Rivals, part 1: Silver

Silver as depicted in the remakes, Heart Gold and Soul Silver.

Right, well, I was going to do a thing on Mega Evolution, but the thought occurs that trying to write that at a point in time when everyone in the world except for me has played Alpha Sapphire and Omega Ruby would probably lead to silly places.  That being the case, then, the plan is to do the rivals now – I’m not going to write about Blue, because he’s already covered in my old Champions series, and I don’t think there’s all that much to be gained by going over him again; I’m also going to delay May/Brendan and Wally to the end, since it wouldn’t make a whole lot of sense to talk about them before playing Alpha Sapphire.  That means that the second-generation rival, Silver, is first up, and then we’ll skip to Barry and Dawn/Lucas in the fourth generation.  For the next couple of months, Jim the Editor and I will be discussing the lot of them in a series of increasingly pointless conversations, which we will inflict upon you here.  Welcome to the blog, Jim.

Hey.

So, where do we start this?

I don’t think we need to go through everything that happens in the games; your readers all know that stuff.  You answered a question a little while ago saying that Silver is your favourite rival.  I think you should start by backing up that statement.

Hmm.  All right.  What I like about Silver – and I think I might have talked about this before – is his character development.  First of all, he has character development, which, let us note, was kind of a step forward for the series at that point!  Second, though… Silver is a dick.  He’s abrasive, obnoxious, sullen, and unpleasant.  Through being with his Pokémon and fighting with them, he learns to open up to them and love them, care for them, like Lance tells him he has to (and just as an aside here, I like the way his Golbat doesn’t evolve until the very end, despite being a very high level – since the original Gold and Silver were the games that introduced evolution based on friendship, I think it’s likely that this was intentional and meaningful).  And having successfully done that, at the end of it all… he’s still a dick.  He’s still abrasive, obnoxious, sullen and unpleasant.  He’s noticeably a better person by the end of the game, but he’s still the same person – I think the overall effect is much more realistic than if he had just turned into a nice person through the magic of friendship or whatever.  Improving himself doesn’t mean that he has to abandon who he is or even what he values, and I think that actually makes the overall character arc not just more real but also more inspiring, in a way.

Yeah, you would.  I don’t think they handled him well at all.

…of course you don’t; that would be too easy.  What problems do you see?

Well, my main problem is that Silver has nothing to do with the story of those games; he just runs alongside it and gets in the way.  In the first generation games, Team Rocket was more incidental to the whole ‘story,’ which, let’s face it, was not about collecting all the Pokémon either but about collecting badges and building up to challenging the Elite Four, and then Blue is the Champion.  He does everything that you do, and even though he never beats you he’s always one step ahead in the gym quest (and usually the Pokédex quest too).  Silver kinda tries to do the same thing as Blue and has the same ambition to be the world’s greatest Pokémon trainer, but he never even comes close.  Blue does get to the very top – becomes “the most powerful trainer in the world” – even if it’s only briefly.  The game gives him recognition as a powerful and worthy rival, which Silver never gets.  Silver tags along after you and loses whenever he fights you; he turns up during the Team Rocket quests but never does anything useful – Blue doesn’t either, but Blue doesn’t care, and neither did the games.  Presumably Silver challenges gyms too but it doesn’t seem like he ever achieves… well, anything.

I don’t think Silver does challenge the Gyms and collect badges though, does he?  I’m not sure that this kind of official recognition is important to him; it kind of seems to go against his whole ‘personal strength’ and ‘despising the weak’ deal.

He visits the Olivine Gym while Jasmine is at the lighthouse, remember?  He wanted to challenge her, but she’s away, so he complains about her being soft.

Oh yeah.  Hmm.  Well, I suppose challenging gyms is a natural way for him to pursue strength and push his limits, even if he doesn’t respect the leaders for their authority.

There’s an easy way to check; is his name on the statues inside the gyms, like Blue’s is in the first generation games?

Hmm.  Good point.  Hang on; let me find my Soul Silver.

It does not; only the player is recorded as a successful challenger.  Silver’s name does not appear.

Well, either way.  He’s not important in the gym quest, and I know you like the contrast between him and Team Rocket and the way the game has two ‘bad guys’ that aren’t automatically on the same team, but he’s not really important in that part of the story either.  And I think at the end of the game he is a broken character.

Broken how?

 'Original flavour' Silver, as depicted in Gold and Silver.  I feel like the newer art gives him a more mature, sophisticated look - appropriately for someone who grew up as the heir of an organised crime syndicate - but maybe that's the difference in the art style.

Look at his dialogue when you beat him in rematches at the Indigo Plateau.  “…Oh, no… I still can’t win after all that training… I…I have to believe more in my Pokémon…” All that ‘character development’ and he’s still never going to beat you!  I think that just goes to show that caring about your Pokémon doesn’t really matter at all; Silver starts to and it doesn’t get him any closer to winning.  The moral of his arc is broken; he does everything he’s supposed to and nothing changes – and he seems like he knows it too; look at how hesitant he sounds compared to all his condescension, confidence and bravado earlier in the game.

Well, I think there he’s sort of a victim of how winning and losing works in single-player Pokémon – not only is its general power curve easy enough that you’re never terribly likely to lose a battle if you know what you’re doing, the games don’t really know how to handle it if you ever do; you just keep going as though nothing had ever happened.  Pokémon’s never really figured out how to make recurring rival-type characters seem competent; just look at… well, just about any of the other characters we’re going to be doing in this series.  I think Silver’s relative power level at the end of the game might also be something that wasn’t quite thought through all the way; on the original Gold and Silver, when the Elite Four didn’t get power-ups after being beaten the first time, Silver’s six Pokémon all finished in their high 40s, which is high enough for him to give Lance a run for his money.  The only characters in the game who were stronger than Lance as Champion, to my memory, were Blue and Red, which actually makes Silver in his final state the fourth most powerful trainer in those games (not counting the player) and very close on the heels of the third.  In terms of objective power, the remakes levelled Silver up just like everyone else, but I don’t think they considered how much weaker he is relative to the rest of the world now; he’s on a par with most of the Kanto Gym Leaders, but he’d have a hard time with the upgraded version of Will, let alone Lance.  And in terms of what he actually does in the game, well, most of Team Rocket are a joke to us, but other characters in the world take them very seriously, so we probably should too – and Silver, as far as we can tell, trounces them every bit as thoroughly as the player does!

I guess all that’s fair.  Still, that doesn’t change the fact that he doesn’t really have the ending he should have; his story doesn’t finish properly.  I would have liked it if, say, he had become a Gym Leader.  He misses out on getting some scene of final closure or at least recognition for how far he’s come.

Well, in fairness, I think the stuff they added in Heart Gold and Soul Silver did a lot to fix that – like when, if you go back to Professor Elm’s lab at the end of the game, one of his assistants tells you how Silver came back to return his starter, but Elm decided to let him keep it, because they had obviously come to care for each other.  Going right back to the beginning to make up for his past actions, and being forgiven for them by the person he wronged, gives the whole thing a very pleasing symmetry, I think.

 Some very early concept art of Silver, along with what appears to be a somewhat feistier primordial version of Ledyba.

Yeah, that bit is definitely good, and it makes a nice tie-in to the franchise’s themes about how being with Pokémon is supposed to make you a better person and all that, but would it have been so hard to actually show us that scene rather than just telling us later that it happened?  It could have made a really good character moment!

Mmm… point taken.  How about the double battle with Lance and Clair in the Dragon’s Den?

That does help a lot, actually.  In practice the player will almost certainly carry Silver through that battle, but on the other hand, he does get to beat Lance, and he gets some recognition for his potential.  I still think it leaves him only part of the way through his development, but it’s definitely an improvement over the original games.

What I like about that scene is that it puts his whole character in perspective.  It stresses the stuff I mentioned right at the beginning – how he’s still the same, somewhat unpleasant person, but noticeably calmer and more cooperative – as well as reminding us that Lance doesn’t see him as a bad person or even as an enemy, just a kid who wound up on the wrong path for a while, which is important for Lance’s characterisation as well.  There is one more nice end-game bit the remakes add to Silver; the scene that comes with the Celebi event, where we see Silver talking to Giovanni.

Right; I think we should talk about that.  Do you like it?

Yeah, I do, actually.  I think it provides a good explanation for everything we’ve seen of Silver’s character up to that point.  When Giovanni loses to Red and disbands Team Rocket, what young Silver sees is that his father’s reliance on the power of his organisation counted for nothing in the end because his own personal strength failed him, and that this is what comes of relying on others.  They’ve really gone back and thought about the way the original games presented the character and his motivations and values, and the result is a backstory that ties it all together very neatly.  What do you think?

It’s good, and I like it; it just doesn’t do enough to grab me.  There’s no follow-up to it because Silver isn’t the point of the event – the fight with Giovanni is – and although getting the origins of the character is nice it doesn’t do anything to fix his lack of a satisfying ending.  And it shouldn’t have been put in that Celebi event, where a lot of players outside Japan and the US never got the chance to see it; it’s just dumb to hide something so important to his characterisation like that.

Mmm.  Agreed, I suppose.  Well, I think that’s everything we planned to cover for today… as long as we’re here, do you think we should talk about the other ‘rival’ from Heart Gold and Soul Silver?

Huh?  What other rival?

You know, the annoying kid from New Bark Town with the Marill who just kind of wanders around uselessly and never actually fights you.

Oh.  Yes.  That one.

Um…do you… want to?

…not really, no.

Good.

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