Having a rivalry in a Pokemon game is as core to the foundation as choosing one of three starters. However, unlike the starters, which have consistently been great (in the first stage, at least), the rivalry has had a rocky road of late. Things started off strong, with Blue/Gary perfectly fulfilling the role. Silver, Blue's follow up, is slightly less recognisable, but many hardcore fans (like myself) consider him to be even better. Then things meandered for a little while, leading to the all-time low of Hau. Sword & Shield seemed to be repeating Hau's missteps with Hop, but Marnie and Bede balance it out a little. However, in Nemona, Pokemon appears to have finally figured it out.
Blue and Silver were true rivals to your cause. Blue lived to beat you, even lingering at the top of Silph Co. to challenge you. He could beat Giovanni and get the glory for saving the city, but he has no interest in glory. What he hungers for is blood, and he has a taste for yours. He's mean, he's cocky, and he elevates your game by forcing you to get on his level. You bring out the best in each other, and when you finally snatch glory away from him at the end of it all, it tastes so sweet.
Silver takes things further – he steals his starter Pokemon, and a large part of the game is spent pursuing him. He's a very traditional villain, and that adds an extra edge to dealing with him than we get with Blue. He also has a deeper and more meaningful arc once you see it through to the end. Unfortunately, despite Pokemon's reluctance to change anything about its formula, the rival was sanded down over time to become more of a jolly friend along for the ride. Where Blue forces you to stay on your toes, Hau encourages complacency, doing everything in his power to ensure you have a trouble-free ride with no challenges whatsoever.
Hop is the same, but Marnie acts as a middle-era rival, the jolly old friend who wants to win but knows it’s all about the friends you make along the way. Bede is the true rival of Sword & Shield though. We encounter him the latest of the trio, but he fits the Blue/Silver mode of being a smug villain who grants no quarter and asks for none in return. Sword & Shield strikes a decent balance, but needs three trainers to get there. Scarlet & Violet, fittingly for a game that tries to refresh the formula, throws the old tropes out and gives us a completely new type of rival, and even as the game falls apart, Nemona needs her roses.
Nemona is the female version of a himbo, which sounds like a contradiction in terms. A himbo, after all, is a male bimbo, but it's not so simple. Himbos and bimbos share two common factors: being nice, and being stupid. Bimbos tie this to typically feminine traits, such as a love of pink, fashion, make-up, and pop music, while himbos are drawn to typically male traits, such as a love of the gym, action movies, car chases, and flexing their muscles. Ergo, Nemona is a female himbo. She's a tomboy with a brick for a brain and a heart of gold, and while the world of Paldea feels soulless, the game constantly bugs out, and it all feels like a meek and underbaked attempt at an open world, Nemona makes the journey charming.
Gen 10 is still three years away, but looking ahead to it, just copying Nemona only reproduces the problem. While she's a better archetype than Hau and Hop, making her again and again will quickly get boring. Instead, what Nemona should introduce is the idea of something fresh. Clearly, Pokemon does not want to have a true villain as the rival, but Nemona shows you don't need to fit the rivals into any predetermined boxes – you can simply write them as great characters and go from there. Whether the next rival has more of an edge, is smarter, or even if they're more of a jolly old pal again, they need to be able to stand out as characters on their own. Nemona feels like she could work across a variety of different video games in any number of roles, whereas Hau is always, inescapably, a Pokemon character.
Nemona might never be fully celebrated with the cloud of the broken release and empty gameplay of Scarlet & Violet hanging over her, but she's one of Pokemon's best characters in years, and deserves to be remembered.
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