It has to do with the better technology these days, apparently.
Pokemon has a long, ongoing tradition where it sets up your character with an in-game rival, whose progress through the game mirrors your own, and who is meant to spur you on to do better. However, the nature of these rivals has changed through the years—while Blue from the original games, and Silver from the Johto games, were outright hostile and antagonistic towards the player, thereby making them want to beat them, the rivals have now become friendly, always taking losses in their stride, and basically being totally willing to accept that they’re playing second fiddle to you.
A lot of players complain that it takes away from any stakes in battles with the rival characters. However, developers Game Freak have an actual reason for why they have toned the rivals down over the years. Speaking to GameSpot, the director of the upcoming Pokemon Let’s Go, Pikachu! and Eevee! said that the change has more to do with technology allowing the developers to make the rivals as they always imagined them than anything.
“I think the biggest reason that rivals were more of a jerk in the early days is that we were just limited in what we could express with the pixel graphics,” Masuda said. “There’s not much that you can do with that kind of little sprite on the screen, so we worked harder to characterize them through dialogue and give them certain personalities.”
He also said, however, that Game Freak doesn’t want to scare away younger players, and that, in his own opinion, hostile characters aren’t as well accepted by players now as they used to be back in the day.
“Also, because it’s just dialogue and there’s not a whole lot going on on the screen, it doesn’t give as harsh of an impression even if they’re jerks, I think,” he said. “Now we have HD graphics and the visuals are much more impressive. If you also made him a jerk, the impression would be a lot stronger on players. Another thing, just my own personal take, is that it feels that people with those kinds of personalities these days are just not as accepted by players as they were back then.”
I can at least empathize with Game Freak not wanting to give younger players a hostile impression, that’s pretty responsible of them, but still, do the rivals now have to be toothless? I get that they don’t want to make them outright criminals like Silver was, but at least make them like Cheren from Pokemon Black/White, who at least expressed disappointment and even annoyance at losing. Right now they just… smile and take the loss in their stride.
Pokemon Let’s Go will launch on Nintendo Switch on November 16. If you’re not caught up on it yet, make sure to check out the newest trailer for it.