I’m just deep enough into this project where I’ve started to feel committed to finishing it and all eight generations. But I’m also seeing now that there are a lot of trainers to rank. And Generation IV is one heck of a doozy – to put it into perspective it has more trainers than both Generations 5 and 8 put together. It’s the largest list at fifty-seven trainers so let’s get down to it, eh?
Just before that, here’s a quick list of all the lists in this project!
- Ranking the Gen I trainers
- Ranking the Gen II trainers
- Ranking the Gen III trainers
- Ranking the Gen V trainers
- Ranking the Gen VI trainers
- Ranking the Gen VII trainers
- Ranking the Gen VIII trainers
NB: No I am not including Pokémon Battle Revolution. Yes it has unique trainers with stable rosters but there’s no story (as opposed to Colosseum) and there are no important trainers there otherwise (as opposed to Stadium). Nope. Not doing it.
#57 – Proton
We’re starting off with three Enemy Team Bad Dudes with this list, as they are often very easy and lack any sort of personality other than “grr I am bad guy who will beat you.” Proton is a particularly embarrassing case as he seems to have been downgraded compared to the two trainers he replaces in HeartGold and SoulSilver (hereafter referred to as HGSS).
If you compare the dialogues of the GSC Rocket Grunt you fight at the end of Slowpoke Well and the Executive in Goldenrod Tower (those that Proton replaces) he actually gets less interesting in the remake. Originally there was some sort of grudging respect – replaced with utterly generic villain barks here. Proton gets a very embarrassing 4/30.
#56 – Jupiter
With ugly clothes, ugly hair, no personality and easy battles Jupiter rolls in at 56. She narrowly misses the hell that is Proton’s standing with some actual difficulty in her early battles thanks to Skuntank and a neat double battle with a certain other Team Galactic Admin, but Jupiter doesn’t fare well at all and ends up with a measly 10/30.
#55 – Archer
Supposedly the new big boss of Team Rocket in HGSS, Archer is particularly disappointing in that his fight is dull and easy to conquer. He gets a little kudos for having the gall to try and revive Team Rocket in the first place and his overall look is inoffensive, but at 10.5/30 he’s not leadership material on this list.
#54 – Roark
You’ll notice that the scores are already decently high-ish for so early on the list. Archer and Jupiter are intensely bad trainers who score-wise, beat the likes of Gen I Bruno, Gen II Pryce and Gen III’s Lt. Surge and Blaine showings – there is definitely some point inflation as we progress through the generations and that is no doubt due to a few different factors: rematches are more prevalent, there are more Abilities and Moves that give the battles depth, and the trainer designs have gotten a lot more ‘videogamey’ and take more fashion risks.
Roark however, kinda falls short in a lot of ways. He looks neat but he’s the second Rock-type Gym Leader to use a Geodude and the second to use an Onix. Yes, he utilises Stealth Rock and having a fossil Pokémon is neat for a leader but come on… He’s a very easy little stumbling block that no starter should have trouble against. For that, Roark is buried all the way down at #54 with 11/30.
#52 – Petrel
Conveniently tied with another of his Evil Team Mate colleagues, Petrel manages to outshine the previous trainers on the list by having a bit of a *gasp* personality. He has a canny impression of Giovanni in his skillset which he uses to neat effect during both the Mahogany Town and Goldenrod City Rocket arcs, and his second battle is really quirky in that he has 6 Koffing/Weezing that can all Selfdestruct/Explode – fun concept for an easy battle. Petrel scored 11.5/30.
#52 – Ariana
Rounding out the HGSS Team Rocket bunch (already!) we have Ariana. She manages to not be totally boring in her roster choices and even faces you in a Multi-Battle with Lance, giving her an edge that the others don’t have. That said, she’s a late-game Johto trainer and thus she’s easy as piss to take down. Hopefully Ariana doesn’t mind her nasty position here and tell me to shut up about her 11.5/30. (those were ariana grande references don’t tell me i don’t treat you)
#50 – Janine
Another tie here. There are a lot of ties in Gen IV. I suppose that’s bound to happen when you only have so many possible scores and almost sixty trainers to take a look at. Janine suffers much as she does in Gen II, being thematically easier than the other Kanto leaders in HGSS. Add to that the fact that she’s using two Ariados and her rematch team’s strategies are all over the place and she only manages to net a 12/30. She has neat family resemblance to Koga in this generation, mind.
#50 – Aaron
Probably confused about why he’s here, Aaron is our first Elite 4 member on the list. While it took until Pokémon Platinum for Pokémon to realise that a Bug-type leader can actually be a decent threat, Aaron’s team in DP is actually shocking to see. While Vespiquen isn’t necessarily a poor pick, he back up the questionable choice with both Dustox and Beautifly. Needless to say, his team is vastly superior in Platinum.
Of course, an updated team doesn’t save Aaron from being a boring guy in a tank top so he equals Janine with 12/30. If only his DP team had been better.
#49 – Blaine
Probably breathing a sigh of relief after his Gen III placement, Blaine avoids the bottom of the barrel in Gen IV. While I am personally disappointed in the change in design (why isn’t he a scientist anymore?) he has some cool points in his favour that really helped him along.
Firstly, his badge-team is now a potentially effective Overheat/White Herb team in its total, and I have to give him some kudos for that. Unprepared, he might be able to actually take down a Pokémon or two. Furthermore, his team gets some really rice updates in the rematch – Torkoal, Camerupt and an evolved Magmortar are generous additions. Other than that though, Blaine still suffers from being a Fire-type trainer surrounded by water and in a shoddily paced game. 12.5/30.
#46 – Lt. Surge
Oh look who’s here, narrowly beating Blaine once more. Lt. Surge also benefited from some of the updates he got in HGSS. While he no longer has a mid-battle kamikaze strategy like in Gen II, he does try to employ a defensive/disruptive strategy utilising confusion and Light Screens to prolong his survival. He also gets bonus points for his upgrade to Daddy status and the removal of that heinous uniform. Don’t judge me, it’s a look. Finally, I really like that he gets a Pachirisu in his rematch roster, I think that’s really cute. Saved from the trash, Surge is the first of three 13/30s.
#46 – Sabrina
Gosh, we’re working through the Kanto leaders quickly, aren’t we? Sabrina suffers as she always does when the generations move forwards – her kit simply does not update at the same pace. She’s another very late-game challenge who just doesn’t take much effort to beat. While Alakazam and Espeon may have been threats in the early days any player should now have all the tools required to eliminate them quickly in HGSS.
Not only that, but her design has changed drastically for the third time and it’s just… meh. She has a neat rematch team though, so props to her for that. Underwhelming Sabrina gets another 13/30.
#46 – Argenta
Very much like fellow Frontier Brain Noland in Gen III, Argenta is a trainer with not much to really judge. She has no known Pokémon, having a different team every time. Her challenge is derived from the fact that her battle facility uses 1v1 encounters and you can be screwed over very easily there. She actually gets a bonus point for this, as it’s a lot more interesting than the already trodden waters of Noland’s exact gimmick that is employed by Thorton (who we will be seeing shortly). Despite this her shallow personality and downright grotesque outfit land her down here at 13/30.
#45 – Thorton
I told you we’d be seeing him soon. He’s the Frontier Brain who uses rental Pokémon but in full teams – no 1v1 gimmick or anything. There is a little interesting prep function in that you can find some details about the next round by talking to a scientist at the facility and that’s something that matches up with Thorton’s overall personality quirks, but it’s still boring to have such a cool-looking character who has no standard team. He manages to stand alone at #13.5/30.
#44 – Mars
Also standing alone is this Team Galactic Admin. Managing to score some extra points for being a genuinely tough challenge early on in the game, Mars does quite a bit better than her administrative compatriots. This is largely due to her Purugly, evolved many levels too early and quite a challenge for the unprepared – we have learned from Whitney that bulky and tough Normal-types are a bit of a hindrance for many team setups. With an interestingly rare defensive strategy later in the game too, Mars gets herself 14/30 for her efforts.
#41 – Mira
Mira is the first of five so-called ‘Stat Trainers’ from Platinum that utilise a team based around one particular Stat. Mira is the Special Attack trainer and thus has a perfectly generic but effective team of the usual suspects: Magnezone, Gengar, Porygon-Z, Togekiss and Alakazam. She’s a tough fight, but where she’s let down is her incredibly generic personality despite being a Multi-Battle partner, and a design that I’d consider sacrilegious. Mira is tied with two Gym Leaders at 14.5/30.
#41 – Candice
Candice begins one of the more annoying trends that I’ve seen in the Pokémon games, and that is turning the fashion of all Ice-type trainers into simple variations on the same colour palette. Gone are the days of the smart Lorelei, classic Pryce and elegant Glacia – everything up until Melony is the same boring pale-blue. But that’s minor. Also, why is she wearing a skirt it’s cold out.
Pokémon-wise she makes some odd choices. In DP not even her entire team is even Ice-type and while you don’t need all your Pokémon to be the same type as your specialty I find Medicham an odd choice. Combine that with her underwhelming difficulty until the rematch and the fact that she ditches her ace for a Glaceon in said rematch, and Glacia scrapes by with 14.5/30.
#41 – Bugsy
Ever so slightly updated in Gen IV, Bugsy still doesn’t reach the heights that he probably deserves. He’s still using a Metapod and Kakuna in his main gym team and now with Scyther’s U-Turn he actively has to switch into one of them. It’s not really a momentum-sustaining move when you’re moving into a dead weight, dude.
Saying that, Bugsy has some neat points in his favour. For one, he’s one of three male trainers who have a 100% female team in Gen IV. This seems to be some sort of coding as all three trainers are either androgynous or a little camp in themselves, and I really like this aspect. Another point is that Bugsy’s rematch team is very good, and is proof along with Aaron’s Platinum team that Game Freak have learned a lesson about Bug’s potential. And he finally evolved the damn Scizor. He gets a 14.5/30, so narrowly missing the halfway mark.
#35 – Gardenia
Welcome to the biggest tie of the list with six entire trainers. I will say now that I mostly don’t really care about what order trainers come in within ties, and just go with how my Excel sheet ordered them – unless there’s a sort of meta-narrative reason to change it up (something I did to make Aregenta and Thorton consecutive earlier, for example). So keep that in mind.
Gardenia’s pretty cool, I suppose. She uses a starter Pokémon and she has a very powerful Pokémon as her ace, so she gets points for that. Props to her for gaining an actual strategy with Sunny Day in Platinum too. Other than that though, she’s quite blah – she’s yet another example of the generic ‘I am a powerful trainer, let’s fight, oh I respect you now that you have beat me’ Gym Leader that fill up these games. Saying that, her rematch team is interesting without being strong and the only thing I dislike about her look is that she has really exposed knees for someone I assume does a lot of gardening. 15.5./30.
#35 – Koga
Despite reaching the top 5 in Gen II’s list, Koga seems to have suffered over the years. While still getting some credit for being a newly promoted member of the Elite 4 and handing his gym over to his daughter, his roster has definitely seen some better days. Specifically, a Baton Passing Ariados with no buffing moves, a Toxic Spikes Forretress with no Whirlwind support, and a Crobat who has Quick Attack instead of something genuinely useful. At least in his rematch team he acquired some heavy hitters from Hoenn and Sinnoh and a nice shutdown-strategy employing evasion and Toxic. Cool animation aside, Koga hits another 15.5/30.
#35 – Bruno
While definitely benefitting from getting hotter with each new generation, Bruno is still barely a challenge and deserves his low ranking. I’ve denigrated this dude enough in the past three updates so I’ll just focus on what this generation did well for him. That is, namely, the nice consistency in his Machamp having Foresight, the nice additions of Hariyama and Lucario into his rematch team, and the cool counter-based strategy his rematch team actually employs with Counter, Reversal and Payback. Bruno is the third 15.5/30.
#35 – Byron
Father of Roark, Byron is a pretty cool and imposing trainer – lugging around a big shovel wherever he goes for some reason. While Roark doesn’t really get the points for this since he’s the first leader you face, it’s a very cool self-referential that Byron’s team has both a Steelix (while Roark had an Onix) and a Bastiodon (while Roark had a Cranidos). Sucks that he seems to neglect his Bastiodon for his Aggron in the rematches, but meh.
This Gym Leader manages to have a threatening team that also manages to know its strengths. He uses coverage moves to try and tackle players who might try and exploit his weaknesses, and Sandstorm is always nice to see on a Steel-type team even if it isn’t the strategy he’s mainly going for. For his nice teambuilding and cool design Byron achieves yet another 15.5/30.
#35 – Brock
Brock manages to score a bit higher than his previous incarnations thanks to his first showing of decent fashion taste and a neat roster in his rematch team that he sorely lacked in the past. In fact, I am so pleased by the fact that he doesn’t evolve his Onix (and this is the only time) that he gets a bonus point for that alone. That said, he’s still a very easy trainer to overcome and even his rematch team can be ousted so easily with a hefty Grass-type attacker. Meganium-users will decimate him entirely. So while he has benefitted from the passage of time, Brock still only manages to get 15.5/30.
#35 – Giovanni
Giovanni only has a very minor part to play in Generation IV – being absent from Sinnoh and only remembered in Johto – but there is a certain set of circumstances in which you can meet him and fight him. During the Celebi event in HGSS (now defunct, of course) you are sent back in time by the Mythical to learn some ~lore~. It is here that we learn that not only is Giovanni Silver’s father, but that while Team Rocket had taken over the Goldenrod Radio Tower Giovanni was getting ready to regroup with his old minions and start another roaring crime rampage.
So of course, Giovanni takes one beating from a child and gives up his plan entirely. Again.
His roster is rather what you’d expect. He has his Nidoking and Nidoqueen, and his loyal Kangaskhan, and an interesting new addition in Honchkrow. None of these Pokémon manage to pose one iota of a threat but thanks to the coolness of his team along with the vital lore additions that his mere existence in the story brings he gets some decent scores. Minus a bonus point for only being available in a time limited event and Giovanni ends up at 15.5/30, a far cry from his past scores and placements.
#33 – Chuck
Why did they make his trousers purple I mean they just looked so much better when they were white/cream. Ugh.
That aside, Chuck is decent I guess. His Hypnosis strategy now uses Focus Punch instead of DynamicPunch and his rematch team leans heavily into this with Double Team and Substitute bringing a more reliable setup. He even employs this on his Primeape, making his initial battle just that tiny bit more difficult. That said, Chuck is still a Gym Leader with only two Pokémon and you’re likely to have more tools to deal with them, so he doesn’t fare all that well in difficulty even with the updated movesets. He still gets to show off his cute relationship in-game though so he nets a cool 16/30, narrowly avoiding a seven-way tie with those trainers above, but saddling him in a lonely bracket with…
#33 – Eusine
Just like his Gen II incarnation, Eusine is not that much of a trainer when all is said and done. His team loses points for being super easy to beat but gets some points for being a team tailor-made to catch a Suicune. Where Eusine has changed is in his expanded role as part of the expanded Suicune sidequest, and his design. We get to see more of his competitive and determined personality here and to go along with it is a purely camp and fun new outfit that I adore. If only he had some sort of post-game awesome team he would be a true competitor, instead of tying with Chuck at 16/30.
#32 – Falkner
Yes, the dude uses a Pidgey and Pidgeotto once again. It’s sad, and he’s very easy to beat. That said, his rematch team definitely redeems him slightly as it uses some really great choices. Notably, all of his picks save maybe the Honchkrow are Pokémon versions of common-to-life birds that don’t look too out-of-this-world. His Pidgeotto is evolved into a competent Pidgeot and he uses my all-time favourite, Noctowl.
Another nice detail that we can really see more of now in HGSS is the traditional-style Japanese clothing Falkner wears. This make him and his gym fit really well into Violet Town as it does have this traditional Japanese aesthetic, compounded by the architectural design of Bellsprout Tower, and the sages’ garbs within to boot. I just think it’s neat. Falkner stands alone at 16.5/30.
#30 – Flint
We have an Elite 4 double whammy here, pairing Flint with Will. Flint’s showings are something to behold. In Diamond and Pearl (infamous for their abysmal number of Fire-type Pokémon available in the wild), Flint has more non-Fire-type Pokémon than Fire-types! It makes his Sunny Day strategy almost sad, in that these Pokémon need a weather move to make their Fire attacks worth using at all. In Platinum however, he’s quite redeemed with a full roster of fiery dudes including a Flareon.
Flint also has some story-based points going for him. Thanks to some interactions outside of the Elite 4 challenge itself, Flint manages to show off more of a personality than so many other Elites in the series. It’s very noticeable also that these interactions tend to show off a fondness for Volkner, the Gym Leader of Sunyshore – and this is something my youthful shipping heart took to… well… heart. The double battle with him and Volkner is fun, and gets him even more kudos.
His hair is freaking awful though and genuinely restricts him from a higher placement. What dye is he using? 17/30.
#30 – Will
Camp as Christmas, Will is back. While his team isn’t changed much at all from Gen II, at least we aren’t seeing Future Sight anymore. He instead uses a disruptive strategy using Confuse Ray, Lovely Kiss and Hypnosis. If you manage to experience some bad luck, Will might succeed in wasting your time and resources a little before you take on the rest of the Elite 4. He’s a good argument in himself for the Elite 4 being a gauntlet you should rate as one instead of just four very strong trainers who are designed to beat you individually.
With the DS’s graphics comes a more ostentatious outfit for Will and just like Eusine before him he gets some credit for that – I am biased towards these camp, androgynous, even feminine men. Speaking of, Will is the second trainer on this list to be male and yet have all female Pokémon, like Bugsy. This is what I was talking about all the way back in Gen II’s list, and is another point in favour of my little ‘trans Will’ headcanon. That aside, he’s too easy to beat to score higher on the list and he still has two Xatu, so he gets 17/30.
#26 – Maylene
We have a group of four trainers tied together here, and it’s also the point at which we’d see the halfway mark of this list! So let’s press on,
Maylene is a decently tough fighter who uses Meditite and Lucario, two Pokémon who can prove to be a bit tricky when taking down a Fighting-type trainer as they each negate one or two of Fighting’s weaknesses. Maylene also proves to be a little bit of a strategist in her rematch too, utilising the classic Fake Out Hitmontop, coverage Medicham and Spore Breloom to full effect.
She’s also one of the more fleshed out Pokémon trainers of the region. She can be encountered on the way to Snowveil (walking barefoot at that) and you can learn about her family a bit by asking around Driftveil (her dad’s a gambler, it seems). She also appears in HGSS, competing in the Pokéathlon! With these bonuses in her favour she’s the first of four 17.5/30s.
#26 – Bertha
With oodles of arrogance born from her vast experience, Bertha is an interesting trainer even with how little screen-time she gets in the Pokémon series overall. The only hint that she’s a Ground-type trainer is her brown scarf and that’s something I have come to enjoy more and more over the last few generations – it is often all too easy to spy why types (or even what species) a trainer uses based solely on the clothes they wear.
Team-wise, Bertha has the obvious suspects for a late-game Ground-type team of Sinnoh, featuring Gliscor, Hippowdon and Rhyperior. Somewhat disappointingly to me, during the addition of the Rhyperior for Platinum her Hippowdon seems to have lost ace status. I feel like Hippowdon made for a better partner Pokémon, especially since it isn’t just the evolved form of another Ground-type trainer’s ace. Either way, she gets another 17.5/30.
#26 – Pryce
While his difficulty level hasn’t changed much since last time, Pryce has definitely improved a lot as a character and trainer. Very noticeably, he’s finally wrapped up warm and look at how smart he looks doing so! He now looks more like a serious trainer instead of an old man who has wandered into an Ice-type gym off the street in a blip of confusion.
His team now uses some actual strategy too, now – his Seel and Dewgong have Rest strategies that may be references to the huge popularity of the RestTalk strategy in the Gen II competitive scene, and his Piloswine holds a proud Hail/Blizzard set. These strategies carry over to his rematch, where Hail and Blizzard reign supreme and Dewgong is still talking in his sleep, though his Piloswine is now a fully-fledged Mamoswine with a potent physical set. Thanks (mostly) to fashion and his rematch kit, Pryce gets a cool 17.5/30.
#26 – Saturn
Did you forget about Saturn? Because I did when I was writing this up. I had assumed I’d left all the admins at the bottom of the pile but it turns out this dude did well enough to rank with two Gym Leaders and a member of the Elite 4. This is ostensibly due to him being a little bit tougher than his colleagues and actually having some semblance of a personality – Saturn relates how he seems so dazzled by Cyrus and then expresses regret for his actions once he’s been taken care of.
Pair these developments up with the fact that Saturn (in Platinum at least) is the third example of a male trainer with all-female Pokémon (which seems to be some sort of queer-coding, as I’ve implied) and there’s a part of me that finds the theory that he’s gay for Cyrus very compelling. And I quite like that.
Saturn also manages to have decent Pokémon. In DP he has a Kadabra which is nice, but he drops this for a Golbat in Platinum. Bronzor remains a toughie to deal with if you don’t have Fire-type attacks and his Toxicroak is built effectively to sweep. I think he’s deserving of his 17.5/30.
#25 – Red
Potentially a controversial placement but I find Red to be a bit of a boring capstone to the HGSS story. We’ve fought more interesting trainers with more interesting backstories, and even his sprite pose is a bit boring now – he lost the cocky arrogance of his Gen II incarnation. Add to that the questionable choice to replace his Espeon with a Lapras and I’m overall simply whelmed by this version of Red. That said, I like that his Pikachu has the same moveset as Ash’s Pikachu from the anime and for that he gets boosted up to a full 18/30 via a sweet bonus point.
#23 – Erika
For the fourth generation in a row, Erika scores decently and with largely unchanged reasoning. There are some interesting additions to her character in Gen IV though. Firstly, she has some interactions shown with Jasmine, where she gives the Steel-type leader some fashion advice. This is very fitting, as I’ve always found Erika to be one of the more attractively dressed leaders in the series. Another little tidbit is that she seems to have finally found a genuine ace on her team in Tangrowth, which stands four levels higher than any of her other team-mates in her rematch team, and is derived from the Tangela that has been the only Pokémon on every single one of her teams from Gen I to Gen III. I’m just very fond of Erika, and she gets 18.5/30.
#23 – Barry
Now, Barry is what I’d consider a very annoying rival. He’s far too peppy, I dislike his hair and he’s always too chipper – possibly even after being defeated by Team Galactic. He’s a little bit too ‘anime’ for me to truly enjoy, but I cannot deny that he is a good trainer for many other reasons.
Barry’s team progression ends up being very similar to so many other rivals – specifically Blue in this case. No matter what, he will end up with a team core of Fire/Water/Grass, adding in a Flying-type and some wild cards to round it out. This is exactly what Blue does and it is possibly a trend we will see going forwards too. It’s an effective team-building strategy for a rival, especially as it’s likely to mirror many players’ designs too.
What I find disappointing is Barry’s utter lack of antagonism and drive. He’s just a speedier and hyper version of the player character – Blue and Silver were true rivals, while Brendan and May were strangers who build up a tentative relationship with you without pursuing the exact same goals as you. Barry is a trend I’m going to start complaining about a lot over these lists. But hey ho, he has fun fights at least. 18.5/30.
#18 – Palmer
Just when we were rid of him, we’re now looking at Barry’s father! He is in a bracket of five tied trainers though so he outshines his son a fair bit. Palmer seems cool and positive to be around, and his teams are bonkers. He’s a Battle Frontier Brain who runs the very generic Battle Tower, but his teams are anything but generic.
In his first bout you’re up against a strong trio of Milotic, Rhyperior and Dragonite – this is tough enough and can be quite a roadblock. His final challenge however has you facing against his Regigigas, Heatran and Cresselia. The canon-status of the Battle Frontier is always a grab bag but Jesus that’s a stacked team. With these hugely difficult challenges to overcome and his cool reveal of being related to Barry, Palmer starts us off on five trainers who all attained 19/30
#18 – Volkner
Second half of the Volkner/Flint ship, this Electric-type Gym Leader has done well to get this far down the list. He has some neat roster choices, such an Octillery in DP that is probably a reference to his beachside locale, and I love that. Add to that the fact that he has the Electivire to Flint’s Magmortar and their Multi-Battle against you and you can’t help but admire their friendship.
Overall, Volkner is pretty cool and looks cool doing it. His rematch team isn’t too tough to contemplate beating but it does feature a nice Lanturn set. His scant but significant story relevance make him a decent 18th place with 19/30.
#18 – Morty
This ghostly dude gets a little bit more of a highlight in HGSS, just like in Crystal. This time, he’s tangentially more related to the Suicune/Legendary Gerbil sidequest and it’s nice that he has that going for him. Other than that, Morty has gained a neat scarf and a nice rematch team that, even though it features two of the same Pokémon, I really don’t mind since it’s very obvious Morty is a huge Gengar fanboy.
HGSS was definitely very good to Morty. He managed to retain his original battle strategy almost down to the letter (something most gyms really couldn’t get away with in Gen IV) and he gets quite the personality expansion thanks to the extra story bits tagged onto the main quest and also in the dialogue of the Ecruteak citizens. Very good show, Mr. 19/30.
#18 – Cheryl
Despite her sprite being one ugly mess of greenery, Cheryl is a neat character who not only introduces the concept of Multi-Battles to the player but provides them with convenient free healing and an early Soothe Bell – great for a game with multiple annoying Happiness evolutions to grind through. She’s another one of the so-called Stat Trainers just like Mira all the way before, but unlike Mira she’s one that I like.
Cheryl’s team is based on HP, and predictably has such sponges like Wailord and Blissey. To that end she a somewhat defensive strategy with healing moves, Toxic, and a Wailord set that abuses both Water Spout and Brine. She’s tough, she’s pleasant, she’s a compulsory story partner and she gets 19/30.
#18 – Buck
Like Cheryl, Buck is another Stat Trainer – this time focusing on Defence and Special Defence. He is also the person who runs the Battleground, which is the area in Sinnoh where the Stat Trainers and Gym Leaders congregate for rematches. Before that though, you can run into Buck at Stark Mountain during the quest to capture Heatran.
As a trainer, Buck is like Cheryl in that he (obviously) employs a defensive strategy. Expect Toxic, expect Protect, expect Double Team and expect Calm Mind. The last of which he uses on his Claydol, which is a really interesting choice for an ace. If you have brilliant wallbreakers you might be able to embarrass the kid but if not you’re in for a long battle. For his above-average strategy, his multiple instances of story relevance and cool yet incidental relation to Flint, Buck ends up as the final 19/30.
#15 – Dahlia
The next tier of ties starts off with Dahlia, the Arcade Star of the Battle Frontier. Scoring highly thanks to her sing-song dialogue, carefree attitude, elegant fashion sense and nice rosters of Pokémon, Dahlia feels quite generic – she’s just a little better than average in every department. She is a tough opponent and has the honour of having a Zapdos, but since she’s a very optional character there isn’t exactly much to say about her. What I did notice however is that while she has two teams, the first of the two is more interesting despite being ‘weaker’. She trades away setup mons and an Iron Ball-Flinging Dusknoir for three generic sweeping sets. Yawn. 19.5/30 nonetheless.
#15 – Karen
Karen succeeds in HGSS for many of the same reasons that she excelled in GSC. She has that cool quote and a varied roster even for an Elite 4. This time however her team has much better moves and if the level curve of Johto wasn’t so skewed she might be a genuine challenge. This worry is somewhat relieved in her rematch team where she employs status moves abound, along with the rare Perish Song and Ghost-type Curse/Pain Split combo on a hardy Spiritomb. She also seems to confirm her Umbreon as her ace, which is cool – not many normal trainers use Eeveelutions as their aces.
And, thank heavens, she’s traded in that ugly black bikini for a stylish and comfortable outfit that complements her personality more.
#15 – Blue
Soaring above Red this time, Blue remains a compelling trainer but he really hasn’t changed much over the years, has he? He still has that classically varied team and finally has Pidgeot cementing himself as the quintessential ‘official Blue Pokémon’, and his team is suitably updated in diffculty too. Both teams utilise movesets that would be decent enough in the competitive scene (No Guard DynamicPunch Machamp, anyone?) and adding Rhyperior and Tyranitar into the mix updates his roster considerably. While it’s a rather blasé thing to say, Blue just goes from strength to strength. He is the third 19.5/30.
#12 – Fantina
Sing to the tune of Slaytina, you’ll thank me.
Ah, oui, Fantina. Notable for swapping the order of gyms about in Platinum and also her entire gym puzzle. Fantina is camp as hell, has a stunner of an ace and even deigns to take part in Super Contests – something I enjoy about her immensely. Not many trainers fight hard battles in a gown that wouldn’t look too out of place on the mainstage of a certain drag reality show, and the Drifblim accoutrements make it an almost perfect outfit. I just wish she was wearing a higher heel.
All that aside, the only thing really stopping Fantina from stomping into the top 10 is her rather generic approach to battles. Ghosts famously have so much to work with in terms of movesets and while her teams are diverse, her strategies can be boiled down to ‘maybe hit status and then capitalise on that’. And while that obviously can work well, there’s just too much potential to ignore. Ominous Wind/Baton Pass Drifblim is nice when it works, though. Fantina is the head of another trio with 20/30.
#12 – Lucian
Lucian is possibly the most one-and-done member of Sinnoh’s Elite 4 – he has strong Pokémon in both games, with good movesets and a consistent strategy that Sabrina can only dream of. Lucian melds offence with defence expertly and can keep you on the back foot if you cannot claim the momentum from him. Let him get the ball rolling with Calm Mind or fall victim to one of his many coverage moves that you may not be expecting and you’re in for a rough time. Lucian is the trainer who is meant to break you after Aaron, Bertha and Flint, and for that role is he well-suited. If you cannot beat Lucian, you cannot beat Cynthia.
Outside of the Elite 4, Lucian gets to have some rare Elite 4 character development chilling out in the Canalave Library. While his dialogue has always made it obvious he’s a bookworm, at the library he can provide you with cool trivia about the world and wax poetic about whatever he’s currently reading. It makes him a more rounded character and really boosts him up in my estimations as a trainer. Two-thirds of the way there to perfection, he’s another 20/30.
#12 – Marley
Fourth out of five Stat Trainers, Marley focuses on Speed. While initially a very shy and reserved character, you get to learn more about her as she accompanies you to Route 224 off the Victory Road coast in an attempt to learn more about the Mythical Pokémon Shaymin. While her looks accentuate quite dark and elegant Gothic Lolita sensibility, Marley’s Pokémon are quite varied and her interest in the adorable Gracidea hedgehog belies her fashion choices.
In battle, Marley of course employs speedy tactics and Pokémon. Speed Boost Ninjask is her opener, hoping to set up and sweep before you can react to its fragile defences – if Ninjask falls you have other classically quick Pokémon to deal with like Electrode and Weavile, employing thematic strategies including Double Team, priority moves and 100% accuracy moves. Her ace is a very cool Arcanine who of-course has ExtremeSpeed, and the difficulty you may have dealing with her talent in the most important stat of the whole game leaves her with 20/30.
#11 – Riley
The final Stat Trainer and the final trainer who didn’t make it into the top 10, Riley is here. He’s mostly likely going to be the second Multi Battle partner encountered when you explore the Iron Island, accessible from Canalave City. Together you actually manage to do something important, taking on a bunch of Team Galactic grunts. In addition, he is the source of both HM04 in Platinum and a rare, precious Riolu Egg in both games. This makes him just that much more important and worthy of his high scores.
In battle, Riley focuses on Attack and uses predictably offensive battle strategies. As you may be able to tell from his outfit’s colour scheme his ace is a Lucario and it’s backed up by four very strong Pokémon with coverage out the wazoo. Over his 5 Pokémon Riley can use powerful attacking moves with 12 out of the 17 Pokémon types – only missing out on Grass, Water, Rock, Bug and Poison. You’ll need high defences and good moveset knowledge to deal with Riley.
Thanks to his suave appearance, difficulty in battle and significant presence in the storyline as a force for good, Riley earns a cool 20.5/30. Even if I do find Lucario an overused and overrated pick.
#10 – Misty
We’re starting off the top 10 with a splash. Misty continues her zig-zag of quality with a good showing in HGSS. She has nice tools to boost her Pokémon such as the new-ish Water Pulse which she uses with impunity for almost-confusion strats, and she has some hard hitters there. Not only that, but she’s as story relevant as ever (not much, but still more than most Gym Leaders up to this point) and her fashion score is still very much benefitting from her cool one piece/jacket combo.
Where she’s really shining is in the rematch though, acquiring a competitive-ready Starmie set, a defensive Milotic worthy of being called an ace (with the same level as Starmie to boot!), and a general support team of Rain Dancers, Agility/Baton Pass Floatzel and a Lanturn with my favourite set in all of competitive: Thunderbolt/Thunder Wave/Confuse Ray/Surf.
Like in Gen II Misty manages to excel in Gen IV thanks to good fashion choices and a fantastic roster – though her days of third-place glory are a little behind her, she’s still the highest-rated Kanto leader in a generation absolutely stacked against the Kanto leaders. She gets a very respectable 21/30, which is actually .5 higher than her Gen II score. This just really exemplifies how much the scores get inflated as Game Freak gets more comfortable making good/interesting character choices.
#9 – Whitney
With an automatic (and fair, honestly) full score in Difficulty thanks to her sheer reputation as a ghoulish roadblock for so many impatient children, Whitney was always going to rank very highly. She is never seen to move from her spot in the gym and yet expresses so much personality in just a few lines of dialogue. She has a mean temper and can throw an A+ tantrum, but she’s also known for being cutesy and her animation goes some way to show off how bubbly and effervescent she is too. We barely see anything of Whitney, and yet we know exactly what she’s like – we all know a Whitney.
Battle-wise, Whitney remains as per – just like Morty, her strategy is basically identical to Gen II. Clefairy is a wildcard with Encore and Metronome, and Miltank is a bulky monster with Attract, Milk Drink, and two attacks that can beat you down easily. Savvy players may catch a Gastly in Bellsprout Tower to to and combat and bamboozle her Miltank – they will be sorely disappointed by Miltank’s improbably ownership of Scrappy, an ability that lets her Stomp your ghosties into the dust. I totally did this in Gen IV.
Her rematch team is also very neat. Not just adding in cuties as you may expect (such as her addition of Delcatty), Whitney shows a true appreciated for the round orbs of the Normal type, sporting a Lickylicky and a Bibarel. I can really appreciate this about Whitney, and while it seems that her rematch team is just a rather generic Normal-core coverage team, it has a surprising amount of potency with a pair of Calm Mind/Baton Pass users that might be able to ruin your day neatly if you give them a chance to set up. She even starts off with a Girafarig which can ruin your Fighting-type lead’s day with Psychic. Game Freak knew what they were doing with Whitney, both in Gen II and Gen IV, and she deserves her place in the top 10 with a fantastic 21.5/30.
#8 – Darach
The final Frontier Brain of the list, Darach has a lot of things going for him. For one, his sprite has two people and the other person is a very early glimpse into the future of Generation V’s Elite 4! How cool is that! For another, despite being a Frontier Brain who is never acknowledged outside of the Frontier, he manages to show off heaps of personality and even tells us of his family history’s heritage of servitude. He shows great poise and devoted loyalty to his charge, and he’s a unique character in that respect.
Additionally, his outfit and his rosters provide us with a compelling reason to name Empoleon as his ace. While Dahlia has Zapdos-themed clothing Darach’s connection is just more fun – penguins look like butlers, and the butler has a penguin Pokémon. I love that. Not only that, but he also uses two ostensibly cooler Pokémon in Entei and Gallade and still yet I’m determined to name Empoleon as his ace. It just fits. Darach is a fun, well-written character surrounded by attention to detail and a fun reference to the future. It’s only fitting he be served 8th place with 22/30.
#5 – Cyrus
The top 10 has usually always managed to have a little of everything: Gym Leaders, Elite 4, Frontier Brains and Rivals – and now we have a bona fide Team Leader who isn’t bulked up by being mf-ing Giovanni of all people. Ostensibly a Dark-type trainer, Cyrus’s roster is perfectly serviceable. I can’t count the amount of times we’ve seen Crobat, Gyarados and Weavile on this list, and Houndoom and Honchkrow have been popular picks too – but overall the team makes sense and could quite easily take a decent bit of effort to oust.
If you’ve played DPPt you know how crucial Cyrus is to the plot. And while he isn’t the best villain in a videogame by far Cyrus manages to be a consistent threat both in and out of battle. His plan builds in scope on the plans executed by Team Magma and Team Aqua in Gen III and his evilness is built up comparatively. One thing I do want for Cyrus is for him to have a cooler outfit. While it’s streets ahead of Archie and Maxie, it doesn’t hit the same level of smooth cool that Giovanni does in any of his appearances. That said, it’s a bit space-age-y with the puffy sleeves and trouser legs, so I’ll give him that.
Cyrus really just served as a clarion call for Game Freak to start upping the villainy of their games’ villains. DPPt started a lot of characterisation trends on both sides of the good and evil spectrum, and as a villain-lover I find Cyrus to be the first sign of a compelling trend towards truly nasty villainous actions and a move away from the affability of an ineffective crime boss and the elemental dunderheads of Hoenn. For that, Cyrus sits pretty with 22.5/30.
#5 – Crasher Wake
Crashing into this surprisingly high place, Crasher Wake is the highest ranked Sinnoh Gym Leader on this list. And if you look at my scoring criteria it’s not hard to see why – Crasher Wake shows almost a metric ton of personality though his short appearance in the game. He’s a masked wrestler who fights you topless, he both has and sings his own theme song, and let’s face it he’s a bit of a dad.
And that’s not ignoring the threat that is his team. Leading with an Intimidate Gyarados is forever a smart move, Quagsire neuters Electric-types effectively and his Floatzel makes for a surprisingly effective wallbreaker and sweeper with his powerful Brine/Aqua Jet strategy. This is only turned up to eleven in his rematch where his type coverage is accentuated and he becomes a wrecking ball.
But when we get down to brass tacks I really do have to admit that Crasher Wake scores so highly because he’s a compelling, fun, out-of-the-ordinary character in a generation that is largely full of normal people. Another 22.5/30, I think he deserves his place among these legendary players.
#5 – Clair
Actually boosted a bit by the move to the DS, Clair is still a potent and fun challenge to overcome. She manages to break tradition and actually swaps out one of her old Dragonair for a leading Gyarados with Intimidate which is a whole bonus point of strategic worth. She also actually has Dragon-type moves worth using now, and some threatening if sparse coverage to try and ruin your Ice-types’ days. Her most disappointing team mate now is Kingdra, who is for some reason still using SmokeScreen and Hyper Beam – I can understand the latter being the signature move of the early Dragon-type masters but SmokeScreen could have been swapped for something far more effective – Ice Beam or Flash Cannon or Rain Dance, even. Saying that, Kingdra’s Hydro Pump might be all it needs to sweep up. But this is the eighth gym – give us a decent challenge.
Speaking of challenge, Clair’s rematch is something to witness. Despite keeping a lowly Dragonair kicking around she shows off some very reasonable strategic knowhow, employing a RockQuake Aerodactyl, Dragon Dance Gyarados and swapping out SmokeScreen for a decent Yawn on Kingdra. It’s certainly not a drastic strategic overhaul such as that of Whitney’s, but her variety of Pokémon need to be planned for if you don’t significantly out-level her. Which, to be honest, you very much might.
Where Clair has benefitted most is in her showing as a character outside of battling. She appears with her cousin Lance riiiight towards the end of the game and gives us a very enjoyable and exciting showdown Multi-Battle where we finally team up with Silver. It’s a great moment and a gratuitous piece of ‘cool’ that works so well with Pokémon’s format. Rounding out a very odd threesome, Clair is another 22.5/30.
#4 – Cynthia
I’ll be straight with you, Cynthia is not a character I have ever been excited by. I understand her popularity, I just do not feel compelled to find her all that legendary. That said, it almost goes without saying that she so easily deserves a place so high up on the list.
Cynthia’s roster, creative strategy and difficulty all correlate together in a really wonderful way where she’s able to fill out a team of six very strong, very interesting Pokémon and use them so effectively as to accrue a reputation such as she has. Specifically, the Spiritomb she uses to scope out weaknesses while remaining healthy and the Garchomp she uses to devastate weakened teams are both inspired picks. In between these lynchpins are four powerful (and gorgeous) Pokémon who possess both great coverage and sufficient bulk to be able to get off a few nasty attacks. Cynthia is pure challenge, and not one born of inflated levels like Red – she has a strategy.
Outside of battle, Cynthia is a helpful lady who basically hands you the keys to story progression multiple times throughout the game. She has a very recognisable overworld sprite that translates into an awesomely cool outfit and impossibly pretty hair, and she’s almost built from the ground up to be this totally perfect Pokémon Champion. She’s so strong, so nice, and so plot important. This is where she flounders as a character for me – flawless is boring. That said, she’s got enough about her to keep my attention long enough to give her 23/30. I mean she has to, she’s propped up so hard by Game Freak that she’s hard to ignore.
#3 – Jasmine
Jasmine is always going to rate highly on these lists thanks to her strong showing in the Johto storyline, but she almost becomes Game Freak’s little favourite in Generation IV. Not only does she get a strong cameo role in DPPt with an appearance at Sunyshore City and as a possible opponent in Super Contests, but she gets to take part in the Pokéathlon too! Not only that but Jasmine even has a little secret trade in-game where you can give her any of your Pokémon for a Steelix named Rusty (a nice reference to the famous Rocky Onix trade, I’m sure).
Battle-wise, Jasmine is only marginally better during her Gym Battle. Her Steelix now has Sandstorm instead of Sunny Day thank heavens, and you might get a little bit borked by her Supersonic/Thunder Wave Magnemite pair – but her real threat lies in the rematch as per usual. Jasmine looks dainty in her adorable sundress but running a mean Gravity team stacked with hazards (Spikes, Stealth Rock) and phasers (Roar) makes Jasmine a mean challenge to overcome – assuming you don’t vastly out-level her of course. These rematches would be so much more competitive if they levelled up to match your team, huh?
Overall Jasmine suffers only slightly due to the now even more obvious weaknesses of her original team but is otherwise probably the trainer who has benefitted the most out of the move from GBC to DS. She still manages to be the golden child of Johto as the highest ranked Gym Leader there, with 23.5/30.
#2 – Lance
Lance took all the things he was good at in Gen II and made them even better. He helped you beat the Rockets out of Mahogany? This time you get to fight alongside him. It was revealed that he was related to Clair? Now you fight them as a double battle in a fantastic moment of characterisation for Lance, Clair and a certain #1. He had dragons? Now he has more dragons. And let’s be honest he’s never looked better, that ensemble is glorious with the burgundy lining and the gold trim. Mwah.
Getting to learn more about Lance in HGSS just proves why he’s such a great character. He has some depth to him that most other characters lack, and he’s cool without it feeling forced. He’s easy to beat at first which makes you face how far you’ve come on your journey, but then he can easily smash you with his rematch team that features a Swords Dance/Outrage Garchomp, Dragon Dance Gyarados and Draco Meteor Dragonite. And also Altaria who I love. He is both surmountable and almost insurmountable within the same game.
I just really like Lance and it’s clear that HGSS is where he really shines thanks to his expanded involvement with your tasks over the storyline and in how his attitude is always one of respect towards you. Even when talking to Silver he is wary but willing to accept his development for what it is. I’m sure Lance would be graciously accepting of his second place with 24.5/30.
#1 – Silver
I’m not sure there was any doubt about this placement. Silver only benefits from the transition to Generation IV. With how balanced his team is, they progress in difficulty in a pretty linear way as yours would. When it comes to his final teams, Silver runs generic but effective teams that balance STAB-moves with status infliction that may leave you challenged if your team isn’t sufficiently varied or levelled.
But it’s not really his roster that makes me rate Silver so highly, great though it is. Silver was always a triumph of writing but HGSS takes it to another level. In-battle barks show even more explicitly that early-game Silver is an abusive trainer who thinks of his Pokémon as tools, and this is something that gets better as he travels with them and faces his own flaws.
Silver talks about his insecure feelings of weakness and though he tries to weaponise and project them, it’s obvious that he’s deep in his feelings. His encounters with the player and Lance serve to open his eyes to the problems he has and his resolve begins to grow – he starts truly wanting to believe in and love his Pokémon, which now culminates in that fantastic Multi-Battle against Lance and Clair. And there is, of course, the Crobat who must be so happy to be with him.
Doing this project has really made me realise that the deep, well-written Pokémon characters are rather few and far between, but they are very effective when you notice them. I think Silver is undoubtedly my favourite. He has the highest score yet at a huge 26.5/30.
PHEW. Would you believe that from scoring to completion this article took roughly seven hours to write? Generation V will be much, much shorter. Until then, see ya.