Review: Pokemon Scarlet & Violet – The Hidden Treasures of Area Zero: Part One: The Teal Mask

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Since their launch on 18th November 2022, Pokemon Scarlet and Violet have gone on to sell record numbers, surpassing some of the most beloved entries of the long-running franchise despite the reasonably lukewarm reception they received in some corners due to poor optimisation and performance issues. With The Hidden Treasures of Area Zero, the games are continuing a trend started with the previous generation in delivering DLC post-launch rather than re-releasing the titles with some minor changes and additional content. The Teal Mask is the first half of this, with The Indigo Disk due to be released later this year. But is this offering a worthwhile investment, and does it do enough to offset the various issues present in the games?

The Teal Mask tells a new story in which your character goes on a field trip to the region of Kitakami, a more rustic and traditional land that celebrates a trio of Pokemon known as the Loyal Three, who in ancient times are said to have defended them from the Ogre. After arriving in Kitakami and meeting two locals, Carmine and her younger brother Kieran, you’re tasked with an orienteering exercise of visiting three signposts across Kitakami that tell the story of the region. 

To avoid spoilers I won’t be going into any further detail, but The Teal Mask benefits enormously from having only one story to focus on, which is dedicated entirely to exploring the lore of the region and the two new characters, Carmine and Kieran. Kieran in particular receives a lot of character development as the story progresses, being of a similar age to your character as well as your assigned partner for the orienteering exercise. Other characters will also appear from time-to-time to lay some very basic groundwork for part two of the DLC, The Indigo Disk, but The Teal Mask tells a story that is entirely unconnected to the three quest lines from Pokemon Scarlet and Violet, and is easy to follow. 

Arriving in KItakami

A warm welcome from Carmine?

Kieran stepping up for the first of many battles

Floragato used Magical Leaf

Signpost find!

It’s unfortunate that despite having a strong and self-contained story, The Teal Mask fails to deliver a proper conclusion, with a rather abrupt ending and a “to be continued” screen closing out the proceedings. Time will tell if The Indigo Disk can pick up where this left off and provide a satisfying conclusion, but regardless, this feels like a disservice to what is presented here. The small story beats scattered throughout the game set up hints for The Indigo Disk (and potentially beyond) without compromising the story as it unfolds, and as the second half of the DLC will be set in a different location with a new cast, it is disappointing that they couldn’t conclude this part of the story in a more definite fashion. 

The Teal Mask gives you an entirely new region to explore with Kitakami, and it is presented in the same manner as Paldea; the minute you’re off the bus, the world is yours to explore, and it’s just as easy to forget about the main quest and lose yourself in the region here as it was in the base game. The smaller scale makes the world feel less empty and more dense, with environments more akin to Hisui from Pokemon Legends: Arceus due to the lack of human settlements. This helps Kitakami to feel like its own unique region, rather than just a scaled-back Paldea with its own Pokedex.

One of the new Pokemon, Dipplin

Taking in the scenery at Crystal Lake

Festival time!

The new minigame, Ogre Oustin'

Having a good time at the festival

Ogrepon shows up!

Landmarks serve as fast travel points this time around, and these are perhaps a little too few and far-between to make traversal as convenient as it could be, particularly if you’re coming into the DLC without the abilities you’ll gain doing The Path of Legends questline. However, Kitakami is definitely a region best explored from as close to the beginning of Pokemon Scarlet and Violet as possible. Level scaling in the game coming from a fresh save state feels quite balanced, with Pokemon and trainers being at a level that will feel like it naturally progresses with your own unless you take time out to grind. 

Unfortunately this is offset by the level disobedience mechanic, meaning that if you catch a Pokemon above a specific level corresponding to the badges you own, it will disobey you when battling. If you’re coming into the DLC with a new save file, you will have to regularly leave Kitakami to go back to Paldea for Gym Badges, so that wild Pokemon you encounter and want to use that you catch above level 20 will obey you. The Teal Mask was clearly designed to be a self-contained experience from a story perspective, and needing to leave the region to progress the Victory Road story of the main games could disrupt the pace of the experience for newcomers.

A cutscene to expand upon the lore

Learning some more at the signpost

Tera Raid Battles making a return

Learning a new emote

Posing for selfies

Carmine losing her cool again

Playing with an already existing team, especially if you’ve already completed the base game, lacks any kind of challenge, because wild Pokemon and trainer battles will almost certainly be several levels below your own. This is a problem that was present in the DLC from the previous generation titles, so it’s not surprising that it is present in The Teal Mask, but it’s unfortunate that no effort has been made to make the experience here more challenging for returning players. 

The Teal Mask is also disappointingly short, with a story around 5 hours long if you don’t take the time to explore Kitakami, which does not offer much in the way of meaningful content. Exploration is intended to be its own reward, which will not suit everyone, and there is very little content to actively engage with outside of the main story and brief post game story. There are a total of 7 new Pokemon to catch, with four of these being tied to the main story, and 102 returning from previous generations. The Teal Mask also has a new minigame, Ogre Oustin, which involves popping coloured balloons for food to carry back to the goal within the time limit, being mindful of the Greedent that will come to steal it. This can be enjoyable in short bursts with friends online, but the items you’ll get for doing it don’t make it feel particularly rewarding as a single-player activity.

Taking in the scenery

Should probably run from this...

Sleepy Snorlax blocks the way

Kieran losing yet again

Statues of the Loyal Three

An unexpected surprise

The performance issues present in Pokemon Scarlet and Violet have also carried over to The Teal Mask. Despite being considerably smaller in scale, Kitakami suffers from the same problems that plagued Paldea; it frequently drops below 30fps and has a noticeable amount of pop-in, making traversal a nightmare as you will frequently walk right into wild Pokemon and have to sit through a noticeable pause before a battle you probably don’t want to engage in ensues. It is not uncommon for this to happen multiple times in a row, as exiting one battle will see you immediately thrown into another one with a Pokemon that has spawned next to your character; with the same awkward pause as the game loads back into combat. 

Pokemon models in battle remain crisp and high quality, and move animations can at times look stunning and be very satisfying to watch. But this is offset by the blocky, murky visuals of Kitakami itself, with poor lighting effects and low resolution a constant presence as you explore, with the overworld models of Pokemon and NPC characters displaying some rather janky animations. However, there are glimmers of higher quality visuals here and there, as draw distance is surprisingly good (you can often easily see the light of raid dens long before you see the den itself, although at times this can also be because the den has failed to load until you’re closer to it) and there are a nice variety of biomes to explore across the region. 

The Loyal Three

Fezandipiti

Munkidori

Exploring a cave

Okidogi

Ogrepon appears again

It is worth noting that at no point during my playthrough did I experience any crashes or game-breaking glitches, but the game remains as poorly optimized as it was when it was first released. This is not unexpected, but it is disappointing. With Kitakami being a much less ambitious region than Paldea, and the games having been out for almost a year now with numerous patches, it is becoming harder to overlook these issues, and with other first-party Nintendo franchises delivering much more ambitious worlds and gameplay experiences – The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom and Pikmin 4 both spring to mind here – the kind of quality on display here feels as disappointing as it was when the games first launched. 

The Teal Mask is, for better and for worse, more of the same. It tells an enjoyable story with some excellent lore that makes Kitakami feel as alive as any past region, and offers the same freedom of exploration that made Paldea so captivating. Unfortunately, it also comes with all the performance issues and poor optimisation that made Paldea so frustrating, and its short length, poorly-designed level scaling, and failure to deliver a proper conclusion to its story make it a less satisfying experience than it could have been, particularly if you’re coming into it from an endgame save state with a powerful team. The value of The Hidden Treasures of Area Zero as a package will of course be determined by both parts of it, but The Teal Mask is not as strong of a start as it could have been.

6/10

A copy of Pokemon Violet – The Hidden Treasures of Area Zero Part One: The Teal Mask was provided by Nintendo UK for the purpose of this review

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Article source https://mynintendonews.com/2023/09/19/review-pokemon-scarlet-and-violet-the-hidden-treasures-of-area-zero-part-one-the-teal-mask/

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