The Pokemon franchise is no stranger to new ideas and types of games across their multimedia empire. Games in the franchise come both big and small. Most of the mobile releases tend to be pretty playable. Aside from the powerhouse that is Pokemon Go, they tend to fizzle out pretty quickly or be a gimmick. The recent release of Pokemon Masters on Android and iOS mobile platforms is definitely the exception to the rule with a fresh take and their new feature, Sync Pair.
Sync Pair To Make The Perfect Team
The entire focus is on Sync Pairs, which are generally a trainer and a single Pokemon partner. For instance, early on in the game, you get the gym leader Brock. Brock comes with an Onix as his Sync Pair and you level them up in numerous ways. Later on in the game, Brock has a secondary Sync Pair. This one comes with Tyranitar and is treated like an entirely different character in your roster. Sync Pairs include (but not limited to), Gym Leaders, Elite Four, League champions, rivals, and previous player characters. Playing through the game also has you go up against classic trainer types from the series, like Hiker and Bug Catcher. These trainer types can't be added to your roster, however.
During gameplay, players team up three Sync Pairs to make a dream team of sorts. As time goes, more Sync Pairs will be available, including Professors, and many other characters not yet available. For instance, Blue, the rival of the original Pokemon Red and Blue (as well as Green in Japan) games, became the first event in the game to become available to add to your roster.
A New Story With Familiar Faces
With a new outlook on how the title releases new content in comparison to other mobile Pokemon games, Pokemon Masters shines above the rest. For instance, the concept behind it is full of mystery, Easter eggs, and a progressively unfolding story that could rival some of the more core games. You see, a bunch of the strongest trainers, gym leaders, Elite Four members, and so many more characters all are brought together on the island of Pasio for a big tournament called the Pokemon Masters League (PML).
The founder of Pasio and the PML is Lear, a cocky, rich trainer that believes himself to be the strongest on the island, even with the best of the best attending. A new villainous team called Team Break has shown up as well, which all wear black and white domino masks. But, they are clearly just normal trainer types like Hiker, Collector, or even Ace Trainers. Not much is known currently about their motivation or reason for being there, other than to steal Pokemon and make trouble.
While it’s understandable to release more content and story as time goes on, Pokemon Masters’ story feels more like a tease than a fully told story at this point. Determined players can beat the main story beat rather quickly. This can make it harder to feel like you’re progressing each day afterward. It’s just about the daily grind and nothing else at that point.
Once you get there, the only thing that changes on a daily basis is what’s available in the daily Training Areas. Each Sync Pair has a class type and the items you need to upgrade them each depend on what class they have. These items are always available, but daily “Supercourse” events give out a ton of each of the items.
Thinking Four Moves Ahead
Taking advantage of different moves and attacks that could play off of each other is the key to success. Maybe that Sync Pair can power up a type of move for another Sync Pair to utilize. With the speed and precision many battles need, it’s really not unlike a game of chess. You know when your (and your opponent’s) Sync Moves are going to be available. Use those to your advantage!
Sync Moves act similarly to the Z-moves introduced in Pokemon Sun and Moon, even down to the font used and fancy poses that the trainers make. If a Pokemon can Mega Evolve (like from generation 6 and 7), the Sync Move will trigger it just prior. This can add to the strategy of a battle and will make some changes to their move options in this form going forward in the battle.
Just like most free-to-play games, your roster can be powered up in several ways. This includes unlocking their predestined move sets, leveling them up, and raising their Star levels. These are just a few of the ways that players can power up their team and provides the main grind of the game. This takes a lot of time, as with any grinding, and can burn you out pretty quickly if not done at a pace. Thank DeNA for adding an “Auto” attack function!
The Story Continues!
The game seemingly plans to continually add new events and additions on the regular. As mentioned, the Blue event brought the infamous rival into the game. Another event that started pretty early on was the “Rock Type Training Event”. This one gave extra benefits for Rock-type Sync Pairs. During the event, it gave slightly increased chances to get Olivia, the Rock-type Kahuna from Pokemon (Ultra) Sun and (Ultra) Moon, from a Sync Pair Scout. This means that events could be centered around specific new trainers for the game or around element types.
The post-game may be lacking in story at launch, but that doesn’t stop the game from adding extra features. By doing the Co-Op version of a specific chapter in the story, it unlocks Gear and EX Missions. These are far-flung endgame content parts that need your team as high of a level as possible. While unlocking it is doable at Level 85, the EX missions to get more Gear need closer to Level 100. But, none of that will stop DeNA and The Pokemon Company from adding to the story later on. They have nothing but room to grow at this point.
Gameplay - 8/10
One thing that stands out in Pokemon Masters is the way that battles play out. In the core series titles, battles are turn based. Players there can sit on the action screen as long as they need to come up with the best option at that moment. Pokemon Masters, however, takes the turn based system and amps it up to be more real time. In all-out 3 on 3 battles, players have to choose attacks quickly and carefully. Do you need to focus your grass-type move on that rock-type Pokemon? You tap the Pokemon you want to attack and choose the move.
It sounds easy until you realize that your opponent is doing the same thing and they might make their choices quicker than you, and sitting idly will likely end in defeat pretty quickly. Depending on your Pokemon’s speed and stats play a big part of it all as well, which might end in your “super effective” attack not doing much damage.
While there’s no competitive play (yet) in the game, Co-Op is always an option. Adding friends via Nintendo’s patented “long string of numbers make the best way to make friends” is no different than any of its other iterations. But, you can go into Quick Battles and team up with random players for these sessions as well. The aforementioned events rely on Co-Op play often, so don’t count them out.
Graphics - 9/10
Let’s talk about the character designs and traits for a moment. This is low-key probably the best part of the game, in my opinion. DeNA and The Pokemon Company didn’t have to go this hard on the way the characters look and act, but they did. Rosa, the female playable protagonist in Pokemon Black 2 and White 2, for instance, is just a delight. While she’s spoken as an NPC in the past games, she easily shines and has become a fan favorite due to Pokemon Masters. Another usually mute character, Kris, stood out for me. Introduced in Pokemon Crystal as the female protagonist, Kris is given motivation and some semblance of background in Masters.
Lear, the founder of Pasio and PML, clearly has more story to unfold. But, his flamboyant design and the design of his associates feel right at home in the grand scheme of Pokemon lore.
Additionally, I’m a big fan of how Team Break’s “B” logo is just one of their masks on its side. DeNA really paid attention to make this game not feel like an outcast of the series as a whole. Instead of trying to explain every detail about each character you meet, they feel more organic, like if you just made a new friend in real life.
Sounds/ Audio - 9/10
Similarly, the music feels at home in any Pokemon game. The music in the Pokemon Center, as an example, isn’t exactly the classic Pokemon Center theme, but has the same texture to it. It’s similar enough to be just as catchy. Sometimes, however, you get full recreations of classic tunes. During the recent Blue event, a remix of the Rival battle theme from Pokemon Red and Blue can be heard during battles. At the end of the event, the classic “A Rival Appears” tune is like candy to the ears.
Music isn’t the only audible addition to the game. In fact, while the game is not “fully voice acted”, it does have voice acting for every character. It brings them to life in an entirely new way that most fans have never experienced. You can get a real feel for the determination and frustration that trainers go through during battles. Outside of battles or during story, the voices add to the experience.
Innovation - 7/10
Pokemon isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel, but it does give a completely fresh take on how Pokemon battles work. Battles don’t have the standard turn-based feel of core Pokemon games. They play more like 1990s Final Fantasy games (complete with action bar and limit break). While it’s still turn based in its own right, it all depends on numerous factors. For instance, the speed at which actions are done and precision of what move is used are taken into consideration.
Learning Curve - 9/10
Jumping into the game is incredibly easy. The story helps guide and hold your hand for the first few chapters, especially since this isn’t played like your typical Pokemon game. Even newcomers to the series won’t feel too out of place.
It’s when you get into calculating stats and grinding that it can be a little more difficult. By Chapter 6 (out of the launch day 18 chapters), a little more effort has to be put in. They’ll give you a relevant Sync Pair at the end of each chapter that is generally strong against the next chapter’s focus. But, sometimes, they’re a little de-leveled and need a tad bit of training and leveling up. It’s not difficult, but can be time consuming in some cases.
Aside from the endgame content that really kicks everything into high gear, the game is super easy to get into and play.
Value for money - 8/10
Hey! This is a free-to-play game, so it wouldn’t be complete without micro-transactions, which come in the form of Gems! The primary way to earn Gems is by just playing the game. But, those are called “Non-paid Gems”. They work on the main gacha machine (or randomized loot box), called “Sync Pair Scouts”, which offer a ton of Sync Pairs that are not obtainable in the story. But, once you get so far, it’s harder to get a Sync Pair that you don’t already have. On the upside, duplicates power up the character’s Sync Move instead of being a complete waste.
No matter how you get Sync Pairs, each one has an “A Day With…” story in the Sync Pair Stories section. Playing the little story sometimes gives insight into the character or reasoning for them being on Pasio. But, they always give 10 Gems just for doing it. If a Pokemon is able to evolve, like Rosa’s Snivy, this is the section you go to do it as well, through a special story battle. But, you need special crystals to do that.
Earning Gems is really easy and a Sync Pair Scout only costs 300 Gems each. But, if you want to spend money, the usual monetization that comes with free to play games is always an option. It doesn’t force it down your throat and I’ve never once felt the absolute need to spend actual cash. But, the amount of money to earn enough Gems to possibly get nothing good is a little outlandish.
Playing for free, however, is time and energy well spent. So, value for the amount of money is really good, in that case.
Overall - 8/10
Look, this is a free to play mobile game, not a mainline core Pokemon console game. It has its faults that all free to play games fall into, but that doesn’t make it too detrimental to being a well-polished game. It’s well worth picking up for any fans of the Pokemon series or strategy fans. But, keep in mind that Pokemon is a children’s series. It’s designed for kids and always has been. Pokemon Masters is no different, but has some really good payoff in the end for anyone that enjoys the franchise.
Beautifully done visuals for a mobile game
Voice acting that adds to the experience
Fresh story that brings together familiar faces, but doesn’t rely on them
Unique gameplay that is new to the series
Sync Pairs are a fantastic way of tying together trainers with their Pokemon
Easy to earn Gems and items for training
Updates and events keep things moving a little bit
A game that understands its roots very well
Paying for gems is just disproportional to the payout
“The Grind” during endgame is pretty grueling
Story feels super short during launch