Which Pokemon game is the best?

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It's incredible, but the Pokemon series has been around for nearly 20 years now. There have been six generations, ten sets of main series games, as well as countless spin-offs, cards, toys, and anime episodes.

But of all these games, which is the best? Which Pokemon game delivers the essential experience? Let's take them one by one, weigh the pros and cons, and decide.

Pokemon Red/Blue/Yellow

Let's start, of course, with the very first games in the series.

Why they're the best:

These are the very first games in the series, the genesis of it all. These are the games that gave us the original 151 Pokemon (which remain, to this day, the best set of Pokemon created yet), as well as the formula which each game has followed: eight badges, gym leaders who work with a certain type, rivals; literally everything about the series can be traced back here.

But it's not all nostalgia making this argument (though it mostly is). These were the games when catching them all was actually something every player could do, rather than an insane task that will occupy hundreds of hours as you hunt down Pokemon that were only released as "special events." The original towns and leaders are still the best; the degree of difficulty is just right here; and the music and charm of these games are second to none.

Why they're not:

Let's be honest: no one who didn't play these games back in the '90s can really appreciate them now. There have just been too many improvements. The 20-item bag, lack of running, lack of an on-screen bar telling you far until the next level are all annoying lapses now that we know they could exist. There are fewer moves, and no indication in the game as to how powerful each move is, which limits strategy. Also, catching 'em all would be fun, but do you know anyone with a Game Boy and a link cable? I didn't think so.

It basically boils down to this: these games are historically important, setting the foundation off of which every subsequent Pokemon game has built. But, the fact that they built that foundation means that they have also been bettered by each new Pokemon game that has come along.

Pokemon Gold/Silver/Crystal

Why they're the best:

Now here's where it gets interesting. These are the longest games in the series, providing 16 badges to acquire instead of 8 as you revisit the region from the original Red and Blue, something that hasn't been done in a Pokemon game since. The night and day scheme, the situational events such as the bug-catching contest, and a series-best final battle are all aspects of these games that haven't been matched since.

Why it's not:

There's still no running, no indication of how powerful moves are, and 8-bit graphics. Having two regions means the levels in the early game are significantly lower than any other. It simply can't match the 3D spectacle (and gameplay improvements) of the newer games, at least not entirely.

Pokemon Ruby/Sapphire/Emerald

Why it's the best:

Ruby and Sapphire were the series' first jump into the next generation, and it shows with a host of improvements: the region is great, the game is less reliant on archaic structures like the PC boxes, and the game actually gives you details on the moves, which somehow had never happened before. These games have a solid degree of difficulty and probably the best story climax of any of these games.

Why they're not:

This game offers plenty that's new, but it surprisingly scrapped a lot of the innovations of Gold and Silver. There's no night and day system, no second region to visit, no PokeGear. This is also the first time the series started to suffer from a bit of Pokemon overload; it didn't help that many of the new Pokemon were basically carbon copies of the originals (looking in your direction, Beautifly) or pointless filler Pokemon (hello, Luvdisc!).

Pokemon FireRed and LeafGreen

Why it's the best:

There's not much wrong with the first remakes in the Pokemon series; they basically took the story, Pokemon, region, and characters from the original Red and Blue and updated them with Ruby and Sapphire mechanics and graphics. That means the original 151 are back, including the best starters in the series; the great music, towns, and leaders all return, but you don't have to deal with nagging issues like psychic-type dominance or the 20-item limit. Plus, the remakes introduced new post game content featuring many of the Pokemon from Gold and Silver, increasing playability and replay value.

Why it's not:

Basically, the one thing FireRed and LeafGreen don't have going for them is that they're not in 3D, they don't feature diagonal running or impressive visuals of the newer games. Other than that, this is pretty much a perfect Pokemon experience.

Pokemon Diamond/Pearl/Platinum

Why they're the best:

These games seem to be gaining a reputation as sort of the middle child of the Pokemon series: overlooked and unremembered. That's largely undeserved, as these are great games, particularly Platinum. The games feature the memorable Sinnoh region, a solid degree of difficulty, good music (always an important Pokemon feature), and are improved by Platinum, which increased the battle speed and added the Distortion World, one of the coolest areas ever to appear in a Pokemon game.

Why they're not:

The new Pokemon aren't great, and there's serious Pokemon overload at this point, particularly legendary Pokemon. Seriously, if this many Pokemon are considered legendary, doesn't that kind of defeat the purpose? But the thing about these games is that there's nothing really wrong with them, but there's also nothing that really stands out to make them the best in the series. They're great games, but they don't have that "it" factor that a game like Super Metroid has, when you just know it's the best a series has to offer.

Pokemon HeartGold and SoulSilver

Why they're the best:

Just take everything I wrote about Gold and Silver and put it here, basically. But you can also add the fact that these remakes updated those great games to the modern age, getting rid of such annoyances as the lack of running shoes, the inability to tell how powerful moves are, and the cumbersome PC system.

Why they're not:

Unlike Red and Blue, which had enough flaws to warrant a need for remakes, Gold and Silver didn't really need the treatment. As long as you're fine with 8-bit graphics, they're fine on their own, which makes these remakes feel a bit inessential, which is never a word used to describe the best game in a series. Also, the names of these remakes just keep getting dumber.

Pokemon Black and White

Why they're the best:

This is when Pokemon really started to go for impressive visuals. The seasons change in this one, the gyms are memorable, and there are huge bridges everywhere. It has the makings of a good story line (albeit with a somewhat underwhelming resolution), and solid post game content.

Why they're not:

Full disclosure: this is my least favorite pair of Pokemon games. That basically comes down to two things for me: the lack of the old Pokemon, and how incredibly easy this game is. One constant as the series has evolved is that the games have gotten better looking, but the Pokemon designs have gotten worse and worse. By excluding the old favorites, not only do they leave out plenty of people's favorite Pokemon, but they give a bigger stage to their worst designs yet. And the game is really easy. Like too easy. The levels are low, the TMs are reusable, and the Elite 4 is a total cakewalk with only four Pokemon apiece.

Pokemon Black 2 & White 2

Why they're the best:

The first direct sequels in the series' history re-explore the Unova region several years into the future, which hearkens back to the second half of Gold and Silver and is interesting to revisit. The game also brings back the Pokemon of generations past, something the originals were sorely lacking. And for those looking for a challenge, these games offer the series' only challenge mode, which ramps up the entire game's difficulty.

Why they're not:

Can a direct sequel really be the best Pokemon game ever? The idea works better as the second half of a game, such as Gold and Silver, than it does as a standalone game. Plus, they bring back many of the flaws of the original Black and White, such as pixellated Pokemon and easy Elite 4. These games are basically a glorified third version for Black and White a la Crystal or Yellow, which is an interesting idea, but doesn't make for the best Pokemon game ever. 

Pokemon X&Y

Why they're the best:

This is the game where Pokemon, for the first time, took a giant step forward instead of a gradual one. This game introduced THREE DEE graphics, diagonal running (finally!), roller blading, customizable characters, and mega evolution. The gyms are great, the region is beautiful, and it's great to see all the old favorites (and some new ones) in 3D. The games also boast fantastic online play. This is the Pokemon series' Ocarina of Time or Metroid Prime; the game that made a bold, fantastic transition into the next dimension.

Why they're not:

Great as these games are, there are a couple of things that hold them back. First of all, they're incredibly easy, even more so than Black and White. That goes double if you use the experience share. The Elite 4 still has four Pokemon apiece and remains a cakewalk. All in all, it feels more like a kid's game than any preceding it, difficulty-wise.

Pokemon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire

Why they're the best:

Ruby and Sapphire were already great games; bring in 3D graphics and X&Y mechanics and they become even better. That means you get the great music, region, and evil team story, but with 3D battling, diagonal running, and all the advancements that have been made since 2003. Plus, they add an excellent postgame story centered around Rayquaza.

Why they're not:

First of all, these names keep making less and less sense. Second of all, they're great games, but like HeartGold and SoulSilver, it's not clear that we really need these remakes. And they're really easy. Sense a trend here? The games keep getting easier and easier; you'll have to try hard to lose even once in these games. The games also inexplicably leave out certain X&Y innovations, such as the customizable characters. They offer online play now, but when that's gone, we'll be left with just a shinier version of a game that was already great.

 

And the winner is...

My verdict: FireRed and LeafGreen are the best Pokemon games

I came very close to picking X&Y. They're great, modern versions of a game that keeps on going, and if I had to recommend one to someone new to the series, it would be that pair. 

But there are a few too many flaws in those games for them to be the best. No one plays Pokemon games for the difficulty, but there should at least be some challenge. FireRed and LeafGreen offer that, plus the classic story, Pokemon, and scenes. They're not my personal favorites--that would be Gold and Silver, which are amazing, but a little archaic to be considered the very best, like no one ever was... except FireRed and LeafGreen. These are the games that blend the classic story with modern mechanics, and they're the best the series has to offer.

Published May. 13th 2015

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