Gotta rank them all.
|Small icons courtesy of Serebii.net.|
Way back in the day when I had only just started this blog, I wrote 2 post ranking the 8 Pokémon generations. Looking back at those posts, I’m a bit ashamed of them. I know that I was still finding my feet back then (and I'm still learning to this day) but yeesh man! What a mess! Way too long, boring and convoluted.
Now that generation 8 is done, and I got the chance to play some more games, let’s do this ranking again. But, you now, better. Oh, and just so you know, the placement of Gen IX is tentative. Here because I know that it's expected to be and people will complain when it isn't. Nothing more.
So, without further ado, let’s dive
#9. Generation I
Opening the list are the games that started it all: Pokémon Red, Green (Jp.), Blue & Yellow. Many people have very fond memories of the first few Pokémon games with ‘Pokémania’ and everything. I’m not one of these people. I was too young, so Pokémania completely passed me by. As Pokémon Emerald was my 1st Pokémon game, I don’t have that type of connection to them either. I experienced these titles for the first time on the 3DS virtual console and I got to say, while I’m glad I played the games that started it all, I don’t like them much at all.
These games laid the foundations for the entire franchise and the designs and characters have become iconic, but the games themselves don’t hold up in my opinion. They are very buggy, rough games. There are many situations, moves and Pokémon that just break the game or can be used to break it. When you find yourself in a situation in which things don´t work as they should, which will definitively happen a handful of times, it’s so unbelievably frustrating. Kanto itself, also, isn't that interesting. Most of what I got and like about the region and its characters originate from the Anime, not the games themselves.
The most fun I had with them really is that I could use that strategy guide kept together by duct tape my parents got me from a thrift shop years and years ago. Flipping through the pages and see what it had to say about all Pokémon, filling me in on details such as their moveset and level of evolution without having to go to the internet.
I understand why a lot of these problems are the way the are though. Game Freak was a very small and rather inexperienced development team back in the 90's. They had been working on the games for the better part of a the decade and needed them to get out on the market already. They couldn't keep working on them any longer. This is why the games feel so unpolished, making the fact that they were released in the state they are kind of a miracle. Game Freak has my respect for getting these games out but that’s not enough to make me start enjoying them.
#8. Generation IV
Number 8 is the generation I probably have played the most as a kid, generation IV with Pokémon Diamond, Pearl & Platinum and Heart Gold & Soul Silver I know are very beloved, but I only partly played through these games on a now busted R4 and haven´t had the chance to buy my legitimate copy of Soul Silver yet so I can´t really talk much about them. Platinum I can´t remember ever playing, So when I start complaining about something and you’re wondering ‘you’re wrong … fixed that’ then now you know why.
This generation is the second to last for me for a reason. The first is that these games are incredibly slow and tedious. From the walking to the animations and HP drain to the simple act of entering a new area or saving, it all happens at a snail’s pace. I didn’t notice this that much as a kid (with the exception of saving) but when I replayed Diamond a year or two ago it bothered the distortion world out of me.
This ‘slowness’ also extends to the story itself, which is poorly paced. There are long stretches in the game where nothing really happens and others where you’re ticking off gyms from the list one after the other and Team Galactic or a bunch of boring push-overs. The games are unbalanced with only a very small selection of Pokémon available to you, one that lacks variety (Fire types anyone?).
What I do like about generation IV? The elements that really pushed the franchise forward. The physical/special split and the internet connectivity are things that have become integral to the series.
I think that the Pokémon introduced and the Sinnoh region itself is very memorable. Of all the regions, Sinnoh is the one I remember the individual towns and routes the best. The soundtrack is also never leaving my head either, I suspect. There were many spin-off games in this gen, most prominently the Ranger and Mystery Dungeon games and I have a lot of fond memories of playing those games as well.
#7. Generation VIII
We´ve now come to the first change between the two lists. The recently concluded Generation 8; Pokémon Sword & Shield and its 2-part expansion, the Isle of Armour and the Crown Tundra, Brilliant Diamond & Shining Pearl and Pokémon Legends: Arceus alongside a bunch of spin-offs that I sadly haven’t had the chance to play.
This generation has been, hands down, the most controversial and divisive one yet. From Déxit, to how these games looked. Looking back at it, I don’t hate it and it did a lot of fun things, but it just has this sense of underwhelming to it.
Sword & Shield and Brilliant Diamond & Shining Pearl are fine games, but fine isn’t great. I enjoyed them but there’s no denying that they could’ve been so much more. Both games played it too safely. Sword & Shield didn’t take advantage of the Switch hardware and was a standard, linear, Pokémon experience at its core. That really hindered what the game could’ve been. Add the controversies and the overwhelming sense that these games were developed on a schedule that was too tight, and you get games that, while doing a lot of interesting things, just fail to hit the mark.
Brilliant Diamond & Shining Pearl did something I, and lots of others, have wanted Game Freak to do. Let another studio develop a cores series game. In this case, Pokémon Home developer Ilca tackled these remakes under Game Freak’s supervision. The problem with these games isn’t their graphics, I like they did something different, but that they are just too unambitious. No other Pokémon remake has stuck this close to the originals and it’s not a good thing. It means these versions have a lot of the same problems as Diamond & Pearl, that they don’t have a lot of the stuff that made Platinum so great and the improvements and changes that were made ‘clash’ with the design of these titles.
Ilca also seems to have made quite a few rookie mistakes, resulting in quite a few bugs, glitches and even entire Pokémon that can’t be transferred due to a mess up in their coding (Spinda and Nincada). That doesn’t help these titles either.
Pokémon Legends: Arceus has been the best game of the generation, that much is certain. Game Freak took a gamble by making a core series game set in the past, that focuses more on exploration and catching Pokémon and recontextualizes many elements. It moves the series in an exciting new direction by going semi-open world, combining lots of elements that make these games so appealing with Pokémon. The result of this is the most refreshing and best Pokémon game in years, one that streamlines a lot of elements while honing in on what makes Pokémon so very appealing. It’s not enough to lift the entire generation up, but it is most definitely the best Pokémon game in recent memory.
#6. Generation VII
Gen VIII went down a spot, Gen IV went up a spot (yet ironically keeps the same number). Sun & Moon, Ultra Sun & Ultra Moon and Let’s Go Pikachu & Let’s Go Eevee make up a solid generation but one that failed to grab me.
With X & Y, I feel that the designers were still in the mindset of making a 2D game, just with 3D visuals. With Sun & Moon, they made a game that was a much proper 3D title, letting go of the grid-based design to create a more dynamic overworld. They shook up the formula a bit by letting go of the Gyms and badges and replacing them with the island trials, something tied into the Alola region's own distinct culture. Pokémon also introduced the regional forms of Pokémon, AKA divergent evolution here in the real world, a fun and fitting concept that should be a part of every new generation from now on if you ask me (which, up until now, it has been).
There’s a lot to like about these games but I do have some criticisms that hold this generation back. While I appreciate trying to shake up its formula, in the end, it doesn’t actually change that much. On the surface, it might all seem different, but when you start digging a little you see that’s basically just the same as it was before, only the coat of paint is different. This is also the generation that marked the start of Pokémon intruding on a new, big gimmick to grab people’s attention and shoving the old one under the rug. I’m not happy with this approach, as I’ve recently discussed. The Alola region is very beautiful and well-designed, but it wasn’t very memorable to me. It looks nice and all but it just didn’t really hit that ‘sweet spot’ for me in terms of personality and atmosphere.
Ultra Sun & Ultra Moon, while better in many ways, were an unexciting follow-up to Sun & Moon. Let’s Go Pikachu and Let’s Go Eevee, which I had the chance to play since the last list, also leave me unimpressed. It’s my least favourite Pokémon entry on the Switch, hands down. The catching mechanic just is such a bother to me. A decision like not including any (pre-)evolutions of Kanto Pokémon introduced starting with Gold & Silver also keep these games from being the ‘definitive’ Kanto experience.
A solid Gen, just one that didn’t really do it for me.
#5 Generation IX
At number 5 is the current generation with Pokémon Scarlet & Violet. Since these games are brand new and too young to judge fairly it's here mostly out of obligation. I already wrote down my first impressions a few weeks ago and my review of the game(s) is also now up. You can check those out if you want to know more. Right here, right now, I place them, even with their technical issues and design flaws, above generation VII because I appreciate what they attempt to do. Making an open-world Pokémon game, making Paldea you Cloyster etc.
In short: I find a flawed, but more daring, generation better than a solid but by the numbers one.
#4. Generation II
Falling just short of the top three, once again, is the second generation, with Gold, Silver & Crystal. These titles frequently top the list of many ‘the best Pokémon games’ lists and I have to tell you that I was always a bit sceptical of this. I just didn't see why these games are widely considered to be 'the best'. I do have memories of playing through them a bit when my cousin borrowed his GBA SP to me, but that was all I had ever played of them.
Since playing through Crystal, I understand this love a lot better. The games are an improvement over generation I. I feel that GameFreak managed to pull as much out of the hardware as they could. They are in colour, the graphics are cleaner and more detailed, the music is better, the world is bigger, the games are stable, etc. The introduction of the Dark and Steel types and splitting the special stat helped to bring an end to the domination of all things Psychic. They also introduced a slew of new features such as held items, the progression of time and some actual post-game content. The overall atmosphere that these games have is very pleasant. It's just very relaxing and fun to play these games!
The drawbacks? While it's very neat that you can revisit Kanto after becoming champion, there really isn't much to it. The Kanto of Gold, Silver & Crystal is a stripped-down version so it would fit on the cartridge. The story of these games isn’t all that great either.
The resurgence of team Rocket is too short and not all that well thought out. You have only four encounters with them of which one is in the post-game, for instance. In these encounters, the only thing you do is battle faceless grunts and it all ends with team Rocket dissolving itself because Giovanni, their former boss, doesn't answer their calls and not because of anything you did. In other words: your involvement changed nothing. Crystal has it a little bit better with the Suicune subplot but, well, that’s only a subplot.
Gold, Silver & Crystal were big improvements over Red, Blue & Yellow. Even with Heart Gold and Soul Silver out there, generation II still has a lot of charm that makes them worth checking out even 20 years later.
#3. Generation III
It’s very fitting that the top three is kicked off by generation III. Pokémon Ruby, Sapphire & Emerald and Fire Red & Leaf Green. The latter of which I, at long last, got to experience.
I’m rather attached to this generation: it all started here for me. Pokémon Emerald was the first game I ever played and while I didn't really understand a single word of English at the time, I had countless hours of fun regardless.
The nostalgia is strong with this one but not so strong that I'm blind to its faults. The roster of Pokémon in Hoenn is rather small. 202 Pokémon is a step down from the 251 there were in the Johto regional Dex. 8/9-year-old me was very disappointed there was no Gengar insight.
The biggest criticism I have with these games is that they lack features that the previous games did without reason, really. The day-night cycle is missing, and the sprites go from being animated in Crystal to being static again in Ruby & Sapphire and so on. This helps make the games feel a bit disconnected from what came before.
Even so, there’s much more in this generation that keeps it near and dear to my heart. Because these were my first Pokémon games I got to experience everything for the first time. Treecko was my first Pokémon ever and lots of the Pokémon found in Hoenn rank high on my personal list of favourites. I think the new Pokémon are unique, well-designed and have some interesting backgrounds. There are a few Pokémon which are kind of forgettable to me, like Spinda for example, but if there was a roster of Pokémon I had to choose above all others it would be this one. And generation III is what brought us Ralts. I love Ralts.
My love for the Pokémon also extends to the region of Hoenn. I spent many hours as a kid walking its routes, climbing its mountains and sailing its vast sea all the while listening to its beautiful and distinctive music. Yes, there is a lot of water here, but there is also a great variety of landscapes that I don't hear a lot of people talk about. From a volcano, a jungle and underwater routes; there's so much more to Hoenn than people give it credit for.
Lastly, I can’t forget about Fire Red & Leaf Green. I managed to snag myself a copy of Fire Red on the 2nd hand market and played through it in full late last year. These games are the best way to experience the Kanto region. They look and run much better than Red, Blue & Yellow and come with extra content and 3 generations' worth of Pokémon.
The Let’s Go games look, sound and run better and have lots of gameplay and UI improvements but, as I said earlier, its catching mechanic, simplified gameplay and the absence of many Pokémon really hurt it. I still don’t really like Kanto, like the story of these games and such, but Fire Red is the game I would choose if I ever were in the mood for it in the future.
Yeah, gen III is a really solid and nostalgic one for me.
#2. Generation V
Generation V had a really good chance to become nr.1 this time around. Since the last list, I played White 2 not once but twice. But, as you can read, that didn’t end up pushing it to the top spot. Pokémon Black 2 & White 2 are good games, just like I said in my review, but they also ended up disappointing me. They don’t feel as special as Black & White do and don’t have the same charm, amongst other things. Still, this generation is very good thanks to Black & White, which we’ll get into right now!
Before Sword & Shield and Dexit and all that, the arrival of Black & White was the most controversial thing in the history of the games (when it comes to the fanbase, that is). Unlike previous instalments, you would only be able to catch brand new Pokémon. There were no older Pokémon obtainable before the post-game not even Pikachu. I was a bit worried about this decision as well but that didn't hinder me from calling ahead to my local Intertoys (a Dutch chain of toy stores) and reserving a copy to play during the Christmas holiday in Germany. And I wasn't disappointed. I played through it twice that vacation.
I love so much about these games. The graphics are still sprite-based, but they're a big step up from the in my opinion lacklustre graphics of Diamond & Pearl. The environments are much more dynamic and positively busting with life, like in Castelia City. The 2D Pokémon games went out on a high, visually speaking.
I'm also very fond of the soundtrack and overall sound design, which are my favourite of the entire franchise. It has some good compositions, a very cool style and some nice little touches like the music in a Gym match changing when they send out their last Pokémon.
And, of course, there's that story. The best narrative a Pokémon game has ever gotten, hands down. The story questions the relationship between humans and Pokémon with well-written characters that push the narrative forward in a way that leaves an impression on you.
#1. Generation VI
Topping the list is none other than the 6th generation: Pokémon X & Y and Omega Ruby & Alpha Sapphire. Why is this my favourite generation over all the others? Because it didn’t just bring me back to Pokémon, it brought me back to gaming in general.
While I look back at generation five with a lot of fondness, it was right after playing White that I went to high school. I had a difficult time there those first 3 years. I had to study hard to keep my grades up and didn't have the time or energy to do the stuff I liked outside of the Summer Break. Then Pokémon X & Y were announced.
I followed every development on the games closely and when Christmas rolled around I got myself a 3DS XL (the Link Between Worlds bundle) and my parents gifted me a copy of Pokémon Y. It was a glorious few weeks. Getting to delve back into something that I had liked so much made me forget my troubles for a while, it was just what I needed. Not only that, but if I didn't want to play the new Pokémon so desperately I would have never gotten a 3DS in the first place. I would have never experienced and become a fan of Zelda and Fire Emblem, never have gotten a Switch and played games like Octopath Traveler, the Xenoblade Chronicles trilogy or even The Witcher 3. I've got this generation, this game, to thank for all those wonderful experiences so that's why it outclasses all the others.
But how does the generation itself stack up? Pretty darn good if you ask me. Pokémon X & Y not only brought the franchise into 3D but also shook things up by introducing some new features. The biggest change is undoubtedly the introduction of the Fairy type to act as a counter to the dominant Dragon type. Mega-evolution was introduced, which I still love, and you could finally customize your appearance. Just like with generation V, I also dig the soundtrack and sound design. It gives off a bit of an orchestral vibe. The tracks are at a quick pace yet feel very relaxing. The Pokémon are also pretty nice. They are solid and I can't think of anyone that I actively dislike. The amount of Pokémon available to you in X & Y is also one of its strengths because this means you have a lot of variety when it comes to building a team.
Also: it has generation III remakes. Getting to revisit my Hoenn all over again in 3D, with so many improvements is just the icing on the cake for this generation. It's by no means perfect though. X & Y's story is lacklustre, the post-game is once again weak, and Mega-Evolution is pretty unbalanced and is practically an instant win button.
These flaws can't hold down this generation for me though. For both the good it does on its own and what it ended up during for me personally, generation VI is my absolute favourite and I don't see that changing anytime soon.