What is the best GBA Pokemon game?

The best GBA Pokemon game according to critics is Pokemon Ruby/Sapphire and the best GBA Pokemon game according to users is Pokemon Emerald (as per data collected by critic and user review aggregation website Metacritic). 

This article includes an overview of the critic and user ratings for Pokemon Game Boy Advance games, a summary of each game and the differences between the mainline releases (Ruby/Sapphire/Emerald and FireRed/LeafGreen) as well as some information on unofficial Pokemon rom hacks.

Best GBA Pokemon games

There are seven Pokemon games for the Game Boy Advance: five core/mainline RPG releases and two spinoffs. You can see full information on each game, including release year, genre, critic score (Metascore) and user score in the table below.

Best GBA Pokemon game: Metacritic ratings

GameReleaseMeta scoreUser score
Pokemon Ruby2003828.6
Pokemon Sapphire2003828.6
Pokemon Pinball: Ruby & Sapphire2005817.8
Pokemon FireRed2004818.6
Pokemon LeafGreen2004818.5
Pokemon Emerald2005768.9
Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Blue/Red Rescue Team2006678.2

Newest Pokemon games for GBA

The latest Pokemon game for GBA is Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Red Rescue Team which was released in the USA in September 2006. The Mystery Dungeon matched Blue/Red games are spin-offs from the main series.

The newest ‘mainline’ (core) Pokemon game for the Game Boy Advance is Pokemon Emerald. It was released in May 2005 and is an updated version of the previous mainline releases for GBA, Ruby/Sapphire. Click here to see the differences between Emerald and Ruby/Sapphire.

Pokemon Ruby/Sapphire

Ruby/Sapphire were the first ‘Generation III’ Pokemon games (also called the Advance Generation). 

The games feature an all new storyline set in a new region plus the addition of 135 new Pokemon. As well as numerous other changes to previous generations relating to Pokemon stats and traits, two key new features introduced in Ruby/Sapphire are two-on-two battles (double battles) and Pokemon Contests.

Double battles opened up a new strategic layer to each encounter with trainers able to utilize two Pokemon simultaneously. Pokemon Contests are pageant style competitions where players can show off their Pokemon and interact with them outside the battle context.

The cozy RPG gameplay is similar to the previous releases on Game Boy and Game Boy Color through which the franchise achieved worldwide popularity. Despite the similarities, the games received widespread acclaim: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!

What’s the difference between Pokemon Ruby and Sapphire?

Pokemon Ruby and Sapphire are a matched pair but there are still some differences between the two releases. The main difference is the Pokemon that are exclusive to each version:

Pokemon Sapphire and Ruby exclusive Pokemon


In order to complete the Pokedex, players are required to trade with each other using a Game Boy Advance link cable.

Another small difference between Ruby and Sapphire is in the intro: On Sapphire you see Brendan or May (the two main characters depending on the gender selected) cycling near an ocean before Latias appears; In Ruby the intro shows Brendan or May cycling in forested, mountainous terrain before a Latios appears.

Pokemon Emerald

Pokemon Emerald hit the shelves in the USA in May 2005 as an updated version of the earlier mainline Generation III releases, Pokemon Ruby & Sapphire.

The slightly lower critic scores received by Pokemon Emerald may be partly attributed to the fact that the game – as an update rather than a new game – is mostly the same as Ruby & Sapphire, with some reviewers lamenting the fact that it didn’t offer much in the way of substantive changes.

However, the classic cozy RPG gameplay was a still a hit with players: Emerald was the second highest selling video game in North America in 2005.

Pokemon Emerald differences from Ruby and Sapphire

It’s true that the storyline and gameplay are essentially the same in Emerald as in Ruby & Sapphire, but there are still some interesting differences and improvements, including:

  • Pokemon sprites are animated
  • There are new areas to explore in the Safari Zone
  • Contests all take place in Lilycove City
  • Double battles are more common
  • Pokemon pick up items based on their level
  • Players who want to acquire non-Hoenn Pokemon by trading with FireRed and LeafGreen need a National Pokedex.
  • Gym leaders have upgraded Pokemon teams

The following Pokemon are also not featured in Emerald and so players must trade from Ruby or Sapphire to obtain them:

Pokemon Emerald missing Pokemon

  • Surskit
  • Masquerain
  • Meditite
  • Medicham
  • Roselia
  • Zangoose
  • Lunatone 

Check out the excellent bulbapedia page for a full list of differences and changes between these versions. 

Pokemon FireRed/LeafGreen

Pokemon FireRed/LeafGreen are a matched pair of Pokemon mainline games that are remakes of the original Game Boy games, Pokemon Red and Green respectively (green was a Japan-only release – the game that ‘paired’ Red in North America and Europe was Blue). 

Revisiting the original story and the iconic Pokemon that populate in the Kanto region, but this time in full GBA glory proved a huge draw for fans and FireRed/LeafGreen outsold Pokemon Emerald

screenshot of mewtwo from pokemon fire red/leaf green for game boy advance

Many reviews at the time did suggest that a more comprehensive overhaul of the franchise might be due. However, the game’s popularity shows that it hit a sweet spot leveraging on the popularity of Ruby/Sapphire to deliver a shot of nostalgia to long time Pokemon fans and an engrossing new experience to those who missed out on previous generations.

What’s the difference between Pokemon FireRed and LeafGreen?

The main difference between FireRed and LeafGreen are the different Pokemon that are exclusive to each version. There are quite a few more exclusive Pokemon and evolution lines between these two versions than there are between Ruby & Sapphire. 

Pokemon FireRed and LeafGreen exclusive Pokemon

Oddish/ Gloom/VileplumeVulpix/Ninetales
SkarmonyDeoxys (defense form)
Deoxys (attack form)

Other differences between Pokemon FireRed/LeafGreen and Red/Green include:

  • Players can play as a female character
  • Pokemon have natures, abilities and genders, and can hold items
  • A new region in the south called the Sevii Islands is accessible and Generation II Pokemon can be found there (Team Rocket also has a new base there)
  • You can rebattle trainers outdoors with the Vs. Seeker item
  • A new minigame corner called the Joyful Game Corner can be accessed
  • One of Johto’s legendary beasts (Raikou, Entei or Suicune – depending on which has a type advantage over the player’s starter Pokemon) will appear after completing the Network Machine post-game quest
  • Mankey and Meowth are now available in both games (they were version exclusives in Red/Green)

Again, we encourage you to check out the excellent bulbapedia page for a full list of differences and changes between these versions. 

Pokemon Pinball: Ruby & Sapphire

The Advance Generation version of Pokemon Pinball was released in 2005. In Ruby & Sapphire, players partake in classic pinball action on Pokemon themed boards and work to collect all 200 Pokemon featured in the game

If you strip away the Pokemon features, this release still stands on its own merits as a pinball game. Once you take into account the Pokemon tie-in it’s not hard to see why this game received a broadly positive response from critics. 

Pokemon Pinball Ruby and Sapphire differences

This game genre means that there aren’t as many differences between the paired pinball releases as compared to the mainline RPG games. However, the pinball boards (Ruby field and Sapphire field) are different in each version

Different Pokemon feature on each field in place of pinball furniture you’d expect to see such as bumpers and switches. Other differences include: the bonus stages are mostly unique to each field, the ball savers are different (Latios in Ruby and Latias in Sapphire), and there are two areas in each field that can only be accessed from that particular field. 

Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Red Rescue Team

The Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Blue/Red pair of games were the first in the Mystery Dungeon Pokemon series and were released in September 2006. Red was released on Game Boy Advance and Blue was released on Nintendo DS.

The games see players take the role of a human who is turned into a Pokemon to battle through a series of dungeons in parties of up to four. Battle mode and dungeon mode are not distinct (in contrast to the core RPG titles in the franchise).

Many reviews found the randomly generated dungeons to be repetitive but most critics still had plenty of good things to say about this spin-off entry into the Pokemon franchise – not least that it’s one of the best looking GBA games.

Difference between Pokemon MD Red Rescue Team and Blue Rescue Team

Other than the fact that Red Rescue team is a Game Boy Advance game and Blue Rescue Team is on the Nintendo DS, the main difference between the two versions is the Pokemon that are exclusive to each:

Pokemon MD Red Rescue Team and Blue Rescue Team exclusive Pokemon

Red Rescue TeamBlue Rescue Team

Which is the hardest Pokemon game for GBA?

The different Pokemon GBA games have great variation and players using a smart set of Pokemon and sensible tactics shouldn’t have too much trouble in eventually beating any of them. 

If we were to pick out a single Pokemon GBA game that is harder than the others, we’d probably say Pokemon Emerald

In general, the Hoenn games are more tricky than the Generation I and II games, with both villain teams as well as the final battle against the Elite 4 being relatively challenging. 

However, things that set the difficulty that little bit higher on Emerald include stronger rivals, a more diverse range of teams, as well as the introduction of the Battle Frontier.  

Pokemon GBA Roms

There are all sorts of Pokemon GBA Roms available for download on the internet if you know where to look (we’re not telling). This includes rom files for the official/original releases that we’ve discussed above, in addition to various rom ‘hacks’ – games that have been unofficially modded to add, remove or improve certain features or functions.

Best Pokemon gba rom hacks (editor’s picks)

Dragon Ball Z: Team Training: Ever wondered how a classic Pokemon RPG adventure would look if all the Pokemon and other characters were replaced with fighters from another one of Japan’s most famous anime exports? Well, wonder no more and get stuck in to this Dragon Ball Z/Pokemon mash up!

Pokemon Radical Red: This is faithful to the original FireRed game in all aspects other than the fact that the difficulty dial has been turned up to 11. For example, you can’t access items during key battles and Gym Leaders have optimized move sets, items and access to legendary Pokemon.

Pokemon FireRed: Rocket Edition: This rom hack offers players the chance to experience the events of Pokemon FIreRed from an altogether different perspective. You play as a member of Team Rocket and see Gym Leaders and Professor Oak in a different light as you progress through the story.

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