In case you haven’t noticed, I quite like video game music. I’ve covered my favourite music pieces from the wider gaming world a couple of times, along with an article entirely dedicated to the best of Octopath Traveler’s soundtrack, so now it’s Pokemon’s turn.
As a franchise that has spanned over 20 years, there’s been a lot of different styles of music, be it thanks to technical limitations or theming choices, the Pokemon franchise has just about every style of music you could possibly want in its main series games. I’ve had many of these tracks on playlists of mine for years and today’s the day that I run down my favourites.
10 – Jubilife City – Diamond/Pearl/Platinum
Jubilife City’s theme is a very nostalgic one to me. For those unaware, my first ever Pokemon game was Platinum and Jubilife was the first big city you’d reach in that game and this music made it feel just wonderful.
Not only is it a jolly tune to welcome you into the big wide world of the Sinnoh region, but the melody finds a way to capture the sense of activity and liveliness a big city like this would have, without making it seem massive and crowded in scale. Jubilife is a big city, but it’s also a peaceful city, not like Castelia City where people in suits are marching back and forth everywhere you look.
The nighttime variation on this theme leans further into the sense of peace with a down-beat saxophone in the background of the main melody instead of the faster piano bringing an overwhelming sense of calm to the track. I can almost feel the atmosphere of a quiet city being lit only by street lamps and the lights from people’s houses and that slight sense of melancholy that I get from seeing a city at night.
9 – VS Gym Leader’s Final Pokemon – Black/White/Black 2/White 2
The music for Unova’s Gym Leader battles is great enough on its own, but when you battle your way down to their last Pokemon and this music kicks into gear is when things get epic.
Ramping things up in both key and tempo, this track brings the best out what Gym battles have to offer the franchise. The Gym Leaders in the Unova games are much more involved in the action than in other generations, so I think it’s appropriate that they should have such an emotionally charged track made specifically for them, hammering home how much these people care about Pokemon and their role in society as authority figures.
By the time you’ve got a Gym Leader down to their final Pokemon, it’s likely you’ve gone through a gruelling battle and their final Pokemon is usually the toughest to beat, so it’s only appropriate that things get more intense. On top of that, it gives a perfect sense as to what the Gym Leader’s emotions must be in that moment. Gym Leaders are the best of the best, very few are ever able to defeat them in battle and at the moment they unleash their final Pokemon, their backs are against the wall, but if you want their badge, they’re going to make sure you earn it.
It’s such a small touch on the surface, but it adds so much to the atmosphere of a gym battle and I was so glad when they re-implemented it for Sword & Shield.
8 – VS Lake Guardians – Diamond/Pearl/Platinum
As almost any Pokemon list I’ve ever made would tell you, I’m a big fan of Generation 4 and, trust me, we’re going to be seeing a lot more of it on this list, however one aspect of the generation I’m not a huge fan of, is the Lake Guardians. I understand the point of their design and I appreciate the lore behind them, but they’ve never really enthused me as Pokemon. However, I love battling them at any opportunity, because it means I get to hear this brilliant piece of music.
The opening fits in with Dialga & Palkia’s theme, with a slightly synthesised piano, only for one of the most exhilarating base-lines I’ve ever heard kick into gear. The drums quickly back it up to create a track that feels incredibly fast-paced, but still menacing and intimidating. The Lake Guardians are in no-way intimidating Pokemon, but I’ll be damned if this music doesn’t make it feel like they are.
It’s the little touches that make this theme great, like the three different tones & styles that carry the main melody, creating this feeling of each of the three Guardians having their own personality. There are even little hints of very quick piano sequences in the middle, creating the feel of these creatures scurrying around their caves as you battle them, doing their best to out-manoeuvre your Pokemon.
This track is great in its own right, but on top of that, it gives me very fond memories and feelings towards Pokemon that, all things considered, I’m not actually that keen on.
7 – VS Rainbow Rocket Lysandre – Ultra Sun/Ultra Moon
Lysandre’s original theme from X/Y is great as well, but I decided to go for this version as it turns the pace & chaos of the original up to 11.
In all honesty, I don’t think Lysandre is all that compelling of a villain. Admittedly in the anime, his character was a bit more interesting but in the games, I found him and all of Team Flare to be a bit lifeless and boring to battle against. So, when the opportunity to encounter him again in the Rainbow Rocket storyline of Ultra Sun/Ultra Moon arose, he was easily the villain I was the least interested in rematching. Then I started to battle him and realised his theme was a masterpiece.
Although it’s not made entirely obvious during his initial stint as a character in X/Y, Lysandre is truly a madman. He keeps a calm and composed demeanour at nearly all times, bottling up his raw emotional power to be let out in huge bursts and a Pokemon battle is exactly the kind of thing to trigger such an outburst.
The opening of the track is slow, grand and imposing as Lysandre readies himself for battle, throwing his Pokeball only for the track to suddenly devolve into fast-paced chaos as all of that bottled up rage and hatred come out for all to see. The choice of instruments keep that intimidation factor going underneath all that chaos and the track just keeps getting faster and faster, and I can almost feel that emotion overpowering me as I battle him. Even when the track slows down with the choir voices, it still feels fast and frantic, not even letting up for very long before diving right back into the insanity of Lysandre’s desires.
Although I don’t find Lysandre as a person interesting, listening to this track helps me to add so much to his character that I can’t help but become invested in my battles with him.
6 – VS Marnie at the Pokemon League – Sword/Shield
I chose this theme – and specifically this version of it – because I believe it perfectly encapsulates just about everything great from Sword & Shield’s soundtrack.
For one thing, this is the first soundtrack that I feel was able to fully utilize instruments like guitars to their fullest potential. Thanks to the limitation of software, whenever such sounds have been included in the music of Pokemon they’ve always been a bit synthesised or muted, which in some instances (which we’ve already discussed on this list) it had been used to great effect, however a lot of the complexities that the instrument can provide is lost in that. However, in this track – and the Sword/Shield soundtrack as a whole – it’s clear the composers have finally been able to let loose with how they utilize them, in part thanks to heavy pop-punk/punk-rock that comes with the British aesthetic.
Much like Lysandre, I found it quite hard to get a firm grasp on Marnie’s character, her look and general first impressions stuck me as somewhat antagonistic, but as the game goes on, she’s actually quite a down-to-earth person that’s just kind of…there. Once again, like Lyandre, this music gives me a very clear idea of the elements from Marnie’s character. The consistency of the guitar backing track gives me the feel of someone who’s very focused and determined, while the synth melodies that play over the top tell me that she’s not taking it too seriously and is allowing herself to have fun as she battles, despite her more muted demeanour outside of battle.
The reason I specifically chose her Pokemon League battle theme, however, is because it adds a couple of brilliant elements on top of the original. Firstly, it hits those high-notes much more often and with a lot more power, the sense of emotion I get from this theme is so powerful, ESPECIALLY when combined with the other major difference, the crowd chanting along with the music. It happens in the gym battles too and it was an absolute genius addition to the tracks because it adds so much to the atmosphere of the battle. No longer are you standing in an empty room battling against your opponent, you’re being watched by thousands of people live and even more at home and it builds the epic feel of the major battles to something so special.
Aside from all fo that, the tune aligns really well with my music tastes and I think it’s a really fun track to listen to.
5 – VS Ultra Necrozma
Talk about a fight.
I don’t think I’m alone in saying that the fight against Ultra Necrozma was easily one of the hardest battles that series has had since about Generation 5 and I don’t know why I’m surprised when I listen to the music that backed it up. Nevermind how terrifying the thing actually looks when it breaks free of its prison, but the opening sting of the track almost sounds like funeral bells, like the game is tell you, “Oh…you picked a fight with THIS THING?!, You know you’re totally dead, right?”
Necrozma is a Pokemon that mixes together a lot of lore elements from previous Pokemon and turns them into something new and I get the same sort of feeling when listening to this track. There’s the element of disconnected chaos from Giratina’s theme, there’s the raw synthesised power from Xerneas’/Yveltal’s theme and even some hints of old GBA music & sounds in there.
The pace speeds and slows throughout the track to help embody this sense of chaos along with the flow of this battle, as you throw Pokemon after Pokemon its way and it barely takes a scratch, while it blasts your team away in one hit over and over again. Ultra Necrozma feels like a true monster when you battle is and its battle music is able to personify that feeling perfectly.
4 – VS Rainbow Rocket Giovanni – Ultra Sun/Ultra Moon
Now THIS is a menacing villain’s theme.
When the Rainbow Rocket arch came about, it felt HUGE. This was the moment where all of the villains finally come together to take on the multi-verse and Giovanni was standing at the head of it all. Not just any Giovanni though, a Giovanni that WON, as far as bad dudes go, they don’t get much badder than this guy. This was also the first time Giovanni would get his own unique battle theme, so the pressure was really on for it to be something special that captured the feel of what a man like Giovanni, at the height of his power, would be like to face off against.
Safe to say, this track NAILS it.
This track is slow and heavy, the guitar sits to underline the beat of everything, as grand drums are pounded and various brass instruments cry out, showing you just what a powerhouse this guy is. Every beat of this track feels like a direct threat on you, as you do everything in your power to cut through his Pokemon. I don’t know if I’m alone in this belief, but I thought this battle was a tough one and this music only served to unline exactly what a challenge I had before me. Yeah, I’d beaten an interstellar being into submission earlier that day, but so what? This guy’s twice as powerful as they’ll ever be and right now, I’m standing in his way.
This music creates almost an aura of indestructibility around Giovanni and it raises the stakes of the battle with him so very much, I’ve never felt like I’m fighting for my life in a Pokemon game before, even when staring down Gods, but when I saw Giovanni and this music started playing, I was scared.
3 – Ending ~ To Each Future (Black & White Credits) – Black/White
Black & White were incredibly story-focused games compared to the generations that preceded it. The team at Nintendo did all they could to push the limits of the Nintendo DS hardware in order to give this whole game a very cinematic feel, be that through the cutscenes themselves, or through other aspects like it’s music.
The music in Black & White is brimming with an intense sense of emotion. I’ve already discussed one such track on this list, but across the board when things get intense, the music builds right up to those high notes in order to build the scale of the moments to something you’d expect from a Hollywood drama. There were a whole bunch of tracks I could’ve picked to emphasise this, like N’s theme, Ghetsis’ theme and even the Rival battle theme (which are all honourable mentions for this list by the way) have these same ideas in there, but the track I think best exemplifies all of this is the credits theme.
Black & White’s ending is quite a sombre one. You may have just gone through three climatic and intense battles, but the cutscenes that follow them are quite introspective and emotional, as N discusses his philosophy and how it’s changed over the course of the journey, leading to an emotional goodbye. Then this music smashes in to wrap the whole thing up, leaving you to ponder the epic tale that has just happened in front of you. The transition alone is such a brilliant one that I think it may actually have increased the amount I like this track.
Once it gets going it’s definitely a track worthy of closing out a story as big as this one. It pulls in a bit from all over Black & White’s soundtrack, with the grand trumpets and spiritual choir voices mixed in with fast-paced synth beats and some grand drums. Despite both being on the DS, I’ve always thought the music styles of Gen 4 & Gen 5 sound extremely different and for a track like this to feel so squarely in the Gen 5 camp is honestly impressive given the relative limitations of the technology they had to work with.
Ending ~ To Each Future is a track that encapsulates the epic scale and the raw emotion that Black & White’s story is all about, making it the perfect way to end your adventure.
2 – VS Cynthia – Diamond/Pearl/Platinum
To me, Cynthia has always been my absolute favourite Champion from the Pokemon games. Not only does she look cool as heck, but she’s incredibly strong and has this general aura around her of someone untouchable in what she does. She’s easily the most competent and tough person you meet in your journey throughout the Sinnoh region and the whole atmosphere as you begin your final battle against her always gets me pumped. So when it comes to giving her a theme worthy of her status, this track does not disappoint.
Some champion battle themes are upbeat and joyous, or more grandstanding like this is the culmination of all you’ve worked for and it’s finally time to earn your victory, but this theme doesn’t want to congratulate you TOO soon. It’s intense, it’s fast and it’s threatening. Sure, there’s only one more battle standing between you and eternal glory, but have you seen who’s standing in your way? Your journey isn’t over by a long shot.
To me, this is everything a final battle theme should feel like. It encapsulates the raw power and chaos of a Pokemon battle while amping up the scale and putting the pressure on you to succeed. It still keeps that sense of fun too, although it’s in smaller doses than other champion themes. Instead of a theme like Sun & Moon’s champion battle, where it feels like it’s congratulating you on your victory already, this reminds you that you’re facing off with the best of the best and the only way you’re going to become a champion is if you’re better than the best.
It even incorporates the sense of ebb-and-flow that a Pokemon battle has, where you go all out with your biggest move to take down opponents, only for things to slow down a little as both trainers take their breath, only for that sharp beat to kick in as your Pokemon engage once again. This is everything that a champion theme should be and, in my mind, affirms Cynthia’s status as the best champion the series has to offer.
1 – VS Cyrus – Diamond/Pearl/Platinum
From my previous post: My Favourite Music From Video Games
Never have I ever heard a piece of music that better embodies a character from a video game.
Cyrus is a man with no emotions, he believes the human spirit is a weakness that should be destroyed and you hear it in this theme. The whole way through the track that baseline is there, staying unchanged and unmoved the whole time, it’s intimidating, it’s imposing, and it’s completely unemotional.
Then there’s the main melody of the track that plays over that baseline, which is the emotion of a Pokemon battle, the bond that exists between a trainer and their Pokemon, as Cyrus battles you he feels it coming through, and at certain points you can even sense this struggle between the baseline and the main melody, as if Cyrus is trying to ward off these emotions he’s beginning to feel.
At that point the main melody disappears, the drums begin to build up before a moment of silence…before everything comes back in a higher gear. You’ve made Cyrus mad, and he’s going to punish you for making him feel again.
As well as perfectly encapsulating who Cyrus is as a character, this track also stands as an extremely menacing villain theme in its own right. The way that baseline carries through the whole track, unrelenting, like a monster that just keeps stomping its way towards you, no matter what you do to try and stop it. At the time of Diamond & Pearl’s release, Cyrus’ plan was most definitely the biggest in terms of scale and this track made him feel like he was truly unstoppable as you battled against him.
The menace, the intensity, the emotion, this track really does have it all and that’s why I feel it stands out as the best track from any main-series Pokemon game.
So there you have it! Thank you very much for taking the time to read this, please let me know what some of your favourite tracks are, either in the comments below or on Twitter @10ryawoo. Finally, make sure to come back next weekend, where I’ll be covering NXT Takeover: Portland!