ByJay Ricciardi, writer at
Former Senior Editor of Now Loading.
Jay Ricciardi

It might not be common knowledge, but the starter Pokémon you choose in every Pokémon game actually corresponds to a difficulty level for the game.

As you progress though the gyms and trials of every Pokémon game, the order of the 'boss fight' Pokémon you face is important. One starter might be awesome against late-game gym leaders or Kahunas, but may really struggle early on. Conversely, your all-star starter for the first few trials might be great, but you may have a hard time later on.

Take Pokémon Red and Blue, for example:

  • Charmander is considered to be the 'hard mode' starter since it was not very effective against most gym leaders.
  • Squirtle falls to the middle of the road as 'normal mode'. Squirtle is stronger against more gyms than Charmander, but less than Bulbasaur.
  • Bulbasaur is considered to be the 'easy mode' starter. It starts out strong and is super effective against tons of gyms, especially in the early game.

How Do We Pick?

We've talked about this before, but Rowlet eventually has the best baseline stats in the game - but is Rowlet the starter you should actually choose? Popplio or Litten are great options too!

Here are three things we're keeping in mind when determining how tough each starter is to perform with:

And here are three things you should keep in mind while reading this article:

  • Pick the starter you like the best! All three starters are awesome.
  • The first Trial features Normal-type Pokémon, so each starter is on equal footing there.
  • Often, completing a Trial will give you access to Pokémon that are effective against the next Trial. This makes it easy to shore up any weaknesses of your starter/team.

Ultimately, any pick is a good pick. But if you want an easier or more challenging play through, this article might help you decide!

Easy Mode: Rowlet (Grass/Flying)

Besides being the cutest starter (real talk), Rowlet is also the strongest starter for the first two islands. Early on, you'll face plenty of wild Water and Grass type Pokémon and both types are easily countered with Rowlet's Grass and Flying moves, respectively. Plus, Rowlet is a flexible Pokémon and can do well with whatever moves you train, even if you don't know much about min-maxing based on stats.


  • Most consistent overall stats, flexible
  • Access to Grass, Flying, Dark movesets
  • Awesome for first two Islands, decent rest of game

Additionally, the early Trials feature Water, Fire, and Grass - and Rowlet's Grass/Flying combo is super effective against two of those. Plus, the first two Kahunas use Fighting types (weak to Flying) and Rock/Ground types (weak to Grass). Also, Dark type moves come in handy later in the game as Rowlet evolves into Dartix and eventually Decidueye.


  • Type: Flying/Grass
  • HP: 68
  • Attack: 55
  • Defense: 55
  • Speed: 50
  • Special Defense: 50
  • Special Attack: 42


  • Type: Flying/Grass
  • HP: 78
  • Attack: 75
  • Defense: 75
  • Speed: 70
  • Special Defense: 70
  • Special Attack: 52


  • Type: Grass/Ghost
  • HP: 78
  • Attack: 107
  • Defense: 75
  • Speed: 100
  • Special Defense: 100
  • Special Attack: 70
  • Hidden Ability: Long Reach (Moves don't make contact with foe)

Normal Mode: Litten (Fire)

Everyone knows Litten is lit. Even if some bemoan yet another swole bipedal final evolution Pokémon, even I kinda love the wrestler motif Litten ends up getting with Incineroar. Just like how Rowlet's Flying moves make it effective vs early Grass types, Litten's Fire moves are unmatched for clearing a lot of what Melemele and Akala Islands have to offer. That said, there are quite a few Water types to watch out for.


  • Highest health and strength of the three, but lowest speed
  • Performs well all game long
  • Rarely has defensive type disadvantage for big fights

There just aren't many Gen 7 Fire types, sadly - and Litten is definitely the best (Turtonator is a close second!). Litten doesn't have many distinct advantages against most big fights in the game, but also the fewest weaknesses of the three starters. All this, plus the huge health pool and decent defense stats make Litten a solid middle of the road pick and continues to be while evolving to Torracat and Incineroar.


  • Type: Fire
  • HP: 45
  • Attack: 65
  • Defense: 40
  • Speed: 60
  • Special Defense: 40
  • Special Attack: 70


  • Type: Fire
  • HP: 65
  • Attack: 85
  • Defense: 50
  • Speed: 80
  • Special Defense: 50
  • Special Attack: 90


  • Type: Fire/Fighting
  • HP: 95
  • Attack: 115
  • Defense: 90
  • Speed: 80
  • Special Defense: 90
  • Special Attack: 60
  • Hidden Ability: Intimidate (Lowers the foe’s ATTACK)

Hard Mode: Popplio (Water)

A lot of people gave Popplio a lot of crap when first revealed... They just didn't know how hardcore Popplio was going to be! Picking the Water type starter is going to be a picking a struggle in the early game as you go up against a lot of Water and Grass types.


  • Insane speed stat and excellent special defense stat
  • Access to the ever-desired Fairy type moves
  • Really shines in niche situations

Popplio is going to have a tough time in the early islands with the exception of Kahuna Olivia on Akala Island. After Akala, however, Popplio's abilities and access to Fairy moves are pretty awesome. The thing is, Popplio isn't usually going to be your first-pick Pokémon for most fights - but rather is going to fill a specific niche role as a wrecker of special attack-focused Pokémon and a Dragon killer (Fus Roh Popplio?).

You'll need to be a pro to fully get the most use out of Popplio as it evolves into Brionne and Primarina.


  • Type: Water
  • HP: 50
  • Attack: 54
  • Defense: 54
  • Speed: 66
  • Special Defense: 56
  • Special Attack: 40


  • Type: Water
  • HP: 60
  • Attack: 69
  • Defense: 69
  • Speed: 91
  • Special Defense: 81
  • Special Attack: 50


  • Type: Water/Fairy
  • HP: 80
  • Attack: 74
  • Defense: 74
  • Speed: 126
  • Special Defense: 116
  • Special Attack: 60
  • Hidden Ability: Liquid Voice (All sound-based moves become Water-type)

So! There you have it: Rowlet makes for a flexible game, Popplio a more tactical game, and Litten falls in middle. Once again, these are all excellent picks and your starter will be a vital part of your team for the entire game - so choose wisely.

Also, don't forget that your starter is only one of six Pokémon on your team! You can always shore up one weakness with other Pokémon.


Which starter are you picking for Pokémon Sun and Moon?


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