Who remembers when you were a novice, young Pokémon trainer just starting out? Remember your neighbour Gary Oak and how he would antagonise and bully you? So much so that it would make you even more determined to beat the game to prove him wrong? We would give him names like ‘Butthead’ and ‘Arseface’ just to make ourselves feel better but you know what… When all is said and done I miss Buttface.
Nowadays your ‘rival’ – if you can even call them that – is a goody two shoes friend that helps you throughout your adventure. You’ll fight them and when you win rather than say something like “Whatever. My granddad is going to give me a super rare Pokémon I can beat you up with, I don’t care” and swagger away, they’ll congratulate you on your victory and will probably give you a cool item to help you in your quest, how dare they?! At first I thought it was a nice change but now I want them to go on about how they’re going to be the champion and that they will crush my dreams. Stop being so nice to me Brendan from Sapphire/Ruby, I don’t want your stupid Go-goggles or your help defeating Team Aqua, and I’m not your best friend! I’ve never even actually spoken to you, you don’t know what my voice sounds like because you’re always the one talking! Tell me you’re going to ask your dad for a rare Pokémon to beat me up with, I want to hate you!!! “Hey, let me heal your Pokémon for you!” Leave them alone! I don’t trust you! We are sworn enemies and I will crush you! Then there’s Wally as well who actually asks if he can be your rival. HE ASKS YOU.
I can’t say exactly why I miss the actual rivalry so much, maybe it’s the thrill you get from beating Gary up after he’s so mean to you, there’s get that wonderful ‘mwahaha’ moment when you defeat him in a battle. Right now even the bad guys are nice to you, Team Aqua/Magma see the error of their ways and now there’s Team Skull who are not even a serious gang, even Nintendo has realised no one takes the Teams seriously anymore. There’s no nasty character pushing me to finish the game to prove to them that I can beat them once and for all, it’s all some larger threat which is not directly associated with your character, it’s just something you end up involved in somehow halfway through the game.
Aside from all that Gary Oak’s own story was, let’s face it, kind of sad when you thought about it. His own granddad forgets his name and is always reprimanding him no matter what he does, his Raticate actually dies (allegedly) which, as a Pokémon trainer just starting out must have been devastating and would have probably knocked anyone else’s confidence out of the park leaving them to retire their Pokédex, but despite that he does actually become the Champion only to be defeated almost instantly by some kid his own grandfather decided to favour and is then told by said grandfather, the person he has being trying to impress all this time, that he is disappointed in him, even though he managed to beat the Elite Four and become the champion first! That’s not to mention a theory I came across in one of my many voyages down an internet rabbit hole, it was a horrible game theory that said Gary kills himself after you become the champion… I choose not to believe that one though. I did try to find it to link it in case you’re into that sort of thing but I can’t find it.
Nintendo are probably trying to teach us that everyone can be good and that there is no need for anyone to be mean. Even people you consider to be a rival should be treated with love and respect, etc, etc. Maybe my early Pokémon days have scarred my psyche for life and I will forever be a bitter winner/loser when confronted with competition because my first ever rivalry with Gary Oak was so intense. Maybe the kids starting out with the Pokémon games of today will grow up to be peaceful and respectful, the word ‘rival’ will eventually be phased out of the English language and the time of Gary Oak (and that red haired dude from Gold/Silver) will be looked back on with horror and the tale of Pokémon Yellow will be used as a campfire horror story – “and then he said… Smell ya later” *gasps* *fainting * *screams*.