Pokemon’s Early Gym Leaders Need A Chance At Redemption

Ever since the very first Pokemon games, early gym leaders have been incredibly disrespected. Sure, the first two are Brock and Misty, who have attained iconic status because of their prominence in the anime. But they’re both pushovers in the game, which makes a mockery of their importance to the series. Sword & Shield shows its leaders more respect, and while that needs to be the norm going forward, I can’t help but think gym leaders gone by still need their moment in the sun.

In Sword & Shield, the Elite Four is replaced by a final tournament wherein you fight against the other gym leaders and some new challengers, which for convenient story purposes are always the friends you met along the way. In this final showdown, the gym leaders show up with much stronger teams. They’re still loyal to their type restrictions, but they’re higher levelled, better balanced, and generally more befitting of a prestige trainer like a gym leader.

It has long been theorised by players that gym leaders train several teams at once, and put out a team designed to match your current number of badges, allowing you to feel a sense of progression throughout the game, while the world continues to exist as a setting larger than yourself. This is easily disproved by the fact several games let you attempt the middle gyms in varying order, with no changes to the line-up you battle, but it’s still a nice theory to consider.

Despite being disproved by the games, it still makes logical sense. You don’t get to be a gym leader with two Pokemon both below Level 15, you only whip those out so newbies can get a taste of challenge when they’re searching for their first gym badge. The Sword & Shield final showdown also proves it. But too many great gym leaders haven’t had their chance to show us what they can do.

We don’t know yet if Sword & Shield’s format will remain in Scarlet & Violet. It was clearly a nod to the sporting/football culture of the UK, which forms the backbone of Galar’s worldbuilding, but Iberia, which S&V are based on, has just as much football heritage so it could persist. It feels like a welcome change from the old format, and with Scarlet & Violet embracing the open world ideas of Legends: Arceus, it does seem willing to engage with ideas from other games too.

Of course, this was all done well before Sword & Shield, as far back as Gold & Silver. After beating the game, players could travel to Kanto from Johto and battle all of the Red & Blue gym leaders, who this time bring their very best squad. Players have been asking to revisit old regions ever since, so to keep asking feels like shouting into the void, but even without it some gym leaders could get their due. Having the old gym leaders show up for the final tournament, or even in the rematch tournaments in the postgame, would give them the spotlight they deserve.

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