Coming a long way is becoming a theme for Pokémon. Not only because its core story element is always a kid leaving home to go on an excellent adventure but also because this is a franchise that’s gone on one hell of an adventure through video gaming.
And yet, the world’s largest video game franchise feels like it offers a lot, but it has a long way to go.
You can go your own way
Pokémon takes an even bigger leap into the world of RPGs this generation by offering three quest lines that you can tackle at your own discretion. There’s “Victory Road,” which, true to its name, is the more traditional beat the gyms and beat the Elite Four story.
Gone are the days when your path to each gym usually offered at least one Pokémon to catch that would dominate the upcoming gym. Now you can play to your unique strengths nearly every step of the way. Being able to do the gyms in your own order offers up a new way to strategize.
Like Pokémon Sun and Moon, this generation sheds the traditional gym system in favour of skill-testing challenges with some battles mixed in. I completed one where I had to roll a giant olive through a maze and into a basket. Another saw me playing a game of “Where’s Waldo” with unescapable battles in between. By completing trainer battles, I was able to open shortcuts.
The gym battles are relatively easy in this generation. And I’m also a little upset that almost every gym leader is given a Tera Pokémon with a type matching their gym. I feel it would add a more exciting level of challenge to have leaders use an unexpecting Tera Type to spice up the last act of each gym.
I say nearly because the new Pokémon games don’t offer a truly pick-your-own adventure. This isn’t exactly The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, where you can take on the final battle the moment you pass the opening title sequence.
Getting to some of the gym leaders will take you a lot longer without doing the “Path of Legends,” which is a feel-good story found across the map that will not only have you feeling good emotionally because completing stages of it also grants Koraidon or Miraidon the ride abilities they have lost. While you don’t exactly need these abilities to get around the Paldea region, it’ll make it a lot easier and offer up new areas to farm items and encounter stronger Pokémon. “Path of Legends” also serves as a uniting narrative bringing the characters and Paldea region towards the endgame.
Lastly, there’s the “Starfall Street’ story, which serves as this generation of Pokémon’s team of baddies narrative and also exists to show off the new “Let’s Go” function. I got to play one out of five of these mass-battle raids at my preview and found it to be fun but very broken in terms of frame rate performance. I’m happy to report that the final product, at least in terms of this story arc, is much better. There’s still a vast slowing when you run into larger groups of combatants.
In terms of story, this is also the weakest as it’s not very subtle as to who the big boss it teases is. And Team Star is mainly just the in-game academy’s Breakfast Club, united by a creed of protecting their fellow outcasts by becoming even more outcasts.
Pokémon Plentiful Region of Paldea
I’ll be honest. The Paldea region is… well, it’s kind of ugly. I still chuckle every time I pass one of the land’s many watchtowers because Game Freak intends for you to look out over the region and marvel at its beauty. But what you are greeted with is a world full of harsh lines and shapes, covered with frankly mushy textures.
Paldea is big and full of different biomes for Pokémon and people to live in, but it’s hard not to look at Pokémon Legends: Arceusor even Pokémon: Let’s Go and not think that Paldea is comparably lacking of detail.
With that out of the way, Paldea is one of Pokémon’s better regions in terms of identity.
This generation’s soundtrack goes hard with a theme song that you’ll find yourself humming along to in no time. Unique gym battle tracks have also become a staple of recent Pokémon generations, and this generation goes hard with its playing along to your moves.
There are also a number of variations on the main theme and regional songs that offer a bit of Spanish flair but cross it with rock, jazz and pop in ways that make you feel like you’re moving through a unique landscape.
Cities and towns feel more extensive than they did in the last generation‘s representation of the United Kingdom, but they suffer from two problems. First of all, aside from gyms, there are no interiors. Houses appear but are not to be entered, and shops will trigger a door-opening animation that leads to a table of contents menu. Occasionally, you will find a shop or restaurant with an interior, but that’s it. Cities do feel populated, but all it does is end up taking a toll on the game’s frame rate. Secondly, there’s not much that’s memorable or exclusive to these locations. There are a few cities and towns that have unique stores or locations for in-game things. Otherwise, they all just feel like elaborate window-dressing.
While the new ability to be a student and do student stuff is a fun way to teach Pokémon techniques, it could be used for a lot more purposes. Maybe something to do with studying Pokémon in a way similar to Pokémon Legends: Arceus.
A broken generation
By now, you’ve seen videos clogging gaming social media and websites. Pokémon’s ninth generation is one that is broken beyond belief.
It’s hard to point to what exactly is going wrong with the game in its current state of performance. While some argue that the size of the game and the detail of its high-detail Pokémon and character models are pushing the Nintendo Switch to its utmost limits, games like Bayonetta 3and Xenoblade Chronicles 3 make it hard to believe that Game Freak is maxing out the system’s capabilities with a game this empty and devoid of greater visual detail.
It may very well be safe to point the finger at an unattainable deadline and a poor decision not to push these games’ release date back. As a company, Nintendo is not averse to following the advice of Shigeru Miyamoto when he said that “A delayed game is eventually good, but a rushed game is forever bad.” However, Pokémon has become the crown “Tera Jewel” in Nintendo’s holiday season crown, so there was likely no way these games would be delayed.
Building that out a little, it might be time to suggest that Pokémon can’t step into that next level of the series that fans ask for without shedding its yearly release schedule.
Now, I want to be very clear that I’ve not experienced the same level of bugs I’ve seen around the web.
As of writing this, I’ve only had two major bugs. One was a full crash to the “Home” screen, and the other was a hung animation that forced a game restart.
I’ve had a number of smaller lighting and asset-popping bugs, but I am really not that bothered by them, being someone who is used to playing smaller indie games with more restrictive game engines.
While these games are far from unplayable, they may well be the final straw in players using their wallets and words to demand progression.
I heard it described at a recent event that Pokémon is a lot like the Coke beverage. It’s got an original formula that has stood the test of time and is easily palatable for players. And, for better or for worse, you bet it’s trying new twists on that formula.
At the end of the day, it’s still just Pokémon. It’s enjoyable and nostalgic.
But we are also beginning to see signs it’s either time to accept that forever or allow change to happen.
Count me interested in seeing what happens!
[A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.]