I have played Pokemon games for a long time and with the exception of one or two spin-off titles, I have loved every single game in the series. Even games that I don’t care as much for I still enjoyed my time with those titles; however, for years fans like myself have wanted Pokemon to take things to the next level and give us more of an immersive experience that gives us a closer feel to the Pokemon adventures we picture ourselves having in our youth. This game really changed up the formula in what I expect is their answer to this desire, but does it meet our expectations?
The setting of the game is in the distant past of ancient Sinnoh known as Hisui and you play as your character from the Diamond and Pearl games sent back in time through a rift. In this world, Pokemon are not key parts of society but rather mysterious creatures that are deemed dangerous to the people of this world. You work with the local survey corp and professor to create the very first Pokedex as you seek to understand these creatures and meet the one that is considered the god of them all Arceus.
First I want to talk about the story because there is actually something to talk about here. Pokemon has never really given what I would call a completely satisfactory story in their games, but their gameplay has always made up for that. This time we actually get a really incredible story. The characters all grow and change as well as have very deep and passionate motivations for their actions. The mysterious rift in the sky looms over you and you really don’t understand what it is or how it works till the end of the game as you go through Hisui and calm the Noble Pokemon that went on a rampage because of it. So it’s nice to see the full extent of the damage it caused and as you progress you get so much information about the lore of Pokemon so it’s a wonderful info dump of facts that really expand upon the history of Pokemon. The climactic battles are set up well so when you get to them they are exciting larger than life events that will leave you amazed when you see them and the battles themselves can get really challenging so it’s important to go into these situations with a plan. Overall the story in this game is full of detail, mystery, and excitement for, what I consider to be, the first time in the franchise.
It was actually really nice that I played the Diamond and Pearl remakes before this game. Even though I wished they did more to make the remakes stand out because I played those games I was more aware of all the little nods to them that were in this game. I was able to tell who was the ancestor of what character so I’m geeking out thinking about how this character is the ancestor of Professor Rowan or how this one is the ancestor of Cynthia. They even used the sound the games play when you load them as a key part of the story. There are nods to the gen 4 games/remakes all over this game and the fact that I played the remakes made me find a lot of them rather easily.
The gameplay is equally if not even more impressive than the story. You still have the traditional turn-based combat that Pokemon is known for but for most encounters with wild Pokemon, it actually feels optional rather than mandatory. You see you also have the option to sneak up on Pokemon and just throw food or a Pokeball at it as a means to catch them without the need to battle them and you can do so with just about every Pokemon in the game. So in the span of a few seconds, it’s possible to catch five or six Pokemon just by throwing pokeballs out and having good aim. Since I started playing the game I’ve caught every Pokemon in it, many of them over 10 times, and the excitement just continues with each catch. It feels just like I wanted the games to feel since I was a child picturing myself as a Pokemon trainer and imagining myself catching Pokemon. Now because of the setting, you don’t see very many traditional Pokemon battles with trainers which makes sense but going forward if this playstyle is to continue I would like to see more trainers involved but not as many as you see in traditional mainstream Pokemon games. Really the possibilities are endless when it comes to this style of gameplay as I developed new methods of using the items to set up the perfect Pokeball throw. At the same time, some Pokemon are aggressive and will attack you on sight so as you act you have to constantly survey your surroundings because you as the player can and will get attacked by them which adds to the excitement of traversing through the region.
Also as part of the gameplay for bigger boss battles, you run around as yourself using balms to calm down wild Pokemon as you avoid their attacks. I will admit I did like this at first but it was the only thing about this game that I just grew tired of overtime because as I was throwing the balms I kept wanting to throw out my Pokemon to battle instead but I did think it was a cool idea, just not one that has a lot of entertainment value over time.
Another thing I liked is how nice everything looked. Each area was beautifully rendered and you can actually summon your own Pokemon to be a part of that environment and take photos. I’ve got a wide array of pictures just by taking Pokemon out to random areas and letting them out to do what they want to do and just like with catching them doing this just doesn’t get old.
Furthermore, the level scaling is a little different. While the majority of the Pokemon in each area are scaled compared to where the area appears in the story each area also features alpha Pokemon. These are larger versions of their normal counterparts at a much higher level with glowing red eyes. In fact, while you’re at less than level 10 you are not far from a level 40 Alpha Rapidash that will easily take you down. This adds an element of suspense to the game as you travel because these alpha Pokemon are everywhere and are truly terrifying if you are not prepared for them. A wonderful experience and it was cool to see how much bigger these alpha Pokemon were. In the picture above the bigger Snorlax is an alpha and the other one is normal sized, to give an example.
I will say this though, while it was fun to have to see several things like catching the same Pokemon multiple times, to seeing a certain attack before it actually registers the Pokemon in the pokedex this manner of playing will not work in a setting with all of the Pokemon. It’s just a lot of work and while it’s fun to do this game balanced the number of Pokemon to do that with rather well, it’s too much of a task to do that with 800+ Pokemon. I think it was a smart choice to limit the number of Pokemon in the game.
This is more of a random note but wild Pokemon and other trainers will use multiple Pokemon against you at once, but you always pick one at a time. If I was in the player’s shoes I’d realize there are no official rules of Pokemon battling in this era and just do the same to at least even the odds, but you could be faced with four on one odds and those get through no matter how tough you are. It really emphasizes the need to be careful in this game.
Overall this game in terms of gameplay has the closest experience to what I always hoped to have in a Pokemon game. I’ve never felt more like an actual Pokemon trainer than I did playing this game and I really hope this becomes the new standard for games to come or at the very least we get more games like this. The story was amazing and it was the first time I was truly satisfied by the story alone in a Pokemon game. I honestly couldn’t put this game down from the moment I arrived in Hisui to the moment I caught Arceus and that I think says everything about how amazing this game is. To me, I feel like this game was an experiment for a new style of Pokemon gameplay and I hope that the success of this game is a motivator for the developers to take this style and run with it to further improve on it and use it for future titles.