Twenty years of choosing starters, battling Teams, collecting badges and catching them all, has given us twenty years of awesome music. Let’s listen and bask in our love and nostalgia for Pokemon!
Now, this is not a top 20 list. I haven’t played every Pokemon game and I won’t pretend that this is objective in any way, because it isn’t. These are simply 20 wonderful tracks that I think are worth remembering and sharing on the eve of this wonderful anniversary. So if I left something out that you love, by all means, share it in the comments!
1. Lavender Town (Pokemon Red/Blue/Yellow)
Yeah, there’s absolutely no way this song wouldn’t be on this list, so we might as well get right to it, right? Lavender Town has exploded in popularity in recent years due to the youngin’s writing a neverending amount of “creepypasta” stories about it, but it’s always been about that music. Would it be nearly as creepy without it? Of course not. I prefer the original version of the song to the updated one in the remakes - the harsh 8-bit bleeps, and the dead silence in between them, adds something that I can’t quite put my finger on. Maybe I need the Silph Scope!
2. Battle Against N (Pokemon Black/White)
Ever since Pokemon first came out, people have laughed about how it’s pretty much just cockfighting with the cruelty handwaved away by a bunch of crap about how Pokemon actually like fighting each other to the point of exhaustion. It was such an obvious contrivance about the franchise that I was personally shocked when Black/White came out and actually ADDRESSED IT, although of course it just fell back on the usual stuff about humans and Pokemon being friends or whatever. But in any event, Generation 5 gave us one of the best Pokemon characters, the moe, green-haired hippy N, and his battle theme is one for the ages.
3. Battle Against Deoxys (Pokemon Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire)
This is one most people might not be that familiar with, due to the fact that you’d never actually hear this song in-game unless you used cheats or went to a promotional event. But Deoxys’ theme is an awesome pixelly digitalized piece of shiver-inducing chiptuney goodness, perfectly fitting for a Pokemon who crashed on a meteor and was hit by a laser, or whatever its story is.
(EDIT: After several suggestions I have switched it to the remake version, which sounds much better!)
4. Team Plasma Theme (Pokemon Black/White)
MMMMMMMM YEAH! THIS IS MY JAM!!!
You know those extended soundtrack videos on Youtube, where they let you listen to it for like 5 hours straight? Me. This song. That.
5. Dark Cave (Pokemon Gold/Silver/Crystal)
This seems to be more of a hidden gem in terms of classic Pokemon music - I feel like I rarely see it pointed out as a stand-out track from the series. Maybe it’s because “Dark Cave” is such a generic name for the location this song is played at? Anyway, much like Lavender Town, this original version of this one sounds better... more harsh and rugged. Like a dark cave should be.
6. Battle Against Diantha (Pokemon X/Y)
XY are the newest of the main series of Pokemon games, so I’ve only played through them once. But one thing I definitely remember about its music is the battle theme for Diantha, the game’s Elite Four Champion. Fuck yeah, cool middle-aged ladies. That’s pretty much all I remember about the character (did she have some connection to Diancie? names are suspiciously similar) but all I need to remember is her music to be satisfied.
7. Viridian Forest (Pokemon FireRed/LeafGreen)
Unlike the two classic tracks above, this one got a major boost in the remakes. I love the bongos and the quiet but foreboding tone, perfect for a thick forest teeming with bugs (and electric hamsters).
8. Driftveil City (Pokemon Black/White/2)
Honestly, I didn’t remember this song at all, but when I was researching music for this list on Youtube, I happened upon it in the recommended videos bar. Maybe I should replay BW/2 if I somehow forgot an amazing song like this. It practically belongs in a Game Corner! Is Driftveil some kind of Pokemon-world Las Vegas?
9. Grandmaster Duel (Pokemon Trading Card Game)
You didn’t think I was gonna go with only the main series games, did you?! As a kid, I freaking loved the TCG game for the Game Boy Color. I’ve heard there’s something similar for mobile devices nowadays, but I’m certain such a thing must have microtransactions. No thanks. If I wanna spend money on Pokemon cards, I’ll buy the physical versions. (EDIT: I have been corrected! No microtransactions! It’s a Christmas miracle!!) Anyway, this song is a treat, listen to it.
10. Battle Against Cynthia (Pokemon Diamond/Pearl/Platinum)
I have very rosy memories of Generation 4. I was in college at the time, and heavily involved in the competitive side of Pokemon, lurking around on the forums of Smogon University and min-maxing the perfect theoretical team on fan-made online battling programs. When Diamond and Pearl was announced, it totally blew my mind - Pokemon was finally starting to sneak towards being 3D, although as we’ve seen by now, it’s settled into a 2.5D type of game. I was super excited about Cynthia, too - the first female Champion, and a trainer of this certain cool new Pokemon called “Lucario.” Her battle music when you face her after the Elite Four is classic.
11. Route 209 - Night (Pokemon Diamond/Pearl/Platinum)
This chilled-out track plays at night along Route 209, connecting Hearthome City and Sloaceon Town. A number of important Pokemon can be caught on this route - the most significant of which was Chansey, whose evolution Blissey was a massive powerhouse back in the Generation 4 days. (Now, Chansey is actually better competitively than Blissey thanks to Eviolite.) I spent many hours on this route catching Chansey, but at least I had wonderful music to keep me company.
12. Miror B’s Theme (Pokemon XD: Gale of Darkness)
The only song from a Pokemon game swanky enough to be in a Quentin Tarantino movie. If you’ve played these games, you immediately started hearing this song in your head as soon as you read the words “Miror B.”
13. Battle Against Ho-oh (Pokemon HeartGold/SoulSilver)
Since Pokemon is a game focused on combat, it probably isn’t any surprise that most of the songs on this list are battle themes. But perhaps the most impressive thing about Pokemon’s music is how all of these themes, played during what is essentially the same battle system introduced 20 years ago, manage to stay unique and set different tones depending on the situation. Ho-oh’s battle music is one of the most distinct thanks to its Japanese-inspired aesthetic.
14. Battle Against Swords of Justice (Pokemon Black/White/2)
This song is all over the place. One moment, it’s hectic and tense, and the next it’s plinky and adventurous. A piano just kind of meanders anxiously through the main tune, while these early 90's hip-hop synths strike relentlessly in between. It’s a weirdly uncomfortable song for a Pokemon battle theme, which is why it’s perfect for a high-stakes encounter with a legendary.
15. Littleroot Town (Pokemon Ruby/Sapphire/Emerald)
All of the hometown areas have really nice music, but I think Littleroot is my favorite. It’s so homey and relaxing. It fits the feeling of moving to a new town, riding in the back of the truck, wondering what your future will be like. When I listen to it, I feel like I should pick up the phone and chat with my mama.
16. Battle Against Team Flare Boss (Pokemon X/Y)
The Kalos region was based off Paris, France, although to Game Freak, that apparently meant hitting as many French stereotypes as they could. One of my favorite examples is Team Flare, the fashion-focused evil organization that looks like they came right out of Zoolander. Equally flashy are its battle themes, the best of which is the Boss’.
17. Battle Against Lake Trio (Pokemon Diamond/Pearl/Platinum)
I love these little guys. Usually this kind of small, cutesy, Mew-like Pokemon design is reserved for unobtainable promotional Pokemon, like Jirachi (soon. soon, in April, I will finally have the Jirachi I have longed for). But in Generation 4, we got three of them, all up for the taking! I really like Generation 4. And this song. It’s pretty sassy for three psychic baby things.
18. Professor Oak’s Lab (Pokemon Snap)
It was very hard for me not to insert a video for the entire Pokemon Snap OST, which is only 37 minutes long, into this list. Much like the TCG game, Pokemon Snap is another Pokemon spin-off that I invested hundreds of hours of my childhood into. At the end of the day, the music that plays in Professor Oak’s lab is probably the most iconic from the game, so I decided to go with that. NINTENDO! PLEASE GIVE US POKEMON SNAP 2!
19. Route 119 (Pokemon Ruby/Sapphire/Emerald)
Everyone always makes fun of the music in the original Ruby, Sapphire and Emerald, but for good reason. IN YOUR FACE! HORNS BLARING! WINGULL EVERYWHERE! And this track is the most RSEy music in all RSE. It’s so bombastic and silly, I love it.
20. Title Screen (Pokemon Red/Blue)
The one, the only, the original.
At the age of twenty-eight, Pokemon has been a constant thread of joy woven into my everyday life. It was there for me in middle school, my family’s move to a new city, my shift to college independence and the crushing pressure of post-graduate education, and always as a positive. Here’s to twenty more years of catching them all!