Welcome back to the Pokémon Fan Club, new and returning Pokémon fans! This article is a sequel to last year’s Which Kanto Did It Best?: Wild Pokémon Battle Theme. In that article, I reviewed and ranked all five iterations of the Kanto wild Pokémon battle theme. Reviewing Kanto’s trainer battle themes makes a perfect follow up article! Like before, I will provide my thoughts on each version of the theme before ranking them at the end of the article. I highly recommend that you listen to these tracks as well with the links provided to better understand my song descriptions and to experience them for yourself. Let’s figure out which Kanto did it best this time!
Generation 1: Pokémon Red, Blue, Green, and Yellow (1996, 1998, 1999)
Loop Length: 1:36
Thoughts: Considering the GameBoy technology the Pokémon developers were working with when they wrote this theme, the result is quite impressive! These Pokémon games pushed the limit of the GameBoy’s capabilities in many ways, including the music. The background track provides body to the simple and sparse melody and complements it well. It tends to rapidly alternate between notes, play long notes or repeat short, simple phrases in a very boppy and catchy way. The melody itself is memorable and catchy as well. It occasionally will quickly climb up and/or down a bunch of notes in succession, something that makes the theme even more exciting. The theme is of course staccato and beepy because of the GameBoy’s technological limitations, but it is subdued enough that the beeping is nowhere close to annoying (at least for me). This is the kind of song that you will get stuck in your head for quite a while because it’s so fun. I like this theme a lot, and I would certainly recommend it for a good listen.
Generation 2: Pokémon Gold, Silver, and Crystal (2000, 2001)
Loop Length: 0:54
Thoughts: Even though the GameBoy and the GameBoy Color probably have identical or nearly identical sound capabilities, this version of the Kanto trainer battle theme is so different from the last one. This one has a much more beepy sound than the last one, a quality which I find kind of irritating on my ears even at the lowest volume on my headphones. The background track feels like it starts and stops constantly, like if one took their foot on and off a car brake over and over. I find it jarring. The whole song feels very loud. The melody is high pitched and equally as beepy as the background track. The best part of the song is the middle, where the theme chills out for a few seconds and becomes more subdued, similar to the sound of the first Kanto trainer battle theme while maintaining the staccato nature of the current theme. Unfortunately, this short section is promptly interrupted by a loud trill, which jars you back to the original nature of this theme. Additionally, this theme seems to cut out the ending part of the original Kanto trainer battle theme, which is why the loop for this theme is much shorter than that of the previous theme. That last portion of the first theme was really awesome, and I was disappointed that they removed it. The background and melody of this song work well together, but I don't really like the product of that collaboration. I don’t really like this version of the Kanto trainer battle theme, and I would not recommend it unless you’re really into beepy GameBoy music.
Generation 3: Pokémon FireRed and LeafGreen (2004)
Loop Length: 1:36
Thoughts: This version of the Kanto trainer battle theme is intriguing. I find GameBoy Advance Pokémon music very distinctive and interesting, and this song is no different. As the technology improves, these themes sound less beepy and more instrumental. Although this theme is definitely closer to beepy than instrumental, you can pick out different types of sounds that vaguely remind you of certain instruments. This song’s background track is great due to its intense drum-like beat, which anchors the theme well. This song also is similar to the original Kanto trainer battle theme in that it has background overlays that quickly climb up and down a bunch of notes or do slow trills. These add another layer of sound and excitement to the theme. The melody’s sound is extremely difficult to describe, but I like it a lot. It’s generally high pitch keeps you on edge, but Pokémon battles are supposed to feel that way. Like the last theme I discussed, this one has a short, more subdued woodwind-sounding section closer to the end of the song, but it also has a cowbell-sounding section at the very end, both of which add variety to the melody. I enjoy this theme, but I do admit that it has a lot going on in it. This theme has an acquired taste; it’s certainly quite jarring if you’ve listened to little or no GameBoy Advance music before. However, I still recommend this song if you want to give it a try!
Generation 4: Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilver (2010)
Loop Length: 1:32
Thoughts: If you’ve read the previous edition of Which Kanto Did It Best?, where I talked about the Kanto wild encounter theme, you maybe remember that HeartGold and SoulSilver’s theme took the cake for the best Kanto encounter theme. That theme was absolutely stellar, and HGSS’s Kanto trainer theme is just as excellent. It has a strong, simple background beat that sets this theme’s quick and exciting pace. The melody and the accompaniment (the part that I consider neither melody nor background track) are where this theme really shines. While GSC’s Kanto trainer theme made poor use of high notes, which I just found bothersome to my ears, this theme’s few really high notes add suspense and energy to the song. You can really feel it if you hum or sing the song; you’ll have to catch your breath after these notes. This theme also makes great use of quickly climbing up and down notes, which has had great success in all the other Kanto trainer themes in which we have seen this tactic used. The accompaniment in particular adds great suspense to the theme and perfectly complements the melody. The melody itself has a few parts that sound sort of like an electric guitar or bells (bell sounds are pretty common in HGSS music). The accompaniment has a few parts that sound woodwind like, and at the very end of the theme, there are wonderful xylophone trills. These different instrument-esque sounds add great variation to the song. Everything in this theme works together so well to create an upbeat, intense, and catchy trainer battle theme. I definitely recommend it to anyone curious about Pokémon music!
Generation 7: Pokémon Let’s Go Pikachu! and Let’s Go Eevee! (2018)
Loop Length: 1:36
Thoughts: With the technological leap from the Nintendo DS, the system that Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilver were on, to the Nintendo Switch, the console of Let’s Go Pikachu and Eevee, this theme sounds very different from the rest. It’s pretty orchestral, and you can actually pick out real instruments in it! This theme has a great overall sound to it. The background drum and cymbals track keeps up the song’s pace and gives it a nice beat. It sometimes deviates from its normal beat to accentuate parts of the melody to give it more oomph. The melody, which I attribute to strings and brass instruments, in this theme in particular is very clear; it’s obvious what is the melody and what is not. Occasionally, the melody has some accompaniment with notes quickly moving up and down again just like in the other themes. This accompaniment really reminds me of the other Kanto trainer themes, and I like the connection since this song sounds so different from the others because of the improved technology. Also, the song has a more subdued part in the middle like a few of the others where the melody lulls and the strings slowly play notes while the background track becomes more prominent. As always, these subdued sections add a nice break in the middle of the theme or else it may become too intense for the listeners. This theme is less energetic than the others, but the background track, accompaniment and melody fill it out very well. It’s a really solid theme, and the orchestral quality of it probably appeals to some people more than the abstract sounds and beeps of the other themes (which appeal to others such as me).
Final Ranking and Thoughts
Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilver
Pokémon Let’s Go Pikachu and Eevee
Pokémon FireRed and LeafGreen
Pokémon Red, Blue, Green and Yellow
Pokémon Gold, Silver and Crystal
These are my final rankings for which Kanto trainer theme is best! Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilver won again, but this time Pokémon Gold, Silver, and Crystal are unfortunately in last place. These are my opinions, of course, and I think you should listen to the songs if you want to get a real sense of what they sound like and how you personally would rank them. Thank you for reading my article (and listening to the songs if you did), Pokémon fans, and I hope to put out another great Pokémon article for you soon!