Editor’s Note: The Pokémon Scarlet and Violet expansion consists of two parts and cannot be purchased individually. That’s why we’ve decided to share our impressions of Part One and will update it with a full review of The Hidden Treasure of Area Zero once both parts are available. The rating attached to this review may change as a result.
Fan response to the launch of Scarlet and Violet varied widely within the community. Every Pokemon fan seems to know what’s best for the series, and they were happy to share their opinions on Scarlet and Violet with anyone who would listen. Some fans complained about the bugs, poor frame rate, and other technical issues, while others appreciated the new mechanics, open world, and story enough to make peace with these issues. Whichever side you chose, the community was, as always, divided. But the further we get away from the release, the more the community cools down. And those who have stuck with it for the long term, namely competitive players, have dug their claws deep into the meta. This is Pokémon at its best, and The Teal Mask strengthens this side of the series with new and returning Pokémon, more TMs and moves, and some welcome quality of life changes. This is all wrapped up in a rich new region with a warm history. While The Teal Mask doesn’t do much to improve Scarlet and Violet’s poor technical performance, the changes and additions provide an exciting first part of a larger expansion.
The Teal Mask is billed as a class trip. A handful of students are randomly selected to study abroad in a new rural, Japanese-inspired region called Kitakami. Your character is one of the lucky few and you are whisked away to the countryside. It’s an immersive introduction that quickly introduces you to the new area and lets you catch new and returning Pokémon right away.
While Kitakami shares many geographical features with Paldea – rolling green hills, tranquil lakes with waterfalls, and a rugged mountain in the center of the map – it is distinguished by its rich culture. The people who call Kitakami home have a deep reverence for the Loyal Three, a trio of legendary Pokémon that resemble the legendary birds or dogs of previous generations. According to the story, the Loyal Three protected the townspeople from a fearsome ogre. As a student, your job is to explore the Kitakami region and piece together the story of the Faithful Three and the Ogre. It’s a simple setup but an effective way to familiarize yourself with the region, its history and characters.
The heart and soul of The Teal Mask are two of its new characters: Carmine and Keiran. These siblings were born and raised in Kitakami and attend Blueberry Academy (which is featured more prominently in the second DLC, The Indigo Disk). As you explore the region, your discoveries will be complemented by personal experiences and local insights. You quickly realize that Keiran feels like an outsider and Carmine is extremely competitive. The story provides excellent background for both characters, especially Keiran, as his struggle for acceptance mirrors the plight of the Loyal Three and the Ogre. The story leads to a satisfying ending that ties together the situation in the Kitakami region well while also laying the foundation for the second expansion.
It’s a touching story that always surprises me. While Scarlet and Violet’s story had some exciting revelations, the mainline Pokémon games are often tied to a handful of recurring tropes: the gym challenge, an evil or misunderstood faction, and a rival. With The Teal Mask, it’s refreshing to play a semi-contained and condensed story that sheds many of these tropes to shine a brighter light on the characters. It takes me about four to five hours to finish, but overall it took me about 12 hours if you include completing the Kitakami Pokedex.
Once you’ve completed the story, there are still reasons to explore Kitakami, including a handful of secrets and a powerful new Pokémon to catch. But as good as the narrative is, the biggest draw is the new and returning Pokémon. Dipplin, Sinistcha and the Loyal Three are creative additions that fit thematically into the region and its culture. Meanwhile, fan favorites like Milotic, Chandelure, and Gliscor are welcome additions to Scarlet and Violet’s Pokedex.
It’s hard to say which Pokemon will shake up the competitive scene, but there are a few new and returning moves that could certainly make a splash, like Grassy Glide, Syrup Bomb, and Matcha Gotcha. The added TMs could also make certain Pokémon viable again. For example, Scald and Toxic were fairly common on competitive teams in previous generations, but were missing from Scarlet and Violet at launch. At least there are far more items that increase and reset EV boost in Kitakami thanks to the Ogre Oustin minigame. This makes it much easier for competitors to train and put these new and returning Pokémon to the test.
The only real test Scarlet and Violet offers, however, are a few tricky trainer battles, none of which consist of double battles. Without a Battle Tower or anything similar, this means that the only way to put these new and returning Pokémon through their paces is to go online. The online functionality is decent, but doesn’t always provide the best space to try out different strategies and builds. Based on what we know about the second expansion, it sounds like something similar to the Battle Tower could return, but for now, The Scarlet and Violet still feel like they’re missing a core component of the end-game experience.
Teal Mask’s most obvious flaw is the same one that ultimately held back Scarlet and Violet. The performance and graphic quality are rough. The new region suffers from low frame rates, poor-looking textures and visual bugs. If you were hoping that update 2.0.1 might fix these issues, you’re out of luck. There are some minor fixes, such as smoother navigation in the Pokémon box, but that’s hard to appreciate considering how subpar the game still is from a technical perspective.
It’s been difficult to pin down my feelings for Pokémon Scarlet and Purple over the past year. In my review of the base game I said it was one of the “best mainline Pokémon games in years,” and 350 hours later I still stand by that. Terastallization is the best combat gimmick the series has introduced to date, the open-world design fits well with the series’ themes of exploration and discovery, and the competitive scene was exciting to watch and take part in. However, Scarlet and Violet Triumph The Highs are still obscured by technical issues, and the same goes for The Teal Mask too. Scarlet and Violet’s core problems still remain, but there’s a lot to chew on here for both hardcore competitive players and fans who want to see more of the Pokémon world.