Ever since its inception in Japan 26 years ago, Pokémon has been one of the most ubiquitous forces in not just video games, but pop culture at large. It’s the highest-grossing entertainment franchise in history, and has naturally attracted lots of imitators as a result. Unfortunately, most of them aren’t very good.
That being said, there are some video games that manage to capture a similar magic to Nintendo’s iconic catch-’em-up, while also experimenting with its formula in intriguing ways. The degree of allegiance to which they owe said formula varies, but all of them are beholden to Pokémon in one way or another.
With Pokémon Scarlet and Violet just around the corner, it’s only natural that people’s appetites have been whetted for a new monster-taming experience. So, to help ease the wait until you can catch ’em all and become the very best (like no one ever was), here are seven of the best Pokémon-likes you can play right now.
OK, so this one looks nothing like Pokémon. It’s a side-scrolling Metroidvania that takes far more visual cues from that genre’s namesakes than anything Game Freak has ever put out.
Still, the core premise of Monster Sanctuary involves capturing and taming dozens of different creatures to attain the rank of “Master” in the Monster Keeper order. In doing so, you can finally take on the nefarious Alchemists, a guild of evil mages who want to conquer the titular Monster Sanctuary and use it to wage war on the Old World.
They’re sort of like Team Rocket, but with an actual story that isn’t “We want world domination, but we’re only willing to achieve it if we can do so while using objectively terrible Pokémon.” In other words, these opponents are a legitimate threat — especially when compared to Johto-era Rocket. Even at the age of 5, I was embarrassed for them.
Monster Sanctuary is available on Windows PC, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X.
While Monster Crown’s overworld certainly resembles those of the Game Boy Color-era Pokémon games, anyone searching for cutesy nostalgia will be out of luck once they set foot on Crown Island.
Sure, Monster Crown might talk like Pokémon, but it certainly doesn’t walk like it. It’s heavily inspired by Game Freak’s RPGs in many ways, in that it incorporates 200 original monsters for you to catch, train, and battle alongside. While this number is impressive, it extends to a whopping 1,200 when you consider the game’s breeding system, which allows you to pair specific monsters in order to gain access to new creatures you can’t meet through ordinary means in the wild.
The area in which Monster Crown differs from Pokémon is in its narrative and world design. Unlike the warm, mostly innocuous stories you’d expect to find in major Nintendo-published games, Monster Crown is intentionally dark, targeting a specific demographic of players who grew up with early Pokémon, but are now on the lookout for something a little more grown-up. Opinions on whether the developers succeeded in delivering on that vision vary, but if you’re the kind of person who constantly talks about wanting “a Pokémon game for adults,” this is the Pokémon-like for you.
Monster Crown is available on Windows PC, Mac, Linux, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.
Persona 5 Royal
The Persona series has been around for as long as Pokémon has, so to say the former owes its existence to the latter is… well, just plain wrong. Rather than being inspired by Nintendo, Persona is a spinoff of Sega’s own Shin Megami Tensei, a series in which you collect demons inspired by various mythologies from around the world. Said demons are associated with specific elemental types, all of which interact with one another to create a similar type-effectiveness structure to Pokémon. It can seem a little complex at first, but fortunately, 2017’s Persona 5 makes for a pretty great starting point.
Persona games are more conventional JRPGs than any Pokémon title, in that they’re less about collecting neat badges to challenge a very friendly and supportive champion and more about attacking and dethroning God. Still, combat is turn-based and founded upon a variety of character affinities that can stun certain enemies. Pair that with an impressive roster of 192 individual Personas, each of which can be obtained via persuasion, seduction, bribery, or a ritualistic mechanic called fusion, and you’ve got yourself an excellent type-oriented, creature-collecting RPG.
It’s a bit weirder than Pokémon — there are cats who are also trucks (and sometimes helicopters), as well as some pretty grimdark themes that could probably get a Game Freak exec fired for gross negligence if they were brought up during a board meeting. If you’re willing to revel in this weirdness, however, there are precious few games out there as captivating and rewarding as Persona 5.
Persona 5 Royal is available on PlayStation 4. It will also be released on Windows PC, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X on Oct. 21.
Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin
It may seem odd to compare Pokémon with the Monster Hunter series — one is about collecting cartoonish creatures, while another is about brutally hunting outlandish monsters — but Monster Hunter’s turn-based spinoffs have quite a lot in common with Pikachu’s flagship.
The Monster Hunter Stories games eschew the meticulous preparation, stalking, and actual hunting of fearsome colossi for a much gentler approach to these creatures (they’re even renamed from “Monsters” to “Monsties”). In Monster Hunter Stories 2, you can even assemble a team of these Monsties to join you on your adventure across Hakolo Island.
This warmth also extends to the game’s story, in which you become a Rider rather than a Hunter. Together with your party of trusty Monsties, you — a literal child — are tasked with saving the world from imminent destruction. If that doesn’t qualify a game as “Pokémon-like,” I’m not sure what does.
Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin is available on Windows PC and Nintendo Switch.
Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch
The only things that Pokémon and Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch have in common is that both prominently feature the process of catching and befriending magical creatures (known as “Familiars” in the latter). Even the combat is markedly different, to the extent that including Ni no Kuni on this list might seem a little contentious to some.
On the contrary, this is precisely why Wrath of the White Witch belongs here. Its focus on Familiars gives it enough overlap with Pokémon for it to feel… familiar, while its foregrounding of a deep and emotionally resonant story offers longtime Pokémon fans something wholly new. Oliver’s journey is significantly more impactful and affecting than most of the comparatively simplistic story beats in Kanto, Johto, and beyond, and it certainly helps that all of the animated sequences were designed by none other than Studio Ghibli.
Hell, even the score was composed by frequent Studio Ghibli collaborator Joe Hisaishi, who provided the music for all but one of Hayao Miyazaki’s films (Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro, which predates Miyazaki’s tenure at Ghibli).
Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch is available on Windows PC, Nintendo Switch, and PlayStation 4.
Coromon is the perfect game for people who are specifically chasing an experience reminiscent of Pokémon’s third and fourth generations — it occupies a weird sort of aesthetic limbo between those of the Hoenn and Sinnoh regions.
Unlike some of the other games on this list, Coromon — as you might surmise from its name — is a very intentional love letter to a specific era in Pokémon history. From ice puzzles to static encounters with Legendary-esque monsters to proprietary piles of sentient sludge, it’s the kind of game that someone who grew up with Diamond and Pearl will thoroughly enjoy.
It’s also of particular worth for anyone who is up to speed with modern Pokémon challenge runs. As well as having a world inspired by Pokémon, Coromon comes with built-in difficulty and randomizer settings, adding a layer of complexity to the game that incentivizes experimentation and replayability — which is the kind of thing that Pokémon itself could make good use of in the future.
Coromon is available on Windows PC and Android.
While there are plenty of solid Pokémon-likes on this list, none of them compete with Temtem, the best new monster-taming RPG since Game Freak entered the scene back in 1996.
Temtem, in many ways, is a carbon copy of Pokémon. Its map is made up of routes and rivers, cities and caves, mountains and marshes. Outside of towns, areas are populated with wild ’tems you can catch, train, and use to battle other tamers. Dojo Masters are essentially Gym Leaders, and defeating them allows you to progress the story. On paper, it’s basically just Pokémon by another name.
But Temtem is also intriguing in how it introduces new life to outdated concepts. For example, all battles in Temtem are double battles, which makes most encounters far more strategic. There are also a range of niche, single-use items that enhance the competitive viability of your Temtems, and the overarching narrative feels like it’s aiming for a demographic that isn’t just “10-year-old kids and people who were 10-year-old kids in or since 1996.” There are even bars!
If you’re a Pokémon fan who is looking for something similar in the leadup to (or comedown from) Scarlet and Violet, you should obviously go with whatever entry on this list resonates with you most. But if we had to recommend one game for Pokémaniacs? It’s definitely Temtem.
Or Persona 5 Royal, if you want to take down the Prime Minister of Japan before beating up Old Testament God in a physical manifestation of the collective subconscious that you and your friends can access via a smartphone app. It’s really up to you.
Temtem is available on Windows PC, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X.