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It has been a while since the latest Pokémon game came out. Honestly, I expected myself beating this game a lot sooner. But, we are now over half a year later, and I haven’t beaten the game yet. What’s going on? Is this game the first Pokémon game I’m going to drop or did I get distracted? Well, I have some opinions on this game and I wanted to talk about this game… but, I was unable to find the right words or a great angle to write about this game. So, this week I decided to give myself time till my writing day and then sit down and give my opinion on this game. In the meantime, I have almost completed the game but since I haven’t, this is going to be a first impression. And of course, I’m going to invite you to leave a comment in the comment section down below with your thoughts and/or opinions on the game and/or the content of this article. Since, this game is something else… It split the fanbase into two camps, and I want to talk about it.
There is a story?
In this game, you play as a student who enrolls into the local Academy. It doesn’t take long before your usual adventure in the Paldea region starts. The introduction in this game is something you’d expect from a Pokémon game.
After the headmaster visits you, you can pick your starter Pokémon and go attend school. You meet your rival on your way to school and not too long after, you get introduced to the actual main story of this game. The treasure hunt.
This treasure hunt is sort of a final exam / field expedition. Whilst you want to start your treasure hunt, you get introduced to the three different story lines that will go on.
Two out of the three story lines are your typical Pokémon affair. The first story line is your journey to become a Pokémon Master, by defeating the 8 gyms spread across the region and then taking on the Pokémon League. The second story line is what I call the “Team Rocket” story line. Basically, taking on the evil team of the game. But, in this game, we also have a third story line. This is a nice change of pace and adds a bit more depth to the game.
In terms of writing, this game is fine for what it sets out to do. If you expect a more mature Pokémon game story, you won’t find it here. The story is more aimed at young children and teens. My biggest problem with the story is that it’s too tame most of the time. There is no real tension, no real line to pull you into the story.
Yes, the evil team this time around isn’t just your cheerleading squad for one of the major side characters. Looking at you, Sword and Shield. No, this time it’s a team of students that ran away from school. Delinquents, if you will. If only they did a bit more to stand out. Besides your first interaction with them, they barely do anything outside their bases. On top of that, their bases are generic, I have a hard time telling their bases apart.
I totally understand that it’s difficult to create an open world game and having a story that really pulls you in. Since, you never know where the player is going to go next and if you lead the player too much, they might feel that the game is too linear and scripted. But, I’m convinced that you can do more than what this game does.
Let’s keep with the evil team, Team Star, as an example. Your first encounter is at the school gates. You fight two grunts that are causing a small bit of ruckus. After you have beaten them, you get some backstory and during the start of the treasure hunt… You get challenged to take down their bases. That’s cool, great setup. But, the annoying thing is that the gameplay behind that turns into almost additional gym battles.
We never see Team Star take over a village or do something. There is no actual reason to interact with Team Star besides for the story. When will we see the evil team actually being evil or being a danger to the player? That’s what I feel that the story in this game is missing. It feels like an afterthought, a way to get the player to point A to B. I feel that The Legend of Zelda – Breath of the Wild did it a lot better. In that game, we as a player have a reason to go out and explore. We need to gear up to defeat Ganon and save the world.
In this game, we … Explore the world because it’s “homework”. I’m sorry, but the story is swinging a miss in this game. Maybe I’m a bit too old, or maybe I’m being too critical, but it’s too safe. Yes, you have three separate story lines, and they are fine, but they never cross paths with each other and there are not of hooks for the player to want to follow along and continue the story. I really don’t get what other reviewers are seeing in this story.
After a lot of thought, I think I can explain why I’m not clicking with the story. First, like I said, it’s too safe. There is no lurking threat in the world that make you want to save this world or want to see what happens next. The closest of the three story lines is actually the new story line. Where you help heal a sick Pokémon.
Secondly, it lacks a lot of progression. Most of the tension of the story stays on a flat line. For example, let’s take the Team Star story line. There is no real worry in Team Star after you defeated the other bases. I mean, I don’t notice anything different when I have defeated one or three bases. Yes, the interactions at the start and after beaten the base are a bit different… But, you have the gameplay loop is always the same in the bases.
And third, the gameplay is working against it. For an example, you can read the paragraph above. Another example is that the trainers on the routes don’t notice you anymore, like in the previous games. Yes, you have to interact with them before they start a battle. So, you don’t naturally level up anymore and that way you have to grind… And that way, the player is more focused on the gameplay than on the story. Also, the dialogue isn’t different if you are rematching a gym leader after being defeated by the leader for one or more times… I mean, come on, things have to work in tandem for it to work.
One of the best ways I feel to describe this game is that it’s a re-heated dinner. Of course, those dinners can still be extremely tasty, but it isn’t fresh anymore, and you don’t know which parts are heated enough or need more heating.
This game has a lot of going for it. I love the fact that this is one of the first main line Pokémon games that isn’t linear. You can choose where to progress and decide your own pace.
Sadly, I have to mention the elephant in the room. This game has a lot of issues in terms of performance. The frame rate can dip in some areas, but the texture pop-in is awful.
You can mostly see this problem in large area’s. You see the environment loading in, in the distance. It’s like the render distance is too far to begin with. If this was created by a small team of developers, I could understand. It’s an ambitious big open world and some areas might be rough. But, this is Game Freak we are talking about. I feel that they stretched themselves too thin. Since 2010, we are roughly getting a Pokémon game every year. And we got two big titles last year.
The more that I played this game, the more I got the feeling that the ambition for this game was too big. I’m just glad that this game doesn’t have a lot of game breaking issues. Or at least, I haven’t encountered any. According to this article from the Sun, the raids might be broken… But to be honest, I don’t really bother with the raids. I don’t like the gameplay loop of raids and I feel like it’s a boring, very optional activity.
Just like the camping and sandwich mechanics in this game. Sure, it’s amazing they are in this game and add some depth we Pokémon fans are asking for… But, it feels undercooked. I have to be honest, I haven’t bothered using the camping at all. I had even forgotten that it were mechanics in the game.
Now, a mechanic that really hits its mark in my opinion is the gimmick mechanic of this region. Terastallization is such a unique idea, and it works extremely well. The gist of the gimmick is that Pokémon can become a crystal form of themselves. Depending on the Pokémon, they either hold their typing or change into a different type. This adds another strategy layer upon the game. I really like this mechanic over some of the previous gimmicks. You can even change the Tera type of your Pokémon to obtain an edge in battle. I’d explain it all in depth, but I’ll let this amazing NintendoLife article handle that.
Something I also really like is how you get a fast way to explore this quite open landscape. The world feels real and is a lot of fun to explore. The bike legendary Pokémon you get is a godsend. To be honest, I would have complained quite a bit if you only could walk everywhere. Since the walking speed isn’t that fast. It’s also cool that you can upgrade the abilities of your ride during the story.
But, then again… The world feels too empty. There are areas that are just devoid of anything. Barely any wild Pokémon walking around, items to find or trainers to battle. Yes, wild Pokémon walk around visibly and they are to scale. You can let the Pokémon that’s first in your party also run around to battle and gain XP automatically. Too bad that your partner Pokémon is too slow to keep up with your ride.
There are also different type of items in the world. There are materials and items. The items are just like in previous Pokémon games where you have potions, healing items, TM’s, Pokéballs… to name just a few types. But you also have materials you have to use to craft TM’s. Yes, craft TM’s. They are finally single use again but you can stop at Pokémon Centers to go to the TM machine and craft a TM again if you have the needed materials. And you can find materials to craft new sandwiches too.
I feel like Game Freak had a long list of things they wanted to implement. But in some areas they didn’t succeed. For example, the Pokémon Centers are just a joke now. They feel like a gas stop at the side of the road, if that even. A small food truck is a better description. Each Pokémon Center feels copy pasted everywhere. There are also barely any unique characters around in the Pokémon Centers…
Also, healing with healing items is a bit broken. You have to use each potion one by one while you can choose to use more than one XP candy at the same time. Oh, and when you want to heal more than one Pokémon, you have to reselect the healing item.
What the future holds and gives
I have to be honest, I have written a lot of drafts for this review. There is so much this game does right but there are also various fundemental things where this game swings a miss. Let me give another example: It has a more expansive story but all the characteres are still silent. Not even small grunts like in Breath of the Wild.
The fact you can finally control the camera during Pokémon battles to a degree is great fun… But, the visual mess you can create sometimes is just shameful.
There are so many buildings in the villages now but so many of them are just set decoration. To the point where there is barely any additional lore to be found. No unique thing that sets the villages apart, apart from their geographical location. And all special locations are visited during the story at some point… So, yeah.
The controls are extremely responsive in this game, but the map screen is a nightmare to use. It’s a bit too easy to zoom in and out, there is no easy way to center the map or to go to your location. A lot of times I had to rotate the map since I wasn’t sure where I was in the region.
The music in this game is something where I don’t have any complaints about. The music in this game has the amazing mix between new and oldschool Pokémon music and it does quite a lot for the atmosphere. I highly recommend that you play this game with a good sound system or a good headset. Since, that’s what is giving the areas some more atmosphere and brings the game more to life.
There is also a day and night cycle in this game that isn’t linked to the real life day night cycle. It’s just like in Minecraft, but in this game the length of the cycle is a lot longer. It’s almost an hour and twenty mintues, give or take. This makes it enjoyable since you don’t have to devote time at a certain part of the day to try and catch a night Pokémon. Then again, it looses that charm too… So, it’s a double edged sword with no right answer.
Listen, I could keep talking about this game for a while longer but I think I have talked about the biggest things I wanted to talk about. I think I have explained why this game split the fanbase into two. There are some people who dislike this game because of all the technical problems and some of the shallow parts of the game… yet, there are people who like this game because it’s that big open world Pokémon game that finally dares to take the plunge into doing something new instead of holding to the “8 gyms and defeat evil team along the way” story from all previous gens.
It finally has more mechanics, more depth but parts are unpolished and we don’t know if that polish is going to come or if they are more focusing on all the DLC and/or this year’s big Pokémon title. Personally, I’m curious to see where they are taking the series next. If this was their first attempt on the open world Pokémon game… I have to say that it was a nice attempt.
My personal advice for the next game is to scale the scope down by a lot. I’d rather see a polished and well crafted game then a game where there is a lot to do but nothing has depth. Like, you have two types of currencies but you can use both of them for everything. (Thank god by the way that you don’t make these microtransactions, or all hell would have broken loose.) Make your mechanics unique, meaningfull and fun to use. Focus on that and on the technical aspect and the rest will come. You can always add more depth in updates and/or DLC.
Before I start rambling about this game for too long, I think it’s high time to write the conclusion. What do I think about this game? Well, I think that this is your typical 7/10 game. It has a lot going for it but it’s rough. Very rough sometimes in the technical department. But, it isn’t unplayable or unenjoyable… it has just some (very) low moments and these make the high moments sometimes taste bittersweet. I’m enjoying myself while playing this game, but it was a good idea to enjoy this game in chuncks since it came out.
In any case, that’s everything I wanted to say about this game for now. I’m rather curious what you think about my article. Feel free to leave a comment in the comment section down below. I also hope you enjoyed reading this article as much as I enjoyed writing it. I hope to be able to welcome you in another article but until then, have a great rest of your day and take care.