Pokémon: A Look Back
Over the years, Pokémon has grown from booming beginnings to a franchise unmatched by most. I’ve been a fan since I was introduced to the series at the young age of six, getting into the third generation first. Now, here I stand, having played every mainline game and recently delving into the spin-offs. So, with the remakes of Diamond and Pearl coming out later this year, I thought it would be a perfect time to talk about the generations we have currently and in the end, I’m going to give my rankings.
Gen 1: Red, Blue, Green (JP), Yellow (1996) — The series started with Green and Red versions in Japan in the eventful year of 1996, with an international release two years later with the more refined Red and Blue versions. There are many people who have nostalgia for the first in the series and I also have a soft spot for it, but rather in the form of Fire Red and Leaf Green: the gen 3 remakes. This generation was the worst when it came to competitive balance and also with its possibly game-breaking glitches and exploits.
The stats are so weird in Red and Blue that the competitive scene looks nothing like what came after. Special was one stat, so high special attackers also had high special defense. The Speed stat dictated critical hit rates, so high speed pokémon like Persian had very good crit chance. Also, the frozen status basically counted as a faint in this gen, as the only way to get rid of it was to use Haze, have the opponent use a fire type move, or use ice heal, which wasn’t usable in tournament play. The last major difference is that psychic type pokémon ruled the metagame, not only because of their high Special stat, but also because they only had one weakness: bug type. With there being no good bug types in the first generation, they stood pretty much entirely uncontested.
Despite all of its flaws, gen 1 manages to be a fun one to go back to every now and again, but I still prefer the later iterations that fixed the issues of the series’ debut titles.
Gen 2: Gold, Silver, Crystal (1999) — After the roaring success of the first games, a sequel was the obvious choice. Gold and Silver were true sequels to the first games, melding their regions together, coming together with the Kanto league, which was also the final challenge of the first games. This game boasts the most gym badges at 16, instead of the normal 8. It introduced two types in Dark and Steel, helping to balance out the mistakes of gen 1. The Special stat was also split into attack and defense, as we know it today. It also started the series tradition of putting the legendary you get in each game on the front cover.
Competitively, gen 2 eliminated a lot of the issues with psychic type, by giving it Dark as a weakness, as well as tweaking Ghost to also counter it. Steel was also a good counter to the likes of Snorlax and other similar heavy normal types. Entry hazards became a staple here, as well as the move Baton Pass, which wasn’t as abused in this gen, as it was in the next. The biggest issue of Gold and Silver was the fact that typing dictated whether a move was physical or special. As an example: Dark type moves were always special, and Ghost was always physical. This hindered pokémon in those types that didn’t have stats benefitting the moves they had at their disposal. This is a problem shared with gen 3 as well, but it seemed right to mention it here.
Gen 3: Ruby, Sapphire, Emerald (2002) — Unlike the second generation, this one opted to be separate from the first two, taking place in the island region of Hoenn. This was also the first time we got more catastrophic consequences from the evil teams, in this case being Team Aqua and Magma. This was my starting point in the franchise and as such, it holds a special place in my heart. This gen introduced a lot more dual-types to the table, such as Camerupt (Fire/Ground) and Cradily (Grass/Rock). This is also the first time the player’s rival takes a backseat for the most part, playing little to no part in the overall story. The player’s Dad exists for the only time in the history of the franchise, as a gym leader named Norman.
This game’s competitive scene mirrored much from Gold and Silver, with very minor tweaks. One of the biggest was the aforementioned Baton Pass, which some teams were entirely based in gen 3. All pokémon would have the ability and pass on a ludicrous amount of buffs to a single pokémon to sweep.
I’d say overall, Ruby and Sapphire were good games, but the third generation hit its stride with Emerald, which added much more post game, including the beloved Battle Frontier. Emerald managed to mash together the stories of Ruby and Sapphire amazingly well, making it a truly epic main storyline.
One last thing to note is that Gen 3 also introduced us to the console titles Pokémon Colosseum and Pokémon XD: Gale of Darkness, which have been loved since they hit the Gamecube. This time was very strong for the series and is where I feel it started to innovate in the best ways.
Gen 4: Diamond, Pearl, Platinum (2006) — The series debut on the Nintendo DS hit pretty hard with its story, making it one about saving time and space, rather than the comparatively lighter tones of the first three generations. The universe is at stake here, being threatened by Team Galactic. With all of that being said, Gen 4 wasn’t really good until the release of Platinum, which helped solve some of the pacing issues of Diamond and Pearl. These games are much slower than previous ones and for some, that was a problem. As for me: I just liked that I had a new game to play.
This game introduced the Physical/Special split, which alleviated the issue of typing dictating what moves were. Now, each type had their own set of physical and special moves, which allowed for previously throttled pokémon another chance in the limelight. Diamond and Pearl also introduced the move Stealth Rocks, which is what the metagame worked around a lot, with most teams capitalizing on its chip damage. Boosting items like Choice Band also became staples with this generation, really cementing Gen 4 as one of the most important to how the competitive scene has evolved over the years.
Like Gen 3, these games boasted a Battle Frontier and decent post game, which made them more consistently entertaining even after you beat the Elite Four, which was very nasty in this one, having been led by the notorious Cynthia and her Garchomp.
Gen 5: Black, Black 2, White, White 2 (2010) — We’ve arrived at the generation that people threw some shade at, due to it introducing the literal trash bag Trubbish and the ice cream cone Vanilluxe. However, despite the flak it got from some, this has one of the most in-depth regions the series has ever known, being the only in the series to get direct, numbered sequels to continue its story. With a conflict centering on world domination, disguised as pokémon liberation. This generation introduced two rivals (three if you count N) and managed to pull it off very well. Both of them have growth through the games, with Cheren becoming a gym leader in Black and White 2, and Bianca becoming a professor’s assistant. Gen 5 had fantastic continuation that I just haven’t experienced since these games. It was also the only game in the series to introduce Rotation Battles, which haven’t come back since.
The competitive scene focuses a lot on weather in Gen 5; mainly through the use of constant Rain. It got so bad that the ability Drizzle was banned from tournaments, making the shift to other weather hazards like Sandstorm and Harsh Sunlight. A lot of the older pokémon were heavily effected by power creep here as well, making it the first generation to cripple the earlier pokémon by the newer stat heights seen in these games.
This generation also continued having a decent post-game, but sadly didn’t have the Battle Frontier, instead opting for the Battle Subway. However, they added pokémon from previous generations that weren’t available in the base game, such as Tyranitar.
Gen 6: X, Y (2013) — The first 3D mainline title, this game set the standard for where we currently are. However, I find the games very underwhelming with their story. Once again, we have a world-ending conflict led by Lysandre and Team Flare. Gen 6 was very story-heavy and as such, felt a bit packed. To be honest, I don’t even remember a whole lot from X and Y. I felt that the gyms, elite four, and post game were all entirely forgettable. However, that is my opinion and I do know that there are those that love these games. One thing it absolutely did right, was add in the Fairy type, which helped counter Dragon types.
This generation introduced Mega Evolution, which shaped the competitive scene, with teams working around a single mega pokémon's abilities. Because of that, I feel like there isn’t much to say about it, other than it was a duel of the megas and that’s how it remained until the end of its run.
The post game of gen 6 did have the Battle Maison, which acts as its challenge. It also introduced Pokémon Amie, which allowed for trainers to interact with their pokémon by petting them, feeding them, and playing mini-games with them to raise their friendship and give them an edge in battle.
Gen 7: Sun, Moon, Ultra Sun, Ultra Moon (2016) — The second 3D game in the mainline series was a strange one. It took away gyms and replaced them with island challenges, still culminating in an Elite Four at the end. The conflict in these games mostly revolved around the mystery of the Ultra Beasts and the wormholes opening up in the world. The secondary antagonists: Team Skull were just punks doing dirty work for the real threat, Lusamine, who wants to harness the Ultra Beasts’ powers for herself. Guzma might be the most entertaining Team leader of the franchise, though, and I’ll stick by that until someone better comes along.
Gen 7 introduced Z-crystals, which allowed a single move to be enhanced and deal massive damage, or give a large buff. As with gen 6, Sun and Moon’s metagame was shaped by its gimmick, even though I’d say it was far less reliant on it.
These games have been called harder than the previous entries and I can agree with that. Nuzlocke runs are especially brutal in this gen, but it also makes these games some of the most enjoyable to me personally.
Gen 8: Sword, Shield (2019) — We’ve caught up to the current games in the franchise, and must I say that these are very “love it or hate it” titles in the community. The story doesn’t really have large stakes, the game is quite easy, and a lot of pokémon are entirely unavailable for these games. That being said, I found the more lighthearted sports-like story to be endearing and fun. However, I’d also say that the region itself isn’t very interesting to explore. The post game only really got better with the DLC as well, with the Battle Tower in gen 8 being only a small distraction. A lot of this game feels it’s missing something. Despite this, I think the fact that they made breeding for EVs and IVs more accessible in this title was a wonderful choice, as it incentivized the competitive angle, which is where these games generally have staying power.
Speaking of competitive, the gimmick in gen 8 is Gigantamax, in which one pokémon per battle can grow huge, give its moves more power or buffs, and gives a bit of a health boost. As one would expect at this point, this gimmick is what most competitive teams are built around. That, and in my case, making teams to demolish mainstays like Kyogre.
These games do leave a bit wanting, but they’ve hit their stride with the DLC and I enjoyed it a lot more that I thought I would. That being said, the mandatory EXP share wasn’t appreciated and should be optional if they choose this method again in gen 9.
Now that we’ve covered some history for the series, it’s time to end off with my personal rankings for the games, with 1 being the highest score, and 8 being the lowest.
- Gen 5: Black and White
- Gen 7: Sun and Moon
- Gen 3: Ruby and Sapphire
- Gen 2: Gold and Silver
- Gen 1: Red and Blue
- Gen 4: Diamond and Pearl
- Gen 8: Sword and Shield
- Gen 6: X and Y
Please remember that this is my opinion and if you have the completely opposite opinions as me, that’s entirely okay. I love the series and everyone enjoys it differently. This was made simply for me to have fun and talk about these games that have been a part of my life longer than almost anything else.
Thanks for reading, and stay safe out there, everyone.