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Who Pokémon Sword & Shield's Best Gym Leaders Are (& Why)

Nintendo's Pokémon Sword and Shield introduced many NPCs with unique personalities and refreshing qualities compared to previous games in the Pokémon series. There have always been characters with bigger roles than others in each generation of the games. Sword and Shield have taken the importance of previously simple characters like Gym Leaders and fleshed out their personalities and contributions to the overarching narrative. Because of this, several of Pokémon Sword and Shield's Gym Leaders have become noteworthy favorites for the Pokémon series.

Like previous Pokémon games, players must travel Sword and Shield's Galar region to take on Gym Leaders and collect Gym Badges. However, the game puts a spin on the traditional Pokémon battle, with players facing off against Gym Leaders in sports-themed stadiums after defeating the Gym's challenge. These stadium battles are one of the few instances in which players can utilize the Dynamax and Gigantamax mechanics that are Pokémon Sword and Shield's battle mechanic gimmick. However, several Gym Leaders play a bigger part in the game's narrative than simply posing as a required battle, allowing players to develop connections to these characters.

Related: Who Pokémon Sword & Shield's Worst Gym Leaders Are (& Why)

One of the most influential Pokémon Sword and Shield Gym Leaders is the Dark-type leader Piers. While Piers is absent from a majority of the early game, his appearance as the Seventh Gym Leader and accidental leader of Team Yell paints a picture of what Chairman Rose's influence has done to those who won't bend to his desires. Piers is easy to relate to, with his punk aesthetic and worries of not being good enough both as a big brother and as the leader of his Gym. Piers shoulders the responsibility of Spikemuth's disrepair, as it was his unwillingness to give into Rose and put his Gym over a Power Spot that lead to the town's economic crisis. After being battled in Pokémon Sword & Shield, Piers asks his younger sister to take his place as Gym Leader. While initially declining, Marnie does end up taking the position after the main character becomes Champion, allowing Piers to travel Galar and eventually aid in returning the Rusted Sword and Shield to their places in the Slumbering Weald during the post-game narrative.

Another Gym Leader who becomes a familiar presence in Pokémon Sword & Shield's story is the Dragon-type leader Raihan. First seen battling Leon in the opening cutscene of the game, Raihan is the eighth Gym Leader players will face. His goal is to defeat Sword and Shield's Champion Leon and he considers himself Leon's true rival. Like Piers, Raihan is an easy character to connect with. His goal to become more than second best is heart-wrenching for those who beat him, and his storyline is a glimpse into the potential future of other rivals the player must defeat. Despite this, Raihan is kind and supportive of Leon and does his best as a Gym Leader, even knowing one day a new Champion will likely take Leon's place that may not be him.

Pokémon Sword and Shield gives fans a unique look into the lives of Gym Leaders outside of their place on the battlefield. This new direction in the Pokémon narrative helps put bigger importance on the Gym Leader battles the player must complete and makes the overall story more engaging. Hopefully, future Pokémon games will include NPC storylines similar to those seen in Pokémon Sword and Shield, creating more wonderful characters for players to team up with or battle against during their journeys.

Next: Pokémon Sword & Shield's Train Rides Could Use A Battle System

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