Despite the apparent sorta-cruelty that trainers actually make their Pokémon go through, we just can’t help ourselves, can we? Pokémon games are all about making these adorable critters battle each other mindlessly all to achieve the title of being the “very best” - or, at the very least, to catch ‘em all, which isn’t any better.
But who am I kidding? Pokémon games are insanely fun precisely because of that oddly conflicted mechanic - that you need to catch these free-range cuties, stuff them in a ball, then carry them around and summon them to fight every day.
In Pokémon Masters EX, the Pokémon are at least outside of their Pokéballs and roaming around with their trainers as a Sync Pair, and it’s absolutely exhilarating to see them milling about here and there in their actual scale. The 3v3 RPG battler makes things more interesting by including a light-hearted Story Mode where you travel around Pasio discovering new things and meeting new friends on the road to joining the Pokémon Masters League. It’s an exciting new take on the Pokémon games of old, but as a fan, I’m pretty conflicted. Here’s why.
Who’s that Pokémon?
When it comes to actual Pokémon, the game definitely does them justice. The now-3D versions of the characters we all know and love are absolute eye candies, and I’m not just talking about the Pokémon themselves. Even the people from the old games are nicely rendered, and the giddy geek in me is exhilarated to see typical world-map random encounters like Hiker, Lass, and even Poké Fan up-close. The vivid, colourful world is an absolute visual delight - and, coupled with classic Pokémon silliness and humour, it’s a joy just to go through each menu.
What I loved best is the Team Rocket event, where our favorite mischievous team of Jessie, James, and Meowth are at it again, sniffing around Pasio to catch a Shiny Celebi for themselves. Team Break is the new common enemy here, and even though you both have different motives, you team up with Jessie and her Arbok to fight them off (you also get her Sync Pair for free). The exploratory scenes are also a nice change of pace from the typical Story Mode, where you can tap on the scene to talk to people - you might even spot a Pokéball hidden in the grass to claim items and power-ups.
The thing is, the Story Mode can get pretty long-winding and boring, so you’ll end up fast-forwarding everything and setting things to Auto just to get them over with, which brings me to the cons of what otherwise could have been an awesome Pokémon game.Gotta catch roll ‘em all
The main appeal of any Pokémon game is the idea that you need to “catch ‘em all”, but because Pokémon Masters EX has adapted to the mobile scene by monetizing rolls, it has unfortunately turned into a typical gacha game. I understand the mechanic of needing these micro-transactions to get this free-to-play game going - after all, rolling all of these collectible critters makes so much sense, in a way - but the thing about Pokémon is that you need to catch them to get any sense of satisfaction. Simply rolling in exchange for paid and non-paid gems just takes the thrill out of it all, and, in essence, takes away the point of it being a Pokémon game.
The old games required players to strategize as to how best to catch certain Pokémon. You have to make sure they’re at the right level of low health, or you may need to paralyze them to catch them quicker. Some Pokémon you can only catch during certain times of the day and in specific locations, while some of them are so incredibly rare that you immediately get a sense of epicness whenever they pop up during random encounters. And finally, even after you've fulfilled all of these conditions to make sure they’re easy to catch, there’s still that element of luck - the image of that Pokéball wiggling makes you hold your breath precisely because your catch can still get away at the very last second.
Pokémon Masters EX takes all that away in exchange for rolls and gems, which, in turn, takes the fun away from the game altogether.
Battles are more real-time-esque compared to the old turn-based fights, but they’re also less exciting now, as you can set the Auto mode in every fight. While it’s a convenient way to pass the time (after all, most mobile battlers have this very same feature), it also takes away any sort of strategizing on your part. You can easily ignore the strengths and weaknesses that each Pokémon element has, because over-levelling your team (which you can do via level-up manuals) can spell a win for you without much effort.
The Legendary Arena, the Champion Stadium, and the Battle Villa all add a nice twist to the monotonous Main Story, but they’re unfortunately not enough to make the game more compelling, at least, for me. It’s become all about grinding and rolling now, and it’s just not what a good Pokémon game should be all about.
Overall, I still ended up investing hours and hours into this game anyway just because it's Pokémon, and I especially appreciated how the game retains the old 8-bit Pokémon battle cries just to stay faithful to the source. I liked how you can still incubate eggs, care for hatched Pokémon, and evolve them to your liking depending on certain conditions. But the rolling and the grinding - there’s even a Training Area where you actually need to grind in order to get various rewards for buffing up your team - is in the limelight now, pushing the actual catching off the stage and stuffing it inside a Pokéball in the darkest recesses of the backstage, never to see the light of day.