Map Designs In Mainline Games, Ranked

Throughout the nine generations of Pokemon, fans of the series have been introduced to nine main regions to explore in the mainline series. These maps occasionally get changed or receive additions in sequels and remakes, but the foundations tend to remain the same.

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These regions are the home to various routes, towns, settlements, and cities that make completing a Pokemon game feel like a journey, but they are not all created equal. While these countries tend to be overlooked in favour of the creatures that inhabit them, they are important to creating an enjoyable adventure. So which of these regions is the best?

9 Galar

Pokemon Sword And Shield Galar Region Map

Pokemon Sword Shield Galar Region Map

The map for Pokemon Sword and Shield had masses of potential, but unfortunately, this was left underutilized due to the structure of the game’s narrative. While linearity doesn’t necessarily create a bad map design, if it is too obvious, it can definitely hold it back.

The main weakness of Sword and Shield is the lack of any settlements that don’t just feature a gym battle and want you to move on. The atmosphere of a Pokemon game is helped massively by extra settlements that don’t just host a gym, and aid world building.

The wild area had potential, but in the end it was a little barren in terms of exploration. And while the DLC additions helped with adding more variety, they end up feeling a little tacked on rather than a core part of the world.

8 Kalos

Map of the Kalos Region art from Pokemon X & Y

The region of Kalos has a great sense of variety and features a distinct tone and atmosphere. However, the presentation style used for the first 3DS Pokemon game ends up making the map of X & Y feel a little claustrophobic. Out of every mainline Pokemon game, X & Y feature the most restrictive and close camera angles, with you often pulled very close to the camera.

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On top of this, with X & Y being a very early 3DS game, the graphics style doesn’t take full advantage of the technology either. The map of X & Y could have used refining in a follow-up returning to Kalos, but it is currently the only region to not have any follow-up.

7 Johto

Pokemon Map Of The Johto Region

With the close proximity to Kanto, Johto cannot help but be regularly compared to its older sibling. Johto is a fun region to explore, with some great spectacles and memorable locations and hubs. However, Johto also tends to have its reputation boosted by Gold, Silver, Crystal, Heart Gold, and Soul Silver all letting the player visit Kanto once they are finished in Johto.

This ends up making Johto feel a little bigger and expansive than it actually is. The DS remakes did help with making the look of Johto improve with some amazing pixel art used, and this helps it stand above some of the crunchier 3D Pokemon locales

6 Sinnoh

map of the sinnoh region, Pokemon

Sinnoh is a strong region for a Pokemon game, with some great settlements and an engaging story to play through. In spite of this, the sense of exploration and freedom YOU can feel in some other regions is held back by the imposing Mt. Coronet smack in the middle, and a heavy reliance on HMs to streamline progression.

Going in and out of caves so often, with the inevitable Zubat and Geodude onslaught, can make traversing the first DS-era region a little tedious. There are some issues fixed with the Platinum revisit to Sinnoh, but the fundamental issue with the layout of the map remains, and the second chance at this with Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl was also overlooked.

5 Paldea

Pokemon Scarlet and Violet: Map of Paldea with clouds swirling above

Paldea stands as the most open-ended mainline Pokemon region to date, with the map being something you can hypothetically tackle from any angle. This is helped by a less linear story as well. However, while the player can technically challenge the gym leaders in their settlements in any order, the set levels for each leader make this less of a possibility.

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If the leader teams scaled in difficulty with you, then the region would end up feeling as open as it presents itself, but unfortunately, this is not the case. The game also received heavy backlash for its graphical errors upon release, and while some of these have been fixed, it doesn’t change the slightly underwhelming style.

4 Kanto

Map of the Kanto region in Pokemon.

Being the first region in the series, Kanto receives a lot of praise for simply setting the foundations, but this praise is not unearned. The first region in series history is the most re-treaded, with it featuring in Red, Blue, Yellow, Fire Red, Leaf Green, Let’s Go Pikachu & Eevee, as well as a secondary location in all Johto games.

While tweaks and additions have been made in different places, notably the Sevii Islands, the base of the area is usually the same. This is for good reason, with the map being diverse, and not feeling too linear. There is also good thematic consistency, with the towns being named after different colours.

3 Hoenn

Pokemon Map Of The Hoenn Region

Compared to Kanto and Johto, which preceded this map, Hoenn went in a completely different direction. This is the first Pokemon region designed to be an island, and this can be seen in every facet of its design. It also has plenty of diverse environments, with all of the areas linking together in a way that feels natural.

The heavy reliance on water and surfing in the later areas can be divisive, though this is part of what makes this map so unique, with the smaller islands adding variety. On top of this, the map was improved multiple times with the battle frontier in Emerald, and various updates in Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire.

2 Alola

Pokemon Map Of The Alola Region(1)

Compared to a region like Galar, Alola also features a more linear design, but it is much more successful in doing so. Unlike Galar, Alola is open about its linearity, with each of its four islands being clearly separate, and areas you tackle in a specific order.

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On top of this, Alola is the only mainline game without gym leaders, using trial captains (that aren’t locked in a specific town) instead. While this choice was controversial for some, it also means that the settlements have more of a unique identity instead of just being defined by their gym leader like a lot of towns can be in other mainline Pokemon games.

It also helps that with Sun, Moon, Ultra Sun, and Ultra Moon, being launched so late in the 3DS’ lifespan, the style and graphics of Alola are much improved and help with setting the tone.

1 Unova

Pokemon Map Of The Unova Region

Unova’s first appearance in Black and White was already amazing, but its updated version in Black 2 and White 2, solidified it as the best mainline Pokemon map. The layout of the region is relatively simple with most of the map being a circle, however, the details are where it shines.

The new areas in the sequel helped add plenty of character, but even in the original, the smaller areas in between bigger areas ensured there wasn’t one pixel in Unova that wasn’t full of life. Unova also features some of the best set pieces and area designs in the series, and this is enhanced by the advanced pixel art used in the golden years of the DS.

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