The Best and Worst of Every Pokemon Generation: Episode 2
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It’s been a few months now since the launch of Pokemon Scarlet and Violet, the latest in the juggernaut that is the Pokemon franchise. As of writing this, I’m about 25 hours into Pokemon Scarlet and… I’m torn on it. On the one hand, the performance issues, horrible draw distance, and glitches are a pain in the ass. They should never have released them in this state. But hey, it’s still breaking all records in sales… yey. Nothing like convincing Game Freak that they don’t need to improve launches, right?
On the other hand, I can’t deny how much fun I have with it! It’s such a strange feeling, playing something I’m enjoying so much and wanting to punch it repeatedly for how god-awful the draw distance is! I’ll be working on a review of Scarlet when I complete it, but it gave me an idea. I write a lot of Pokemon content on this site, but I’ve struggled to commit to finishing the series. I’ve got my ‘Nostalgia’ series I started in 2021, and my tier list. It is a massive franchise of games, after all. Apologies for me not finishing either; they’ve been stuck in development hell for a while. Scarlet and Violet are out; however, I could return to the tier list.
Now we have nine different generations of Pokemon; it might be a good time to discuss them properly. Discuss the pros and cons of every age; the fun reviewer stuff. Despite what some people believe, every generation has both good and bad. Even Sword and Shield. I know, that’s a shocker!
So, Nine Generations, three parts. That shouldn’t be too difficult. We’ll do these in chronological order, so we’ll cover the first three generations in this episode. After that, I’ll cover the middle games, such as Platinum, as well as sequels like Black 2, but I won’t be covering the remakes in this one. While they often use the same engine as their respective generations, they differ from the mainline Pokemon games. I’d be happy to discuss the remakes in another episode if there’s any interest in it.
Generation 1: Pokemon Red, Blue, and Yellow
Kicking off with the 1990s games that started them all, it isn’t easy to review them properly. They are ancient and incredibly dated. How broken they remain to this day is almost a meme now. Glitches up the wazoo, broken mechanics, Pokemon typings that don’t even work, there are too many to count.
Psychic Pokemon are overpowered: ghost moves don’t even work against them due to a programming error, and their only weakness is the Bug type. So yeah, they suck in this generation, sorry!
Glitches and general mechanics aside, the games also lack a real postgame. After becoming Champion, the only thing to do is catch Mewtwo, the legendary bird, and fight the Elite Four repeatedly. They were the first Pokemon video games to be made, so our expectations back then have to be considered.
Pokemon Yellow was the first of Game Freak’s ‘third version’ titles, a great way to ask for more money from people. Either way, Yellow made some solid improvements over Red and Blue. Enemy teams are more diverse, the Elite Four are more challenging, Pokemon movesets are slightly tweaked for more options, and there is a bit of additional content, like the Team Rocket battles from the anime, a cute Surfing Pikachu game. No postgame improvements, sadly.
Despite all of the issues with Generation One, I still enjoyed my more recent playthroughs with them. It’s relatively easy to build a diverse team thanks to the access to evolution stones in Celadon City, and I found Kanto a tight experience overall. You wouldn’t think they’d hold up after over twenty years, but they still do. I’d still recommend playing the Fire Red/Leaf Green Gen 3 remakes of these games for the definitive 1st gen experience due to the improved quality-of-life features and extra content, but the originals aren’t bad. I also like how Kanto has some non-linearity after Celadon, and unlike the sequels Gold and Silver, Gen 1 did a good job.
Sheer nostalgic value
Dated with a lot of bugs and glitches
Tight, simple gameplay and story that works
Pokemon typings are unbalanced
Solid selection of Pokemon, good options
No true postgame
Well-made non-linear progression
Poor QOL features, Pokemon have bad movepools, can’t delete HM moves.
Generation 2: Pokemon Gold, Silver, and Crystal
I wish I could look back at these games with the same rainbow glasses I did when I played them as a kid. These were massive for their time!
After I got Pokemon Red for Christmas when I was a small child, I was suckered into the franchise. You could say that, seeing how it’s 2023, and I’m still playing the games! I picked up a US cartridge of Pokemon Gold in a local seaside market in 2001, several months before the European versions even launched. With that future technology, I was pretty popular in my primary school for a while!
It’s hard to describe how revolutionary these games were for the Game Boy Color, and they made an incredible first impression. Even playing them now, I’m still taken in by their charm and lovely visuals. The music is excellent, and they added several groundbreaking mechanics to the franchise.
We saw the inclusion of the Steel and Dark types. We got a day/night cycle that improved the realism. Pokemon breeding and held items allow people to invest so much time into tweaking every aspect of their collections, and it’s still impressive how much they packed into the tiny cartridge. On a first playthrough, finishing the Johto region only to be allowed access to Kanto blew me away when I was a child. On the surface, it looked like an incredible experience.
Sadly, looking back at it now, I feel like one of those old man assholes critiquing everything about them. For all their charm and grandeur, this generation had severe problems that held them back in the current playthrough. I went into this in some detail in my aborted Series ranking article last year, but here’s a summary:
1) Horrible level balance and lack of good Pokemon distribution. Grinding up new team members even mid-game is a slog, and making a diverse squad rotate out is tough. Keeping a more extensive roster than six-eight team members is a tedious challenge unless you want to spend hours grinding. Many of those will come from the early game, such as Mareep, your starter Pokemon, or perhaps an Abra? The guaranteed shiny Gyrados and the Friday Lapras are other vital member, but there aren’t many opportunities to grab attractive team members and try them out. Another determent is the complete lack of evolutionary stones in Gold/Silver until the late postgame. No Starmie or Arcanine…
2) Poor representation of native Pokemon. Johto received over a hundred new Pokemon, but they’re rarely used. The Johto gym leaders and the Elite Four mainly use Kanto Pokemon. Do you know how many native Pokemon are used by the Johto gym leaders? Four. Yep. Miltank, Steelix, Piloswine and Kingdra. It probably doesn’t help that most of the Johto lineup is poor. They either have bad stats, terrible movepools, or aren’t available until the late postgame. Houndour, Murkrow, and Larvitar arrive so late that it’s nearly impossible to use them in a normal playthrough, which is a shame.
3) Difficulty. The low levels and awful enemy movesets make for an easy experience. Kanto’s postgame is disappointing; the region was gutted to fit onto the cartridge, with most activities removed. No Safari Zone, dungeons, and Legendaries to catch like the birds and Mewtwo. Unlike Gen 1, Johto’s attempt at making a non-linear part of its game ended up as a detriment rather than an advantage.
Pokemon Crystal was a missed opportunity; they had a big chance to upgrade the experience level and the challenge, but it could have been better. It still made some nice changes with the excellent addition of being able to pick your gender, easier-to-get items like evolutionary stones, a few different events, and the Battle Tower. Still, it sadly didn’t add enough in my eyes to make it a worthy successor.
While it sounds like I’m not too fond of this generation of games, I’ve still put plenty of time into Gold and Silver over the years. It’s still Pokemon, after all. Of course, the Heart Gold/Soul Silver remakes on the Nintendo DS improved significantly from these originals, but I’d still argue the GBC versions are worth playing to this day.
Great visuals and charm
Awful Pokemon distribution
Crystal added the ability to pick own gender
Crystal wasn’t a revolutionary third game
Addition of new types, breeding, and held items
A gutted Kanto makes a disappointing experience
Revolutionary improvements on Red and Blue
Unbalanced, poor non-linear design
Revisiting Kanto for the first time: Nostalgic gold!
Generation 3: Pokemon Ruby, Sapphire, and Emerald
One of my favourite regions, these games cranked things up a notch in this generation. The addition of Pokemon abilities, Double Battles, and more made the jump to the Gameboy Advance a superb new addition.
I didn’t have a Gameboy Advance back then, and I almost skipped this generation entirely. It wasn’t until I complained about this to my dad that he went: “you could emulate it?”
Yep. My dad, who had had no interest in video games ever since I accidentally saved his Tomb Raider file when I was nine, somehow knew about game emulation. He’s instrumental! So with his tech help, I worked it out and got to play Pokemon Ruby for the first time.
Ruby and Sapphire are pretty solid games across the board, although Emerald made for such a massive improvement over them that I play Emerald over them these days. All the additions Emerald made, including the gigantic Battle Frontier, make it the perfect third-version title for me. It’s one of the best Pokemon games ever released; I wish they kept Steven Stone as the Champion fight over Wallace in Emerald. It made no sense to me.
All three starter Pokemon this generation are usable and great to use, with Swampert being a monster to try. It’s one of the only generations I liked, all three starters equally, and the world is expansive and enjoyable to explore. The gym leaders were a mix of exciting and challenging, and Emerald only improves them; better Pokemon distribution and movesets make for a solid experience. Overall, this generation has a great selection of Pokemon throughout the game, significantly improving over Gold and Silver.
In terms of weaknesses for this generation, a few things stand out. There are many necessary HMs for large chunks of the game, and the characters were a mixed bag. They were not entirely on the level of X/Y’s awful cast, but they felt uninspired. Brendan/May made for weak rivals, and I wasn’t too impressed with the evil team. Magma and Aqua weren’t very threatening and had no personality in the originals. The 3DS remakes went a long way to improve the characters of this gen, but except for Steven Stone, I wasn’t too enthralled with the cast of Gen 3.
Finally, despite the IGN meme of giving this generation a 7.8/10 for ‘too much water,’ there is a lot of aquatic travel through Hoenn. However, running into the same Tentacool/Wingulls over and over again is a little frustrating. I would have liked to see more things to do in Hoenn’s waters. Still, for the GBA era, these were decent games overall.
A varied world to explore
Removal of night/day cycle
New mechanics like Double Battles and Pokemon Abilities
Uninspiring plot and characters overall
Decent amount of challenge
Overreliance on HMs
Pokemon Emerald possibly the strongest game in the whole franchise
Too much water
That’s it for Episode One! In the next episode, we’ll be looking back at the Nintendo DS era of games and the first foray into the 3DS era with Generation Six. But we’ve still got a lot of fun to cover…
On that note, it’s time for me to get some coffee. Stay safe, and I’ll return soon!