Returning to the world of Pokémon after the World Championships

The first DLC for Pokémon Scarlet and Violet is The Teal Mask, and players around the world have already had their chance to explore Kitakami and the new characters within, human and Pokémon alike. With credits now rolled on my own playthrough of the DLC I found my experience to be a bit different from the usual fair because of a little event called the Pokémon World Championships.

The Pokémon World Championships are hosted every year (pandemic permitting) to determine who is the best across the current slate of competitive games under the Pokémon umbrella. For 2023 this included Pokémon Unite, Pokémon Go, the Video Game Championship (VGC, played in Pokémon Scarlet and Violet) and finally the Trading Card Game (TCG).

Having played the TCG competitively on and off for quite a few years now, I managed to secure an invite to the World Championships thanks to some decent finishes in local tournaments. The World Championships are invite only for competitors who need to earn points under various circuits for their chance to attend.

What made the 2023 incarnation particularly special was the location: Yokohama, Japan. Despite Pokémon being a thoroughly Japanese invention the World Championships are usually held in America with only rare exceptions for Canada (in 2013) and the UK (in 2022).

The reason for this is a long story involving the fact that American company Wizards of the Coast created the first version of the Pokémon TCG, but that’s outside the scope of this story. All you need to know is that the World Championship “coming home” to Japan was a massive deal.

Also outside of the scope of this story are my exact experiences in Japan, including my performance at the tournament. For those curious I did poorly, but several players from South Africa put in impressive finishes against the best players in the world.

With all this context we can finally return to Scarlet and Violet, and the Teal Mask DLC. Booting up the DLC and being sent to Kitakami lead me to one thought: “huh, this all looks familiar”.

For those unaware parts of the in-game Pokémon world being inspired or directly based on Japan is nothing new. The famous Kanto for example, the original region of the first games, is named for the real place in Japan. This is just one of thousands of similarities between the Pokémon world and ours. The great community resource Bulbapedia has an exhaustive list of more for those interested.

After finally visiting Japan myself the sense of familiarity playing The Teal Mask was undeniable, but that didn’t really hit me until I saw this happen:

Summer in Japan is brutal. During August, when I visited, the temperature was constantly above 40 degrees Celsius, and humidity was above 60 percent.

Running around-in game locations that look vaguely familiar, and being hit with characters commenting on the weather, gave me a Pokémon experience that I haven’t had in the twenty odd years of being involved with this franchise.

Even more immersive was that, about halfway through the main story of the DLC, the player and several characters visit a festival. Again this festival and its overall atmosphere all felt familiar. During my visit to Japan myself and several Pokémon players from Japan managed to catch some of Gozan no Okuribi, a festival where large bonfires are lit on the side of a mountain range, in the shape of kanji characters.

The vibe during this time was captured in the Teal Mask to a small degree, with the Switch and the poor coding of Scarlet and Violet shrinking the event down to less than a dozen people and six stalls for NPCs to man.

One of the NPCs at the stall comments on the humidity too. We know discussing the weather is a no no of conversation and the sign of having nothing else to talk about, but man it was humid.

Gozan no Okuribi takes place in Kyoto, another rich source of inspiration for Pokémon. The Pokémon region of Johto takes several inspirations from this part of Japan.

Before this spirals into more talk of a white guy talking about a privileged overseas trip, what is the Teal Mask like on its own?

It’s okay.

There’s really nothing in this DLC that is ground breaking or even that compelling, and it just doesn’t do enough to convince us that returning to Scarlet and Violet is worth it right now.

The story is fun enough and the new characters are decent, but it feels like it lacks an X factor to get people playing again.

The new map to explore is rather short and I managed to chart most of it in short order thanks to my ridable Miraidon from the main story which already had all the movement upgrades.

What is was fun is that most the NPCs that you can battle, and most of the wild Pokémon, are highly levelled and put up a decent fight, even though I had a stacked team from finishing my playthrough of Scarlet.

I don’t think I saw a single Pokémon under the level of 60 during my playthrough of Teal Mask, and some battles even surprised me. Okay so the biggest surprise was just that one trainer Pokémon was holding a Focus Sash so I couldn’t OHKO it, but that’s still better than nothing. In a singleplayer franchise that is literally made for children and has failed to adapt to providing a challenge to players after decades, any added difficulty is very welcome.

This increase in difficulty was definitely needed for DLC released now as many fans have likely finished the main game with a group of Pokémon that are highly levelled.

To try extend the hours that The Teal Mask had to offer, and to engage in some new content focused more on competitive play, I did train up a Shell Smash Torterra. For those who don’t pay attention to the competitive side of these games, Game Freak will occasionally add in Pokémon from old games or give old moves to Pokémon that haven’t had them before.

Shell Smash is one of the best stat-boosting moves in the game and there is talk that Torterra could be competitive in some form now. While not intended to play competitively against other real people, I did want a Shell Smash Torterra to beat the NPCs in this DLC.

Making competitive Pokémon in late 2023, with Teal Mask, is still rather tedious even with all the new quality of life features. Shell Smash on Torterra is an Egg Move, but I was happy to find out about the Mirror Herbs which makes this much easier to obtain.

To loop back around to the World Championships 2023, I highly recommend this video from YouTube channel im a blisy. The World Championships 2023 were controversial for VGC players due to many disqualifications that happened around generated Pokémon, AKA Pokémon that are obtained in ways that are much easier, faster and less expensive than doing it through the games.

And yes by expensive I am talking about real money. In the video, im a blisy tried to make a competitive team for the World Championship in retrospective, and found out that it would take hundreds of Dollars and 18 hours of time, both assuming that things are done with the greatest efficiency with all the knowledge of a super high level competitor.

So is The Teal Mask for you? If you are a high level competitor you need this DLC to stay competitive, so yes. If not I would recommend waiting for the other piece of DLC, The Indigo Disk, and getting both if the quality and price of the pair are agreeable.

Base Pokémon Scarlet and Violet aren’t a way to experience Japan, even in an abstract way and Teal Mask doesn’t change that, but it does give grumpy old Pokémon veterans like myself a way to see this software in a new light.

The player is given some in-game traditional clothes for a festival.

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