Let’s just dive straight back in with Gen II, shall we? But first, some clarifications and such. I will be ranking every important trainer – not just the Gym Leaders and Elite 4. This includes Rivals, special sidequest characters, Team leaders and so on. I just think it’s more fun that way, despite creating a lot of ‘work’ for myself (I’m looking at you, all 54 trainers of Gen VII).
Here’s a quick list of all the lists in this project!
- Ranking the Gen I trainers
- Ranking the Gen III trainers
- Ranking the Gen IV trainers
- Ranking the Gen V trainers
- Ranking the Gen VI trainers
- Ranking the Gen VII trainers
- Ranking the Gen VIII trainers
Gen II features 24 special trainers to rank, including 16 entire gym leaders. This gen contains only one set of games, but as you know encompasses both Kanto and Johto, so we’re seeing some old faces again – and you’ll be surprised at how much they’ve changed in ranking! Additionally, we’re taking their Pokémon Stadium 2 teams into account, but only slightly this time – I am now ranking each trainer on six different indexes: Difficulty, Personality, Fashion, Rosters, Creativity and a potential 5 Extra Points. To clarify: Difficulty counts their difficulty at their point in the game, not overall. Creativity is to do with movesets, strategy and effectiveness. I hope this can give a more rounded evaluation of a trainer. Rosters, however, judges them by their Pokémon choices, how cohesive their teams are and how much they suit the trainer. In the Gen I article I gave a lot of bonuses to trainers with good Stadium teams, but this time I’m just adding half a point to their Roster score unless it’s particularly notable.
Of course, it’s all subjective as hell. If you disagree with my ratings, by all means, comment below reading the shit out of me. Let’s go!
#24 – Falkner
Unfortunately, Falkner falls short in so many areas. He’s piss-easy to beat, his team is two birds that you can find in Route 1 of RBY, his strategy is luck based and isn’t that effective, and his fashion is… something. His one redeeming feature is that his personality glimmers through a little as he makes a short pun about clipping wings – but that’s not saying much. As much as I personally enjoy Falkner, I have to admit he’s a very boring trainer.
Despite this, he’s partially redeemed by his very strong Stadium roster which features not just an entire Zapdos, but my favourite Pokémon – Noctowl. This earns him a proper bonus point in my eyes. Falkner has his wings clipped and stands at the bottom of the cage at 8.5 out of a now-possible 30 points.
#23 – Pryce
Truly a victim of GSC’s abysmal pacing and level curve, Pryce trundles into a cool 23rd place. Unfortunately, Pryce isn’t a very interesting character in Gen II and his showings as a trainer are even less impressive. By the time you face him (potentially as the seventh Gym Leader), you will have plenty of options for dealing with his entire team. Water is an easy type to deal with and you’re guaranteed to have Surf, which is a fantastic move for felling his ace the Piloswine.
Also, I won’t lie, he is sorely underdressed for a gym full of ice. It’s cold, old man! Wrap up! He earns low ratings all-around, but he would have lost an entire bonus point for having a mostly very lacklustre Stadium 2 pair of rosters for a late-game Leader, which is negated by the one interesting addition to his team: an Articuno. Pryce barely avoids the icy shame of last place with 9.5/30.
#22 – Blaine
For someone who did so well in Gen I, Blaine fell hard in this entry. He has three Pokémon and they all have huge, glaring weaknesses. Magcargo is 4x weak to Water and is also in a place accessible only by Surf. Magmar is loaded up with three different team niches, namely setting up Sunny Day, countering Water-types with ThunderPunch and using Confuse Ray to spread damage around – it will not succeed at any. Rapidash has Fire Spin and Fury Attack at Level 50. Just… awful show, Blaine.
Add to his terrible strategy and boring Stadium 2 showing, Blaine suffers a negative bonus point for being a bit of a bugger to get to – no one likes water routes. He’s in double figures at 10/30, but it’s still sad.
#21 – Brock
Without his niche of providing teachable moments to new Pokémon players, Brock suffers greatly. He’s a late-game trainer with barely any challenge and a team of 5 Pokémon that are all 4x weak to Grass-type attacks. Sure, there’s a smattering of a creative attempt to survive with an Endure Kabutops and a Protect Omastar around, but they’re honestly not going to last long. What I do like is his having the fossil Pokémon in the first place.
Fashion-wise, this guy is in jeans and a t-shirt. I feel like you’d never see that these days in Pokémon. It looks okay, but come on. To his credit though, he bags a bonus point for finally evolving his Onix into a Steelix in his Stadium 2 Round 2 team. It bumps him up to 11.5/30.
#19 – Janine
Yep, we’re skipping to 19 – Janine is tied for 19th place with the next trainer on this list. She’s a very complicated case as there’s a lot of things I like about Janine but she really suffers in this rating system. She is a young person and is very new in her role as a gym leader, and this is shown in-game by her team being 10-20 levels lower than all the other Kanto trainers. I love this detail and it gets her a bonus point for that amazing integration of story-telling and gameplay, but it also tanks her difficulty score to the minimum as she is very much no challenge at all.
She also gets a bonus point out of nepotism – her being Koga’s daughter is a great world-building choice and it’s something I like seeing. I personally think Pokémon is at its best when storylines and timelines are sustained over multiple games – I’m not a fan of all the alternate timelines that Pokémon employs, and this is one thing that solidifies the GSC story as one of my favourites in the series. She’s cool, but not as cool as most of the other trainers on this list – Janine claims the place with 11.5/30.
#19 – Sabrina
Sabrina really suffered from the lacklustre postgame level curve of GSC. She also lost her whip, and her immensely threatening Psychic-type domination. While Psychic is still powerful, it had its claws clipped in Gen II and with good reason – but Sabrina suffers greatly as a result. Despite this, she still scores highly thanks to a classic roster of good Psychic-types, namely Alakazam and Espeon. Mr. Mime is also there.
One of Sabrina’s issues is that she tries to employ a defensive strategy using Reflect and Barrier/Baton Pass Mr. Mime and it’s just not going to work well, considering Espeon and Alakazam’s strengths lying in fast attacking. Add to this a whole negative point for he retreaded, frustrating Gym puzzle and Sabrina is knocked off her pedestal with a fierce fashion with 11.5/30.
#18 – Bugsy
Azalea Town can be a bit of a roadblock for unsuspecting GSC players what with a tough Rival fight and the terror that is an actual challenge after the disappointment that is Falkner. Bugsy’s first two Pokémon are barely worth mentioning but his Scyther can genuinely be an upsetting thing to face – it is fast and uses Fury Cutter, which gains power the more it gets used. If you haven’t levelled up well enough or have spread out your experience too thinly amongst your team it’s all too easy to suffer an embarrassing sweeping. In fact, Scyther is so cool that Bugsy gets a point just for featuring it so early in the game! Disappointingly though, he employs no Johto Pokémon, a region with some great and unique Bug-type Pokémon that could have been showcased, such as Pineco or Heracross.
As a person, Bugsy fares quite well. His gym is well-decorated, I like his outfit, he has well-established interests and his androgyny is cool. Extra point for that one, as it confused so many young players. Bugsy beats even Sabrina at 12/30.
#15 – Bruno
In a thrilling development, last time’s chump becomes a middle-of-the-pack success story. Bruno shows off some inspiring personality and big pecs, two things I like in a man. He’s improved quite a lot in the Pokémon department too, but just not enough to be worth much. His team is still swept by a simple pairing of Psychic/Flying and Water, though it’s a bit more interesting now.
Adding Hitmontop to the mix is a great expansion of his original roster and allows him to do away with the always awful spare Onix, and he gets to show off some neat strategies to boot – if he’s allowed to live that long. Specifically, his Hitmonchan has great coverage moves that may prove a problem once or twice, his Hitmonlee has the potent Foresight/Hi Jump Kick combo in addition to Swagger, and Machamp can also pack a wallop with Foresight/Vital Throw too. I gave Bruno a little extra point simply because I am proud of his progress. Still only a 13/30 though.
#15 – Lt. Surge
Surgey-boy has made Electabuzz his ace this time around but he still can’t let go of the Raichu, it seems. It’s the correct move, but his very low levels and unfortunate placement in the post-game storyline hamper the lieutenant’s ability to score well. He’s easy to beat and even if you fall victim to his pair of Exploding Electrode or his Lock-On/Zap Cannon Magneton, you’re not likely to lose.
Saying that, his strategies earn him a decent creativity score and he gets to show off his personality a bit more in these games. His sprite alone tells you a lot about him, which I like. Fucking hate that uniform though. Sandwiched between two other 15th Placers, Surge also attained a shocking 13/30.
#15 – Will
Two of GSC’s Elite 4 tying at #15 is a little shocking, I know – but hear me out. While I legiterally cannot fault the campness of his outfit (a full black mask and maroon suit? I could never.) Will is easy to beat and has a rather boring team when you face him. He has basically no personality and two Xatu. That is it. Pick a struggle. Despite this, Will scores pretty highly in fashion even though he’s prevented from the highest highs thanks to his getup looking, in the awful words of the painfully always-wrong Ross Matthews, “a bit costumey.”
Something I do like though is the fact that he has a Slowbro and a Jynx – two Pokémon that Lorelei used. He’s the trainer who replaced her in the Elite 4 and in the same placement too, so I like this little bit of continuity even if it is a coincidence. It has long been my little headcanon that Will is just a transitioned Lorelei and this is somewhat plausible thanks to some trivia about Will’s team and its history with gender – but that’ll have to wait until we get to Gen IV. As it stands, he gets another 13/30.
#14 – Eusine
Surprised to see him? In this Gen, Eusine is one of only two exceptions to the ranks of Gym Leaders, Elite 4 and Rival trainers. Appearing only in Crystal during a sidequest about Suicune, he sports a very dashing outfit and exuberant personality which make him very likeable, and he gets a bonus point for being the first trainer battle to be part of a sidequest in the entire series.
Where Eusine sorely falls is in his team. They are easy to wreck and only Drowzee seems to fit his whole appearance, which appears to be a sort of performing magician – and that niche is filled much better by Will. What they are, however, is a fantastic hint at the best way to catch Suicune. His Haunter has Mean Look and both the Haunter and Drowzee have Hypnosis. It seems that Eusine’s first two Pokémon are supposed to lock Suicune down and let his Electrode weaken the legendary gerbil with powerful Thunders. It’s a fun way that the gameplay is integrated with Eusine’s story and for that, he gets a bonus point, bumping him up to 14/30.
#13 – Erika
While Erika suffers like so many of the Kanto leaders from a lopsided level curve and weak Pokémon, I still rate her highly. Like Lt. Surge she gets to show off a bit more of her personality in both her sprite and her dialogue, flashing a bit of a dozy, ditzy side. Also, I love her kimono and hairband combo.
Roster-wise, Erika does alright. Despite what Grass-trainers are usually stereotyped as Erika seems to be running a more stall-heavy team this time around, with Victreebell and Jumpluff employing Leech Seed, Sunny Day/Synthesis and some Drain moves – this will be in preparation for her Bellossom to come in at the end and attempt a devastating Sunny Day/SolarBeam sweep. And it could have been successful, if not for the shortcomings of the GSC post-game. As it stands, Erika is rooted firmly in 13th place with 14.5/30.
#12 – Chuck
Chuck is a fun trainer. He keeps the tradition of Fighting-type specialists being Walking Shirtless Scenes going and he’s a challenging fight to boot. If you don’t have a solution for his Mind Reader/DynamicPunch Poliwrath he can be quite the brick wall that you can keep banging your head against – as a very young Ryan and his Typhlosion discovered. From just his short pieces of dialogue, you can learn a lot about Chuck – his joviality, his passion, and how bloody strong he is. He’s a great example of injecting personality into a tiny sprite.
Chuck earns a cool 2 bonus points for very different reasons. Firstly, he has a fantastic roster in the Stadium 2 game. He has coverage, competent strategies, a team full of DynamicPunch and an extremely dangerous Rest/Sleep Talk/Belly Drum Poliwrath that is absolutely worth singling out. Narratively though, Chuck earns another point for the mere existence of his wife who gives you the HM for Fly. Worldbuilding works, Game Freak. Chuck fought for his place with 15.5/30 – we’re getting to the big leagues now.
#11 – Karen
Karen is someone who I would call a very good all-rounder. She has no noticeable flaws (according to my scoring system) but she never really excels. Like her spiritual predecessor Agatha, she is who I’d rate to be the most difficult member of GSC’s Elite 4 and she has probably the most interesting team to back it up. Showing off the brand-new Dark-type with fan-favourites Umbreon, Murkrow and Houndoom, Karen’s team is backed up with the visually striking Vileplume and always-great Gengar – her team is so effectively intimidating and cool. She can also make use of quite interesting strategies, such as Mean Look/Destiny Bond (despite those moves being on different Pokémon) and a Petal Dance from Vileplume will always hurt.
As a character, Karen continues to impress (despite her admittedly atrocious taste in clothes… is that a bikini?) – she gives us one of the more iconic quotes of the entire series and it nets her a 4/5 in Personality, bringing her up to a very respectable 16/30, narrowly preventing her from the Top 10.
“Strong Pokémon. Weak Pokémon. That is only the selfish perception of people. Truly skilled trainers should try to win with their favorites. I like your style. You understand what’s important. Go on — — the Champion is waiting.”Karen
#10 – Jasmine
Like Karen, Jasmine is repping a new type – the Steel-type. Her difficulty lies in Steel being quite fantastic at being a defensive type and also being new – first-time players are incredibly unlikely to be able to figure out how to land a super-effective hit on her monster truck of a Steelix. While doubling up on Magnemite isn’t exactly refreshing, her Stadium 2 showing nets her a bonus point for having (over her two teams) every single fully-evolved Steel-type in Generation II. This point is negated by the fact that her Steeling in GSC has the move Sunny Day, which does literally nothing for it and seems to be a self-owning hint that Fire-type attacks will melt the steel snake. Stupid.
Additionally, Jasmine makes a big impact on the story with he and Amphy’s adventures in the Olivine Lighthouse, and she gets another point for that – establishing the Gym Leaders as people with lives, interests and duties outside of the Pokémon League Challenge is a big part of making these characters feel more accessible and interesting, and I feel that Jasmine is the best example of this in GSC. She definitely deserves her 17.5/30 and she remains steadfast at 10th place.
#9 – Morty
Resident spiritualist Morty is another great example of mixing the Gym Leaders into the narrative. He will converse with the player about the two towers in Ecruteak and is known to Eusine. For this he gets a bonus, of course.
Morty has a very shallow selection of Pokémon in a Generation where they added precisely one new Ghost-type – and that’s the one he doesn’t even have. Minus point for that. But disregarding that, the ghosts Morty does have are effective in being somewhat tricky to exorcise. Mean Look will lock down your team, Curse can eradicate chunks of your team quickly and Gengar’s Shadow Ball is a genuinely frightening force to be reckoned with. If the team weren’t so weak to Psychic or Ground Morty could potentially have had a perfect difficulty score. Still though, between his interesting personality and compelling looks he nets a nice 18/30.
#8 – Whitney
The most hated character in all of Johto – Whitney rears her head in the Top 10. Yes, she has a full difficulty score – with a reputation like hers you absolutely couldn’t get away with anything less. There are strategies to combat her Miltank handily but between Attract, Rollout, Milk Drink and a hefty Stomp you are more than likely in for a long fight – or worse, a very short one.
Get past the frustration of her winning strategy and Whitney proves to be a surprisingly deep character (for this game). How many other Gym Leaders refuse to hand over their Gym Badge immediately (Well, one. In this very game in fact…). And I bet the snivelling tantrum she has felt so satisfying for so many young players triumphantly conquering her Miltank after an age of attrition. Fantastic character. +1 bonus point because her gym is shaped like a Clefairy and +1 bonus point for THE AUDACITY. 18.5/30 – mooving on.
#7 – Blue
The new Gym Leader of Viridian City rolls into 7th place with a great varied team and one of the only actual challenges of the GSC post-game. His ace Pidgeot is still knocking about and the rest of his roster is made up of all the Pokémon that he couldn’t have started with in RBY, which is something I really appreciate. He’s a very fitting final Gym Leader, with high levels and some actual strategy to overcome – such as a Sunny Day/SolarBeam Exeggutor and a powerful Arcanine with ExtremeSpeed. He does however get a negative point for his particularly blunderful strategy of having all three different weather moves on his team at once – that isn’t going to be getting him anywhere fast.
Thanks to Blue’s redemption from a slightly rude and cheeky rival into a mature and accomplished Gym Leader in his own right, Blue attains a great 19/30. I like Blue, he’s great.
#5 – Clair
Rolling in at a tied fifth place, Clair the Lady of Dragons makes an impression with her place in the game. Despite having her genuinely cool ace (Kingdra) being backed up by three varied but boring Dragonair, Clair remains quite the challenge as players will struggle to find effective strategies to deal with the complicated Dragon-type. Her Kingdra specifically is a brute with a powerful Surf, almost completely un-resisted DragonBreath and of course, Hyper Beam.
Clair has a cape. That’s almost an entire fashion point on its own, obviously. And let’s be honest you must be expecting that bonus point for being somewhat story relevant by now – taking Whitney’s gimmick and running with it, you have to complete an entire fetch quest to acquire the Rising Badge from Clair, and it’s a nice capstone to the Pokémon League Qualification arc of the game. With 19.5/30, Clair ties with…
#5 – Red
It is Red himself! I’m sure this might be shocking to some but how far does a single ellipsis go when defining a personality? Is he arrogant? Is he ballsy? Are his lips frozen together in the frost of the Mt. Silver peak? Is he simply mute? We will never know. But yes, of course, Red gets full marks for his roster and his difficulty.
Sporting a very well-built team of Pokémon that are exclusively gifts or guaranteed encounters during the RBY games, Red manages to pose a genuine threat after what is possibly the easiest Pokémon game. With the three starters and Pikachu, Red also evokes memories of Ash Ketchum, which is cool. He also shows up with an Espeon, giving us an almost canon answer to that old question (+1 point there! I love worldbuilding!). He’s just a very fantastic final challenge and a fitting end to a great game – despite being fraught with balance issues and other little problems, GSC is up there with the greats of videogaming. 19.5/30, of course.
#4 – Koga
I know right? Shocking! But let me just reiterate that I love worldbuilding and what’s cooler than seeing an accomplished Gym Leader ascend to the level of Elite 4? Especially leaving his daughter there to fill in the gaps too – great stuff. Also he’s a ninja.
What you may be more surprised to learn however is that despite being quite easy to take down during a normal playthrough, Koga’s strategic thinking is pretty damn great. With a heavy focus on spreading Toxic around and extending his Pokémons’ lives with moves like Double Team, Minimize and Supersonic, it could be quite easy to fall victim to his devious machinations. Add to that a defensively heavy Forretress who can fuck up a sweeper’s day with a powerful Explosion and you may have even more problems on hand.
Even cooler, Koga employs this exact technique to its fullest in Stadium 2 where levels are equalised and he has better team choices – plus one point there for definite! In the end, Koga ends up with a fantastic 20/30, narrowly missing out on a medal.
#3 – Misty
The final Gym Leader of the list, Misty is third. Apart from difficulty (a sore point for any Kanto Leader not named Blue) Misty scores highly in every damn category. From her awesome jacket/bikini combo and nice hair to her love life now being a part of the game itself Misty has come a long way from “hey fight these two stars oh no i lost here is a badge.”
Misty’s team is, while weak in the game itself, a fantastic tour de force of the Water-type. Golduck is noticeably a weaker point but thematically is fantastic for Misty, Quagsire is a great bulky beast who can further bulk up with Amnesia and hit unprepared Electric-types hard with Earthquake, Lapras has Blizzard and Perish Song and Starmie has always deserved the usage it gets in the real-world competitive scene. And with two Pokémon sporting Rain Dance, Misty has a genuinely threatening strategy to combat an under-levelled would-be combatant. Great showing, and she tears through the rest at 20.5/30.
#2 – Lance
And here we are, with the final Elite 4 member. Or Champion, rather. I feel like Lance will score highly in every Generation he’s featured in. He’s usually story relevant, has great taste in Pokémon and is quite the climactic battle no matter how easily he’s swept. Here he has swapped out his Dragonair for fully evolved Dragonite (and he gets a bloody +1 for the audacity to come in with illegal, under-levelled Dragonite at that), and now has that Charizard on his team – forever cementing its status as a true dragon no matter what people say. Oh, and every single one of his Stadium 2 team picks has Hyper Beam, because of course they do.
And just look at that flair, look at that panache. This guy knows how to work a cape. He’s a shock to the senses in so many ways – his stance, his mere existence as the new Champion, and the fact that he’s actually quite bloody easy to beat. Still, though, you took out an entire base of Rockets at Mahogany Town together so that has to count for something (exactly 1 bonus point is what it counts for). Lance puts the rest to shame with 22.5/30. But wait… he’s only #2…
#1 – Silver
Welcome, one of the deepest characters of most Pokémon games. Silver is what I would consider the perfect Rival. He is antagonistic rather than a banteriffic mate or a fawning pal, he undergoes genuine character development, and he has an interesting roster of Pokémon. And as opposed to Blue, he doesn’t change up his roster over the course of the game (Where did the Raticate even go? Did it DIE?) which is great to see – he seems to develop a genuine attachment to the Pokémon he catches (steals?) over the course of the game and it’s actually shown in the gameplay. As Silver works to be a better person with better decisions we see his Golbat evolve into a Crobat, showing us that Silver has become a caring and decent trainer. Decent enough to evolve a Golbat anyway.
Silver can be challenging, Silver has a varied roster, Silver has character depth and Silver is hands down the most effective Rival that we have ever seen in a mainline Pokémon game.
Stupid hair though. 23/30 even so.
Tune in next time for the *reads notes* 41 trainers of Gen III? Maybe. Maybe not. Anyway, do you agree with my decisions? I genuinely want to know.