WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for the following:
Pokémon Black & White
Pokémon Black 2 & White 2
Pokémon Diamond & Pearl
Pokémon Fire Red & Leaf Green
Pokémon Red & Blue
Pokémon Sun & Moon
Pokémon Ultra Sun & Ultra Moon
Pokémon X & Y
Last week, it was revealed that the upcoming Pokémon Ultra Sun & Ultra Moon would mark the return of Team Rocket – now under the new guise of Team Rainbow Rocket – and will consist of every main villain in the series thus far (at least in terms of the main games). Villainous team-ups are always great, so being able to see all these familiar antagonists return and getting another chance to kick their asses has got a lot of people excited, including me.
Battling the leaders of these diabolical organisations has always been the highlights of the series but, now that they’re all in a game together, how do they fare against each other? Which of them is as mighty as Mewtwo and who’s just as boring as Burmy? Let’s find out by subjecting them to a Random Ranking!
First, some quick notes:
- This will only focus on the main villains as shown in the announcement trailer. Lusamine and Guzma will not be included since they serve as antagonists for the main game and aren’t affiliated with Rainbow Rocket
- Faba will also not be included since, while the image above indicates he’s working for Rainbow Rocket, he was never a previous organisation’s leader
- I will be judging Maxie and Archie on their portrayals in the original Pokémon Ruby/Sapphire/Emerald rather than the remakes since it’s the original versions of them that appear in Ultra Sun & Ultra Moon
- This ranking may be updated after I play Ultra Sun & Ultra Moon and I discover any new details
Right, now that the boring stuff’s out of the way, on to the ranking!
I’ve briefly expressed my disdain for Lysandre in the past. Despite having all the makings of a good antagonist, his overall execution just fails. I never found him intimidating or threatening; every encounter with him left me either bored or frustrated.
It’s not like he was particularly challenging either. Admittedly, X & Y were much easier games overall so this issue wasn’t unique to him, but it still left a sour taste being able to trounce him so easily. I think the last fight you had with him was a little bit tougher due to his Mega Gyarados but not by much.
But what about his actual character? Surely that could make up for the lack of difficulty. Well, it would if Lysandre wasn’t about as interesting as a wet sock. Actually, I take that back. Wet socks are more interesting than him. I mean, his plan was decent (essentially commit genocide against the human race to make the world “beautiful”) but, I don’t know, there was something about that that didn’t feel like it matched with the character, at least visually.
With previous villains, you got a sense of what they were about and what they wanted just from how they looked. I didn’t get that with Lysandre aside from “Well, he’s obviously the bad guy.” And then the game spends so much time pretending that he wasn’t the villain, despite everything about him screaming “I’m the leader of Team Flare.” Hell, he even talks like a villain, constantly monologuing about how imperfect the world is and that it needs to be more beautiful, but apparently that doesn’t set off any alarm bells with anyone. I think this video just sums it up perfectly.
Oh, and can I mention how dumb he looks during the final battle? What is that machine meant to be? I almost wanted to laugh at him when he showed up wearing that. The only reason I didn’t was because I was too annoyed.
TL;DR, Lysandre is easily the weakest main antagonist the series has had, in my opinion. He couldn’t even be entertaining in his insanity; just kind of annoying. And while his return as part of Rainbow Rocket is cool, I’m not exactly thrilled to listen to him monologue again.
I’m kind of cheating here by placing Maxie and Archie in the same spot but, to be honest, it’s because I pretty much have the exact same opinion on them. While they are perfectly serviceable villains, there’s nothing about them I find particularly noteworthy, and they’re too similar to each other to make me like one more than the other.
Granted, that could’ve been intentional considering their dynamic in the Gen 3 games, and their opposing ideologies gave those games’ stories a unique edge over other entries in the series. But if you look at them individually, they don’t exactly stand out. The only real differences are that Maxie is more stern and serious while Archie’s a lot more affable and boisterous.
It also doesn’t help that their plans are really, really stupid. I liked the idea of having them be essentially eco-terrorists and that, while villainous, their reasons for doing what they did were somewhat understandable and well-meaning (Maxie wants to make the world a better place for humans while Archie wants to do the same for Pokémon). It’s just a shame that they didn’t think their plans over for more than a minute and realise how expanding land mass and flooding the world would completely screw over the ecosystem and basically make the planet uninhabitable for millions of people and Pokémon. Like, come on guys, even children know that’s stupid.
Had it been their Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire versions that joined Rainbow Rocket, I’d probably have placed them higher in the ranking since they were much more developed and entertaining. As for original Maxie and Archie, they’re just kind of OK. Not the worst, but far from being the best.
I always imagined Cyrus would place pretty low in the ranking but, to my surprise, I’m much more fond of him than I realised. Much like Maxie and Archie, he’s by no means a poor antagonist. In fact, his biggest crime is that he’s a bit boring, which is probably due to his lack of emotions. The other villains on this list have such larger-than-life personalities that it almost makes Cyrus stick out like a sore thumb. But, I think you could argue that his emotionlessness works in his favour.
It makes him very threatening in his own way. It makes him harder to predict and more methodical. At no point does he allow himself to get angry or frustrated; it’s probably why he’s able to very nearly succeed with his plans. Other villains always had a twinge of humanity within them; something that we could recognise. Cyrus has none of that. His nihilism is taken to such an extreme that it makes him come across as completely soulless. One of the scariest kinds of bad guys, I think, are the ones where trying to talk them down is not an option, and Cyrus pulls that off pretty well.
Plus, it makes the few times he snaps all the more impactful. You finally get a glimpse at the madness lurking underneath. He has truly let himself be consumed by this ideology that the human spirit should be removed in order to perfect the world. Weirdly, it’s much more intimidating and horrifying than Lysandre’s “blow everything up” scheme. The whole “rewrite reality” thing is typical generic doomsday stuff but it’s still effective and the games (especially Platinum) do a good job at capturing how disastrous such an event would be. In retrospect, it makes Cyrus the most ambitious villain in the ranking.
And, to round things up, unlike other villains, Cyrus is ultimately never punished… sort of. In Diamond & Pearl, he simply vows to return after his plans are foiled. In Platinum, his fate is much worse, choosing to remain in the Distortion World so that he can discover more of its secrets and use them to further his goal. And considering how the Distortion World doesn’t exactly look habitable and his only company would be the very hostile Giratina, the closest thing the series has had to an eldritch abomination… well, I’ll leave you to your own conclusions.
Cyrus may not have left much of an impression during my first run through the Gen 4 games, but I’ve grown to appreciate him a lot more over the years, and am pretty pumped to see him stay true to his vow to come back.
I feel like Ghetsis shouldn’t be this high in the ranking. He’s not super interesting or complex, his design is too busy and he has a very standard “take over the world” goal. Yet despite all that, he’s still one of my favourite villains in the series, and I think that’s partly due to his simplicity (at least in terms of character and not design because God damn, what IS he wearing?!).
He’s just very entertaining in how despicable he is. While all the previous villains I’ve mentioned commit terrible crimes, their plans did spring from relatively good intentions i.e. improving the world. Ghetsis, on the other hand, only craves power. All he wants is to rule, and he will achieve it by any means necessary.
He actually managed to leave quite an impact on me despite his limited role in Black & White. Although his plan was really stupid (use Team Plasma’s activism to convince everybody to release their Pokémon, making him the only one with Pokémon so he could take over), I kind of liked how he stayed in the shadows, quietly manipulating N while maintaining a well-meaning facade. Plus, the final battle against him was quite the challenge and very cathartic once his true colours were revealed.
But Ghetsis really gets to shine in the sequels, where he finally becomes a straight up super-villain, complete with a more sinister outfit, genuine acts of terrorism (i.e. his freezing of Opelucid City) and is more openly honest in how evil he is. He even attempts to murder the player character by having Kyurem stab them with MULTIPLE GIANT ICICLES. There is no ambiguity with him; get in his way and he will kill you.
And once he loses, once his plans are completely foiled, he doesn’t accept defeat with dignity nor does he accept N’s forgiveness and offer for redemption. He just breaks down; all his anger and malice slowly deflates until he’s nothing but a gibbering vegetable. It’s almost sad seeing him get consumed by his own hatred and despair.
Ghetsis may have lacked complexity, but between his megalomania, his treatment and attitude towards Pokémon and his emotional abuse towards his (adopted) son, he is easily the most fun to hate. That being said, though, he’s not quite the best.
A small part of me hates how, even though we’ve had more well-rounded, more complex and grander antagonists since the original games, it’s still Giovanni who rises to the top. Maybe nostalgia is a big player in this decision, but while I consider Ghetsis as probably my favourite villain, Giovanni is undeniably the best, and that might just be because he’s the one with the least amount of problems.
Compared to later villains, he’s the most simple of the bunch. He was a mob boss; the leader of a terrorist organisation who sought world domination. Unlike Ghetsis, who was more willing to show his face, Giovanni deliberately kept himself hidden. For the longest time, nobody knew who the leader of Team Rocket was, which made the reveal of him being the last Gym Leader you had to beat so great. I don’t think we’ve ever had a villain-related reveal be this surprising.
His attitude helped as well. Sure, most of the villains I’ve mentioned so far have decent personalities but Giovanni exudes pure confidence, even when he’s defeated. We never really see him have some mental breakdown like the rest of the villains. After his defeat at Viridian Gym, he just goes into hiding, abandoning Team Rocket. In the end, he’s never really punished for his crimes.
But even then, his departure isn’t him accepting defeat completely. He promises to return in due time, once he’s become even stronger and, when he does, he’ll take Team Rocket and ensure that the world will become his. And as of Ultra Sun & Ultra Moon, he’s made good on his promise. The fact that it’s him who’s united all these past antagonists perfectly proves why he’s top dog.
Simple but sleek design, simple aspirations, simple plan, cool and collected demeanour, intelligent and always a challenge; nearly everything about Giovanni works, and his lack of foibles makes him undeniably the best villain the Pokémon series has had. But as great as it is to see him return and take centre stage in a show of forces, it’s going to be even greater kicking his ass back to Kanto.