Pokémon has been a part of our lives for 25 years as of this very day of posting! Am I the only one thinking how crazy that is? It has been a pleasure to revel in my own nostalgia and memories these past few weeks with you all!
I truly have no clue how many hundreds (thousands?) of hours I’ve spent across the eight generations of this beloved franchise! I pumped way over 300 hours into X Version alone, and that’s not counting my numerous playthroughs of Generation 1, 2, 3, their respective remakes and re-releases, and at least one game from every generation of the franchise.
As with all great series, though, some entries rise above the rest for their quality, additional features, and how much they expand on the “same old” formula while still maintaining familiarity and a loyalty to the core fanbase. I’m going to do my best at ranking and justifying my picks for the Pokémon series’ greatest and weakest entries. I’m only going to consider the “main” games of each generation and not remakes of older games, as most of the time the features line up closely enough that they don’t warrant any differing consideration.
One final word before I begin this final post, if you haven’t caught on already: I LOVE POKéMON! This list might be ranked, but I loved and enjoyed each game immensely when I played it. This is just my attempt at making conversation on the merits of each generation. With all that out of the way, let’s do this and finish the 25th Anniversary strong!
8. Generation 4: Diamond, Pearl, Platinum
It might fall at the bottom of my list, but the fourth generation of Pokémon is still widely revered by Pokéfans to this day (especially Platinum). These games tried hard to refine a formula that was already strong, adding in greater distinction to Move Types. For instance, Fire attacks were no longer entirely Special Attacks but were classified based on the actual move itself (e.g. Flamethrower is Special, Fire Punch is Physical, Will O’ Wisp is Status). Diamond and Pearl also initiated the ability for players to trade and battle online with other players rather than needing a Link Cable to connect systems. They made it possible to interact with friends without requiring them to be sitting right next to you. Another minor but fun feature was the beginning of featuring gender differences for certain Pokémon, such as female Gyarados having white whiskers instead of the classic blue.
Despite its good, however, Generation 4 did little else to enhance the franchise- it is remarkably similar to its predecessors. It also continued the unfortunate trend of increasing the number of new legendary Pokémon to catch- up to 15 from Generation 3’s already-enormous 10! The Pokémon franchise has been oversaturated with legendary creatures for a while now and the fourth generation was where this issue really gained traction.
Generation 4 wasn’t bad, but it also didn’t add a lot of good. For this reason, it’s rounding out the bottom of my list.
7. Generation 7: Sun, Moon, Ultra Sun, Ultra Moon
Following up from there we have Generation 7- the precursor to the current Generation (as of this writing). Sun and Moon continued to push into the 3D groundwork laid by X and Y, improving upon the in-game character models by making them more proportional than the Generation 6 “chibi” people. These games also broke away from the stereotype of conquering 8 gyms to challenge the Pokémon League- a first for the series (and possibly last, after Generation 8 reverted back to that system) that shook up a cemented formula. It also included Z-Moves as a special, one-time attack per battle that players could use to overcome particularly difficult enemies. Once the game was beaten, players gained access to a special resort area where they could continue their story post-game, as well as participate in extra challenges like the cooperative Global Missions.
One of my personal favorite aspects of Gen 7 was the Alolan varieties of creatures we’d already seen before. Experiencing old creatures with new types and appearances made for a nostalgia trip that simultaneously felt fresh. Sun and Moon also ditched the HM (Hidden Machine) functionality of previous games. Players could call upon specific Pokémon Helpers to Surf, use Strength, etc., instead of forcing their team to carry certain useless HM moves for navigation. A welcome improvement!
But while Generation 7 innovated and smoothed out some of the series’ features, it also hurt a few others. Much like Generation 4 above, Gen 7 continued to oversaturate the legendary Pokémon scene with its 9 legendaries and 11 Ultra Beasts for a grand total of 20 new hard-to-catch Mons! It also mostly did away with Mega Evolution- a feature added just recently in Gen 6- and only included it in the post-game segments. But my biggest gripe of all is the game’s cutscenes. Sun and Moon might be the most hand-holdy entries in the franchise. I felt like I couldn’t even start a new Route without someone “showing” me the way… down a straight, one-way road.
Generation 7 did its fair share of introducing new features, but it also fell prey to its overuse of cutscenes and legendary Pokémon and thus lands second to last in my rankings.
6. Generation 1: Red, Blue, Yellow (in the U.S.)
Are you surprised? I know I was when I finally settled on a spot for these games that started it all and saw how low it was on the totem pole. Pokémon Red and Blue were truly life-changing for me, and on so many levels. I made good friends in grade school simply because we had a shared interest in these games that allowed you to catch and train creatures, teach them new moves, evolve them into stronger forms, and then trade and battle them with each other via Link Cable. All of us had our own teams and our own favorites. Pokémon Red and Blue (and eventually Yellow) laid the groundwork for an entire franchise, not the least of which was a series of incredible video games.
But these nostalgic games are far from perfect. They might still be a blast to play to this very day, but they are incredibly unbalanced (and glitchy, as so many of us discovered with Missingno. and the item duplication glitch). While there are 151 Pokémon to catch, there is a disparity in the amount of creatures available for the different types (only 3 Dragon-types but 32 Water-types) and the moves they can learn. Psychic-types were nearly unstoppable because Bug-types had no strong moves available and the Ghost-types were also paired with Poison- a type weak to Psychic. This made it quite easy to call the shots if your team had even two or three powerful Psychic Mons.
But the issues extend beyond balance. HMs were required for players to progress beyond certain points. While this was done with the intention of keeping players out of areas that would be too highly leveled, it also handicapped the Pokémon that would need to keep an HM move in place of something that might be better (since only four move slots are available to each Mon). The sprite art of the Pokémon was also pretty terrible. Ken Sugimori did a masterful job of translating the sprites into official artwork that later became the true version of the creatures that we see today. Even now, it hurts to replay the games and see how rough even some of my favorite creatures looked.
Pokémon Generation 1 may have sparked the franchise into existence, but it had a lot of improvements to make if it also wanted to be considered a quality series. It’s rough edges hurt it a lot in its overall ranking.
5. Generation 8: Sword, Shield
Pokémon’s newest Generation 8 took some good steps in the right direction for the franchise. While previous games contained players to fairly linear routes, Sword and Shield added an extra area that links several areas of the Galar map together in one, expansive Wild Area. This new region is portrayed in full 3D so that players can rotate the camera at will. There are numerous beacons scattered throughout the Wild Area (and in each Pokémon Gym) that let players take part in Dynamax battles- fights against gargantuan Pokémon in raid-style skirmishes. The player can also Dynamax their own creatures, and sometimes Gigantamax- the same concept but it also changes the Pokémon’s physical appearance, like Mega Evolution in Gen 6.
Other features available in Generation 8 include the ability to access your PC System at any time for quick team change-ups, the Camp option for healing, feeding, and playing with your Pokémon, and even Pokéjobs so your creatures can gain experience while not in your party. Sword and Shield continue to exclude HMs in favor of simpler transportation options- a Corviknight taxi system in the menu and a bike that upgrades to function on water. In one final interesting change, Sword and Shield do away with direct sequels or improved versions in favor of two entire regions-worth of DLC. The Isle of Armor and The Crown Tundra, respectively, offer trainers ample opportunities to continue their adventures after the main story…without having to purchase an entire new game.
For all its improvements, Generation 8 still stumbles in a few troubling ways. First, and certainly least, is the removal of Mega Evolutions and Z-Moves. It replaces both of these functions with Dynamax/Gigantamax- much like Mega Evolution, but less practical and only usable in limited instances. I’m curious if each future generation will introduce a new gimmick only to remove it in the very next game? Game Freak also made the decision to cut out an enormous chunk of old Pokémon, claiming “file size limitations” and “wanting to prioritize Pokémon animations” (the latter of which are negligible at best, and certainly no better than anything seen on the 3DS). They later “reversed” their decision partially by releasing a good deal of the previously “cut” Pokémon inside of the DLC areas, effectively price-locking these creatures. You’re also free to import your old teams and creatures…if you pay and subscribe to Pokémon Home- an outside app. Hmmm…
Sword and Shield would have ranked much higher on the list had Game Freak not locked players out from some of the older Mons in an effort to scrape more cash from fans. Retroactively adding older creatures over time is understandable, but intentionally withholding monsters for a bigger payoff is the opposite of fan service.
4. Generation 3: Ruby, Sapphire, Emerald
Halfway up the list now and we come to Generation 3. Ruby and Sapphire had big shoes to fill when they first launched, and for one giant reason: the two GameBoy Advance games were entirely incompatible with all of the previous Pokémon games! This meant that the journey was a fresh start for all trainers- for better and worse (This was partially remedied by LeafGreen and FireRed, but we’re focusing on the main entries and not remakes of the older games).
Generation 3 offered a massive overhaul of the series’ previously-straightforward combat system. Pokémon now had natures to affect their stat growth, as well as abilities that offered benefits and powers during battle. The world was also capable of displaying weather now. Rain, hail, sun, and sandstorms could now occur naturally in certain areas, making for permanent factors in some parts of the map and helping to diversify the Hoenn region. Players could also participate in double battles now- a feature that has persisted in every subsequent entry- and also the Battle Tower starting in Emerald, making for an excellent post-game experience for those who wanted to test their mettle. Pokémon Contests also made their first appearance in Ruby and Sapphire, but one of my other favorite additions that only appeared in Generation 3 were the Secret Bases. These hideouts could be placed and customized in rock walls, trees, and other secret places. Linking up with a friend allowed you to swap Secret Base info so you could find each other permanently in each other’s game worlds, offering perpetual battle opportunities against familiar faces even when playing alone.
Even with its fresh start, though, many players were upset that all of their favorite Pokémon were unable to be used any longer (until the release of future games). Also cut, despite the innovative weather system, was the day and night cycle from Gold and Silver. The day of week and time of day no longer affected which Mons would appear when. Some might enjoy the lack of a realistic game schedule but I always looked forward to the daily events, such as the Bug Catching Contest and rare Pokémon appearances. I certainly won’t beat an already-dead water meme deeper into the grave, but Generation 3 also required players to juggle EIGHT HMs for navigating the world. These moves were already wearing out their welcome in Gen 2 and adding another one to the pile did Generation 3 no favors.
Ruby, Sapphire, and Emerald were all innovative entries to the franchise, but the series’ transition to the GBA provided some rough spots that really hurt these games’ spot on the list.
3. Generation 5: Black, White, Black 2, White 2
As we reach up into the higher echelon of Pokémon generations, we are truly coming into the cream of the crop. Generation 5 continued with the few improvements of Diamond, Pearl, and Platinum, but threw in even more features than its predecessors to make the experience truly next-level. The first and most noticeable improvement is fully-animated sprites. Rather than stationary pictures, Pokémon now weave and sway on the battlefield, lending a much more realistic feel to combat. Black and White also brought back the day and night cycle from Generation 2. Rather than just three times of day, though (Morning, Day, Night), Game Freak added in Dawn and Dusk. And on top of the old weather system, Generation 5 features all four seasons which change between the four with each month.
Pokémon battles were also expanded upon in Gen 5. Players could now take part in Triple Battles, Double Battles against wild creatures, and even a unique kind of battle in certain instances called Rotation Battles for switching around your fighting team mid-fight. Outside of fighting, players could track down rarer monsters by keeping an eye out for grass patches that shake and stepping into them. Older-gen Pokémon are once more non-existent in the main game as in Gen 3, but unlike Ruby and Sapphire, players have access to catch a wide variety of older creatures after completing the main story.
And while it’s not entirely game-changing, I think it’s still important to mention that Black and White received direct sequels (Black 2 and White 2, respectively) rather than a third partner game like Yellow or Crystal. It’s much more rewarding to play a new story in the same location than to get a third game that is largely identical to its two forbears with only minor added content. Game Freak did a good thing by providing sequels for fans rather than a rehash.
On paper, Generation 5 did a great deal of things with almost no missteps. But even small missteps can be overlooked when the jumps forward are grand enough, as we will see with…
2. Generation 6: X, Y
Pokémon X and Y literally brought Pokémon into another dimension- the third dimension! Seeing a new region and all of our favorite (and new) creatures brought to life in a new way was truly magical. Since character models were more detailed, players were also able to customize their trainer with an assortment of clothing and body options, allowing everyone to have a unique avatar that best suits their personality. Players also interacted with a group of friends throughout their journey rather than one set rival. While these characters were fairly one-dimensional, it was nice to have some variety in the competition that traveled around Kalos with the player.
The battle system expanded significantly in Generation 6, first and foremost with the additions of the Fairy-type (for a grand total of 18 types) and Mega Evolution- a temporary evolution and power boost for several of the series’ most popular creatures that lasts until the end of a battle. Also new to the world were Sky Battles for flying types only, as well as wild Horde encounters- battles against several weaker enemies that let players gain lots of experience points quickly.
Players additionally gained the ability to strengthen their Pokémon even more than before with Super Training- mini-games that boosted specific Effort Values, such as Attack and Speed, to make your creatures inherently more powerful in whatever stats you wanted. Pokémon-Amie was another option for interacting with your team by petting them with the Nintendo 3DS stylus or feeding them treats. Even the Global Trade System received a marked upgrade! Players of Generation 6 could finally request creatures for trade and deposit a Pokémon to be traded for, then return anytime to see if the trade had gone through. Wonder Trading was an exciting new addition that let players swap any Pokémon they wanted and received a random other player’s offered creature in exchange. It was easy to spend hours just Wonder Trading away for whatever might come your way- rare creatures, starters, and even a few legendaries!
I wish that Generation 6 would have kept up the seasonal system from Black and White- it made for a much more immersive and diverse world, and its continuation could have furthered the variety and types of Pokémon that players encountered. And as much as I loved the upgrade to 3D models for the creatures, some of their individual personalities got lost in the mix. Blastoise no longer had its confrontational stance and instead just appears as a big…thing. Several other creatures lost their unique stances in the sacrifice to come to the modern era of visual presentation. Worth it? Yes, but a small disappointment nonetheless that contributed to X and Y falling behind our ranking champion…
1. Generation 2: Gold, Silver, Crystal
I think it’s quite fitting that the most innovative and refined Pokémon experience is “Gold” …and Silver and Crystal, of course 🙂 Generation 2 might be over two decades old, but its influence helped spur the Pokémon games into what they are today in a way that no other entries since have managed to re-capture (HA!).
The entire formula that began with Red and Blue (or Green, in Japan) was upgraded significantly, starting with the visuals. Unlike the upgraded pallet (HA!) in Yellow, the region of Johto was on display in a full range of color, from the world around to the sprites of the creatures you battled and captured- every Mon now looked exactly like the official art. No more awful sprites! Players of Crystal Version could even choose for their trainer to be a boy or girl, the latter of which had bright blue hair that really made the game’s color pop! No more of that “Video games are just for boys” crap here!
But aside from looks, Generation 2 added a multitude of improvements to the core systems and gameplay of its predecessors. Steel and Dark-types were added to help balance the dominant Dragon and Psychic types of Gen 1, bringing several exciting creatures into the fold. The Special stat was turned into Special Attack and Defense, respectively, to give further detail and character the each Pokémon. Your creatures could now hold items to use in battle, from healing berries to attack-boosting knick-knacks. Crystal Version even added some minor animations when each creature entered the battle to liven up the experience.
Loads of new features outside battles also made their debut in Generation 2. Day and Night now passed in real-time and affected which Pokémon players would find while walking through the tall grass. The games even kept track of days, with certain rare creatures only appearing on a particular day of the week in a set location. One other enormous feature added was Pokémon breeding. So long as the two creatures were compatible, players could leave two Pokémon in the daycare and come back to receive an egg, which would hatch into the same Mon as the “mother” while inheriting its attack moves from the “father.” This made it so that players could acquire certain Pokémon with moves that they might not normally be able to learn on their own! And speaking of mainstay features, Generation 2 was the first to feature Shiny Pokemon- rare alternative creatures that sparkled when entering battle and appear a different color from the usual. Red Gyarados at the Lake of Rage was probably most players’ introduction to the feature if they played Gen 2 when it released.
The Pokédex feature was upgraded into a phone (Pokémon predicted smart phones!!! :P) so that players could re-battle certain NPCS, as well as get tips on temporary “swarms” of rare Pokemon in a certain area. To fill the Pokédex entirely, it was also required to track down the three “wandering” legendary Beasts- Suicune, Raikou, and Entei- that could appear on any route and would actively travel the map. This style of encounter would return several times in future generations. And while Gold and Silver did an amazing job of integrating the previous generation of creatures, it didn’t stop there- after conquering Johto and its Elite Four, players could travel to Kanto in order to earn its additional eight badges from the original games, culminating in an epic showdown with the OG trainer Red atop Mt. Silver! My mind was blown as a child when I reached this fight and the worthy challenge it provided.
Generation 2 may have added two more HMs to the pile (for a total of 7) and slowed its leveling process through the enormous amount of content (so players wouldn’t bulldoze the Kanto region once they arrived), but the litany of improvements and additions bury these complaints as if they weren’t there to begin with. Pokémon Gold and Silver completely changed the landscape of the series and paved the road for every future entry to build upon its success. No new entry would be the same without its added types, Pokémon breeding, Shiny creatures, and expanded Pokédex features that melded perfectly to complement the formula started in the very first generation.
No other generation has made the same splash that Gold, Silver, and Crystal did, and at this point, I’m curious if one ever will.
But those are just my thoughts on the matter! What generation of Pokemon do you think is the top dog? I’d love to hear your own opinions in the comments below or on my Twitter, @brinkofgaming.
I hope you enjoyed this wild ride through the 25 Years of Pokémon! This might be the end of my own celebration, but here’s looking forward to another quarter-century of incredible Pokémon content! Stay well, Pokéfans, and Smell ya later!!!