WHAT THE HECK IS THIS??????
Like any x-treme hardcore video gamer, I have strong opinions on certain video games. I want to start documenting my opinions of games from certain series’ that I really enjoy. With that said, this list will probably be tentative for a while because I don’t have hours to write dumb lists about video games all day, so take some of it with a grain of salt.
Disclaimer in regards to what I write about my opinions on music: I absolutely love video game music, and I even transcribe it on a regular basis. However, I am not formally trained in it, and so my terminology and way of putting things may sound off, or even incorrect. I apologize in advance for this.
Mega Man (Classic)
Overall opinion: 4 > 5 > 9 > 11 > 2 > 1 > 8 > MM&B > 7 > 3 > 10 > 6
The Mega Man (Classic) series is probably my favorite series in video games. The fast and consistent gameplay, the amount of replayability and experimentation, and the always memorable music has hooked me since I really got into the series with the Mega Man 9. Unlike the popular opinion of the series having peaked at 2 and 3 and dropping off in quality from there, I find that there is no consistent pattern to the quality of the games (in other words, the next entry always seems to be a wildcard). It would be very hard for me to decide on my favorite “era” of games, as there always seems to be one in the bunch that I like a lot, and one that I am not as fond of. In terms of my overall list, I find that 4, 5, and 9 are my favorite by far, and beyond that each entry has at least one major flaw that really holds it back.
Mega Man 4: This game is criminally underrated. While there are games in the series that I am able to appreciate despite their lack of objective quality (5, 8), MM4 is a game that is legitimately well-designed and is still often forgotten, usually residing in the shadow of the two preceding games. It is easily the most polished game up to this point in terms of controls and functionality (though future entries, excluding 6, manage to polish it to the point of perfection), with my only big gripe being that jumping out of a slide while underwater doesn’t work. The stage design and enemy patterns are very inspired, up to and even including the fortress stages, of which this game has a plethora of. The weapons are a highlight of this game, managing to be balanced, effective, and fun all at the same time. It’s definitely among the best set of weapons in the series, with only MM9’s weapons rivaling their practicality. The only downside to some of these weapons is that they feel a bit uniform (Ring Boomerang, Dust Crusher, Drill Bomb all fire in a straight line and only have minor variations in their patterns). The slide is still wonderful, and the new charge shot is a very satisfying mechanic. The bosses are mostly fun, but the patterns feel less inspired this time around. However, unlike the previous entries up to this point, they all feel more polished and less cheap, with not a single robot master fight feeling insurmountable without a special weapon. The music fits snugly in the middle of my list of favorite Mega Man music, with the overall selection feeling like, again, an upgrade over the previous three entries in the series.
Mega Man 5: I once considered MM5 to be my personal favorite, even beating MM4, but I can’t ignore the plethora of minor issues that hold it back. The music and level of polish top MM4, but weapon balance, level design, and overall level of inspiration all feel like they’ve taken a step back. I really enjoy experimenting with the MM5 weapons, but the bulk of them are not practical in spite of that. Plus, this game’s charge shot is overpowered. While MM4’s enemies felt balanced around the idea of the charge shot, MM5’s enemies all seem to conveniently take just enough damage to not need more than one charge shot to be destroyed. The bosses continue the trend of feeling appropriately polished, but not quite as inspired as previous entries (especially in Proto Man’s fortress). The core game is still very fun to play through, however, and the interestingly bad set of weapons and easier difficulty makes it one of the most fun Mega Man games to just screw around in. When I first played Mega Man 5, I was quite undecided on it. Upon my years of replaying it, however, the game has grown to be one of my favorite entries in the series in spite of its minor flaws and declining inspiration.
Mega Man 9:
Music opinion: MM&B > 5 > 10 > 6 > 8 > 4 > 11 > 7 > 9 > 3 > 2 > 1
Mega Man X
Overall opinion: X4 > X1 > X2 > X8 > X5 > X3 > X7 > X6
On the whole, my opinion of the Mega Man X series has lined up very much with the popular opinion of it (which usually doesn’t happen with me and my sometimes hipster-y opinions, as you may notice with the Classic series). I haven’t played the games as frequently as I have the Classic series games, and I still need to finish the series in general, but I have formed a pretty solid opinion of the games I have played that likely won’t change around a bunch in the future.
Mega Man X4: Mega Man X4 is a very good game. The series’ transition to the Playstation could not have been smoother, as everything you could feasibly expect out of an X game is here. The story is a bunch of nonsense that I don’t really care about, as in most X games, but the ridiculously voice acted animated cutscenes are an absolutely hilarious treat. I love the goofy aspects of the Mega Man series, and the awful, yet endearing voices in X4 defines what that means for me. Heck, not even all of it is goofy either. I think the voice acting for whenever you select a stage is a very satisfying moment, and one that’s sorely missing in the following X games, like X5. I have very little to comment on in regards to the level design, and that’s a testament to how solid it is. As a matter of fact, playing X5 showed me how you could do exactly what X4 did, but much worse. The weapon set is good and fills most needs. The only pressing issue in X4 is the music, which I find very underwhelming. With that being the only major flaw I can see with this game, I think it’s safe to say this game comes highly recommended, especially as one’s introduction to the series.
Mega Man X1: The bulk of X1 is very well put together, despite it being the first entry in the series. I have two main issues with this game: the controls and the level progression. The controls are actually very good, but there lies one problem: dashing off of walls. You can only do it if you press the dash button and jump at the same time, whereas in every other X game you only have to be holding the dash button while jumping (which makes it much less needlessly precise). It’s not a huge issue, but it will lead to some frustrating moments sometimes. My other gripe revolves around the level progression, but more specifically the dash. This is the only X game where you don’t start with the ability to dash. This makes sense to me, and I really enjoy the intro stage despite not having that ability; however, the ability being relegated to Chill Penguin’s stage absolutely cripples replayability and makes blind playthroughs a nightmare if you’re not aware of its necessity beforehand. It’s a big flaw in my eyes, but it’s the only other big issue I have with the game. The level design, weapons, music, and boss fights range from decent to fantastic, making this an excellent outing for the X series.
Mega Man X2: This game is where the series starts to drop off a bit for me. Definitely the series’ most average game, it has its share of flaws, but it is overall a pleasant experience. The level design is mostly good, but it will tend to have a few more frustrating moments than some of the more well put together games, due to things such as instant death spikes or crush-y blocks. The weapons, music, and boss fights aren’t bad, but all a downgrade from the first X game. The weapons are extremely niche, and while it could be worse, it’s definitely the worst set of weapons I’ve ever used in any X game. They’re very hard to use properly and tend to be much slower than you want. The music is great, and I love the style and improved instrument set, but the compositions are overall weaker than its predecessor’s counterparts. The boss fights irk me because of how long some of them take, like Wheel Gator and Crystal Snail. So, overall, X2 is an alright game, but I would consider it a straight downgrade from X1.
Mega Man X8:
Mega Man X5: If X2 is mostly a weaker version of X1, then X5 is a vastly weaker version of X4. It has a lot of similarities, but introduces a lot of confusing mechanics and is just overall less well designed. My favorite comparison is to the rider stages in each game: I’m not the biggest fan of the rider gimmick, but Jet Stingray in X4 is a fun, inoffensive stage. Squid Adler’s stage in X5 made me appreciate much, much more how well X4 was designed, because the one in X5 was designed like a level straight out of I Wanna Be The Guy. There is no room to learn how the rider works if you’re not familiar with it (literally, because of the FUNNY DEATH PIT AT THE VERY BEGINNING OF THE STAGE THAT SHOWS UP BEFORE THE “READY” MESSAGE EVEN DISAPPEARS), and doing a boost is almost always guaranteed suicide unless you know exactly where to use it. The levels aren’t usually this bad though, and the only other bad levels that come to mind are Duff McWhalen (everything about Duff McWhalen is bad, by the way) and the Sigma stages. The boss fights are alright I guess, but having to refight them with health bars twice as large in the Sigma stages is extremely tedious and NOT FUN. The weapons are all actually quite good, and I do appreciate the amount of customization X5 gives you (though I still don’t get how some of the mechanics work to this day). Oh yeah, X5 replaced the anime cutscenes and funny voice acting with still images and big walls of text. Great. The one thing X5 definitely has over its predecessor, though? The music is way better.
Mega Man X3: The biggest issue with X3 is that the level design is supremely lazy, usually being filled with the same one or two enemies you’ll always be reminded of throughout the game. The weapons are alright, probably about middle of the road for an X game, but there are definitely weapons that you’ll be using a lot more frequently than the rest (for example, blasting through stages with the Triad Thunder because the way the levels are constructed encourages it). New mechanics like the ride armor are SUPER clunky and frustrating to use when they have absolutely no right to be that way considering how the last two games nailed the controls on them. I personally enjoy the music the most out of any X game oddly enough, but despite that, everything else in the game is just unremarkable.
Mega Man X7:
Mega Man X6: Usually when I say that a Mega Man game is bad, it’s relative to other Mega Man games, not to video games as a whole. However, in X6’s case, it’s just straight-up bad. The level design is a frustrating, poorly constructed mess that makes X5 look like a well put together game. This is only compounded by the game’s Nightmare mechanic, where each stage will get different elements depending on which stages you’ve already beaten. This can range to random breakable blocks scattered throughout the stage (while pointless and annoying, it’s still one of the more inoffensive effects) to making the stage extremely cumbersome to navigate through because of a lighting gimmick that makes the stage dark except for near the middle of the screen (this is seriously awful and should have never even been considered to be included at any point). The stage design is the worst part by far and is what drags this game down so low, but there are a few nice improvements coming after X5 in spite of that. The music is the best it has been since the Super Nintendo games. The Maverick fights are a big improvement over X5’s, although the other fights in the game are a huge mixed bag (HI-MAX, Nightmare Mother, and Gate are all flawed in their own unique ways). The upgrade system, while flawed, is at least better than X5’s extremely ambiguous way of handing them out.
Music opinion: X3 > X6 > X1 > X2 > X5 > X8 > X7 > X4
Mega Man X3: I know from my days around the Mega Man community that X3 is a very divisive soundtrack. It’s gritty, repetitive, and very clearly metal-inspired. But I love it. The soundtrack contains so many of my favorite songs in the X series, and there are only a very tiny handful of songs in the entire OST that I don’t like. Tunnel Rhino is the only one of the Maverick themes that I don’t like. It manages to have that distinct X3 feel, but isn’t nearly as catchy as the other songs. Still though, 7 for 8 on the main stage themes is quite impressive. There are a lot of great non-stage themes as well, such as the Credits and Dr. Cain’s lab. As a matter of fact, despite the latter being no longer than a 10 second loop, I feel like it’s one of the most memorable songs in the game. There are a lot of great songs on the SNES soundtrack if you can appreciate the style it goes for.
There’s also the matter of the arranged (PSX) soundtrack. It suffers from a lot of the same issues I have with X4’s soundtrack, which shouldn’t be surprising considering it was done mostly by the same composer. Many of the instruments sound too quiet, and the synths feel too generic for the original compositions. In addition, there are many parts where it feels like not enough is going on besides the lead instrument (like the buildup to Volt Catfish’s song). I actually think the arranged soundtrack is better the more derivative it gets with the original songs, which is why the Opening Stage, Gravity Beetle, and Blast Hornet are among my favorites, while songs like Volt Catfish and Crush Crawfish are slightly more underwhelming. Overall, the arranged soundtrack actually has good arrangements, but the instrument set and mixing bring it a notch below the SNES version.
Favorite song: Volt Catfish (SNES). There’s been an everlasting battle in my head about if I like Volt Catfish, Gravity Beetle, or Toxic Seahorse the most. The buildup and resulting climax in Volt Catfish’s song always seems to win me over in the end, though.
Mega Man X6: This game has a very solid set of Maverick themes. The instrumentation is as good as it’s been for the PS1 X games, and the songs themselves range from catchy, atmospheric tunes (Blizzard Wolfgang, Commander Yammark) to more upbeat and energetic songs that go hard (Blaze Heatnix, Infinity Mijinion). Even the boss themes, normally songs that I don’t pay as much attention to, are very good in this game. The intro stage boss theme is weird, but very catchy, and Gate’s theme is so satisfyingly sinister. My biggest gripe with the soundtrack is how every song after the Maverick stages are remixes. The Gate stages chose an odd X2 song to remix, and it isn’t super memorable in my opinion. The Sigma stage theme is a bit more derivative, but isn’t any more interesting. Still though, the soundtrack doesn’t have many low points as a whole.
Favorite song: Shield Sheldon. I played X6 as a very young kid, and this song was one that always stuck with me. It’s a very cool composition.
Mega Man X1: This soundtrack feels like the quintessential and most complete X soundtrack. It feels like a proper evolution of the Classic series soundtrack on the Super Nintendo. It has many very solid, high-energy tunes that all utilize a quite varied instrument set. I feel as if the instruments aren’t quite as refined and polished as they could be, especially given that this is the first game in the series, and the high points in the soundtrack aren’t quite as high as they are in other games. But I think it’s hard to argue that as a collective, it’s a great soundtrack with very catchy melodies.
Favorite song: Armored Armadillo. This is actually very tough because of what I said about the soundtrack not having a lot of defined high points… many of the great songs in this game are all very close to each other.
Mega Man X2: While this is technically the worst X soundtrack on the Super Nintendo for me, I still very much enjoy it. There are a few more stinkers this time around, but the style in which these songs were arranged is super distinct and fun to listen to. There are a lot of synths, and there seems to be a large emphasis on the rapid and complex drum beats throughout most of the songs. I appreciate what X2 tries to do, and I respect that it’s a great soundtrack in its own right, but I feel like it doesn’t mesh as well for me and isn’t quite what I expect out of X music. Many of the songs feel a bit less energetic and more ambient (Wire Sponge, Bubble Crab, Crystal Snail), while others meander and don’t feel like they really go anywhere at all (Morph Moth, Overdrive Ostrich). It still has a nice collection of high-energy tunes that you’d expect to hear out of an X game, like Absolute Zero and Wheel Gator, but as a whole the soundtrack doesn’t feel like it has enough satisfying tracks compared to the other two X games. Overall, while I feel that many of the songs are weaker composition-wise, the improved instrument set from X1 and focus on its distinct style help make this a very satisfying soundtrack nonetheless.
Favorite song: Opening Stage. Believe it or not, this might actually be my favorite song in the X series. It’s a super catchy intro stage theme, as per MMX standards, but it also has that lovely X2 style of percussion that really makes it feel special.
Mega Man X5: Despite how low this looks like it ranks, I truly do like the X5 soundtrack. Deciding between X5’s and X2’s soundtrack is absolutely a tossup, and yet the gap between X4’s and X5’s soundtrack is huge. X5 has better instrumentation than its predecessor, and the bulk of the songs are just flat-out catchier. X5’s soundtrack doesn’t have many glaring issues, but I do dislike how it goes a bit overboard with reusing songs from previous Mega Man games. Reusing Bubble Crab’s theme for Duff McWhalen is the worst offender, and the Yellow Devil boss theme for the Shadow Devil feels a bit unnecessary as well. The only weak tracks in the game to me are Mattrex’s theme and Zero Stage 1 (both feel like they lean heavily on creating an atmosphere over a catchy song), but everything else is great. With the other X games setting such a high bar, I put this one just barely below X2’s soundtrack, mostly because X2’s style is much more unique and grabs me every time I listen to it.
Favorite song: Squid Adler.
Mega Man X8:
Mega Man X7:
Mega Man X4: The X4 soundtrack is very underwhelming, and reminds me of the worst parts of the arranged X3 soundtrack. The instrument set feels comprised primarily by generic, quiet synths, and the songs themselves either meander (Split Mushroom) or focus mostly on atmosphere (Frost Walrus, Magma Dragoon). Many of the songs blend together, and it took me much longer to start recognizing each individual theme compared to the other X soundtracks. There are some bright spots, however. The opening stage theme is as catchy as ever. The best Maverick themes (Jet Stingray, Cyber Peacock) manage to nail the instrument set and are decently catchy as well. Some songs (Slash Beast, Storm Owl) have grown on me because of their solid melodies manage to trump the poor instrumentation. However, this is still easily the weakest of the X soundtracks, and I don’t foresee my mind changing due to how large the gap in quality is over the one above it.
Favorite song: Slash Beast.
Unranked (need to play/replay): X8
Pokémon (Main Series)
Overall opinion: BW > SM > HGSS > RBGY
I’ve been a fan of the Pokémon series ever since I played Sapphire for the first time when I was a very young child. There have been multiple times that I have taken a break from the series, most notably after the release of Black 2 & White 2 because I was burned out of it at that point, but I always find myself trying out the newer games and revisiting old ones when I have a lot of time outside of my house to play some portable games. More recently, the most important part of the series to me has been the music. I’ve become very familiar with the composers of the main entries of the series, and they’re some of my favorite of all-time. Even though I’ve played pretty much all of the games, I hesitate to write opinions on the ones I haven’t played as recently because I find that my feelings tend to jump around a lot over the years.
Pokémon Black & White: These games are the pinnacle of the series, and unless I’m more impressed upon replaying Black 2 & White 2, I doubt that any previous Pokémon games will come as close when I replay it, or that any future games will be able to match it. To help contextualize some of the points I’m going to make, I want to discuss how I think the quality of the Pokémon games have progressed over the years. The earlier games (everything before Pokémon X & Y) had the most heart put into them, but have aged rather poorly when you look at gameplay mechanics. The later games (everything after and including Pokémon X & Y) seem to lack some of the fundamental elements that made the previous games so iconic and exciting, but have a much higher level of polish and are less of a chore to play through. The point I want to make by saying this is that the Generation 5 games, Black & White specifically, are a beautiful middle ground. They truly feel like the final games in the series to feel special and lovingly crafted, but also the first games in the series to really optimize a ton of the basic gameplay mechanics. A good example of this is the experience system. In all games before them, every battle gave you a static amount of experience. This sounds fine in theory, but when you’re building a team of multiple Pokémon, the lower leveled ones in your team become very difficult to train. It always seems to get to the point where it’s actually better to train one or two Pokémon as opposed to four or five. Black & White introduce a scaling experience system, where winning fights as a lower leveled Pokémon will net you more experience points, and vice versa. Normally I would be put off by this kind of rubber banding in a video game, but the way it’s done here dramatically betters the pace of the game. The addition of the Audino mechanic (you can find Audino in shaking patches of grass, and fighting one will give you a TON of experience) and receiving the Lucky Egg (an item that doubles the amount of experience you get when a Pokémon holds it) so early is the icing on the cake. Grinding is a non-issue. You level up fast, and it feels a lot more fun and satisfying than in the previous games. You can have a proper team of Pokémon, and it’s great.
Besides the improved mechanics, the other elements of the game manage to be among the best in the series. The story, normally very formulaic and simple, manages to surprise with the inclusion of N and Ghetsis’s relationship, as well as the amazing twist on the Champion. Speaking of the latter, the ending to Black & White is something I doubt will ever be topped. It legitimately feels like the perfect ending to a Pokémon game. You’re told point-blank that Alder is the Champion, but you’re led to believe that the Champion could be N by the time you defeat the Elite Four. Upon finishing the Elite Four, the game seamlessly intertwines the final battles of the game with the story, perfectly merging the traditional mascot legendary battle with the final Champion battle AND the final battle with the head of the evil organization you’re trying to defeat along the way. It’s executed so well, but perhaps the best part of all is the final moments with N. After these three epic fights, N talks to you one final time. As he talks to you, you walk with him towards the end of the castle. His full body portrait shows up, he says his climactic final few sentences, and the Pokémon Black & White logo takes over the screen with the iconic ending theme starting to play. It’s such a well executed moment that no other Pokémon game has ever scratched the surface of.
Finally, the graphics and music also manage to be my favorite in the series. With Generation 5 being the final game to use 2D graphics, it pulls no punches. Every Pokémon is fully animated in battle with gorgeous, detailed pixel art, and every overworld character is more distinct and lively than ever. It’s something that every Generation before it has built up to. The music, which I’ll go into greater detail elsewhere, is absolutely sublime. The instrument set is vastly improved from its predecessor’s also on the DS, and there are so many compositions that I would consider top-tier songs. The quantity of songs feels a bit on the light side, but this is something that is corrected in their sequels, and the quality of the songs more than makes up for it regardless.
I’ve sung the praises for Pokémon Black & White a lot for the past several paragraphs. The funny thing is that I used to dislike these games. Back when I was a kid still buying the games on release, I was underwhelmed by Black & White. I’m not really sure why. Perhaps it was a combination of series burnout, and because I was such a huge fan of Generation 4 that any game following in its footsteps would have disappointed me. Upon replaying them, however, I realized that it really can’t get much better than this.
Pokémon Sun & Moon:
Pokémon HeartGold & SoulSilver: I’ve heard a lot of people refer to HGSS as the best games in the series. It makes sense to me: Generation 2 was a fan favorite, these are remakes that improve upon that Generation, and I even remembered really enjoying them as a kid. Upon replaying them, however, I feel there are a lot of issues that weigh these games down. For one, the trainer battles don’t feel very fun at times. Many of the opponents resort to spamming accuracy decreasing moves or status inflicting moves, which can become a real chore to deal with when you have to fight multiple trainers per route. However, I did find many of the gym battles to be a good, appropriate challenge. The beginning of the game feels quite unbalanced to me, though, specifically because of the first gym. I chose the grass starter, which was basically a death sentence considering the first gym has a type of flying and there are zero good alternatives in the way of catching wild Pokémon. Even after that, the Bellsprout Tower section was extremely tedious because of my typing. The game should not be that disproportionately frustrating just because of my starter. In addition, the way that the experience system works made training my team quite cumbersome. It feels like it takes way too long to level up, and this starts to show by the endgame where the Elite Four will pummel you if you’re underleveled. This is mostly a consequence of training multiple Pokémon at once, as the way the experience system is set up encourages training only one or two Pokémon at once. During my playthrough, I had a very fairly leveled team of five, but got destroyed by the Champion. Once I sunk all of my rare candies into my lead Pokémon, though? I was able to sweep the whole Elite Four plus the Champion with just that one Pokémon. That kind of system kills the fun for me because of how restrictive it is, and how against the spirit of the Pokémon series training only one Pokémon is. Being able to explore the Kanto region is very cool, of course, but with so many fundamental gameplay issues already, this can only heighten the experience by so much. I love the decision to reuse Pokémon Platinum’s Battle Frontier, even if it is just a direct copy.
The story is very poor. The idea of a previously defeated team returning to make a comeback is not a bad one, but the execution is extremely barebones. (This same idea is executed much better in Pokémon Black 2 & White 2.) It just kind of plays out. You defeat some Rocket members, advance the story, and that’s about it??? The hideout in Mahogany Town was a chore to play through, and the Goldenrod Radio Tower section was also a slog, with it just being one boring battle after another. There are no interesting motivations, and the ending to the conflict just feels like it ends on a whimper. However, while the story may be bad, I find that the game’s dialogue is actually quite engaging because of how quirky and humorous it is. It may just be me, but I found that a lot of the NPCs had more interesting quips than in any other Pokémon game I’ve played. I usually don’t expect to laugh during a game of Pokémon, but I caught myself doing that quite a few times with these games.
The game’s graphics are nice. I’m not sure how I feel about Generation 4’s use of pseudo 3D-looking graphics, but they’re at least alright. The music is really good, and is a direct upgrade to the original soundtrack on the Gameboy.
Overall, these can be fun games to play, but there are a lot of poor design choices that weigh the games down. The game has a ton of extra content, but none of it can make up for the fact that the core experience is unrefined.
Pokémon Red, Blue, Green, Yellow: The original Pokémon games are a fun relic that showcase how we got to where we are now in the series. It has the foundation of something great, but there are a ton of minor/intermediate issues that hold it back from being a more enjoyable experience. The aspects of the game that frustrated me the most were the lack of ability to see the effects/damage of moves and the inventory management. With the former, you are literally just guessing if a move you want to learn is superior to another one you already know. Plus, I’m someone who has played nearly all of the games in the series already, so I can’t imagine how difficult that would be to someone who isn’t as familiar with the series and how the moves work. Inventory management sucks because you have a limited amount of space to work with, and all of your items are clumped into one list, thus making you have to scroll through your whole list of items just to get to something you may need. Besides those issues though, it’s more-or-less what you’d expect from a playthrough of a normal Pokémon game. I was pleasantly surprised to see that HMs didn’t have as huge of an emphasis as they do in some of the games in the Generation 3/4 era. I thought the battles would have been harder, but they were mostly just as easy as they’ve ever been. I suppose the only difference is that they don’t flood you with items/money at every turn like they do in the more recent games (and yet, in spite of that, I was still able to finish the game with a ton of money, but I’ll chalk that up to me being more experienced with the series than anything). Many of the trainer battles in the game started to wear on me because of how repetitive they would get, so I was skipping many of them in the last quarter of the game. I think this was a good idea overall, as the layout of the path to Cinnabar wasn’t particularly interesting to begin with, and because being underleveled towards the end of the game made the battles more fun and less of a cakewalk. So, overall, these games are still a decently enjoyable romp, but lack many of the optimizations, features, and extras that would would find in the newer games (though sometimes having that simplicity was a breath of fresh air). That’s not unexpected, but it’s clearly inferior to the games that came after it.
Unranked (need to play/replay): GSC, RSE, FRLG, DPPt, B2W2, XY, ORAS, USUM
Music opinion: The music from the mainline Pokémon series has quickly become some of my favorite music ever. Despite having played the games as a kid and appreciating the music even as far back as that, I didn’t get quite as attached to it until about a few years ago. I’ve listened to each game’s soundtrack ad nauseam, and I’m familiar with each of the recurring composers and their style. When you see me talking about these soundtracks, I’m almost always exclusively talking about the route and town themes. I find those are the meat of the soundtrack, and while some of the battle music and miscellaneous themes are good, they don’t usually grab my attention as much.
These are listed by generation, so when I say, for example, “Gen 3,” this means RSE and ORAS. So, basically I’m lumping the original games and their remakes together.
Gen 5 > Gen 4 > Gen 7 > Gen 2 > Gen 3 > Gen 6 > Gen 1
Generation 5 (Pokémon Black & White, Pokémon Black 2 & White 2): I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say this may be my favorite soundtrack of all-time, at least right now. There are so many absolutely amazing songs in this set of games. The instrument set is about as good as you can get for a MIDI-based soundtrack on the Nintendo DS. The instruments in Generation 4 felt a bit unrefined and lower quality, likely due the games being made a bit earlier in the console’s lifespan, but Generation 5 refines them to an astounding degree. The trumpets sound as impactful as they did in the Gameboy Advance titles, the synths, strings and sax sound like a direct upgrade from their predecessors, and the new accordion gives it that distinct Generation 5 vibe. You have songs like Virbank City and Route 10 that incorporate strumming guitars, and songs like Opelucid City (Black) that utilize crazy pitch bends and weird samples, and you really get the feeling that the composers wanted to do as much as they could to make complex songs this late on the DS hardware. The amount of variety is stunning. This seems at least partially due to the amount of composers of this game, which is also something of a fitting “celebration” of sorts for the series. Shota Kageyama, who made superb arrangements for the HeartGold & SoulSilver soundtrack and went on to compose the bulk of the X & Y soundtrack, hits his peak (Route 6, Nimbasa City, Route 10, Credits). Go Ichinose, the most impressive composer of the series, actually doesn’t feel quite like he makes quite as much of an impact as he did in the previous three generations, but still manages to craft some of his finest work in spite of that (Opelucid City (Black), Opelucid City (White)). Hitomi Sato, perhaps my personal favorite of the composers for her distinct jazzy style originating with Diamond & Pearl, continues making stunningly beautiful and impactful songs (Route 11, Lacunosa Town). Minako Adachi, the series’ newest composer, originated by making a small handful of songs for this game (Lostlorn Forest). Heck, even longtime series composer Junichi Masuda, who hasn’t had a hand in non-battle themes since Gold & Silver, was able to compose a decently fun route theme (Route 4). All of this adds up to one extremely impressive package of songs. I can’t help but shake the feeling that the quantity of songs takes a dip when compared to Generation 4, but certainly the quality of the songs that are there give me the confidence to say that this is Pokémon’s finest soundtrack.
Favorite song: Route 11 (Summer). My current favorite song of all-time. Gets me emotional every time I listen to it. The saxophone in the Summer variation is so damn sexy and adds an extra layer of depth to an already beautiful song.
Generation 4 (Pokémon Diamond, Pearl, Platinum): This generation of Pokémon games is loaded with good songs. I would consider it neck-and-neck with Generation 5 in terms of overall quality, but there are a few things that I think the latter does better. The quality of the instruments really stands out to me as one of the only issues with this soundtrack. Like, if you compare the instrument set to the one used in Generation 5, the instruments sound noticeably more muffled and less refined. However, I can still appreciate the plethora of amazing arrangements in spite of that. This time around, the majority of the soundtrack was a tag team effort by Ichinose and Sato. These two are my favorite composers of the series by far, so it’s no surprise that this music ranks so high for me. Generation 4 has a very distinct jazzy vibe to it, and it suits the arrangements very well (Veilstone City, Jubilife City). One of this soundtrack’s greatest accomplishments is the sheer amount of great route themes there are. There are what… like, nine route themes total? Not only is that quite a lot for a single region, but they are all at least somewhat good. I don’t think I could say that for any other region, which not only all have less route themes, but also have at least one stinker out there. Some of the earlier route themes are a bit weaker, as per usual, but they’re at least pleasant and even somewhat catchy. One of the most defining characteristics of this generation’s music was the variations for the day and night themes. I’m a fan of this concept in theory, but usually the variations only amounted to a slight pitch shift or instrument change. This doesn’t really bring the quality of the soundtrack down at all though, because there are already so many songs to begin with, and having variations of them only adds more to the experience, even if they aren’t substantial changes. Generation 7 did this concept much better, making sure that each variation was almost a totally different song with the same motif (with the only downside being that the variations were relegated to only town themes, as opposed to town and route themes in this generation). However, a few songs did manage to get substantial variations from their daytime versions, and they all sound utterly fantastic (Jubilife City, Route 228). This is simply a phenomenal soundtrack with a ton of memorable tunes.
Favorite song: Route 216. The atmospheric buildup leading into the insanely catchy loop… fewer songs can manage to be the whole package like this one.
Generation 7 (Pokémon Sun, Moon, Ultra Sun, Ultra Moon): I was really hard on this soundtrack when I was still getting use to it, but it has seriously grown on me. The overall quality has definitely jumped up since Generation 6. The good news is that Kageyama wasn’t at all involved in this soundtrack (I really do appreciate his contributions to the series, but I think he was on a bit of a downward trend since Generation 6), and that Ichinose has returned. The slightly-bad-but-not-really-I-guess news is that Adachi contributed to this soundtrack quite a bit compared to Ichinose. Her songs are at worst average, moody, and boring, and at best atmospheric and nuanced. There seems to have been a considerable dip in the quantity of songs in this game, which is disappointing because it’s been quite a pleasure to listen to Ichinose and Sato take advantage of the limitation-less 3DS. The amount of town themes seems especially lacking, although that is partially made up for by the wonderful idea to bring back the day/night versions of these songs. The amount of route themes also appears low, but if you count Poni Wilds and Vast Poni Canyon, it’s actually pretty strong overall (though, from a gameplay perspective, it would have been really nice to have an additional route theme on Ula’ula Island). Speaking of which, Route 4 and Poni Wilds are both really good songs. The earlier route songs (Route 1, Route 2) took a while to grow on me, but I really like them, and I think the fact that they share a motif really helped in that process. The town themes range from alright and pleasant (Hau’oli City, Malie City) to the kind of quality you’d expect from a Generation 4/5 game (Heahea City, Konikoni City). The variations for the day and night themes are very good this time around. Instead of doing a lazy pitch shift or minor instrument change like in Generation 4, they make mostly new songs with the same motif. It doesn’t entirely make up for the lack of songs, but it certainly helps.
The battle music for this generation gets right back on track with the return of Ichinose. It’s exactly on par and what you’d expect out of a Pokémon game, and makes a full recovery from Generation 6’s lackluster battle music.
Favorite song: Ancient Poni Path. Sato knocks it out of the park again with another breathtakingly beautiful route theme. It’s right up there with Route 11 (Summer) and Route 47. It was hard to decide between this song and Konikoni City (Night) for my favorite, as the latter oozes that distinct Ichinose style that made me love Opelucid City (Black) so much.
Generation 2 (Pokémon Gold, Silver, Crystal, HeartGold, SoulSilver):
Generation 3 (Pokémon Ruby, Sapphire, Emerald, Omega Ruby, Alpha Sapphire):
Generation 6 (Pokémon X, Y): While a great soundtrack in its own right, the Generation 6 soundtrack left me pretty underwhelmed when compared to the others in the series. I think a fundamental problem with this soundtrack is who composed for it. The main guy on the job for this soundtrack was Shota Kageyama. I have a love/hate relationship with his compositions. His work in Generation 5 was truly great, and I definitely wouldn’t trade his compositions out for another composer’s. The arrangements he did for the Generation 2 remakes were phenomenal, and they really brought out the best of the original GameBoy compositions. However, ever since Generation 6, I feel like everything he’s contributed to has become weaker because of his compositions/arrangements. As I look through the composers for each song in this generation’s soundtrack, the one constant I notice is that the compositions by Kageyama are the weakest of the bunch, and there are quite a lot of them. To compound this issue, Go Ichinose was entirely absent from these games. That really hurts the overall quality, because Ichinose has provided a strong musical backbone for every generation since he started with working on the Generation 2 soundtrack. This is also where Minako Adachi started to compose more often. To be honest, I don’t think very highly of her composing abilities (at least compared to Ichinose and Sato), but in spite of that, I think some of her best work is here in Generation 6 (Gate, Cyllage City). Hitomi Sato is surprisingly hit-or-miss in this soundtrack. Some tracks are absolutely blissful, as you’d expect (Coumarine City, Geosenge Town), but others feel uncharacteristically weak (Shalour City, Pokémon Village). That’s the theme I notice with Generation 6’s music: there are a lot of mediocre or above average-sounding tracks (Camphrier Town, Kiloude City, Lumiose City, Laverre City, Route 4), but there are a handful of diamonds in the rough that really feel like some of the series’ best songs (Kalos Power Plant, Coumarine City, Cyllage City).
One of the truly disappointing aspects of the Generation 6 soundtrack is the battle music. Usually I don’t care much for the battle themes as much as I do the town or route themes, but the difference in quality from the previous generations is quite jarring. Masuda has supposedly still composed these battle themes, but I think the difference here is that Kageyama arranged all of them. Up until this point, it was all Masuda or Ichinose who arranged them. I dislike all of these songs so much that my favorite of the bunch is the Team Flare Battle Theme, which was actually composed and arranged by Adachi!
So, as much as I appreciate Kageyama’s contributions to the series, I feel like he was the reason for Generation 6’s weaker overall soundtrack. Don’t get me wrong; I still really enjoy this soundtrack, but I feel like the divide between this soundtrack and my next favorite is quite large.
Favorite song: Kalos Power Plant. It’s so interesting to me that Kageyama composed this song… like, not only is this way better than anything else he made for this soundtrack, but he also managed to beat out my other favorite song from this soundtrack (Coumarine City) from my favorite composer.
Generation 1 (Pokémon Red, Blue, Yellow, FireRed, LeafGreen):