Okay. Just me this time. Jim’s played Omega Ruby, but not X or Y, so he’s not terribly familiar with Serena/Calem and the rest of the gang from X and Y. Let’s… see if I can still write one of these on my own, then. So, first impressions, then; what do we think of the X/Y rivals?
…right, right; it’s just me. Bollocks; this is harder than I remember.
Well, let’s just start with a quick recap of who these idiots are. We’ve had multiple rivals for a while now. Ruby and Sapphire had May/Brendan and Wally; Diamond and Pearl had Lucas/Dawn and Barry. Then Black and White gave us Bianca and Cheren, who we’ve talked about already, and they were the first pair of rival characters who are set up to be equally important to the story, and to strongly contrast each other. Where Black and White are about duality and opposites, though, X and Y are rather fond of diversity, and so they have a squad of four rivals, and they each have their own shtick. Serena/Calem is the traditional Pokémon rival who cares about training and competition, and wants to become a great Pokémon Master, just like the player character is presumed to. Tierno is friendly, happy and exuberant, and wants to have a Pokémon dance troupe. Trevor is a quiet, introspective genius, and wants to become a researcher like Professor Sycamore. Shauna is excitable, with an insatiable appetite for new experiences, and wants to… um… I don’t know; be Shauna, I guess. All of them receive their first Pokémon from Professor Sycamore at more or less the same time as you do (a couple of days earlier, in Trevor and Tierno’s case), and travel Kalos at the same pace, although only Serena/Calem (as the “main” rival) actually earns badges; the others focus on their own respective interests. With the player, these four can be parsed fairly easily as a classic “five man band” [warning: TvTropes will ruin your life] of the Leader (your character), the Lancer (Serena or Calem), the Big Guy (Tierno, although he’s more of a literal “big guy” than most examples), the Smart Guy (Trevor) and the Chick (Shauna). That isn’t necessarily deliberate; the five man band is just a versatile way of schematising group dynamics in fiction, where authors generally want each of their characters to fulfil distinct roles.
Serena (if the player is a boy) or Calem (if the player is a girl) is the child of two extremely powerful Pokémon trainers, but denies that this matters when Shauna raises the subject; they want to be strong and achieve victory on their own merits, and are perhaps uncomfortable with the notion that they inherited their strength rather than earning it. It’s implied that Professor Sycamore originally intended for Calem or Serena to be the only child from Vaniville Town to go on a Pokédex quest for him, apparently because of their parentage, but changed his mind when he heard of the player’s arrival in Kalos – again, apparently because of your parentage, the player’s mother being a famous Rhyhorn jockey (family matters in the Pokémon universe!). In keeping with their names, taken from “serene” and “calm,” Serena and Calem are generally thoughtful and methodical – Serena perhaps a little more so; she tends to speak in a slightly more formal way, though the substance of everything they say and do is pretty much the same. As the “primary” rivals, they regularly battle both with and against the player over the course of the storyline, and represent the competitive spirit of Pokémon training. And… to be honest, they’re nothing we haven’t seen before. They’re like Cheren without his obsessiveness, Barry without his exuberance, or Blue without his general all-around douchebaggery. Other than seeming to develop slight feelings of inferiority after losing to you several times, then getting over it at the end of the story, they’re mostly just a representation of the “typical” trainer – the kind of person the games expect the player character to be. They also get to be the mouthpieces those wonderfully bizarre lines about how maybe we should have tried to “meet halfway” with Team Flare and Lysandre. And… y’know, I get that Pokémon is very fond of the idea that any sort of extremism can be bad, and I get the message that negotiation, compromise, and allowing yourself to question your own ideas are good things, but… no. No, Serena/Calem, we definitely can agree, in this one solitary instance, that the guy trying to wipe out life on Earth with an ancient doomsday device was in the wrong. I think that’s objectively true, and I’m not even sure I believe in objective morality. Now, if Serena/Calem had actually been convinced by Lysandre’s crackpot ideas about social order (and if Lysandre himself hadn’t completely vaulted off a moral precipice), then that might have been interesting. Alas, ‘twas not to be. Anyway. Moving on.
The other three kids fill another role that we should, by now, be familiar with – “rival” characters who aren’t necessarily all that into Pokémon battling. Sure, they’ll do it, because it’s fun and helps their Pokémon to grow; they may even get very good at it, but it’s not really what they’re here for. The point of having them around is mostly to show that, contrary to what our general experience of the game might suggest, Pokémon really isn’t all about battling; in fact, for most people battles are more of a hobby than a serious competitive sport. That in itself, I think, says something about what the designers believe they’re trying to do here (although, having said that, the games do usually treat you as one of the relatively few people for whom battles are srs bsns). So here’s rival number two: Tierno.
According to the anime, Tierno is from Santalune City, and nothing in the games contradicts that, so I shall believe it. He’s irrepressibly cheerful and friendly, and his main interest is dance; he loves dancing and wants to train his Pokémon to perform as a dance troupe. Tierno never really does much other than give you some tutorial dialogue on how to do things like get your Pokémon healed. I rather like having him around though, because he basically tells the game’s audience “it’s cool for boys to be into dancing,” which is one of those ‘girly’ activities that boys are often told, implicitly or explicitly, that they shouldn’t like. It’s nice to see a character who just does what he loves, regardless of what people might think, especially since Tierno is undeniably a rather rotund boy. No-one ever tells Tierno that he shouldn’t or can’t be a dancer, and it’s easy to imagine how his friends (and, indeed, Tierno himself) would react to anyone who did. I don’t know whether all this is what the writers intended; heck, I don’t even know whether Japan considers dancing a primarily feminine activity the way most of “the West” does, but I’m calling it out as something I like anyway, accident or design. Tierno’s love of dancing is clearly infectious; his Pokémon all learn from him, and we see that they’re learning from him because they all use dance-related techniques. His starter Pokémon is a Corphish, which, I would like to point out, is a terrible thing to give a kid as his first Pokémon because Corphish are ornery little jerks, but it seems to work for him: Tierno’s Corphish knows Swords Dance when you first battle him, long before it would ever learn the technique normally. When Tierno, Trevor and Shauna all battle you near the end of the game, Tierno has picked up a Talonflame with Swords Dance and a Roserade with Petal Dance, and when partnered with you in the Battle Maison, he uses a Hawlucha with Feather Dance. His cultural pursuits also shape the way his Pokémon fight, and apparently are the source of a good deal of their strength. The last thing I want to mention about Tierno is his fondness for nicknames – he’s the one who originally suggests that the gang should give you a nickname when you all meet for the first time in Aquacorde Town, and he calls Shauna “Shaunee” and Trevor “Trevs.” It’s part of general friendliness and his casual attitude to all things in life, but there is something much more important for you to know here: in the German version of the game (which I have been playing for my ongoing Nuzlocke in order to make my life needlessly difficult and fail to improve my German), Trevor’s name is Trovato. Tierno’s nickname for him?
Told you it was important.
And that brings us seamlessly to Trevor, Tierno’s best friend. Trevor seems to be from Lumiose City, and you can meet his older sister there. He’s small, a little shy but very curious, quite analytical, and occasionally rather impatient with Tierno’s flightier attitude, though that never seems to get in the way of their friendship. Trevor’s priority throughout the game’s story is working on the Pokédex, and he will regularly challenge you to what he calls “[his] own kind of Pokémon battle” – comparing Pokédexes to see whose is more complete. As far as I can tell, he always loses. I can’t help but feel this must be a touch dispiriting for the poor little guy; working on the Pokédex is, after all, his schtick, while the player is at least as dedicated to climbing the ranks of Pokémon trainers as working on Professor Sycamore’s vaguely-defined Pokédex project. To his credit, though, Trevor never lets this get him down. In fact, he’s actually happy whenever he finds out you’ve shared the same experience of meeting a particular Pokémon. Trevor’s only real moment in the spotlight is when he encounters Team Flare and fights them with you in the Frost Cavern outside Dendemille Town, overcoming his usual timidity to protect the Abomasnow being terrorised by Mable and her goons. Along with Tierno, he also helps to free the Pokémon being held captive by Team Flare on the Menhir Trail during the game’s climax, although they freely admit that they left most of the actual fighting to Professor Sycamore’s annoying lab assistants, Sina and Dexio (or, as I prefer to call them, Left and Right). He’s not a fighter by any means, but like all Pokémon heroes, he won’t hesitate to step up when he’s needed. Appropriately enough given his interest in exploring and meeting rare Pokémon, Trevor seems to have a fondness for fossil Pokémon – he uses an Aerodactyl when he, Tierno and Shauna battle you on the way to Snowbelle City, and an Aurorus and a Tyrantrum (who knows Charm, for some reason; I didn’t even realise Tyrantrum could learn Charm) when he appears as a partner in the Battle Maison. His starter, though, is a Flabébé, and I wish I had some comment on that, but I don’t think I see any particular way that choice plays into his character.
The last of our X/Y rivals is the impossibly carefree Shauna. Despite what Bulbapedia will tell you, I’m pretty sure the game never explicitly says where Shauna is from, and I actually think she’s probably from Aquacorde Town, because Professor Sycamore’s dialogue implies that all four of the rival characters are from different places (he mentions originally intending to give a Pokédex to one child from each of several towns, but making an exception in the case of Vaniville Town when he heard about the player). She’s even more excitable and friendly than Tierno, and the text of her dialogue in the game is often punctuated with musical notes. I’m not 100% sure what that means, exactly – I assume she doesn’t actually sing in ordinary conversation, but maybe the notes represent humming or whistling. Tierno, Trevor and Shauna all fill a similar place to Bianca in the previous generation, in that they’re trainers for whom battling isn’t everything, but Shauna is the one who’s most similar; where Tierno and Trevor have very definite ambitions, Shauna has no idea what she wants to do or what she really stands for, and her Pokémon journey, to some extent, is about finding out. In her own words, she’s “kinda just goofing around.” Shauna is a glutton for new experiences – whether it’s the grandeur of the Parfum Palace, the brilliance of the Prism Tower, or the promise of a “haunted house” that turns out to be just an old man telling a dumb story, Shauna’s all about making new memories. Where for the others, Pokémon training is a path to a goal, for Shauna, having Pokémon represents freedom – to travel, to make new friends, to see new things. And that’s important, because for most people, the freedom of Pokémon trainers to go just about anywhere and do just about anything in relative safety has to be a much bigger deal than anything we spend time thinking about as players. Any experience Shauna could want is hers for the taking, and she savours every last one – not a bad example to be setting, I think.
Like all the others, Shauna steps up to fight Team Flare at the end of the game, even though fighting isn’t really what she’s good at. The climax seems to like the idea that everyone in the gang is doing their part to fight Team Flare and save the world, with Trevor and Tierno freeing the Pokémon held prisoner at the standing stones, while Serena/Calem and Shauna come to help you raid the Team Flare complex. Which is great, except that Shauna’s major contribution is just to use the puzzle box given to her by Clemont back in Lumiose City to open the last sealed door in the base. Her special skill is “being given things by eccentric inventors.” Then again, maybe that’s the whole point. Shauna is utterly devoid of useful skills, and she clearly knows that, but she comes along anyway because she wants to help her friends, and is ultimately able to do something really important because of luck and circumstance. The rivals of X and Y are all very different and have very different goals, but the game makes every effort to present them all as being equally good people, all their goals as equally valid, even the one whose goal is pretty much nothing but “goof off.” Ultimately, anyone can make a difference if their heart is in the right place.
Yeeergch, that was corny. Eugh, I feel dirty now. Let’s leave that there. Only one more of these to go, which we’ll get around to just as soon as I can Skype Jim – May/Brendan and Wally, complete with all their new scenes and lines from Alpha Sapphire and Omega Ruby.