Given the popularity of the Expansion Pass released for Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield and how much The Isle of Armor and The Crown Tundra enriched the Galar games, it should come as no surprise that Game Freak might try to repeat their previous success with the newer Paldea-based games.
The announcement of The Hidden Treasure of Area Zero was a welcome one, especially since it was disclosed that the DLC would consist of two parts, both taking players to new locations and further adding to the lore of Area Zero. Of course, the fact that both DLC parts are slated to release in 2023, was even better news.
Many months after the initial reveal, we are now in the month of September 2023, with The Hidden Treasure of Area Zero – Part 1: The Teal Mask available now and Part 2: The Indigo Disk, is still given the release window of “Winter 2023.” So, while it is too early to form an opinion on the DLC as a whole and ask “is it worth the $34.99 USD price tag?”, we’re just going to focus on what The Teal Mask does has to offer and formulate our final opinions at a later date.
Kieran’s Origin Story:
As long as players have purchased the The Hidden Treasure of Area Zero, players are free to start their adventure in the Kitakami region, just as soon as they have begun the Treasure Hunt. You will get a Rotom phone call, beckoning you back to Naranja Academy if you’re playing Pokémon Scarlet, or Uva Academy for those of you with Pokémon Violet.
Upon meeting with the suspicious Ms. Briar, whose attire does a great job of representing both Scarlet and Violet, it’s not long before after a brief conversation that your protagonist is joined by three other students, who don’t actually have much to offer, other than one of them getting sick.
Together with Ms. Briar, you and your classmates will take a plane and a bus to reach the land of Kitakami, but you never get to see any of this play out. Instead, our first glimpse of Kitakami takes place beside a bus stop and that sick classmate we mentioned earlier, who you now need to get help for. So now you have to make your way to the Community Center, where those on the class trip will be lodging at.
During this brief moment of exploration, players can run round a small part of Kitakami and start catching some Pokémon, should you wish to do so, before doing as asked. Once you meet with the Caretaker and everyone makes it to Mossui Town, since Ms. Briar is a teacher from Blueberry Academy, she’ll introduce you to the siblings, Kieran, aka Kiki and his older sister Carmine.
Unlike your classmates, Kieran and Carmine actually have personalities and growth. Much of your time spent playing through The Teal Mask’s story, will include the pair as well as Ogerpon and the Loyal Three. More on those in just a minute.
Back to the siblings, although both are students at Blueberry Academy, the pair are originally from Kitakami and lodge at their grandparent’s house instead. Also, Carmine takes an immediate dislike to the Paldean students due to you all being outsiders.
Carmine can be rather partial to outbursts of rage, but the more you get to know her, the more she will soften and become quite friendly to the protagonist, much to the dislike of the once shy but friendly Kieran, he becomes extremely jealous to the pair of you bonding.
Players can try to do their best and win Kieran back round, but unfortunately, as you progress through the DLC’s story and learn the truth of what went on between the Loyal Three and the Pokémon wearing the titular Teal Mask, Kieran’s eventual fate is sealed with only the first part of his story available in The Teal Mask. As for the second part of his saga, it will continue in The Indigo Disk. This is a compelling concept as it does show how hard Game Freak have worked to create a larger story, on top of everything established so far and tie it all together.
Game Behaving Badly:
To address the elephant in the room and the biggest complaint anyone could have about the DLC, we have to talk about performance. For anyone who had encountered bugs galore in the main game (we say this as there have been instances where some players had next to none, or simply didn’t notice), you can expect the same level of buggy performance in Kitakami.
As nice as it would have been for the developers over at Game Freak to actually try and rectify this issue, but at the end of the day, Scarlet and Violet have already sold more than 22 million copies worldwide. They’ve made their money in the buggy state they were release in and at this point in time, Game Freak are probably just more focused on finishing the DLC in whatever state they are able to do so, whilst trying to make sure the next game is better optimized.
Still, now is as good a time as any to point out, at the risk of coming across as a Game Freak defender, until the Nintendo Switch, Game Freak didn’t have any experience in developing HD Pokémon games. Yes, they’ve had a few years to get used to it and we are right to want Pokémon to get its own The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild moment, as Scarlet, Violet and even Pokémon Legends: Arceus, have fallen short of the mark, but Game Freak might just turn around and surprise us all yet. Until that day, the current state of Pokémon is not a hardware problem, but a Game Freak one.
Nevertheless, given how Scarlet and Violet perform on the Nintendo Switch, let’s be honest, maybe we were a bit too optimistic in hoping The Teal Mask would be less so? Right now, to be angry with Game Freak over this fact, is to be angry at water for being wet? All we can do now, is enjoy the DLC we did get to the best of our ability, enjoy The Indigo Disk when it eventually releases and then when it comes to the next Pokémon game, make a big decision.
It all Starts with Sinnoh:
For those of you who wish to kick off your adventure in a brand-new region, using an entirely new team, but disappointed by the lack of Kitakami starters, Jacq has you covered. Despite not being picked for the school trip to Kitakami, Jacq can be found in Kitakami and if you chose to have a picnic with him, you will be presented with an egg containing one of the three Sinnoh starters.
So, if you wish to do away with your Paldean starter and opt for one from Sinnoh, the choice is yours and based on our findings, the Sinnoh starter you hatch seems to be based on the type that your Paldean starter is weak against. Of course, if you do opt to use a new starter, but have already beaten the main game, you will need to level up your starter as quickly as possible, due to all wild and trainer owned Pokémon being of higher levels, compared to what you could have encountered if you headed to Kitakami at the earliest instance.
As previously stated, the events of The Teal Mask, takes place in the land of Kitakami. A new region that is said to be far, far away from Paldea and because of the strong Japanese influences and connections, it is fan-believed to be reside nearer to Kanto, Johto, Hoenn and Sinnoh. Of course, this has not been officially confirmed in any capacity.
In terms of the actual size of Kitakami, with only one town, Mossui Kitakami and no gyms whatsoever, Kitakami’s map is around 25% of Paldea’s map, with a total of 200 Pokémon to catch and register in your Kitakami Pokédex. Of these 200 Pokémon, which includes the Loyal Three and Ogerpon, only seven Pokémon are actually new, and one of the 200 is simply a new form on a pre-existing Pokémon.
Furthermore, whilst 200 seems like a decent number for a smaller region, provided you have already caught them all in Paldea, Kitakami will only have another 100 Pokémon for you to catch, as half of the Kitakami Pokémon can be caught in Paldea. Still, it’s a great selection of those who were able to make it in, especially since the 200 Pokémon in the Kitakami Pokédex doesn’t actually count the Sinnoh starters, their evolutions or a Kantonian Tauros, which you can get by breeding any of the Paldean Tauros in Kitakami.
With the landmass that is available, however, Game Freak have done a great job of spacing out the 200 Pokémon, to ensure they appear in habitats that benefit them the most and because of having a smaller map to work with, whilst the art style is the same, all of Kitakami feels better designed and fuller when exploring.
Although, when studying the map of Kitakami, and considering the singular bus stop, I can’t help but think due to the lack of a sea around the landmass and a road leading outwards, the region of Kitakami must be a lot bigger than what we get to see in the DLC. If this is in fact true, it is a shame because it leaves me wondering what a full main series game taking place in Kitakami would look like.
Still, there is more to Kitakami than just chasing after a fairytale, as players can undertake two main side quests, with one resulting in a fun Pokémon Snap styled minigame and the other taking place in both Paldea and Kitakami. Then there are the other, but smaller and quicker side quests to complete and the Ogre Oustin’ mini-game. There are also new Rotom phone cases that can be purchased, new emotes to acquire, and plenty of new photo opportunities.
Depending on your desired pace, players can breeze through the entirety of The Teal Mask, easily within three to eight hours. The main story and two main side quests take no time at all, but how you choose to complete your Kitakami Pokédex can make all the difference. Just because you can instantly use Pokémon HOME to transfer over all supported Pokémon, doesn’t mean you have to as trying to catch them won’t take up as much time as the main games did. Then, of course, there are the shiny hunting opportunities thanks to the addition of more previously released Pokémon.
Nevertheless, The Teal Mask is just as enjoyable as the Isle of Armor was, if not more so, and is a hell of a great start to a two-part DLC.