In the early Pokémon games, opponents did not get much characterization. In Pokémon Yellow, we would see people like Brock, Misty, Jessie, James, and Gary. Sometimes, we would battle them more than once. But each one tended to have a little bit of flavor text, then disappear. With Pokémon: Let’s Go, Eevee! and Pikachu!, Game Freak was able to take more cues from games like Pokémon Black and White, X and Y, and Sun and Moon. The more important NPCs we see have more meaning and weight to them, their appearances help enhance and move the story, and the game may feel richer to people for it.
The rival character is a good example of this, because the fellow trainer who sets out on the Pokémon: Let’s Go, Eevee! and Pikachu!’s journey with you is not competing with you. This is not like Red and Blue (or Ash and Gary, if you prefer). I got the impression that he was just a fellow Pallet Town resident, my neighbor, and my friend. Maybe more though, considering an interaction that happened when going from Cerulean to Vermillion where the screen cut to black. While the two of you will fight, they are very much friendly battles and he is just as likely to join up with you to go somewhere and do something. For example, you will visit the S.S. Anne together, and the two of you will climb Lavender Town’s tower together. He never follows alongside you like the co-op trailer, but there is a sense that this is a teammate and friend.
Speaking of a friendly face, Blue has some absolutely wonderful character development over the course of Pokémon: Let’s Go, Eevee! and Pikachu!. Rather than have Red appear as some sort of mentor figure, he appears. He is older, wiser, and more mellow than his Pokémon Red, Blue, and Yellow appearances, though some remnants of that behavior appear with him using, “Smell ya later” as a way to say goodbye. He is a reassuring force throughout the game, and it seems a respected one too. After all, he was on the S.S. Anne cruise for elite trainers. Seeing him constantly reappear and provide encouragement, showing how he has changed, and then seeing the role he takes in the endgame, makes it feel like a natural progression for him.
Misty and Brock also get a chance to do more than just sit in their gyms in Pokémon: Let’s Go, Eevee! and Pikachu!. After defeating Lt. Surge, you’ll run into Misty in Vermillion City. You exchange pleasantries. She’s the one who alerts you to the Diglett’s Cave shortcut, before she leaves to head out for a swim. Brock shows up again in Celadon City. Instead of getting a drink from the department store for the thirsty guards blocking entry to Saffron City, Brock offers you some tea that ends up being the key inside. It makes these companions that mattered in the original anime series more important. Plus, it also shows us that these gym leaders have lives. They don’t spend all of their time in their respective towns. They get time to travel around Kanto too.
Even Jessie and James are more personable. They come across as the more affably evil Team Rocket members we know and love from the various anime adaptations, rather than token characters. We see them bumble their way through Mt. Moon. When we head to the Game Center in Celadon City, they’re spending more time playing games than actually participating in Team Rocket activities in the basement below. Then, perhaps as a means of balancing out their ineptitude, we have Archer from Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilver to appear as an actually menacing underling of Giovanni.
Pokémon: Let’s Go, Eevee! and Pikachu! takes the time to develop these ancillary characters we encounter on our journey. These people may end up mattering more as a result, because they aren’t people we fight once or twice with little or no background. We get to learn more about people like our new rival and Blue. We watch Brock and Misty, as well as Jessie and James, do more. They get to matter more here, which is a pleasant thing to see.
Pokémon: Let’s Go, Eevee! and Pikachu! are available for the Nintendo Switch.