We all know Pokemon games are easy. They’re designed for casual audiences, and we were all able to beat the games even when we were little kids — that’s part of the appeal of Pokemon! You don’t need to be hardcore to become the Champion. But, every once in awhile, there’s something really challenging in a Pokemon game. Something that stops us in our tracks.
Today we’re talking about the top 10 hardest Pokemon games ever made. What we’re really talking about are the hardest moments — the unique features, tweaks, and Gym Trainers that kicked our butts that hardest. None of the games are particularly hard most of the time, until we hit those parts where a standard team of Pokemon just won’t save us.
Everyone has a different answer when it comes to hardest Pokemon games, but for my money, these are the hardest I’ve played — from the main series and beyond.
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#10. Pokemon HeartGold & SoulSilver
HeartGold & SoulSilver is a Gen 4 remake of a Gen 2 Pokemon game — so everything is just a little trickier. Trainer AI has been improved significantly over the early games, and you can see it in motion with HeartGold & SoulSilver. The trainers in general have good moves, and know how to use their power pools to defeat you. In the older games, trainer AI was pretty braindead. This was our first taste of real challenging trainer behavior.
And on top of that, there’s a ridiculously challenging level curve. You’d quickly become out-leveled just by playing normally, and each Gym Leader is higher level than the last, forcing you to grind to keep up the pace. Hit the Elite 4 and the Champion, and suddenly you’re low about 10-20 levels. Even worse, most of the really good Pokemon are only available in the Kanto region, which you’ll only really explore in the post-game.
Most of the game isn’t too bad though. Unless you try to fight Red. Prepare to get your team stomped if you dare fight Red in this game.
#9. Pokemon GO
Is Pokemon GO really that difficult? For some of us, it can be a grueling experience — at least, pre-Covid. Originally, players had to go visit PokeStops and Gyms by physically travelling to the areas. Pokemon wouldn’t spawn unless you walked through certain spots. Some Pokemon just wouldn’t appear at all. That’s still an on-going problem for some areas, where Pokemon just don’t appear anywhere!
And that’s all by design. Pokemon GO is a phone game that makes “catching them all” entirely based on location, luck, and endless retries. You’re meant to play every day, and even if you do, there’s no guarantee you’ll ever find that rare Pokemon you want. That problem has been lessened over the years thanks to special missions and other unique activities, but certain Pokemon will just be harder for certain players to catch. It’s inevitable, annoying, and ingrained in part of the experience that makes Pokemon GO both special and incredibly annoying sometimes.
#8. Pokemon Ultra Moon & Ultra Sun
One of the newest Pokemon games is also one of the hardest — all thanks to a few challenging final battles. The original Pokemon Sun & Moon isn’t incredibly difficult thanks handy features like EXP Sharing so all your Pokemon on a team are equally leveled — but Ultra Sun & Ultra Moon ramps up the challenge by throwing impressively difficult Totem Pokemon in your path.
Totem Pokemon is unique giant Pokemon encounters that are only found in Gen 7 main games, and they’re not even the hardest challenge. Ultra Necrozma, the Legendary in USUM, is an ultra-powerful team-wiper with crazy offensive power. And that’s nothing compared to the challenging Rainbow Rocket Leaders you’ll face in the bonus post-game content. These guys have Perfect IVs and EVs Legendary Pokemon, making them some of the most challenging AI opponents you’ll face in any Pokemon game.
#7. Pokemon Sword & Shield
Don’t scoff at this entry just yet. Pokemon Sword & Shield isn’t difficult normally — the game is packed with easy ways to outlevel your enemies and earn powerful Pokemon. If you’ve got the DLC, you can grab Level 65 Legendaries before the first Gym Leader battle! That’s game-breaking right there. But there’s one aspect of Pokemon Sword & Shield that’s brain-splittingly difficult.
And that’s the annoying Max Raid Dens. These randomly generated battles again massive Pokemon can be absurdly easy or an exercise in endless frustration. Whether you’re playing online with a team of allies or using AI, these battles, the battle will always end after 10 turns or after four Pokemon have collapsed. You might be one hit away from defeating these Gigantamax Pokemon with super-sized HP / defense, and the battle will be over because you just hit your time limit. Trying to complete 5-Star Max Raid Dens might not be required, but they’re so tantalizing… it always ends in heartache.
#6. Pokemon Yellow
Gen 1 wasn’t messing around, and Yellow is the culmination of everything in those old games. We didn’t know zilch about Pokemon back on the Gameboy, and strategies weren’t widely available on the internet. Even discounting all that, the long dungeons and lack of EXP Sharing meant you could exhaust your meager resources and lose everything. Even worse were the late-game Gym Leaders that could wipe your party if you didn’t have the right match-ups.
Not that Pokemon Yellow is incredibly difficult — it just required grinding. Pokemon Leaders increased in level fast compared to standard Pokemon Red & Blue, leaving normal players in the dust. You had to grind the right Pokemon when you reached a new gym, and only experts could go in prepared with a few ultra-powerful (and ultra-broken) Pokemon teams. For most of us, without the use of guides, exploits, or all that foreknowledge we now know about the Gen 1 games, this was pretty dang hard compared to the rest of the contemporary series.
#5. Pokemon Colosseum
The Pokemon Colosseum games have a reputation for being difficult — and that’s because these aren’t your standard Pokemon games at all. They’re more like traditional RPGs with a heavy focus on story and turn-based battles. Every battle in Pokemon Colosseum is a double battle, so you’ll always fight with two Pokemon vs. two Pokemon. And you’ll be stuck with some supremely lame Pokemon — in this game, Pokemon are rare, and you’ll only catch from a severely limited Pokedex pool.
Most of those Pokemon are going to be Gen 2, which have some of the weakest stats in the game. Combine bad powersets mixed with some absurdly long double trainer battles, and you’re in for a slog of a time. Pokemon have to be “purified” too — starting out as Shadow Pokemon, which can go berserk when using a special ability called Shadow Rush. When rushing, your Pokemon may completely ignore your commands, use held items, attack teammates, or even attack its trainer! These Pokemon are the definition of wild, and the game itself doesn’t make your life any easier.
#4. Pokemon Diamond, Pearl & Platinum
The Gen 4 games are all about the big battles. The Elite 4 and Champion battles are real butt-kickers — easily out-leveling you by +17 levels from the previous Gym Leader. Her team covers a range of 11 different types, and her killer Garchomp is waiting at the end to land an insta-KO on anything but the most powerful Pokemon. You don’t just have to plan your team for the Elite 4, you need to plan your team specifically (and in order) to deal with each of Cynthia’s Pokemon.
Cyrus, the Team Galactic boss, is another memorably difficult battle for most players. The entire game provides a steady difficult ramp up — especially in Platinum. It’s just that final battle against Cynthia that makes us all pause. She just might be the most difficult Champion in the game, making her a required trainer battle that can’t be skipped or ignored. That makes this gen one of the toughest to complete.
#3. Pokken Tournament
Not one of the main games, but still easily one of the most difficult to master. It’s a fighting game, and battling your way to the top rank can be a grueling affair — you’ll unlock different leagues of opponents, and the challenge increases with each step to the top.
In the Ferrum League mode, you have to battle five trainers in a row — and depending on your skills, you’ll either move up a rank to unlock the tournament, or flunk out and have to try again. That’s where the difficulty lies, especially in late game. You can’t just win a battle and retry! You have to win multiple battles in a row. If you fail at any point, you’ll have to retry from the start, and when you unlock the secret Iron League, you’ll be begging for a second try. And you’ll have to win multiple dozens of battles to slowly, agonizing increase your rank score. And that’s on top of grinding for levels!
#2. Pokemon Black & White 2
Pokemon Black & White made life difficult with one simple change — EXP Scaling. Due to EXP Scaling, players couldn’t easily outlevel enemies in the Pokemon Black & White games. You’d have to build teams to match your Gym Leader opponents, and without the aid of EXP Sharing like modern games in the series.
- NOTE: There’s also a Challenge Mode that makes the game even harder. If you’re looking for a challenge, you can make this game what some consider the hardest in the series.
To make life easier, Pokemon Black & White limits gym battles to about three Pokemon — so you don’t have to face a full team. Doesn’t really matter when facing challenging enemies like Ghetsis, the leader of Team Plasma. This guy is one of the toughest challenges in the game thanks to his legendary Kyurem Pokemon. It’s a Dragon, so you know how annoying those can be for match-ups. He’s also got a full party of six Pokemon, and he’s one of the biggest stumbling blocks in both main Gen 5 games.
#1. Pokemon Mystery Dungeon 2: Explorers of Time / Darkness
There was a Pokemon rogue-like, and that’s just as difficult as it sounds. The Pokemon Mystery Dungeon games are literally inspired by Rogue, where you’ll explore randomly-generated dungeons while performing turn-based movement and combat against randomly-generated enemies. You’ll send Pokemon Exploration teams into the dungeons, and these areas are packed with bosses — and not only that, your attacks are linked to PP. And you can run out in a long dungeon.
There are ways to make your life easier. You can train in a dojo to learn more about your Pokemon (and link your attacks to your Pokemon partnern, who can actually accidentally attack you sometimes) — and you can buy items. But these games don’t mess around. Early on, there are high level enemies that can kill your team in 2-3 hits. If you roll a bad team and get bad luck (you can screw yourself right at the start) then you’re toast. Might as well start the game over from the beginning.
And that’s not even talking about how weird and obtuse these games are. You can pick up items that poison you. You can encounter Monster Houses that crush you instantly. There are mechanics that have nothing to do with other Pokemon games. If we’re going by pure difficulty, Pokemon Mystery Dungeon outpaces everything else.
That wraps up our picks for the 10 hardest Pokemon games — or maybe just the hardest parts of 10 Pokemon games. Let us know which Pokemon games you struggled the most with!