Especially in the most recent generations, the region defines what Pokémon species you could expect to find and what unique characteristics they may feature. The concept has evolved over the years to feature distinct locations in the real world as a model for each setting, and with each comes exhaustive speculation on how closely specific portions may echo their inspiration.
As a huge fan of world building and a Pokémon fan game creator myself, the concept of a Pokémon Region, especially those heavily modeled after real world locations
has always been the most interesting element of the main series games and their release.
So in this article, we will be ranking all the regions featured in the main series games, and comparing them along the lines of how rich their environments are, how well captured their influences appear, and how it impacts the overall theme of the titles including species and music.
#8 – Unova Region
There is quite a lot to remember fondly about generation 5, from its amazing story and characters down to its unique challenge mode feature, but for me, the least memorable would be the region itself.
Perhaps this is because I live very near to the point of influence for this region, but the United States in general, specifically New York City, does not feel like a natural option for a game that typically includes more standard fantasy style themes and locations.
The weak impact in my mind is also due to the fact that this is the first generation that directly attempted to feature a modern homage to a region outside of Japan.
Obviously the attempts have progressed over the years to come, but Unova suffers from a lack of dedication to the task, seen evidently in its wildly different landscape designs and inconsistency in theme and music throughout.
The story of the region, along with its, music, key faces and Pokémon species feel entirely disconnected from the region’s landscape itself, and many of the most memorable locations of generation 5 are the ones that were created without any attempted ties to the real world United States of America.
Too much of the focus of the region appears to have gone into large bridges, malls and other cityscape, and without viewing the anime to add in extra creative elements, each town and route feels quite disjointed and lacking an overall consistency compared to the other regions.
In terms of conceptual design, it feels to me that the team was unable to find the right balance needed to turn a small section of the world into a lively Pokémon region that could find its own history and lore relevant to its surroundings, while maintaining the charm so much of the other generations had in abundance.
#7 – Alola Region
Generation 7 was the first generation I found myself not feeling passion for, and I am going to lump heavy blame on the Alola Region and the way it handled the progression of the game. The two go hand-in-hand, and it truly seems that Pokémon has found itself at a cross roads starting in 2016. As it were, that crossroad led to yet another segment of the United States of America, instead of a more composite look as was practiced elsewhere.
The Alola region features the most direct inspiration, even evident in the name of the region itself, and while I find this to be a step up from the haphazard connections featured in generation 5, I do not feel like the approach of having separate islands and a completely restructured league format resonated with my interests.
What was good though was the introduction of regional variants of many species. Easily one of my favorite features Pokémon has ever implemented, this hits equally the nostalgia of the species, while also adding a sense of wonder in the creativity that this concept might allow. As a player heavy into the fan-game scene, my mind was scattered by the amount of potential an introduction like this had, and some of my favorite Pokémon have been resultant from it.
This creativity was ultimately the first stone in a foundation for my love-hate relationship I found with Sun and Moon and their Ultra sequels.
All in all, an entire region based on Hawaii was extremely ambitious. It also brought an international spotlight to a section of the world quite isolated from attention, and did not disappoint in its ability to capture the theme and feel of the islands themselves.
That ultimately is where the problem arises though, and even though it offers a rich outlook on an interesting part of the world, I can not help but feel like the dedication to honoring Hawaii was too overpowering, and had far too much of an impact on the game’s systems, breaking a tradition of progression 20 years in the making.
#6 – Galar Region
The latest generation of Pokemon as of the time of recording demonstrates the extremes of both sides of the discussion we have been building thus far in this video.
On one hand, you have utterly charming music and some incredibly creative new species and region variants. Particularly, the starters of this region feel appropriate and are considerably more visually in line with the region than that of generation 7. Many towns and areas of the region feel perfectly inspired, enough to actually believe you were setting foot in Manchester or Wiltshire, and even down to the names themselves, the region is immersive. This, on top of some new systems and a restored League concept, do really highlight what the region has done well.
But sadly, yet again, I can’t help but feel like this game franchise is moving on without me. The region itself was a great concept and is accomplished beautifully, but it continues to dictate too much of the way the remainder of the game’s progression is designed, and this time especially, starts really to feel forced.
Just like with Unova, you also can’t escape the real world modernity that I likely will never get comfortable seeing in these games, no matter how many years into it we are.
The Champions Cup strikes me as perhaps the most forced reinvention of any generation, even worse so than anything we saw in Alola, and twice as disappointing.
Giant stadiums and a tournament that invades the overarching progression of what little story there is are simply too immersion breaking for me to get into, start to make me wonder if I am playing the same game franchise I fell in love with as a child.
In continually trying to allow inspirations to create their world, development has sacrificed the ability to be uniquely creative. Every generation that demands redefinition of the gameplay loops simply because the region they are trying to lift off its players says so is one that I may never feel at home in, which is such a shame.
I love the United Kingdoms and love this region and all it brings to the table, between music, species, and location.
But I do not and can not love the continual whittling away of any semblance of a storyline or continuity between regions thanks to the necessity of real-world influence being taken too far, year after year with this franchise.
#5 – Hoenn Region
Four regions of Japan offered model to the first four Pokémon regions, but unlike their predecessors on the list, it would be done in far more discreet ways. The southern most island segment of Japan, known as Kysushu was featured for Hoenn’s development, and was flipped accordingly to make for a more natural and playable map.
Perhaps this is testament to Japan’s geographical splendor, but the Hoenn region never really feels like its trying to be an homage to any real world locations, and even when you look at the towns and their earthly counterparts, its hard to feel like they were anything more than subtle inspiration. Without all the shoehorned cultural references, the region itself is allowed to be whatever fit the most creatively, but I do feel like compared to other Japan-influenced region Hoenn does lack a step or two.
Partially due to the art style of Generation 3, the game’s world feels a bit stale and lacks that mystery.
Much of this can also be attributed to the relatively weak musical tracks, the lot of which I would consider the worst for the lifespan of the game’s 25 years. Surrounded by trumpets and other brass, much of the region to me felt like it was trying to take that leap into a more modern game style, but being the only generation on the Gameboy Advance, there is little to positively reflect on.
For a franchise that has captivated me time and time again with its themes, its hard to feel positively about any track at all from the region, especially when you compare them to some other GBA games such as the Golden Sun Series, which featured much more melodic and deep music, even being released years earlier.
Much of the third generation’s Pokémon are among my least favorite as well, and coupled with a story attempting to display more importance and reach than it could convey in limited sprite art, the overall experience was lacking.
The final nail in the coffin for me was the amount of water based routes and towns, a strong hindsight reminder of how poorly the TM and HM systems were in the early years.
For many, generation 3 will be remembered fondly, with a great deal of nostalgia. It was a huge step forward in many ways, and Hoenn featured many unique and memorable locations, but overall, was simply not inspired enough to crack the top half of this list.
#4 – Kanto Region
The Kanto Region of Pokémon is also the Kanto region of Japan, and despite being the game’s first of many regions, the charming real world inspirations were present and ready to set a precedent that would be carried on for many years to come.
Generation 1 of Pokémon carries with it is own mystique and that alone is enough value to carry Kanto to the number 4 slot, especially because many of the next three decades of regions would live forever in its shadow. The region’s award-winning music and iconic sounds became known across the gamingverse and to this day remain some of the most recognizable things to come out of the industry.
Truly, Pokémon could not have become what it was today without the stellar introduction to the Kanto region, and it tremendous adaptation of the real-world region.
The region still features some of the most unique locations in the franchise, including Cinnabar Island and the Pokémon Mansion which drew inspiration from the famous suicide volcano spot of Mount Mihaara, Celadon City and the Department Store echoing the commercial center of Tokyo, and of course Lavender Town and the Pokémon Tower, of which reigns in my eyes as the single most memorable location in the game’s extended universe.
Kanto clearly has set the tempo for every other region’s expectation, and as such is able to be appreciated as the standard it has become, but conversely will also be judged more harshly for showing its obvious flaws.
Its hard to blame the region itself for uninspired transitions, overusing the same musical themes, and a lack of artistic ingenuity, but to be fair to the remaining regions, the fact that this was Gamefreak’s first attempt at a Pokémon region should be taken in moderation.
No matter how many years pass and how long behind us Kanto remains, it is out of pure reverence that generation 1 remains in our hearts, and its flaws and quirks make it all the more sweater as every generation passes.
#3 – Sinnoh Region
The Sinnoh Region is the region that feels the most complete, and the most properly developed. The region feels absolutely massive too, likely due in no small part being the first region to be portrayed on the Nintendo DS console.
A massive step up from Hoenn in terms of sheer visual fidelity, the region is able to implement far more diversity than anything that came from the first 3 generations, thanks in no small part to the equally eclectic lands of northern Japan of which inspired its development. Perhaps most notably, the region is divided by a gigantic mountain known as Mt. Coronet, which is homage to the massive mountains this part of Japan has become famous for.
Practically, its functionality as a geographical element masterfully represents everything we have discussed thus far. The mountain not only uniquely and artfully breaks up the region, but also the journey. The areas surrounding it, such as Spear Pillar, are important to the world building, but also the story and narrative payoff, and feature some of the most climatic sequences the franchise has to offer, with music to boot.
Speaking of, the music of generation 4 is a true high point for me, again likely thanks to the improved capabilities the Nintendo DS offered. Alongside this energetic score we are also treated to first story attempting to be more heavy hitting and impacting a greater scope of the Pokémon universe than just petty theft and plotting.
The dynamic of Time and Space ala the Creation Trio is the first enigmatic look we have into the ancient history of Pokémon seldom shared, but the generation goes even further, introducing the Mythical Arceus, known as the Original One, and creator of all things Pokémon.
It is simply impossible to ignore how much stronger this development was around story, theme, and region, again wrapping it all up in an extremely memorable location such as Mount Coronet, and the oddity that is the Distortion World.
Sinnoh to me feels like the only region that manages to exceed expectations equally on all three main points of this discussion, and it certainly doesn’t hurt that Generation 4 also included a remake of another gem of the series…
#2 – Johto Region
The Johto region, alongside generation 2 in general, is the crown jewel of creative world building for this Pokémon franchise.
Inspired by the Kansai region of Japan, Johto’s most noteworthy feature is that it is the only generation and region to be directly linked to another region that is accessible for play.
This is often looked at as a defining feature of the game itself, but it should not be overlooked for the cultural significance it presents as well.
The real world Kansai and Kanto regions of Japan are often thought of to be great rivals in many ways, from things as broad as humor and fashion, to as specific which side of an escalator to stand on. Apparently, in Kanto, people might stand on the left side, derived from the traditional Japanese Samurai sword being worn in a way that it may be more easier to access against an opponent to their right.
Conversely, Kansai evolved as a haven for merchants, who customarily found their money and valuables protected on their right side.
The depths, and truths, of this rivalry are lost on some one like myself on the opposite side of the planet, but the point to take away here is how this plays into Johto and Kanto from the Pokemon series.
There is little debate that generation 2 acts a direct sequel to its predecessor, but the regions could not be more different from a design standpoint.
Much like in a comparison between Kyoto and Tokyo, so does Johto feel like the more traditional setting when comparing the Ecruteaks to the Saffrons.
The various towers you might find in Johto also resonate strongly with Japanese traditional architecture.
Again, these towers might make an impact on the gameplay features for a player, but are even more strongly associated with the story of the region.
This is where Johto really takes a step ahead of Kanto, having not only marvelous structures steeped in real-world tradition, but making those structures into a major factor for both the overall story progression and key elements to the core features of the game such as obtaining the Legendary options from the region. The story of the Brass Tower and Ho-oh’s involvement in creating the legendary beasts is about as deep as any story is going to get in this franchise, and is particularly wide-reaching thanks to the remakes.
Seeing the architecture on full display even given the limited art style of the early years, along with the reverence for Pokémon and unique species that suggest a more somber, realistic approach to this region’s creation, make a lasting impact on me to this day.
I’ll say it again. Johto is the crown jewel of this game, and thanks to the popularity of Generation 2, will live on forever in gaming lore.
Now, all that being said, it is still only #2 on this list, and that is for a very specific reason.
#1 – Kalos Region
If you know me at all, you know that I am a huge fan of France. The last thousand plus years of French history is something I have studied extensively and many of the locations and themes present in Generation 6 draw inspiration from some of my favorite real world locations.
The short answer to why this region is my number 1 is that they just really captured France well. The more pressing factors separating Kalos from say the equally potent Galar region is the way it impacts the game overall though.
First of all, the music and routes really make you feel the immersion. I can not stress that enough!
Many other regions feature great themes, but without the routes and towns littered with French notes, Kalos would not shine so brightly today.
Another big winner here are the tilesets and visuals used to build the region from the ground up.
Just like we saw with Sinnoh, the first title on the Nintendo 3DS really utilized the space well, and made use of a very ambitious floor set for just about all of its towns and routes. Its almost a shame the next region in the style would be based on Hawaii which would feature more natural tiles, because they clearly had their best artists at work in Kalos.
But if you have been paying attention to this list, you would already know the real reason this ranks so highly above Galar and Unova for me.
Despite the fact that they hit the mark so squarely on the French confluence, no where through out the game does it feel like France has invaded the nature of the game.
Football is just as big in France as it is in England, yet we aren’t redefining the entire gameplay progression to accommodate sports references right?
Sadly, the Kalos region featuring such a prominent location makes me quite emotional, simply because what comes after it. I have always been a huge fan of Pokémon, but the longer we go into the franchise’s production, the more the soul of it seems to erode.
For me, there is only Pokemon from Kanto to Kalos, and then there is everything after that. I still love the concept and admire the effort to bring each region to life, but generation 6, for all intents and purpose, is where the passion I had ended. It was the last generation I went out of my way to buy a console for and binge through in a weekend, and it was the last generation I attempted to catch and raise every Pokémon I could in.
All in all, generation 6 was the perfect storm of world building for me in more ways than one. As much as I love Sinnoh and Johto, I could find myself living in Kalos, and forever more, every region produced by this franchise will have to stand toe to toe with the splendor created there for me to consider it successful.