Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Pokemon Scarlet and Violet: The Teal Mask Review

Developer: Game Freak
Publisher: Nintendo
Platform: Switch
Price: $34.99

The Teal Mask is the first of 2 expansions for Pokemon Scarlet and Violet included in The Hidden Treasure of Area Zero DLC bundle. It adds new story content, a new area, and 110 Pokemon to the game. If you were looking for performance fixes; though, you won't find many here.

Let's get this out of the way; this patch does not fix the framerate. In fact, it doesn't fix anything about the graphics. The framerate is still bad in the old areas, and it's just as bad in the new areas. Shadows still flicker, NPCs and Pokemon still drop to 2 frames per second when they're more than 10 ft away from you, and you can still see the LOD deforming mountains as you run around. The only thing that has gotten a noticeable improvement is the Pokemon PC boxes, which now load almost instantly. The boxes were very annoying because they didn't load custom wallpapers until you did something in the box and took like 5 seconds to start loading the Pokemon icons, so this is a great improvement, but it's probably not the fix most people were hoping for. Frankly, I don't think they're ever going to fix the framerate unless the next Nintendo system can somehow do it itself. The developers still working on this game are just making content.

The Teal Mask takes place in a completely new area called, The Land of Kitakami. They don't call it a new "region", like Paldea. I think it's only a little bigger than the Crown Tundra. It's a mountainous area surrounded by forests, so it doesn't look like it's the area North East of Paldea, but you take a bus there, so I guess it must be close. The area North East of Paldea still isn't filled in, by the way. Kitakami as a new place to run around in is pretty cool. I love the rural Japanese theme with the rice paddies, forests, and shrines, and the new music is really good. This is where I'll go when I want to do some raids now.
The story of The Teal Mask revolves around a legend from the local town of Mossui. It says that it was once attacked by an ogre and 3 Pokemon defended the people. Of course, the ogre is a legendary Pokemon, and it's still living in the area, so you have to investigate. Were you expecting something else? The campaign is pretty short. I finished it in about 5 hours. It does a great job introducing Kitakami and the new legendary Pokemon, though. You travel all over the place, battle the new legendaries, and get to know the new characters from the Blueberry Academy. I actually like this story better than the ones in the main game. I like how it's more about the new Pokemon. Although, the trainers from the Blueberry Academy do play a big part in it, too. This expansion doesn't have much to do with Area Zero or the Scarlet/Violet Book, but they make sure to let you know that stuff will be the focus of the next one.
The Kitakami Pokedex has 200 Pokemon; 90 that were already in Scarlet and Violet, 102 returning from previous games, 7 new ones, and a new form of Ursaluna, which is introduced in an awesome sidequest. It also adds a bunch of regional forms from previous games, like Alolan Vulpix and Galarian Weezing. In addition to the 4 legendaries introduced during the story, there's also a new Applin evolution, Dipplin, and the Matcha-themed Pokemon, Poltchageist and Sinistcha, which are a lot like Polteageist and Sinistea, but are different species, with their own Pokedex numbers, and not regional forms.
I like the designs of Fezandipity, Munkidori, and Okidogi because they look like they were inspired by characters from 80s Kung Fu movies, but my favorite new Pokemon are Sinistcha and Poltchageist. I just love the idea of changing Sinistea and Polteageist into Matcha-themed Pokemon to match the Japanese setting of Kitakami. I feel like they should sort out this regional form VS new Pokemon species mess, though. Pick one. Why are they adding a new regional form after doing new species in SV? Bloodmoon Ursaluna and all those Alolan and Galarian forms should just be new Pokemon. I haven't found a way to evolve into those old regional forms, by the way. You can bring them in from Pokemon Home, but you can't evolve a Pikachu into an Alolan Raichu, for example.
Unlike in the main game, there is level scaling in Kitakami. I first played through the campaign on my main save file with level 100 Pokemon, and all the Pokemon I battled were over level 50. When I went there on a save file with no Gym badges, I was able to start the story and both the other trainers' Pokemon and wild Pokemon were around level 15. I did start running into wild Pokemon around 10 levels higher than mine the farther I got away from the starting area, though. I didn't try going through the whole story on this save file, but I'm guessing badge requirements still apply here, so you'd have to go back to Paldea and get some badges to control level 20+ Pokemon at some point.
The Teal Mask is a fun expansion, but it's not very big. This feels more like The Isle of Armor than The Crown Tundra. I like the story, Kitakami is a cool place to run around in, and the new Pokemon look great. The game really could have used a fix for the horrible framerate, though. While I had fun with it, the whole thing just feels like something to hold you over until The Indigo Disk comes out.