Pokemon is the biggest media franchise in history, and it’s dominated the gaming landscape for over 25 years. Soon, the ninth generation of the legendary RPG series will grace the Nintendo Switch, with the release of Scarlet and Violet set for November 18 of this year. This will mark the second mainline entry on the Switch after the divisive Sword and Shield, and it looks like these upcoming games will feature the open-world style exploration first seen in Pokemon Legends: Arceus.
Before the ninth generation lands during the holiday season, we wanted to take a moment to rank all of the primary entries in the long-running series. In ascending order of awesomeness, here’s our definitive ranking of every mainline Pokemon RPG. Did your favorite place as high as you’d hoped?
Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl
The recent remakes of the fourth-generation titles Diamond and Pearl landed on the Switch last year, and they received a mixed reception. No one has argued that these are bad games, per se, but fans have noted that these are shockingly faithful remakes. Even the game’s art style hasn’t changed much since the DS release of Diamond and Pearl in 2006.
If you happened to miss those games back in the day, this is a great chance to experience them on a hybrid console. However, if you’re looking for a more modern experience, you can safely skip them. These games are the least vital of the entire mainline Pokemon series.
Let’s Go Pikachu and Let’s Go Eevee
Let’s Go Pikachu and Let’s Go Eevee are weird games. They’re remakes of the first generation titles Red and Blue, but they use the catching mechanics from the mobile game Pokemon Go. Players don’t battle wild Pokemon but instead throw Pokeballs at them in a timing-based minigame. It’s… odd.
If you’re brand new to the series, these games are a fine way to transition from the mobile game to the mainline RPGs. However, there are better ways to play Red and Blue if you’re in the mood for a history lesson in the long-running franchise. These aren’t bad games, but they’re certainly the worst versions of the titles they’re based on.
Sun and Moon
Sun and Moon deserve some praise for daring to break the mold. By the time these games landed on the 3DS in 2016, players had begun to grumble about the series repeating the same story and gameplay beats for 20 years. Sun and Moon got halfway there, mixing up the gameplay by replacing Gyms with Trials.
However, the games are the least inspiring of all the non-remake mainline titles. The new Pokemon designs are boring compared to the preceding and succeeding generations, and the storyline is incredibly inane. These games also have the distinction of being extremely easy and holding the player’s hand through nearly every challenge.
Sword and Shield
Sword and Shield marked the start of the eighth generation of Pokemon and was the first generation to appear on a home console. This wasn’t developer Game Freak’s decision; they were content to keep the games on handheld systems until the heat death of the universe. The Switch’s status as a hybrid console necessitated the move to living rooms.
Game Freak showed their displeasure with the forced move to home consoles by making Sword and Shield the first Pokemon RPGs to forego any number of prior Pokemon. Roughly half of the roster was unavailable at launch, and DLC updates only added a handful more to the game. While Sword and Shield are serviceable, they’re hardly what players wanted out of the series’ first home console release.
Ruby and Sapphire
Pokemon debuted on the Game Boy Advance with the fan-favorite Ruby and Sapphire. While fans adore the games, critics have noted a few issues with them. First and foremost, these games feature no connectivity with the first or second generation, forcing a wedge between the game’s earliest titles and the modern iterations.
For another thing, Ruby and Sapphire feature a very large amount of water. There are disproportionately more Water-type Pokemon in the game than in other generations. Aside from these minor gripes, the games are solid outings in the early history of the series.
Diamond and Pearl
In 2006, Pokemon burst onto the Nintendo DS with Diamond and Pearl. These games introduced a major upgrade to the existing formula: wi-fi connectivity. The ability to play Pokemon online with strangers was revolutionary, making it that much easier for completionists to finish their Pokedexes.
Moreover, the introduction of online play made it easier for players to engage in the competitive scene of raising and training the titular monsters. It didn’t hurt that Diamond and Pearl featured a stellar lineup of new Pokemon to catch and train.
Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire
Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire were better than their predecessors in a number of ways. These remakes smoothed off some of the rough edges found in the original releases, including the addition of Super Training and Mega Evolutions.
The remakes also help streamline the story and feature notably better graphics than their predecessors. Fans who missed out on Ruby and Sapphire can safely skip them in favor of these superior remakes.
Pokemon Legends: Arceus
Where Sun and Moon iterated on the Pokemon formula, Arceus threw the formula to the wind and dared to be original. The game is phenomenal and features some of the best graphics and gameplay of the entire series.
It’s also a short game that functions more as a proof of concept than a full experience. The most exciting thing about Arceus is what it could mean for the upcoming Scarlet and Violet. If the new mainline games are more like Arceus than Sword and Shield, we’re excited for the future of the series.
X and Y
Pokemon’s first foray into the third dimension came in 2013 with the 3DS titles X and Y. These games introduced the Talos Region, which took inspiration from real-world France and showcased a handful of the most inspired new Pokemon designs since the first generation.
X and Y also revitalized the series’ gameplay by introducing Mega Evolutions: anime-like transformations that could make your monsters even more formidable for a short time. While competitive players resented the ripples Mega Evolution sent through the tournament scene, casual players adored the way the new mechanic impacted the single-player experience.
Black and White
Black and White function as standalone RPGs in a way that other Pokemon titles (excluding the first generation) simply can’t. Players explore the New York-inspired Unova region and meet a brand-new cast of 151 Pokemon, with none of the older creatures appearing until after the credits roll.
This bold design decision helped Black and White stand apart from their predecessors, and make them some of the most exciting entries in the mainline games’ timeline. If you’ve never played Pokemon, you should start with Black and White for a singular outing that introduces you to the series’ best mechanics without the bloat present in some newer titles.
Red and Blue
Pokemon made its first appearance in the West with 1998’s Red and Blue. The games had appeared in Japan in 1996 as Red and Green, but the localization process and bug-fixing convinced Game Freak to market the Western versions as a brand-new package.
Red and Blue proved to be immediate successes for Nintendo, kickstarting a massive media franchise and getting millions of people to buy Game Boy consoles. While the originals have aged in the intervening 23 years, they’re still classics.
Gold and Silver
Where Red and Blue broke new ground for handheld RPGs, Gold and Silver proved that the franchise was here to stay. They feature a new region, a massive selection of new Pokemon, and two new elemental types for the creatures: Steel and Dark.
Gold and Silver also introduced Pokemon breeding, allowing players to try to raise the strongest creatures by selectively breeding for the best characteristics. The games also introduced the concept of context-specific evolutions, such as having a monster level up at night or during the day.
Fire Red and Leaf Green
Red and Blue are all-time classic games, but they’ve aged like milk. Thankfully, Game Freak noticed this early on and remade them as the phenomenal Fire Red and Leaf Green. These games were also necessary, as Ruby and Sapphire were incapable of communicating with the first and second generations of the franchise.
Fire Red and Leaf Green function as some of the best standalone games in the franchise, alongside Black and White. If you want to experience the beginnings of the legendary series–and you can manage to find a copy of these rare GBA games–they still hold up today.
HeartGold and SoulSilver
Most fans agree that the series’ high water mark came in 2009, with the masterful remakes of Gold and Silver. HeartGold and SoulSilver are mostly faithful remakes of their respective predecessors, but they’re also full of modern flourishes that make them fan favorites. Gold and Silver were already the premier Pokemon experience, but the addition of online play and updated graphics made their remakes absolute must-play titles.
What’s more, they also included the best twist from the second generation: upon defeating the Elite Four, the player is able to travel to Kanto, the region seen in Red and Blue. This gives the game twice as much content as any other Pokemon title, and it looks better than ever on the DS.