This was easily the hardest entry to select for this countdown. I’ve loved the Pokemon series ever since I was a kid, but I’ve always had a hard time deciding what is the overall best game, let alone which one is my favorite. But whenever I toss and turn thinking about what Pokemon game is the most important to me, always land on Pokemon Emerald.
I technically didn’t start playing Pokemon until Pokemon Crystal, the third game in the franchise’s second generation. I was aware of Pokemon before I played Crystal, as I loved the anime and had briefly played the first generation at a friend’s house. I’ll never forget booting up Crystal for the first time, naming my rookie trainer, and starting my first journey through the Johto region with my Cyndaquil.
So why Pokemon Emerald? It wasn’t my first game, and though I do think it is one of the best Pokemon games, I don’t think it is the absolute greatest (an honor that probably goes to Pokemon Black and White 2). The answer to that, I think, is the fact that Generation III, and Pokemon Emerald specifically, is where I became a genuine Pokemon fanatic.
Pokemon Emerald was elementary school for me, and being that I was the prime target demographic for the series, I was constantly exposed to everything Pokemon. If I wasn’t playing the games, I was watching Ash and Pikachu’s adventures in Hoenn and the Battle Frontier, reading the novelizations of anime episodes, studying my Scholastic Trainer Handbook or desperately wishing for one of the toy Pokedexes.
Beyond my nostalgia for the time and place that I played Pokemon Emerald, I also think it’s just an amazing Pokemon experience. The Hoenn region is one of the most divisive ones in the entire series, but I personally love it. I’m a huge sucker for tropical aesthetics, and it’s a huge part of why I love films like Lilo & Stitch and Moana, as well as the sounds of island music, with a few trumpets for good measure.
The Hoenn region was able to convey the sense of exploring an island that was completely unique from Kanto and Johto. This was even exemplified by the designs of Brendan and May (the best Pokemon girl). Much like their Generation II counterparts, the Generation III duo are wearing outfits that look much more appropriate for going on an adventure.
Generation III is notable for being a drastic shift in the Pokemon franchise. It was the first one to not be directly connected to the previous games, and the general art style changed to be a bit more exaggerated and cartoony. Generation III also introduced a number of new mechanics, with two of the more notable ones being double battles and Pokemon abilities.
Similar to Link’s Awakening, Pokemon Emerald is a game that I spent a lot of time exploring. I would spend hours scouring the region for stronger trainers to battle, new Pokemon to catch, and more the ever elusive Legendary Pokemon encounters. Speaking of which, Generation III introduced quite a few of my favorite Pokemon designs. Grovyle, Swampert, Torkoal, Manectric, Snorunt, Poochyena, I could go on and on just listing them out.
Pokemon Emerald was also the first game to introduce the Battle Frontier. I remember thinking that the Battle Frontier was the coolest thing ever, and it didn’t help that the anime based on the area is one of my favorite Pokemon shows. When you do enough exploring, your team is eventually going to be able to effortlessly defeat even the Hoenn Champion. But the Battle Frontier provided a much greater challenge.
Each of the facilities caps your levels, and this forced me to think more critically about my movesets and team combinations. In addition, different rulesets were employed at each area. One facility forces you to battle using a selection of rental Pokemon, while another places you in a tournament against several other trainers.
Pokemon Emerald is my favorite Pokemon game to be sure, but it also reminds me of a time that was incredibly important to me. I’ve had a lot of cool experiences because of this franchise, and that statement extends to pretty much every generation. Pokemon is a series that brings people together and makes them happy, and I’m glad that it has been a part of my life.