Tiers of Joy: Understanding Each Game's In-Game Tiers

By Layell. Art by Kadew.
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Introduction

If there is one thing I have learned from over five years on Smogon, it's that we love to tier everything. Call it obsessive, call it a sickness, but our community has been expanding our tier lists recently into the in-game completion. In Orange Islands alone, we are making and re-making tier lists as part of the wider community to build a consensus on what is good in-game and what is awful. But not all tier lists are created equal; each game has certain considerations and challenges that need to be accounted for. Furthermore, some of the best Pokémon in that generation's metagame are awful to use in-game, and some of the lowest tiered Pokémon in a generation will shine the brightest in-game so much they cry "tiers" of joy. Let us examine each in-game tier with these in mind.

Red/Blue/Yellow

The glitchiest and most nostalgia-filled games, and where all of Pokémon started. Psychic-types rule this game, and it does not help that Team Rocket holds Zubat in the wazoo wherever you find them. Psychic has no weaknesses, you never see Pin Missile or Lick, and you'll laugh off whenever it says "It's Super Effective!", because it wasn't, and never will against the Psychic menace. With how the Special stat works as both Special Attack and Special Defense, you can tank any Special Attack and hit right back. With critical hits being based on Speed, if you can go first you will probably win.

Best Non-OU Pokémon: Diglett

Diglett and Dugtrio are my favorite gen 1 Pokémon, but that isn't why they are on this list; I swear I'm not biased. You get these monsters before the third gym, and they can absorb just about anything Lt. Surge throws at you. You can't even help but fight them in Diglett's cave, and if you catch a Dugtrio you are set because that three headed meance has a 23% chance to crit. He also gets Slash at level 35, and with its glorious increased critical hit ratio, will you ever not crit? Sadly, because Dugtrio can snap like a twig, it never could shine in competitive circles.

Worst OU Pokémon: Tauros

This bull is considered the king of RBY OU and with good reason: STAB Hyper Beam, Body Slam, and great Speed. But can you really use Tauros in-game with a 4% encounter in Area 3 in Red/Blue and 10% in Yellow? Even if you get the rare opportunity of seeing one, catching it is a whole different ball game.

Gold/Silver/Crystal

I made my dislike of GSC very clear in an article last issue, but some of the better parts is how much the games did fix the type issues of RBY. This generation is one of the few where the post-Elite Four is a good third of the game still. With how the game is set up, all of the Johto Gym Leaders are important matches, as are the Elite Four, but all of the Kanto Gym Leaders are ignored, except for Green, since they plateau in the mid 40s. Then there is the almighty Red, since having a fair level curve is just fantasy. Another thing to keep in mind is how IVs affect Pokémon; chances are any female will have a low Attack IV (sexist, I know!). Similarly, any shiny tends to have good IVs all around, which helps Red Gyrados in keeping top tier as well as being godly.

Best Non-OU Pokémon: Magmar (Gold/Silver)

Magmar can be found just before the fourth gym and can learn Fire Punch at Level 19, and that move will last you for most of the game until Flamethrower at 41. Teach him ThunderPunch and you'll no longer regret not picking Cyndaquil!

Worst OU Pokémon: Larvitar

As a rule, the pseudo-legendary base 600s that 'ought to be uber' (or whatever you want to call them) come really late in the game. Larvitar is the worst offender, who ties with Beldum as something found really late that becomes really good. But you really aren’t going to use him in Mt. Silver against Red himself.

Ruby/Sapphire/Emerald

Out of all the series, the third generation has the biggest difference in enemy teams with Team Magma and Team Aqua; however, even with that, there isn't a huge emphasis on what version you are playing as there is still a good opportunity to level up your team members who may be weak to your version's villains. These games are notorious for the amount of surfing in the late-game, so even if you are playing Ruby, something to easily kill Water-types is always necessary. It also needs to be said that this game's rivals are pathetic; Wally isn't much of a challenge until Victory Road and Brendan/May just give up and stop you from going into a Department Store, a step down for rivals everywhere.

Best Non-Competitive OU: Wingull

This little seagull is a useful early-game Water-type which can help sweep out the first two gyms. It can learn Shock Wave, which is as a good TM to waste on an in-game Pokémon as any. It also learns Surf and Fly, thus it makes a good HM slave if it starts lagging behind the rest of your team.

Worst OU Pokémon: Bagon

Another really bad base 600, and to be fair he is probably one of the more usable ones. To get him, you have to trek back to Meteor Falls, find him, and then baby him up. He will evolve into Shelgon quickly enough, but Salamence is at level 50 and will take considerable effort.

FireRed/LeafGreen

Back to Kanto with Abilities, better TMs, and far better movesets. Aside from the island side-quest, there isn't much that has changed at all. But with the new toys of the third generation, many Pokémon shifted in their tiers.

Best Non-OU: Mankey

You get this little ape early and he doesn't fail to impress. Brock does not like Low Kick on his Onix, and his level-up movepool has some great Fighting moves and some decent Normal attacks like Fury Swipes and Thrash to take out anything that resists him.

Worst OU Pokémon: Aerodactyl

This pre-historic pterodactyl terror may be one of the best leads in the third generation, but you just will never use a Level 5 Pokémon before the seventh gym. Even if you managed to level it up with Exp. Share at every battle and during the Sevii Islands quest, you'd be lucky to get it to Level 30. Its level-up moves are awful and its only STAB is AncientPower at Level 29. You really don't want to waste the Rock Slide tutor on this.

Diamond/Pearl

My biggest gripe with this game is how it is noticeably slower than its predecessor and successor. Wild encounters take a noticeable extra few seconds. Nobody would want to use Surf at this speed in Hoenn; they'd die of scurvy! So with this slower pace, use it to think about strategy, I suppose. You may notice some gym trainers have types that don't even match their respective gym. Why does Ace Trainer Brianna have an Azumarill in the Steel Gym? I suppose it is to help you complete the Sinnoh dex, which requires you to see every species in order to catch a few post-national Dex legendaries such as Heatran and Shaymin.

Best Non-OU: Buizel

This little two-tailed fox crashed his plane on Route 205 while testing out a Chaos Emerald! Wait a minute, I have my games mixed up here; we're talking about Buizel here, who epitomizes the new physical side of Water in Gen IV with the Physical/Special split. In his first form, his base Attack is 65 and Special Attack is 60, so running mixed out of necessity with its level-up movepool is totally fine. Floatzel has base 105 and 85 offenses respectively, which is still great but now leans much more towards physical. Too bad this poor two-tailed weasel stays in the shadow of much better blue creatures (Sonic and other Water-types).

Worst OU Pokémon: Riolu

I'm sure kids everywhere were dying to get their hands on Lucario after the great (in their eyes) film starring Lucario and his cross-species relationship with Sir Aaron, who was also the voice actor for a blue hedgehog in Sonic X…. Does this mean anything? Maybe I'm making subconscious desires that these games ought to go faster! Anyways, what makes Riolu annoying is how late you get it after having to baby around a fellow trainer in 2v2 matches on Iron Island. You have to hatch the egg, then evolve it with full happiness in the daytime. It's a wonder anyone evolved this thing just playing through the game.

Platinum

This third game deserves its own tier because it adds such a large number of species; many more 4th gen species are now in the Sinnoh Dex, bringing 60 more in total to 210. The problem is that Platinum retains the same requirement for the National Dex. So good luck at least seeing every species—you will end up running everywhere just to pull it off.

Best Non-OU: Rotom (Standard Forme)

Rotom and his appliances tend to be some of the best spinblockers in the 4th generation. Too bad those are dependent on an event key, so if you missed that, you’ll still be fine because standard Rotom works very well. Shock Wave is learned very quickly once caught and Ominous Wind comes seven levels after that. Consider the event key a bonus and pick an attack that could be very useful.

Worst OU Pokémon: Gligar

I could have easily said Riolu again, but for the sake of variety I have not. Gligar is found early enough in Platinum in Route 206. However, you might as well call him a broken knife, because he has no STAB in his level-up moves. Gligar also needs the Razor Claw to evolve during the night. As Gliscor, you can use the move relearner to get Poison Jab and the elemental fangs, but this is already enough effort. He is useable, but not worth it unless you want to use him.

HeartGold/SoulSilver

Welcome back to Johto—the Gyms are all better and Kanto's level balance actually makes sense. We also feature a variety of continued evolutions from beyond gen 2. The huge problem with the HG/SS tier list lies in the PokéWalker. With the PokéWalker, you can find some creatures you normally could not find very early, such as Kangaskhan. Sadly, I lost my PokéWalker, so I haven't had the chance to use any of them recently.

Best Non-OU Pokémon: Mareep

Mareep is like Pikachu in the Kanto games, since it can be found very early, except this little sheep is much more common and is the only usable Electric-type in the game. As Ampharos, you'll have some great bulk, and Static is always fun to have to mess over anyone who thinks they can outspeed you. You could get Thunderbolt through the Goldenrod Game Corner, but you ought to be fine with level-up moves.

Worst OU/Uber Pokémon: Wobbuffet

I needed to fit this blue blob somewhere on this list. Wobbuffet can help you win one battle on PS, but when you keep fighting battles, you don't want to keep wasting Hyper Potions and Revives, since he will suck your entire stock dry.

Black/White

These games changed a ton about why some people run through games. For one, there is no transferring of items from 4th gen to these games, and now all TMs are reusable. If you saved up Master Balls from your GBA games to catch all the new shiny legendaries, tough luck, buck, you can't bring them over.

Best Non-OU Pokémon: Sawk

The lithe blue fighter will trash Lenora's gym so easily she will need a new display in the Museum for how much she sucks (this is probably why she quit being a Gym Leader in BW2). It gets Double Kick at level 13 and Brick Break at level 29. Sturdy can be very useful once you are so over-leveled that you only need to 2HKO something that might otherwise kill you.

Worst OU Pokémon: Larvesta

Get it as an egg once you get Surf and it's too late and too under-leveled for the rest of the game. Get it in Relic Castle after the Elite Four as Volcarona and it will be over-leveled but really too late. Level-up movepools do matter less, but Larvesta learns a new move at every 10 levels exactly all the way to 100. Luckily, in-game you never have to worry about Stealth Rock, right?

Black 2/White 2

These games showcase the best way to expand the in-game world by far, Battle Frontier completely excluded. The Unova dex was expanded from 156 to 301. Some Pokémon from previous games that would be nigh unusable in-game get a chance to shine, such as Riolu. The level balance in this game is a thing of beauty, and the strongest Elite Four you face the first time. With the nursery after the Elite Four, I had to abandon my long-standing tradition of placing a Level 2 creature in it and seeing how much it levels up once I beat the game. This is also the only new game since Emerald where you must wait until after the Elite Four to capture the signature legendary.

Best Non-OU: Braviary

Here is a good example of something that you would miss out on because the poor Rufflet never came early enough in White version. Braviary gets its redemption every Monday on Route 4 with the Defiant Dream World ability. Intimidate is shown often enough in-game, so you'll enjoy the random boosts.

Worst OU: Zweilous

This 2nd stage of the dark dragon is found in one part of Victory Road. He, once again like all base 600s, comes really late and you won't have the patience to build him up to the strength of the rest of your team. While few people intend to EV train, you will always pick up some along the way, which is why you want everything as early as possible.

Conclusion

There is still so much more about the in-game tiers that needs filling out, and everything can be contested. So do come by to the Orange Islands to contest why Farfetch'd ought to be mid-tier or something else completely great we may have overlooked. There are still many tier lists that we haven't re-worked or even finished.

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