In retrospect, it makes perfect sense that I would be writing this, because one of the first decisions we see Hop, the rival trainer of Pokemon: Sword & Shield make is choosing the starter Pokemon that is weakened by the one he just saw you choose.
Folks, let’s talk about how Hop sucks as a Pokemon trainer.
The following contains spoilers for Pokemon: Sword & Shield. If you haven’t beaten either of the games yet, do yourself a favor and do that first. Or read on. I’m not your father.
This isn’t to say that Hop isn’t a well-realized character. Quite the opposite. He’s one of the best, most consistent players in a story that frankly can’t say that for several of its cast. But the dude is just not cut out for this Pokemon training business, and I’m still sussing out whether or not this truth is intentional as part of an actual genius melding of game mechanics and story on developer Game Freak’s part or just an example of Pokemon: Sword & Shield having terrible AI.
Hop is already reaching meme status for his apparent lack of Pokemon battling knowhow. And no, I don’t mean something like having to send out a poor monster matchup, I’m talking about how homeboy just seems to not have the knowledge necessary to anticipate when he’s about to be on the receiving end of a “super effective” attack that weakens his Pokemon. Throughout the entire game, he’s marveling at your ability to know that an electric attack is going to do a whole lot of damage to his flying-type Corviknight.
Hop, throwing Rock for the 208th time in our frequent RPS matches as i throw Paper: ah. so i see you've mastered Type match-ups.
— eric (vacation) (@seamoosi) November 18, 2019
Me: knocks Hop the fuck out
Hop, spitting out a tooth: Wow! You sure do know about type matchups huh
— Blinker City History Major @ FC (@sarcastickoopa) November 18, 2019
Hop: “Wow! You already know your type matchups, huh?”
Hop: “I bet you’ve never been in a pokemon center before!”
Me, a seasoned pokemon player: pic.twitter.com/YhtcmiVp7Z
— Pinkvaporgaming (@PinkVaporGaming) November 19, 2019
But it doesn’t stop there. There are several times in Sword & Shield where you have to do battle with this guy as your teammate. So, okay, we’ve established Hop doesn’t understand type matchups, and is honestly floored that you have managed to pick up on them, but I’ve honed in on that he specifically doesn’t grasp one in particular: normal-type moves are not very effective against steel-type Pokemon.
There are a couple of points near the end of the game where Hop is your partner in crime for long stretches against some villainous folks who always seem to come out in pairs. These pairs want to do Pokemon battling. Which is fine, because that seems to be the only form of conflict resolution anyone in this universe understands, even when it’s about things like cataclysmic terrorism. But near the end of the game, when you’re ascending a tower to confront secret villain Chairman Rose, every one of his henchmen seems to be using a steel-type Pokemon. As a rule, Hop sends out his Dubwool, whose normal-type ass only seems to know normal-type moves, or Hop chooses to make the poor sheep use only those moves.
In the post-game, when two brothers named Sordward & Shielbert, whose hair must be full of product to be able to achieve the shape of a sword and shield, are wreaking havoc across the Galar region, Hop joins up with you in tag team battles where he utilizes the same ineffective tactics, to the point where I ended up fighting these brothers on my own after his Pokemon fainted. Did the game give me the second slot to use one of my other Pokemon to make this a fair fight? No, it did not.
As I had to take on two Pokemon at once all by my lonesome, I started reflecting on Hop’s journey that had been happening alongside mine. At this point, I was the champion of the Galar region. I’d managed to get through the game with minimal difficulty. Outside of a few battles with champion Leon, gym leader Raihan, and Chairman Rose, after he’d revealed himself to be the big bad, Pokemon: Shield was smooth sailing for me. Conversely, Hop had been having some real trouble. He talks a big game, but the dude loses several times in the main plot, whether it’s to the player, Bede, or the brother in the post-game, and it rattles him, rightfully so. He’s the younger brother of Leon, the champion and hero of the Galar region. People love this dude, and there’s a lot of pressure for his brother, however self-imposed it may be, to live up to the hype. And ultimately, he doesn’t. But by the end, it seems like Hop has come to the same conclusions I had.
- Pokemon Sword and Shield is a Lesson in Moving On
- One Odd Design Choice Undermines the Climax of Pokemon Sword and Shield
- The Five Pokemon You Meet in Hell Because I Sent Them There
After one final battle between me and Hop, he told me that after all this time he realized he was trying to live up to other people’s ideas of him. He’d proven time and time again that he couldn’t. He didn’t make it to the Pokemon League finals to face his brother, he was repeatedly bested when he tried to ascend the ranks, and for the love of god, he couldn’t figure out type matchups. He then decides that he wants to be a Pokemon professor instead of a trainer. And you know what? That path sounds just about perfect for him.
Hop is an incredibly easy target for his incompetence, his inflated expectations of himself, and that he thinks he’s got a place to be talking smack at you when you’re beating his Pokemon left and right. But in the character’s final moments, he finally catches up to the rest of us and gets in on the joke.
I genuinely wonder if Hop’s awful tactics when I was fighting alongside him were just a sign of Pokemon’s AI just being a mess, or whether or not it was all hinting at where he’d end up. Perhaps it doesn’t matter, but whatever the explanation may be, it all sold me on Hop being one of the best characters in Sword and Shield who doesn’t deserve all the ridicule he’s had sent his way.
Only some of it.