy that everyone seems to forget about, but things take a turn for the worst when she unveils her trump card, the mighty Miltank.
Miltank’s unique combination of bulk, access to a recovery move, and mildly disturbing design leaves it etched into our memories forevermore. And once it starts up a chain of Rollout? You’d better have an answer fast, because that moocow is about to put you into a world of hurt. The indignation of being squashed by a tumbling pink bovine again and again – who could ever forget?
Defeating Whitney will cause her to run off in tears, sulking until she finally relinquishes the Plain Badge you had sought after. It doesn’t have the most appealing of names, and it is indeed just shaped like a regular old diamond, but the struggle you had to go through to attain it makes it feel all the more special.
2. Champion (Red/Blue)
At long last, you’ve downed the last of Lance’s army of hacked Dragonite (how else could you explain their ability to use Barrier?) and defeated the Elite Four. He congratulates you on your triumph, but warns you that someone managed to beat you to the punch. You enter the next room, where the true Champion awaits. And good gracious, it’s your detestable rival, that dastard Blue/Gary/Assface!
It’s time to take everything you’ve learned throughout your journeys and prove once and for all that you are Pallet Town’s greatest trainer. This battle will push your abilities to their limits as you struggle to conquer the rival’s high-leveled warriors. When he’s down to his last hope, he unveils that familiar old Pokemon that first growled at you so long ago. It’s a behemoth of incredible strength now – a fire-breathing dragon, or a tank-like tortoise with heavy artillery. Perhaps even a warty frog with a pretty flower on its back? Whatever the case, it means business.
Once you’ve finally beaten your rival for the last time, Professor Oak bursts onto the scene. He admonishes his grandson, stating that ‘without your Pokemon, you’ll never be champion again!’ – Which leads one to believe that you murdered every last one of them. Good on you! You’re the best, and you’ve got the trail of bodies in your wake to prove it!
1. Red (Gold/Silver/Crystal)
It’s hard to quantify exactly how significant an upgrade gen 2 was from the original trio of games. More monsters, more types, more unique movesets, and not one but two adventures for players to experience. Once you had gotten your fill of nostalgia by revisiting Kanto, there was one last competitor standing in your way. Reaching him required you to trek through the perils of Mt. Silver, before finally standing face to face with the most legendary trainer in Pokemon history… His name is Red. He doesn’t have a lot to say, preferring to let the violent actions of his minions do the talking.
There was a bittersweet feeling to this fight, as you had to vanquish the very hero you had grown to love over the years, complete with all three of the Kanto starters. His level 81 Pikachu was the highest that had been seen up to that point, and though its moveset wasn’t exactly a world-beater, if you were unprepared, it had the potential to wipe the cocky smile from your face.
Red has popped up in later generations, most recently as the sulky boss of the Battle Tree, but besting him was never quite so satisfying as it was atop Mt. Silver.