Considering its humble origins on the Game Boy, the Pokemon series is not often thought of for its soundtrack. To disregard this would be doing it a disservice, however, because ever since the days of Red and Blue, the team at Game Freak have been pumping out some pretty memorable jams, despite the hardware limitations. Now, more than twenty years later, and with a wider range of instruments than beep and boop at their disposal, the series has had some absolute bangers.
But which amongst them stand supreme? It’s a (Pokemon Puzzle) challenge to be sure, because some of them are in a (Pokemon Puzzle) league of their own. We’ve done our very best to narrow them down to 15, with only one caveat: the Jigglypuff song, tragically, is disqualified from contention. Alas.
Title Screen (Pokemon Red/Blue)
Where else could we possibly start than with the tune that began the adventure of our childhood? This iconic track is inexorably linked to the Pokemon franchise, resonating in a way that is hard to quantify. The logo lands with a crash, and there stands the trainer who will soon become legend throughout Kanto and beyond, casually tossing his Poke Ball into the air while an endless array of Pokemon cycle across the screen.
There are countless versions to select from if you’re after something more grandiose, from the symphonic arrangements of the Smash Bros series to any number of fan interpretations on YouTube (including a Trap Remix that is simultaneously bizarre and amazing), but you can’t go past the elegant simplicity of the original. Welcome to the world of Pokemon!
Battle! Mewtwo (Pokemon X/Y)
There is a wonderfully nostalgic feeling when you encounter Mewtwo near Pokemon Village in X/Y. Same cry, same dirty tricks (what up, Recover), same tendency to bust out of your Poke Balls without any consideration for your frustration levels. The accompanying piece of music begins with an industrial feel to it, a sort of ‘science-y’ flavor that suits the artificially engineered Mewtwo well. Then, at about the one minute mark, you hear it: the gen 1 capture theme has been mixed into this track, and just like that, you’re transported back to the late 90s. Spiky, bleach-blonde hair, Barbie Girl playing on the radio, and rumors abound about how to locate the mysterious ‘Pikablu’, oh how we missed it!
If you’re so inclined, you can set this track to all of your wi-fi battles against live competition, too, and that just makes the whole thing really hit home. You’ve gone from link cables and a drawer filled with double A batteries to the luxury of battling from your own home, against opponents all around the world. It’s a definite nostalgia kick, which is quickly dampened by the slimy tactics people abuse online. Come on guys, Smogon standard rules, they exist for a reason.
Johto Gym Leader Battle (Pokemon Gold/Silver/Crystal)
The Gym Leader theme from the first generation of games was a rollicking good time, but things got serious in Gold and Silver. You’d better bring your A-game, because these enemies are cut from a different cloth, whether it’s Whitney’s dreaded Miltank, Jasmine’s enormous Steelix, or Falkner’s Pidgey, a Pokemon that doesn’t particularly deserve an adjective.
If things seem a bit harder this time around, it’s because they are – gone are the wayward AI botches from yesteryear, and in their place are dastardly strategies that you will have to use all of your skills to overcome. This theme is the perfect companion for these battles: no-nonsense, and almost a touch bit wicked, we daresay.
Club Master Duel (Pokemon Trading Card Game)
There’s something a little lame about the idea that the protagonist in this title is travelling around the world to best opponents in a tabletop game, but make no mistake, this is actually one of the series’ hidden gems. The mechanics of the card game are intuitive, and when you finally set up your strongest Pokemon with the energy and evolutions it needs, it is supremely satisfying to lay waste to your foes.
The TCG equivalent to Gym Leaders are the Club Masters, and their theme is one of the most epic you will hear on the Game Boy. It starts off on an ominous note, then progresses into a fanciful, almost jovial collection of ‘horns.’ It’s really unlike anything else in the Pokemon series, at least in the days before the Game Boy Advance, and it will pump you up and get your foot tapping.
It just narrowly beats out the theme for the Grand Masters (read: Elite Four), a track that is also well worth a listen, especially for that oh so sweet GB snare. In fact, there are a lot of fantastic tunes tucked away on this soundtrack – one might dare say more than in the mainline series.
Village Bridge (Pokemon Black/White)
This one had to make the list. How many other instances can you think of where the music of the stage influenced the gameplay so heavily? When you first arrive at Village Bridge, the tune is humble and subdued. It’s very pleasant, but nothing out of the ordinary. Scattered around the town, however, are musicians. It’s unclear why they are lurking in such inconspicuous spots – in actuality they look like they’re waiting to mug you.
Speaking with them will add their instrument to the soundtrack, all the way up to a vocalist. By the time you’ve assembled the full band, you will have a piece that has an element of melancholy to it, and a decidedly Japanese feel. Some have even gone so far as to try deciphering the lyrics, to mixed results. It’s akin to translating the nonsense of K.K. Slider, where you end up with such gripping vocals as “I’m craving meat. Crazy meat. Crazy meat. Such crazy meat.”
Route 11 (Pokemon Red/Blue/Yellow)
The shortest track on this list, and probably the most controversial choice. Several of the tunes in the original games have gone on to become iconic, from the trainer battle theme to the capture theme. However, when you’re boiling down which one is the absolute best, you can’t look past this unassuming and yet grand track.
In hindsight, it’s quite remarkable that they were able to cram individual musical pieces for each of the routes in Kanto, and this one stands out for its ambition. Many of the other routes are accompanied by calm, peaceful tracks, to best symbolize the tranquility of the location. Route 11, however, embodies the sense of adventure that comes with being on a Pokemon journey. The lapping of the waves nearby, Vermilion City to the west, and a host of trainers just itching to show off their mighty Ekans.
The updated version in Fire Red and Leaf Green is also pretty good, featuring the trademark gen 3 brass, but the original still reigns supreme. Watch out for Drowzee in the tall grass while you’re here, they’ll go right after your dreams if you let them, and there are probably a few of those that would best remain private.
Miror B. Battle Theme (Pokemon XD: Gale of Darkness)
Never before has a Pokemon soundtrack been so incredibly funky. Most battle themes convey a sense of menace or danger, in line with the horrors of combat. But not the Miror B. theme from Gale of Darkness. It’s all safe here, baby. If you don’t feel like scrapping, you can use this as your opportunity to dance the night away.
The highlight is definitely the 70s-esque guitar section as the music builds to the main part. It suits the flamboyant style of Miror B. superbly – just listening to it evokes the image of his obnoxiously large afro and flowing yellow scarf. How he rose to be an admin of Team Cipher is anyone’s guess, he isn’t exactly a battling expert. He must be an excellent typist, or particularly good in the archives room. Surely, that’s what the admin for a crime syndicate is meant to do, right?
Vs. Legendary Pokemon (Pokemon Black/White)
This tune is just absolutely bonkers. Confrontations against the legendary beasts of Pokemon are intense experiences at the best of times, but in gen 5, it was accompanied by a track that can best be described as a robot gone haywire, that is constantly breaking down and then reactivating.
The BW legendary battle theme throws all musical reason out of the window, declaring ‘screw your tempo’ and slowing down recklessly before switching gears and taking off at a breakneck pace. It’s the kind of music you could imagine for a situation where you have a time limit counting down to a massive explosion. It really emphasizes the ferocity of the beast standing before you, whether it’s the stout Cobalion or the elegant Virizion
Can you just feel the tension as you watch that Poke Ball shake once… twice… three times… and, aargh! It slips free from its confines at the last moment, ready for another round. We need more Miror B. to mellow us out after this.
Erika Panic Theme (Pokemon Puzzle League)
As one of the few Pokemon games that revolves around the anime, Pokemon Puzzle League dips into the musical catalogue from its on-screen contemporary rather extensively. Most of the tracks are derived from the 2.B.A. Master collection, and although they have an odd, MIDI quality to them, they remain incredibly catchy.
Trying to determine the best is something of a ‘pick-em’ experience, but the reggae tone of Erika’s theme takes the top spot in our book. More specifically, the version that plays when one of the players is at risk of losing the match, where the speed kicks up a notch, and we hit the sweet ‘power I master’ segment of the song. It doesn’t exactly scream ‘panic’, as the title would suggest, but it does at least imply that a degree of urgency should be taken. For the full experience, you’ll want the clicking of your cursor across the screen, and Tangela repeatedly shrieking like it keeps seeing a spider every three seconds.
Sinister Woods (Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Red Rescue Team/Blue Rescue Team)
The fourth level in the original pair of Mystery Dungeon games, Sinister Woods, has an appropriately foreboding tone to it. The grass and bug-type Pokemon roaming about are enough to make you feel uneasy, with the surroundings getting darker as you progress through each floor, but the music is what really does it – haunting your ears with what can only be described as a sinister fiddle. It’s wonderfully jaunty in a perverse sort of way, like a ghoul gleefully watching your every move.
This is particularly appropriate, considering that the stage ends with a scrap against Team Meanies, led by the fiendish Gengar. Apparently, they’re not too pleased that you managed to rescue the lost Metapod first, and surmise that the best way of dealing with this is by killing you and taking credit. That’s fair enough, certainly cuts down on all of the legwork. Besides, what else would you expect from a group that calls themselves Team Meanies?
Route 119 (Pokemon Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire)
Choosing Route 119 for this list wasn’t a hard choice to make. The real difficulty stemmed from trying to decide whether to opt for the original version, or the updated theme from the 3DS. Though many will disagree with our decision, we went with the rendition found in Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire. There’s a real sense of adventure found in this tune, and like Route 11 previously, perfectly encapsulates what a Pokemon quest should feel like. Away you go into the wild blue yonder, slaughtering hapless Taillow as you go. Hurrah!
As for why the ORAS version, it mainly comes down to the strings section. It has a full symphonic theme to it, like there’s a tiny little orchestra lurking there inside of your console. We looked for a solid seven minutes, and couldn’t find them anywhere, leading us to believe that this wonderful score is in actual fact the result of voodoo. We’re certainly very fond of it!
Lavender Town (Pokemon Red/Blue/Yellow)
Audio sadness, hooray! After narrowly escaping the oppressive Rock Tunnel with your lives, you set foot in Lavender Town, and immediately something seems awry. Your Game Boy speaker begins to spew out some weird, plinky notes that you’ve never heard before, and you can’t shake this unspeakable feeling of dread. Such is the way of Lavender Town, a despondent burgh where literally half of the residents are ghosts.
This track has gone on to become legend, the inspiration for a massive array of Creepypastas (which we prefer to call Spookyghetti), and the leading cause of depression in Lavender Town residents aged between 7 and 65. It’s a recurring trope in RPGs, where a town is under hardship, and the music conveys this with its miserable tone. However, the true tragedy is that there is no cure for Lavender Town, no solution. Even after you have calmed the wayward spirit of Marowak, you will still be cursed with the morose atmosphere forevermore.
Incidentally, writing about Lavender Town is an excellent opportunity to try out unique synonyms for the word ‘sad’.
Main Theme (Pokemon Conquest)
Pan flutes, guys. Pan flutes.
The whimsical feudal Japanese tone of this theme makes it very unique from other title screens, and fills you with a sense of strength. You will go out and conquer those that dare to challenge your might, accompanied by your steadfast ally, Eevee! Sure, something more intimidating like an Aerodactyl or Scyther may have been preferable, but beggars can’t be choosers.
Though Conquest is one of the more obscure spinoffs, its soundtrack alone makes it worth looking into, and selecting only one was a battle unto itself. Each individual Pokemon typing has its own theme, making every duel feel a little bit different. They’re all pretty good, but the anime stylings of the normal battle or the water battle, with its traditional shamisen, are particular highlights.
Battle! Champion (Pokemon Diamond/Pearl/Platinum)
The fight against Cynthia is truly one for the ages. It’s certainly a surprise when she leads off with Spiritomb, a Pokemon with the ability Pressure, and that’s exactly what this track will make you feel: pressure. Not Spiritomb, don’t feel that, that’d be gross.
This tune throws as much at you as it can, going through several progressions, as it breaks into a synthesizer section, followed by a guitar, and finishing with a single somber note from an eerie chorus. Cynthia herself may be aloof and confident, but her theme is frantic. You too will be frantic as she methodically chips away at your party.
Best her, and you are the reigning Champion of Sinnoh! Your parents will either be proud of your achievements, or they’ll wonder why you spent the last five days playing video games. You can’t please everyone, after all.
Battle! Champion (Pokemon HeartGold/SoulSilver)
You’ve made it this far, trainer. You’ve bested all foes who stood in your path, and now across from you stands the Champion, Lance. And though his hilariously inexplicable Barrier Dragonite is absent, he’s throwing everything else he’s got at you – this is sure to be a fight of epic proportions! …Until you spam Ice Beam like the dog you are.
The theme for this battle has a brief moment of calm as it opens, building the suspense and preparing you for the upcoming brawl, before hitting its stride and wonderfully repurposing the familiar opening track before the title screen of Red/Blue. It’s a splendid mixture of new and old, and ignites your spirit to reach new limits you’d never approached before. It only loses points because it’s recycled for the final fight against Red, making its full title Battle! Champion/Red/Assorted Strong Antagonists.
We’ve opted for the more detailed and complex gen 4 take, but that’s more a matter of personal preference than anything else. We can jam to either version, and will blast it from our car stereo at the slightest provocation. It makes traffic jams especially stressful, but that’s the price you pay for a good boogie.