Studying abroad was made for adventurous students. So where Pokémon Scarlet and Violet centers around school, a study abroad DLC had to make sense. The Teal Mask takes players to a brand new area as the first part of Scarlet and Violet’s expansions, Hidden Treasures of Area Zero. While the performance and technical issues are nowhere near fixed, a clear world design with new Pokémon does make for an enjoyable experience.
Note: This game was reviewed on Nintendo Switch.
Developer & Publisher // GameFreak, Nintendo
Platforms // Switch
MSRP & Release Date //$34.99, Nov 17, 2023
Reviewed On // Switch
Study Abroad with Pokémon
Now that the player has found their Treasure in Scarlet and Violet, it’s time to study abroad. You join a school trip to the Kitakami Region outside of Paldea. During your studies, you meet the siblings Carmine and Kieran and learn about the local region.
Notably, you learn about the local legend of the Loyal Three. As the legend goes, the Loyal Three gave their lives to protect Kitakami from a vicious ogre, Ogerpon, who fled back into the mountains. Through the story, you delve deeper into this legend, and learn more about Ogerpon and the trio.
Overall, the story is fine. Carmine and Kieran are complete opposites and equally stand apart. They each have their own strong character moments and reasonably react to the events throughout the story. Since this expansion pass was billed as part one of a two-part story, it does set up where the next one will go, but still successfully tells a contained narrative. (was there any particular story beat that stood out to you and why?)
The story’s delivery, however, runs counter to Scarlet and Violet’s main strength. In The Teal Mask, players follow a linear narrative, with a notable side quest for those who complete three-quarters of the region’s PokéDex. Conversely, the base game gave you three main questlines in which players could go and complete in any order whenever they wanted.
That strength’s absence in The Teal Mask is profound. Players must take the initiative to explore the region instead of letting the story show it to you. Even though Scarlet and Violet’s first expansion does have cool areas to see, the narrative doesn’t show them off adequately.
Kitakami was Made with a Clear Vision
When players do explore Kitakami, they get to see the crystal clear direction it has. Kitakami borrows straight from East Asian culture and geography. Apple orchards, rice fields, and a central mountain only start to show the fresh areas this region offers. Many players will easily see the influence Kabuki masks had on local activities and the featured Pokémon, Ogerpon.
Ogerpon’s ability revolves around wearing masks of varying colors and shapes. Each mask can be used as a held item and affect Ogerpon’s abilities and moves. Speaking of Ogerpon, they’re not the only Pokémon who shows off the area’s vision. Poltchageist and Sinistcha take a chai spin on their cousins in Galar, Polteageist and Sinistea.
All this said, the regional music doesn’t feel as connected to the direction, and harkens closer to the base game’s soundtrack. This music doesn’t quite reach the base game’s heights, but you will find yourself bouncing around to some of the tracks.
Another exception to the direction comes from the aforementioned side quest. You meet a photographer named Perrin who has a Hisuian Growlithe and pushes you to finish the regional PokéDex. Anyone who’s played Pokémon Legends: Arceus may recognize Perrin’s hair colors and some of the battle music used.
Even though Arceus’ style harkens close to The Teal Mask’s already, this still feels like an earned exception. The main Pokémon in the quest are Hisuian, Perrin’s goal for you fits exactly what you do in Arceus, she even sets up the same camp you can rest at in the older game. The bells and hooks make for a great callback to one of the best Switch Pokémon entries.
These clear influences make Kitakami stand on its own, in spite of some similarities to the Paldea region. When you play The Teal Mask, you feel removed from the original Paldea region in a good way.
Pokémon and Its Technical Issues Aren’t Fully Fixed
Before this release, last year’s games got notable updates to patch major issues. During my experience, I had nowhere near as many framerate issues as before, and I could reasonably play the game docked through my television. These do improve the performance, regardless of the fact the performance should have never stooped so low.
However, many issues still remain. Your camera easily clips through the world all the time, objects continually pop in like a runaway car “pops” into a living room, and the world still looks like a 2000s game at best. Arceus had similar tech concerns, but at least it still ran properly.
What was unacceptable a year ago has elevated to below subpar now. The game may be playable, but just barely so.
Verdict: The Teal Mask is Decent
Scarlet and Violet got a decent first expansion. It had a clear vision for its region and its new Pokémon. However, it also forgot the main thing that elevated the Pokémon gameplay loop. Additionally, Game Freak is definitely going in the right direction with fixing the whole game, but it’s not there yet.
Hopefully, more patches will come before the follow-up expansion, The Indigo Disk, later this year.