The Pokémon Games, Ranked

25 years of Pokemon, and some very, very good games.

Posted By | On 09th, Mar. 2022

The Pokémon Games, Ranked

Pokemon is now over 25 years old, and it’s been a hell of a ride. The series, that has gone on to become the most valuable media franchise of all time, has delivered a veritable cavalcade of games – and though there have been ups and downs (more downs than ups in the last decade, a trend that it took the total break from formula that was Legends Arceus to reverse), the mainline series of the games has always and consistently delivered, at the very least good, fun, and extremely compelling games.

With the excellent Pokemon Legends Arceus marking what looks to be the start of a whole new era for the franchise, this felt like as great a time as any to stop and take stock of the state of the franchise as it stands at the present moment in time. And so, we decided to go ahead and rank the Pokemon games. To be clear, we didn’t rank all of them – that would be insane, and also redundant, since so many games in the series are just slight variations of each other. 

Instead, what we did was take the best representative for each campaign and used it as a stand in for all other games that are also based on the same campaign. Put simply, this list doesn’t rank Pokemon Red/Blue, Yellow, FireRed/LeafGreen, and Let’s Go separately – it just takes what we think is the best one out of those, and ranks that one. (As for which one the best one is, you’re going to have to find that out for yourself now, won’t you?).

Is that clear? Great. Then let’s get started.


pokemon x and y

Pokemon X/Y was probably the first game in the series that caused wide scale disappointment among the fans – everyone had some complaint or the other with it. It makes sense – the game, which marked the series’ long awaited jump to 3D, was definitely a letdown on many fronts. The story was baffling and banal (even by Pokemon standards), the difficulty level was ramped down to such absurd levels that you could very literally finish the game without even paying attention to what was happening on screen, the region was extremely linear (and lacking in dungeons to a severe degree), there was nothing in the way of a post game, it pandered far too much to the first generation of Pokemon games, and it introduced the smallest roster of new Pokemon to date.

But there was also a lot to like about it – the Player Search System it introduced remains the single best online suite in any Pokemon game to date, and really, one the best multiplayer suites out there, player character customization was a hugely beloved feature that went on to become a series mainstay, it took the first steps towards making Pokemon training and team composition easier and more transparent by giving players direct control over the growth of their Pokemon, it added a brand new type that upended the meta game almost entirely, the Mega Evolutions battle gimmick was really fun, the design of the new Pokemon was uniformly excellent, and it looked charming as all heck with its chibi style 3D graphics. In hindsight, X/Y have become the most inessential Pokemon entries, because almost everything they did well went on to be appropriated by future games in the series, who would do it much better – and its shortcomings never got the chance to be fixed by an expansion or re-release, as would happen for so many other games in the series. But in spite of that, they’re very fun games, and probably exemplify the sentiment that even a “bad” Pokemon game remains an extremely well made, charming, and satisfying game to play through.


The fifth generation of Pokemon was a wild time for the franchise, rife with experimentation and all sorts of new things the series had never dared attempt until then. One of those was a direct sequel – the first and only direct sequel to a game taking place in the same region the series has seen to date.

It made sense, though – the excellent Pokémon Black/White (which we’ll get to later on in the list) left a lot of sequel hooks in their story, and Unova was an amazing setting that clearly had more to offer. Pokémon Black 2 and White 2 deliver on that, but the adventure we get is decidedly inferior to the original games. While these are still excellent games, and essential for anyone who enjoyed the original Black/White, the campaign eschews a lot of the boldness and novelty that made the original games stand out so much, squandering the narrative opportunities hinted at by the originals (and in some cases it outright undermines them), and mechanically don’t really expand on the original games enough to really stand out on their own. They do offer a meaty, hefty post-game, and a frankly absurd amount of content – and all of it is absolutely great. But when you play through all Pokemon games, these ones tend to stand out less than the others – because very honestly, most of what they do was already done better by the original Black/White just one year prior, and they don’t really bring enough unique stuff of their own to the table to make up for that.


Pokemon Sun/Moon were extremely interesting games – bold and ambitious, willing to experiment with the structure of the franchise, doubling down on a pointed narrative and storytelling focus, and giving us the most fleshed out and believable look at the world of Pokemon to date. They offered a lot of excellent stuff – Alola is a great region with a lot of personality and a distinct aesthetic, the new Pokemon designs are amazing and contextualized in extremely believable ways as part of a larger ecology and even the story and characters were interesting. But Sun/Moon were extremely flawed games, with their story falling apart towards the final act, extreme linearity and railroading making for the least player driven Pokemon game to date, an overabundance of cutscenes with trite and repetitive dialog that you could not ever skip, an online suite that was a shocking regression on the excellent X/Y, and, yet again, an acute lack of post-game content.

Ultra Sun/Ultra Moon… well, they don’t really fix Sun/Moon, but they patch them up to a level that they are no longer the worst games in the series (if Ultra Sun/Ultra Moon didn’t exist, yes, I would have absolutely placed the original Sun/Moon at the bottom of this list). They tweak the story and characters to be less bizarre towards the end, the cutscenes spacing and story pacing is improved, areas get bigger, allowing for more exploration (though overall progression remains extremely rigidly linear), the post game gets a hefty chunk of new content to sink teeth into, and they add an absurd amount of content to the original game as well. They are also among the most difficult games in the series, with a certain specific fight near the end being legendary for how brutal it is.

Sun/Moon, much like most other games in the series in the 3DS era, are flawed and a tale of missed opportunity – but Ultra Sun/Ultra Moon existing at least makes that missed potential slightly easier to swallow, if only because it hints at what might have been had developers Game Freak taken the time to properly flesh things out with their games.


The single most controversial entry in the franchise, Pokemon Sword/Shield became flashpoints for controversy. There were loads of reasons for this – a decade of resentment building over repeated disappointing entries, poor communication by the developers and publishers for taking away a lot of content that players expect from these games, and extremely poor graphical quality, even considering Pokemon has never been a technical showpiece, all became easy latching on points for the backlash these games generated.

I would argue that to a very large degree, the backlash was not undeserved. Pokemon Sword and Shield are not bad games at all, but they are very clearly products of a rushed and troubled development cycle. The new region they introduced was visually distinct and hints at lush beauty and interesting lore, but the games never get around to it. There was, at launch, a total paucity of post game content again. The games forced further mechanics that trivialized the difficulty even further, making for the easiest games in the series at the time of release. The Wild Area concept, a mini open world region for players to explore and catch Pokemon in, was conceptually sound, but fumbled in execution. The online functionality was a baffling step back from the 3DS era. They cut down almost half of the roster of Pokemon.

But in spite of that laundry list of complaints, the core campaign was extremely compelling and fun, and knew to get out of the players’ way to let them enjoy the adventure at their own pace (something the Alola games had categorically failed at); new mechanics such as Max Raids were excellent, and giving players full control over how their Pokemon grow was game changing. The characters are excellent. And while the Wild Area was underdeveloped, and the story never fleshed out, both managed to stumble upon some rather unforgettable moments nevertheless, with a certain late game story development still ranking as one of my favorite story moments in the series. And all of this is before we consider the excellent expansions, which actually addressed a lot of the complaints players had with the base games – they added in another couple hundred of the missing Pokemon back in, they delivered fully fleshed out open world areas that properly leveraged 3D space and delivered a believable patchwork of biomes and ecosystems that rewarded player exploration, and they offered some actual meaningfully difficult battles as well; plus, given that they are meant to be post-game content, they naturally address the absence of post-game in the base titles too.

pokemon sword and shield

Even with the expansions, Sword and Shield are an unfortunate tale of missed potential (I’m sure you’re picking up on this being a running theme) – but in spite of what their troubled reputation might suggest, they are very good games, and absolutely worth playing regardless of their many stumbles. What they do well, they do really well, and ultimately, their take on the core Pokemon formula, while finally beginning to strain at the seams by this point, still delivered a compelling, engaging, and fun adventure.


This is likely to be the most controversial entry on this list, because Pokemon Emerald is beloved by a army of Pokemon fans. You can see why – Emerald, building upon the good but flawed Ruby/Sapphire, is arguably the apex of Pokemon games in almost every regard. The campaign was long and challenging; there was a ridiculous amount of side and optional content; the Hoenn region in Emerald is extremely memorable, with some standout locations, excellent dungeons, and fantastic level design; the story and characters were the best the series had seen at the time Emerald came out; the post-game was meaty and over-delivered, marking the debut of the fan favorite Battle Frontier (the absence of which in every new game in the series is lamented to this day).

Pokemon Emerald was absolutely amazing, and honestly I have nothing bad to say about it. Why, then, is it ranked so relatively low on the list? The answer is simple, we have now gotten to the part of the list where every single game is an amazing, excellent title and could justify placement at the top, depending on how you choose to classify and rank things. Basically, we’re now looking at six, amazing, excellent games, and trying to rank them is a bit like splitting hairs – no matter what you do, you’re still left with six amazing games. Emerald ranks lower than the others in this bunch because I feel the ones higher on this list than it did everything better for my liking. But that doesn’t take away from how incredible Pokemon Emerald is. It’s an amazing game, and legitimately one of the best RPGs of all time – everyone owes it to themselves to check it out.


Pokémon Black/White marked the fourth new Pokemon entry on the DS, an at the time unprecedented volume of mainline games on a single system. Game Freak knew that to make these games stand out, they would have to work hard to give them their own identity. And they decided to do just that, in the process delivering among the best, and probably still among the most ambitious, games in the series to date.

Everything about Pokémon Black/White was so incredible – Unova as a region, basing itself on the urban aesthetic of continental United States, was a breath of fresh air after four regions based on Japan; a massive roster of new Pokemon (the single largest new batch to date, in fact) headlined these games, with Pokémon Black/White making the bold decision to only have new Pokemon in the game for the duration of the campaign – you’d be able to bring in your older pals, but they’d be limited to post-game content, meaning every new encounter was fresh and exciting in a way it hadn’t been for over a decade by the time Black/White came out.

And speaking of post-game, the post-game was fleshed out and meaty (the last time a new generation would deliver on this front). As good as that post-game was, it paled next to the campaign, a blisteringly fast story driven adventure (yes) that actually raised troubling ethical questions about the concept of catching and battling Pokemon (yes), with some legitimately well written characters and antagonists (yes), pulling in and recontextualizing the regular “win badges and beat The Pokemon League” conceit into the framework of a broader story (yes), delivering some legitimately surprising story developments and twists (yes), and culminating in an incredibly epic final act and a hell of a conclusion (yes).

pokemon black and white

All this, and I still haven’t talked about how this game marked the first time the series did away with the annoying HMs as a progression mechanic, the new experience curve mechanics that worked so much better for game balance than the EXP All that the games would force on the players in future entries, how much optional content there was, how excellent the region and dungeon design was, the new battle styles the games introduced (Rotation and Triple battles, I miss you…), how it simultaneously managed to represent the series’ first forays into 3D spaces, while delivering eye catching and attractive sprite art that remains arguably the best aesthetic the series has had to date… honestly, I can gush about these games forever, they were utterly excellent, thoroughly compelling, and so perfect, so great, so ambitious, that at the time they painted a bright picture for the future of the franchise.

The decade that would follow would not deliver on their promise – in part because Black/White remain the lowest selling mainline entries in the series to date, I assume. And that really sucks, because until very recently, Pokémon Black/White was the last time the series managed to deliver a truly great game. If you can, I urge you to track these down and play them – they are amazing, not just at being Pokemon games, just at delivering incredible RPGs.


Pokemon Red/Blue were borderline perfect – which is a terrible burden for games launching a series developed by a small, boutique development house that clearly was unprepared for how big their passion project would become. But let’s put aside that broader context for a second and just talk about Pokemon Red/Blue as games assessed on their own merits. To this day, those titles hold up. Oh sure, their primitive and rudimentary graphics are a bit of an adjustment, and they are so buggy that they would make a Bethesda game blush. But holy crap, did they nail the game design side of things perfectly. They took players on an amazing adventure, simultaneously breezy and challenging in just the right amounts, with a great campaign, amazing and memorable creature designs, wonderful lock and key progression, and a lot of optional content for players who went off the beaten path.

Pokemon FireRed/LeafGreen, which remade Red/Blue, are all of that but better. Modernizing the original games to bring them to the standard of the then-current third generation of Pokemon, they polish away the bugs, modernize the graphics, add even more optional content, introduce a lot of QoL and UX functionality the original titles were missing, add a ridiculously hefty chunk of post-game content (the one area the originals were, understandably, lacking in), flesh out their world and region even more, and do so all while remaining incredibly faithful to games that were played and beloved by 40 million players worldwide. They also started off the series’ now longstanding tradition of revisiting older titles via enhanced remakes, and they set the bar incredibly high, delivering the definitive take on the Kanto saga, a take so definitive that even the more modern Pokemon Let’s Go games, which are also remakes of the original generation, did not supplant them.

FireRed/LeafGreen are perfect. As I mentioned earlier, we’re splitting hairs at this point.


Ten years of constant disappointment and unfulfilled promises, mismanagement and rushed development cycles, ten years of consistently managing to lower the bar, and still not meeting it. There’s no wonder that people had no confidence coming into Pokemon Legends: Arceus, because the last decade has been a difficult one for Pokemon fans.

But Game Freak finally threw off the shackles of 25 years of tradition and reinvented Pokemon in a bold new format – and managed to nail it, hitting the ball out of the park on their very first go. A lot like the original Pokemon Red/Blue, amusingly enough. 

Pokemon Legends Arceus

Pokemon Legends is such an incredible game. The open world design lends itself beautifully well to the Pokemon franchise, The Pokemon themselves are recontextualized as dangerous, lethal wildlife, the world is harsh and unforgiving and requires the player’s wit and ingenuity to traverse, the maps beckon and invite player exploration and discovery, the Pokemon are delightfully well realized as living and breathing flesh and blood members of a larger ecosystem, the changes to the battle mechanics work well for the game, the new additions such as crafting and Pokedex research all contribute to a self perpetuating, ridiculously addictive gameplay loop, the story is surprisingly fun with some great characters, the action RPG segments actually work surprisingly well, there are several dramatic leaps forward in so many areas (from QoL to mechanics to structure) and there is a ridiculous amount of content thrown in, with, yes, a very hefty post game. It is a shockingly accomplished take on an entirely new formula, and like with Pokemon Red/Blue, Game Freak comes dangerously close to getting it perfect on their first go.

Yes, it has flaws – most notably, it is a bad looking game, with the technical aspects and art style never coming together (somehow, it is still a better performing game than something like Sword/Shield, however), and there are a fair few bugs and glitches here. But ultimately, Legends is a bold new step for the series, and one that it manages to take with a surprising amount of confidence and and dexterity, delivering one of the best games on the Switch, and one of the best games in the series in the process.


Sinnoh is very legitimately one of the greatest game maps of all time. It’s a masterpiece of design, with ridiculous amounts of visual and location variety (swamps, mountains, snow, beach and coastal areas, forests, small pastoral villages, big urban cities), and an incredible lock and key design that, while overly reliant on an annoying HM mechanic, leads to the best sense of adventure and discovery the player ever gets in the Pokemon franchise. It’s also backed with some amazing lore and backstory, and massive areas that beg to be explored, tucked away with dozens upon dozens of hidden dungeons and optional quests that you could miss for years without even knowing they exist.

Sinnoh, being the region that Pokemon Platinum is set in, is a huge part of why this game is so great. When you have a map this well designed, and progression through it this well designed, you end up with an unforgettable game. But even beyond that, Platinum was just mind blowingly incredible – it has an excellent campaign, a shocking amount of multiplayer modes, great post game (the Battle Frontier returned!), just the right amount of challenge (people tell horror stories about Cynthia to this day), some great and iconic player designs, major strides forward for the series (including the Physical/Special attack split, as well as the introduction of online play), as well as polishing up the considerable rough edges Diamond/Pearl had – those games suffered majorly from the transition from GBA to DS, and are borderline impossible to go back to because of their bevy of technical issues (including a frame rate so low it’s like walking through treacle). 

Platinum remains the definitive take on Sinnoh to this day (even the recent remakes Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl do not supplant it), and is honestly peak Pokemon. Or at least, it would be, were it not for…


You knew this was coming. There is one thing constant in Pokemon lists and fans – HeartGold/SoulSilver are always at the top. And with good reason – these games are literally, legitimately, perfect, absolutely flawless at every single thing they do, while managing to deliver the biggest and best Pokemon games ever. The original Gold/Silver games were already extremely notable for their massive campaign (set across two regions, 16 gym badges, and two separate Pokemon League challenges) and the introduction of several major and mind blowing mechanics for the franchise, including real time time of day and week impacting in-game events, berry farming, Pokeball crafting, shiny Pokemon, trainer rematches, roaming Legendary Pokemon, held items for Pokemon, weather effects in battles and arenas, and the introduction of Dark and Steel Type Pokemon.

HeartGold/SoulSilver have all of that, plus an additional ridiculous amount of content (mainline, post-game, and optional), gorgeous pixel art graphics that keep these games looking the best ones in the series to this day, almost a decade and a half after their original launch, the availability of every single Pokemon at the time all in one game, plus the inclusion of Platinum‘s Battle Frontier, a brand new Safari Zone, brand new mini games, major QoL and UI enhancements (these games are the only ones that can be played almost entirely via touch screen!), full featured (for the time) local and online multiplayer, and the definitive take on one of the most epic final battles in any game ever. Excellent world and dungeon design, some actual challenging battles, an emphasis on player driven exploration and discovery, a non linear campaign that allows players to break sequence multiple times, and snappy and sharp writing. These games are perfect. There is no flaw to them. They represent among the best games ever made, not just for Pokemon, but in general. 

If you are going to play one Pokemon game, make it this one. 13 years after their initial release, and they still have not been topped. They probably never will be.

Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, GamingBolt as an organization.

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