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Is Pokémon Free to Play?

The short answer is – it depends. While Pokémon GO is completely free-to-play, the classic Pokémon RPGs are premium games that require purchase. There are also some "free-to-start" Pokémon spinoffs that limit gameplay unless you pay.

This article will take a deep dive into answering the question of whether Pokémon is free to play across the various video games in the franchise.

Pokémon GO – Truly Free-to-Play

Pokémon GO stands out as the only major Pokémon game that is completely free-to-play, with no mandatory purchases required.

As a Pokémon fan and avid Pokémon GO player myself, I‘ve put in hundreds of hours in the game without spending a dime. The core experience of exploring the real world, catching Pokémon, raiding, and battling is accessible for free.

That said, Pokémon GO does offer optional in-app purchases that can enhance the experience. But they are not at all necessary to progress and catch Pokémon.

Based on my experience playing since 2016 launch, here‘s a deeper look at exactly what‘s available for free versus paid in Pokémon GO:

What‘s Free

  • Catching wild Pokémon
  • Battling at gyms
  • Raiding at gyms
  • Participating in events and community days
  • Basic Poké Balls from PokéStops
  • Earning XP and leveling up
  • Participating in PVP battles and GO Battle League
  • Completing research tasks
  • Walking with your Buddy Pokémon
  • Trading Pokémon with friends
  • Joining teams Mystic, Valor, or Instinct

What Costs Money

  • PokéCoins – used to buy items and upgrades
  • Premium Raid Passes – access extra raids beyond free pass
  • Incubators – hatch eggs faster
  • Bag/Pokémon Storage Upgrades
  • Special Special, Great, or Ultra Balls
  • Lures – attract Pokémon to a PokéStop
  • Lucky Eggs – double XP gained for 30 minutes

As you can see, all of the core gameplay activities are completely free. You really don‘t need to spend anything if you don‘t want to.

I played for over a year without spending money. Even now, I only spend occasionally when a box deal seems really appealing.

Spending just enhances certain aspects like being able to raid more often, hatch eggs faster, or carry more items. But you can still have endless fun with Pokémon GO without ever making a purchase.

Main Pokémon RPGs – Pay to Play

In contrast to Pokémon GO, the classic Pokémon RPGs mainline games require an upfront purchase price. These are premium games rather than free-to-play.

For example, the latest Nintendo Switch titles such as Pokémon Sword/Shield, Brilliant Diamond/Shining Pearl, and Legends: Arceus all launch at $59.99.

Occasionally the eShop will offer sales where they are discounted to $39.99 or even $29.99 for big promotions. But most gamers pay full price, especially within the first year of release.

According to Austin John Plays, a popular Pokémon expert YouTuber I follow, some players view paying full price as a worthwhile cost to experience Pokémon games early:

"Hardcore fans want to play it right away. They want to be the first ones in the world to experience the story, see the new Pokémon, and dive into the post-game adventures. Pokémon games rarely go on sale or drop in price quickly. So fans see the $60 as justified to play as soon as possible and be part of that exciting launch window."

Based on my own experience, I‘m inclined to agree with Austin‘s viewpoint. My friends and I almost always grab newly released Pokémon games at full price so we can play together and trade version-exclusive Pokémon.

That said, more budget-focused gamers have options too…

Buy Pre-owned Physical Copies

One money-saving option is to buy pre-owned physical cartridges at retailers like GameStop.

For example, while Pokémon Brilliant Diamond/Shining Pearl costs $59.99 digital, you can often find pre-owned physical copies for $45-$50.

The savings become more significant as games get older. Older 3DS or DS Pokémon games can be found pre-owned for as low as $15-20 at GameStop, compared to $29.99 or more digitally.

So while not completely free, going the pre-owned route helps lower the cost of entry considerably.

Wait for eShop Sales

Another option is to wait for eShop sales before buying your Pokémon games digitally.

Major 1st party Nintendo titles rarely see huge discounts, but you can potentially get 30%, 40%, or even 50% off if you‘re patient enough.

For example, last year during the big Cyber Weekend sale, the eShop offered Pokémon Shield for 50% off, bringing it down to just $29.99. That‘s half the original $59.99!

The eShop also currently has a permanent $10 discount on Pokémon Legends: Arceus, letting you get this new release for a more reasonable $49.99.

So while still not free, watching for eShop deals can help lower the hit to your wallet.

Nintendo Switch Online

One last free option – a handful of retro Pokémon games are playable at no added cost for Nintendo Switch Online subscribers.

For example, the original Pokémon Red and Pokémon Blue games from the Game Boy are playable. While not the new cutting edge experiences, it‘s one free way to get a taste of classic Pokémon gameplay.

The major downside is that you still have to pay for the Switch Online service itself. But if you were subscribing anyways for things like online multiplayer, it‘s a nice bonus.

Free-to-Start Pokémon Games

There is a third gray area when it comes to free Pokémon games. These are titles that are technically "free-to-start" but limit your progression unless you pay up.

Some examples of Pokémon free-to-start games include:

Pokémon Quest

Pokémon Quest lets you explore Tumblecube Island for free. However, free players are limited to having 2 Pokémon on their team at once. You have to purchase the full game for $3.99 to boost your team to 3 Pokémon, enabling better strategy.

Pokémon Café Mix

In Café Mix, you can play 5 puzzles per day without paying. But you‘ll quickly run out of stamina. Buying unlimited play costs $4.99 upfront. So while you can technically download and play for free, you hit a wall very quickly.

Pokémon Rumble Rush (shut down)

Rumble Rush (now discontinued) was playable for free but you earned premium currency painfully slowly. Paying real money greatly sped up progression by letting you bypass grinding.

Pokémon Shuffle Mobile

Shuffle Mobile provides some free gameplay per day but quickly drains your hearts. You can slowly regenerate hearts over time, or instantly refresh them via microtransactions. So again, you hit roadblocks fast playing 100% free here.

While better than nothing, these "free-to-start" models leave much to be desired compared to truly free experiences like Pokémon GO. You‘ll basically reach a paywall after the short initial free trial period or content.

Weighing the Cost vs. Benefits of Paid Pokémon Games

Given most major Pokémon games require purchase, you may be wondering – are they really worth the money compared to free games?

As a longtime Pokémon fan gamer myself, I believe premium Pokémon RPGs justify their price tags for a few key reasons:

Massive Content – Pokémon RPGs offer dozens upon dozens of hours of playtime across huge worlds, elaborate stories, side quests, and endgame content. You get your money‘s worth from sheer gameplay volume.

Community – With millions of players worldwide, Pokémon allows you to trade, battle, and interact in a huge community. This adds extended value.

Post-Launch Support – Modern paid games see years of ongoing updates, events, giveaways after launch. They stay lively for a long time.

Quality & Polish – As a top Nintendo franchise, the production values including graphics, music, and gameplay refinement are unparalleled.

Portability – Being able to play full Pokémon adventures on-the-go on Nintendo Switch adds major convenience.

Timed Events – Participating in launch windows offers unique experiences like collective discovery and mystery events.

Considering these benefits, I feel the price of paid Pokémon games is justified, especially if you plan to play for dozens if not hundreds of hours. You want to experience it all firsthand right away.

That said, I fully understand cost can be a prohibitive factor for some gamers. Not everyone has the ability to readily afford $60 games.

Thankfully, you still have excellent options like:

  • Trying free-to-play Pokémon GO first to sample Pokémon
  • Buying pre-owned physical copies to save ~$10-15
  • Waiting for eShop digital sales up to 50% off

For deal-seeking gamers on a budget, these tips can help overcome the pricing hurdle while still enjoying Pokémon. You may have to be patient, but bargains can be found.

And if all else fails, Pokémon GO remains free and can give you a taste of catching Pokémon, battling gyms, and more thrifty fun.

Which Games Are Most Beginner Friendly from a Cost Perspective?

If you or a child are hoping to get into Pokémon games, but price is a concern, here are some of the most beginner friendly options to consider from a cost perspective:

Pokémon GO

Obviously the completely free-to-play mobile Pokémon GO is the most budget friendly. It acts as a nice risk-free gateway into the overall franchise.

Nintendo Switch Online

For $3.99/month, a subscription gives access to retro classics like Pokémon Red/Blue to try Originals.

Pre-Owned Physical Games

Grabbing pre-owned 3DS or DS Pokémon RPG cartridges can provides full experiences as low as $15-20.

Wait for eShop Sales

Watching for sales lets you grab games 50% off like Pokémon Shield for $29.99 instead of $59.99.

Buy Select Version Only

Buying just one version (e.g. Sword or Shield) for $60 saves you $60 compared to buying both for $120 total. Still experience 99% of content.

Split Cost with Friend

Go 50/50 on a copy with a friend or family member to share/trade version exclusives and save money.

Gift Requests

Request as birthday/holiday gifts from relatives who want to buy Pokémon for you anyways.

Using strategies like buying pre-owned, waiting for sales, cost splitting, and gift receiving, you can overcome the pricing hurdle and enjoy Pokémon even on a tight budget.

The Most Expensive Pokémon Games

On the flip side, for collectors specifically seeking the rarest and most valuable Pokémon games, price is no concern. Their goal is tracking down the Holy Grail grails.

According to online aggregate price data, here are some of the most expensive Pokémon games that top collectors seek:

Pokémon Red/Blue/Yellow (1st Edition Printing) – $1500+

The original 1st edition printings of Pokémon Red, Blue, and Yellow for Game Boy are the crowning jewels any collector would love to own. Their extreme rarity and importance to history skyrockets values.

Pokémon Gold/Silver (Still Sealed) – $1000+

Factory sealed Pokémon Gold and Silver editions remain nearly impossible to find in pristine condition. Sealed collectors gladly pay four figures. Even used complete copies fetch $200+.

Pokémon Ruby/Sapphire (Sealed) – $350+

Factory sealed Gen 3 Pokémon entries are also prime collector targets, with authentication and high condition driving prices.

Pokémon FireRed/LeafGreen (Sealed) – $400+

These Gen 1 remake Game Boy Advance classics sealed also easily clear $400+ for serious players.

Of course, prices vary depending on condition, packaging, and edition. But pristine sealed copies or rare variants of early gens in Pokémon history fetch premiums.

Dedicated collectors invest as a hobby with no intent to actually play the games. Similar to rare coins or trading cards, they want the centerpiece display gem.

For average gamers simply seeking to play Pokémon adventures, such lofty prices are wholly unnecessary. But it shows the franchises‘ cultural cachet and rarity at the high end.

Key Takeaways – Evaluating Pokémon Costs

After this deep evaluation of Pokémon games through the lens of cost and pricing options, what are the key takeaways?

Pokémon GO – Fully and permanently free-to-play. Provides 100% complete experience without spending.

Main RPGs – Typically $60 pay-to-play at launch. Wait for sales or buy used to save.

Free-to-Start – Limited free trials then paywalls. Often not true free gameplay.

Justification – Paid Pokémon games offer hundreds of hours of polished content and community.

Beginner Tips – Purchase pre-owned, wait for sales, split costs to save on entry pricing.

Holy Grails – Sealed retro Pokémon games and 1st editions are investment collectors‘ items costing thousands.

Value – At typical $40-$60 price points, Pokémon provides good value relative to length and quality.

No definitive answer exists to whether Pokémon is free to play across the board. Hopefully this guide provided helpful cost perspective and tips on the various options to experience Pokémon games affordably.

The franchise remains tremendously popular 25+ years later – a testament to the underlying quality and value contained within most Pokémon titles.



Michael Reddy is a tech enthusiast, entertainment buff, and avid traveler who loves exploring Linux and sharing unique insights with readers.