Silver is the best rival in Pokemon history. That’s it, I’m done, no more to say. If you think it’s someone else, then sorry, but you’re wrong – it’s Silver.
Okay, fine, I’ll explain a little bit more, but I can’t believe I have to. I have loads of opinions around Pokemon, and most of them are just that: opinions. I reckon Bulbasaur is the best starter in Kanto, but if you think it’s Squirtle or Charmander, then fair enough. Different strokes and all that. Same if you disagree that Sylveon is the best Eeveelution and that Leafeon is the worst. They’re all just bits of pixels and code in a kid’s game at the end of the day, right? Not with Silver though. Silver is the best rival and that’s all there is to it.
For one thing, he’s actually a rival. Most of the others are just mildly competitive annoyances you meet along the way, or worse still just random people who want to be your friend. I don’t need to be your friend, Hau, I’ve got a Popplio. Sod off. Silver actively hates you. He’s a cruel, conniving criminal, always eager to cause evil. God, I love him.
You don’t meet Silver inside the lab where you each pick a Pokemon either. Instead, you pick your Pokemon first and go on your merry way to catch Hoothoots and Sentrets, whereas Silver smashes the window to the lab, breaks in, and pilfers a starter for himself. Why doesn’t he just take both? I don’t know, maybe in his rush to be all evil and cool one of the balls got knocked on the floor. What matters is he takes a Pokemon and flees with it, causing such a commotion that the police arrive.
It’s at this point that you name him. The policeman asks who he is, and you get to decide what he’ll be called for the rest of the game. With your quote-unquote rival in Kanto, he’s the Professor’s grandson, so as funny as it is to call him “Fartbutt,” it doesn’t really make sense that his grandpa and everyone else just goes along with it. With Silver, it’s different. You can say to the police officer, “Hmm, he looks like a Fartbutt to me,” and everyone around him just goes “ahh yeah, he does look like a Fartbutt, doesn’t he?” until that’s all Silver is known as.
I wish I was that funny as a kid; I actually called Silver ‘Gary’ the first time around.
That’s just the beginning of Silver though. I love that Silver can be named this way, and that he’s set up as an actual villain, but it’s his back story that establishes him as head, shoulders, and stunning red hair above the rest of the rivals. The bad guys of the game are Team Rocket, but Silver isn’t working with them – in fact, he hates them. He sees them as weak and worthless and pathetic. Let’s be honest, he has a point here. They’re a criminal organisation that deals in stealing Pokemon; you know, those creatures that wander freely absolutely everywhere in the world and can be captured by children? It’s like they live near the beach and their business is stealing sand. Team Rocket was also taken down by a ten-year-old so, yeah. They’re pretty weak.
However, Silver has quite a bit of skin in the game. Silver is actually Giovanni’s son, meaning he should be the heir to Team Rocket, but he was abandoned by his father for being too weak. That gives him a bit of an angsty Kylo Ren vibe, and not only does it round out his character and give him an actual backstory and motivation – incredibly rare things beyond ‘catch ‘em all!’ in a Pokemon game – it makes me love him so much more too. He’s got a reason to be angry and villainous, and that’s a crucial part of a worthy rival.
Obviously, this is a Pokemon game, so unfortunately the landing is a little borked. Pokemon has always struggled to add weight to its biggest stories; that’s why the smaller ones stand out so much. Silver is ultimately defeated by Lance, and in being defeated learns the true value of Pokemon and friendship and that battling Pokemon is wrong but it’s right if you do it in this specific way… yada-yada-yaya. It has always irked me that Pokemon has felt the need to justify its own existence by acting as if the villains battle in some cruel, misguided way but the heroes actually do cockfighting with friendship and love, so it’s okay.
The worst part about this is it’s not even true. Throughout his entire existence in the base games, Silver never discards a single Pokemon. He starts with his starter (that’s why they’re called starters), then picks up a Gastly and a Zubat. How many times have we caught a Zubat, realised they’re pretty trash, and chucked them in the PC. Well, not Silver. He keeps Zubat and evolves it, eventually turning it into Crobat. This evolution doesn’t happen until Silver’s unnecessary rehabilitation, and while I hate that arc it is a good way of showing it in game by letting him evolve a ‘mon that requires high friendship.
You also get to fight alongside him in HeartGold and SoulSilver, which feels like it has actually been earned, unlike all the double battles with the friendly rivals. Teaming up with Silver actually means something.
Right, I said I had no more to say, but turns out I did, actually. That’s because Silver is so obviously the best rival and the fact the games are so desperate to be your friend these days means we’ll probably never see his like again. Goodnight, sweet Fartbutt.
Next: Final Fantasy 7’s Aerith Reminds Us Why It’s Important To Be Kind
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Stacey Henley is an editor for TheGamer, and can often be found journeying to the edge of the Earth, but only in video games. Find her on Twitter @FiveTacey
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