Pokémon never really went out of style, but the franchise has been on people’s minds thanks to the mobile phenomenon Pokémon Go and the recent release of Pokémon: Sword and Shield on Nintendo Switch.
Pokémon is essentially like any other turn-based RPG, like Final Fantasy, Chrono Trigger, and Dragon Quest. You assemble your party, level them up, customize their abilities, and engage in random battles against enemies while exploring your world. The real draw of Pokémon has always been collecting tiny creatures that populate the world and battling them against one another. While this format is not quite as common as the standard RPG, there are still quite a few to choose from, all of which benefit from their own unique look and gameplay.
With the launch of Pokémon: Sword and Shield in the rearview mirror, you might be craving some more critter-catching action. Luckily, there are plenty of games that replicate the beloved Pokémon formula that will hold you over until the next entry.
Yo-Kai Watch, a series of Japanese video games with a companion cartoon and manga from RPG developer Level-5, has become a cross-media phenomenon on par with Pokémon in Japan. The series follows Nate, a young boy who has a special watch that lets him hunt and capture Yo-Kai, ghostly entities from Japanese folklore. Players collect Yo-Kai by feeding them the types of food they like, then defeating them in battle with other Yo-Kai they’ve collected. In other words, it’s a lot like Pokémon, but with a distinctly Japanese look and feel.
While fighting enemy Yo-Kai is the heart of the franchise, the series presents more variety for those who desire to engage in other activities. If you decide that you need a break from battling, you can take part in a number of different mini-games and side quests — fishing, bug catching, etc. — to strengthen your team or obtain new items. The original Yo-Kai Watch has spawned two sequels thus far. Yo Kai Watch 3 arrived in North America in 2019, while Yo Kai Watch 4 is scheduled to release in the states sometime in 2020.
Shin Megami Tensei series
If the cutesy, cartoon style of Pokémon is a turnoff, the Shin Megami Tensei series might be more your speed. Almost all of the series under the larger Megami Tensei umbrella — Persona, Devil Survivor, Devil Summoner, Digital Devil Saga, and Shin Megami Tensei — feature a collection or monster-training element that is reminiscent of Pokémon, but built around narrative with mature themes, and dark tales about demons, the occult, and technology.
For those core Pokémon-style collection mechanics, we recommend the core Shin Megami Tensei series. The most recent of the dungeon-crawler RPGs, Shin Megami Tensei IV and Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse, require you to collect and level up creatures with unique strengths, weaknesses, and abilities. However, instead of simply capturing them, players must convince demons to join them through a dialogue mini-game. Once you’ve got them, you can combine your demons to create stronger creatures, or trade them with other players.
Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch
Ni No Kuni is a traditional RPG made in conjunction with the world-renowned animation studio, Studio Ghibli, known for acclaimed films such as My Neighbor Totoro, Grave of the Fireflies, and Spirited Away. Created by Level-5 — yes, the same Level-5 behind Yo-Kai Watch — Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch is a whimsical JRPG where players take the role of Oliver, a young boy who enters a magical kingdom in order to save his mother. Along the way, you can recruit, train, and evolve creatures known as “Familiars,” who battle alongside Oliver. Like Pokémon, Familiars have specific stats, types, and moves that determine their effectiveness against other types of Familiars.
Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch is a deep game with a sweeping storyline, and with well over 300 Familiars to recruit and train, you can get quite a bit out of this charming RPG. Ni No Kuni Wrath of the White Witch originally released for PlayStation 3, but a remastered version is available on Ps4, Nintendo Switch, and PC. The PS4/PC sequel, Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom, dropped the Familiars, so if you’re looking for games similar to Pokémon, you’ll want to stick to the excellent original.
Dragon Quest Monsters
While the main Dragon Quest games mainly feature a static party of customizable characters, the spinoff series Dragon Quest Monsters is all about training, breeding, and battling the iconic monsters of Akira Toriyama’s Dragon Quest world. Much like Pokémon, these battles take place between your team and wild monsters, but instead of partaking in one-on-one duels, you’ll encounter party-based fights much like those in the classic Dragon Quest games.
In Dragon Quest Monsters, players tame enemy creatures by feeding them meat, then beating them in combat. Once you collect new monsters, it isn’t necessarily smooth sailing. The game requires you to manage attributes such as their “wildness,” along with their personalities. If a monster’s personality doesn’t mesh well with your strategies in battle, it may refuse to follow your commands. Alternatively, if you’re both on the same page, it may be granted a boost and become more powerful.
Only a few of the Dragon Quest Monsters games have been localized in English, but there are a few titles available on Game Boy Color and Nintendo DS. The latest released outside of Japan is Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker 2, but if you happen to read Japanese, Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker 3 is available as well.
While the other games on this list involve collecting various types of wild monsters, the Suikoden series tasks you with recruiting a large number of warriors to build your own private army. Set in a medieval fantasy world based on Shi Naian’s Chinese epic, Shui Hu Zhuanm, the Suikoden games bear a strong resemblance to more traditional JRPGs — turn-based battles, upgradable stats, and grand plots — but share Pokémon’s collecting elements (though in a different context).
Each game in the series features a protagonist who gathers the “108 stars of destiny,” a group of warriors who are unknowingly on their way to saving the world from some sort of major threat or calamity. Players complete quests and special tasks while keeping an eye out for the “stars,” who aren’t always the people you’d expect. Once they’ve joined your team, your group makes its home at your stronghold, where you can talk with other characters, customize your party, and buy new gear.
The five Suikoden games and a number of spinoffs have been released across the PlayStation, PlayStation 2, and a slew of other systems. Most recently, Suikoden II was ported to the Vita and PS3, and is available via the PlayStation Network.
Pokémon Mystery Dungeon
Like the main Pokémon series, the Pokémon Mystery Dungeon games lets players create, level up, and fight with a team of Pokémon. Unlike, the original series, however, you aren’t training Pokémon … you are a Pokémon. Rather than a grand adventure to be the best trainer, you transform into a Pokémon to explore a dungeon and team up with other Pokémon to solve mysteries.
The Mystery Dungeon series incorporates roguelike gameplay elements, an RPG sub-genre known for “permadeath,” meaning if your characters die, you must begin again from the beginning. Thankfully, the Mystery Dungeon games take it relatively easy on players compared to other roguelikes. Instead of resetting all progress upon death, for instance, you’ll only lose your items. At the same time, many of the core moves, items and, of course, Pokémon make their way into the games.
There are several Pokémon Mystery Dungeon games available across Nintendo’s portable consoles. The most recent game, Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX launched for Nintendo Switch earlier this year, and is a remake of 2005’s Blue Rescue Team and Red Rescue Team.
Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth
Digimon has always played second fiddle to Pokémon. While the series, which began life as a Tamagotchi-style virtual pet, may have never quite achieved the same levels of popularity as Pokémon, it has endured for almost 20 years. Like Pokémon, the Digimon franchise has spawned numerous anime series and movies, manga, and video games. The most recent game, Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth, is the closest the series has ever gotten to Pokémon-style gameplay. Players assume the role of a young, skilled hacker who, through a series of strange encounters, winds up with the ability to travel freely between the real world and cyberspace.
Utilizing the help of the Digimon — aka digital monsters — you capture and train in cyberspace, while players work to solve a threat plaguing both the real and virtual worlds. Like Pokémon, Digimon can transform into other, stronger creatures through a process known as “Digivolving.” This isn’t a linear process, however, and Digimon can Digivolve along a number of branching paths, which adds greater depth and customization when powering up your team. Digimon are also added to your Digibank after you encounter them in battle a certain number of times. This makes collecting all the creatures in the game much easier, and also ensures you have plenty of Digimon to use in combinations and Digivolutions. Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth is available on PS4 and Vita.
Some games on this list share certain similarities with Pokémon, but arguably none of them resemble the beloved series as much as Temtem — a game created by Spanish developer Crema. The studio set out to create Temtem with the goal of improving upon many of Pokémon’s outdated mechanics. And, with it being an MMORPG, it certainly stands apart from the game it’s inspired by. Though it’s hard to overlook the similarities between the two.
You’re tasked with catching monsters, exploring a large world, and battling it out against other tamers — all while interacting with other players online. Many have dreamed of playing a Pokémon MMO, and since one doesn’t exist yet, Temtem might be what those players are looking for.
Temtem is technically not out yet. It released in early access through Steam in 2020 and is set to release for PS4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch in the future. If early impressions are any indication, this is a game that will certainly scratch that Pokémon itch.
Golden Sun series
Ever since its debut on the Game Boy Advance, the Golden Sun series has made a strong impression on gamers and critics thanks to its deep battle system and character building, both of which revolve around tiny elemental creatures called Djinn. In these deeply narrative-driven RPGs, players stumble across Djinn hidden in dungeons, with the goal of obtaining the creatures as a reward for exploring and solving various puzzles. Once obtained, Djinn increase the strength of characters, enabling the use of stronger moves, increasing their stats, and unlocking powerful spells. While you don’t train and fight Djinn like Pokémon, finding and collecting them becomes an important and addictive objective.
Golden Sun and Golden Sun: Lost Age were released on the Game Boy Advance in 2001 and 2002, respectively, while a third game, Golden Sun: Dark Dawn, was released on the Nintendo DS in 2010. Fans are still holding out for a new entry on modern hardware.
Monster Hunter Stories
Monster Hunter Stories is a turn-based strategy game that is similar to Pokemon in its core gameplay functions. Players battle head to head with other participants in the game. Monsters hatch straight from eggs, so you won’t need to hunt for them out in the game. Like Pokemon, you can also name your monsters, level them up, or change how they look. You’ll notice one major difference between the two games is that you may have a few more unique experiences in Monster, like riding on a monster’s back. The game’s available on Nintendo 3DS, iOS, and Android devices.
Every fight in this game operates like rock, paper, scissors, which is a similar strategy to Pokemon. You’ll roam, level up, and interact with your monsters similarly. However, you won’t form monster teams or battle with gym leaders in Monster Hunter Stories despite the familiar feel.
For Pokemon players who are looking for something familiar but fresh, check out Monster Hunter. This franchise has a very similar look and vibe to the series while adding several unique spins. Several games are already available for purchase in the franchise. One recent game is Monster Hunter: World; This was released in 2018 and built on the gameplay already established in the Monster Hunter-verse. If you’d prefer a more classic-feeling game, check out Monster Hunter Generations. This franchise is also compatible with Wii U, Wii, PS Vita, PSP, and PS2.
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