Sunday, September 13, 2015

Press Start Double List: Top 5 Favorite Gym Leaders/Top 5 Least Favorite Gym Leaders

Pokemon is a franchise that has earned my respect. The series is a simple one, but under its cutesy surface is a deep and entertaining RPG that has kept my attention for years. The games are home to some great monsters, great characters, and great boss fights. One constant in every main series Pokemon game are the Gym Leaders, a group of eight powerful trainers that test how far you’ve come as a player. And like how the series can have its ups and its downs, the Gym Leaders range from being great to being terrible. This list is dedicated to my favorite and least favorite of all 58 Gym Leaders. I’ll be judging them on their gym, their character, and most importantly, their fight. Let’s get started.

#5 Favorite: Clay
Game: Black and White, Black 2 and White 2
City or Residence: Driftveil
Type: Ground

Note: I have not played Black 2 or White 2, so this segment will judge Clay on his original appearence.

Given that Unova is based on America, it shouldn’t surprise you that one of the Gym Leaders is a cowboy. However, there’s more to Clay’s character than wearing a cool hat and speaking in a southern drawl. He’s a self-made man who started with nothing and worked himself up to be not only a successful miner, but also the fifth Gym Leader in Unova. His gym is my personal favorite of Black and White, being one giant mine shaft. Players must operate elevators in order to get to Clay, who resides at the very bottom of the Gym. I really like how the Gym’s bottom floor is not only noticeably darker that upper levels, but is also filled with gems, which really sells the whole mine concept.

But despite the fun puzzle of his gym and his character, Clay’s fight isn’t terribly challenging. Like most Gym Leaders in Unova, he only has three Pokemon, which means this fight is likely to be a short one. His Krokorok and Palpitoad should go down without a hitch, especially if you have a decent Grass type. While his Excadrill offers some challenge, it’s no match for a good fighting type. But despite the mediocre fight against him, Clay manages to be one of my favorites because of his Gym and personality. This is a personal choice more than anything, but it’s a choice I support wholeheartedly.

#5 Least Favorite- Falkner and Chuck
Game: Gold and Silver, Crystal, Heart Gold and Soul Silver
Cities of Residence: Violet City and Cianwood City
Types: Flying and Fighting

Gen 2 of Pokemon is my least favorite generation. It has an uninteresting region, a lackluster selection of Pokemon, poor characters, and underwhelming boss fights. The games are an unfortunate mix of boring, grindy, and (occasionally) frustrating. Naturally, I find a lot of Johto’s Gym Leaders to be underwhelming. This spot is a tie between the worst Johto had to offer: Falkner and Chuck.

Both Falkner and Chuck share the same set of problems. Both are poorly developed, with Falkner barely having a personality and Chuck being a shallow “passionate fighter” archetype. Both have underwhelming gyms: Falkner’s is essentially a straight path to him that offers little challenge, and Chuck having either a boulder puzzle (the originals) or a switch challenge (the remakes) that are not hard to solve in the slightest. These could be forgiven if the fights were any good, but they aren’t. Both have a team of only two Pokemon, and both teams can be crushed if you have a Electric type (in Falkner’s case) or a Psychic type (in Chuck’s case). They barely pose a challenge, which is a theme that you’ll see often in this list.

#4 Favorite- Misty
Game: Red and Blue, Yellow,  Fire Red and Leaf Green, Gold and Silver, Crystal, Heart Gold and Soul Silver
City of Residence: Cerulean City
Type: Water

No, this isn’t because of her anime role, though I will say Misty is more entertaining than any of Ash’s other female companions (hey, having an actual personality helps). The reason Misty is on this list is because she serves as Red and Blue’s wake-up call. Brock is pretty much a pushover even if you chose a Charmander, and Mount Moon may be long, but it’s more annoying than challenging. However, Cerulean’s resident Gym Leader is there to show you that you can’t just breeze through the game.

In terms of gym design or character, Misty doesn’t have much going for her. There’s no real puzzle to speak of, and list most Gen 1 gym leaders, she doesn’t have much character to speak of. However, the fight more than makes up for it. True, she only has two Pokemon, and her Staryu isn’t terribly tough, but her Starmie is what makes this fight worth remembering. Her Starmie can tank Thunder Shocks and Razor Leafs like they were nothing, and can deal tons of damage too. This means that if you walk into the fight without a backup plan, you will get wrecked. Misty is the first actual challenge in Red and Blue, and while there are better Gym Leaders in the same game, Misty gets a spot for letting the player know that the game is not always a cakewalk.

#4 Least Favorite: Liza and Tate
Game: Ruby and Sapphire, Emerald, Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire
City of Residence: Mossdeep
Type: Psychic

Ruby and Sapphire may be my favorite Pokemon game, but I still know a bad Gym Leader when I see one. Or in this case, bad Gym Leaders.

This fight has a lot going for it. The gym has a cool sliding tile puzzle in Ruby and Sapphire, and while it was replaced by a much easier puzzle in the remake, the spectacle made up for it. The twins are pretty interesting, being able to (allegedly) communicate telepathically. This battle also stands out as being the only gym battle that is a double battle, which is really cool, especially when you consider Ruby and Sapphire introduced the mechanic.

However, the battle has one major pitfall: it’s way too easy. Tate and Liza only have one Pokemon each, which means that the battle could last less than a couple minutes if you bring a capable Ghost type. Also, their Pokemon choices are lackluster. They have a Solrock and a Lunatone, and while they make a decent team, there are far better Psychic types in the game. In a game with Gardevoir, Alakazam, Metagross, and other powerful Psychic types, they went with two mediocre Pokemon that can be easily dispatched. If these two had more and better Pokemon, this would be one of the best fights in the game, but instead they end up being pushovers. Talk about wasted potential.

#3 Favorite: Sabrina and Blaine
Game: Red and Blue, Yellow, Fire Red and Leaf Green, Gold and Silver, Crystal, Heart Gold and Soul Silver
Cities of Residence: Saffron City and Cinnabar Island
Types: Psychic and Fire

I may not have the same nostalgic attachment many others have with Red and Blue, but I can easily say that they have some the best fights in the series. The Gym Leaders (discounting Brock) can be very challenging, even if you have a good counter for their teams. Two Gym Leaders that exemplify this the best are Sabrina and Blaine.

Unlike Misty, both Sabrina and Blaine have well established characters that really add to their status as Gym Leaders. Sabrina is a Psychic master who can communicate with her Pokemon telepathically, and it is established that she feels very passionate towards them, only fighting when she absolutely has to. Blaine is a bright old man who devotes a great deal of time towards Pokemon research, and is always eager to test the knowledge of younger challengers. In addition, both gyms have great puzzles: Sabrina has the very first teleporter puzzle in Pokemon history, and Blaine’s gym has you answering increasing difficult quiz questions as you get closer to Blaine.

Where these two really shine are their fights. Both Sabrina and Blaine pack a team of four powerful Pokemon, each with several powerful moves. While Blaine prefers to overpower his opponents with Fire Blasts and Fire Spins, Sabrina takes a more strategic method, with Pokemon knowing moves like Calm Mind and Baton Pass. Either way, you’re in for a tough fight thanks to how both have powerful Pokemon in their own right. Both Blaine and Sabrina are great mixes of good characters, good gyms, and great fights.

#3 Least Favorite: Koga
Game: Red and Blue, Yellow, Fire Red and Leaf Green
City of Residence: Fuchsia City
Type: Poison

I never really was a fan of Poison types. They are the greatest at heckling and crippling the opponent, but few Poison types have the muscle to back up these tactics. I’m not saying their aren’t good Poison types: Crobat, Dragalge, and Nidoking all do their jobs very well. All I’m saying is that a mono-Poison team wouldn’t pose much of a threat, given their lackluster offensive capabilities. Maybe that’s why I never found Koga to be a big challenge.

Despite being a ninja and a potions master, Koga has one of the worst gyms in Pokemon history. The challenge is trying to navigate a maze with invisible walls, which is incredibly frustrating without a guide. Most of the gym trainers don’t even use Poison types. Of the 14 Pokemon used by the gym’s trainers, only 3 are Poison types, and they’re all Arboks. The gym itself is very bland in terms of design. Koga’s gym is easily the worst in Kanto.

The fight with Koga is definitely not worth the struggle. Regardless of what version you’re playing, his team is very lackluster. In Red and Blue, he uses two Koffings, a Muk, and a Weezing. In Yellow, he comes packing three Venonats and a Venomoth. In either case, you’ll probably be sweeping his team effortlessly. Yes, many of his Pokemon can utilize moves that can cripple your team. However, his Pokemon aren’t strong enough to last one round with a decent Psychic type, or really any Pokemon that can hit remotely hard. Janine may have the same crappy gym and a worse character than Koga, but at least her team can put up a good fight. Koga is just a bad Gym Leader. He does make a decent Elite Four member though.

#2 Favorite: Norman
Game: Ruby and Sapphire, Emerald, Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire
City of Residence: Petalburg City
Type: Normal

Norman is a nostalgic boss for me. Ruby and Sapphire was the first was the first Pokemon game I ever beaten, and any fan of Ruby and Sapphire will tell you that the first Gym Leader you encounter is not the first one you fight. He’s your father Norman, and he’s Hoenn’s fifth Gym Leader. When I beat him for the first time, I felt like I actually got stronger as a trainer, something that none of the previous four Gym Leaders managed to do.

But there’s a lot more to Norman than nostalgic value. For starters, he has a great gym. The gimmick here is that you progress through the gym by going through different rooms. Depending on what room you enter, the trainer will use a certain item at the beginning of the battle, boosting a certain stat of your opponent’s Pokemon. So not only can you pick who to fight ahead of time, but you also get to chose what challenges you get to face first. It’s a great concept, and it puts you on your toes more than most gyms do.

The fight with Norman is also really good. He comes at you with a Vigoroth and two Slakings, which doesn’t seem like a good team on paper. After all, Slaking can only attack every other turn. But honestly, Norman’s Slakings are the biggest threat in the game up to that point. They have some serious attack power guaranteed to deal serious damage to even the toughest Pokemon. His Slakings also have some serious defensive capabilities, meaning they’ll be able to survive a lot of the Fighting type moves you’ll throw at him. Norman offers a tough but fair challenge, especially in the original Ruby and Sapphire, and holds a special place in my heart.

#2 Least Favorite: Juan
Game: Emerald
City of Residence: Sootopolis Gym
Type: Water

I was never a big fan of Wallace to begin with. Yeah, he’s absolutely fabulous, and his Milotic is pretty beastly, but other than that, he’s pretty average. As a Gym Leader, he’s just okay. In Emerald, he replaces Steven as the champion (which is a terrible decision, honestly), and his replacement, Juan, is one of the most forgettable Gym Leaders in Pokemon history.

Juan’s biggest problem is that he’s essentially Wallace-lite. He shares the same love of elegance and flair for the flamboyant. He has a harem of female trainers ready to fight you in case you mess up on the puzzle. The gym’s puzzle involves you trying to step on each tile once and only once before you can move on. Juan has very few, if any, original bones in his beautiful body. It certainly doesn’t help he’s a Water type boss in a game filled with Water type bosses.

Aside from being bland and forgettable, Juan’s fight is really easy. Wallace’s fight in Ruby and Sapphire wasn’t that hard; not terribly easy, but nothing really that hard either. Juan’s fight somehow manages to take a step back from that, with a worse team than Wallace that can be crushed in as little as five turns. Wallace had the same problem, but Juan’s blandness really pushes it over the edge for me. If it wasn’t for the fact that he’s the only Gym Leader exclusive to Emerald, he’d be my least favorite Gym Leader.

#1 Favorite: Blue
Game: Gold and Silver, Crystal, Heart Gold and Soul Silver
City of Residence: Viridian City
Type: None

Gen 2 may be my least favorite generation, but it’s home to three of the greatest boss fights in Pokemon history. There’s Lance, who shows you how terrifying a goofy looking dragon can be, Red, who’s probably the hardest boss in all of Pokemon, and my favorite Gym Leader, Blue.

Blue is one of the greatest characters in all of Pokemon, being the world’s biggest jerk and Red’s number biggest rival. In Gold and Silver, his title of biggest jerk has been usurped by Silver, but he’s still an arrogant jackass. He’s taken over the Viridian gym, and unlike all other Gym Leaders, he doesn’t specialize in a type. The gym itself, at least in Heart Gold and Soul Silver, has one of my favorite puzzles. Like the Mossdeep gym, the floor is covered in sliding tiles, but in Blue’s gym, you actually have to think twice about where you step It’s a fun puzzle through and through.

The reason Blue’s my favorite Gym Leader is the fight with him. Like the champion bout with him in Red and Blue, you’ll be facing a balanced team that doesn’t have a clear weakness. His team is a strong one, filled with Pokemon that can hit hard, take punishment, and are often able to cover their weaknesses. Unlike most Gym Leaders, where you can just bring one or two Pokemon that have a type advantage, you have to make sure that you have a balanced team in order to even stand a chance. Blue’s champion bout in the first generation may be more memorable, but this fight is easily the greatest gym battle in all of Pokemon.

#1 Least Favorite: Wulfric
Game: X and Y
City of Residence: Snowbelle City
Type: Ice

In order to be considered the worst, you don’t have to be terribly offensive, you just have to lack any semblance of good. My least favorite Gym Leader has all the elements of a bad one: a poor gym, a lack of character, and a underwhelming fight. That man is Wulfric, the eighth Gym Leader of the Kalos region.

The problems Wulfric has are shared with all the other Kalos Gym Leaders. For one, his charcter is non-existent. Other than being the “gentle giant” archetype, there’s nothing to his character besides looking like a walrus. His gym, while a visual spectacle, is not that fun to navigate. In his gym, you have to rotate huge platforms to progress through the gym. A cool idea on paper, but the puzzle is too easy to be impressive. Ironically, this Ice type gym is all flash and no fire.

However, the biggest sin Wulfric commits is having an easy battle. He only has three Pokemon, which is common for Kalos Gym Leaders. However, most Gym Leaders at least attempted to cover their weaknesses by having Pokemon with typing that negated some type weaknesses. Wulfric’s team does not. Each of his Pokemon are weak to all of Ice’s weaknesses, so as long as you come in with a strong Fire, Steel, or Rock type, you can crush his team. Even his beefy Avalugg can be stomped with a Flamethrower or a Flash Cannon thanks to its pathetic Special Defense stat. The kicker here is that Wulfric is supposed to the the final Gym Leader; the final stepping stone before you can challenge the Elite Four. Wulfric is the ultimate culmination of blandness and easiness, with no redeeming qualities. That’s why he’s my least favorite Gym Leader.

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