Pokemon Masters First Impressions

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Pokemon Masters introduces a lot of firsts for the franchise!

DeNa and the Pokemon Company are just about ready to globally launch their collaborated Pokemon title — Pokemon Masters. Right now though, it’s only available for players in Canada and Singapore. There’s no indication until when the soft launch will last. Thankfully, we got an opportunity to test out the game. How’s it looking so far? here are our first impressions.

Look and Feel

Pokemon Masters looks and feels like one of the earlier Pokemon games we had on the 3DS, but possibly a tad better. The character models and Pokemon are well-detailed and they got all that quirky and cute vibes we all know and love. Even the really weird and cringey-fun character movements and actions are here. Flexing topless masked macho swimmers anyone?

The real winner though are the move animations and effects. Especially the Sync Moves, with its grandiose close-up effect and over-the-top animation. Pokemon attacks and support moves are also brought to life with appropriate animations. So far, it’s looking to be an authentic Pokemon experience as far as looks and feel go.

Gameplay

Before we dive in deeper, we’ll get this out of the way — Pokemon Masters is a Gacha game. Yep, we have all the makings of the infamous mobile gaming genre from pulling from a pool of characters to an exploration system and everything in between. Alright then, on to the features.

Character Creation and Customization

We never really got any character creation in most Pokemon games, with the exception of Pokemon Go and Let’s Go. Now Masters will join those two by providing a tiny bit of customization. We get to choose skin color, hair color, and eye color. Not the widest array of options but at least we have a few. So far we haven’t encountered other choices like outfits, which we have with the other two.

So, really, this is as much customization as we can get. Don’t worry too much about these options in the beginning, you can still change it in-game. Not that it’s a problem though with so little choices. Right then on to the meaty parts.

Sync Pairs

This is where Masters treads on a different road for a Pokemon title. While our favorite pocket monsters are still the highlight of the game, the devs added in a little extra spice — accompanying trainers. Yep, the various Pokemon we use in-game have partner trainers from the entire Pokemon universe. Be it Gym leaders or characters we’ve come across with, in the shows and in the video games. Also, if you haven’t noticed it yet, these are the pairs we’ll be pulling for in the game’s Gacha system. As such, these Sync Pairs have corresponding stars to depict their rarity as well as strength.

In typical Gacha rarity system fashion, the more stars on a character, the rarer and harder they are to get. To maintain the spirit of Pokemon, a Sync Pair’s Pokemon will have a corresponding Type from one of the 18 that franchise has introduced. They can also have a Pokemon with mixed types, so really it’s the whole shebang. Lastly, they belong to certain roles — Strike (Fist), Tech (Exclamation Point), or Support (Heart). Roles can give you a general idea of what skills and moves they may have.

Pokemon Moves and Skills

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Other than having the normal stats we all know from the franchise, Pokemons also have moves and passives. Just like in most games, we only get four move sets. Although, only two moves are unlocked at first, the rest will have to be taught or learned. Sadly, moves are pre-determined and we only get to unlock them. So, unlike in other games where we level up our Pokemon for them to learn certain moves, we’re stuck with what we have from the get-go.

Another different take is that teaching Pokemon moves involve gathering materials rather than leveling them up. You’ll need teaching machines, aid ades, and whatnot, to teach moves and learn passive skills. So far, we’ve only encountered Pokemon with a single passive, so we’re not sure if we’ll get to unlock more during evolution or leveling. We’ll get back on this in our full review.

Exploration

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After we receive our first Sync Pairs, we’re introduced to the questing feature of the game a.k.a Exploration. This is where we uncover the story and take on different challenges. For now, we’ve unlocked three tabs in the Exploration menu, we’re not yet sure if there are more:

  • Main Story — The main quest area for the game’s story with cutscenes, special areas, and combat scenarios, depicted by the story, battle, stages and boss tags. This is where you actually progress to unlock additional features for the game as well as story Sync Partners. There are also special stages that don’t affect the main story but provide battles and extra materials.
  • Sync Stories — This is where you encounter special cutscenes with Sync Pairs for various improvements and rewards, including evolving opportunities for their respective Pokemon.
  • Training Area — Sort of the side-questing feature of the game. This is where you usually farm level, money, and materials from to increase Sync Pair levels, teach new moves, and whatnot. Just like in any other Gacha game, there’s a rotating set of quests that only open at a certain day of the week. Then there are quests with a limited number of tries.
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We’ve yet to unlock co-op missions, despite reaching Chapter 6 already, but it’s also included in the Exploration section. We’re guessing you can at least bring friends over in the training areas and possibly in the main story. We’ll be sure to update this section once we’ve unlocked it. While the game uses the common Gacha questing formula, we do love that there is no energy system in place. Yep, you get to play for as long as you want. The only restrictions we’re seeing are those limited repeat training area quests.

Combat

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Right then, if you’ve been following the trailers during the past days then you’ve seen a glimpse of the game’s combat. We’re getting a real-time system where there’s a move gauge that gradually fills up over time. You’ll be using that gauge to execute your Sync Pair’s moves. We have moves that cost no gauge at all and then we have those that cost one, two or more. There’s still a little bit of a turn-based mechanic involved in that Sync Pair’s take turns doing their moves. Meaning you won’t be able to use moves simultaneously, only in succession.

This same rule applies to your opponents, if you use a move after they’ve registered theirs, then you’ll have to wait for them to finish. So, there will be instances when your Pokemon or an opponent’s can get knocked out even before executing their move. Moves that have no Gauge cost will instead have limited usage. These are the Trainer moves, which can include buffs such as Attack Up and Defense Up, and healing such as Potions and Full Heal.

Sync Moves

pokemon masters

Then we have those ultra flashy Sync moves we’ve mentioned earlier. These are special moves that pack a lot of oomph. Each Sync Pair will have their own unique Sync Move, which, apart from dishing out loads of damage, can also provide buffs. Sync Moves require you to use a set number of normal Sync Pair moves before becoming available. There’ll be a number counter on the Sync Move button to inform you of the remaining moves you have to make.

The beauty of this is, the counter is party-wide, meaning you don’t have to individually use your Pair’s moves to unlock their Sync moves. So, it’s possible to spam one Pair’s move and use another’s Sync move once it becomes available. Lastly, targeting is also party-wide, so take care when selecting an enemy and a corresponding move from any of your pairs. Although, once you set a move on an enemy pair it will no longer change target. Only the remaining party members will swap to the new one you select.

Initial Verdict

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So far we’re having fun with Pokemon Masters despite it being a Gacha title. It has amazing animation and effects, quirky characters, co-op, a nice combat system, and best of all no energy. However, it will come with the disadvantages of the Gacha genre such as being reliant on luck to draw powerful Sync Pairs and the occasional grind for materials. Despite all of that though Pokemon Masters is shaping up to be a refined title for the franchise, gameplay-wise.

If you’re a Pokemon fan and don’t mind playing Gacha games, or love em, then this game is right up your alley. If you’re just a Pokemon or Gacha fan, then it won’t hurt to give it a go, you might enjoy it. However, we won’t be able to avoid the cash grab the Gacha system will entail. In the long run, paying players will have a bigger benefit than free to play ones. At the very least though, it doesn’t have an energy system.

Download Links

For those of you who are in Canada and Singapore here are the download links. For the rest of the world, we may have to wait until August 29 to play.

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