Bard Rock Cafe Episode 28: Alcohol
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It took two years, but I finally ended up with Covid.
It has taken me a while to push through it. I spent a lot of my time curled up in bed with Lemsip, painkillers, and stuff to pass the time, and a lot of that was Pokemon. I recently finished Ultra Sun for my second playthrough, and I’ve been working through Y once more. I haven’t played Pokemon X and Y in over seven years, and I didn’t remember anything about them. Pokemon Legends Arceus is still on my completion list, which might take a while. It’s a pretty big game, and I’m surprised how much I’m enjoying it.
It got me thinking. Tiermaker.com is a pretty cool website where people can rank pretty much everything under the sun. So I thought: why not rank every single Pokemon main series game and write about it? I’ve played every single Pokemon mainline game, after all, so I thought this would be fun to talk about. I’ve made some pretty controversial ranking decisions, and people love discussing controversial things in Pokemon, don’t they?
There’s a lot to cover, so to make sure these articles don’t get too long; I’m going to split this into two parts. In this first part, I’ll talk about the first three generations. For conversation’s sake, here’s my Tier list!
I used a template on Tiermaker for this purpose which covered every Pokemon title, including Green. Of course, I never played Green because it’s Japanese, so I kept it out. There are three types of Pokemon games I will cover: The main titles, third games/sequels, and remakes. As you can tell, there are a lot of Pokemon games. Thirty-five, to be exact, across eight generations. Eight and a half, if we count Arceus.
Ranking a Giant
Gamefreak and Nintendo seem to treat these as the first draft, and these tend to have the biggest issues. As this tier list turned out, I scored the third/remakes significantly higher, and some of these third games completely changed the experience. I’ll come to the second category soon. Naturally, Nintendo and Game Freak love selling the third versions for full price, and we naturally bought them all. I’m part of the problem! sits in the corner
Ahem. Let’s do this! We’ll kick things off with the Gameboy/Gameboy Color lineup.
Pokemon Red and Blue
They are the originals and boy; they are dated! I reviewed these here:
It’s hard judging these properly because they are the original games and made in the 1990s, but I did play them again last year. Plagued by broken mechanics and glitches as well as a dismal postgame, they are a letdown in this regard. However, first in the franchise in the 1990s does excuse some of these issues. On a replay, I found them surprisingly enjoyable to play even now. They are a fairly tight-knit experience despite the glitches. It’s easy to build a diverse team thanks to easy evolution stone access (It’s a real shame you couldn’t do this, Gold and Silver, huh?), and after a certain point, the games become almost non-linear. Most Pokemon games are pretty easy, and Red and Blue are no exception, but the difficulty isn’t too bad.
These were the hardest games to rank. After much thought, I decided to place Red/Blue in the upper C tier. I’ve made some controversial choices for ranking some of the games, and most of my most controversial choices will come in this tier.
Game Freak and Nintendo realized very early on how much of a goldmine Pokemon was, and they’ve pushed that to the limit. We’ve had four generations of ‘Third Versions’, before switching to remakes and sequels. I don’t particularly like this practice because it’s essentially a way to ask for more money on second drafts. These third titles are usually the strongest in their generation trio. You’ll notice by my ranking table that I didn’t think too well of the originals, especially Diamond and Pearl. We’ll come to that soon enough, though.
Pokemon Yellow was a solid upgrade. With a new starter in Pikachu, better enemy team diversity, a vastly improved Elite Four, some additional content like Team Rocket from the anime, and better level up movesets, it felt like a good improvement over Red and Blue. There’s even a little Surfing Pikachu minigame if you have Pokemon Stadium. While it doesn’t add any significant post-game events, it’s probably the definitive version from this generation trio. For this reason, I placed it at the top of the C tier.
Pokemon Gold and Silver
Revolutionary for its time in the early 2000s, it made a fantastic first impression. With its lovely visuals for the Game Boy Color, it introduced a ton of groundbreaking mechanics like breeding and held items, and it allows the player to return to Kanto for an excellent surface post-game. Unfortunately, I found myself hardened to this generation in future playthroughs, and even rainbow-tinted glasses cannot stop me from seeing the major flaws with this generation.
For all the charm, the lack of balance and terrible Pokemon distribution makes for lack of good team building. Without serious grinding, it’s nearly impossible to maintain more than a team of six or seven, and this worsens when going to Kanto after becoming Champion. Despite all the enjoyment of being able to revisit Kanto, it’s a poor experience, probably due to technical limitations on the cartridge. Furthermore, these original games made it impossible to get the evolutionary stones for the cool stuff like Arcanine, Starmie, etc. Do you know how to get these? Well into the postgame, in which you need to do a little fetch quest to receive one. One of each evolutionary stone in the entire game. That’s it!
The game’s obsession with Generation One also boiled over into the gameplay. Johto introduced a hundred new pokemon, but they are barely brought into the games. The entire Johto gym leader challenge uses a total of four native Pokemon. That’s it. Many of the better natives are also inaccessible until the postgame. Of course, the difficulty of Pokemon Gold and Silver has to be discussed. Low levels, poor enemy move pools, and a weak level scaling all contribute to a relatively easy experience. It’s a shame because they could have been better.
For all my complaints of this generation, however, I placed them in the mid-C tier, behind Red and Blue and above the others. Call it nostalgia; I just enjoyed them more than other ‘first game’ lineups, despite their many issues.
Controversial take, I wasn’t very impressed with Crystal. It’s probably the weakest ‘third title’ of the lot, even if it’s still a decent experience. I think it’s because it doesn’t add enough to warrant a third version. Game Freak had a huge opportunity to change things up with the gym leaders, for instance. Yellow, Emerald, and Platinum made significant improvements in this regard, but in Crystal? We got nothing like that at all.
Crystal made some changes, of course. The biggest one which was kept ever since was the ability to choose your gender, which is probably the best thing it did. We’ve got some additional items through phone calls, a small subplot centered around the legendary dog Suicune, a few improved routes for better encounters, and a couple of extra events. All of these were welcome improvements. I just don’t think it was enough to warrant a full price. One thing Crystal did include, which I loved, was the Battle Tower. Crystal’s Battle Tower is notorious for its difficulty, and at least it made for a decent gameplay addition. Being able to access it at any point in the game was also cool. For such an easy set of games, having a difficult Battle Tower was nice.
Despite some good things, I couldn’t give Crystal any higher than upper-C. It’s by far the weakest third title in the series and feels more like a missed opportunity. It’s not a bad game at all, though.
Pokemon Ruby and Sapphire
I have such a weird experience playing these games again. It’s not that they are bad, not at all. Generation Three included a ton of cool stuff to the game, including double battles and abilities. I think my issue with Ruby and Sapphire is that while they are decent games, they just lacked…something? In comparison with Emerald, which was such a fantastic upgrade, it almost makes playing these versions pointless. I have the same problem with Diamond and Pearl. It’s for this reason that they are so low on my list. The third in the trio just outclassed them so much.
So…yeah. It’s safe to suggest I loved Pokemon Emerald! There’s a big reason I have Emerald in the S tier because it’s earned every penny of that title. I’m not certain it’s my favorite Pokemon title of all time because it’s fighting for that rank with two very strong candidates. Emerald improved so much over Ruby and Sapphire that it’s made those games nearly obsolete. With better Pokemon distribution, more Double battles, vastly improved gym leader and Elite Four lineups for extra difficulty, more story encounters with both evil teams, Emerald punches well above its weight.
There’s also the Battle Frontier, one of the best postgame additions for any Pokemon generation. Emerald’s Frontier has a couple of issues, but this was an amazing piece of extra content that holds up to this day. There are even gym leader rematches! The only thing which let Emerald down was the Champion change. I do not know why they swapped out Steven Stone for Wallace. It felt like a downgrade. Besides that, Emerald is as good a third trio title as it comes, and it’s well-deserving of the S-tier.
Pokemon Fire Red and Leaf Green
Now we go on to the remakes! I can imagine how huge these were for people back in the day, and they still hold up nicely. With all the improvements that Generation Three added to the series as well as new features, I was quite impressed by how well these remakes hold up even in 2022. When people ask me which Pokemon games to try out first, I always recommend Fire Red and Leaf Green as a start. They are tight, reasonable experiences that fix most of the problems which the original Red/Blue titles had.
Withheld items, abilities, breeding, and an expanded Pokedex, these games take everything good about the originals and improve them. It’s a faithful remake which reminds me of what kicked off this giant in gaming, just makes them more organic to play. It even adds more with the Sevii islands, a chunky piece of postgame content that unlocks after the 7th badge, which introduces a bit of new story, Team Rocket’s revival, and new Pokemon, including the Battle Tower. While it’s not quite the level of future Battle Towers and the excellent Battle Frontier, it just adds a bit more meat on the bones.
I don’t think they are the best remakes out there, but they come close to the top. They are still some of the most enjoyable Pokemon games to date, despite their humble beginnings. Game Freak did an excellent job with these remakes, and it paved the way for the Nintendo DS generation: which might just be the epitome of the entire Pokemon handheld franchise.
That’s the end of Part One! We’ll move on to the DS generation for the next piece, and we’ve got some of the best and worst in Pokemon to cover. There’s still a lot to discuss.
What about your favourite Pokemon games? Do you think my list is right? Am I talking out of my ass? Let me know in the comments, and have a good week!