Pokémon has been with me for decades now, through the highs and lows of my life. I absolutely adore this world of collecting, battling, and researching creatures. To honor my all-time favorite franchise, here are the mainline Pokémon games ranked from my least to most favorite.
There will be biases, shockers, and smashed Game Boy controllers. I will note, that difficulty is a factor, but not a major one. Pokémon games were never hard. You were just eight and didn’t know what a type advantage was.
Nonetheless, this is my love letter, and the history of my memories come to the page.
Pokémon Games Ranked:
17. Brilliant Diamond / Shining Pearl
First up, the worst. The only Pokémon game I couldn’t pull myself to finish. The main point of remakes is to take the original games, honor them, and improve. Alas, upon the release of Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl, major glitches, visual downgrades from recent games, and lack of improvements are front and center. In all honesty, it feels like a game that was released on the GameCube. Cynthia deserves better.
16. Pokémon Red / Blue / Yellow
Yes, I've heard it all, and I'm sorry, but it must be discussed. These games are a classic; a pillar to what the Pokémon franchise is. They set the standard of a young trainer going out into the world, collecting 8 gym badges, taking down the evil team, and aiming for the Pokémon League while dealing with your pain-in-the-ass rival. But these games have problems.
MissingNo exists, psychic types are incredibly overpowered, and Persian has a ridiculous critical hit rate because of the broken old system. Not to mention how overpowered ghost and dragon type Pokémon became.
The fact of the matter is, compared to the other games and remakes, the others just do the formula better. The original games are incredibly glitchy, have an uninteresting story (even by Pokémon standards) and there are only 151 Pokémon to collect in total. If we got a Pokémon game with that few creatures to collect today, Reddit would explode. And you can only be a male character—that is weak sauce.
15. Pokémon Gold / Silver / Crystal
Gold, Crystal, and Silver were supposed to be the end of the Pokémon franchise—originally designed as a two part series, with the famous battle against Red intended to be the ultimate conclusion. On paper, it would’ve been great.
The ability to go back to Kanto, the previous region from Generation 1, is something that we hope every Pokémon game does to this day. But Gold and Silver only offer 100 new Pokémon, a third less than Generation 1.
This wouldn’t be such a bad thing if you didn’t feel it, but oh boy, you do. The first Gym Leader, Falkner (one of the most forgettable Gym leaders in franchise history) has zero new Pokémon on his team. In fact, his team is one of the weakest, with a level 7 Pidgey and level 9 Pidgeotto.
While Falkner provides a lackluster start to the game, the Champion, Lance, has one of the worst Champion teams in Pokémon history: a level 44 Gyarados, level 46 Charizard, level 46 Aerodactyl, and not one, not two, but three Dragonites. How original from the dragon-type Champion.
14. Diamond / Pearl / Platinum
Personally, I am surprised to find this game this low on my list after the dust settles. It has the best champion (in Cynthia), it is the first game on the DS system, and it possesses top-tier creature designs. But it suffers from the world’s slowest health bar, non-animated sprites, and some of my least favorite legendary designs.
These aspects are the reason for this game's lower ranking. I do have fond memories of going underground and digging up fossils with friends and family, but unfortunately this iteration doesn’t crack the top 10.
13. Pokémon: Let's Go Pikachu & Eevee
As a fan of Pokémon GO, I really enjoy the Let's Go games. The intentions are good, as the first official Pokémon game on the Nintendo Switch. It introduces us to a map of wild Pokémon completely in the over-world, with shiny Pokémon's stars sparkling before battle.
But wait … there is no battling wild Pokémon?!
And that’s where the game drops for me. I actually prefer what the game makes you do, which is to just chuck a Poké Ball at a Pokémon instead of needing to bring its HP down. It takes away the tediousness. The problem is, there should at least be the choice. Unfortunately, this game didn’t give you that to you.
12. Pokémon Sun / Moon
Generation 7 is honestly a lot of fun; its main focus of parental trauma provides one of the best stories in any Pokémon game. Overall, the Pokémon designs are very good. It also steps away from the gym model by introducing trials in its place. Though they practically play out the same, trials are sometimes challenging— a pleasant surprise.
This game is also the first to introduce regional forms. A clever way to add “new” Pokémon to the game without adding an insane number to the overall National Pokédex. Ice type Vulpix? Adorable—sold.
The story leads you on a journey to become the first champion of the All region, which is a neat twist. But it does feel like the game is missing something, even with the light focus on new creatures called “Ultra Beasts”— which are just Pokémon from another universe.
11. Pokémon X / Y
The very first mainline game brought into the 3D age, Pokémon X and Y have a very special place in my heart. I was in college and had been out of the Pokémon game for a bit, but when I heard this game was coming out, I was right back in. The Kalos region, based in France, is one of the most beautiful landscapes in the franchise.
The soundtrack in this game is top-notch and there are many great Pokémon designs. It introduces the fairy type— the perfect counter to the historically overpowered dragon type. Looking back, it also has one of the cleanest, and best, online functions. Simple, UI friendly, and it just makes sense when you look at it.
This game will be looked at fondly for introducing mega evolutions. A fan-favorite gimmick that creates new, but temporary forms, for many of our favorite Pokémon.
Where this game lacks, though, is post-game content. It is very light in that regard, as there isn't much to do once you beat the Champion. The story is also one of the weakest, as the immensely obvious bad guy, Lysandre, wants to blow up the world to start over. He plans to make it beautiful in his own image by bringing forth an ancient laser cannon stored away underground in a quiet little town.
Yep—it's ridiculous. Mega evolutions aren't perfect, as very few are actually viable in competitive battle. The game struggles with a lack of a sequel game, since Pokémon Z just… never happened.
10. Pokémon Heart Gold / Soul Silver
Initially, I had Pokémon Heart Gold / Soul Silver much lower than this. I like a lot of aspects about Johto, but it is mostly disappointing. Fortunately, the remake to the originals fixes many of my initial problems. There are way more Pokémon in this game, the charm is still there, and the Pokémon still follow you around.
But even with all the added Pokémon and the charm that Johto brings, it still has Lance… and his three Dragonites, an Aerodactyl, and a Charizard on his team. To quote Glass Onion—
“It's so dumb, it's brilliant!”
“No … It's just dumb.”Glass Onion (2022)
9. Pokémon Scarlet / Violet
This is by far The Pokémon Company's, and GameFreak's, most ambitious game. It is the first time we get a true, open-world Pokémon game. Set in the Paldea region, inspired by Spain, it is incredibly colorful, vibrant, and full of life.
The Pokémon truly feel alive by living in trees, roaming in herds, or sleeping at night. The story is also the best Pokémon has ever done. So much so, that it is one of the few Pokémon games to bring a tear to my eye. The “villain” team, Team Star, has a unique story I truly adore, though I wish the game fleshed out the team leader's backgrounds just a tad more.
After 27 years, this game finally gives us a Dolphin Pokémon. I waited for a Pokémon of my favorite animal since I was 9 years old. For Finizen, an adorable little dolphin, to evolve into Palafin, a literal dolphin Superman, I instantly fell in love.
While that is all well and good, the game unfortunately falls on its face when it comes to performance. An immense amount of glitches, frame rate drops, and crashes occur on a regular basis—to the point that Nintendo spoke out on the matter.
If this is ever properly fixed, this game becomes an instant top three. Until then, it is just good enough to be in the top 10.
8. Pokémon Black / White
Generation 5, set in the Unova region based on New York City, is a breath of fresh air. It also takes a massive risk that pays off. Unova is the first region to not include any Pokémon from previous generations through the main story. This forces users to play with brand-new creatures, rather than revert to their old favorites. Once you beat the game, classic Pokémon are made available.
This generation has some of my favorite starters, designs, and overall story; as you have to go up against the villains, Team Plasma, whose main goal is to stop Pokémon from battling each other.
7. Pokémon Fire Red / Leaf Green
I have so many fond memories of this game. It captures the magic of the originals (red/blue/green/yellow), but then goes the extra step to make those better. Of course, the visuals and the music are a massive improvement. The added bonus of the ability to travel to special islands and catch Pokémon from Johto is a big step forward for the game.
We aren't able to transfer Pokémon from the first two generations of games to Generation 3. This finally makes it so you can bring your Kanto starter with you from generation to generation.
Adding Pokémon to the early routes to help beat Brock, like Mankey and Nidoran, is a wonderful improvement from the originals. It also capitalizes on having the dark type for the first time in Kanto, making psychic types much less overpowered.
This is the first, true and proper, Pokémon remake. It sets the standards for remakes in the years to come: pay homage to the past, capitalize on nostalgia, and then take the next step to evolve it further and make improvements.
6. Pokémon Ultra Sun / Ultra Moon
Almost everything that Pokémon Sun and Moon do, Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon do better. The world feels more fleshed out with the addition of Mantine surfing. A new team called The Ultra Recon Squad adds a secondary level of intrigue in a remake story.
The postgame includes “Team Rainbow Rocket,” which gives the player a chance to fight against every major villain in every previous Pokémon game. You can go back and catch legendary's using “ultra wormholes” and it provides one of the hardest boss battles in Pokémon history with Ultra Necrozma.
The only downside is that the original story of parental abuse from Sun and Moon is completely thrown aside in this game. In exchange, we get a multiversal sci-fi story. If it kept that layer of story telling, this would've been higher, as I just prefer Sun and Moon's smaller story.
5. Pokémon Black 2 / White 2
One of the most unique projects the Pokémon company has done, Pokémon Black 2 and White 2 are not “third versions” like Crystal, Platinum, and Emerald. These are proper sequels.
Set two years after Black and White, this game tells its own story. The complaint of being forced to use new Pokémon and not having access to your old favorites? Gone, as all Pokémon are available in the main story.
This game also has one of the best Pokédex assistants ever. On the bottom screen of the DS, it tells you exactly what is in the area and roughly where you can find them. When you catch new Pokémon it tells you, that way you don't feel you are leaving something behind.
With it being a sequel, we also get a new champion. Iris takes center stage in this game and offers a decent challenge. But I would be remiss to say that she is a dragon trainer, and only has three dragon types on her team. A similar complaint to Lance, but at least these three are all different Pokémon.
4. Ruby / Sapphire / Emerald
I said off the top that there would be bias—and this is it. This game was my everything. I got Pokémon Ruby as a gift in the midst of being a child of divorce. It was, truly, my escape from the real world when I needed it the most.
The characters feel alive. The plot may be silly, as one team is trying to flood the world and another is trying to dry up all the water to create more earth to build. I don't care.
I spent hundreds, maybe even thousands, of hours on Ruby and Emerald. Playing with friends, hatching eggs, obsessing over the most random Pokémon at any given moment. I saw my first shiny Pokémon, a greyish Tentacool with green jewels. I legit thought my game broke.
Many kids spent hours upon hours looking under a truck for Mew—I spent mine at the space station. Thinking maybe this was when Jirachi or Deoxys would magically appear there. They never did. I still have my copy of Emerald lying around, and I'll never get rid of it. Ever.
3. Omega Ruby / Alpha Sapphire
The goal for every remake is to pay homage to the original, capitalize on nostalgia, and make improvements to stand out. Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire do that in every way possible. I had high expectations for this game, as Ruby and Sapphire were my all-time favorites to that point.
ORAS (for short), perfects each of the above categories. The musical improvements are perfect, as the Hoenn region trumpets and brass are as clear and beautiful as ever. The environment is bright and vivid, perfect for what the region deserves.
Wally, the secondary rival, improves significantly. His story of being a small, sick kid and going out on his own is amplified with a clearer story arc, and expanded dialogue, from the originals. The postgame Delta Story also provided me with one thing I was waiting for since I was 9—a chance to catch Deoxys.
The way they do it is beautiful as well—riding on the back of a Mega Rayquaza, on a mission to stop an asteroid from hitting the earth? Perfection.
2. Sword / Shield
Including DLC, this game is the complete package. Most importantly, it is a major step forward for Pokémon in many ways. While Let's Go is the first mainline Pokémon game on Switch, many see this as the first in its own right.
Generation 8, based in Galar (inspired by the UK), feels big. It is clean, colorful, and many characters are memorable. Though many complain that this game is too easy, and I'll admit it is, that doesn't bother me. Playing this game is an absolute blast, but it wouldn't be this high on the list without the DLC.
A first for the Pokémon franchise, SWSH (for short), never got a third version. Instead, we got two packages of DLC content that added new legendary Pokémon, regional forms, and their first step at fully open world “areas.” It makes the game feel complete. Personally, I prefer this method over the third version.
1. Legends: Arceus
This game changed it all for me. The concept of what a Pokémon game is, and can be—completely expanded. Pokémon Legends: Arceus sends your character back in time to the Hisui Region; an ancient version of what we now know as the Sinnoh region from Diamond and Pearl. This game takes many risks from the start.
Firstly, catching Pokémon is the main focus. You are filling out the very first Pokédex ever, so that includes research. To fill out your Pokédex, you can't just catch a Wurmple and be done with it; you must also watch it use certain moves, see what it eats, battle it, etc.
It's a true task to complete this Pokédex, and it includes one of the most unique features: the ability to catch Pokémon without needing to go into battle. This feature feels so good. It's clean, smooth, and the little firework puff when a Pokémon gets caught is incredibly satisfying. Shiny Pokémon spawn in the over world, with a little chime to let you know they exist upon seeing them, which is a component for accessibility.
The world around you feels dangerous, Pokémon can, and do, attack you. You are given options to run and dodge their attacks, outside of battles. Alpha Pokémon, which are massive versions of any Pokémon, are generally terrifying.
The story is also one of my favorites—a character out of time, trying to earn the trust of locals. When things go wrong, you are thrown into a fight for your survival. The final boss battle, one of Pokémon's most challenging ever, will remain with me forever. The amount of times I said “Oh my god” during it cannot be counted.
What Pokémon means to me
I'm not writing this with a dry eye. When it comes to franchises, and my favorites, it is clear that Pokémon sits alone at the top. Between the games, the anime, the card game, and every weird piece of merchandise I own, these pocket monsters will be with me forever.
Each Pokémon release brings the most creative side out of me. The questions of “What Pokémon can they make next?”, “What's the story going to be?”, “What region is it set in?” get my head swirling every single time.
I listen to fan-made podcasts, I watch competitive battles on Twitch, and I love seeing the community grow with each new release. Whenever the topic of Pokémon comes up, whether it be from the hype of a mainline game, or the rise of Pokémon GO, I have so many cherished memories:
- Beating Cynthia with my cousin
- Training my first Pokémon to level 100
- Seeing a shiny for the first time and thinking my game was broken
- Attending midnight releases
- Getting my copy of Ruby stolen from me at a karate studio (I'm still not over it)
None of these will be forgotten.
Pokémon is, and has always been, an escape for me. It's a place where my mind can be free, creative and, oddly enough, make connections to these weird fictional pocket monsters. There's a song that plays in the credits of Emerald. While the credits scroll, you simply see your character riding their bike home after a long journey. There are no words, but every note is a memory, and a step that helped me get to this day. It feels, and sounds, like coming home in a way. And after a lifetime of seemingly running away from my “home,” it's a beautiful reminder of the journey we are all on in our own lives. I always loved it, I always will, and I am just thankful to be able to experience it all— through the good and bad.
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